Referendum on Turkey's EU Accession? How Useless Are the Bulgarian 'Nationalists,' Anyway?

Editorial |Author: Ivan Dikov | May 19, 2010, Wednesday // 15:26|  views

The title should probably read “harmful” instead of “useless.” For the people in today’s Bulgaria that present themselves as “nationalists” appear to be not only out of touch with reality but out of touch with reason as well.

There is a myriad of “nationalist” formations in Bulgaria but there are only a couple of major ones. The one that first comes to mind is the “Ataka” (i.e. “Attack”) party which performed rather well in the last general elections largely thanks to the charisma of its founder and leader Volen Siderov, and the disillusionment and hopelessness of the population of “small-town Bulgaria.”

Ataka has gone pretty far as it is presently in an informal coalition with Bulgaria’s ruling party GERB, providing the badly needed votes for a Parliament majority while also raising uncomfortable questions for GERB on part of its partners from the European People’s Party.

Next in importance is the VMRO party – the alleged descendant of the Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization (founded 1893) – which at the beginning of the 20th century tried to liberate the remains of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. Today’s VMRO has had marginal electoral support over the past two decades – every now and then it would get a couple of MPs. However, it has performed strongly on the local level here and there (for example, in one of Bulgaria’s major cities, Plovdiv).

One interesting fact about Ataka and VMRO is that both have been experiencing severe internal dissent with key figures leaving both of these parties over disputes with their leaders. The situation is graver in VMRO where a brand-new VMRO-NIE has been founded around the Plovdiv Mayor, Slavcho Atanasov.

Then, Bulgaria also features a number of parties of retired former Warsaw Pact military officers, sergeants, and “like-minded” individuals with inspiring names such “Defense”, “Union of the Reservist Warriors”, etc.

Finally, one should not forget the National Guard movement led by Boyan Rasate – a small but vocal formation with neo-Nazi trappings betting heavily on xenophobic and homophobic rhetoric and actions (such as throwing Molotov cocktails at Bulgaria’s first ever gay pride parade in June 2008).

The above overview clearly demonstrates that while most of the “nationalist” formations in Bulgaria are marginal, the more vocal ones, given the right propaganda efforts and socio-economic conditions, can easily rally significant public support.

Currently, it is the VMRO party which has come up with an initiative threatening to cause serious tension both inside Bulgaria and in the Balkans. Pressed against the wall by vanishing electoral support and leadership rivalry, the VMRO party has started to collect signatures for the holding of a referendum in Bulgaria on Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

Under Bulgaria’s recently Referendum Act, adopted in 2009 after years of debating and disputes, a total of 200 000 signatures are needed to petition the Parliament to hold a vote on whether to have a national referendum on a certain issue. If 500 000 signatures are collected, the government is obliged by law to schedule a referendum.

On Tuesday, the VMRO party announced it had collected more than 200 000 signatures in favor of a referendum on Turkey’s EU membership. Its campaign is going to last for two more months, and it is almost 100% certain that it will raise the necessary 500 000 votes.

Thus, Bulgaria’s very first national referendum after 1989 will be on whether its neighbor Turkey should join the EU – a thorny issue all across the 500-million European Union.

Holding a referendum in itself is a nice thing. However, this particular referendum is going to get Bulgaria a lot of needless trouble, whose ramifications could be huge. According to the Bulgarian legislation, the decisions of a national referendum are binding for the government. As an EU member state, Bulgaria does have the right to exercise a veto on decisions such as the admission of new members.

If Bulgaria holds a referendum on Turkey’s EU membership, the first problem will be the campaigning which in itself is going to polarize the Bulgarian society – in the very least because of the sizeable Turkish minority which is easily mobilized by the ethnic Turkish party DPS. (By the way, it should not be taken for granted that this minority will vote in Turkey’s favor in such a referendum because it, too, might share Europeans’ general concerns such as the ones connected with jobs and the free movement of people, etc. – but chances are that it will.)

The really bigger issue – whose repercussions are hard to foresee in their entirety – will arrive when the Bulgarians vote to block Turkey’s EU accession – one can predict with a high degree of certainty that this will be the most likely outcome for a wide range of reasons.

This will automatically lead to an invariable worsening (with unknown consequences) of Bulgaria’s relations with Turkey – a rising regional superpower with which Bulgaria has had pretty healthy ties after 1989 – despite all expectations to the contrary, especially in the early 1990s.

Thus, ironically, the allegedly nationalist formation VMRO is going to cause harm to the nation that it is supposed to cherish so much. Because if one wants to be a nationalist – in the positive connotation of this controversial term – one should probably try to think rationally, to say the least…

For one thing, the issue of Turkey’s accession to the EU is not even on the most pressing list of the EU agenda – not to mention Bulgaria’s agenda. Turkey has been trying to get in since the 1960s, and nobody knows how much longer this will take but it is certainly not going to be tomorrow or the day after.

Then, it is very, very debatable whether Bulgaria will benefit or suffer from Turkey’s accession to the EU that many across Europe fear so much.

Third, Turkey does even seem to care any more if it is going to join the EU or not. The reform efforts associated with its EU accession negotiations are primarily used as a bargaining tool in its domestic politics with its specific relations and power players. If its population and economic growth continue – and it is likely that they will at least for a couple of decades to come - Turkey will be strong enough on itself to the extent that it won’t really to be in the EU

(The same cannot be said of faltering minor powers located in an explosive region whose future remains vastly uncertain even though they are already part of the EU).

Basically, Turkey is getting so big that it will end up in Russia’s situation where, whenever Russia’s accession to the EU is mentioned, there is always somebody to stand up and raise the question of “who will be admitting whom.”

But if one assumes Turkey’s potential EU accession will be as devastating for Bulgaria as the nationalists from VMRO would have everybody believe, it is still totally unnecessary, irrational, and, to put it bluntly, plainly stupid to antagonize your neighbor and your largest minority with a referendum initiated in order to rally public support for a minor political party.

The fact of the matter is that even if Bulgaria is to make the above-mentioned assumption, it is by far not the one EU member state that should volunteer to pull the burning chestnuts out of the fire for the others.

Turkey’s EU accession is a lot more controversial and thorny issue for certain other member states – ranging from Germany, Austria and France – to Greece and Cyprus – so that if anybody really has to veto it, just let do it somebody who doesn’t share a border with Turkey, and does not have a large Turkish minority.

The emerging situation resembles the one with the motion by the nationalist Ataka party in December 2009 when it demanded a referendum on the 10-minute Turkish-language news emissions shown daily on the Bulgarian National TV.

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov first supported the idea publicly but, accounting for the potential problems this would create, his party apparently managed to quiet down the ingenious initiative of its partners to the extent that Ataka leader Volen Siderov has never spoken of it again. This time the issue is much bigger, and it will be legally binding – a binding public petition paving the way for a binding referendum decision with repercussions for global politics. Perhaps, after all, despite the years of debate, the Bulgarian Referendum Act was not thought all the way through.

Bulgarian “nationalists” who want to conquer Macedonia, the Bosphorus, and the Korean Peninsula usually have too little sway to do much damage. In the case of the VMRO referendum, however, a number of factors are coming together that may allow them to do precisely that.

We need your support so can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

Tags: turkey, EU accession, Turkey in EU, Referendum, Ataka, Volen Siderov, VMRO, VMRO-BND, VMRO-NIE, Boyan Rasate, nationalist


» Related Articles: