Maxim Behar on the life of Elizabeth II
PR expert Maxim Behar took part in the bTV Radio program with host Teresa Zaharieva on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, the future of the monarchy, the relation of the queen's death to geopolitics and Bulgaria.
Host: Mariana Hill and Maxim Behar are now in the studio to look back at the years of Queen Elizabeth, while also looking to the future of the monarchy now in the hands of King Charles III. Let's start with this. What will you remember her by?
Maxim: I will look at the situation a little more pragmatically. Naturally, Queen Elizabeth was an extraordinary person. Naturally, during her reign, Britain lost many of its colonies. But at the same time, it was an inevitable process and she managed to create the British Commonwealth, which became the most powerful union of states. Even if any of them were not colonies or did not have that much of a direct connection to Britain, they have their decisive and very important voice in the British Commonwealth. On the other hand, this was the first monarch to have a Twitter account, which is far from negligible, long before her son, who is now already king, and began to communicate with young people through social media. And you know, what is very important about Elizabeth is that she unconditionally united all the "subjects" in Britain. I put it in quotes, because the world is now very modern, and the word may even sound a little offensive to someone, because the monarchies themselves have changed a lot - they have become more modern and flexible. But in the end, I've been there hundreds of times, I've talked to English people, nobody could think of saying anything bad about her or criticizing her, because she did her job so lightly, discreetly, and elegantly that the job was done without anyone knowing about it. She lived for 5 or 6 or 7 generations, and she stayed the same and in the same way did her extremely responsible work of statesmanship. In this sense, she goes down in history as a unique person.
Host: 15 premiers have passed through her reign. Do we know what they talked about and what her attitude was?
Maxim: What we know for sure is that she had these weekly meetings, legendary meetings, with her prime ministers. Something that even in Bulgaria we do not see - the president seeing the prime minister every week. It is very valuable that the Queen, who stands on a pedestal and rules the whole "British Empire" - countries like India, Canada, Australia, meets with her Prime Ministers, she talked to them, she was interested in this what is happening in Britain no matter conservatives, laborism, no matter left or right. The way she so elegantly managed to navigate this so-called Falklands crisis, when Britain was able to take back the Falklands from Argentina. I remember how she didn't say a word, but at the same time Margaret Thatcher spoke on her behalf and Britain was able to win its rights without causing any further conflict. There are dozens of such cases.
Host: Tell us more about these achievements of hers over the years.
Maxim: From the point of view that it's really 2022, I can't judge whether a monarchy or a republican government is more effective. Every country is different, it has a different history, a different structure, a different mentality, and emotions of its population. Britain is the best example of a conservative modern monarchy, although these words are mutually exclusive. On the one hand, we all saw the ceremonies surrounding the carrying of the Queen's coffin, the way everyone reacted. Of course, we also saw these incredible queues – people wait an average of 5-7 hours just to say one last goodbye to her. That means the support she had was not artificial. It was not made by some polling agency, which hardly presented the statistics as convenient for the monarchy. They really loved and respected her. But at the same time, everyone talks about her legendary sense of humor, about the way she treated the people around her. I know of one such incident when she went to North England, when Charles III, was in Bulgaria at the invitation of the BBLF, a lady with a big hat and a bag came up to her and said "Your Majesty, we we're from the Prince of Wales’s International Business Leaders Forum," and she turns around and says, "Oh, I didn't know Charlie has an International Business Ladies Forum," because "Leaders" and "Ladies" can overlap in pronunciation. This is, of course, a very fleeting display of the great sense of humor that everyone says she had. Also, I remember this movie on Netflix "The Crown", also a famous incident when the thief enters Buckingham. She's asleep and he goes into her bathroom to rummage and sees her ordinary wooden toothbrush that you can buy for half a pound, and says "Oh my God, a queen, and she doesn't even have money to buy an electric toothbrush”. This means that she was really a very modest person, very reserved. Of course, she had people who cared for her because she had a million government and worldly obligations, but she was ultimately very human. I am only sorry that we could not welcome Queen Elizabeth in Bulgaria, it is a unfulfilled dream, especially after meeting Prince Charles.
Host: Why didn't this happen?
Maxim: When I spoke with the King several times, he told me "Behar, try it, I will also try it with my acquaintances." And I began a very active correspondence with Buckingham Palace. The other day, when I was going through my archive, I found a letter from the Queen's private secretary, which says "Dear Mr. Behar, The Queen has asked me to thank you very much for inviting her to visit Bulgaria, but to my great regret, I must tell you that she is not planning a trip in the coming years." That was 5-6-7 years ago, firstly, she was already of age, secondly, even if she could travel, she doesn't have any serious reason. Her son, the crown prince, visited Bulgaria twice. His visits were both courtesies to meet his cousin Simeon and to visit a country that is on the way to the European Union, but also business oriented so that he could help Bulgaria appear on the investment map of Europe, which was extremely important then. In 24 Chasa Daily, I wrote an article saying that for every fairy tale to come true, a prince is needed. And this prince actually made Bulgaria's fairy tale come true. 2003 he appeared here with a plane full of businessmen, the English started buying land and houses in Bulgaria. Some of them married beautiful Bulgarian women. The fact is that we thought too late that the Queen could be our guest. In fact, of all the Eastern European countries, she only visited Poland, and I was working in Warsaw at the time. I remember how in 1992-1993 the whole town had come out into the streets to welcome the Queen and how they were waiting outside a supermarket where she was shopping. The 90s were the hungry years in Poland – right after the shock therapy, the transformation to a market economy, the decentralization of trade and business. And suddenly the Queen wanted to shop in a supermarket, then it was a very distant resemblance of what we currently have. We were very enthusiastic about the visit of her son, Prince Charles, who is now King, and we truly believe that he remembers his visits to Bulgaria very fondly. I'll tell you about an incident, a few days ago I was passing by Vitoshka Street and there I heard people arguing about the queen - "Enough with that queen, I'm tired, you're only talking about her. What, so many years she lived well". I turned and went back. One of them said to me, "You know so much, what will you remember her by? She neither came to Bulgaria, nor you have seen her". I replied, "I will remember her with three things. And if half the world remembers her with these three things, it will be great. First, with modesty. Whoever you are, it's not important to have expensive cars, or fancy houses, or watches... the important thing is to be humble. The second is that she was able to unite. This trait is not possessed by many people, but the more of us who try to unite whether in the family, whether at work, if you know how to unite and not to divide, and the more people with these qualities, the more the world will become better. And the third is that she shows that we have to do our jobs. When you're doing your job, these three traits, if you have them - you're humble, you know how to unite and do your job, I guarantee you that the world would be much better if there were more people like her.
Host: Mr. Behar, does King Charles III possess these three qualities you mentioned?
Maxim: We'll see. No doubt, he was quite a closed off prince. Quite modest and apart from a few mistakes when he forgot his microphones were on, he never showed his emotions. I see the many posts on social media that have appeared that a 73-year-old is finally getting a job. He had too much work. For many of these people, like me, who work in an office, others work in construction, others turn the wheel and press the accelerator and the brake, for us, many people would say to themselves, "This is not work." However, he was the second man in this gigantic, huge state machine. Especially in the last 15-20 years, he had to replace his mother and help in difficult state affairs. Likewise, it's work, a lot of work. And I think he would certainly be a man who gets the job done. I wanted to mention something else because Mariana mentioned King Simeon. In one of our conversations at St. James's Palace, he was interested in what was going on in Bulgaria and how his cousin was doing, at one point he said to me, "You know that you have great national capital. This is King Simeon. Listen to what he says, he never talks nonsense.” And rewinding the tape, because all of us, since 2001, when he declared his participation in politics, have listened to him countless times. And not once has he ever told unnecessary words, never once has he lost his temper and said a single piece of nonsense. Even with all that about those notorious 800 days, I wouldn't say it was taken out of context, but it was an attempt to motivate the people in Bulgaria, because he said, "Having in mind the notorious Bulgarian hard work, we need less than 800 days to achieve this and that ... and see progress”. I don't know if anything happened during those 800 days, because I haven't counted them, but the 4 years in which King Simeon had his government were very good long years for foreign investors and for Bulgaria. Bulgaria entered the European Union - in 2004, we signed an agreement. Of course, we became a member of NATO. Let's say it's the formal side, which is also very important. But, from my business point of view, Bulgaria appeared on the map of Europe, on the investment map. Big companies came, were interested, and when one day some of my clients from the company Solvay, which is a very large investor in Bulgaria, it left 300-400-500 million here for the factories in Devnya. And we went with Baron Janssen, one of the main shareholders of Solvay, to have dinner with the King, he was prime minister at the time. At one point I saw a completely different person. I know the King since 1991. I was the first newspaper journalist in Bulgaria to do a big interview with him, before that it was Mr. Kevorkyan, of course, in "Every Sunday", before that it was Mitko Petrov on the National Radio. And I was the first Bulgarian journalist to do a newspaper interview with the King. And at that dinner with Baron Janssen and a few other businessmen, I saw another person. He suddenly came to life, began to speak in a different way, to gesture in a different way. And this really gives me great optimism that we expect and must have statesmen and people who govern, who look outside, look outside of Bulgaria, preferably looking to the west than in other directions.
Host: At the end, I will ask you a question about the Bulgarian politicians, but since we haven't gotten there yet, I want to talk a little about geopolitics, because it intervened literally on the last day regarding the queen's funeral.
Maxim: I have no idea if it can be included so much in the geopolitical disputes, because here we are talking about the main dispute between Russia, China, and America. And this is a dispute about the redistribution of business influence and political influence. In this whole game, I really wish Bulgaria would not take the wrong side this time. And the only possible correct, logical, and intelligent side is on the side of democracy. On the side of those people who can freely and calmly express their opinion, vote democratically, not obey only one person, not believe in only one cause, have democratic discussions, have true freedom of the media. After all, media freedom is the fundamental freedom in a democracy. Whatever we do, if there is no freedom of media in a country, if there is no freedom of opinion including and above all in social networks, if there is no clear dividing line between fake news and real information, which nowadays is something very important, there can be no progress and moving forward. And I remember very well what the Estonian Prime Minister said: "Gas is expensive, but really, our freedom is even more expensive." Through the prism of geopolitics, I just want to point out that Bulgaria will be represented by two people, and maybe it is one of the few countries that will be represented by both a president and a King, because Simeon is a King without a kingdom, he never abdicated and formally continues to be King. And the heir to the throne, who will be the guardian of the crown - Prince Boris, and this entire family, extremely well educated in manners and relationships.
Host: Finally, speaking of politics, what can our politicians learn from the life of Elizabeth II?
Maxim: Now we have to go back to this anecdote, in which a Bulgarian went to England, saw this infamous field, perfectly mowed. He asked the Englishman "Hey, how do you do these things, I can't do that in my village?". He said, "You mow, you level, you mow, you level...". And the Bulgarian asked "How much of that!?" - "How about 200 years!". We can take many things, but we will need those 200 years. We can take the good example of attitude towards a head of state, respect for a person who ruled and commanded respect, and really sought the unification of people. Many people, it has happened to me and Mariana, as well as to you, someone, when they come back from Vienna for example and say "Wow, if you know what it's like in Vienna, the streets are clean, the tiles are tidy, so and so...", I then turn around and ask, "Why are you comparing us to Vienna or to London?". I want to tell you that a century ago, for example, Great Britain was at an elevation of 100, Bulgaria was at an elevation of 10. Now the difference is that currently Bulgaria is at an elevation of 40, and Great Britain is still at an elevation of 100. But Bulgaria has come close to the Western world. Part of that was brought to us by democracy and being able to travel, to see, a lot of that was brought to us by social media and this great exchange of information and knowledge. Now you go to Google, you can find what you want immediately, you get information. All this is knowledge. And from what we have seen in the last two weeks in Britain, we can certainly take the respect for the people who have given something for this country. If we have it towards our statesmen, politicians, businessmen who have given a lot to Bulgaria. However, here for some reason, someone has to die for us to look and start saying "Hey, it's true, he donated 2 million to the church...". And at the same time, while they are alive, all kinds of writings can be found, and no one pays attention. People should respect each other. Then maybe 99% of things will fall into place. As my good friend, Solomon Passy, says, "If 7 million Bulgarians fix one thing, everything in Bulgaria will be fixed." That's why I love private business and I don't have any contact points with the state, I don't want anything to with politics either, because in private business, if you are innovative, inventive, very hardworking, and resourceful, if you manage to get ahead of others, of course within the framework of free competition, then you succeed. If, however, you're lazy and can't get it done or run out of ideas, then you fail. Here things are pure and simple. Politicians who lead Bulgaria with extremely bad messages and attitudes towards people, and they survive, this should not be right. And that's why I'd love to see countries run like corporations one day. There is a board of directors, there is a chairman of the board, and as chairman, when they take more credit than the state can afford, they fly out of that place the next day. But let's not wait 4 years to elect again, or for this same chairman to appear on TV again. You failed, you failed. They wipe you off the map, the next people come. We all see what is happening in this election campaign. Same people, same things, same empty talk. And when we go on October 2nd and line up in front of these ballot boxes, we wonder who to vote for. And not only us. And therefore, if the state is run like a big corporation, the analogue of the prime minister nowadays will disappear and the next one will come. We will listen to his concepts. And if he fails, he will go too.
You can watch the whole interview here.