Arab World Unrest Changes Bulgaria's Mind on Shutting Embassies

Diplomacy | March 25, 2011, Friday // 17:48|  views

L-R: Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov, Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Parliament, March 24, 2011. Photo by BGNES

As a result of the turmoil in the Arab world, Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry has changed its mind and will not shut down the Bulgarian Embassies in Tunisia and Sudan as originally intended.

Thus, two of the seven missions abroad that the Foreign Ministry decided to close down as an austerity measures will not be shut, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said Friday in an interview for the Politika Weekly.

In November 2010, Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry announced a perplexing plan to save money by closing the Bulgarian embassies in seven developing countries – Mexico, Thailand, Cambodia, Tunisia, Sudan, Angola, and Zimbabwe.

Bulgaria's government appears to have changed its mind for the embassies in Tunisia and Sudan as a result of the months of civil unrest all across the Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East, which exposed the need of official diplomatic presence to protect the interests and life of the numerous Bulgarian citizens residing in those countries.

Bulgaria's Foreign Minister stressed the fact that the Bulgarian Embassy in Libya is one of the few foreign missions that remain functioning in Tripoli even as the regime of Muammar Gaddafi is locked in a fight against a popular uprising, and being targeted with air and missile strikes by an international coalition enforcing a UN-backed no-fly zone.

Mladenov also announced that the closures of the Bulgarian embassies in Thailand and Mexico are almost completed. He did mention that the austerity program of Bulgarian Foreign Ministry continues to be implemented, including by reducing the technical staff in the Bulgarian missions abroad, and replacing it with locals, which costs cheaper.

Before the implementation of the plan to shut down the seven above-mentioned embassies, Bulgaria had 83 embassies, 6 permanent representations, 20 consular offices, and 2 diplomatic bureaus.

In an interview for (Sofia News Agency) in February 2011, Kiriyak Tsonev, a retired career diplomat and the first specialist on the Arab world in modern Bulgarian diplomacy, criticized the Bulgarian government for its plan to shut entire embassies. He commented:

“The Foreign Ministry has announced plans to close several embassies – including in Sudan and in Tunisia. With the recent events in Tunisia, you can imagine the importance of having an embassy in such a country.

This plan for closing seven embassies has not been thought all the way through. It is very rash. I am speaking from experience as I had to close an embassy in the past – when we closed the Bulgarian embassy in Kuwait. We had to reopen it only two years later because it turned out that we had vital interest in this country, and it cost us twice more than if we had just had kept it running. We must think in perspective. We could always reduce the staff but why shut entire missions down?“

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Tags: Zimbabwe, Angola, Sudan, Tunisia, Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, civil unrest, Arab world, Nikolay Mladenov, Foreign Ministry, embassies, Bulgaria, Foreign Ministry, Kiriyak Tsonev


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