The refugee inflow and Bulgaria’s response to it, as well as the continued domestic political crisis were, predictably, the focus of the Consultative Council on National Security meeting on November 20.
The council, convened by, brings together the head of government, ministers and other top officials with security, intelligence and other strategic portfolios, as well as the leaders of the parties with seats in the National Assembly.
In a brief statement after the meeting, which went on for nearly six hours, President Rossen Plevneliev said that the participants agreed that Bulgaria needed to step up its efforts to deal with the refugee inflow, but also underscored the need to seek concerted action at European Union level on this issue. All Bulgarian institutions should pursue available avenues of securing financial, expert and technical aid from the EU and EU member states, Plevneliev said.
Furthermore, political parties and state institutions should make all possible effort to prevent “any attempt to endanger ethnic peace in Bulgaria, the spread of xenophobia and hate,” Plevneliev said.
The sole voice of dissent was, equally predictably, the leader of nationalist party Ataka, Volen Siderov, who left the meeting shortly before it ended. Speaking to reporters outside the Presidency, he said that his party’s proposal to secure the border with Turkey and expel all illegal immigrants that pose a threat to Bulgaria’s security had been rejected. He also said that the accusations of heightened xenophobia as a result of the growing refugee inflow were baseless.
The reports prepared by the Interior Ministry and the State Agency for National Security (SANS) for the council – made public even as the council still sat in meeting – pointed out the risk of xenophobic incidents among the possible threats, as did Plevneliev in his address.
The other threats, according to the Interior Ministry and SANS included the humanitarian crisis caused by the fact that Bulgaria was unable to guarantee the life and health of the large number of foreign nationals seeking shelter; the possible entry of people who espouse radical or extremist ideas, as well as members or sympathisers of terrorist groups; the increased criminal activity, in particular people trafficking and related crimes; the health risk of possible epidemics; the threat to Bulgaria’s public finances, given the additional Budget spending on dealing with the refugee inflow.
Concerning the ongoing political crisis, Plevneliev said after the meeting that “the council re-affirms its unconditional respect to the right to protest but categorically insists that this inalienable constitutional right is exercised within the boundaries of the law.” Protest organisers and participants should avoid action that could cause further tension and deepen the political and social crisis, the statement said.
Bulgaria’s anti-government protests, which demand the resignation of the Plamen Oresharski cabinet and snap elections, reached their 160th day on November 20.
Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said, in his report to the council, that the escalating protests were a result of aggressive political confrontations. In such an environment, snap elections should not be a goal in itself, because they were unlikely to calm down spirits and bring stability, he said.
Plevneliev pointed out another threat to Bulgaria’s security in his address, namely the tense relations between Russia and Ukraine in the energy sector, which could lead to new disruptions in the delivery of energy resources. (Bulgaria saw interruptions in gas deliveries from Russia in 2006 and 2009 because of “price wars” between Moscow and Kyiv.)
In its final statement, the council said that the government should remain on alert and make all efforts to prevent such disruptions, as well as speed up work building interconnectors with neighbouring countries and build up reserves that would help Bulgaria survive a possible energy crisis.