Focus: Mr. Manjoukov, based on your experience, how do you assess the events happening around the world today, especially in Syria?
Petar Manjoukov: It is difficult for me to remember a time when the world was not shaken by major crises. Yet, from a purely cyclical point of view, without a very clear periodicity, when certain circumstances accumulate, the world faces the possibility of a really large global conflict. Despite the wisdom and experience we should have gained from the prior two world wars and innumerable local conflicts…I believe not everyone comprehends that the ongoing Syrian conflict is currently comparable in size and scale to the Caribbean crisis – or even the Suez – when, as now, a potential global conflict was brewing not only between the USA and Russia, but France, Great Britain and a major Arab state such as Egypt. It would appear that Russia and the USA need to re-affirm that the bipolar model of the world is more stable… I hope that’s the case, however, the mess in the territory of Syria has become much bigger due to the harsh interests of powerful states such as Turkey, Iran, Israel… The Kurds, which with a population of nearly 35 million people, do not have their own country.
Focus: You are well acquainted with a number of local conflicts and civil wars – Algeria, Iraq and others… Do you have a professional or personal relationship with people in Syria right now?
Petar Manjoukov: Yes. Life before November 10, 1989, and especially after that, has made me circle many critical points. But, let me correct you; this is not a local conflict! No way. Not in the slightest. Even if it began as a civil war between the government and Assad’s opposition, the conflict became a world-wide war – at first with the Islamic State clash and later with the conflicts between the Kurds and Turkey alongside the local trading of blows between Israel and Iran. It’s due to this that I bear hope that Putin and Trump will never lose control and focus, and that they will show both the restraint and skill necessary to contain the smaller outbreaks of tension that have emerged.
My personal experience with Syria dates back to a long time ago. I was there several times before 1985 when I worked for Kintex. Unfortunately, I haven’t been there since. I say unfortunately, because Syria was an incredibly beautiful country; full of diverse, beautiful, intelligent and religiously tolerant people who inherited the spirit of both the ancient Mediterranean and the great Arab discoveries in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, medicine and poetry. The truth is that I dreamed of traveling there alongside my wife and was in fact planning something along the lines, however the conflicts ignited and the prospect became unthinkable for her. In a professional capacity I have had no contacts with Syria.
Focus: Some time ago, your name was involved in an odd journalistic investigation into Serbian machine guns Coyote which were delivered to one of the sides in the Syrian conflict. What exactly happened?
Petar Manjoukov: I still have no idea what warranted the rather crude manipulation of public opinion that came with the publication of this so called “investigation”. I put quotes deliberately because real investigative journalists could have very easily gotten the truth about that deal. They wouldn’t even have to look. As soon as the first material on the subject surfaced, I met personally with one of the journalists, explained everything and provided them with documentation. Unfortunately, there was no reaction and now I am forced to clear my name by trial. In international court no less.
In short, the story goes like this: BIEM, the company to which I am a majority shareholder, signed a contract for a delivery with a local Bulgarian company headed by Mr. Piralkov! This is very important – in Bulgaria – for a specific number of specialised articles, or the so called Coyote. The executive director of my company – Mr. Stefan Penchev went to Serbia and purchased these products from the state-owned enterprise that produced them and supplied them to the party which requested them. Here. In Bulgaria! His end user – the document that clarifies the end recipient of the product – is only for Bulgaria. He cannot deliver them anywhere else. All these circumstances are clarified in contract number 3BG-063A-02 dated October 2, 2014. The party and recipient of these 200 machine guns is Mr. Piralkov’s company Armitrans. As far as I know, the owner of this company is a US citizen and the company is known for its large trade turnover with one of the world’s largest countries – a respected and valued company. What happened next with these articles – did they really appear in one of the rebellious groups in Syria, as the investigation claims – I cannot know. Imagine that you buy a car and then sell it. After an unknown amount of time and a transition from countless owners, someone comes along and holds you accountable for an accident the car was part of. You have to agree that this is ridiculous and in my case, dangerous. I insist on explaining why. Throughout my conscious life I have had relationships only with the legitimate state authorities of the countries I traded in. Only with governments! Despite the many temptations my business offered, I never allowed myself to deliver weapons or spare parts to someone who does not represent an official authority that can guarantee the control of these devices. This understanding of mine stems from my deep respect for this production. I realise that I do not deal with ice cream or life-saving devices. On the contrary – they are technologies, parts and machines designed to take life. That’s a huge responsibility and I cannot afford any voluntarism on this subject and I never have!
Focus: Is this business tightly controlled?
Petar Manjoukov: Tight is not the word. It is over-controlled. There is hardly a more controlled business out there. And very sensitive, too. This is why I am forced to seek judgment against the spreading lies against me. You cannot imagine – because of the nature of the company and its activities, even opening a single bank account abroad leads to some very profound background checks and any such publication brings me real material damage that I can very easily prove. Not to mention the morals – after a lifetime of building myself up through honest work abiding by international laws, such publications are a big issue. So far it was mine. Now it will become a problem for those responsible for creating and spreading it.
Focus: Bulgaria has made a big comeback on the map of worldwide business with special production. What opportunities and risks does this hide?
Petar Manjoukov: That’s a fact. In the last years of socialist Bulgaria we had reached levels of over USD 1 billion annually. During the last several years we managed to go over that figure. And this happened after a long period of decay and almost complete destruction of our national defence industry. I don’t feel like talking about the causes of these 20 years of misery and ruin that left thousands of families without income or prospects. They are very painful for me because I am first and foremost an engineer and more than half of my conscious life I have been a producer and a creator. I became a merchant after 1992. The fact that our factories are working is wonderful, but there is a more important issue at hand. Over the past 5 years, the new owners of the Bulgarian defence industry have done a lot. I can define it as a feat even. These are exceptional investments in technology, people, enormous labour, time and effort. The most important thing is not only the volumes of work, but that an extremely large number of very interesting, highly appreciated and widely sought after modern and original Bulgarian products have been developed. In other words, we are looking forward not only to success, but also towards a very bright future for the entire industry. Optix, which started from scratch, literally on a bare meadow. Unique developments in special optics and electronics. The Opticelectron enterprise, Mars Armor – exceptionally high quality armour padding that is popular all over the world. I even allowed myself to purchase one for the King’s birthday, as a metaphor of sorts – that he should be well prepared for the things that lay ahead of him. He took a picture with his vest and sent it to all his relatives. I got carried away. Let me mention Samel 90 in Samokov – an extremely high-tech enterprise! A special example is Arsenal, after the Ibusevi family became major shareholders. I am probably neglecting some companies. However their efforts and the results of these people’s work are respectful. They give me hope that Bulgaria can really rise and come back as a leading industrial country. Not just as an agricultural and tourist area.
Focus: How do you assess Bulgaria’s position on the Syrian conflict at the moment and in general the behaviour of the government in relation to Kosovo and the Russian diplomat crisis?
Petar Manjoukov: I think we have a happy sequence of events – first Simeon II and then Borisov’s governments. There is no analogue in our new history of such a presence in Bulgaria on the international scene. The fact that we had to take over the rotating EU Presidency in such a moment of crisis isn’t our fault, but I think we are managing more than well. The authority of Bulgaria grows by the day and hour. I think we have to realise that and put an end to the political and partisan bias and try to support, preserve and develop this authority, as far as we can, and everyone in their own ways. Everyone will benefit from the country’s success. From a purely historical point of view, if the efforts of Borisov and the EU’s leadership in relation to the Western Balkans manage to succeed, or at the very least mark the beginning of a lasting peace process in becoming part of the community, they will go down in the history of Europe. There is no way – the Balkans are the traditional powder keg of the old continent! We may like or dislike any Bulgarian government, but let‘s be honest – the personal charisma of the prime minister, his experience in politics and his personal contacts are really doing a lot at the moment. And it’s noticeable, both globally and in Europe. We would be fools, if we didn’t support or take advantage of this. Take for an example what opportunities a more intense political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey or a more mediating role in EU-Russian relations could potentially yield. Just consider how important it is for our own historical tasks that the Western Balkans are peaceful and prosperous in order for Macedonia to survive and develop.
Focus: In your view, where is the world headed, in a more general philosophical plan?
Petar Manjoukov: I prefer to be optimistic from the perspective of my 75 years of age. But we have to realise that the great social inequality in the world will generate perpetual conflict. It is what invariably puts democracy as a form of government to the test and fuels the existence of authoritarian forms of government and the outbreak of local conflicts. There is almost no war that didn’t start because those in power decided to mend internal tensions through it. These are historical facts and the reasons for them are in front everyone’s eyes: poverty, social inequality, injustice in the distribution. Whoever does not see them simply does not want to look. But I am an optimist. I think the world is wiser today than it was yesterday.