Valentin Radomirski: The world is changing, but the Bulgarian foreign policy remains the same
The Bulgarian elites should think carefully how to act within the various short-term scenarios for development of international relations, so that the damage for Bulgaria is smaller. As part of the EU Sofia should decide what role it wants to play in it, says the diplomat and foreign policy expert
Valentin Radomirski is a Bulgarian diplomat and a foreign policy expert. He has graduated from the Moscow State University of International Relations in 1974 (having studied ”International Economic Relations”). He starts work in the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Relations in 1974. He was a counselor on foreign policy and national security in the cabinet of the Bulgarian prime minister Sergei Stanishev between 2005 and 2009. He was the Bulgarian ambassador to Romania between 2009 and 2012. After that he has been ambassador for special assignments, who was responsible for regional cooperation for an year. He was an unaccredited ambassador in the Bulgarian embassy in The Republic of Moldova between October 2013 and June 2015. He retires in 2015. He is often asked to comment on international relations by Bulgarian media.
This article was published on 21 October 2019 on the Bulgarian section of the site “The Barricade”.
Mr. Radomirski, the French president Emmanuel Macron blocked the start of the EU accession negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia, while Sofia claimed that it was in its interest if both countries join faster. Isn’t the Bulgarian foreign policy set for the past, in which Macron didn’t exist, and Trump was not in the White House?
I have been saying for a long time that the foreign policy of Bulgaria doesn’t take into account the changed situation in the world. I have been articulating it in various ways. We have a completely new situation in the world in the last years. For 30 years there was a hegemony of the USA. But this period is getting over.
The US withdraws from the Middle East. But they try to do it in the leash shameful way. They make a controlled withdrawal. China is their main opponent. The Middle East has lost its most important position for the Americans, because they have become the biggest exporter of energy resources. The idea for The Greater Middle East from the times of the president Bush-jr. has failed. Now a withdrawal is taking place and it needs to happen in the least harmful way from the standing point of internal politics.
All the national elites, who reflect on international relations, understand that a new epoque has come. One of the signs of this epoque is Macron. But he is only one of its representatives. Both the German and the French elites think where their country stands in this situation. The Bulgarian elites have no such approach. There are appeals for union, for new thinking, but there is no movement in this direction.
We are in a period of transition. The old situation in the international relations is no longer valid. The new one has not been yet established. This is tragic. In such times there are huge wars and cataclysms taking place. The importance of regional powers grows.
In Bulgaria it is not understood that we have to think where shall we be after a few years, when a few different scenarios could unfold. We need to create the premises so that we don’t allow the disruption of our national interests in any of them.
In the world before Trump the USA and Germany were together…
The whole Western European elite was closely connected to the American one. Even now a large part of the European elite continues to be the old one, while a part of the elite of the United States is renewed. With the exception of Macron, to an extent in Italy, and to an extent Orban and Kaczynski the European elite is still the old one.
What should the Bulgarian foreign policy in the world be? Bulgaria has strategic interests towards Northern Macedonia. What should Bulgaria do in this situation, when Macron opposes the integration of countries, such as Albania and Northern Macedonia?
Bulgaria needs to understand what is its vision for the EU’s future. Strategically it is good for Bulgaria. Tactically it is not good in a number of ways. But we still regard the EU as European Economic Community – as a social and solidarity union. But after the treaty of Maastricht, it became union of competition, a predatory union. At that moment we were introverted in our problems and didn’t realise what happened. Now we see that we are sold goods of lower quality at higher prices. The EU should undergo a serious reform, if it wants to continue to exist. From the standing point of Germany and France it is on the crossroad, because it needs to decide whether it wants to exist with geopolitical and geomilitary subjectivity, as it has now only geoeconomic subjectivity.
The prime minister of Luxembourg has said a few days ago that the European sanctions against Turkey will not stop it, because the EU doesn’t have an army.
How does Bulgaria see the EU in the future? What is the role of Bulgaria in a future EU? The answers to these questions will tell us the answer to the Western Balkans too. We can’t think only about Macedonia. If we contemplate only about it, we will say that our strategic interest is its accession to the EU. But in the conjuncture it is very good that France, not we stopped it now. We knew that Paris would stop it. Now we can still pressure them for some details in history. But this is not what matters. We have long surrendered the history – as of 1991, when we recognised Macedonia without any conditions. Then Zhelyo Zhelev and Stoyan Ganev competed who will recognise it first. We have long made the strategic mistake.
The question is where do we stand in the future and in the new Europe, so that we don’t suffer more from the rearrangement of the geopolitical layers. But nobody thinks about that. I am convinced that the German, the French and the other serious elites think about the future of their countrie.s
The competition between the Balkan countries continues…
It hasn’t stopped…
… but shouldn’t the new epoque bring about more cooperation between them?
It should bring about cooperation, if they realise that they stay in the periphery. What France does now reflects its desire before or together with Macedonia and Albania to see Serbia entering the EU. It remains hidden for the large public, but in 2005 there was a probability that Bulgaria didn’t enter the EU, because Germany insisted on Croatia, while France – on Romania. That is how the problem between Bulgaria and Romania appeared. The French did the campaign that we compete with Romanians and it has been going on until today on inertia. Now we see this in the Western Balkans. Each of these large countries searches for allies on the Balkans. That is how the contradictions between the big countries are transferred artificially on the Balkans.
The only monuments in Belgrade belong to Frenchmen. I don’t speak about Serbians’ russophilia. There is competition between Germany and France for leadership.
Serbia is an interesting country with it foreign policy. The French president Emmanuel Macron was there in the summer. This month the Turkish president Recep Erdogan visited Belgrade. Today (19.10.2019) the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev was there on a visit. At the same time Serbiana can travel to China without visas and have attracted a lot of Chinese investments. It is interesting that Bulgaria positions itself in one way, while Serbia is position in another with regard to world powers. What are your conclusions for the two countries, when you see their positioning?
I think that Serbia positions itself better with regard to future variants. We don’t position ourselves. We continue to follow the satellite syndrome. We have been taking into consideration the Soviet Union until its end. We now try to take into consideration all our present partner, in spite of their contradictions. At the same time Belgrade positions itself with regard to various future variants.
But Sofia is part of alliance, in which Belgrade doesn’t belong. It requires that we follow certain foreign policy line…
That’s true. This is the big game. We have taken decisions. In 1991 we recognised Macedonia without conditions. Greece didn’t do it. It could have done it before us. But it waited close to 30 years, in order to make a contract, which resolves a lot of other questions. Yes, we have entered. Now that we have entered, we have to obey. But nothing is eternal and no agreement is eternal. We need to think about that.
What is characteristic about the system of international relations, which now forms?
The previous international order falls apart. It is based on principles, which were valid in the middle of the XX century, even though its beginning is laid down after the World War One. There are no new order and new principles. That is what is bad about this period. De jure we are in the old reality, which is not being respected. The facto we are in the new reality. The old reality starting falling apart back in 2003 with the War in Iraq. New notions such as ”security zone” and ”deescalation zone” have appeared. They correspond to the old notions of ”protectorate” and ”colony”. There is nothing new in the meaning in spite of the new terms. We are in a transition period. Will there be a redistribution of the spheres of influence in the multipolar world, which replaces the present unipolar one, who and how will this redistribution affect – these are the existential questions. The example of Syria is a sufficient argument for this thesis.
You say that Bulgaria should change in the changing world. I remember that the first government of GERB closed Bulgarian embassies, while recently new embassies and consulates have been opened. Even minister Zaharieva said that Asia and Africa must be new vectors in the Bulgarian foreign policy. Isn’t this a sign that Sofia goes into a new direction?
They admit their old mistakes. During the first government of GERB the budget of the foreign ministry was cut almost in half. In my view the opening of new (old) embassies and consulates is made, because they have to appoint somewhere their people. In Bulgaria in this moment the foreign ministry doesn’t make foreign policy.
What should Bulgaria change so that it sets itself right with regard to the changes in the world?
If the Bulgarian political elites have not yet lost their capability to think nationally responsible, they need to decide where are their national interests in the different scenarios for the short-term development of the world. The transition period, in which the world has entered, is full of different scenarios. Some of them could affect us very hard. We need to be prepared to save our country and people from the harshest consequences. I am convinced that Western European elites know that. It is not coincidental that Angela Merkel has said how ideas, which have been heretical two years ago, now need to be considered. She said that Germans can no longer expect that the US will come to protect them “automatically”. Germans need to think probably for their own defense. This is only on the surface. Behind such claims stand very serious confidential discussions, which have made the chancellor say this thing. We don’t think in this way in Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian elites need to think what it will do if NATO falls apart, as the Warsaw treaty fell apart. But if somebody articulates such a variant, he will be accused. Our elites need to think about that. Who could have said four years ago that Turkey will do in Syria what NATO doesn’t agree with. There are sufficient arguments for different scenarios and we need to think about them.
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