View from Sofia: Fear and loathing

Written by on April 12, 2016 in Perspectives - Comments Off on View from Sofia: Fear and loathing

Fear. The word travelled across Bulgarian media and between the lines of reports and political speeches in the days after the Brussels attack. The feeling that an attack on Brussels concerns Bulgarians (probably more than Paris or Ankara), together with the quantitative rise of terror attacks, has changed the mood in the country. The poisonous mixture of terrorism, migration, a devastating war not far from our borders, and euro-scepticism, came together as a scary and ugly backdrop to the public debate.

Refugees have a different biological make up, was the claim made by a public intellectual with an academic background. Migrants are being paid by Georgie Soros to travel and destabilise Europe, a former constitutional judge proclaimed from the TV. The attacks triggered extreme nervousness towards everyone different, which in turn triggered official statements to the effect that tolerance means bearing with those who are somehow lesser people.

Against this background, the government is demonstrating resolve in handling the threat of terror attacks. On March 23 it adopted a strategy for combating radicalisation and terrorism, which includes an anti-terrorism bill that has to be ready for presentation to the Cabinet within two weeks. The same day, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved amendments to the law against the financing of terrorism, which allow it to freeze the funds of individuals, organisations and lawyers on whom sanctions have been imposed for terrorism or financing terrorism, by the United Nations Security Council, or the European Parliament.

On the night after the Brussels attack, an anti-terrorism exercise took place, which involved the police closing down a number of streets in the city centre and the Sofia metro railway being closed. Minister of the Interior Rumyana Buchvarova assured that the exercise had been planned for a long time and had no connection to the terrorist attacks in Brussels. She added that after the news of the Brussels attacks, Bulgaria had carried out full border checks on those leaving and entering the country.

Amid this climate of nervousness and the bold moves by the government, Bulgarians wonder what to think about the EU-Turkey deal. They dislike the fact that Turkey not only gains a large amount of money but also gets away with assertive behavior that has ramifications in Bulgarian politics. However, the priority of diminishing the refuge flow, seems, at least partially, to be stronger than the general feeling of being blackmailed by the neighbours, by the unknown foreigners, by Europe’s indecisiveness to act.

  • This first appeared on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations on April 5.

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About the Author

Vessela Tcherneva is the head of ECFR’s Wider Europe programme and a senior policy fellow at ECFR. She is the co-founder of Sofia Platform, a venue for dialogue between members of NGOs, the media, and politics from Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. From 2010 to 2013 she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the political cabinet of Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.She has been the head of the Bulgarian office of the European Council for Foreign Relations since 2003, as well as programme director for Foreign Policy Studies at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia.Between 2004 and 2006 she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato. She has been a supervising editor for Foreign Policy – Bulgaria magazine since its launch in 2005.