Prime Minister of Bulgaria

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 21 April 1998

Esteemed Madam President, distinguished members of European parliaments, ladies and gentlemen, may I first and foremost voice my thanks to you, Mrs Fischer, for the invitation to speak before this prestigious forum. Today, one year after the Union of Democratic Forces won the elections and formed a government, I am highly honoured and privileged to address you, the representatives of the European nations in the Parliamentary Assembly of the oldest European intergovernmental organisation. At the turn of a century which is particularly sensitive to symbols the Council of Europe symbolises the political principles of a state which is committed to the rule of law, representative democracy and respect for human rights as well as the centuries-old European system of values.

It is precisely because we are at the turn of a century which divides Europe that the challenges of the coming century stand out in bold relief. Probably “Europe” is the unrivalled word that is pronounced in this hall most often and with the greatest hope. Probably everyone in this hall believes that “Europe” will be the key word in the coming century. The Bulgarian Government and the Bulgarian public cherish the same hope. However, today when Kosovo hits the headlines of European newspapers, I remember that on 9 November 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, the American journalist Robert Kaplan wrote from Kosovo to describe his vision of the replacement of the ideological wall dividing eastern and western Europe by a cultural wall that was to separate Europe from the Balkans.

If the word “Europe” is to be the key word in the coming century we have to prevent the erection of such a wall. The fortitude that Bulgarian civil society demonstrated in the winter of 1997 and the support that my government gets for the radical reforms to be implemented gives me reason to think that the wall of no reform and neocommunist arrogance that was fencing Bulgaria off from democratic Europe from 1993 to 1996 has been demolished. However, other walls remain to be demolished.

The challenges of changing Europe redefined, among other things, the mission of the Council of Europe and made it a symbol of European universality. The first summit in 1993 defined the new priorities of this Organisation by the notion of “democratic security”. The notion of “democratic security” assumes, in addition to growing security as democracy expands geographically and new democracies emerge, the strengthening of European security as the process of democratisation in each country deepens. Free elections cannot sufficiently guarantee that a system is democratic. We all witness cases when freely elected governments infringe citizens’ freedoms and violate the principles of constitutionality. The choice that the Balkans are facing today is to prevent the imposition of an oligarchic or populist regime typical of which is that the time-honoured democratic instruments like the referendum are resorted to in order to foster ethnic intolerance and safeguard personal rule. In that sense democratic culture is the best indicator of the irreversibility of democracy. I am glad that the second summit in October 1997 mapped out the strategy of the European culture of democracy for the twenty-first century.

The action plan included as a feature of this culture the Bulgarian initiative on educating citizens with a view to raising their awareness of their rights and responsibilities in a democratic society. We expect this initiative to be furthered and concretised through an efficient follow-up. We believe it is necessary because for many years the totalitarian regime emphasised the citizens’ obligations while it ignored basic human rights and freedoms. This policy resulted in the distortion of the criteria of indivisibility and interdependence of rights and responsibilities inherent in every democratic civil society. We see the consequences today in acts of intolerance, insufficient respect, and even neglect for democratic institutions, growing crime in general and organised crime in particular.

The absence of adequate democratic culture and the neglect for the indivisibility of rights and responsibilities of citizens are not characteristic only of eastern Europe; these affect the whole continent. Examples to that end are the manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and exacerbation of inter-ethnic problems. In its capacity as architect and defender of democratic security, the Council of Europe is called upon to react to these disturbing phenomena, and to undertake adequate measures by enhancing the role of education for democratic citizenship. It is not sufficient for citizens to have rights; citizens should know these rights in order to be capable of defending them.

Throughout the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria was labelled an “island of stability” The United Nations-imposed embargo on the former Yugoslavia turned Bulgaria into an island indeed, by closing many of the country’s economic routes to Europe. Today, the economic and political opening of the region is crucial for us. The real integration of the Balkans into Europe means, first and foremost, the establishment of sound economic relations, the influx of sizeable capital and the transformation of the region into an infrastructure and energy centre which is open to the Middle East, central Asia and the Caspian Basin. Our government perceives a geopolitical role for our country in the Balkans in transforming the region, which is a potential generator of tensions and conflicts, into a zone of security and stability and a gateway to Europe.

Bulgaria has undertaken a series of steps in its foreign policy in order to strengthen peace and security in south-eastern Europe: participating in and playing host to meetings of the ministers of defence, transport and energy, initiating trilateral meetings on different levels – including top level meetings – between Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, as well as between Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. These trilateral meetings are dedicated to specific problems, for instance, combating organised cross-border crime. These endeavours of Bulgaria in multilateral regional co-operation have already produced results: for the first time, states of south-eastern Europe, at the initiative of Bulgarian diplomacy, reacted promptly and concertedly to a crisis development in the Balkan region. I have in mind the joint declaration of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey and Macedonia on the situation in Kosovo adopted on 10 March 1998. The declaration proposed specific measures for overcoming the crisis and was supported by the Contact Group. Perhaps it won’t be an exaggeration to call this initiative an historic stride forward for the states of the region, that, for the first time after many decades have come up with an agreed common stand on a problem which affects the destinies of the region. The declaration will serve as a basis for the joint concerted action of states in the region in tune with the actions of the international community, the United States, the European Union and the Contact Group at later stages of the Kosovo crisis. Bulgaria stands ready and will play an active role to settle the Kosovo crisis. We are convinced that if south-eastern Europe were to become a generator of instability again, this would inflict strategic damage to the economic reforms in our countries too.

A proof that the crisis can be overcome was the joint statement of the countries of south-eastern Europe, including Albania and Slovenia, at their meeting in Bonn on 25 March 1998. Thus the countries of south-eastern Europe reaffirmed their readiness to play an immediate role in the search for a solution to the Kosovo problem and to participate in regular consultations with the Contact Group.

Ladies and gentlemen, please note the fact that our “bridge-building” between countries in the region has only been a metaphorical expression up until now. If we are to avoid what our countries suffered during the crisis in the former Yugoslavia and if we are to give democracy and reform a chance, we have to start building material bridges. The second bridge across the river Danube on which the Bulgarian Government insists is one of the shortcuts to pulling us out of the crisis. We are convinced that we will receive your active support for the construction of the bridge.

The world has witnessed Bulgaria’s active foreign policy over the past year. The result is clear: it is the internal political stabilisation of Bulgaria and the broad support of the parliamentary forces for the priorities reflected in the Declaration on National Salvation adopted in May 1997. The world should know that for the first time since democratic change in Bulgaria began, there has been real and effective interaction between the democratically-elected institutions in Bulgaria – the President, the National Assembly and the government. The new national security policy approved by the Bulgarian Parliament at Easter, which was supported by more than three-quarters of our MPs, is the most vivid proof that the overwhelming majority of people are in favour of change in Bulgaria, and the name of that change is Europe and the Atlantic community. Last year the Parliamentary Assembly heard a statement by the President of Bulgaria, Mr Petar Stoyanov, in which he stressed that Bulgaria is not the country it used to be. Today I would like to assure you that Bulgaria is in better shape politically than before, is economically stable and is undergoing a process of radical reforms.

The application for European Union and Nato membership was Bulgaria’s natural and conscious choice of the civilisation to belong to. The Bulgarians are returning to Europe.

European Union and Nato membership is not an end in itself but the only way to bring Bulgaria economic prosperity, sustainable development and security.

While we are bringing the national legislation into line with European standards, we are also creating the necessary enforcement mechanisms. Our new law-making activity codifies the civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights of the people and provides the legal guarantees that these rights will be respected. We are making great efforts to improve administrative and judicial practices in that field and greatly appreciate the recommendations and advice that international organisations offer to us. In this context, I wish to point out the great importance that we attach to the Council of Europe programme for co-operation with the countries of central and eastern Europe with its specific measures for sharing experience in legislation and in administrative and judicial practices.

In the context of these processes I would like to draw your attention to the comprehensive administrative reform launched by the Bulgarian Government last year with the ultimate objective of establishing a modern administration which is up to the highest standards of European democracies. The European legal integration programme that has been created with the assistance of the Council of Europe is in operation. We have speeded up the reform of the armed forces by considerably enhancing civil control over their activities and adjusting their structure to the evolving situation in our continent.

One of the most visible aspects of the work of the Bulgarian Government is fighting the crime which increased considerably in the period from 1993 to the end of 1996. I can safely say that we have made considerable progress in this area in the last twelve months. The Bulgarian Government is making every possible effort, in accordance with the principles of democracy, to secure the protection of citizens from any encroachments on their personal safety, the security of their property and their legal rights. A number of statutory acts have been adopted or amended, specifying the functions and prerogatives of individual government agencies in the fight against organised crime, corruption and money laundering. It can safely be said now that the “marriage” of economic and political power in Bulgaria has been prevented. The unprecedented economic and political crisis that held the country in its grip when we took office had two interrelated characteristics: hyperinflation and excessive corruption. However, the attempts of certain economic groups to control the country’s economic and public life from the back-stage are a thing of the past. A lot more remains to be done to curb corruption and bring more transparency, but excessive corruption in Bulgaria no longer exists.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bulgaria is a party to the principal human rights instruments. Last October in Strasbourg, the President of Bulgaria signed the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. We will actively continue to build on developments in the field of human rights according to the Council of Europe’s standards. We support the proposal to establish the post of a human rights commissioner whose independence and objectivity will ensure considerable progress in the enforcement of the principal European conventions.

I would like to emphasise our conviction that reinforcing the effectiveness of European conventions is linked to securing reliable monitoring mechanisms for the implementation of commitments undertaken by the Council of Europe member states. Taking into account the need for improving the monitoring procedure in the framework both of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers, we support a broader exchange of views and information between the structures of those two bodies of the Council of Europe; however the procedure should not be limited solely to the region of eastern Europe. Confidence in the strict implementation of conventions and aspirations towards a full observance of commitments will be enhanced if we succeed in applying the principle of equality to the maximum.

The role of non-governmental organisations in carrying out the activities and programmes of the Council of Europe is growing. They, as part of the evolving Bulgarian civil society, are conducive both to the more effective protection and encouragement of human rights and to the comprehensive development of democracy and democratic institutions in our country. In this context, public awareness of human rights is becoming ever more important. Full information on human rights and basic freedoms is one of the principal conditions for their effective implementation and protection. Bulgaria is taking specific measures to familiarise the public with all international human rights organisations and their instruments. The numerous specialised non-governmental organisations which have emerged in Bulgaria in the course of the democratic changes are making an active contribution to that education programme Bulgaria now has ongoing cooperation programmes with a number of international non-governmental human rights organisations. It is a strategic priority for our government to be open to civil society. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is the ideal place to share my deep conviction that a democratic state committed to the rule of law is the most effective human rights organisation. What the totalitarian state and the weak state have in common is that the law does not govern the people. Over the past year, our government has set itself the main objective of bringing the state back to the people. I think that we have largely done that.

May I in conclusion say that the Council of Europe has a vast mission, which is to guard and develop the vision of twenty-first century Europe. I am convinced that the Bulgaria which we are trying to build is part of that vision.


We get to the issue of Mr Rostov. A number of Assembly members have expressed a wish to ask questions, and I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. To ensure that as many members as possible are able to ask a question and receive an answer, I do not propose to allow supplementary questions. The first question is from Mr Biihler.

Mr BÜHLER (Germany) (translation)

Prime Minister, you mentioned the two conferences on the crisis in Kosovo held by the south-eastern European states on 10 and 25 March. I should like to ask you what possibilities the Bulgarian Government sees for a solution to the problem of Kosovo and to what extent the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is participating in international efforts outside these conferences to arrive at a joint solution there. How do you assess the calls for independence we are now hearing from certain groups in Kosovo?

Mr DINÇER (Turkey)

What is the current state of co-operation between Balkan countries? Mr Prime Minister, what role do you think that the Balkan countries can play in the peaceful settlement of the Kosovo problem?

Mr RADIC (Croatia)

What is your opinion on the current situation in Kosovo and the region? It is obvious that we are faced with the strong oppression by Serbia’s military power in Kosovo, where we know that hundreds of people were killed. That is classic genocide.

Mr DOKLE (Albania) (interpretation)

asked how the Balkan countries could best co-operate to solve the Kosovo problem.

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that the Bulgarian Government was trying hard to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo. Its neighbours in the former Yugoslavia should understand the common position of the Balkan countries on this question. The declaration of 25 March was their way of tackling the problem, and the people in Kosovo had welcomed it.

The best way of looking at the question of the independence of Kosovo was within the framework of the former Yugoslavia, by giving a measure of autonomy back to Kosovo. Balkan countries could assist in this process because they understood the problems of the region. They could help by framing resolutions. Their policy was to prevent fresh sanctions, which harmed everybody in the region.

Mr RUFFY (Switzerland) (translation)

I would first of all like to express the gratitude of the peoples represented in the Council of Europe for your country’s efforts to find a peaceful solution in Kosovo, particularly its initiatives towards the countries you mentioned.

Could you clarify for us the concept of “broad autonomy”? Do you have any specific details to give us to ensure that this autonomy is accepted by the parties involved and constitutes the peaceful solution we wish to see?

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that he could not define the formula exactly. If a solution was to be achieved, the parties would have to find their own way to an agreement. He fully supported the Contact Group formula for broad autonomy within Yugoslav borders. He understood the difficulties faced by the Yugoslav Government, and was trying to understand both sides. A constructive dialogue was needed.


Thank you. Mr Glotov is not present, so I call Mr Kotlar from “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

Mr KOTLAR (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

Bulgaria was the first country to recognise the Republic of Macedonia’s constitutional status, but our bilateral relationship has not reached the expected level. What can the Bulgarian Government, with its European orientation, do to promote relations with the Republic of Macedonia?

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that Bulgaria wanted to assist in the process of integrating the Republic of Macedonia into European structures, following the same path as Bulgaria in terms of economic reforms, to allow integration into the global economy. Progress had been made and continued to be made in bilateral relations between the two countries.

Mr SCHWIMMER (Austria) (translation)

Thank you, Madam President. Prime Minister, following the elections in 1997 and the formation of a new government by the Union of Democratic Forces, success has been achieved in restoring internal stability to Bulgaria and in bringing about a consensus between parties on the measures necessary to overcome the crisis and your priorities for national development. You have spoken yourself of a strategic majority for taking the path to Europe.

I should like to ask you how that was achieved in the space of six months after the previous disputes.

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that the National Assembly had adopted a declaration on national salvation, which set out as national priorities the achievement of membership of the European Union and Nato.

Other priorities were the battle against organised crime, the establishment of a monetary authority, and pursuing a sound economic policy which was supported by the electorate. This support had been demonstrated in the 1997 elections. A reforming majority now existed in support of the President. For example, the National Assembly had adopted the government’s ' national security strategy by a large majority.

Mrs POPTODOROVA (Bulgaria)

In the early 1990s, the new democracies were rather cautious about developing relations outside the European Union because they feared that that might delay their accession to the European Union. Fortunately, that misunderstanding has been overcome. Obviously, Bulgaria has become more visible in its area. What specific political and economic steps does the government intend to take in the near future in its own area?

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that the most important measure which was required was a plan for the Danube in co-operation with Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. This should be designated a trans-

European network and would mean that these countries were no longer open to blackmail by Yugoslavia. In addition, all the countries in the region wished to stamp out drug trafficking and smuggling and Bulgaria was keen to create a military force to do this.

Mr IWINSRI (Poland)

Mr Prime Minister, during the last month, your government has been aiming to step up the process of privatisation, as well as to attract foreign capital. However, so far only about US$1 billion has been invested in Bulgaria. To what extent can those measures improve the position of the 80% of the population of Bulgaria who, according to the latest World Bank data, live below the poverty line?

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that an unstable political situation would always make it difficult for a country to attract foreign capital. Bulgaria was therefore concentrating on achieving economic stability. It was improving its infrastructure, and promoting gas, roads and telecommunications projects. Bulgaria also hoped that it would soon be transporting oil, which would assist in the country’s economic development.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

Last year the Bulgarian Government decided to dismiss a number of diplomats and civil servants from the administration. I ask you, Mr Prime Minister, whether those dismissals from the Bulgarian administration will continue, and also whether they were strictly motivated by economic necessity or politically motivated.

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that the administration had had to be cut to comply with the IMF’s requirement that Bulgaria should reduce its administration costs. It was for this reason that 15 000 people had been dismissed. However, individuals who did not share the aim of achieving economic stability might also be required to leave.

Mr TAHIRI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia")

Honourable Premier, the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities had been signed by your President. When can we expect its ratification by your parliament, and the implementation of the principles set forth by the Bulgarian authorities?

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that he expected that the Bulgarian Parliament would ratify the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. This was a subject with which the parliament was already concerned. As regards languages, Bulgaria did not have the problems faced by some other countries in the region and facilities were available for everyone to study in their mother tongue.


I will take the last two questions together, although they are on a broad-ranging point. First we shall hear Mr Dumitrescu, then Mr Lopez Henares.

Mr DUMITRESCU (Romania) (translation)

My question concerns an environmental issue and calls for a major political and economic decision. The Kozoluy nuclear power plant is of the same type and generation as Chernobyl. It poses a threat to the environment and security of countries in the region.

Prime Minister, my question is very precise. When do you intend to shut down this nuclear power station?


Mr Prime Minister, like many others, I was very disappointed when Bulgaria was not included in the group of countries selected to start negotiations for the enlargement of Nato. What action is your government taking, and what do you expect to do in the near future, to make Bulgaria ready to become a member of that important security system for Europe very soon?

Mr Kostov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said, in answer to the question by Mr Dumitrescu, that the nuclear reactor at Kozoluy was not of the same type as the reactor at Chernobyl. It had been modernised a number of times in recent years and controls there were overseen by international organisations. The reactor could continue to function for a number of years.

In answer to Mr Lopez Henares, he said that membership of Nato was very important for the democratisation of Bulgaria, as it would guarantee the stability of the country. The government had developed a national security blueprint, it had reformed the Bulgarian army, and it had overhauled the way in which it protected its borders. He hoped that when Bulgaria joined Nato it would not only tap that organisation’s resources but would also contribute to security. Reform of the army would also help the Bulgarian economy.


That brings the questions to Mr Kostov to an end. I thank him warmly, on behalf of the Assembly, for his speech and his answers.