Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov has acknowledged his country’s tensions with Turkey but said that he hoped that these would not lead to the severance of diplomatic relations.
Sofia and Ankara have exchanged sharp words in recent days after reports emerged that a Turkish cabinet minister had called on Bulgarian passport-holders in Turkey to turn out to vote in large numbers in the March 26 early parliamentary elections, and to back Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party.
The Turkish ambassador in Sofia has appeared in a campaign video for DOST and reportedly attended a DOST Women’s Day event on March 8.
Following the statements by the Turkish cabinet minister, the Turkish ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Sofia to be told that Bulgaria did not tolerate other countries interfering in its elections.
On March 8, Turkey’s foreign ministry hit back with its own public statement criticising Bulgaria, among other things accusing the country of having electoral laws that discriminated against minorities.
Bulgarian electoral law says that no more than 35 polling stations may be opened in a non-EU foreign country. Even at the time that it was proposed, it was interpreted as directed against Turkey, long the stronghold of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and where more recently Mestan’s DOST is understood to have made strong inroads. The MRF long has been led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity, while DOST has a similar electoral base.
Gerdzhikov told reporters on March 10 that the summoning of the ambassador to the Foreign Ministry was “one of the mechanisms for dealing with such situations”.
The caretaker Prime Minister said that everything possible should be done to maintain good neighbourly relations with Turkey.
“I very much hope that we will not reach extreme measures such as the severance of diplomatic relations,” Gerdzhikov said.