We are talking to Ilian Iliev at the top of the 25th anniversary of the Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development. Iliev has been chairman of the Board of Directors of the association since its inception in 1995 until today.

Let’s look at that 1995, when the Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development was born, and today – in 2020, through the eyes of the Bulgarian citizen.

What is the most significant thing we have managed to do for the last 25 years, as Bulgarians?

It would not be an exaggeration to say that we have not done anything significant. Do we have e-government? We don’t have it! And people around the world are already voting electronically, they have electronic document processing. We didn’t make an electronic card like people did.

We built on the Black Sea coast. We no longer have campsites. We don’t want to do wild sunbathing. We are destroying nature … We have become the dump of Europe. Factories burn waste and no one can stop it. What can we brag about ?! That we are the last in terms of income of the population in the EU ?! What has happened in 25 years ?! Half of the Bulgarians still do not understand the word democracy. They do not want to accept it as a form of organization of the state …

Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development is part of the civil society in Bulgaria. What has you achieved, as an organization, in 25 years?

In the first place – we survived. Many non-governmental organizations, which were established 25 years ago in our country, no longer exist. Many businesses have lost their lives. We are still here, we not only exist but we work. We defend various environmental and civic causes, where successfully, where not so much. When something exists and continues to work for so long, for me it is a success.

And yet what would you point to as the greatest success?

There is no biggest one, there are many small ones. For example, that we have saved over 17,000 trees in the last 20 years by recycling waste paper together with over 300 participants. There are very few campaigns and projects in our country that have such a long life. This in itself is a success. I have seen an awful lot of organizations disappear after a great success. They are gone … They finish something and cease to exist. For me, success is in perseverance. Success is evolution, not revolution.

That is why I have always worked and hoped that the Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development will work with perseverance. To upgrade small things, with small steps every day. They may be invisible. To be like the little worm that digs every day … In order to finally get the big, visible effect.

The greatest success of the Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development cannot be measured. It must be the change in thinking of the “n” -number of people. Because hundreds, even thousands of volunteers, partners, participants in various initiatives, projects, campaigns have passed through the organization, be it for waste, or for global warming, or for construction with natural materials … If in any way these people have changed and have accepted environmental protection as their personal interest, it is a success. But the change in people’s thinking is a very slow process.

How does thinking change faster – through protests or through systematic educational campaigns?

People’s thinking changes in both ways – through training and through protests. It can’t be just one or just the other. For most of a person’s life, change is slow – through the accumulation of knowledge, training, experience. But there comes a time when things have to go out of the gray area and become black and white. Then you have to protest, to go out, but for a while. The problem of the Bulgarians is that we do not understand it that way. We quarrel with someone and remain enemies for life. You may not get along with someone on an issue, but that doesn’t mean your opponent is your enemy. Sometimes he may be in your position on some issues and we could be together.

Can you continue the sentence “I do …”

I do environmental policy. I say it with all responsibility, realizing that when a Bulgarian hears the word “politics” he is afraid as if you are mentioning the devil. But everything we do in the field of education and raising people’s awareness, protecting environmental causes, is environmental or green policy. It has to do with changing people’s thinking. The mission of the organization is to make the protection of the environment a personal interest of every citizen. Because we believe that the main driving force of society is self-interest. Only if we have a society of many people whose clear personal interest is a healthy, clean environment will we have results in protecting it.


Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations

The project “Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations” shall be implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project is to improve citizens’ awareness of the role of non-governmental organizations in society. This material is established with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The whole responsibility for the content of the document is held by the Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development and under no circumstances can this material be considered to reflect the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria.