‘No link’ between Bulgarian foreign policy and Bourgas terrorist attack

Nadim Shehadi is an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House (www.chathamhouse.org) where he directs a programme on the regional dimension of the Palestinian refugee issue in the Middle East Peace Process. He is also a senior member of St Antony’s College Oxford where he was director of the Centre for Lebanese Studies from 1986 to 2005. Shehadi was trained as an economist with an interest in the history of economic thought.

This interview first appeared on Bulgarian-language website Mediapool.

What are the possible scenarios for the situation and Syria? How would they reflect the development of the whole region?

The nonviolent revolt against the Syrian regime of president Bashar el Assad started in March 2011 and the regime has resorted to a military solution to suppress it. This has not been a successful strategy as the more the regime used violence, the more intensive the revolt became. It is now clear that the regime cannot regain power and that a transition is bound to happen sooner or later. The international community has been slow in intervening to end the violence and assist in the transition. For a long time there was concern about the aftermath of the fall of the regime, this concern was mainly inspired by the traumas of the Iraq experience and there was the idea that a compromise could be found. Recently the outlook has changed radically, as it is now accepted that the longer the regime stays, the more sectarian tensions will intensify and the more extremist elements will emerge and this will eventually make the transition more challenging.  So if before the concern was about what happens when Assad goes, now the concern is about what happens if he stays. The preferable option is a diplomatic effort to involve the Russians and the Chinese through the Security Council and international co-operation to help Syria’s transition into a stable democratic country.
What is the current status of the Syrian opposition and why is the participation of the international community required to resolve the crisis?

The term “opposition” is somehow misleading because it gives an impression of normality: i.e that there is a government and that this government has an opposition. In fact, what we call the opposition is the whole of Syrian society in all its diversity, emerging after almost 50 years of dictatorship. This diversity is in fact the sign of a healthy political society that is finding expression for the first time in two generations and what is required is a democratic system that will manage this diversity and turn it into an asset. But in the meantime, the various opposition groups need to find common grounds that will allow the emergence of an alternative to the regime and lead that process politically. The international community led by the US, the EU and the Arab League is assisting the opposition in organising itself along those lines.  This is a great challenge and sometimes the issue of Syria looks simpler than the complications between those who want to help it.
How do you assess the role of Bulgaria so far in this conflict?

The role of Bulgaria has been in line with the international community’s efforts and it is well placed to help because of the historic ties between Bulgaria and Syria. There was a meeting held in Sofia which was successful in terms of finding common grounds between the various Syrian opposition parties. Bulgarian diplomacy has played an important role together with other countries like the US, the UK and other European and Arab countries. These sort of meetings have been happening in many places, there were similar meetings in Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Doha, Geneva, Washington, London, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid and even in Copenhagen.
What are the risks and the reflection of the Syrian conflict for the Eastern European countries?

East European countries have gone through similar transitions and can assist by providing lessons from their experience and the experience of the EU in general. It is EU policy through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, known as the Barcelona process, and through the European Neighbourhood Policy, that stability and prosperity in the southern Mediterranean is essential for European security. The slogan of Javier Solana at the inception of the policy is that one of the pillars of European security is to be surrounded by a “ring of well governed states”. The two shores of the Mediterranean are interdependent.
Have you ever expected an attack in Bulgaria?

Not at all, such an attack was not expected anywhere, least of all in Bulgaria.
Do you think there is a connection between Bulgarian foreign policy, the meeting of the Syrian opposition near Sofia and the terrorist attack in Bulgaria?

As I already mentioned in a previous interview with a Bulgarian media, that I find no link between the two events and I was surprised it happened in Bulgaria. The main impact of a terrorist act is that it creates a sense of anger and desire for revenge, on the one hand, and a sense of guilt and blame on the part of the victims on the other hand: Questions like: Why did this happen to us, what did they do to ‘deserve’ this, did they put themselves up as a target? Should they change their ideas and behaviour in order to avoid future attacks…Once this happens, the terrorists have succeeded. This is a phenomenon we have seen in London after the 7/7 bombings and even in the US after the 911 terrorist attack in NY. A terrorist attack is mainly targeted for its