Meeting With Embassy Sofia Staff

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Sofia
Sofia, Bulgaria
January 15, 2015

AMBASSADOR RIES: (In progress.) Our purpose was to show a deep and broadened relationship with Bulgaria, and I certainly think we’ve done that. And Mr. Secretary, we thank you so much for everything you do. And I want to thank everyone here who worked so hard to make the visit possible, and all the people who came from Washington who were just fabulous.

So Mr. Secretary, over to you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Hi guys, how are you? (Applause.) Good morning – afternoon, actually. Dobar Den – (laughter) – good afternoon. Hi guys, how are we doing?


SECRETARY KERRY: You’re doing better than everybody else. You’re louder. (Laughter.) Let me ask you again. How are we doing?


SECRETARY KERRY: All right. Who’s having the most fun here? Everybody is. (Laughter.) You’re very lucky. You guys look great. Thank you for coming here. Who’s 11 years old? Anybody? That’s how old I was when I first went away with my parents when they joined the Foreign Service. So it’s a good omen. You want to be Secretary of State? (Laughter.) Okay. You got it. (Applause.)

So thank you, everybody, here at this terrific Embassy Sofia. I’m really happy to be here. This is a beautiful building, one of our great ones, good ones, and I think the first one that was a LEED building. Am I right?

AUDIENCE: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: A LEED building which is an environmental design. Everybody knows that, right? You’re all educated in that. But it’s a pleasure for me to be here, and I’m particularly happy to be here with Marcie Ries, who is one of our great ambassadors, unbelievably fearless, as I think you’ve all learned. She – that’s why the Air Force nicknamed her – her call sign in the Air Force is Scrappy. Did you guys know that? (Laughter.) I’m giving it away. Anyway, I’m told if you need a guide up in the Vitosha mountains, she’s your guide right here. (Laughter.) But anyway, we’re lucky to have her. She was ambassador in Albania and chief of mission in Kosovo, Pristina, and likewise, she was the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Europe mission out at the State Department, and so she knows this region, she knows this area, and frankly, we couldn’t have a better person to lead our efforts in a country that is in transition, and I’m very grateful to you. Thank you very, very much, Marcie, for what you do. (Applause.)

And a huge thank you to all of the rest of you here. I want to thank Foreign Service officers and Civil Service employees, contractors, independent operators, those of you who are on assignment, TDY, whatever, and thank you particularly to all of our locally employed folks who are here. Will all the local employed people please raise your hands so I can just see? A lot of you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

I was very – I was in the United States Senate in my second term when the Berlin Wall fell, and the stories that unfolded in countries that had been stamped by – stamped and stomped on by communism for years were really quite remarkable. And one of the most remarkable unfolded right here in Sofia, where right after the Berlin Wall fell, you had citizens who went down and gathered on those yellow cobblestones down there in the square where there was then a statue of Lenin and they camped. They created what they called the City of Truth. And they stayed there, and you had artists and taxi drivers and students and all these people who wanted freedom and democracy, demokratsiya, I guess it was, something that – that’s how you say it, I think? Anybody – no, don’t go there. (Laughter.)

And it’s an amazing story. I guess some priests were out there on flatbed trucks and they were baptizing people in blue jeans and kids and musicians, and it was just this incredible fervor taking place. But it was risky. Nobody knew if the government at that point in time was going to come back and crush it, and that was the history. Obviously, the battle was won.

And here we are today, 2015, and Russia is still trying to impose on people its will, still trying to reduce people’s choices, and still trying to affect the internal politics of another country in order to control it. So this is still a time of trial. It’s a time of challenge. And all of you local employees, we are particularly grateful to you, because the story I just told about these folks who are fighting for their independence and freedom and democracy represents a shared value. The United States – we’re not asking you to represent something that you don’t believe in and we’re not asking you to represent something that isn’t worthwhile. You’ve chosen to come and work with us, and all the people who are here in this embassy who are American are here because they believe it’s worth dedicating their lives to the effort to try to represent those values and help take them to another country, and allow people to make their own decisions about their own future, and determine what their country can do, not have somebody else tell them what it can do.

That’s what we’re about, and we do it in so many different ways. We do it with the visit like I’m engaged in here today, we do it with all the work you’re doing to help restore that church in Nessebar, we do it in the visits you do every day, we do it in the visas that you approve and meetings that you have. There isn’t anybody here who isn’t an ambassador, and I mean that. That’s not a euphemism. Some of you may be the only person as an American that somebody will meet. And wherever you go, whatever you do, you’re carrying those values and you’re representing your country. And for those of you who are here and locally employed, we thank you, because we couldn’t do what we try to do here without you. You’re essential to that mission.

So for all of you, I just wanted to come here today to say hello, to thank you for engaging in this great enterprise. There are a lot of jobs in life. Some of them are pretty tough and miserable. Not a lot of people get to get up every morning and go out and try to make a difference and save the world, change the world, be able to help people change their lives. So it’s a worthwhile enterprise, and I’m proud of every single one of you. I thank you for your incredible service to our country, for those of you in uniform and our Marines particularly who guard us every day. We thank you for your service to the country and to every single one of you here.

I think we have three employees I particularly want to single out, if I can. Let me just check here. We’ve got three folks who have given 30 years of service to this embassy – not this one, obviously – but to the embassy. (Laughter.) And I want to single them out. I don't know if they’re here. I hope they are. Is Nikolay Tagarov here?


SECRETARY KERRY: Nikolay, come on up here. Come here. (Applause.) Thank you. And Blaga Klincheva. Blaga, thank you. (Applause.) And finally, Kostadin Kostov, (inaudible). (Applause.) Thank you very, very much. How about a thank you to all these guys for all their – that’s an incredible 90 years of work right here, folks. (Applause.) And none of them look 90 years old, right? (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE: That’s right.

SECRETARY KERRY: All right. Listen. I want to say hello to everybody, but I’ll just thank you so much for coming here. And guys, all you kids, I hope you’re going to have fun. Don’t forget to do your homework – (laughter) – and thank you very much for being here today. You wanted to ask a question? Come here and ask a question. Come on. Tell me your name.


SECRETARY KERRY: Come on up here. Come on up here. What’s your name?


SECRETARY KERRY: Ryan, okay. (Laughter.) Don’t be embarrassed, a great name. So what do you want to ask me?

PARTICIPANT: (No response.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Forgot? You forgot? (Laughter.) See, that’s what happens. If somebody’s going to ask you a question, ask them a question first, then they’ll forget what they were going to ask you. (Laughter.) You want to ask a question? Come on up here. You come up here, or I’ll come down here. All right – no, because I want people to see you. Tell them who you here.


SECRETARY KERRY: Lucy. And Lucy, what do you want to ask?

PARTICIPANT: What do you do for your job?

SECRETARY KERRY: What do I do? (Laughter and applause.) Okay. Is your mom or dad here? (Laughter.)


SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, wait a minute, folks. When I was in the Senate – no, no, that’s a different thing – when I was in the Senate, I would do a whole bunch of things, but the most important thing we did was write the laws that run our country. So we would write all the laws about everything from – and we’d write the budget for all the money that we’d spend for our embassies, for foreign policy, for our national security, for everything that we do – education, assistance, healthcare, you name it. We would pass the laws. And so we’re called legislators in one of the three branches of government. Have you studied that yet? You have? So which branch were we? Do you remember?


SECRETARY KERRY: I’m putting you on the spot. (Laughter.) Legislative Branch. We were the Legislative Branch of government, you had the Executive Branch and then the Judiciary. And we were the Legislative Branch, which is a very – actually, according to the Constitution, probably the most important branch, because it represents the people.

Okey doke? Thank you. All right. (Applause.) All right, guys. If I get going, this is going to be worse than Meet the Press. (Laughter.) Anyway, thank you all very, very much. Great to be with you. (Applause.)