Row over invitation to Russian ambassador to attend opening of Bulgaria’s new Parliament

Controversy has erupted over whether the Russian ambassador in Sofia, Elonora Mitrofanova, should be invited to attend the first sitting of Bulgaria’s recently-elected 48th National Assembly on October 19.

Putin’s Russia months ago declared Nato and EU member Bulgaria a “hostile state” while Mitrofanova’s public statements and behaviour frequently have raised the hackles of those who see her as breaching her remit as the ambassador of a foreign country.

The Mitrofanova issue was not on the agenda of an organisational meeting of representatives of the seven parliamentary groups on October 11, but reportedly was raised by Nadezhda Yordanova, representing the reformist Democratic Bulgaria coalition.

In a Facebook post, Democratic Bulgaria’s Ivailo Mirchev said that Yordanova had raised the issue after it emerged that the parliamentary administration had invited the Russian ambassador to attend the October 19 ceremony.

Mirchev said that Yordanova had been backed only by the representatives of the Kiril Petkov-Assen Vassilev We Continue the Change (WCC) party in wanting Mitrofanova not to be invited to the first sitting.

WCC’s Nastimir Ananiev confirmed to Bulgarian National Television on October 12 that the party was firmly against Mitrofanova being present at the sitting.

Mirchev said that at the October 11 meeting, the representatives of Boiko Borissov’s GERB – which won the largest share of seats in the October 2 early parliamentary elections – “humbly and silently do not say a word against the idea that the ambassador of an aggressor state, conducting an absurd war that has brought the whole of Europe to its feet, should attend the opening of the 48th Parliament of European Bulgaria”.

According to Mirchev, pro-Kremlin Vuzrazhdane declared that they “valued the presence” of Mitrofanova, while, he said, there had been similar “silent support” from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Stefan Yanev’s Bulgaria Ascending party and the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

Responding to the claims, GERB issued a media statement on October 11, saying that it had been the first party to condemn Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, had been the first party to put the Ukrainian flag on its headquarters, and the first party to table in the previous Parliament to table a proposal to provide weapons to Ukraine.

“In line with our position and actions until now, GERB is against the presence of the ambassador of the Russian Federation in Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, at the first session of the 48th National Assembly,” GERB said.

GERB’s Dessislava Atanassova told Bulgarian National Television on October 12: “”The Russian side is the aggressor in the war with Ukraine, and with this understanding we first wanted to provide military aid to Ukraine.

“We were the first to invite the Ukrainian ambassador to our headquarters for a conversation, we were the first to submit a declaration to the 47th National Assembly to declare the Russian state an aggressor, and we categorically do not consider that Ambassador Mitrofanova has a place at the first sitting of the 48th National Assembly,” Atanassova said.

Departing, however, from the GERB narrative was its MP Vezhdi Rashidov, who as the oldest member of Parliament will preside over the first sitting pending the election of a Speaker.

Rashidov told Bulgarian National Radio on October 12 that not inviting the Russian ambassador would be a “declaration of war”.

“This is a declaration of war!  Who will be responsible if they drop a bomb tomorrow? Whose dawn is this? Who will be responsible? This is the business of high diplomacy and statesmanship…Who said that the Bulgarian MPs can say who should enter, who should leave, who should declare war on. At what expense? Why don’t they sit down and think how to get out of the crises. Why don’t we enter Parliament and say who is Euro-Atlantic,” Rashidov said.

Bulgarian National Television said on October 12 that, with no agreement among the parliamentary groups, it would up to the parliamentary administration to decide whether to invite Mitrofanova, taking into account that it is customary to invite all foreign ambassadors accredited to Bulgaria to attend first sittings of the legislature.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s caretaker Cabinet said that it was “partially suspeding” part of the agreement between Russia and Bulgaria on visa-free travel, specifically a provision on holders of diplomatic and service passports.

Under that agreement, holders of such passports can enter, transit and stay in the other country up to 90 days in any period of 180 days. The caretaker Cabinet said that its decision was in line with the EU foreign ministers’ decision to suspend the EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement.

(Screenshot of Mitrofanova: BNT)

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