Political controversy has erupted in Bulgaria over reported comments by Turkish ambassador Hasan Ulusoy calling on the state to encourage the study of Turkish as a foreign language.
Ulusoy was reported to have said that Turkish investors in Bulgaria wanted their employees to know the Turkish language, and doing so would encourage Turkish investments in the country.
Bulgaria goes to the polls in European Parliament elections on May 26. Relations with Turkey are always a complex domestic political issue in Bulgaria, given how nationalists tend to invoke the five centuries of Ottoman rule, and May 2019 would hardly be the first time that relations with Ankara become a political football.
The reported statements by Ulusoy brought reactions from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova, whose parties are in a tight race in the May 2019 European Parliament vote, as well as from the Bulgarian nationalist VMRO.
The reports also led to an announcement by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva that she had told Ulusoy to come to the ministry on May 12 to explain his words.
“The ambassador’s words sound disturbing because the Bulgarian government has never hindered freely learning a foreign language,” a Foreign Ministry statement on May 11 said.
“Turkish can be taught at school along with English, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Romanian, Russian and Hebrew,” the ministry said.
“In this regard, we emphasise that such a statement by the ambassador of a neighbouring and partner country like Turkey does not correspond to the expectations of the Republic of Bulgaria as to how our good neighbourly and friendly relations should develop,” Zaharieva’s ministry said.
Borissov said that he would want answers from the Turkish ambassador if his words had been reported correctly.
“I understood it one way, and the haters in Sofia probably another,” Borissov said.
“What the owner told me is that the problem is the workforce, the problem is the language preparedness, including in written form. Bulgarians learn English, and German, and Chinese. In education, we have very clear programmes. You can work as much as you like. What is needed is qualifications,” he said.
The controversy arose around the opening of a motor vehicle parts plant in Kurdzhali in southern Bulgaria, not far from the Turkish border, which will employ about 300 people.
Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Ninova said that the Turkish ambassador’s “request for the compulsory study of the Turkish language in Bulgaria is absolutely unacceptable and yet another attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of Bulgaria”.
Angel Dhzambazki, who is the list leader of the European Parliament elections ticket of the nationalist VMRO, termed the Turkish ambassador’s call “political cynicism” and called on all Bulgaria’s candidates in the European Parliament elections to declare that they would oppose Turkey joining the EU.
VMRO leader, and Deputy Prime Minister, Krassimir Karakachanov, said that “if the price of Turkish investments in Bulgria is to promote national minorities, change our constitution, prejudice ethnic peace and so on, we will say to Turkey – ‘thank you, we want the honey, not the sting’.”
Ankara’s embassy in Sofia expressed disappointment at the reactions to the statement by the ambassador, saying that his words had been distorted.
“It is obvious that along with the Bulgarian, the good learning of the oral and written Turkish language by Bulgarian citizens is a prerequisite for their recruitment in Turkish companies,” the embassy said.
“In his statement, Ambassador Dr. Hasan Ulusoy emphasised precisely this and, declaring his trust in the Bulgarian authorities has shared our willingness to co-operate, “the embassy said./ibna
(Archive photo: Borissov and Ulusoy in January 2018)