interview by Gabriel Hershman; photography by Dragomir Ushev

Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, the grandson of the last Austrian Emperor, comes to Bulgaria - with a major investment in advertising

Karl Habsburg-Lothringen

An aristocrat, politician, publisher, entrepreneur and innovator and - by hereditary entitlement archduke of Austria - Karl Habsburg-Lothringen is a key promoter of business and media links between Austria and Bulgaria. He's currently collaborating with Bulgarian business partners on a plan to channel advertising through the Internet. His first step? He bought the majority stake in ArgentA, a major Bulgarian advertising agency.

Is Bulgaria a lucrative place for investors?

I've been coming to Bulgaria for 15 years - since the early 1990s. I visited regularly when I was a member of the European Parliament. I also have family ties here*. What interested me in the mid-1990s was the speed of change in Bulgaria. I have a law background and I could see how within months a new civil code, penal code and revamped legal system were implemented. That was absolutely breathtaking! I also worked alongside many minority and ethnic groups in my political work - another field that drew my attention to Bulgaria. When I was in parliament, pirating of copyright material in Bulgaria was a major concern. I don't know how many times I visited here with Nana Mouskouri - singer and Greek MEP from 1994 to 1999 - and we pursued this subject frequently in the European Parliament.

Why the media and advertising?

I have a diverse media background. My brother is also involved in the sector. I publish a newspaper in Austria and I\'m also on the board of a radio station. The communications agency started by my business partner, Ivaylo Kirilov, is a new and small company with fast-moving potential. We've been talking about implementing new electronic systems, which we've already introduced in Holland. So I relished the opportunity to collaborate with him on a new, cutting-edge project.

Do you think Bulgaria has a healthy economic future?

I don't know if I'd use the word "healthy" but it definitely has an interesting future. If we take "future" in the Chinese sense it means a future full of opportunities but also certain risks. I've certainly seen many improvements here.

What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of investing here?

Bulgaria is very interesting because, contrary to Romania, it's a small market that can be overlooked easily. Paradoxically, that also affords us the opportunity to move fast and try out new concepts.

Doesn't the small market dissuade investors?

Maybe so, but Bulgaria's location - bordering Turkey and Romania - augurs great potential. From the viewpoint of trade and security, Bulgaria will be an absolute cornerstone of the EU. In the near future we're tearing down more than a 1,000 kilometre stretch of border in Austria because of the Schengen agreement. And in a few years, Bulgaria will join Schengen too.

Austria has many major investors in Bulgaria. Do you think you will gather up their advertising and succeed in funnelling them through your company?

Our main target is the media. My interest lies in implementing cutting edge technology. I believe our company will have a strong position because of - let me put it in a positive way - the rather strange system of advertising companies and media in Bulgaria.

How do you see the Austro-Bulgarian relationship in five years' time?

Austria is creating lots of connections in Bulgaria and all-along reciprocal lines. It's certainly not a one-way street. I don't put a timetable to things. I want to import certain systems we've tried abroad. A new development is online booking. Imagine a company that has the opportunity to do online booking for their advertisement and can reach a specific target audience! Look at the changes adopted by media groups. A medium like radio is capable of possibly reaching 300,000 people in no time at all and provides an infinitely faster approach for companies to place their products directly. Some companies have done it very well. MTV, for example, is huge worldwide but has a relatively small chunk of the market in each country. Yet they've been instrumental in changing the system.

Can you name some important fields for prospective investors?

When you peruse Bulgaria's airport magazine you notice that around 60-70 percent of the advertising pertains to real estate. It's obviously an area of great interest - from the ski resorts through to the Black Sea. Trade and security are also areas of great importance.

Has EU membership brought fundamental changes for Bulgaria?

I think that membership was extremely crucial for Bulgaria. The next enlargement is far into the future. I'm very happy that Bulgaria is now part of that creative structure and not having to apply later on.

* Karl Habsburg-Lothringen is a cousin to Simeon Saxe-Coburg, Bulgaria's former king and prime minister


• Karl Habsburg Lothringen was born in 1961. He is the son of Otto von Habsburg and Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen.

• His father, Otto von Habsburg - who turns 95 this month - is the current head of the Habsburg family. He spent the war in exile after being sentenced to death by Hitler.

• He may be the grandson of the last Austrian emperor, Karl Franz Josef Ludwig Hubert Georg Maria von Habsburg-Lothringen (1887-1922) - popularly anglicised as Charles I, but none of Karl's titles are recognised in Austria, where he is referred to as Karl Habsburg or Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, which is his legal name.

• Has lived in the Austrian city of Salzburg since 1981.

• Is the director general of Unrepresented Nations and People Organisation (UNPO), a human and civil rights organisation of indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognised or occupied territories.

• Married to Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, the only daughter of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, a prominent European industrialist, and his second wife, Fiona Campbell Walter.


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