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The Big Misunderstanding with Bulgaria. Why Not Cross The Danube?

The Big Misunderstanding with Bulgaria. Why Not Cross The Danube?

Translation by Iohana VOICU

Originally published at the website[1]


Motto: “In Bulgaria? What’s the German doing in Bulgaria?”

(Pampon, D’ale Carnavalului, by I.L. Caragiale)


It seemed that this motto would best reflect the attitude of many Romanians, diplomats, experts, politicians, regarding the bilateral relations of Romania with her neighbour from across the Danube. For the Romanians, Bulgaria, located so closely, remains a distant land, a great unknown and a mysterious and even exotic place. Regardless, our stake in Bulgaria might turn out to be at least as important for Romania as the bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, multilateral formats, strategies, initiatives and partnerships that have been hatched for years in Bucharest by policymakers. 

A stupid/ ridiculous competition with no real stake 

Our stake in Bulgaria might turn out to be at least as important for Romania as the bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, multilateral formats, strategies, initiatives and partnerships that have been hatched for years in Bucharest by policymakers.

In the period that preceded the NATO and EU integration of the two states, as well as later on, during the purgatory called “accession to Schengen”, there was a ridiculous competition between the two states for the appreciations and good grades that they could have obtained from their Brussels schoolmarms. The press and even politicians from both states would chuckle when the “competitor” would be reprimanded for not doing its homework or they would be disparaging of the neighbour from across the Danube if he was praised for having recorded more successes.

This was just a sign of the parochialism of the political and media establishment from both countries. In order to accede to the EU and to NATO, the performance of the states is evaluated individually, not by comparison to the performance of another state. The common-sense evidence of this assertion is that, in spite of the ridiculous “competition” between Romania and Bulgaria in the race to adhere to the EU, both states became members on the same date, 01.01.2007. It was the same in the case of NATO – Romania and Bulgaria became members of the Atlantic Alliance simultaneously, on 29.03.2004. 

The illusion of accession to the Schengen Area individually 

We have not learned this lesson, neither us, nor the Bulgarians, not even after the lessons of the Euro-Atlantic integration. We still have not understood that Romania and Bulgaria will either be accepted simultaneously into Schengen, the same way as with the EU and NATO, or they will not be accepted at all, for a very simple reason. When it was decided that the two states should join the EU and, implicitly, Schengen, it was not yet known that their accession to the Schengen Area would be refused. As such, the borders of Romania and Bulgaria, that were also the external borders of the EU, were secured with the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Serbia, Macedonia, Turkey. In Romania’s case the matter in question is the project for securing the border, executed with EADS. Because the Danube was supposed to be an internal frontier of the EU, it was not secured. Therefore, the Danube CANNOT become an external border of the Schengen Area, in the purely hypothetical situation in which Romania would accede before Bulgaria. No one would waste a billion Euros to secure the Danube border, when it would be well known that in a short period of time, in one or two years, Bulgaria would accede as well, and the Danube would remain in the end just an internal EU border.

Another absurdity is the hypothesis of Bulgaria adhering to Schengen before Romania. The only actual effect in this case would be the abolition of border controls at the border with Greece, accompanied by the invasion of tens of thousands Afro-Asian migrants blocked in Greece after the shutdown of the Balkan migration route. At the same time, the Bulgarian lorries would continue to be detained by endless queues from the Southern and Western Romanian borders, kept outside of Schengen. For the Bulgarians, an accession to Schengen without Romania would be a sort of Pyrrhic victory. 

The Bulgarians and the Russians 

A common prejudice is that Bulgaria is tied by umbilical cord to Russia, and that the Bulgarians are genetically inclined Russophiles. In a Romania dominated by mistrust and ancestral fear of Russia, this constitutes serious grounds for reservations about Bulgaria. Except that in life there is no black or white, but only infinite shades of grey.

The Bulgarians feel profoundly misjudged by the accusations of Russophilia, being convinced that they are being treated with double standards. They state:

 “Behold, we recognized Kosovo immediately, same as the Americans and the other allies. Conversely, you, the Romanians, do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, same as the Russians, but we are the ones being accused of Russophilia.”


“At the EU’s insistence, we gave up on the nuclear plant in Belene, contracted with the Russians, for which we now have to pay the Russians 620 million Euro in compensation, as per the ruling of the International Court of Arbitration. Hungary is building in Paks a nuclear power plant with the Russians worth 10 billion dollars. No one is reproaching anything to the Hungarians, but the designated Russophiles are still we, the Bulgarians”.

However, the most ridiculous accusation of Russophilia brought to the Bulgarians by European officials is the one regarding Bulgaria’s participation in the gas pipeline project South Stream, meant to bring Russian gas into Europe by bypassing Ukraine. The Bulgarian support for South Stream was seen as treason to the European energy interests, in favor of the Russian ones. However, South Stream was nothing other than a replica that mirrored the Russian-German gas pipeline, North Stream, which takes the Russian gas through the bottom of the Baltic Sea into Germany, bypassing Poland. Nevertheless, no one had the courage to reproach Germany for the North Stream project with the exception of the Polish. Together with Gazprom, South Stream’s shareholders were the companies Eni from Italy, Electricite de France from France and Wintershall from Germany. Ludicrously, the Bulgarians became the main culprits in this case, the accusers being exactly the representatives of the states that initiated and would have been financing South Stream. Ultimately, for various reasons, the South Stream project came to a halt in 2014. 

The Bulgarian intelligence agencies 

Periodically, various references to the fact that the Bulgarian agencies were unsafe and were collaborating somehow with the Russian would appear in the European virtual and media space. However, until now, in open sources, there was no solid information in this regard, but only speculations and value judgments.

The truth that no one wants to acknowledge is that all the intelligence services from the Communist countries, with the exception of Romania, were coordinated by the Soviet intelligence services, KGB and GRU. The Soviet advisors left the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Hungary, in which the Communist secret police was included, only in 1991. It was the same in Poland. The Soviet advisers would control the operations and practically were leading the intelligence agencies in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary. The officers from these states were being brought for classes and training sessions to the KGB Academy and to the GRU in the Soviet Union, the main goal being not their training, but their recruitment by the KGB and the GRU.

While in Romania the fall of communism ended up dissolving the State Security, which was an anti-Soviet institution for all its ills, in the other countries the transition was negotiated and involved both the institutional survival of Communist services, but also of its personnel, including the ones recruited by the Soviets.

The problem is that, while in Romania the fall of communism ended up dissolving the State Security, which was an anti-Soviet institution for all its ills, in the other countries the transition was negotiated and involved both the institutional survival of Communist services, but also of its personnel, including the ones recruited by the Soviets. The extent of the Russian infiltration into the Polish post-communist intelligence services was revealed in 2007 by the report to the Parliamentary Commission led by Sejm Deputy Anton Maczierewicz, the current Polish Minister for National Defense. The report led to the dismantling of the Polish military intelligence service, WSI. In Hungary, things were just as bad. The Hungarians named General Sandor Laborc as the head of the intelligence service AH. He had studied for six years at the Dzerjinski Academy in Moscow, during the USSR era, and was definitely recruited by the Soviets. In February 2008, the Hungarians had the nerve to nominate Laborc for the annual lead of the NATO intelligence community, a position that went to them by rotation. Faced with virulent reactions, the Hungarians hypocritically claimed that Laborc is a good professional and the fact that he stayed for six years at the KGB Academy does not mean that he is a Russian stooge. Except that in 2013, in a trial closed to the public, the Military Court in Debrecen sentenced General Sandor Laborc for espionage and treason in favour of the Russians. Why would the Bulgarians be worse than the Hungarians and the Polish? Why is it considered that the Hungarians and Polish are loyal to NATO and the Bulgarians are not?

In the end, the problem of the intelligence agencies in Bulgaria and other Allied States is the Americans’ problem, not ours, because they lead NATO. The intelligence agencies in Hungary have vulnerabilities at least as grave as the Bulgarian ones regarding Russian infiltration, but this has not stopped Romania from signing in 2012 a “Strategic Partnership” with Hungary. Why would we not do the same with the Bulgarians? What would make them worse than Viktor Orban’s Hungarians? 

Romania’s economic importance for Bulgaria 

Romania is one of the main foreign trade partners for Bulgaria. With 2.6 billion dollars, we are the forth destination for Bulgarian exports, right after Germany-3.53 billion, Italy-3.01 and Turkey-2.72.

Let it be noted that, in the ranking, Romania is placed before some of Bulgaria’s traditional economic partners like the Russian Federation and Greece. In the ranking of Bulgarian imports, we fare even better, situated in third place with 2.3 billion dollars, after Russia, with 4.94 billion dollars, and Germany, with 3.99 billion.

Aside from foreign trade, in the past years a new phenomenon has appeared and surged – the invasion of Romanian tourists in Bulgaria. An incredible number of one million Romanians visited Bulgaria in 2015, spending there approximately 6-700 million Euro. In the same period, 300,000 Bulgarians came to Romania. 

Bulgaria can become an outlet for Romanian investments 

Foreign investment represents 25% of US GDP and approximately 10% of the GDP of states like Hungary or Poland, while in Romania they represent only 1%, which is a sure recipe for underdevelopment and stagnation. The Romanian national electricity grid operator would be interested in an investment in Bulgaria’s electricity distribution network. The initiative deserves to be encouraged, as it would make it one of the first steps towards Romanian economic development abroad. Further South than Bulgaria, the perspective of a new business arises. The Romanian company Transgaz is studying the possibility of acquiring the gas distribution network in Greece. Bulgaria is connected to Greece, and Romania would interconnect with the Bulgarian gas pipeline system through the BRUA pipeline, with European financing. BRUA’s route crosses Hungary until reaching Austria. 

With the Bulgarians in the Balkans 

One of the spaces of interest for Romania would be the Western Balkans, our country seeing itself as an anchor of stability in the region and, simultaneously, as a provider of expertise for the Allies regarding the Western Balkans. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. The Bulgarians, due to geographic proximity and historical and cultural ties could have extensive contacts on the ground, in locations like Kosovo or Macedonia. A Romanian-Bulgarian cooperation in this regard can only strengthen Romania’s position in the region, but also in the Atlantic Allies’ eyes. 

How Romanians and Bulgarians see each other 

Here I am referring to the political class and diplomats, not to the two peoples. Regarding the Romanians, they have no opinion on Bulgaria, they have no interest in it. They are solely oriented towards Brussels, Washington, Berlin. The Bulgarians sometimes turn towards Bucharest, but signals rarely come from that direction.

The perception of some of the Bulgarian officials is that Romanians likely have some advantageous knowledge or skills, that they must have been initiated in certain international secret manoeuvres. However, being so arrogant, they would not share with the Bulgarians, they would not explain how things work. But the Bulgarians are wrong. The Romanians are not hiding anything and, in reality, they do not really have anything to hide. There is only carelessness and indifference. At the same time, the Bulgarians are fatalists with respect to Bulgaria’s position abroad. They believe that Bulgaria cannot do anything, being too weak, that others are deciding for them. Regardless, the Bulgarians are being open-minded. If they are approached with possible goals for mutual benefit which are explained to them, they become interested, optimistic, and can be associated with different initiatives.

It goes without saying that we should be aware of the beam in our own eye, not just the mote in the Bulgarians’ eye. In spite of fatalism and self-deprecation abroad, the Bulgarians managed to achieve some remarkable successes. For example, the Bulgarian Irina Bokova occupies since 2009 the position of General-Director of UNESCO, a high office which we, the Romanians, would not even dream of. Last year, Ban Ki Moon’s mandate as UN Secretary General was expiring and there was a trend in public opinion that it should be the Eastern European states’ turn to propose a candidacy. As such, Bulgaria prepared two strong candidacies, which were taken seriously by the great powers, at first Irina Bokova, Director of UNESCO, then replaced with Kristalina Gheorghieva, EU Commissioner. In comparison, Romania did not even present a candidate. Bucharest’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered the ridiculous explanation that there was no time to prepare one, in spite of the fact that it had been well-known for years that Ban Ki Moon’s mandate is expiring and that it was possible that he would be replaced by an Eastern European. Even the Republic of Moldova had an honourable candidate – the former Foreign Affairs Minister Natalia Gherman. 

The Bulgarian fascination with the anticorruption fight in Romania

It’s telling that, while Horia Georgescu, the former President of the National Integrity Agency, was being arrested by the prosecutors, simultaneously a Bulgarian TV crew was waiting for him in his office for an interview on the fight against corruption.

Bulgaria, similarly to other former Communist states in the region, is faced with the phenomenon of corruption. In these circumstances, it is not by chance that the trials and tribulations of the anticorruption fight in Romania reverberated in Bulgaria as well. It’s telling that, while Horia Georgescu, the former President of the National Integrity Agency, was being arrested by the prosecutors, simultaneously a Bulgarian TV crew was waiting for him in his office for an interview on the fight against corruption. In 2015, over 200 articles on Romania’s fight against corruption were published in Bulgaria, which is nothing short of amazing coverage.

The EU imposed on Bulgaria, as well as on Romania, the MCV clause (Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification) when it comes to Justice. As was the case for the Euro-Atlantic integration and accession to the Schengen Area, fulfilling the goals set by the MCV constituted one more a reason for a sterile competition between the two countries. However, in the end, “the Romanian model of fighting corruption” turned into a weapon used in the Bulgarian internal political fighting and as argument/munition for the Bulgarian elections. 

The media lynching of President Rumen Radev 

In November 2016, a new president was elected in Bulgaria, Rumen Radev, an independent supported by the Socialist Party. He obtained 60% of the votes, gaining a clear victory over Țetka Tkaceva, the candidate supported by GERB, a member of the EPP. Instantaneously, a lynching campaign of Rumen Radev started in the European media, adopted wholesale by the Romanian press. Apparently, Radev was “pro-Russian”, a conclusion supported by his declarations regarding Crimea. The Bulgarian President’s position as Major-General of the Reserve was brought up in a biased manner, like he was a sort of South American caudillo, not the legitimate choice of the Bulgarian people

Radev’s misfortune was that, at the same time, the elections in the Republic of Moldova were won by Igor Dodon, the head of the socialists, known for “exotic” pro-Russian statements. The mass-media wrote that “pro-Russian socialists” won the elections in Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova, Romania being introduced as an island in the middle of a red sea. In reality, Rumen Radev is a NATO general who has no connection to Russia. He successfully graduated from the Air War College at the Maxwell Air Force Base in the USA and, before that, he successfully completed the US Air Force Academy officer courses, also in Maxwell. General Rumen Radev later became the head of the Bulgarian Air Force and, in his election campaign, he declared unequivocally that “there are no alternatives to membership in the EU and NATO”. The pro-Russian label comes from a statement he made in his election campaign, when he said that “Crimea is actually Russian”. Besides the electoral context of his declaration, Radev only expressed his reasoning regarding the historical, cultural and linguistic character of this Ukrainian province, with no connection to international law.

It’s telling that, while Horia Georgescu, the former President of the National Integrity Agency, was being arrested by the prosecutors, simultaneously a Bulgarian TV crew was waiting for him in his office for an interview on the fight against corruption.

However, a different candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, who at that time was in the race for the candidacy for the French Presidency, made grave allegations, more worthy of the President of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” puppet-state than of the President of France. Sarkozy stated that “Crimea chose Russia and cannot be reprimanded for it”. Practically, Sarkozy brought legitimacy to the illegal referendum organized by the GRU and separatists in Crimea, he legitimized the brutal annexation of Crimea by Russia, as well as the violation of international law. Moreover, a group of deputies from Sarkozy’s party travelled to Crimea, breaking Ukrainian laws and providing grounds for being detained. However, no one says anything about the Russophile Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s rant continued with anti-American overtones, claiming that: “We have a shared civilization with Russia. The American interests with the Russians are not the European interests with Russia”. Francois Fillon, the right-wing (conservative) candidate for the presidency of France is a Russophile even more notorious than his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Russophilia is far from a crime in today’s Europe, so the most likely reason that ignited the media lynching campaign of Rumen Radev in the European press could not be the true or imagined Russophilia of the Bulgarian President, but an entirely different one. However, going further with this line of reasoning leads us to the territory of supposition and speculation. 

The President of Bulgaria is likely more admirative towards Romania than Russia 

General Rumen Radev made, over time, several declarations which would imply his admiration for Romania. When he resigned on principle from the leadership of the Bulgarian Air Force, Radev explained that Bulgaria should follow Romania’s example and make efforts to rebuild its own air force, rather than turn to the Allies for the policing of its skies, a service which would end up costing more than the alternative in the long run.

In his election campaign, Rumen Radev declared himself to be an admirer of the fight against corruption in Romania and said that, if he were to be elected president, he would go to Bucharest to see first-hand the Romanian experience in this field. As a reaction to Rumen Radev’s declared intentions, the Romanian Member of the European Parliament, Monica Macovei, former Minister of Justice, declared herself willing to help him fight against corruption, if he was to become president of Bulgaria. Therefore, it would be best for the Romanian press, rather than look towards France Presse’s claims regarding Rumen Radev, to pay attention to what Rumen Radev himself says about Romania. 

What could happen between Romanians and Bulgarians 

Between Romania and Bulgaria there were some steps towards rapprochement. In April 2015, a common session of the Romanian and Bulgarian governments took place in Craiova, an occasion in which Prime Ministers Ponta and Borisov announced the creation of a trilateral with the Serbian Prime Minister Vučić. Victor Ponta presented this structure as a sort of replica of the Visegrad Group, ignoring that Visegrad is embodied exclusively by EU and NATO Member States, while Serbia not only does not belong to the Euro-Atlantic community, but it also became a de facto military ally of the Russian Federation, while claiming neutrality. Undoubtedly, the relation with Serbia is also important, but it needs to be treated bilaterally, not included in Romania’s relation with Bulgaria. I do not know where the Romanian diplomacy’s obsession with trilateral, quadrilaterals and other geometric figures and shapes without content comes from.

There was also the unpleasant experience of a Romanian-Bulgarian controversy regarding a common fleet at the Black Sea or joint naval exercises in the Black Sea in July 2016. However, the main actors, President Rosen Plevenliev and PM Boiko Borisov, have left the Bulgarian political scene, so Romanians and Bulgarians could resume the process of growing closer together. “Hitting the reset button”, as someone or other was saying.






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