By Muzaffer Kutlay
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev has carried out some contacts in Ankara and Istanbul in the scope of the two days official visit to Turkey (28-29 November 2012). During the official declarations and committee meetings, several significant issues have been discussed including proposed nuclear power plant project which will be constructed in İğneliada, transfer of Caspian energy resources to Bulgaria via Turkey, problem of accreditation of Turkish students studying in Bulgarian universities, importance of Bulgarian Turks in the bilateral relations of the two countries as well as increasing the volume of foreign trade and cooperation in regional affairs. Addition to these issues, Turkish-Bulgarian long term friendship and good neighborhood relations were particularly emphasized.
In the warm and distinguishing state protocol ceremony, President Plevneliev greeted the guard of honor with Turkish words “Merhaba Asker” was the demonstration of friendship and sincerity. During the official dinner held in the Çankaya Presidential Palace, one of the most remarking points was the cheerful chatting of Mr. Gül and Plevneliev throughout the whole supper. Moreover, those who are near to President Mr. Gül indicated that it is the first time they are witnessing Mr. Gül has such a long and cheerful conservation.
Despite committee of Mr. Plevneliev were relatively small, accompanying of Minister of Educational Affairs Mr. Sergey Ignatov and Minister of Culture Mr. Vecdi Rasidov was symbolically important. Ensuring cultural and educational cooperation between the countries will have outlasting outcomes as understanding and accepting the culture of the people which is considered “the other” will prevent the sense of enmity and diminish the ultra nationalistic feelings. In this regard, it is critically prominent to overcome the historical prejudices and strengthen the mutual cultural relations in order to achieve peaceful co-existence as well as taking constructive steps in educational affairs in Bulgaria which has nearly 10% Turkish minority in its total population.
Awakened nationalist reflexes with the Borisov government
Plevneliev’s visit to Ankara had a positive impact on the all participants of the program. His constructive language gave the signals that Turkish-Bulgarian relations will be in progress in the coming decades. However, if the case is Bulgaria, it should be keep in mind that nationalist sentiments are still strong in some parts of the society and it can flourish in any time.
However, despite bilateral friendly relations prevailing since 1990s, following the parliamentary elections held in July 2009, the relations has started to turn into the slippery scope within Boyko Borisov governance. Considering intention to adapting nullification measures for the votes casted in Turkey, discussion of referendum on EU membership of Turkey, banning of 10 minutes Turkish news broadcasted Bulgarian State Television as well as compensation claims of Bulgarians migrated from Turkey after Balkan Wars and First World War, Mr. Borisov’s leaving the supper of Balkan countries leaders organized by President Abdullah Gül in New York, several corruption trials opened towards to municipalities governed by Turks, long-lasting Mufti crisis, the problematic issues among two countries exceed ten as it expressed in the media in a short time after Borisov government came into power.
Lash outs of Borisov government continued until Prime Minister Mr. Erdoğan’s one day visit to Bulgaria in September 4, 2010. Following this visit, Mr. Erdoğan and Borisov, for first time gave the messages of mutual friendship and cooperation. Since then, Prime Minister Borisov has relatively started to carry out the responsibilities of being in the governance and opposing views over Turkish minority and Turkey has replaced with the reasonable balance policy. Today, Bulgaria attaches great importance to promote friendly relations and cooperate in different areas with Turkey which strengthens its position in regional politics and economy.
President’s friendly relations and its impacts on the government politics
Both previous President Georgi Pırvanov and current President Rosen Plevneliev has become the most influential balancing factor against Borisov government’s ultra nationalist policies towards Turkey and Turkish minority in Bulgaria. Particularly, friendly relations promoted among Mr. Pırvanov, then Mr. Plevleniev and Gül, frequent official visits of presidents had closed up Sofia and Ankara governments.
Mufti crisis has finally ended in the second half of 2011 with the official registration of Muslim Conference in which Mustafa Hacı Aliş elected as the head mufti. Moreover, on January 2012, Bulgarian National Parliament has approved a declaration which condemns forced assimilation policies toward Turks and proclaimed 1989 migration as ethnic cleansing. Then, Prime Minister Borisov came to Turkey within a crowded committee and returned after signing 17 agreements. Accompanying of 9 ministers, 2 deputy ministers and more than 80 high level bureaucrats, businessman as well as academicians to Mr. Borisov had a wide coverage in both Turkish and Bulgarian media.
Actually increasing the bilateral high level official contacts have positive impacts on the relations of Bulgarian people and Turkish minority living there. However, Bulgaria will enter a new election process as parliamentary elections are planning to be held on November 2013. Therefore, when the new election process started, nationalist parties including ATAKA and VMRO would carry out the election campaign over Turkish antagonism. At this point, both Borisov government and President Mr. Plevneliev should give attention in order to prevent flares of ethnic tension in the country.
USAK Center for EU Studies