Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry: Knowing who your friends are

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sketched out to local media its revised policy on recommending top state honours for foreign ambassadors ending their terms in Sofia.

This has been a matter of controversy after French ambassador Philip Autie (photo) ended his term in Bulgaria without having the Stara Planina, the country’s highest honour, conferred on him – in breach of previous custom in which the honour was handed to practically all departing foreign envoys.

Earlier, Autie and his German counterpart Matthias Hoepfner had issued a joint statement calling on the Bulgarian Socialist Party government, in office since the end of May and the target of widely-supported public protests demanding its resignation, to listen the voices coming from civil society.

The snub of Autie was seen as punishment, as had been demanded by ultra-nationalist leader Volen Siderov, for the stance taken by the French ambasssador.

At the time, however, the Foreign Ministry said that it was reconsidering the rules for recommending to the President the conferring of such honours.

In the case of Autie, lacking a recommendation from the cabinet to hand Autie the honour, President Rossen Plevneliev received the departing French ambassador and handed him a symbolic departing gift. The move by Plevneliev, in office as head of state since January 2012 following his election on a centre-right ticket, was seen as distancing himself from the government’s snub of Autie.

Following a request by Bulgarian site Mediapool, the Foreign Ministry said on November 18 that it would recommend honours to outgoing foreign ambassadors only if they had made “specific contributions” to Bulgaria.

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