Bulgaria sees opportunity in Turkish success, president says

Bulgaria sees opportunity in Turkish success, president says

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Bulgaria sees opportunity in Turkish success, president says

DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The success of Turkey is very important for Bulgaria, according to Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev.

“As Turkey improves and gets richer, the same happen with us,” he told the Daily News during an official visit last week to Ankara.

Bulgaria is supporting Nabucco West, but it has also signed an investment treaty with Gazprom for South Stream. Isn’t this a contradictory stance?

There is no contradiction at all. We believe that the greater the number of pipelines passing through the country the better.

[This is] because we learned from the past. And in the past, we had just one pipeline and one supplier. For the 21st century, one of the major priorities I set as president is energy diversification and energy efficiency. We are proud that energy diversification is bringing some first results. South Stream is an important project for us and Europe because it is not diversifying the supplier, it is diversifying the pipeline. In 2008, we stayed in the cold after the only pipeline that came from Ukraine was stopped. We learned our lesson, and we are working for diversification.

But don’t you think the two pipelines are competing and that joining the South Stream project might give the message that Bulgaria believes there is more chance for South Stream to be realized sooner than Nabbuco West?

No, I don’t think so. Particularly in business, 1+1 should equal more than two. Synergy is very important. Economics, which are behind every decision [in the interests of being] efficient and pragmatic, also play an important role.

Nabucco West could be more efficient, cheaper and more quickly built if it passes through our region. Bulgaria has a special law for a project of national importance; this has helped us accelerate big international and infrastructure projects. If you look at the cost of building a highway, we are three times cheaper than Greece or Romania.

The message is that we are prepared for Nabucco West, as it will be quicker and cheaper. We are ready to do our best.

We will also be working for a European solution.

To what degree do you see eye to eye with Turkey on energy issues?

A: We are grateful that we have this dialogue and cooperation. We are now [aiming] to connect the Bulgarian and Turkish gas networks. This is the project interconnector that Bulgaria and Turkey have been very much advancing. The question remaining is really whether this is going to be part of Nabucco West or [whether] this is going to be a separate project. We are pushing for a European solution; there will be many meetings in Brussels initiated by Bulgaria.

Turkey here delivered a very important result with TANAP [Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline]. We welcome that project and that progress.

Nabucco is now called Nabucco West, so you don’t think that this has diminished the value of the project, validating those that did not believe Nabucco was a feasible project.

In the end, every project should create more value for shareholders and should be efficient. Nabucco has now endorsed a a more] efficient and pragmatic approach, and this is boosting its realization.

Don’t you think TANAP has brushed aside Nabucco?

No, we see it as Phase 1 of the bigger project, which is diversifying the sources of gas to Europe.

In your visit to Turkey, you showed interest in visiting the Marmaray, the rail link beneath the Bosphorus; I wonder whether this is because you were once the regional development minister, or is there is another symbolic reason for your interest?

It is also because of my background; it is my passion to integrate and to connect. I started by connecting the Bulgarian region with highways, and I am also very willing to connect Bulgaria with its region. Until three-and-a-half years ago, Bulgaria did not have a single highway connecting the country with any of Turkey, Romania, Greece, Serbia or Macedonia. We did not have good railway connections and there was only one bridge on the 420-kilometer-long [stretch of the] Danube River to connect with Romania. This is where we started. This is the past of our region; a region of tensions, the region of isolation, the region of the Iron Curtain, which was also dividing our two nations 20 years ago.

And this year we are actually commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Balkan Wars.

Indeed; the Balkans in the past were symbols of division, battles, fights and isolation. I’d like to work for another Balkans which is integrated where borders are falling down. We built bridges and highways, and we connect not only physically but also culturally. We should connect our economies, our regions and our visions.

What we learned in the past in Bulgaria is that the country was always weak when it was isolated. So we want to see Bulgaria integrated with our neighbors, within Europe.

With that vision in mind, what do you see when you look at Turkey?

A: Turkey has a great vision; we admire and support it. Turkey, with its very ambitious program of building highways, roadways and pipelines, is not just working for the future and prosperity of its nation but also positioning itself on the crossroads of European-Asian trade; this is a very wise move. Bulgaria could benefit by linking up. Bulgaria is a gate for Turkey to Europe and, on the other side, Turkey is a gate to Bulgaria and Europe to many big markets.

So you don’t put stock in those who criticize Turkey of pursuing a policy of neo-Ottomanism?

People will be always looking for convenient excuses for quick explanations. It might be true in the dreams of some of the politicians. It might be spread around as rumors that somebody might be thinking of achieving this or that.

What I am definitely sure on … is that Turkey is working for integration and it has an ambitious program for modernization. This is what [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk said to his nation: “Modernize, open to a bright world and don’t just follow, but lead.”

The success of Turkey is very important for Bulgaria as well because as Turkey improves and gets richer, the same thing happens to us. Only together can we matter in a fast-changing world.

The future belongs to those who create opportunities and develop the most important weapons which are talent, knowledge and work for development.

It’s interesting that you say “we matter” when we are together, but you are already part of the EU, where some don’t want to see Turkey. Which Turkey is more beneficial to Bulgaria, the one in the EU or the one outside? Some say Turkey benefited from being left out of Europe as it was less affected by the crisis.

Bulgaria supports [the EU accession] process. We would like to see Turkey advancing into this integration. European integration for every single country is a symbol of reforms, improvement and prosperity.

Turkey has asked for Patriot missiles from NATO. How do you see Russia’s reaction; will it affect NATO’s decision?

We definitely support [Turkey’s request]. Of course Russia is a big power and it has an opinion and the world will listen. But on the other side, we do belong to one and the same family, which is NATO. We have clear decision-making processes and clear rules. And it is all about solidarity. Today Turkey faces a problem and it expects NATO solidarity. We are there to help and support it.

Speaking of being part of a family and connecting culturally, how do Turkish TV series fare in this picture? Are they equally popular in Bulgaria?

Turkey has advanced in the past 10 years with a very wise move by becoming the so-called soft power in the world. Bulgarian families watch Turkish movies. We have millions in Bulgaria who live with the heroes of these movies. This is further evidence of integration. Our ministers three months ago signed a cooperation [agreement] on culture, and we will see some movies produced together.

Bulgaria has apologized for the assimilation campaigns in the mid-1980s against the Turks living in the country. To what degree has being part of the EU played a role in changing the culture?

This is a transformation process, and you see evidence that my country is moving in the right direction also in the cultural and historical dimension. The European vision for Bulgaria and the transformation process dramatically changed Bulgaria. We are still not there; we still need to do things. In 1984-85, Bulgaria shocked the world with what we did to Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin. The transformation process changed the culture from communist to democratic, from a one-party [system] to a multiple-party [system] and from a totalitarian economy to vibrant market economy.

Bulgaria changed, and, of course, the engine behind that dramatic change was the vision that we will get to where we belong, and that is the European family.

How does the presence of Turks affect relations?

Positively; we see them as a bridge and a chance. We would like to work for the success of all Bulgarian citizens no matter where they are. We have some bright projects, for instance, an e-government will be implemented; it will be possible for all Bulgarian citizens, no matter where they are, to vote.

Turkey is concerned about the rise of Islamophobia in Europe. What is the situation in Bulgaria?

Bulgarian people are very tolerant. Some political parties would take an easy decision to position themselves against what Bulgaria has achieved, looking for quick, easy wins in elections. It is very important that we [uphold] tolerance.

Turkey wants visa liberalization, which is very important for the type of integration you are talking about.

We know how important it is. Bulgaria is in the final stages of coming into the Schengen area. We managed to ease … some types of visas; for businessmen and some other [Turkish] passport holders, you will see a free, three-month visa and many other improvements. But as Bulgaria gets into the Schengen area, then Bulgaria will become part of a family which has a common and effective approach. So expect that it will be easier … to travel in the upcoming months.

But Schengen does not always entail easier travel for Turks.

But count on Bulgaria as a friend of Turkey and a proud European member that can work for solutions Europe-wide. As an active member who has a position and who is working for integration, Bulgaria will put some good ideas on the European agenda.

Which hopefully will be favorable for Turkey.

Absolutely, because we can understand you. This is important not only for Bulgaria but also for Europe. Turkish investment, business, tourism, [creating linkages] – restrictions should be out, cooperation and integration should be in.

Who is Rosen Plevneliev ?

Rosen Plevneliev is the fourth democratically elected president of Bulgaria.
Born in 1964, he graduated from the Technical University of Sofia in computer science. He worked at the Institute of Microprocessor Technology. In 1990 he established IRIS International JSC and managed the company in Germany until 1998. In this period he managed some of the largest German investments in Bulgaria.
From 1999 to 2009, he started some of Bulgaria’s major projects, like Sofia Business Park, Residential Park Sofia. He was a member of the board of directors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria as well as the board of the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in the second half of the 2000s. After the 2009 elections, he held the position of minister of regional development and public works. He was elected president in 2011.