Socialist Presidential Candidate Ivaylo Kalfin: A Dignified, Strong Bulgaria Should Be National Ideal
Interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with Ivaylo Kalfin, candidate for President of the Republic of Bulgaria in the 2011 presidential elections from the Bulgarian Socialist Party and its leftist coalition.
Kalfin, a former founding member of the Bulgarian Social-democrats Movement, was Bulgaria's Foreign Minister in the three-way coalition government in 2005-2009. Since 2009, he has served a Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament from the Group of the Socialists and Democrats. In 2002-2003, he was an economic adviser to Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.
You are the candidate for President of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and its leftist coalition. Many people view you as the candidate who is close to outgoing President Georgi Parvanov. What are the social layers and factors you will be counting on for support? How is your bid affected by the fact that you are not a member of the Socialist Party but belong to the Social Democrats movement?
First of all, I haven't been a member of any party since in 2002 I worked for a while at the presidential administration. The thing you mentioned about my being close to Parvanov stems from there – I am as close to him as any former employee of his administration can be.
So what we see right now is that I am indeed the candidate of the left, and I enjoy the support of some 25 leftist organizations – socialists, communists, social-democrats, environmentalists, the Fatherland Union, the Union of Thracian Associations. Of course, my running mate Stefan Danailov and I will need a broader support than that. I rely on anybody who wish to prevent the current policies of the ruling party GERB from occupying the Presidency.
How do you view President Parvanov's two terms' legacy? What were his successes and failures in the past 10 years?
Bulgaria progressed a great deal in the past 10 years, and the President has contributed to that indisputably. This refers to a wide array of topics: Bulgaria's accession to the EU and NATO, its economic development that we had up until 2 years ago, the various projects for protection of Bulgaria's cultural heritage, the national dignity, a number of foreign policy initiatives.
Bulgaria's President Parvanov has his fair share in these successes. From here on, however, Bulgaria needs new priorities since the goal of joining the EU was achieved and can no longer mobilize the nation.
We need new goals, new incentives, new motives to go forward for our citizens and institutions.
In my view, these need to be everyday matters, in a sense. We need to mobilize our energies to achieve economic growth, jobs, greater income levels. Bulgaria's institutions need to work on education and healthcare now, not to leave that for the future.
You represented Bulgaria at top positions in international politics in an extremely important period for its development. Which do you think were your greatest achievements as Foreign Minister of Bulgaria and now a Member of the European Parliament?
In my capacity as Foreign Minister, the most important achievement was doubtlessly Bulgaria's EU accession. When I took over, only one of the 25 EU member states had ratified Bulgaria's accession treaty. We managed to get all other 24 to ratify the treaty as early as we could. Because back then there were countries threatening not to do that.
The achievement with which I am personally most satisfied is the freeing of the Bulgarian medics who were jailed in Libya as part of the HIV Trial. Also, for the first time since 1944, we adopted a law about the Bulgarian diplomatic corps that helped put it in order. We started a number of initiatives – the Black Sea cooperation, the cooperation in the Western Balkans. It was a very active period for Bulgaria's diplomacy, and I am happy about what I achieved.
In my capacity as a MEP in the past years, I am glad that I managed to establish an authority among my colleagues. I've worked on issues such as the allocation of EUR 300 M more in decommissioning aid for the Bulgarian nuclear power plant in Kozloduy. I am a member of several of the most important committees of the European Parliament.
A few months ago, I was named one of the five MEPs who will be conducting the budget talks with the EU member states about the next multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020, and I am the only from the Group of the Socialists, and from Eastern Europe. This is a recognition for my work as a MEP.
Is the two-year rule of the government of Boyko Borisov a success or a failure? What will your relations be with Borisov and his Cabinet if you get elected President?
The success that can be noted here is the financial and fiscal stability of Bulgaria. But unfortunately, that has been achieved at a very high price, and on the wrong foundations.
Furthermore, it is obscured by the problems that are accruing constantly. This government is totally disregarding issues such as people's income, the creation of jobs, education, healthcare. It is focusing on other activities that don't help Bulgaria improve.
The current Bulgarian government has policies that are contrary to what any other EU member state has been doing to cope with the economic crisis, and we are yet to pay the price for that. I think that its policies are based on division and aggression that set us back by at least 15 years.
So from my position as the President, I would fight against all these practices in favor of a different style of politics based on dialogue, consensus, agreement, national goals, and changing the priorities of the institutions. In my view, the priorities in Bulgaria need to focus on income, jobs, healthcare.
If seems that the Bulgarian nation has been lacking a true national ideal for the past 20 years, and probably for an even longer period of time. What do you think Bulgaria's "national ideal" should be?
The priorities that I mentioned themselves are no ideals, they are goals that should mobilize the people. The national ideal is a dignified and strong Bulgaria which is respected, and about which Bulgarian citizens feel well regardless of whether they live around the world.
The problem is that in order to achieve such a national ideal, you need to have some basic prerequisites. When people are impoverished, and trying to make ends meet, when 370 000 are unemployed, it is very hard for them to reach out to such democratic ideals.
Bulgaria needs to be a prosperous society for us to feel the potential of the national ideals and to work in a way that every Bulgarian around the world can feel that the state cares for them.
Leaving aside the fact that the Bulgarian President has no direct functions regarding economic policy, what is your recipe for Bulgaria's economic development? For example, which sectors should be prioritized?
I have a recipe but the President has no way of imposing policies. I would rather challenge the institutions to achieve a consensus about that. As far as the substance is concerned, however, I see what's happening in the other EU states, and I think Bulgaria needs to be doing the same.
The future lies with investments in technologies, high added value, supporting education and science, and boosting competitiveness. These are the basics of the economic policy we should stick to.
The President represents Bulgaria in international relations and is the Commander-in-Chief. What should Bulgaria's international strategy be with respect to its national security and diplomatic relations? Does it need to go beyond NATO and the EU?
I think that Bulgaria needs to work in order to earn the respect of its partners. A nation is important and can fight for its goals when it has strong positions and the others need its help to solve important issues.
That's why, in my view, Bulgaria's strongest assets in international politics are: its region policies for the Black Sea region and the Western Balkans; the energy policy where Bulgaria indeed has the chances to create a unique capacity; policies having to do with the promotion and preservation of international cultural heritage that can be brought to the attention of people all over the world; and, of course, policies for boosting economic cooperation.
Bulgaria's demographic situation is worsening tremendously. It includes the question about the situation of the Roma, among other things. It threatens to hinder Bulgaria's economic growth in the future. What is your solution?
First of all, Bulgaria's demographic problem needs to be resolved by creating conditions for good education. Unfortunately, one in three children in Bulgaria drops out of school. People without education and low qualifications are worsening the demographic situation in addition to the emigration.
That is also why Bulgaria needs to have at least several universities on the level of the best global standards, special efforts for hi-tech industries, and special care for Bulgarians living abroad, and here I can name a whole range of measures to help these Bulgarians be involved with what's happening in Bulgaria.
These are also measures to encourage the Bulgarian diaspora to come back – and, if not, - at least to invest in Bulgaria, and to take advantages of the opportunities that do exist here.
All of that should be combined with measures to boost the birth rate, for example, with stimulus for supporting young families.
Bulgaria's heritage from the communist period keeps dividing the nation 22 years later. From your point of view as a leftist politician, how should Bulgaria's communist past be interpreted so that there is some kind of "closure" and this issue would no longer polarize the Bulgarian society?
Unfortunately, we've had very few opportunities for a prudent assessment of our recent past. In my view, the communist period in Bulgaria was a period in which the state was developing and progressing but the human rights and freedoms were suppressed, and, to a great extent, especially at the beginning, they were refused to the people.
We need to remember both the good and the bad things from this period. It is in the past anyway, and we need to go for a modern, European political system. I think that the European social democracy will be a great example and incentive for Bulgaria to go ahead.
Which are the three things that you are convinced you will do if elected President?
I make sure that the main issues that concern the people in Bulgaria will become subject matters of the institutions.
I will make sure that such problems can be discussed publicly, including through the wider use of referendums. I will propose a referendum on the extraction of shale gas, I have been conducting a campaign against it.
I will develop special initiatives to include various stakeholders , i.e. councils where people with specific ideas can come together and formulate specific proposals to be referred to the state institutions so that Bulgaria can progress.
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