International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East and the Balkans. In the eve of the Sofia Summit organized within the Berlin Process, which is to take place on 10 November 2020, IFIMES analyzed the current developments in Bulgaria. We bring the most important and most interesting excerpts from the analysis titled “2020 Bulgaria: Bulgarian ‘certification’ of identity of Macedonians and Macedonian Language?”.
Bulgaria is in a deep political crisis. Mass protests against crime, corruption, oligarchs and the government have been going on since July 2020.
The International Institute IFIMES published on 28 September 2020 an analysis titled “Bulgaria 2020: Bulgaria exports its problems to North Macedonia”, link: https://www.ifimes.org/en/9908 .
In addition to the political dimension, the current crisis in Bulgaria also has a social/economic dimension, as well as elements of recessions, financial instability, high level of crime and corruption, crisis of political representation and the existing political system, institutional ineffectiveness due to seizure of national institutions by the ruling regime.
Each year, the World Justice Project (WJP) publishes the Rule of Law Index, which is recognized as the world’s leading source for reliable, independent data on the rule of law and categorizes states with respect to the effectiveness of the rule of law.
States with a strong and independent judiciary achieve high results, while contrary to them states with corrupted judges rank low on the list. The rating of Bulgaria, an EU and NATO member country, with respect to the recently published index for 2020 is worrying. Namely, out of 128 countries, Bulgaria ranked 53rd with respect to the rule of law, 91st with respect to constraints on government powers; 71st with respect to corruption and 61st with respect to impartial criminal justice system.
Although it is the poorest EU member country, Bulgaria tops the list of defense expenditures. In the period from 2018 to 2019, Bulgaria increased its defense appropriations by 127%.
Essentially, back in 2007 Bulgaria undeservingly became an EU member and in 2004 a NATO member, thanks to the intervention and pressure put by the US on the EU. However, Bulgarian political structures have never seriously understood or accepted membership in EU and NATO, but had immediately embarked on “plunder” of EU funds, which had already been earmarked for Bulgaria. The already present politico-mafia structure in Bulgaria got “upgraded” through the “plunder” of EU funds, which led to creation of the so-called “Bulgarian EU mafia.” EU did not pay sufficient attention to and control of (ab)use of EU funds in Bulgaria, just like in the past it had allowed over decades Greece to “plunder” EU and send “doctored” reports to Brussels. The pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus has further complicated the existing crisis and exposed all the anomalies of the current government, because the government functions as a regime and was not ready to seriously address sophisticated threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The president of the Bulgarian government Boyko Borissov (GERB – Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) used the framework of the European People's Party (EPP) to develop stronger relations with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). He then abused that relationship, because a public perception was created that he and his political (criminal/mafia-like) actions are backed by Chancellor Merkel personally. In fact, Borissov has publicly stated that his party had been established with the financial and advisory support of German right-wing foundations.
In Bulgaria, regular parliamentary elections are due to take place in March 2021. At the elections, 240 representatives/deputies of the National Assembly will be elected according to the proportional system with closed lists. There is a total of 31 electoral units, in which 4 to 16 representatives/deputies are elected depending on the size of the respective electoral unit. In the past, elections in Bulgaria were marked by serious indications of manipulations with the electoral roll, election fraud, massive buying of votes, extortion of votes from employees of (public) companies and public administration, modifications of voting protocols, declaring ballots invalid, etc. The most renowned example of election fraud “licensed” in Bulgaria is the so-called “Bulgarian train.”
The Bulgarian political scene is marked by a fierce conflict between Prime Minister Borissov and Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, and the confrontation between the two leading parties. Specifically, the ruling conservative GERB party and the opposition BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party) party, which had supported President Radev at the presidential elections. President Radev has stated that the “mafia” controls Borissov's government and the politicized judiciary in the country.
Bulgaria was unprepared to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Namely, the pandemic has additionally exposed the character of the regime, which was not ready to face or respond to sophisticated threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under such circumstances the Bulgarian authorities chose to start exporting their numerous internal/political problems to the neighboring North Macedonia, despite the Treaty on good neighborliness and strategic partnership that the two countries had signed in 2017. Bulgaria recently distributed to EU members a memorandum officially titled “Memorandum explaining the relation between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia in the process of enlargement, accession and stabilization” in which it requested from the EU to include the treaty on good neighborliness in the negotiation framework with North Macedonia. Bulgaria also disputes the Macedonian language and national identity.
Bulgaria cited historic and identity issues, which bring into question the Macedonian state, Macedonians as a people and the Macedonian language, as the reasons for its request. Furthermore, Bulgaria also threatened to use the right of veto on the decision on beginning of negotiations between North Macedonian and the EU, that is prevent organization of the first EU-North Macedonia intergovernmental conference, which is planned for December 2020.
Analysts believe that the EU, primarily Germany, that is Chancellor Angela Merkel, which currently chairs the EU Council, and the United States have to stop the Bulgarian approach of “taking it out on” North Macedonia and the Macedonians, as a people with its Macedonian identity and language, because any escalation of tensions could lead to conflicts and generate new crises, which nobody in the Balkans or the EU needs, except for the policies and politicians who believe that through confrontations and production of crises they can remain in or come to power.
Under such circumstances within a relatively successful initiative for the West Balkans a summit will be held in Sofia on 10 November 2020. It will be co-chaired by Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The summit is the last chance to stop the Bulgarian imperialism towards North Macedonia.
For ten years already Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has been the symbol of the authoritarian model of state management, which is an impediment to prosperity of the state of Bulgaria. Boyko Borissov had attempted to postpone resolution of the political crisis until the US presidential elections. Namely, he hoped US President Donald Trump would win another presidential mandate and that geopolitics would turn in his favor. Borrisov's hopes will probably be dashed. This would lead to the end of the era of Boyko Borissov and groundbreaking political changes in the country.
Analysts believe that despite the fact that Bulgaria is a full-fledged member of EU and NATO, it has become a “case country,” which already presents a “social bomb” and an internal problem of the EU, and in the future could present an even bigger problem for its neighbors and the EU as a whole. At Kosovo, for two decades already Bulgaria has been awarding citizenships and issuing travel documents to Kosovo citizens who are allegedly of Bulgarian descent. The information that Bulgaria is preparing a similar model for Serbia, so that in the future it could impede that is condition Serbia’s path towards the EU by opening some new issues and topics, is a point of concern. That is why stopping the actions/obstructions by Bulgaria at the Sofia summit would prevent possible future obstructions by other countries towards candidate-countries for membership in the EU, bearing in mind that there are already indications that Croatia would “complicate” the path of Serbia towards the EU. In 2007 Bulgaria became an EU member only thanks to the compromise brokered and the intervention by the US. It is still below the EU-set standards and at the bottom of the list of the EU countries in terms of (un)successfulness. The EU needs to find a modus for accelerated integration of Western Balkans countries into EU membership. While so far the emphasis was put on individual integration of countries into EU membership, once again conditions have been created in the region for consideration of the possibility to integrate Western Balkan countries to EU membership as a package, just like the EU had coopted 10 new member states in 2004.
Bulgaria is a profoundly polarized society, which has almost no point of contact with European values, on which the EU is founded and promoted. That is why, an impression is often created in the European public that Bulgaria had “strayed” into the EU. Bulgaria has become the European center for “certification” of mafia and crimes and a symbol of corruption. Currently, Bulgaria is everything it should not be bearing in mind that it is an EU and NATO member, which implies application of the highest democratic standards. The recent political corruption demonstrated through the “purchase” of eight opposition representatives/deputies from the BSP in the Bulgarian parliament by the ruling regime, that is the GERB party, who now support the stands of the ruling GERB party, is an illustration of the situation in the country.
The current Bulgarian authorities want to “certify” the identity of the Macedonians and the Macedonian language. In this context, they promote non-credible data that Macedonians have Bulgarian roots and imply that the Republic of Macedonia has to make an official statement that the Macedonian language and identity have Bulgarian roots. It is inconceivable that in the 21st century the state of Bulgaria, as a full-fledged member of EU and NATO, disputes the identity and language of its neighboring people - the Macedonians.
The Serbs and Montenegrins, as two predominantly Orthodox peoples who are ethnically much more similar with respect to identity and language than the Bulgarians and Macedonians, do not dispute each other's ethnicity, national identity and language.
Analysts believe that Bulgaria cannot and must not be a so-called center for certification of identity of Macedonians and the Macedonian language. They remind of the references to the Macedonians as a biblical people (2 Mkb 8,20; 2 Kor 9,2; 2 Kor 9,4), and suggest that just an opposite question could be asked. Specifically, whether Bulgarians have Macedonian roots, that is if Macedonians are Bulgarians, why could Bulgarians not be Macedonians?
Analysts also believe that the request of Bulgaria for the Republic of North Macedonia to renounce existence of ethnic Macedonians living in Bulgaria, is the “top of an iceberg,” because Bulgaria conceals that it is putting strong pressure on ethnic Macedonians living in Bulgaria to declare themselves Bulgarians. Namely, it is assessed that the number of ethnic Macedonians living in Bulgaria is in the area of 10% of overall population of Bulgaria. Over several decades Bulgaria has acquired experience in concealing ethnic minority figures, particularly with respect to the numbers of Turks living in Bulgaria and their forcible assimilation through change of identity, that is names and family names, and the strong pressure put on them to declare themselves as ethnic Bulgarians. National and international organizations are in possession of numerous evidence on violation of human rights in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Turks were stripped of their rights through the policy of forcible assimilation and mass exiles in the 1980-ies, under the regime of the communist dictator Todor Živkov. In example, in the period from June to September 1989 alone around 340,000 ethnic Turks emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey. This was ethnic cleansing, not voluntary emigration, as it was presented at the time.
The Bulgarian and Macedonian languages are two different languages for which cross-language communication requires interpretation/translation, unlike, in example, in the case of the Serbian and Croatian languages for which cross-language communication does not require interpretation/translation. All the listed languages belong to the Indo-European family of languages. Hence, it would not be a surprise if Bulgarian also embarks on the process of “certification” of Indo-European languages?
According to analysts, if Bulgaria truly believes it belongs and is committed to the EU, that through membership in the EU it cultivates its values, then it should work of affirmation of Macedonians living in Bulgaria, who according to assessments comprise 10% of the overall population of Bulgaria, and the Macedonian language because the wealth of diversity would open new European perspective for Bulgarians and Macedonians, as well as other ethnic communities living in the two countries. Everything else opens the question of what is Bulgaria doing in the EU, Council of Europe (CoE) and other international organizations that advocate and codify the rights of ethnic minorities as one of the pillars and founding values of modern societies. Bulgaria became an EU member in 2007 only thanks to a compromise and is still under the EU-set standards.