President Rosen Plevneliev in an interview for Deutsche Welle
Question: Mr. President, for more than a month now people have been protesting right under your windows against this country’s new government. What is your opinion about the protests?
Rosen Plevneliev: The middle class, the young people, the intellectuals are protesting today and this is a completely new sign for Bulgaria. Namely, the civil society in Bulgaria is quite active. Basically it is the Bulgarian civil society, not the politicians that open up the road to democracy. The protesters are saying it loud and clear to the politicians – for 23 years we have been walking along the road from a totalitarian communist regime to a real European democracy. However, we have not achieved our goal yet. In our view the current situation in Bulgaria is a kind of façade democracy, not as the European democracy we are striving for. I therefore think that today civil society is lending a helpful hand. People are protesting in a quite creative and democratic way and thus they give the Bulgarian politicians the chance to make changes and establish a real democracy.
Question: Do you share the opinion of the protesters?
Rosen Plevneliev: I have made a public statement to voice clearly and wholeheartedly. I am happy that the civil society in Bulgaria is active. I am happy that the Bulgarian citizens clearly voice their positions regarding democracy, the institutions, which are created to serve the public not the strong of the day. I am happy that with the help of the new technologies, with their active civil position, the Bulgarians clearly communicate their message to the politicians: “You should be careful what you do. We want to have a modern, transparent and efficient state, we are against a cloak and dagger approach to policy making.”
Question: In your opinion, how will the political crisis in Bulgaria be resolved?
Rosen Plevneliev: It will not be resolved overnight. However, it is the process that matters. We have one hope and one disappointment: the disappointment concerns the fact that the majority of politicians fails to realize that civil society has given Bulgaria a great chance, since it strives to achieve European values and modern democracy. My hope is related to the fact that the civil society is on the correct way, no matter whether the politicians in the country will change something or not. The Bulgarian public will cope. And from now on any problematic decision made by any future Bulgarian government will be recognized and corrected in time by the citizens. I am happy that in the future we will hold a better dialogue and improve our cooperation with civil society.
Question: The protesters are demanding that the government resigns and a new general election is held. Do you think that this is the solution?
Rosen Plevneliev: I stated my position a couple of days ago. I really prayed for and hope that all reasonable public ideas will be put on the agenda of the Bulgarian politicians, of the government and of parliament. The second thing I said was that unfortunately there is no dialogue today. The situation in Bulgaria is extraordinary. If you look at the Bulgarian parliament, you will see that this is the parliament that has the lowest approval rating since the beginning of democracy. The situation with the government is the same. Public trust in all politicians is extremely low, not only in the current power holders. Trust should be restored and this will be achieved if clear measures are taken to increase transparency. This will not be achieved by making appointments of the sort of the chief of DANS – a notorious media mogul who is holding everything in his hands. The only thing he had no control over was the State Agency for National Security, which would have been presented to him as a gift. Civil society promptly reacted against this. I hope that the grave situation in which the party that won the general election left parliament, while the other two formed a government with the support of 50 percent of the deputies and their decision to be dependent on an ultranationalist and anti- European party, will be solved. There are many contradictory solutions in this respect as well. There is no trust. And we are seeking solutions today. The protesters are lending their hand and I do hope the correct solution will be found soon.
Question: Unless a solution is soon found, do you not think that Bulgaria’s European integration is jeopardized? At the end of 2013 the free movement of people or the accession the Schenghen zone will become effective. Do you not think that the failure to find solutions jeopardizes these issues?
Rosen Plevneliev: I think that the protests staged by civil society strengthen Bulgaria’s integration and do not threaten it. I can point out some facts – the number of immigrants from Bulgaria is falling. We are observing an opposite inflow in Bulgaria not only from Spain, Greece and Cyprus, but also from other countries. Today the protesters are clearly saying: “We want our children to live in Bulgaria. Therefore we are out in the streets protesting.” This is positive in my view. Of course, the Bulgarian state must fulfill its commitments regarding the Schengen agreement and our European position. Bulgaria has achieved a lot and I think we are on the right way.
Question: The ambassadors of Germany, France and the Netherlands quite clearly voiced their position about the situation in Bulgaria. Do you think this approach was the correct one?
Rosen Plevneliev: I must admit these are true friends. After all, true friends tell the truth directly. This is not the old diplomacy in which only ambassadors represent their countries. These are true friends and we are all members of a single European family. I consider what the ambassadors did to be correct. It helped a lot. Naturally, the relevant question is who heard their words? Still, I think they told the truth.
The protesters responded in a particularly creative way – they performed the French revolution of the 18th century in front of the French embassy in Sofia. On the next day they built the “Berlin wall” in front of the German embassy and later on demolished it as a signal that we do not need walls, but we want real democracy instead. We are very grateful to our friends in Berlin and Paris, as well as in many other European countries, for the help they offer us along the road.
Question: In what way can Germany be useful to resolving the political crisis in Bulgaria?
Rosen Plevneliev: Germany is a great friend of Bulgaria’s. And today Europe is to some extent speaking German. And I deem this correct. Someone must assume the responsibility for the construction of a powerful and integrated Europe. And in this case this is the Germany-France pair. Europe is a project of considerable importance – not only for the 28 member states, but also worldwide. This is the biggest economy in the world. This is a union that shows the future!
As President I travel a lot and during my visits to different countries, for instance to the Middle East or Asia, they always ask me: “How did you manage to come to terms in Europe? A mere 15 years ago, bombs were dropped in the Balkans, war was waged? Germany and France were waging a war for hundreds of years. How did you manage?”
We are not speaking merely of billions in the European project. This is not a project for the accountancy. This is a project related to values, peace and progress. Germany is a leading country in Europe and it should preserve its position as such. You see a very positive development in the Balkan region. And the protests show that public energy in Bulgaria needs more Europe. Look at the flags the protesters are carrying. Half of them carry the Bulgarian national flag and half of them – the European one. I think this is wonderful.
Question: Finally I would like to ask you a question related to Bulgaria’s economy. I am speaking about the update of the 2013 budget, which the government launched a couple of days ago. Until then Bulgaria was very sparing and careful regarding its debts. However, the budget revision will increase net lending to an extent close to legal maximum according to the Maastricht criteria. What is you opinion on this issue?
Rosen Plevneliev: This is a complicated question. Honestly speaking, I am quite worried. I am afraid this can become a trend. Bulgaria symbolizes the culture of stability. We have always worked and have created our future alone. And this is namely the reason why I am so concerned. After all the deficit has increased from 1.3 to 2 percent. For me the problem is that I do not see investments increase to boost the national competitiveness and to improve the infrastructure or the development of Bulgaria’s regions. What I see is only increased spending, which I cannot support.