Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to be caught up in at least two controversies – one over the criteria for awarding high state honours to departing foreign diplomats, the other over the return of communist-era State Security people to Bulgarian diplomatic posts abroad.
Media reports have established that since the return to power of the Bulgarian Socialist Party in May 2013, former State Security and old-order military intelligence people have been sent to top posts in Bulgaria’s embassies.
This is a diametric reversal of the policy of the centre-right government that was in power from 2009 to early 2013, which sought to ensure that Bulgaria was not represented abroad by people from the communist spy apparatus. This policy saw ambassadors with State Security backgrounds redeployed to the ministry building in Sofia, or handed retirement.
The previous policy was lent impetus by disclosures by the Dossier Commission, the body mandated by statute to identify communist-era spies in positions of influence in certain categories of public life, that found a strikingly high proportion of State Security people in the Foreign Ministry.
Early on in the term of the current BSP government, foreign minister Kristian Vigenin indicated his view that people who had been withdrawn from diplomatic posts abroad had been “humiliated” and that he wanted to acknowledge and reward long experience.
Swiftly, President Rossen Plevneliev, who as head of state officially decrees the appointment of ambassadors after receiving recommendations from the cabinet, said publicly that he would not consent to decrees naming former State Security people as ambassadors.
But at a Foreign Ministry now under the control of the current ruling axis, not only have a number of former State Security agents been appointed heads of directorates and one is the ministry’s new permanent secretary, but also such people have been sent to top posts at embassies as charge d’affaires.
Reporting this on November 15, mass-circulation daily Trud said that the Foreign Ministry leadership had found a way around Plevneliev’s refusal to consent to communist-era secret agents being named as ambassadors.
The report gave a number of examples, including – among others – military intelligence colonel Valentin Radomirski being sent as number two to the Bulgarian embassy in Moldova, former State Security agent Emil Vulev as second in the representation at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, former foreign ministry spokesperson Dragovest Goranov (Agent Gosho) as charge d’affaires of the embassy in Ethiopia, and Branimir Radev as envoy on the Eastern Partnership and the visa system with the former USSR countries.
The report also noted that consideration was being given to reversing the previous government’s outsourcing of visa services to a professional outside company and restoring this activity to the consulate.
On November 15, Vigenin was quoted by local media as saying that he had agreed with Plevneliev not to send State Security collaborators as ambassadors, but that sometime this happened with people being sent as deputies or in an acting capacity.
“I appreciate people according to their abilities and qualities, not according to whether they were part of the services,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, it also has emerged that in spite of earlier reports that the criteria for awarding top state honours to outgoing foreign diplomats leaving Sofia had been finalised, it turns out that these have not been approved.
This is a sequel to an episode in which departing French ambassador Philipe Autie, who with his German counterpart Matthias Hoepfner had issued a statement calling on the BSP government to heed the voice of the anti-government protesters, not being awarded the customary Stara Planina when his term ended.
Amid an uproar about the slight, the Foreign Ministry response was that there was a re-evaluation of the criteria for giving such honours to foreign ambassadors to Bulgaria who were coming to the end of their terms of office.
Media reports did not fail to mention that before the decision to allow Autie to fly out empty-handed, ultra-nationalist Ataka leader Volen Siderov had called for “punishment” of foreign ambassadors who indicated support for the anti-government protests.
On November 2, reports noted that going by the transcript of a cabinet meeting the previous day, the criteria had been decided.
The transcript quoted Vigenin as saying that the ministry had made “very clear rules to eliminate as far as possible the subjective element in proposals for awarding ambassadors”. Details, however, of these criteria were not given.
But on November 15, Mediapool said that from the response by the Foreign Ministry to questions the news website had sent, the rules for such awards had not yet been approved.
The rules were still in the “final stage of articulation” and not yet approved by the minister, according to the ministry.
Once these rules were approved, representatives of diplomatic missions in Bulgaria could be informed in general terms of the internal rules.
The ministry said that the idea was to avoid automatically awarding senior honours to foreign ambassadors.
” The goal is to maximise an objective assessment of the personal contribution of this category of foreign nationals in order to support a decision on a proposal by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the President of the Republic,” the Foreign Ministry said.