Dutch ambassador in Sofia Karel van Kesteren and Belgium’s ambassador in Bulgaria Anick van Calster became the latest foreign diplomats to speak on the ongoing anti-government protests in Bulgaria, describing them as protests about European values, echoing a joint statement by their French and German counterparts last week.
In separate interviews with Bulgarian newspaper Kapital in recent days, Van Kesteren and Van Calster said that the protesters wanted transparency and rule of law, rather than appointments to key positions of officials that the society did not trust to serve public interest.
(The appointment of controversial MP and media magnate Delyan Peevski as director of the State Agency for National Security triggered the protest rallies, now in their second month; after Peevski offered to have the appointment rescinded, which the Parliament did, the protests continued to demand the resignation of the Plamen Oresharski government).
The same point was made in the joint statement French ambassador to Bulgaria Philippe Autié and his German counterpart Matthias Hoepfner, who said that “the Bulgarian public insists that the political, administrative, judicial and economic elites subscribe to the principles of public interest. It is obvious that the society fears the penetration of private interests in the public sphere.”
Van Kesteren, who is due to leave Bulgaria shortly and retire from diplomatic service, said that the protest rallies did not surprise him and that he saw them as “a sign of hope” that the civil society in Bulgaria was finding its voice.
A similar message was found in the Franco-German statement, which said that the protests were a sign that civil society is on the rise and deserved to be heard.
This message has been, in various forms, shrugged off by the current ruling coalition, which blamed previous administrations for the problems pointed out by French and German ambassadors, while absolving the Oresharski administration on the grounds that it has been in office just a month and a half.
Van Calster, which became ambassador in Bulgaria last year, said that a government needed more than sheer parliamentary support (“the arithmetic of democracy”) to function. “What we see now is a government that feels legitimate, but at the same time, a lot of people have been taking to the streets over the past month, challenging its legitimacy,” she said.
The best solution for the current political crisis, she said, was one that “will be widely supported by the people”.
Van Kesteren offered a similar view, saying that “democracy is not winning 51 per cent of the vote and then doing whatever you wish; democracy is the dialogue with the public, being responsible for one’s actions.”
On the issue of the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) – intended to bring the two countries up to EU standards in fighting organised crime and corruption – the Dutch and Belgian ambassadors said that it was too early to end the continued monitoring.
“When there is a sufficient level of rule of law, both in fighting organised crime and corruption, there will be no need for the CVM’s existence. I can only encourage the government’s efforts in that direction. This is one issue on which the protesters will join [the government], because they want the rule of law and protest against corruption and organised crime,” Van Calster said.
Van Kesteren said: “[The CVM] could only end when we have guarantees and proof that the rule of law has irreversibly become part of the political system’s workings. This, I am afraid, is not the case right now, as the current situation has shown.”
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)