SPEECHES AND STATEMENTS
Statement Made by Vice-president Iliana Iotova at the Annual News Conference Held on the Occasion of Her First year since She Took Office
Esteemed Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My task today is far easier. And therefore I will start with the goals I set myself in the past year.
The first and most important one – to listen to and speak in person to as many as possible Bulgarian citizens, to speak to the Bulgarian citizens outside the territory of Bulgaria; to make the activities of the commissions I head provide an honest, respectable and transparent solution to every case behind which a human destiny lies; to guarantee that these commissions not only work in a competent manner to resolve the separate cases, but also develop policies the country needs, such as the policies in the sphere of Bulgarian citizenship, pardon and asylum granting, and offer them to the institutions. I continued to lobby for my country in the multitude of contacts with foreign diplomats, and representatives of diplomatic missions during my meetings and trips abroad. And most importantly – my goal was to restore the authority of the Bulgarian institutions, and mostly that of the presidential institution. I tried to show the Bulgarian people and our foreign partners that the Bulgarian institutions are not meaningless, but if they function in an honest and respectable manner, they can work in the name of the people.
What did I encounter? Regrettably, I encountered a divided Bulgaria and a disillusioned people, where there is justice for some who cannot understand it, whereas those who need it the most are simply deprived of it. I saw public expectations and hopes that the presidency, and mostly Mr. President, can be a guarantee and is a guarantee of civil rights. I saw the expectation that we will make public the people’s problems, created by the precipitous demographic decline, the closure of schools in settlements and towns, from the closure of hospitals, and down to the burgeoning issue of lack of prosperity. The people expect us to speak on their behalf. I saw that people expect us not only to offer a solution to their specific localized problem, but also, as a team, present our vision for the country’s future development. People expect to see change.
However, esteemed ladies and gentlemen, in the past year, my work and that of my team was focused on our compatriots living abroad, with the belief this was not just a formal duty or constitutional powers but is also a cause, considering that these people regard Bulgaria as their real homeland. After all, on behalf of the presidential institution we want to tell them: Bulgaria supports you and protects your rights. Bulgaria is a guarantee of these rights. However, we can jointly work in Bulgaria’s interest. Everywhere I went I told them that they were an enormous potential for our country.
My ambition and that of my team goes beyond individual ideas and even policies. Dear colleagues journalists, do not see this ambition as covering only the “Bulgarian Easter” initiative, given that this ambition and policy goes beyond the bounds of political mandates. This is a policy based on a long-term vision and each statesman that holds my position tomorrow or any specific institution should continue it. We should be realists. We cannot bring back all our compatriots to Bulgaria. This is not possible. However, we can successfully work to preserve the Bulgarian identity, to restore their sense of belonging to Bulgaria. We can bring back their children, those who want to connect their future with Bulgaria. I strongly believe that the Bulgarian communities and the people there can be Bulgaria’s wonderful lobby, a lobby for Bulgarian science, education, business, and for our marvelous and beautiful country.
And I cannot understand why, esteemed ladies and gentlemen, these communities, regardless of whether they are the old historical Diasporas or are comprised of new economic migrants, were not on the agenda of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, considering that these people could advertise our country abroad. We are clearly aware that this policy cannot be an end in itself. Nevertheless, we should not leave it to inertia. This is a policy that does not fit into matrices and schemes. This is a policy that should be pursued with a lot of emotion and feeling.
What were the specific initiatives launched in the past year? I met with the Bulgarian communities in the so-called historical Diasporas in ten countries. I raised before the local authorities all issues I had committed to during my meetings with the people, no matter which country I was in with the strong belief that I was protecting their rights. In Moldova, Albania, Serbia and Macedonia, we were engaged in finding a solution to specific problems. We outlined long-term strategies and joint projects. Together we continued working on the strategy that only few people knew about – the fact that our Bulgarian national institutions had adopted a strategic document. And we will continue our work on it.
We are working together with all institutions in Bulgaria which have anything to do with or which work on the topic of the Bulgarians abroad. And this is an excellent example of how a national consensus can be reached. We established a social council, considering that, without the journalists or civil society, success cannot possibly be achieved. Currently we are setting up a platform headlined “Bulgaria, my homeland,” and at the end of February I will have the pleasure to present it to you in greater detail.
Another topic on which we work, have worked and will continue to work with my team is the European topic because in the first steps of Bulgaria’s EU Council Presidency we encountered a paradox. Although Bulgaria will be President of the EU Council , the EU will continue to be as unfamiliar to the Bulgarian citizens as it was before the start of the Presidency. The time has come for the Bulgarian citizens not only to watch the news from Brussels and Strasbourg and other European capitals, but to jointly participate in decision making there, on the European arena. And this is not an illusion.
The Bulgarian citizens should perform yet another essential function, and exercise control over the decisions made by the Bulgarian government together with their European partners on behalf of the Bulgarian people. Hence it will come as no surprise that the Bulgarian politicians assume some commitments but later on talk differently for the sake of public opinion. So here we see the double standards.
And here I will not leave out what a Bulgarian Minister said yesterday - the “remarkable” phrase that Bulgaria should not take any stance during this EU Council Presidency because the decisions are made by the European Union. I am asking – where are we, then?
I will say only a couple of words about the three commissions with regard to their mission and the experts with which I worked over the past year.
The Commission on Pardons heard 577 requests for pardon, and as a result of the taken action seven decrees on pardon were issued. Here I would like to note something very important. It was for the first time during this term that an electronic register was set up, through which all pardon cases can be accessed on the President's website, in compliance with the legislation for the protection of personal data. However, the cases are on the website – the motives proposed by the Commission on Pardons, the debate held, the motives for the Vice-president’s decision.
This is a very important commission because it affects a lot of human destinies. However, it can be a natural corrective of the policy pursued throughout the judicial and law-administration system. As you can see, only a portion of the requests, a couple of hundreds of them, expose our attitudes in this regard, and the conclusions are not good for us as a society.
I will mention only two facts. Unfortunately, the age of those committing crimes is dropping. The number of uneducated people committing these crimes is growing. And worst of all, they commit crimes a couple of times. Secondly, the following conclusions can be drawn from this commission’s actions. A big percent of the crimes involve domestic violence. Moreover, what raises concern are the motives for pardon, given that the perpetrators are not even aware that they have committed crimes.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this commission’s activity is that the prevention envisaged in the Law on Protection Against Domestic Violence is dysfunctional, given that no matter that there is a restraining order in place or the police arrive on the scene, murders are committed. The Commission raises the big issue about the fate of children whose parents are serving a sentence in prison. What emerges from the findings of the commission is that crimes are increasingly committed by drug addicts and alcohol addicts. A big portion of these crimes are, unfortunately, road accidents.
Commission on citizenship. Since we took office, some 3,380 people have been granted Bulgarian citizenship. I checked the number of the Bulgarian passports issued since the start of the transition period – and it is approximately 153,000. What conclusion can we draw from the activity of this commission. I know that the other institutions are wary, but ultimately, since we work in a team and all of us encounter the same difficulties, they also realized that the rules and regulations of the three laws should be amended – on the law for Bulgarians living outside the Republic of Bulgaria, the law for the Bulgarian citizenship and the law on the foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria.
Out of these, the biggest number of more than 3,000, almost 3,400 people, are Macedonian nationals. And since a lot of questions were asked, I would like to tell you that we still cannot figure out whether the good-neighborliness agreement signed with Macedonia has increased, or conversely, decreased the number of requests by Macedonian citizens, because we are still working on requests submitted before the agreement was signed.
However, there is a very good trend and hopefully, with joint efforts as a state, we should not only preserve it, but also stimulate it, namely that now a second generation of young Bulgarians wish to be granted Bulgarian citizenship because their parents have already been granted such for reason of their Bulgarian descent.
There is yet another trend - during the year, not a single foreign national has applied for Bulgarian citizenship as a large-scale investor, and the Economy Ministry should take heed, if it examines things in this respect at all.
If you need more information on this topic, the commission’s report is on the President’s website and contains the latest information, so you can take it from there.
And ultimately there comes the third commission on political asylum. It is working on a narrower scope and 23 applications for protection have been submitted. The main problem is that the applicants cannot draw a distinction between the institutions of granting political asylum and those granting a refugee status. That is why their number is limited and legal proceedings are not instituted, because they fall beyond our scope of competence.
Finally, esteemed ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank above all the team of young people I worked with throughout the past year, as well as the advisors, the secretaries in our administration for their competence and professionalism. When you take office for the first time, it is crucial that there be people who like to lend you a helping hand, support and encourage you.
I would above all like to avail myself of this first news conference to thank Mr. President in person. Because in a year you showed that Bulgaria has the worthy president and we can work together easily, in harmony and competently. I hope we will continue to do so in the future.