The Bulgaria 2009 Review: Diplomacy and Foreign Policy
Bulgarian Bokova Elected UNESCO Director-General, Slams 'Clash of Civilizations'
In September, much to the surprise of the international community, Bulgaria’s bidder Irina Bokova got elected the new Director-General of UNESCO becoming the first woman and first Eastern European to ever chair the organization. In the fifth round of the voting in the UNESCO Council, Bulgaria’s then Ambassador to Paris Bokova defeated by 31 to 27 votes the Egyptian Culture Minister, Faruq Hosni.
Her win caused fiery rhetoric on part of certain circles in Egypt and other Arab states that she had been elected by an international conspiracy thanks to Jewish and Western propaganda against the Egyptian candidate who had been known for some anti-Semitic remarks. However, only Libya of Muamar Qaddafi has formally suspended its cooperation with UNESCO over Bokova’s election. Upon assuming office and persistently after that Bokova has rejected the rhetoric about a “clash of civilizations”. She has become practically the highest ranking Bulgarian in an international organization of all time.
Bulgaria-US Relations: ‘Better than Ever’
Bulgaria Sees Another Change of US Ambassadors
At the very end of December, the US Senate formally approved the appointment of James B. Warlick Jr. as the new Ambassador of the United States to Bulgaria. Warlick’s appointment was put forth by US President Barack Obama in October 2009. He is going to replace former US Ambassador in Sofia Nancy McEldowney who in September officially assumed the position of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the US State Department. The Obama Administration asked Nancy McEldowney, who had come to Bulgaria less than a year ago replacing John Beyrle, to terminate her stay in Bulgaria in advance and return to Washington to assume the new position. Upon departing at the end of July, McEldowney said she left Bulgaria-US relations “better than ever”. (More on Bulgaria-US military cooperation read in the 2009 Defense Review.) After her departure, Ambassador John Ordway served as the Interim Chargé d'Affaires at the US Embassy in Sofia.
In March 2009, Bulgaria and the USA marked 50 years of unbroken diplomatic relations (which were initially established in 1903).
Bulgaria to Accept up to 2 Guantanamo Prisoners
In December, it was announced that Bulgaria will most probably accept one or two detainees from the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, thus responding positively to Washington request to house prisoners. Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has stated that quite naturally Bulgaria viewed positively the request of the Obama Administration to accept Guantanamo detainees because of the strong strategic partnership between the two countries.
US Secretary of State Clinton Greets Bulgaria Energy Transparency
In November, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the new Bulgarian government for its readiness for greater transparency in energy relations with the US. Clinton welcomed Bulgarian Foreign Minister Rumiana Jeleva in Washington, stressing the close relationship between the US and Bulgaria and the strategically important relations between the two countries within NATO.
Clinton said the abolition of US visas for Bulgarian citizens depended on Bulgaria meeting all the major criteria. Jeleva declared Bulgaria’s continued to commitment to the international stabilization mission in Afghanistan.
In November, during celebrations for the 20th year since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bulgaria's Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, had a conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the reception of German Chancellor Merkel.
US Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Affairs, Ambassador Richard L Morningstar, visited Bulgaria twice in 2009 – once for the World Energy Summit in April, and then again in December.
Obama Visit to Bulgaria Still Not on the Horizon
Despite various rumors, there is still no news of a visit of US President Barack Obama to Bulgaria. In April, former Bulgarian PM Sergey Stanishev had a brief exchange with Obama during the EU-US Summit in Prague, and in September Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Jeleva met briefly with the Obama family during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
Bulgaria-Russia Relations: Energy Projects Reconsidered?
Bulgaria Hurt Most by Russia-Ukraine Gas War
In January, Russian natural gas supplies for Europe were cut off for three weeks after a dispute about payments and transit fees between the Russians and Ukraine. Bulgaria turned out to be the only country in Europe with almost 100% dependence on Russian gas. Both Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the crisis, which, even though it was resolved, alarmed Europe about its energy dependence on Moscow and the respective transit routes. As a result of the crisis, Bulgaria moved to link its gas network to that of its neighbors.
President Medvedev: Bulgaria Relations Back on Track
In April, Bulgaria’s then PM Sergey Stanishev met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow easing the tensions between the two sides after the Ukrainian gas crisis. Progress on the three large-scale bilateral energy projects – the Belene Nuclear Power Plant, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline and the South Stream gas transit pipeline has remained uneven even though the Socialist government of Stanishev, and the Socialist President Parvanov firmly backed the projects.
Putin Wants from Borisov Quick Decisions on Russia-Bulgaria Energy Projects
In September, Bulgaria’s new PM Boyko Borisov and his Russian counterpart had their first and only so far meeting in Poland. The meeting has been dominated by the proclaimed intentions of the Bulgarian government to reconsider all three large-scale Russian energy projects over doubts of their financial feasibility and environmental impact. Borisov has asked Putin for a three-month period for his team to study the projects, whereas Putin has insisted on a swifter decision. The diplomatic talks continued on the level of Energy Ministers. On the whole, the Bulgarian government has backed the South Stream gas pipeline, is trying to secure proper funding for the Belene NPP (not ruling out ownership or loan from the Russian government), and has made the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline conditional on a environmental assessment of the Bulgarian Environment Ministry.
Police Raid of Bulgaria Diplomatic Premises in Moscow Raises Tensions
In November, a police raid of the Bulgarian Industrial Center in Moscow carried out by the Russian police caused a bilateral dispute. Russian police forces raided offices and apartments of the Bulgarian company Millenium 2001, and later arrested three Bulgarian citizens related to its on charges of production and distribution of pirate CDs with software and audio-visual materials. Bulgaria claimed the Russian had no right to do that as the premises enjoyed diplomatic immunity – a status denied by the Russian side as the dispute goes back to the 1970s. It has not been resolved yet.
Bulgaria New PM Gets Strong Support from Merkel, Sarkozy, Berlusconi
In the months after he assumed office in July 2009, Bulgaria’s new Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, received support of fellow European People Party leaders – Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicola Sarkozy, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Borisov met with each of them on more than one occasion. He paid visits to Berlin and Paris, meeting Merkel and Sarkozy. In October, Berlusconi became the first foreign leader to visit Borisov in Sofia after the new Bulgarian government took office.
Bulgaria-China Relations: Stronger Ties with the People’s Republic
In March, Bulgaria's then Foreign Minister, Ivaylo Kalfin, visited China to try forging better economic ties. Kalfin met in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi and with Vice President Xi Jinping.
In October, Bulgaria's Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, welcomed in Sofia Xi Jinping, the Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, and invited Chinese investors to the country.
The same month, Bulgaria and the People’s Republic of China celebrated the 60th anniversary since the establishing of diplomatic relations between the two states. Bulgaria is the second country to recognize diplomatically the People’s Republic of China.
In August, in a meeting with the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, Zhang Wanxue, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister, Rumiana Jeleva, declared Bulgaria adhered to the “One China” principle and did not intend to establish relations with Taiwan.
Bulgaria-Japan: Half a Century of Unbroken Diplomatic Ties
Bulgaria and Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary since the reinstatement of the diplomatic relations after World War II.
In January, Bulgaria’s President Parvanov paid a formal visit to Japan, and in May, Japanese Prince and Princess Akishino visited Bulgaria. This was the first visit to Bulgaria of the Prince, who is the second in line to succeed the Japanese throne.
Bulgaria Boosts Ties with Asia-Pacific States: South Korea, Australia, Sri Lanka
In a rather controversial (because of its cost) tour to the Asia-Pacific region in October, Bulgarian President and key Ministers from the Borisov cabinet sought to boost ties with South Korea, Australia, and Sri Lanka.
In Seoul, the Bulgarian delegation floated ideas about building joint liquefied natural gas terminals in the Black Sea together with South Korean corporation Hyundai. Bulgaria’s Labor Minister Mladenov has made it clear he expected massive Korean investments in plants and training centers in Bulgaria in 2010.
In Australia, the Bulgarian delegation met with the sizable Bulgarian community, and on the way from there, it stopped for a formal visit in Sri Lanka.
Bulgaria-Turkey Relations Stirred by Turkish-Language News, Minority Votes
In December, the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over the rising heated rhetoric in Bulgaria on the showing of daily Turkish-language news on the Bulgarian National TV. This came after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov declared himself in support of a motion put forth by the nationalist party Ataka for holding a referendum on the Turkish-language emissions.
In a phone conversation, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan also expressed his concern of rising anti-Turkish sentiments in Bulgaria, and Borisov had to assuage his fears. During the June-July elections in Bulgaria, a number of political actors in the country slammed Turkey for meddling in Bulgaria’s internal affairs by urging ethnic Turkish Bulgarian expats to vote for the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms).
Bulgaria and Macedonia: Strained Relations between ‘Brotherly Peoples’
Given the specific historic links, the relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia (Macedonia) were dominated by both signs of cordial friendship and mutual accusations interspersed with minor crises.
In February, former Bulgarian PM Stanishev met with former Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski, and apologized to him for comments then Sofia Mayor Borisov made before Bulgarian immigrants in Chicago that Macedonia should be turned into a “nation friendly to Bulgaria.”
Bulgaria has supported Macedonia’s accessions to both NATO and the EU but the progress in these respects has been hindered by the Macedonia’s continuing name dispute with Greece.
In most of 2009, the relations between the two countries were strained because of the case of Spaska Mitrova, a young Macedonian mother with Bulgarian passport who was received a very harsh sentence over a custody dispute with her ex husband allegedly because of her Bulgarian citizenship. The case ended with Mitrova being released from jail early, and moving to Bulgaria where she was offered a job by the Bulgarian government.
In July, Macedonia appointed Alexander Vasilevski, a career diplomat, as the country's new Ambassador to Bulgaria, almost a year after the previous Macedonian Ambassador to Bulgaria, Abdirraman Aliti, withdrew from his position over family matters.
In October, there was another scandal in Bulgaria-Macedonia relations as during a visit to Australia, Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski spoke of all immigrants from the region of Macedonia as ethnic Macedonians. For that, he was slammed by both Bulgarian President Parvanov during his own Australian visit a bit later, and PM Borisov. Gruevski said his words had been misconstrued.
In December, Bulgaria welcoming the lifting of EU visas for Macedonian citizens. PM Borisov denied Bulgaria was among the countries that blocked the fixing of a date for a start of Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations.
Kosovo and the Bulgaria-Serbia Relations
In July, Bulgaria's outgoing government decided to turn the Bulgarian Liaison Bureau in the Kosovo capital Prishtina into an Embassy. The decision was a follow-up of Bulgaria's recognition of Kosovo's independence (declared February 17, 2008) from March 20, 2008, which included establishing diplomatic relations with the new republic on ambassadorial level.
A month later, in August, Kosovo appointed Ariana Hoxha-Zherka its first Ambassador to Bulgaria.
In June, Bulgaria got in the middle of the complicated Serbia-Kosovo disputes after it arrested Agim Ceku, a former rebel commander who was Prime Minister of Kosovo between 2006 and 2008, is wanted in Serbia for allegedly committing war crimes during the 1998-1999 fighting in Kosovo between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb government forces.
Later, Ceku was released by a Bulgarian court which caused a harsh reaction on part of Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic.
Bulgaria and the Vatican: Bulgaria Gets Pope’s Blessings
Bulgarian leaders made two state visits to the Vatican in 2009 – around May 24th, the Day of St. Cyril and St. Methodius and the Bulgarian alphabet, President Parvanov visited Pope Benedict XVI. In addition to the tradition May 24 visit, Foreign Minister Jeleva was blessed by the Pope in Rome in October. In November, the new Bulgarian Ambassador to the Vatican, Nikola Kaludov, took office.
Bulgaria Organizes World Energy Summit on ‘Natural Gas for Europe’
In April, Bulgaria organized and held perhaps its most massive diplomatic initiative in the recent years, the World Energy Summit in Sofia entitled “Natural Gas for Europe”.
Bulgaria's President, Georgi Parvanov, declared Saturday that both USA and Russia were very pleased with the outcome of the Sofia Energy Summit. In his words, the energy summit gave an impetus to US-Russia dialogue and was the first occasion that the great powers had bilateral energy talks in years.
President Parvanov was explicit that the final Declaration of the participants was the major achievement of the Sofia Energy Summit because it included the set of common principles and rules in natural gas policies, to which all 28 participants - producer, transit and consumer states - had acceded. The President did stress that the agenda of the Summit was centered exactly around the common principles in natural gas and energy policy, and not on specific energy projects even though those were indeed talked about in multilateral and bilateral meetings during the forum. 28 states and organizations from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa attended the Summit: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, the European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Egypt, France, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Montenegro, Qatar, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Serbia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the Ukraine, USA.
The top-ranking participants included seven Presidents and one Prime Minister, among others: Albania's President Bamir Topi, Azerbaijan's Minister of Industry and Energy Natiq Aliyev, Croatia's President Stjepan Mesic, the Czech Deputy PM for European Affairs Alexander Vondra, the President of the European Commission Jose Barroso, Egypt's Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmy, Macedonia's Deputy PM Ivica Bocevski, Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, Greece's PM Kostas Karamanlis, Italy's Minister for Economic Development Claudio Scajola, Kazakhstan's Special Envoy Lyzzat Kiinov, Montenegro's President Filip Vujanovic, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Romania's Minister of Economy Adriean Videanu, Russia's Minister of Energy Sergey Shmatko, Serbia's President Boris Tadic. Turkey's President Abdullah Gül, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar.
Fiery Row between Bulgarian PM, President over Ambassadors to USA, Turkey
In November, Bulgaria’s ruling party GERB demanded the resignations of the country’s Ambassadors to the USA, Lachezar Petkov, and to Turkey, Branimir Mladenov, over irregularities that they allowed during the voting abroad in Bulgaria’s July 2009 Parliamentary Elections.
This demand became the center of a conflict between Prime Minister Borisov and President Parvanov, with Parvanov refusing to sign the decrees for the dismissal of the Ambassadors saying there were not sufficient evidence for that. This led some of GERB’s rightist partners to ask for Parvanov’s impeachment.
Eventually, both problematic Ambassadors resigned and the conflict was largely subdued. The conflict is believed to have had more to do with a power clash rather with the Ambassadorial resignations being just a pretext.
Despite demands by the rightist Blue Coalition, Foreign Minister Jeleva has refused to recall Bulgaria’s new Ambassador to the UK, Lyubomir Kyuchukov, who presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth II in November.
Bulgaria vs. the Somali Pirates
Not unlike most other states, Bulgaria also became a victim of the Somali pirates and their raids in the Gulf of Aden.
In August, Bulgarian humanitarian worker, Danka Pachova from “Action against Hunger”, was released after Somali militants kidnapped her and took her hostage since November 2008. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry thanked France, Oman, and Egypt for helping with the woman's release.
In April, Somali pirates hijacked the UK-owned ship Malaspina Castle with 16 Bulgarians on board. The Bulgarians were released about a month later for an alleged ransom of BGN 2 M.
In December, five Bulgarian sailors were kidnapped by Somali pirates who hijacked UK tanker St. James Park carrying chemicals from Spain to Thailand. The fate of the five Bulgarians is still unclear.
Turkmenistan to Sell to Bulgaria 2 B Cubic Meters of Gas per Year
In August, Turkmenistan's President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, confirmed in Sofia that Bulgaria would be able to buy 2 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from his country. Turkmenistan is seen as a possible gas supplier for the Nabucco pipeline.
Bulgaria, Qatar to Build Liquefied Gas Terminal
In April, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani visited Sofia agreeing with the Bulgarian President that a joint project of primary interest will the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal. The Sheikh has become the first Qatar head of state to visit Bulgaria. After his visit, the Bulgarian government decided to open an Embassy in Qatar.
Azerbaijan President in Bulgaria: Nabucco Has Long Way to Go
In November, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan signed two energy cooperation memorandums in the presence of the two Presidents, Georgi Parvanov, and Ilham Aliyev, continuing the bilateral energy cooperation. Azerbaijan is going to supply Bulgarian with 1 billion cubic meters per year. The gas deliveries will start the moment Bulgaria constructs a pipe connecting it to the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline.
Bulgaria-Poland Relations Strained by Custody Case
In June-August, Bulgarian-Poland relations were strained by a family drama involving a dispute between Todor Vasilev of Bulgaria’s Asenovgrad, and his Polish wife over the custody of their two children.
Both children were seized by the mother with the aid of the Bulgarian police in dramatic scenes which were taped and uploaded online bringing a wave of resentment in the Bulgarian society. Eventually, the Bulgarian father had both his kids taken to Poland as part of the ruling of the Polish court in his wife’s favor
Bulgaria Strikes Settlement on Berlin Diplomatic Property Case
In November, Bulgaria reached an out-of-court settlement over the use of real estate property in the downtown of the German capital Berlin, a case which had dragged on for years. Under the “Thomas Witt vs. The Republic of Bulgaria” case, a first-instance German court had sentenced Bulgaria to pay EUR 11,646 M for using property that had been restituted to its owners, plus the interest on that sum. Under the out-of-court settlement, Bulgaria will have to pay only EUR 10,5 M in total, without any additional fees or paying off interest.
Erotic Star Diplomat Becomes Bulgaria's New Consul in Chicago
In August, Lila Georgieva, a young Bulgarian diplomat who spurred a scandal with erotic photos in 2007, became Bulgaria's consul in Chicago. In the fall of 2007, Georgieva, who was then an official at the Bilateral Consular Relations Department of the Foreign Ministry in Sofia, in charge of consular relations with Greece and Cyprus, spurred a scandal after she published erotic photos in her personal website. Bulgaria's former Foreign Minister, Ivaylo Kalfin, punished her by postponing her promotion for a year. After the term of the punishment expired, Georgieva applied to become Bulgaria's consul in Brazil, and was approved but gave up the post as she was getting married.
Bulgaria Attends World War II, Berlin Wall Anniversaries
In September, Bulgaria’s PM Borisov was among the state guests of the remembrance events for the 70th anniversary of the breakout of World War II in Gdansk, Poland. In November, he was against a state guest to the celebrations of the 20th anniversary since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in Germany’s capital.
Bulgaria Takes over Chairing of Black Sea Economic Cooperation
In October, Azerbaijan handed over to Bulgaria the chairmanship of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) during the 21st meeting of the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers.
Who Will Be the New Bulgarian Foreign Minister?
As Bulgaria’s acting Foreign Minister Rumiana Jeleva has been designated to become the new EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Prevention, the name of her successor is still unclear. Jeleva still has to be confirmed at her new position during tough hearings in the European Parliament in January 2010.
In October 2009, citing anonymous diplomatic sources, Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) reported that Bulgaria’s most likely new Foreign Minister after Jeleva became a EU Commissioner will be her Deputy Marin Raykov.
Bulgaria’s Diplomatic Anniversaries in 2009
In March 2009, Bulgaria and the USA marked 50 years of unbroken diplomatic relations (which were initially established in 1903).
In March, Bulgaria and the Netherlands marked 100 years since establishing diplomatic relations with Days of Bulgaria in the Netherlands.
In May, Bulgaria and Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary since the reinstatement of their diplomatic relations after World War II.
In July, Bulgaria and the Russian Federation marked the 130th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
In October, Bulgaria and the People’s Republic of China celebrated the 60th anniversary since the establishing of diplomatic relations between the two states. Bulgaria is the second country to recognize diplomatically the People’s Republic of China.
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