Top 8 Ways to Use Bulgaria and Romania in Your Election Campaign
Bulgaria and Romania are quite often paired up in European and regional powers' approach to the Balkans. They are said to be both wrapped in political, economic and social problems, but usually do not provoke a huge interest from EU politicians.
However, both countries seem to possess the strange capacity to rapidly turn into a hot topic as long as elections approach and fears of not doing enough to attract (or disperse) the populist vote loom in Europe.
Eight examples in reverse order (starting from the most innocent one) display either surprising overstatement or violation the rules of tolerance and political correctness. Some of the statements have even resulted insulting as coming by officials from states which, unlike Bulgaria and Romania, have often been commended for their political culture. Others just look like neighborly blunders.
But most are also likely to make one smile.
8. Greeks will soon have “Bulgarian wages” – SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras
In April, Greek radical left coalition SYRIZA urged Athens' citizens to take to the streets in protest over a visit by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Among the reasons for her meeting with officials was "to support the Samaras-Venizelos [New Democracy - PASOK] coalition government", but also "[to inspect] whether the Greek wages have dropped to the level of those in Bulgaria".
SYRIZA's leader, Alexis Tsipras, issued the same threat about two years ago, when he said that the international lenders “want to turn Greece into a country with Bulgarian wages and Brussels prices". Earlier, it could have been Greek that introduced to Greece the idea by alleging that the "Troika" of the EU, ECB and IMF wanted "Bulgarian salaries" for Greeks so that country could reach its Balkan neighbors in terms of “meager payment”.
Against that background, real economic numbers make claims repeated by Tsipras look strikingly ill-founded. In 2012, Greece's minimum salary was among the highest in Europe (EUR 684 monthly, near the one in the UK) and EUR 586 in 2013, but Bulgaria's EUR 138 would still hard to match even in ten more years of austerity.
7. Bulgaria and Romania threatening France – National Front leader Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, the current leader of France’s National Front (known as the FN), said on March 4 last year that Bulgaria and Romania's entry into the Schengen area would have devastating consequences for France.
That might be the case, but it should be remembered that both illegal immigrants, smugglers and others participating in criminal activity seem to find their way into the area regardless of levels of border security (Spain, Italy and France are considered quite an easy gateway, and North European ports are considered to be smugglers' safe haven). Why Bulgarian migrants should prefer France is beyond explanation, given that both the Netherlands and the UK have long declared the same prediction.
6. Romania: a “banana republic” and “American colony”, with political life turned into a “soap opera” and “rigged elections” – during a debate at the European Parliament
In 2012, Romania was in political turmoil, as its domestic affairs were marked by an intense standoff between President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta. The situation in Bucharest sparked controversy in Brussels and raised the anxiety of some MEPs. Britain's liberal Graham Watson expressed disappointment at the developments in Romania as they had happened in an EU member state and not in a "banana republic". The Netherlands' PVV (Parfy for Freedom) MEP Daniel Van Der Stoep for his part said the public in that country was taking part in "a soap opera".
Not only did some Romanian MEPs fail to react to the insults. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, also a leader of the nationalist Greater Romania Party, went even further by saying that corruption was "controlled by the CIA" and his country was "an American colony" in which all elections were "rigged". The vast part of Bucharest's representatives, nevertheless, put forth their best effort to defend their country.
Here Romania Insider hints a curious point without explicitly mentioning it. One could not help wondering who is to be blamed: the Austrian and Dutch politicians, who used idiomatic expressions to describe another EU country's internal affairs, or the Romanian representative, who among others discussing Romania’s bad governance helped to mold a certain image out of the following pictures: "a banana republic", "a soap opera", "rigged elections", "an American colony"...
5. Crime is a “way of life” for Romanians – Italian lawmaker Alessandra Mussolini
In September 2007, just months on from Romania's accession into the EU, Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Italy’s former leader, said: "… breaking the law became a way of life for Romanians. However, it is not about petty crimes, but horrifying crimes, that gives one goosebumps."
As a result of her words, Romanian nationalist MEPs quit the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) group of right-wing parties within the European Parliament. The ITS thus had to dismember and was prevented from becoming a caucus and receive EP funding. Der Spiegel later quoted EP socialists' leader (now European Parliament President) Martin Schulz as saying that ITS members were "a casualty of their own philosophy which paints all foreigners in a single mold and encourages xenophobic and racist comments."
4. Dutch people could complain about Bulgarians, Romanians or Poles on a website – PVV party
Geert Wilders' anti-immigration Party for Freedom (PVV) launched in 2012 a special site for complaints about Central and Eastern Europeans. "Have you lost your job because of a Pole, a Bulgarian, a Romanian? We want to know," the website said, encouraging the "victims" to openly speak about their experience and citing significant evidence of crime among people of such origin.
A PVV official claimed that problems created by Central and Eastern Europeans such as crime, alcohol consumption, use of illegal drugs and prostitution were to be dealt with. "Drunkenness", "double parking" and "noise pollution" were also among Central and Eastern Europeans' alleged issues.
Both countries asked the Netherlands’ government that measures be taken against the discriminatory website. It does not seem to exist anymore, but not because of a quick reaction by the Dutch cabinet. Prime Minister Mark Rutte was quoted as saying short after the scandal emerged that it was a "party matter" rather than a government one.
In January 2013, the daily NRC Handelsblad reported the “total failure” of the xenophobic site, explaining that immigrants in the Netherlands usually take jobs that the Dutch snub.
3. Bulgaria and Romania do not belong in the EU – PVV leader Geert Wilders
No mistake – PVV and Wilders are for a second time in the list. In 2011 his fellow colleagues said during a debate in Dutch Parliament that the two countries should leave the union after they joined it in 2007 without having fulfilled the criteria. Wilders himself has repeated the same – and it was the absurdity of his remark that brought him the third place.
The problem is that no legislation has been adopted to stipulate on what conditions a EU member should leave the union. How can anybody expect from Brussels to “kick out” countries if it cannot even apply restrictive measures against those states whose politicians make xenophobic and racist remarks and engage in acts of open discrimination?
2. Territories in Bulgaria (and other countries) are Turkey's "living history in Europe" - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey is not in the EU, but is both a member candidate and a democracy holding regular elections. In December 2013, months ahead of a crucial vote, the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said while campaigning in North-Western Turkey, close to borders with Bulgaria and Greece:
“Thrace is Thessaloniki but at the same time it is Komotini and Xanthi. It is also Kardzhali [in Bulgaria] and the Vardar River. Going further back, it is Skopje, Pristina and Sarajevo… Thrace is our living history in Europe… our representative in this geographic region.”
What Bulgaria did was to advise Turkish politicians to handle carefully interpretations connected with the Balkan past as such statements did not encourage “good neighborly relations”.
Erdogan’s remarks in December were however nothing compared to 2012’s blunder, when Bulgaria, along with Armenia, was on the verge of disappearing from Turkish schoolbooks – and therefore also from Turkish pupils’ heads. In the multimedia, apart from regions in Greece, Iraq, Cyprus and Georgia, the entire Bulgarian and Armenian territories were missing, as they were part of Turkey.
The Ministry of Education in Ankara officially apologized. We should only hope Turkey will react in the same positive manner if Bulgaria prints a map involving lands near the Straits or Greece does the same with the territories of Byzantine Empire... by mistake.
1. Millions of Bulgarians and Romanians will flock to the streets of Britain – UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Prime Minister David Cameron and many others
"29 million Bulgarians and Romanians" might flood United Kingdom’s labor market after Britain drops free movement restrictions for the two countries on January 2014, says the UK Independence Party (UKIP)'s Nigel Farage. How could it be surprising that he ranks first?
Farage displays a remarkable perseverance in targeting potential immigrants from the two countries. Tens of leaflets and posters have been prepared ahead of this May’s EU vote to warn of the threat citizens from the two countries coming en masse to Britain pose to its social system and job market.
And one of the leaflets has a spelling mistake, adding a country called Rumania to the blacklist:
Given the popularity of Nigel Farage in Britain, it was not surprising that Prime Minister David Cameron and members of the ruling conservatives opted to say they shared concerns of "many" Britons about the impact of Bulgarians' and Romanians' unrestricted entry into the labor market. Some British media outlets also did their best to fan the fire. Expressions like "immigration bombshell" became part of the daily news routine when referring to Bulgarians and Romanians. On December 31, 2013, the Daily Mail's website had a report titled "Sold Out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK". Assuring hordes of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens were preparing to invade the country, the Daily Mail also hinted that 29 million people could come to the UK. It turned out most of them were just returning to Britain after having visited their families for Christmas holidays.
If combined, Bulgaria and Romania's population would total around 27 million citizens. We should therefore commend Farage for encouraging our two countries' demographic expansion by presenting a positive population trend.
No authentic source can prove claims of massive immigration to Britain made by the UKIP’s leader. Notwithstanding, weeks ahead of the European vote he still insists that the "true figures" of Bulgarian and Romanian immigration are not known yet. Recently, he has also said for the Guardian that the Brits have good reasons to be wary of Romanian families moving into their street, as he confirms there is "bound to be" a culture of criminality among the nation when asked by a journalist if he supports this claim. "I've visited camps in Romania and Bulgaria, I've got a pretty good understanding," he added to defend his point. What camps, Mr Farage?
"If I were a Bulgarian, I'd be backing my bags now, wanting to come to Britain," UKIP's leader had explained months earlier on the BBC, citing the country's numerous issues. And although he is correct about all of them, we must also admit he is not precisely "a Bulgarian" and can hardly speak for the country's population.
Declarations made by Nigel Farage either echo or are repeated by other Eurosceptic parties like the Dutch, the German AfD (Alternative for Germany) or Italy’s Lega Nord, and the FN in France was already mentioned above. UKIP's election campaign, however, is more systematic; and it seems to cross more lines. On April 22 Farage, who employs his German (i.e. non-British) wife as a secretary, declared the UK had to control the quantity and the quality of who comes to the country while at the moment it had turned its back "on talent from India and New Zealand because of an open door to Bulgaria. And that doesn't make any sense".
These words could not only insult Bulgarians and Romanians (or Germans, to which the UK’s door is also wide open) and not just Europeans as a whole. They insult democracy and human progress, claiming that nationals from one country could be of more or less quality than citizens of another.
Strangely enough, it is not only the EU’s only well-to-do countries that occasionally tend to adopt somewhat abusive tone toward Bulgaria; it is also crisis-torn countries such as Greece who evoke nearly tragic Bulgarian pictures to the minds of their voters in order to win a heart or two. Bulgaria, the poorest European country, also falls into a list of possible targets of neighborly propaganda which, harmless as it might be, sounds somewhat unpleasant for its population.
With three weeks ahead of what is becoming the EU elections enjoying most media coverage, we should rather hope a second edition of this “Top 8” will not be needed; or that "eight" will not turn into "eighty".
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