Tensions with Turkey continue to run high, Sofia seeks international solidarity

Photo: BGNES

Bulgaria’s foreign ministry summoned this country’s ambassador to Turkey Nadezhda Neynsky back to Sofia for consultations a week after protesting against statements made by a Turkish cabinet minister in support of a certain Bulgarian political party, seen as interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

On the day the Bulgarian ambassador was summoned back came the news that a regional mayor in southwestern Turkey had called on the Bulgarian expatriates there to vote in the Bulgarian parliamentary elections on 26 March in such a way as to make the Turkish community in Bulgaria more powerful and their language – official. On that same day, President Rumen Radev held a meeting with the ambassadors of Austria, Germany, France and Holland, at which solidarity was defined as the guiding principle in guaranteeing the security of the EU countries and the protection of the union’s external borders, as is Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. Political observers commented that “the growing arrogance of Turkish officials, and people not in any official capacity against the sovereignty of Bulgaria” has been given a response through a series of counter-measures by the Bulgarian institutions. The first person to have started talking of such measures three days ago was caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov. After talks with the interior ministry and the special services, he stated that measures had been taken to reinforce security along the Bulgarian-Turkish border in view of fears of a possible increase in the migration flow in the coming days. Yesterday, Defence Minister Stefan Yanev commented that the situation along the border was close to normal, no different from what it has been in recent times, while the European Commission confirmed for the Bulgarian National Radio that there is no information of any expected migration flow increase towards Bulgaria across the border with Turkey. However, Minister Yanev confirmed that the government has a plan of action should such a problem arise. The scant information regarding ambassador Neynsky’s summons to Sofia and President Radev’s meeting with the ambassadors of Austria, Germany, France and Holland is an indication, that for the time being, Sofia is refraining from any radical actions, that it is in standby mode, in expectation of coordinating its position with its EU partners in view of possible, even more dramatic developments in Turkey’s confrontation with Europe. When ambassador Neynsky will go back to Ankara is as yet unclear, but this is hardly likely to happen before the elections on 26 March.

Last week, Prime Minister Gerdzhikov expressed the hope that extreme measures like severing diplomatic relations is something that should be avoided, yet a diplomatic source commented for Sega newspaper that the very fact ambassador Neynsky has been summoned back to Sofia is indication enough of the country’s preparedness to take a different kind of steps.

It should be noted that on this sensitive issue the caretaker cabinet has been acting in a situation that is exceedingly difficult. On the one hand, it has to react to bilateral controversies regarding the forthcoming vote on the territory of Bulgaria, but also on the territory of Turkey where there are hundreds of thousands of expatriates. On this point, some right-wing and nationalist political forces have been calling on the Gerdzhikov cabinet to reconsider the opening of polling stations in Turkey and to guarantee it will not interfere in the Bulgarian elections, including by sending emigrants to cast their vote in Bulgaria. On the other hand, the government is hard pressed by some political forces to take immediate action for the dispatching of European security forces along the border with Turkey.

That the reactions are so sharp is attributed by the government, in part, to the fact that Bulgaria, as many other countries in Europe and Turkey itself is in pre-electoral mode, and that requires a certain kind of rhetoric. Whether that is so is yet to be seen. In Bulgaria, the pre-electoral campaigning ends at the close of March, in Turkey, the referendum is in mid-April.

English version: Milena Daynova

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