Political Elites Made Bulgarians Side With Trump and Be Wary of Atlantic Values
Joe Biden's election as President of the United States has sparked positive reactions across Europe, where both citizens and politicians seem equally relieved by the “changing of the guards” in the White House. A recent survey by the European Council on Foreign Policy (ECFP) found that 53% of citizens of 11 European countries think Biden will bring positive change to their countries, while 54% say Trump has destabilized the world.
The difference with Bulgarian public opinion is significant: according to Alpha Research data from November 2020, only 27% of Bulgarians believe that the situation in the world has deteriorated under Trump.
And while neither Bulgarians nor other Europeans vote in the US elections, the change in Washington will also affect them. Biden intends to restrain China and Russia, rebuild the West as an alliance of democracies and stabilize NATO.
"This means maintaining NATO's military strength on a par while expanding our ability to respond to new, non-traditional threats like corruption used for subversive purposes," Biden said in his first foreign policy speech as a candidate in 2019.
For corrupt leaders and autocrats, this is a clear warning: this means the end of the "you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch- yours" policy which ensured peace of mind in exchange for a large military orders.
"There is a lack of political determination to fight corruption in Bulgaria, and corruption is dangerous for national security because it makes countries more vulnerable to external influence," a representative of the US Embassy in Sofia said last week. This is direct criticism and a clear message to those in power.
Like other Europeans, Bulgarians understand the need for Europe to have its own defence capabilities, which also contribute to the strength of NATO. In an interview with the Sofia office of the ECFP, Marta Dassu, a member of an international commission that made recommendations for the future of NATO, said that convergence of risk assessments between Alliance members is key to NATO existence. In other words, acknowledging China and Russia as major common threats will be inevitable, though the responses to these threats may vary.
For the majority of Europeans, it seems important to maintain some independence and neutrality when it comes to conflict situations. Bulgaria is no exception.
Although distrust of the US as Europe's partner has grown dramatically during the Trump administration, most Europeans still believe the US will be able to deal with its domestic concerns and again focus on global problems - climate change, peace in the Middle East or European security.
In Bulgaria, such opinions are shared by fewer people, who, by the way, judging by their party affiliations, are mainly sympathizers of GERB and Democratic Bulgaria.
The problems with the media environment in Bulgaria, highly permeable to both Russian propaganda and apparently fake news, are one of the reasons for the discrepancies between the opinions of Bulgarians and other Europeans.
But the main “credit” for that still goes to the representatives of the state institutions, who in recent years have increasingly obscurely formulated the national interests and strategic goals of the country.
Because how else can we interpret the Bulgarian answers to the question "What is the country with which it is most important to be on good terms?" If for the vast majority of Europeans this is Germany (a major trading and political partner for Bulgaria as well), and for Poland and the UK it is the US (Germany in second place), then for Bulgarian respondents this country is definitely Russia.
How we define our affiliations and interests is of key importance in a multi-polar world, when countries on the periphery are looking for a way to climb on the European Union bandwagon and thus increase their weight and ability to defend themselves. It is no coincidence that both the Western Balkan countries and those in the Eastern Partnership are worried about Brussels' reluctance to share its sovereignty with them.
In the coming months, Biden and Blinken's team will make their best to restrain Russia and China, to which the EU is preparing to respond. At the end of the German Presidency, the EU concluded an investment agreement with China that should protect European producers but also make the EU a more equal partner for Washington in relations with Beijing. We should also not be surprised if new sanctions against Russia are imposed.
Bulgaria will have to start thinking and acting adequately in this complicated context, where interests on both sides of the Atlantic will not always coincide, but the West will start to deal again with the basic issues.
Sweeping divisive issues under the carpet will no longer work, the "art of deals" era is over.
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