MRF founder Dogan hits out at party leader over Turkey-Russia declaration ‘gaffe’

MRF founder Dogan hits out at party leader over Turkey-Russia declaration ‘gaffe’

Sofia, December 23, 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Ahmed Dogan, founder of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity – has caused a stir of speculation about the future of the party after his criticism of leader Lyutvi Mestan was made public.

Posted on the party’s official website and extensively reported in the Bulgarian-language media, Dogan described a declaration in the National Assembly by Mestan after Turkey shot down a Russan bomber near the Syrian border as a “gaffe”.

The comments made by Dogan, some days earlier at a Christmas party, are the most prominent statements by him since he relinquished the party leadership in January 2013.

In the November 25 declaration in Parliament, Mestan said that it was an undeniable fact that in the past month, Russian military aircraft had violated Turkish airspace on multiple occasions. Given that Turkey is a Nato member country, such a violation equals a violation of the alliance’s air space and sovereignty.

Mestan also backed Nato’s call for de-escalation of the Russian-Turkish relations and a return to political dialogue.

According to the transcript posted on the MRF website, Dogan said, “to me, this declaration was a gaffe, Mr Mestan.

“The Pentagon did not have a position, Nato did not have a position. Besides, Bulgarians are very sensitive about this issue. They have an anxiety with the force of a historical archetype. What if a fire flares up? What do we do then, gentlemen? We are in the perimeter of potential hostilities. Or you think this is impossible? I don’t want to see Bulgaria becoming a victim. I don’t want to see our electorate becoming a bargaining chip for anything. I don’t!” Dogan said.

The publication of Dogan’s remarks spurred a flurry of speculation in the Bulgarian media, along with unsourced comments, that Dogan – founder of the MRF and its only leader until he handed the mantle to his protege Mestan – intended returning to public politics and perhaps even taking back the leadership.

In his remarks, however, Dogan said that “it seems I’ve taken my role as a passive observer too seriously” but added that this did not mean that he would be going back to politics.

The MRF was part of the ruling axis in Bulgaria in 2013/14 but precipitated early elections in autumn 2014, which were won by Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, in the wake of widely-supported public protests against the government in which the MRF had been part.

Since Borissov returned to office as Prime Minister in November 2014, the MRF has stated itself to be in opposition, although there are key areas where it has had a decisive part in negotiating political outcomes, as with the constitutional amendments on judicial reform in late 2015 that led to the resignation of the Justice Minister and ripples within the ruling coalition.

One of the leaders of a Reformist Bloc party, Radan Kanev of the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, has accused Borissov and his party lieutenants of acting in collusion with the MRF.

Against the background of the troubles around the judicial reform amendments and their effect within the ruling coalition, Mestan recently publicly called for early elections. However, more than a day after Dogan’s comments emerged on the internet, the current MRF leader is yet to respond, further fuelling speculation of tensions between him and Dogan.