Outgoing Bulgarian president Plevneliev speaks on relations with Russia, expectations for successor

At a lengthy valedictory news conference on January 18, outgoing Bulgarian president Rossen Plevneliev reiterated his stance distinguishing between Russia’s regime and its people, shared his expectations about his successor Roumen Radev and relived the political crises of 2013/14.

In opening remarks lasting about 40 minutes, Plevneliev described his five-year term of office as having been undoubtedly “very difficult but honorable and successful”.

Plevneliev noted that during this time, at international level there had been a record number of conflicts, the migrant crisis, terrorist acts and multiple and parallel ongoing crises in Europe.

In Bulgaria, these years had seen very strong political confrontations that led to parliamentary crises, low trust in institutions and civic protests.

Plevneliev listed the firsts that had happened during his presidency – including being the first president to withdraw his trust in a government, as he did in 2013. Among other things, he also was the first president to appoint two caretaker governments, the first to initiate a national referendum, and the first to boycott the oath-taking of a Constitutional Court judge.

Plevneliev reiterated that he drew a distinction between Russia’s people and that country’s president, Vladimir Putin, and underlined that he rejected Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Describing himself as a convinced European, Plevneliev said that from the start he had stated that for him, the European Union was “not foreign policy, but my family”.

He said that he had taken a principled position in support of the international legal order and against Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Plevneliev said that he was the first democratically-elected pressident who systematically and firmly opposed the Russian president, adding that in no way did this make him a hawk, but a political with a civil position.

“I make a big difference between the Russian people and the Russian president, between the Kremlin and Russia. I love Russia, I said, but did not approve of the policy conducted by the Russian president.”

Plevneliev reiterated his criticism of Putin’s policy drive to rearrange spheres of influence.

“This is a very dangerous policy that led to two world wars, to the Berlin Congress and the Yalta conference, which humiliated and divided Bulgaria.”

Plevneliev said that his vision was quite different, of the historical transformation of Bulgaria and the Balkans from the territory of the interests of Great Powers to an integral part of a united Europe.

“I represented Bulgaria at the historic European Council in August 2014, and supported the sanctions imposed on Russia after the occupation and annexation of Crimea. The clear position of Bulgaria at this difficult time was highly appreciated by all European leaders. We worked for unity and achieved unity, we were not a Trojan horse.

“I supported the sanctions, but was the only head of state in the European Union who went to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in a sign of support for the Olympic movement and the de-linking of sport with politics.”

Plevneliev said that he was adamant that Bulgaria must be master of its own destiny, “it depends on each of us to prevent Europe being returned to the time of the Berlin Congress”.

The clash in Europe today was one of values, between some countries that believe in the rule of law and others that believe in the rule of interests and geopolitics. The 21st century called for new ideas, not a return to the false ideologies of the past, Plevneliev said.

Radev, in the weeks since winning Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections on a ticket backed by the pro-Russian socialist party, has been carefully watched regarding his attitude to Russia.

Comments by Radev in interviews have been interpreted as him envisaging the lifting of sanctions on Russia, while Radev – formerly commander of Bulgaria’s air force – also has insisted that he is a “Nato general” and favours Bulgaria’s commitment to the European Union.

At the January 18 news conference, Plevneliev pledged to give full support to Radev when he needed it, adding that he expected that Radev would support the principles that he had supported to ensure continuity in the presidential institution.

Later on January 18, Plevneliev inaugurated the presidential library. By telephone, he had invited Radev to attend, but the president-elect did not arrive. “We’ll see each other on Sunday,” Plevneliev had told the news conference, referring to the inauguration ceremony. Another no-show was Georgi Purvanov, the former socialist party leader who was Bulgaria’s president from 2002 to 2012.

During the news conference, there was a minor incident when Iliyana Benovska of Radio K2 was evicted by security after attempting to throw an apple at Plevneliev, after asking an abusive question. At Radev’s election night victory news conference, she threw an apple at Radev, who caught it. Evictions by security from news conferences are highly unusual in Bulgaria; perhaps another first for Plevneliev’s term, which ends on January 22 when Radev is inaugurated as head of state.



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.