Towards stability in South-Eastern Europe

Georgi Parvanov, President of Bulgaria, sets out his view of his country’s options for the future

Issue 4, Volume 49, 2000

The Republic of Bulgaria is a state in South-Eastern Europe which embarked upon the road to democracy 12 years ago. A lot has been achieved during that period in terms of introducing market principles in the Bulgarian economy, as well as improving and strengthening democratic institutions. Principles such as safeguarding human rights, the rule of law, political pluralism are now an integral part of political reality in Bulgaria. Several democratic elections were held according to European standards: for local government, for Parliament, and for the Presidency.

There is political consensus in Bulgaria on the country’s strategic foreign policy orientation. Full membership in the European Union and NATO enjoys the support of all political forces represented in the National Assembly and the vast majority of the Bulgarian public. The political forces are also convinced of the need for Bulgaria to join the global anti-terrorist coalition. This is no mere declaration, for it is backed up by specific actions. Bulgaria is sending non-combatant units to Afghanistan as part of the multinational peacekeeping forces. There is also a wide understanding of the need to pursue an active, effective and balanced policy in South-Eastern Europe.

These internal and international successes and achievements are the starting point of my term of office as President of the Republic of Bulgaria. The readers of Socialist Affairs probably know that I won the latest elections as a representative of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP. This victory was the result of the course of renovation adopted by this party in recent years. It was also the result of the integration processes on the left, of the success of the New Left project. The votes cast for me as a representative of the socialists exceeded by far the members and sympathisers of the BSP.

Before going into the challenges we face, I would like to emphasise that the presidential institution in Bulgaria has relatively limited functions and prerogatives. Nevertheless, the President has major powers in the area of foreign policy and the armed forces. Besides, the Bulgarian President has the functions of a political unifier and moral arbiter.

Terrorism is one of the greatest challenges for Bulgaria, the region, and the world. The fight against terror is top of the international security agenda. I share the view that the world is not the same after 11 September 2001. The attack at the heart of America has proved that in the dawn of the new millennium threats and risks to international security are diverse and unconventional. That calls for new, more varied approaches and tools in conducting the security policy. The second conclusion is that what we have now are global, cross-border threats. No country is insured against them, no state can cope single-handedly with these threats and risks.

Bulgaria will be part of the international anti-terrorist coalition. These actions fully conform to our perception of national security, to Bulgarian national interests. Terrorism is no longer some vague and remote phenomenon for the Bulgarians. The wars on the territory of former Yugoslavia have provided fertile soil for the proliferation of terrorism in the region of South-Eastern Europe as well. Various forms of terrorism may well be transferred onto our territory and there is a general awareness of this. In other words, our participation in the global anti-terrorist coalition is in accordance with our desire to strengthen our own national security.

I would like to digress here for a moment. From a philosophical perspective the tragedy in New York raises a very important question — the question of the various civilisations, of the various perceptions of basic values, of multicultural states and relations, etc. I am no champion of the "war of civilisations" theory. I believe that education in the spirit of tolerance becomes a necessity to all states and nations, no matter how poor or rich they are, where they are on the map, and what religion they confess.

Democratic Bulgaria has scored major successes on the way to accession in the European Union and NATO. The credit goes to all Bulgarian governments and presidents since the start of democratic changes. The consensus on the need of full membership in these two organisations achieved by all major political forces in this country is of special value.

At the end of 1999 Bulgaria was invited to start negotiations for full membership in the European Union. The invitation defined the borders of the European Union and irrevocably placed Bulgaria in the zone of active pluralism, democratic policy rules and principles, and an economy dominated by market principles. This is the zone where ecological balance, social issues and the quality of life are of prime concern for governments. This is the zone of the rule of law and respect for human rights. The invitation has given Bulgaria a real chance to get out of the "grey zone" of European security and join the integrated Western Europe. That is why working for accession has become a primary task of Bulgaria’s home and foreign policy.

In view of the new political realities in the Euro-Atlantic area, the specific role of NATO in designing the new European security architecture, including the region of South-Eastern Europe, membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has become a priority of Bulgaria’s foreign policy and its policy of strengthening national security. NATO membership will open up new opportunities to the Republic of Bulgaria, such as:

- resolving the issue of the international, legally binding guarantees for our national security after a long and continuing period of security vacuum;

- providing a mechanism whereby Bulgaria will be able to raise, at an early stage, the problems of its security and exchange information, views, and experience in this field;

- equal and active participation in the adoption of all decisions related to European security, including those concerning the south-eastern part of the continent, and;

- a new impetus to relations with the advanced countries in the economic, financial, commercial and other areas; increasing the confidence of foreign investors and international financial institutions, and hence improving considerably responsibilities and obligations related to membership.

We are realists and we understand that Bulgaria has not yet met fully European standards. We also realise that Bulgaria’s problems lie here rather than outside. We must work hard here, in Bulgaria to prepare for a dignified accession to the organisations of the democratic states. With respect to the European Union, the thrust of our efforts should be to meet the Copenhagen criteria and the recommendations of the European Commission. With respect to NATO, we must work hard to build a modern and efficient army and adapt it to NATO standards; an army capable of assuming greater responsibility for peace and security in the region. A successful fight against poverty and unemployment, corruption and crime, as well as our efforts for an accelerated economic development and better living standards are no less important elements of our preparation for full membership of the clubs of democratic states.

At the same time, I believe that the European Union and NATO should adopt a broader political approach to Bulgaria; an approach that should take into account our share in subduing the conflicts and strengthening stability in the region, in the fight against terrorism. It should take into consideration the losses we sustained at the time of the conflicts in the region, as well as our macroeconomic achievements. We are entitled to a clear political signal from the European Union and NATO that integration processes will expand to cover this troubled region as well. An invitation for Bulgaria to join the Alliance at the Prague Summit later this year would be such a signal. I believe that the members of the Socialist International understand this position of ours, judge our efforts on their merits and will do what they can to support our candidature for NATO.

Bulgaria has proven capable of generating security and stability in the region of South-Eastern Europe. At the time of the conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia Bulgaria won international recognition for its stabilising role in the troubled Balkans. It was the first to recognise the independence of the former Yugoslav republics and did its best for the quick admission of the Republic of Macedonia to the international organisations. By applying strictly the sanctions of the UN Security Council against Yugoslavia, Bulgaria has contributed substantially to the implementation of the Dayton Accords. Bulgaria has settled and is settling any disputes with its neighbours with a view to involving the region in the European integration processes. The various forms of trilateral cooperation in different configurations with other Balkan states are also a part of Bulgaria’s regional policy. The country has been among the initiators of regional cooperation in security and defence. The Multinational Peace-Keeping Forces in South-Eastern Europe, which can be used in peacekeeping operations under a UN or OSCE mandate, are an important result of this cooperation.

Regrettably, South-Eastern Europe continues to generate tensions and security risks for the continent of Europe. The problems are due to the great ethnic and religious tensions, the upset market and the immature democratic practices. The host of unresolved issues in the bilateral relations between states, mutual mistrust and the historic hangover add to unpredictability in the development and the future of the region. I do believe that the countries in South-Eastern Europe and the international community must bet on the integration approach in solving the problems of the region. This approach should stimulate positive trends and keep conflicts down. The integration approach is based on equal negotiations and cooperation between the countries of South-Eastern Europe and organisations outside the region in building lasting security, development of the economy and infrastructure, better living conditions, integration of the region in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures and concerted efforts in the face of the new challenges. Foreign investment and the development of the regional infrastructure will create a considerable potential for us and our neighbours to develop on our own; they will stimulate the integration processes and links with our partners in the other parts of Europe.

The strategic goal of full membership of the European and Euro-Atlantic organisations calls for a further widening and deepening of our bilateral relations with the other European states. The existing good political relations should be given a specific economic substance. The improved bilateral relations with these states will open up new opportunities for speeding up economic reforms and strengthening the democratic processes in our country.

The equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with the United States has an important stabilising effect on the security and cooperation in our region and on Bulgaria’s role and place in international relations. Bulgaria is interested in complementing the active political contacts by a broader economic cooperation between the two countries.

Security in the European space is unthinkable without a democratic, transparent and active Russia. There is hardly a state in the world that can ignore Moscow in planning and conducting its foreign policy, despite the difficult times for the Russian Federation. There is hardly any serious politician who fails to recognise that country’s potential and take into account its interests, including in South-Eastern Europe. We have been witnessing an even closer co-operation between the United States and Russia, especially after 11 September. We have been witnessing an active exchange of information and views on issues of the European and world security between Moscow and Brussels; of more frequent and productive contacts between diplomats and military from NATO and the Russian Federation. This, too, is an element of the new realities in the world of today. In fact, I am convinced that the Russian Federation will continue to play a stabilising role in the Balkans.

I would dwell briefly on our relations with the Arab world and Israel. As a country situated close to that region Bulgaria cannot but feel worried by the wave of bloodshed and destruction that has swept over the Middle East in the past few months, claiming hundreds of innocent lives. The tensions remain. The blood that was shed has dug an even deeper gulf between Jews and Palestinians. All this notwithstanding, I believe there is no alternative to the negotiations for a lasting and fair peace in that long-suffering region. The sooner they start the better.

Bulgaria must activate its relations with the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. We should only look at the volume of trade with our partners on the three continents to find out that it is symbolic. I will not dwell on the investment in Bulgaria by the industrialised and fast-growing economies of Asia and Latin America. It is negligible. Generally speaking, for several years now Bulgaria has been underestimating the potential of its partners outside Europe and North America, thus losing its foothold in traditional markets. This should change so that political and economic relations with countries of other continents should find their due place in Bulgaria’s foreign relations.

Despite its continuing political and financial constraints, the United Nations remains the most prestigious international organisation with a potential to provide a framework for a global policy of security. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Bulgaria has a chance to participate in the decision-making process on most important global issues. It can contribute directly to strengthening security and stability in South-Eastern Europe and increasing the role of the United Nations in international affairs.

Finally, I would like, through Socialist Affairs, to convey my warmest greetings to my friends in the Socialist International and to assure them that I have most precious memories of our meetings and talks.