Annie: Hello, Mr. Panayotov! Thank you for accepting the invitation for an interview. As you already know, the "Faces of FAR" section is dedicated to our employees. Our goal is to tell the story of our employees through the prism of their personal and professional qualities. You have recently become part of the FAR team. What has FAR managed to become for you despite the short time you have been working here?
Vasil: I feel a kind of chemistry within the team and that's why I was very pleased to join FAR. It's always nice to have colleagues and like-minded people. I would even say it's invaluable because lawyers are generally loners. So, being in a team - not just with lawyers, but with all of you - is much more beneficial, you get a broader view of things - you don't just concentrate on the law and the form.
Annie: Is refugee law a new area for you or something you have already practiced?
Vasil: It's rather a new matter. I used to be a civil judge and I never encountered refugee law. Subsequently, already as a lawyer, I had an interesting case related to refugee law. During my practice at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, I also had several cases. But rather this matter is new to me.
Annie: What do you like most in refugee law because it is a very specific subject?
Vasil: I am a migrant myself, I don't live in the country where I was born and raised. Many of the things that people have to deal with, I have experienced personally. But the difference is that this is my own choice.
Refugees are people who have been displaced from their country, and refugee law gives you the opportunity to help them: whether it's through legal advice or just life advice.
There is a principle in life - those who have received a hand are ready to lend a hand.
Annie: How did you become aware of FAR?
Vasil: I learned about FAR via the competition letter I received from the Bar Association. Then I visited the official website of the Foundation. There was a lot of information there and I was pleasantly surprised by the volume of it.
As I said before, I didn't have a great experience with refugee law before, but I'm very glad that things happened that way. Every day I find it more and more interesting.
Annie: And what would you say are the biggest advantages of FAR?
Vasil: This unique mixture of more experienced lawyers on the one hand and very young colleagues who come with new energy and ideas on the other hand. This collaboration elevates the work at FAR to a very high level.
Annie: What do you like most in your work?
Vasil: What I like about it is the connection with the people and the fact that you feel useful here. My maxim in life is that you have to help. It's always nice to lend a hand when you can.
Annie: Our work changes people's lives but, at the same time, it is very difficult. What kind of difficulties do you face in it?
Vasil: Yes, it is not easy. Sometimes, for example, we don't have feedback from the beneficiaries. Once we have given advice, the result is also important for us, but the people receiving the service get disconnected at some point and we have no way of knowing if we have gone the right way and if our advice was correct.
In the beginning, for example, I found it difficult because the refugee law was completely new to me. I had to sit down and read up on the topic. So far, I have read a lot because I cannot always give an immediate answer to the beneficiaries' questions. Sometimes I need to explore the issue in more detail.
Annie: Every lawyer's job is very busy and emotionally exhausting. How do you cope with this tension?
Vasil: I live in a small village that is right at the beginning of the forest. I have two things I do every day - walk in the forest and take care of my small garden with fruits and vegetables. Nature is what fuels me.
Other than that, I love listening to music and reading books. Sometimes, especially after a hard day, a book is not the best solution, and so I prefer nature and music more often.
Annie: As I love to read, I'm always tempted to ask this question: what are your favourite books?
Vasil: I've liked different genres over the years - I've always admired Hemingway and his easy style, Oscar Wilde with his ashy language. Now I'm reading Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy. I've always wished I had more time to read.
Annie: What about music - classical music or more extreme genres like rock or hard rock?
Vasil: Depending on the mood. After a stressful day, I'm a fan of hard rock (AC/DC, Metallica, various other bands), and now in the summer I play lighter music (techno or something retro). Otherwise, I love classical music and we even go to a live show sometimes when I get the chance.
Annie: When did you decide that FAR is the place where you can develop professionally and personally?
Vasil: I am very much a believer in good fortune and that opportunity comes at the right time. I've never regretted things that didn't happen, and I'm glad for things that did. I think it's just that when one is ripe for an event, it happens, and so the chemistry between me and FAR came at the right time.
Annie: You work as a digital lawyer - something very new, innovative, avant-garde even, I would say. How do you feel in this role?
Vasil: I'm not a big fan of new technologies, I use them to the extent I have to. I think the most important thing is to build trust with your confidants. For me, it makes no difference whether I'm working online or live - I put in the same energy and effort. A lot of people prefer to see the person, to assess them. I think over the years I've built up a sense and judgment even on the phone. It's important for me to work with people and we share common values and ideas.
Annie: What inspires you the most in the work of FAR ?
Vasil: The people. Despite the inherent scepticism in Bulgaria about NGOs, I see how much the people in FAR are committed to their work and try their best to do it well and with quality.
Annie: As I am doing this interview in the occasion of FAR's anniversary, what would you wish for FAR as an organization and for yourself as part of FAR?
Vasil: I would like to wish myself and the team that we can keep this energy that we have so that we can continue to help more people.
Annie: Thank you. Last question, a little bit more personal, if I could - what is your dream?
Vasil: I think I pretty much have everything I've ever wanted in life. The only thing is maybe to have more time for books and for travel.