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EU diplomacy with #Turkey for the Kurdish crisis should seek #Bulgaria diplomatic channel 

Guest contributor



If the EU wants to be heard by Turkey in the current crisis with the Kurds in Syria, the EU will be smart to work through the diplomatic channel that the Bulgarian government and its Prime Minister Boyko Borissov have established with Turkish President Erdogan, writes Iveta Chernev.

Last week, the Turkish President told the EU to “wake up” threatening to send 3.6 mln refugees towards Europe if the EU called Turkey’s actions in Syria an invasion. The EU did not remain silent, and Donald Tusk responded promptly by saying that the EU will not be blackmailed with refugees. The tone was sharp on both sides – and there are good reasons for it.

Germany halted weapons exports to Turkey on Saturday, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel together with French leader Emanuel Macron jointly spoke out against the Turkish military operation in Syria on Sunday, as did the leaders of several other EU countries. Macron and Merkel also held phone calls with Erdogan and Trump on Sunday.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov, on the contrary, told Brussels to stop with the criticism against Turkey. On Friday, he called for sticking to the EU’s current deal with Turkey.

Tough words were exchanged over the past week. But now it’s time for diplomacy.

The Bulgarian government and its Prime Minister Borissov have a unique diplomatic relationship with neighbor Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. There are very few refugees – if any – that the Turkish side sends to the Bulgarian border, compared to hundreds of refugees whom Turkey sends to its border with Greece every day. Refugees are Turkey's bargaining chip with Europe, as President Erdogan made clear last week. So what is Bulgaria's secret in dealing with Erdogan?

“Diplomacy”, answered Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov on Bulgarian television on Friday.

Skillful diplomacy, of course, is not the whole story. The Bulgarian Prime Minister has gotten on Erdogan’s good side over the past years by discretely extraditing political asylum seekers who belong to the Turkish Gulen opposition, as argued by Georgi Gotev. The Bulgarian government has contravened international laws and human rights laws, in doing so. Gulen supporters are aggressively being sought after by Erdogan. That has earned Bulgaria a good standing with the Turkish government, and this diplomatic capital can be used for good now, for a solution to the Kurdish crisis, if the EU is prudent to go for a behind-the-scenes diplomatic approach with Erdogan.

The Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov has in the past played the messenger role in EU’s dealings with Turkey . "Many times, when Europe strongly opposed Erdogan, I was the only one to go there," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Friday.

By defending Erdogan, Borissov could turn out to be a positive key actor to help influence Erdogan diplomatically in the current humanitarian crisis.

Erdogan seems dead-set on his anti-Kurdish operation in Syria, but that is not to say that he would stop at nothing.

The EU could provide Erdogan with the right counter-incentives, especially if they are coupled with hard-hitting sanctions by the US Congress, which are currently in the making.

This week, the EU will gather member states to discuss what to do about the Kurdish crisis; divisions are expected and a unanimous formal hard-hitting position will be difficult to reach, given also Hungary’s obstruction last week.

By all means, the EU is not a “global dwarf”, as a Member of the European Parliament called it over the weekend. The EU has a tool-kit of sanctions and other measures at its disposal which it can use in a crisis like the Turkish attack on the Kurds.

For one, it is up to the European Commission at the moment to decide whether the Volkswagen deal in Turkey can go forward. The car company is set on building a new plant in Turkey and Turkey has offered a generous 400mln euro subsidy to the company. The Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber filed a complaint with the EU competition Commissioner about the deal, on the basis of non-compliance with EU competition rules. Turkey’s plans to subsidize Volkswaggen clearly run counter EU rules. The EU Commission can stop the 1bln deal, if it so decides.

And this is just one example. Turkey is not the only one who holds bargaining chips.

Erdogan’s threat that he would open the gates for millions of refugees to flood Europe actually holds true for the Turkey-made Kurdish crisis, too. The humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes has prompted the prediction that a Turkish genocide on the Kurds is in the making. Turkey’s actions will lead to another migrant wave towards Europe of Kurds fleeing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

So, there will be refugees, either way. That shouldn’t scare the EU or the EU’s outer frontier countries like Bulgaria who might turn out to play a central role in the diplomatic solution to the Kurdish crisis.

Bulgarians share a somewhat similar faith with the Kurdish people. Bulgaria broke away from the Ottoman Empire in the end of the 19th century and a bit later earned full statehood independence from the Ottomans in the beginning of the 20th century. The Kurds were not so lucky.

This is why the Bulgarian people should not be indifferent to the faith of the Kurds.

Famous Bulgarian cartoonist Christo Komarnitski tweeted on Sunday that Bulgarians are very loud when it comes to citing great Bulgarian revolutionaries and poets about Bulgaria’s struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. But, he added, when it comes to the current situation, Bulgarians are laying down low now “not to anger the Sultan, while he is slaughtering the Kurds”.

Bulgaria is uniquely positioned in the current Kurdish crisis. It might turn out to be EU’s secret diplomatic weapon.

The country is on the front line of the migration crisis as Turkey’s neighbor and as the EU’s outer border; it currently boasts a good diplomatic relationship with Turkey’s Erdogan; and it also shares a somewhat common history with the Kurds who were not as lucky as Bulgaria to break away from the Ottoman Empire.

This is why don’t be surprised if the Bulgarian government and its Prime Minister Borissov play a major role behind the scenes in EU diplomatic efforts with Turkey over the coming weeks.

Iveta Cherneva works in the fields of security and human rights, previously at the UN and in US Congress.


Bulgarian general elections: Anti-establishment parties make significant gains

Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent



Forming a new government might prove more difficult than expected, following Sunday’s parliamentary election. Though the ruling GERB party came out first, it only got 24.2% of the votes. PM Borisov could be facing quite the challenge in trying to put together a parliamentary majority needed to remain in power.

Anti-establishment political groups recorded significant gains, with the biggest surprise of the election coming from the pro-European, anti-establishment party called "There is Such a People". The party formed barely one year ago and led by a former singer and actor is expected to get 17% of the voted, tied for the 2nd place with the biggest opposition party- the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

The new parliament is expected to be very fragment with newcomers gaining seats. With less than half of the total votes counted, the political scene looks something like this:

The new anti-system populist party "There is Such a People" (ITN) led by the TV star and singer Slavi Trifonov came in second with 19%, followed by the Socialists with 14.9%.

Democratic Bulgaria Anti-Corruption Party and Center-Left Alliance “Get up! Down with the Mafia! ” one of the groups behind the massive anti-corruption protests demanding the resignation of Borisov obtained 11% and 5.1%, respectively.

Ethnic Turkish Party - The Rights and Freedoms Movement won 8.7% of the vote, while nationalists from the VMRO, the current coalition partner of the prime minister's conservatives, won just 3.6%, far below the electoral threshold of 4 %, on the verge of being excluded from parliament.

The partial results compelled prime-minister to suggest the creation of a cross-party expert government given that his party did not obtain an absolute majority.

"I propose to make peace - let's install experts to take responsibility and let's do everything we can to get out of the (coronavirus) pandemic by December and start moving forward," Borisov said in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Bulgaria's parliamentary election comes amid anti-corruption protests that have been taking place for over 6 months.

Boiko Borisov, an increasingly controversial politician, has been at the helm of the government in Sofia since 2009, for more than 10 years.

Negotiations for the formation of a new government are expected to take several weeks and the holding of early elections cannot be ruled out, as the unexpected rise of the ITN party further complicates negotiations.

The outcome of talks to form a new government will be hard to predict given the complicated situation.

Although Borisov's victory seems clear, the ruling party (GERB) will need at least two more parties to form a majority. However, all the new parties said that they would not ally themselves with Borisov, and the Socialists ruled out any entry into a coalition with him. But even the increasingly divided opposition does not seem to be able to ally itself against the Conservative prime minister.

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Bulgaria PM seen losing quarter of seats, no clear path to hold power

EU Reporter Correspondent



Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov (pictured) lost around a quarter of his seats in parliament, leaving him with no clear path to hold on to power after voters angry at corruption in the EU’s poorest member state flocked to protest parties.

Borissov’s centre-right GERB party will still be the biggest group in parliament after Sunday’s election, and the prime minister proposed overnight that his rivals accept a cabinet of technocrats.

“I offer you peace,” he said in a video streamed on Facebook. “This is my proposal for all, enjoy the results for two, three days and then consider - what is stable and what is not.”

But political analysts say surging anti-establishment and anti-corruption parties committed to toppling Borissov would be unlikely to accept any such offer.

“Forming some kind of national salvation cabinet would be extremely difficult, on the verge of impossible,” said Daniel Smilov, with Sofia-based Centre for Liberal Strategies.

Leading financial newspaper Capital said the 61-year-old three-time prime minister’s fate was sealed: “Borissov won the election, but lost the power.”

Initial results from Sunday’s election showed GERB with just 25.9% of the vote, down from 33.5% four years ago.


Second place went to a new anti-establishment party founded by TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov. His There Is Such a People party won 18%, pushing aside the main opposition Socialists whose vote share plunged to just 15% from 27.9% in the last election, according to the partial results.

Trifonov has refused to join any government including either GERB or the Socialists, leaving little scope for him to step in and form a government if Borissov fails.

Two other parties that reject Borissov will also enter parliament: the anti-graft grouping Democratic Bulgaria and protest party Stand Up! Mafia Out!

Both were behind major anti-corruption demonstrations last summer that eroded Borissov’s grip on power.

Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova said her party was ready to join an anti-GERB alliance.

“After this election, GERB cannot rule and Borissov will not be prime minister,” she told reporters.

Borissov, a burly former fireman and bodyguard, has kept public debt low and ensured Bulgaria’s path to the euro zone. But Bulgaria’s reputation for corruption - Transparency International ranks it worst in the EU - has scared away investors and held Bulgaria back from catching up with its richer Western peers.

With long talks to form a government or even another election possible, Bulgaria may have difficulty tapping the EU’s €750 billion ($884bn) coronavirus Recovery Fund and its readiness to adopt the euro currency in 2024 could be affected.

($1 = 1.6628 leva)

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Bulgarian premier’s party wins general elections: Exit polls

James Drew



Exit polls in Bulgaria showed that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party won Sunday’s (4 April) general elections, writes Ihvan Radoykov.

According to the Alpha Research exit poll broadcast by the Bulgarian National Television (BNT), seven political parties and coalitions passed the 4% election threshold.

The poll results showed that Borisov’s GERB party received 25.7 % of the votes, while the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) became the second party with 17.6% votes.

Led by showman Slavi Trifonov, There Is Such A People (ITN) received 15.5% of the votes, while the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, majority of which are Turks, received 11% votes.

The right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, left-wing coalition of Stand up! Mafia out!, and far-right Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) led by Krasimir Karakachanov, defense minister of the Borisov government, entered the parliament.

Voters in Bulgaria went to the polls on Sunday for the country’s 11th parliamentary elections since the overthrow of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in 1989.

Some 6.3 million eligible voters, including around 850,000 Turks and Muslims, voted to elect members of the 240-seat National Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament, from 22 political parties and eight coalitions.

Sunday’s vote was the first regular parliamentary election since 2009, following repeated snap polls.

The elections hold special significance for Bulgaria’s Muslim and Turkish population, as they served as a chance for the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party to regain power.

The party, formed at the start of Bulgaria’s journey toward democracy, has a majority of Turks among its members and has played a key role in the country’s politics for over three decades.

The MRF has been in opposition since the GERB formed a coalition government with the ultra-nationalist United Patriots (OP) alliance in 2017.

Bulgaria’s Turkish and Muslim population has traditionally voted for the MRF.

Borisov’s GERB party also wooed Turks and Muslims in the country, but the OP alliance based its electoral campaign to a great extent on hostility against the minority communities.

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