Stranded in Belarus - Or Is Your Call 'Very Important' to Bulgaria's Diplomats Abroad?
Since poetry is sometimes
a cell that deprives us of our freedom
a fence that obstructs our view
I will say it straight:
I was walking in the zoo
and was wondering what distinguishes the human
from the animal?
The answer was
When the news broke last Friday that Bulgarian poet, journalist and translator Dimiter Kenarov, the author of the short poem cited above (originally in Bulgarian), had been arrested in Belarus on June 29, his friends and relatives were shocked.
A country ruled by "Europe's last dictator", Belarus is not considered to be the amongst the most benign places to get arrested at.
Earlier in June, Andrzej Poczobut, a correspondent for a Polish paper and human rights activist, was arrested in Belarus for articles he wrote, allegedly "defaming"the country's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
At the beginning of July, state police and undercover officers cracked down on more than 100 demonstrators in Minsk and elsewhere for no more than sarcastically clapping at the regime - just a couple of examples showcasing the Belorussian authorities' preparedness to strike hard against their "enemies".
Dimiter Kenarov, a Berkeley graduate and a freelancer, who has written articles for The Nation, Esquire and Boston Review, among others, was detained by the police with the assistance of the Belorussian intelligence agency, still called KGB, the reason being a lost passport.
Kenarov was apprehended together with a US photographer in Belorussian city of Mozyr , where they were planning to interview a plant director. After intervention of the Embassy of the United States, the photographer was released and almost immediately taken out of the country
The Bulgarian journalist had taken the risk of entering Belarus with a touristic visa, since a journalistic one is extremely difficult to obtain, which further fueled the police's suspicions. Having in mind the the attitude on behalf of the Belorussian authorities towards Western media, some were worried that the Bulgarian's passport might have been deliberately stolen in order to have him interrogated. Kenarov himself, however, doubts this was the case:
"I don't believe in conspiracy theories, even in complicated cases like this," he told Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency), describing the loss of his passport as a misfortune.
The journalist has also assuaged fears that he may have been tortured while kept in captivity:
"In spite of all the misfortunes, I'd like to say that I wasn't physically mistreated by the authorities at any point. Just on the opposite – most of my guards and the police treated me with the greatest respect and even sympathy" Kenarov said in a thank-you note addressed to his supporters on Facebook.
In an interview for the Bulgarian National Television, he stated he was never asked if he was a spy during the interrogations.
Kenarov said he was lucky to have been released relatively quickly, but stated that his publicity and the key role of Bulgaria's former Foreign Minister, Solomon Passy (2001-2005), helped him, adding that many Bulgarians may have faced much greater trouble in a similar situation.
Even though the accident eventually appeared more or less harmless to the general public (not to Kenarov's friends and relatives, of course), something else stirred controversy already on Friday -the question about the (in)adequacy of Bulgaria's diplomatic mission in Belarus.
The actions of Bulgaria's Embassy in Minsk were slow and ineffective, and its statements were ambiguos and chaotic, many claimed on Facebook, including relatives of the detainee who tried to receive more information - but to no avail.
Bulgarians were once again pointing their fingers to their own authorities for the troubles their compatriot was experiencing abroad - understandably, since it was not the first case citizens have felt betrayed by the country's diplomatic missions.
One of the more recent striking examples of unprofessionalism was displayed by the former Bulgarian consul in Tokyo, who unprecedentedly fled Japan in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear event, abandoning his compatriots at a critical moment without even telling them.
Many Bulgarians are still mad at their Foreign Ministry over the notorious case in 1999, when six Bulgarian medics were detained in Libya for "deliberately infecting children with AIDS". The Bulgarians diplomats could have reacted more quickly before the travesty trial was launched and saved them from years of terror, many say.
So, on Saturday, dozens of Kenarovs friends and relatives, as well as concerned citizens gathered in front of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest what they saw as slow work on his return.
Minutes before the protest started, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it acted "immediately" after being notified of the case, and produced the temporary passport within 48 hours of the arrest, but Belarusian "police authorities refused to allow that the document be delivered on time." According to the standard procedure in such cases, a temporary document is issued on the third day, the Ministry said.
However, doubts still remain on whether the Bulgarian diplomats in Minsk reacted as swiftly as possible. After all, Kenarov spent almost a week in a solitary confinement for a fairly minor "crime" - and his friends and relatives indeed declared they were kept in the dark about the developments for most of the time.
Besides what is perceived as the diplomats' sluggishness and unwillingness to cooperate, Bulgarians have one more reason to be suspicious about their representatives abroad.
At the end of 2010, the so-called Files Commission, the special panel examining the Communist era documentation, revealed that almost half of Bulgaria's diplomats abroad had been collaborators of the former State Security Service - an unsurprising but embarrassing news.
In other words, half of Bulgaria's diplomats would fit the profile of what the likes of Lukashenko would send as their envoys abroad. While Belarus has kept its KGB, Bulgaria has kept much of its Communist nomenclature in its Embassies.
Some of the discredited ambassadors - including the one to Belarus - were recently recalled by Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov, but it still seems inexplicable how a state claiming to be democratic has kept ex-Communist spies as its envoys for 20 years since the fall of the totalitarian regime.
The Ambassadors in Sarajevo, Athens, Bucharest, Tbilisi, Belgrade, Beijing, Stockholm, Vilnius, Berlin, Minsk and Skopje have been already recalled, all others are expected to return by the end of 2011.
It cannot be stated with certainty whether the Bulgarian diplomats in Minsk reacted adequately or not in the Kenarov case - but a major conclusion can be surely drawn from it: Bulgarians will not trust their representatives abroad until some "fresh blood" is poured into the country's diplomatic missions: and until the diplomats start sharing more information about Bulgarian citizens in distress instead of "we are doing everything possible".
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