Bulgaria East of EUden: What Beats Being Russia's Trojan Horse?
The appointment of Bulgarian Ambassador to Israel Yuri Sterk as EU Ambassador to Uzbekistan by EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton should have attracted a lot more attention in Bulgaria.
This development is important not only because Sterk, a career diplomat, has become the second Bulgarian to be appointed EU Ambassador – after Bulgaria's ex Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov was appointed EU Ambassador to Georgia at the inception of the European External Action Service 1.5 years ago.
The fact that both Bulgarians to become EU Ambassadors have been sent to former Soviet Union nations (Georgia and Uzbekistan) comes to underscore a potential that Bulgaria still harbors but has miserably failed to utilize to date: namely, the potential ability to bridge, bring together, help integrate the emerging markets in the former Soviet Union / Bloc with Western Europe (the EU).
This bridging potential stems from Bulgaria's cultural closeness with both the West and with Russia (which translated into a "best satellite" status during the Soviet / Communist Bloc period), and appears to be still there regardless of the squandering of the respective "political capital" on Bulgaria's part in the past 20 years, or the fact that, because of their language's similarity to Russian, few Bulgarians ever speak it or write it correctly. So if there is any area in international policy where Bulgaria has had some expertise – it has been the former Soviet space. (This is no longer the case with Bulgaria's previous expertise on the Arab world, and some African states.)
Unfortunately, for the past couple of decades, especially after joining the EU, Bulgaria – whose society remains dominated by a Russian-type post-communist oligarchy (though one that is many times smaller in scale) – has become better known as the "Russian Trojan Horse in the EU".
Since prospects don't seem very bright in that respect, hope is always there. So let's hope that the examples of Ambassadors Dimitrov and Sterk – who are now at the forefront of EU diplomacy in the former Soviet republics – can become catalysts for Bulgaria to start helping bridge the EU and the former Soviet space, as greater regional integration seems to be a pressing issue in an era of greater global competition.