Bulgaria - 'Left in the Cold' of the Cold War

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | May 19, 2011, Thursday // 15:10|  views

In the last week Bulgaria witnessed an unprecedented attack on a foreign diplomat – the Ambassador of the United States to Sofia, James Warlick, raising brows and questions as to what is still ahead of us in this election year.

Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right, nationalist Ataka party was first to take the stage. On the fatal Friday the 13th, he encountered Warlick, by chance, he says, at a Sofia locale and presented him with an invoice for BGN 2 B - Siderov's estimate of what the US has to pay for using military bases on Bulgarian soil from 2006 until today.

The next day, the Ataka leader requested to be provided security, claiming the US Ambassador had vowed to destroy him. Siderov also sent a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, demanding Warlick's recall.

"The Embassy maintains a no-contact policy with Siderov and other Ataka representatives," ex US Ambassador, Jonh Beyrle, wrote in a diplomatic cable in 2005, making it clear the nationalist leader had no other way to approach Warlick, but to "run" into him at a Sofia restaurant. Conveniently armed with a folder with invoices, and accompanied by an Ataka photographer, Siderov threw on the table the thorny issue of American pay for military bases.

According to the agreement between Bulgaria and the US, the military "facilities are not being rented and will continue to be Bulgarian military bases, used by the Bulgarian military, under Bulgarian flag and under Bulgarian command. The United States expects to pay for any infrastructure improvements and services necessary for U.S. activities. Major improvements and investments in the joint military facilities will contribute to the modernization of the Bulgarian military."

Something Siderov obviously missed. Meanwhile, his demands for pay sprang years after the agreement was ratified. The Ataka leader, however, certainly knows full well he cannot count on US support and that, both, his hardcore and potential supporters, have never been in love with America. In a presidential race bringing up the morale of the electorate is much more important than Bulgaria's stated priorities, commitments and partnerships.

Second, but not be outshined, came notorious former Bulgarian Interior Minister and current Member of the Parliament from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Rumen Petkov, calling in a TV interview the Ambassador "trash, liar, and drug addict," and reiterating it two days later on another TV channel.

Petkov claimed the US is going to recall Warlick in just days on the grounds he is being given the task to secure American investments in Bulgaria. This happened on the very same day the diplomat left on a trip across the US precisely with that goal – a small detail implying the former Interior Minister's statement is credible and not giving Warlick the opportunity to react.

Seemingly, Rumen Petkov's tactic also aims at uniting the hardline red voters, who don't profess fondness for the US either. In addition, Petkov, who resigned as Interior Head amidst a scandal involving organized crime, a person widely believed by many, including Beyrle, to display some of the same sins he attributes to Warlick, for months now, keeps presenting the Ambassador's actions as a personal vendetta, something along the lines of "my US entry visa was revoked because Warlick hates me..."

The biggest accusation against Ambassador Warlick is too much interference in Bulgaria's internal affairs. He recently stirred outrage with the statement the country's justice system is double-faced – one for the common folk and another for the higher-ups.

"Rumen, you only prove Warlick right – if what he said was not true, you would have been sitting in jail," someone wrote in a Bulgarian internet forum.

Regardless of how the Ambassador is assessed by different people, regardless of his successes or mistakes, Siderov's and Petkov's behavior is unacceptable, not only on the level of elected officials, but in everyday human interactions.

It would be too easy to dismiss them as insane, as many do. The sad truth about us, Bulgarians, is that they aren't. They are people with significant influence, thriving politicians, who keep running and getting elected over and over again.

The silence of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, and of other high-ranking statesmen is also troubling. Only two have openly voiced criticism so far – the not very eloquent Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who had lost almost any credibility over several high-profile scandals and who never said this is also Borisov's and GERB's position on the subject. The other – President, Georgi Parvanov, known to have bashed the Ambassador on previous occasions, aimed his disapproval only at Siderov, but not at fellow party member Petkov.

To many in Bulgaria, and certainly to Ambassador Beyrle, Siderov and Petkov, have something else in common beyond belligerent behavior and use of alcohol (more on this read HERE and HERE) – ties with the Russian Embassy (Siderov) and long running public association with Russians who are either directly or indirectly affiliated with Russian intelligence (Petkov).

Russian Ambassador to Sofia, Yuriy Isakov, recently declared that the project to build, with Russian participation, a second Nuclear Power Plant in the Danube town of Belene will materialize regardless of the lack of a signed contract or opposition in the country, without Siderov or Petkov bashing him. And the words of former Ambassador Potapov that "Bulgaria is the Russian Trojan horse in Europe" seem long forgotten.

The anti-American feelings of Bulgarians are rooted in the deep complex of the small nation – we were slaves of the Ottoman Empire; then of the Soviets, and now came the Americans, they say.

In the beginning of April, US President Barack Obama officially announced his intention to run for a second term in office in 2012. One day ago, Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, held his first ever press conference since taking office in 2008. Reporters flocked wishing to learn his plans for the future, but Medvedev declined answering if he would enter the presidential race in 2012. He, however, declared great unity with Prime Minister Putin and warned of a new cold war over the US missile defense shield in Europe.

Let's face it - small nations have always been dependent on great powers.

Bulgaria must finally make a choice – either to fulfill its stated commitments to the West or "risk being cold" in the winters to come.

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Tags: US Embassy, Ataka, Volen, Siderov, Wikileaks, John, Beyrle, James, Warlick, US Ambassador, investors, Rumen, Petkov, visa, Interior Minister, military bases, Ataka, GERB, bill, Belene, NPP, Yuriy Isakov, Nuclear Power Plant, Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev, Boyko Borisov, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Georgi Parvanov


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