Meglena Kuneva: Boycott Bulgaria's N-Referendum, Say No to Hypocrisy
Meglena Kuneva. Photo by Bulgaria for Citizens Movement press office
Interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) and Novinite.bg with Meglena Kuneva, leader of the party "Bulgaria for Citizens Movement" about the upcoming referendum on the fate of nuclear energy in the country.
Meglena Kuneva is a former Minister of EU Affairs in the government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg and the NSMP party (2001-2005), the three-way coalition government (2005-2007), Bulgaria's Chief Negotiator in the EU accession talks in 2001-2007, and Bulgaria's first EU Commissioner in 2007-2009, when she was in charge of consumer protection.
Kuneva ran as independent candidate for President of the Republic of Bulgaria in the 2011 presidential elections.
The party that you lead "Bulgaria for Citizens Movement" argues the upcoming referendum on Bulgaria's nuclear energy seeks to divert people's attention from the main problems plaguing the country. Which are the most acute issues Bulgaria is struggling with?
Bulgaria is plagued by poverty and destitution, fueled by high jobless rates, the health care system is terminally ill, while the much touted organized crime combat suffered complete failure. The judicial system is inefficient.
These are "the fruits" that we are reaping at the end of the current government's term. The referendum, proposed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, is a convenient way to put on the agenda diverse issues, but steer clear of the people's real problems. Over the last three years these problems not only remained unsolved, but became more acute.
Official figures show that foreign investments have marked a sharp dip over the last three years. FDIs are the lifeline for Bulgaria's economy. The fact that their inflows have slowed to a trickle is the main reason for our destitute economic state, which is in fact a real depression.
According to statistical data a total of 300 000 people have lost their job, taking the number of jobless Bulgarians up to 600 000. I have obtained information, which makes me believe the unemployment rate is even higher, but rulers are deliberately trying to cover up the real figures.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov loves to open new sites and cut ribbons, but the grandest inauguration that he has organized is the opening of "The City of Unemployed". This is in fact Bulgaria's second-biggest city.
Bulgaria's migrant exodus continues unabated and this speaks volumes about what is happening in the country now. We often hear people from the government and the ruling party blaming only the crisis for our economic woes and saying it is the reason for the reduction in investments and massive lay-offs. At the same time however they present Bulgaria as an island of stability and try to instill fear into Bulgarians, pointing their fingers at neighboring Greece. The problem is I have not seen many Greek migrants in Bulgaria. On the contrary, many Bulgarians still continue to leave for Greece and try to eke out their living there.
Truth is we are not making any investments in the most important pillars of the economy – creating business-friendly conditions and caring for the people who do business. The situation in the health care sector is more than gloomy not only because of the doctors, leaving the country (600 only by the middle of the year), but also because Bulgarians' life expectancy is ten years shorter that the European average.
Chronic diseases, lack of medical aid in the small settlements are problems rulers are turning a blind eye to. No constructive reforms were made in the education field except for going for more and more budget cuts. Bulgaria lags at the bottom of all media freedom ranking.
This is not just the careless talk of an opposition party leader. I can pad out my words with official figures and what is most important I can see with my own eyes how hard people's life is during my trips across the country.
The worst thing is that the government vehemently refuses to discuss those topics and perceives criticism as a personal insult. This is an example of the so-called policy of denial.
Apart from our economic woes, I am very much concerned about the state of democracy in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is governed by a political regime, which only pretends to cater for democracy, but in reality is trampling on democracy.
When faced with an economic bankruptcy, like the one in Greece, one can just pour money. But when faced with a democracy bankruptcy, one need to restore the democratic relations inside the society and this is all up to the citizens. This is one of the reasons why we founded "Bulgaria for Citizens Movement".
The only benefits that the average Bulgarian citizen gained after a 23-year transition were the freedom to vote and speak up. The current regime deprived him even of them through manipulation, suppression of the media and police brutality.
The fake referendum is a symptom of what is happening in Bulgaria at the moment. Let us remember how the debate about the construction of a new nuclear power plant evolved in Lithuania. It is important to note that the people went to the polls, knowing absolutely clear the contract parameters. One year before the referendum the Lithuanians had all the information. People, however, considered that the crisis is not the most appropriate time for large investments and said no to the construction of the nuclear plant.
In Bulgaria, the ruling GERB and the Socialist party BSP are staging a completely meaningless referendum. It is clear that people here generally support nuclear energy. It is clear that we are not split on whether the country should remain in the group of countries with nuclear energy or not. The opinion of the majority of Bulgarians is clear and there was never ever doubt about it. There is no conflict in the public opinion, so there is no need for them to ask us whether we want to have nuclear energy or not. Even GERB and BSP are on the same page on that.
The question in the referendum does not provide opportunity to the citizens to speak out on the most important topics – the need for diversification of energy resources.
Bulgaria will hold its true referendum in the summer, when the general elections will take place. The fake referendum just serves the political cartel. Half a year before the general elections the ruling GEBR party and the Socialists want to take voters out to the polling stations only to tell them the results are not valid. Thus they want to convince people that elections make no difference, that there is no point in casting a ballot.
Truth is, ruling GERB, ethnic Turkish DPS and Socialist BSP parties need a low turnout at the general elections next year because vote buying and manipulations work only when people refuse to come out to vote. High turnout at the elections will benefit only "Bulgaria for Citizens Movement."
The referendum has been made in such a way as to mar the very idea of holding a referendum and to serve as an excuse, because the government has no potential for real leadership.
We are calling on Bulgarians to boycott the upcoming referendum on the fate of nuclear energy in the country. This is an appeal against hypocrisy, against dishonest policy and against behind-the-stage haggling. We must not let the first democratic referendum in the history of Bulgaria to be labeled "fake." We must not allow the most democratic consultation with the people to be marred, and that's what is happening now.
Even members of the Socialist Party, who collected signatures to initiate the referendum, have reason to boycott it. Because the question is different from what they had originally signed up to.
Which political forces will benefit from the referendum and why?
The important thing is that the Bulgarian people won't benefit from it. As things stand now, this referendum belongs to the parliamentary majority. It is very easy thus the majority to hide behind people's back.
And just one more "detail" – the referendum is non-binding. What will happen if the Bulgarian people say "No", but the government or one of the next governments say "Yes"? If we really say that the referendum is important to us, let us make its results binding!
One year before the referendum Lithuanians had available all the information, we hurriedly want to make something out of it for a month.
The die-hard right-wingers from Democrats of Strong Bulgaria, headed by former Prime Minster Ivan Kostov, also took a stand against the referendum...
We don't want to be part either of the groups for or the groups against the referendum. We are calling on the people to boycott the referendum. True, the end result will be the same as with those calling against it, but we refuse to tell people to cast any ballot in relation to something they don't understand.
Former Prime Minister and Socialist leader Sergey Stanishev slammed you for depriving people of their strongest weapon – the referendum. How would you comment his statement?
Stanishev has got us wrong. We do want to have and respect referendums, but it is namely the Socialist Party and the ruling GERB party, which wants to devoid them of any meaning.
They want to turn the word referendum into a synonym for hypocrisy. They want to put it next to words such as democracy, freedom, solidarity, reform, energy, which thanks to their pooled efforts, have become synonymous with corruption, anarchy, theft and lying.
We will not let this happen.
Besides, we will do everything we can to restore people's faith in freedom, democracy and the idea that politics and high morale are not mutually exclusive terms.
This is the biggest challenge that we face and it is the only way out of the social, economic and political crisis in which we have found ourselves. We need honesty, not imitations. Democracy can not be imitated - it either happens or does not happen. And people understand that very well.
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