Bulgarian socialist government responds to criticism from foreign ambassadors

Bulgarian socialist government responds to criticism from foreign ambassadors

 

By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgraria’s beleaguered socialist government, elected in May but under relentless pressure from many thousands who turn out on the streets to demand its resignation, also has sought to respond to the criticisms – veiled, public, private or otherwise open – from foreign ambassadors.

In a recent joint statement, first published on the op-ed section of mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa on July 8, but swiftly picked up by most Bulgarian-language media, French ambassador Philippe Autié and German ambassador Matthias Höpfner said that “it is clear that the Bulgarian public insists that the political, administrative, judicial and economic elites subscribe to the principles of public interest. It is obvious that the society fears the penetration of private interests in the public sphere.”

“Good governance is in the interest of all Bulgarians. But it is also in the interest of all Europeans: in their capacity as taxpayers (about 40 per cent of the European funds granted to Bulgaria come from German and French taxpayers); because our economies are mutually connected; and simply because our fates from now on are linked,” the joint statement by ambassadors Autié and Höpfner said. While avoiding outright recommendations for Bulgarian authorities, the statement did touch on two areas that have elicited concern from EU institutions in recent years – the need for transparent and detailed procedures in all areas of government, including institutions responsible for fighting corruption and organised crime, internal security, commerce and energy; and the need for media pluralism at a time when both Bulgarian citizens and EU institutions are worried by “the growing concentration of ownership” both in print and electronic media.

The statement has been a matter of some discomfort for the government that took office in Bulgaria in May 2013 with only the votes of the second-ranked Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Criticism veiled to various degrees by foreign envoys, especially regarding the abortive appointment of controversial MRF MP Delyan Peevski to head the State Agency for National Security, has worsened matters for the embattled regime in Sofia along with the mass protests demanding that it step down.

On July 10, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin released a statement in response to the joint position of the Ambassadors of France and Germany, Autié and Höpfner, respectively.

“In regard to the joint position stated by the Ambassadors of France and Germany, in which issues of importance to Bulgaria were raised, I called at my own initiative a subsequent meeting with Mr. Philippe Autié and Mr. Matthias Höpfner,” Vigenin said.

“Bulgaria, as a member of the European Union, expects that interaction with its partners would be carried out through the established mechanisms of dialogue and co-operation rather than through media reports. I would like to point out that the issues raised by the Ambassadors have built up over the years. They are a matter of concern to the Bulgarian government, that through its actions is seeking step by step to resolve them,” the Bulgarian Foreign Minister said.

“Critical evaluations cannot be put forward regarding a government that has been in power for a month and a half. We understand that expectations for change are high, and we rely on the support, trust and expertise of our partners. In this regard, we see in this unusual and unprecedented act a signal of support for our efforts to stabilize the institutions and to carry out genuine action to strengthen the democratic foundations of the state and society.

The Government and the National Assembly from the first day conducted an unprecedented dialogue with the NGOs and civil structures that responded to our outstretched hand. We well understand the intolerance of citizens for decisions that are not based on transparency and that could lead us away from the best European practices. We are ready to accept all constructive proposals on specific issues, so that together we can discuss steps to address the major structural problems,” Vigenin said.

The Bulgarian socialist foreign minister said that the country was going through a difficult process of overcoming distortions that have assumed serious depth in the past four years. “During this time, there have been several actions by the previous government, which have led to the strengthening of the oligarchy, the strengthening of monopolies, restrictions on freedom of the media, the undermining of democracy, the suppression of civic activism, and so on. The impact of various economic circles on the model of the political system, the formation of new political entities targeted at the invalidation of democratically elected institutions, must beyond question be rejected because they are incompatible with the European model of democracy.”

Vigenin said that the basis of European democracy was honest and democratic elections and the central role of national parliaments.

“After international observers recognized the elections and their outcome, after the Constitutional Court rejected a request that they be declared illegal, it is my understanding that all elected representatives must perform their duties responsibly, because every Parliament needs an active opposition and parliamentary democracy is a shared responsibility, shared by the majority and the minority,” Vigenin said.

“These issues will be the subject of my talks in the near future, as with the foreign ministers of France and Germany, so too with the other member states of the European Union,” he said.

Separately, ruling coalition MP Roumen Yonchev said on July 9 that the joint statement by the French and German ambassadors in Sofia was a criticism of the entire transition period rather than the current government.

Speaking on the bTV breakfast show, Yonchev – who was elected on the list of the socialist-led Coalition for Bulgaria bloc, but is not a member of the party and was part of the “civil quota” – said that “Bulgaria must break the oligarchic model of government, but [Prime Minister Plamen] Oresharski is not the one who created it […] It was inherited from GERB.”

Yonchev said that the protests were against “everything happening these past 20 years” – although that might come as a somewhat of a surprise to the thousands that have been chanting for the cabinet’s resignation every evening for 25 days. Some of the placards brandished by protesters have also been referring to the Prime Minister as “Oligarchski”.

Yonchev also questioned whether it was the ambassadors’ “business” to make such statements, saying that they “behaved like shareholders in the Bulgarian democratic project who want a return on investment. Let’s not forget that the largest investor is the Bulgarian citizen, each one of us is a taxpayer. Each one of us has invested much more than Germany and France.”

Former EU funds minister in Boiko Borissov’s government Tomislav Donchev, now an MP for Borissov’s party GERB, countered to say that the letter was “unprecedented” and a “red card” for the Oresharski administration. The current crisis has damaged Bulgaria’s image abroad, he said.

In their letter, first published on the op-ed section of mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa on July 8, but swiftly picked up by most Bulgarian-language media, Autié and Hoepfner said that “it is clear that the Bulgarian public insists that the political, administrative, judicial and economic elites subscribe to the principles of public interest. It is obvious that the society fears the penetration of private interests in the public sphere.”

“Good governance is in the interest of all Bulgarians. But it is also in the interest of all Europeans: in their capacity as taxpayers (about 40 per cent of the European funds granted to Bulgaria come from German and French taxpayers); because our economies are mutually connected; and simply because our fates from now on are linked,” the statement said.

While avoiding outright recommendations for Bulgarian authorities, the statement did touch on two areas that have elicited concern from EU institutions in recent years – the need for transparent and detailed procedures in all areas of government, including institutions responsible for fighting corruption and organised crime, internal security, commerce and energy; and the need for media pluralism at a time when both Bulgarian citizens and EU institutions are worried by “the growing concentration of ownership” both in print and electronic media.

Meanwhile, criticism came from another quarter on July 10, as former US ambassador in Sofia James Pardew told local media, “If I was a Bulgarian, I would be on the street together with the protestors”.

Pardew, who was US  ambassador to Bulgaria from 2005 to 2009, said that the latest events in the country could be the beginning of a replacement of Bulgaria’s political guard of political leaders who caused the present situation with a new generation of talented  and decisive young people, who would lead the country in a new direction.

“A new leadership is yet to appear, but I would not be surprised if many of the old parties and leaders are swept away in the months to come. The present demonstrations could turn out to be a historical moment of political change, but the old guard will resist and try to retain the power,” Pardew said.