Bulgaria's Main Presidential Candidates Back Waiver of Sanctions on Russia
The two main opponents in Bulgaria's presidential elections, Tsetska Tsacheva and Rumen Radev faced each other on Thursday for the first time since campaign began earlier in October.
In a televised debate devoid of fervent personal rhetoric and strong-worded mutual attacks, the candidates of the main ruling party GERB and the main opposition BSP have substantially differed not only in views, but in style.
BTV portrayed their first debate as the encounter of "Mother vs General", with Tsacheva being referred to by the media as "the mother of a nation" following remarks by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
Tsacheva, the country's Parliament Speaker, placed emphasis on the need for Bulgaria to stick to its Euro-Atlantic path and pledged to work for justice and a more positive image of the country.
Radev made clear the president's goal should be to unite the nation, set goals and "be able to say no", also stressing the security of foreign policy, "borders and people's homes".
"Foreign policy should be made in Bulgaria and exported abroad, while in the moment it is the other way around," he has reiterated.
At the same time, both candidates backed the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
Sanctions should undoubtedly be "reconsidered", Tsacheva said, adding she would insist that Bulgarian diplomats be active in the "elaboration of a joint position of European institutions for the reversal of sanctions."
Radev noted: "Let us get this straight, Bulgaria is a member of the EU and NATO and there is no alternative here. But this doesn't mean we have to make enemies for ourselves outside these unions... Europhilia does not necessarily mean Russophobia," he argued, fending off claims by opponents that he sought to review Bulgaria's EU and NATO membership. "I would like to see Bulgaria being a much stronger and more active member of these unions."
While Tsacheva noted she deems Crimea to be "in Ukraine", Radev opined that "Crimea is de jure Ukrainian, [but] de facto a Russian flag is waving over it" and its future "depends on the people's self-determination".
A former Air Force Commander, Radev also emphasized the role of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Bulgarian Armed Forces.
But he also tried to criticize Bulgaria for "some kind of dependency" on Turkey, with regard to the extradition of Turkish nationals last week. Tsacheva clashed with him over the issue, defending “national interest” as being more important than “individual rules.” “No [other country] is in such a hurry as Bulgaria to send back [those accused of being] G?lenists,” the socialist-backed candidate retorted. GERB's nominee was adamant that the expulsions in question were caused by a breach of national legislation.
Tsacheva for her part showed her competence for institutional relations and Bulgaria's obligations as a member of the union, but sought to shift the topic from the needs of the Bulgarian army towards the need to set up a joint European army. Radev, while making it clear he would accept joint air-policing missions with NATO counterparts (one of the formal reasons for him to step down as Air Force Commander), he insisted they should always be performed “jointly” and “never be paid for” to other countries' air forces. His remark was a reference to the state of Bulgaria's military aircraft fleet, with the country being in urgent need to overhaul it and having launched a tender for new multirole fighter jets.
GERB's candidate has called for equal treatment of Bulgarians living within the country and abroad, amid controversy over restrictions to the number of polling stations.
Both spoke against bigger competences for the president.
"[Radev] being an anti-systemic player... showed he sees the problems, but does not know yet how to approach them," Antoaneta Hristova, a political psychologist, has told bTV after the debate.
She has added that while Tsacheva has singed herself out as the "expert" candidate, Radev has shown the charisma and enthusiasm to learn the ropes and responsibility to his new role.
One of he most passionate clashes came towards the end of the debate, as the two disputed over a modification of a phrase, widely attributed to Winston Churchill.
Joking about her membership in the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP) under the one-party system during the Cold War, Tsacheva said that "who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart, who is still socialist at 40 has no brain."
But Radev interrupted her to note that "Ms Tsacheva said she would unite the nation, whereas she just threw all socialists out of this unification by calling them "brainless". The party endorsing him, BSP, is the direct heir to the BKP, refurbishing itself after democracy came.
"I was just quoting and saying this as a joke," the Parliament Speaker replied.
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