Bulgarian socialist MP Angelov defiant over Syria visit
Bulgarian Socialist Party member of Parliament Strahil Angelov, in television interviews on January 22 after his controversial visit to Syria, has insisted defiantly that he is accountable only to those who elected him and has rejected socialist foreign minister Kristian Vigenin’s condemnation of Angelov’s trip as irresponsible.
Angelov faces disciplinary action from the BSP over the four-day trip, which the party has effectively admitted has embarrassed it and its European socialist allies.
Syrian state media said that Angelov had expressed support for the Bashar al-Assad regime, a claim that Angelov said is untrue.
Opposition party GERB has described Angelov’s trip as an international scandal and said that the BSP government should resign over it.
Angelov, interviewed on public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on January 22, said that the purpose of his visit to Damascus was to get acquainted with the situation in Syria and discuss the problem of the wave of refugees from that country.
In 2013, Bulgaria saw a significant increase in refugees entering the country, mainly because of the crisis in Syria.
Angelov, who heads the 42nd National Assembly’s Bulgarian-Syrian friendship group, said that he made the trip to Syria first as a private citizen and then as a member of Parliament.
He said that his visit was not an official one (a view apparently not shared by Syrian media which broadcast footage of a formal meeting between Angelov and the president of Syria’s parliament).
Angelov said that he had met a lot of people, including students from the University of Damascus “who, by the way, do not support Bashar al-Assad”, and with clergy, including the Patriarch.
He said that there were 1.5 million Orthodox Christians in Syria “and their situation at the moment is not good”, and added that he was “surprised” that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church had not come out with a clear position on the issue.
Angelov said that he had also met with representatives of the government, “each conflict has two sides”. He added that in fact in Syria there were three parties to the conflict, but he had not met the third.
Asked who had invited him, Angelov said that he had been invited by the “Slav Foundation” which he described as a group of professors and public figures, “people who are interested in our relationship”.
In an interview with local television station bTV, Angelov appeared to claim that he was promoting not only Bulgaria’s national interests but also its business interests.
“In the context of the Bulgarian national interest, at some point we should trying to restore what Nikolai Mladenov has destroyed while foreign minister,” said Angelov, referring to the foreign minister from 2010 to 2013 in the former centre-right government of Bulgaria, and saying that Bulgaria had lost a lot of ground in the Middle East. (While Mladenov was foreign minister, Bulgaria pursued an active Middle East policy and became a member of the Friends of Syria group, also hosting in Bulgaria a meeting of Syrian opposition leaders.)
Angelov said that he found no harm in the contact, which he said was at an informal level and that “tomorrow when the situation changes there” Bulgarian business would be able to participate in the reconstruction of Syria.
“Why can I not take this step?” Angelov said.
He made it clear that he did not agree with Kristian Vigenin, current foreign minister in the BSP government, who lambasted Angelov in a Facebook post and called for BSP leader Sergei Stanishev and the socialist Speaker of Parliament Mihail Mikov to act against Angelov.
Angelov dismissed Vigenin’s description of his visit as “irresponsible”, saying that his trip was not irresponsible “especially considering that there are more than 15 000 refugees living here”.
“I am personally of the opinion that without the participation of the country of origin, it is hard to solve this problem. I’m not convinced that all Syrians who live here as refugees are people who can be trusted.”
When news broke of Angelov’s visit while it was still ongoing, there was fury among the Syrian refugee and opposition groups.
He claimed that he had not deviated from Bulgaria’s position on Syria – but also confirmed again that he had made the trip against the wishes of BSP leader Stanishev and against the advice of the foreign ministry. At a news conference, Bulgarian socialist MEP Iliyana Yotova indicated that the Angelov visit to Syria had been the subject of queries from European socialist partners.
Angelov said that he did not intend resigning as head of the Bulgarian-Syrian friendship group.
He is to face a disciplinary hearing by leaders of the BSP parliamentary group, with media reports saying that the minimum punishment he will face will be dismissal as head of the friendship group.