Prime Minister of Bulgaria

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 30 September 1993

Mr President, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, my speech will, perhaps, be shorter that of Mr Martinez.

First, I would like to express my satisfaction at having been given this opportunity to be with you, as well as to thank you for the friendly reception accorded to me. I feel particularly honoured to address the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which in the recent forty years has been a major centre of European parliamentarism and an inspirer of the movement towards European unity. Bulgaria highly appreciates the discussions held in Strasbourg and takes note of the signals emanating from this hall.

Our people regard the admission of Bulgaria as a member of the Council of Europe not merely as an act of appreciation of the depth and irreversibility of the democratic processes in the country, but also as a recognition of Bulgaria’s ability to be an equal partner of the European democracies in the effort to build up a new Europe, united by the values of pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and the supremacy of law. The relations of partnership, like those established between Bulgaria and the Council of Europe, call for reciprocity in the discussion and understanding of problems, as well as mutual readiness to resolve them. Therefore, I deem it necessary to draw your attention to some aspects of the internal development of Bulgaria, its relations with the Council of Europe and the foreign policy pursued by the Bulgarian Government.

I would like to emphasise that the difficulties we encounter, domestically and internationally, as well as the efforts we make to overcome them without betraying democracy and its principles, are relatively unknown to many member countries of the Council of Europe. Bulgaria is a country which treads the unique historic path of democratic reforms and a transition to a market economy and copes with the inertia and the hallmarks of post-totalitarian societies, while at the same time, due to its central location in the Balkans, it suffers substantial negative consequences as a result of some serious military conflicts – the war in the former Yugoslavia in particular. Despite the generally complicated situation, Bulgaria has managed to develop its own model of development, which comprises several positive features.

The most important positive peculiarity of the Bulgarian transition is that, irrespective of some elements of political confrontation in society, there is a steady commitment to peaceful and democratic means for resolving problems and overcoming the existing contradictions.

The greatest challenge facing any Bulgarian Government committed to the transition to a market economy is the implementation of economic reform. Regrettably, the pace of economic change is short of the initial optimistic expectations. This generates many social shocks such as high unemployment, lower standards of living and continuing high inflation.

The government, whom I have the honour to lead, came into office at a time of difficulties and political tension. We assumed the arduous task not only of steering the country into calmer political waters, but of stepping up the economic changes pursued by the former government. We kept the line of continuity and introduced some views and initiatives of our own in the programme declared by us. We have been called “the government of privatisation” because we believe that accelerated privatisation, especially privatisation involving massive participation of the population, provides the necessary basis for structural reform and successful transition to a market economy.

I would like to acquaint you with some key points of the programme declared by the government. In addition to the measures on agrarian reform, the government have assumed the obligation by the end of 1993 to give back 55-60% of the land to the former owners. Secondly, the government will continue to pursue a restrictive financial policy designed to contain and further reduce the inflation rate from 80% during last year to 65% during the current year.

Thirdly, I would like to note the policy declared in the government programme, which is being put into practice, of opening our markets within the framework of GATT and EC norms, despite the serious demands in some circles for customs protection of domestic production. Our economy is wide open to foreign investment. Our legislation strongly encourages the economic activity of foreign persons in Bulgaria. It is our desire that the modern, law- governed state of Bulgaria should be built on the basis of modern legislation. The government has proposed to the National Assembly a concrete list of three packages of laws, comprising a total of forty- two laws ranked in order of priority.

Another important positive feature of the Bulgarian model of transition is the ongoing dialogue between the government and the trade unions within the so-called Council for Tripartite Co-operation. The social cost of the transition, which is being paid by the majority of the Bulgarian people, is very high. Despite its sometimes limited capabilities, the government tries to cushion the adverse consequences of social stress on the basis of partnership.

As you know, Bulgaria is a country inhabited by people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, mother tongues and religions. In this area, we have inherited numerous problems from the past, which we have managed to overcome in a democratic and conflict- free way.

The new Bulgarian constitution enshrines as fundamental principles of the rule of law the equality of citizens before the law, irrespective of their race, nationality, ethnic nor social background, sex, religion, education, beliefs, and so on. It guarantees the promotion and protection of all the fundamental rights and freedoms of man, including freedom of religion, freedom of personality and provision of conditions for free development of man and civil society.

Bulgarian society and the government institutions (including the Constitutional Court), displaying pragmatism and foresight, took into account the political, psychological and other realities in order to safeguard social peace, democracy, human rights and political stability. Bulgaria is the only country in the region where no serious ethnic tension occurred after the collapse of the communist system.

May I now highlight some of the serious problems in the internal development of Bulgaria? They are mainly a consequence of the social cost we are paying under the conditions of transition from one economic system to another, for which the population is not sufficiently prepared. They include the decline in output, unemployment, lowering of the standard of living of some categories of people, social insecurity, pollution of the environment, an escalating crime rate, corruption, etc. At the same time, we remain under the burden of foreign debt and of the enormous losses due to our strict implementation of the trade and economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro.

I would like to dwell on the relations of partnership and co-operation between Bulgaria and the Council of Europe. The membership of Bulgaria of the Council of Europe enabled the country to take an active part in the Organisation’s diverse and abundant activities, as well as to partake in the essence, and share the modern understanding, of pluralist democracy, promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and legal order. The Council of Europe has accumulated considerable experience in the sphere of protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. We follow attentively and take an active part in the drafting of legal instruments on this subject.

Proceeding from the positive experience of Bulgaria, I would like to add that these extremely intricate problems, which evolve under the influence of a mix of political, economic, psychological and other factors, should be approached with greater caution and tact. There are many issues in this area which have not been given a satisfactory answer on a European level and which we have to solve with joint efforts. The absence of ethnic tension in Bulgaria contributed to making the country a stabilising factor in the Balkans, a region encumbered historically with inter-ethnic problems.

I would like to express our appreciation of the intensive work conducted within the Council of Europe, with its new role as a guarantor of the continent’s “democratic security”. The introduction of this concept is entirely in harmony with the objectives and principles of the new Bulgarian domestic and foreign policy. The logic of “democratic security” implies that the normal functioning of civil society and democratic structures in every European country becomes a matter of our common concern. Perhaps this best explains the nature of the emerging new system of international relations in Europe.

Our perception of that role of the Council of Europe explains the primary importance which we attach to the development of political dialogue within the Organisation. We visualise this dialogue as an intensive, continuous exchange of information, experience and views on all matters directly or indirectly affecting European architecture, which will help us to learn more about each other, define our common problems and interests, and formulate national policies in the name of our shared goal. Through it we will chart the fastest routes to European unity.

Bulgaria is to assume the functions of President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe during the period May-November 1994. It is the first member state of the Council of Europe from central and eastern Europe to perform this important mission. We are fully aware of the seriousness of the tasks related to the presidency of the Committee of Ministers and we are getting ready to fulfil them, taking into account the importance of the issues with which the Council of Europe will be faced during our presidency.

Mr President, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to draw your attention to some aspects of our country’s foreign policy, which we regard as vital. All the problems of our internal development are being badly exacerbated by the extremely onerous situation that Bulgaria encountered as a result of the strict fulfilment of its international commitments. The country sustained losses exceeding $ 2,5 thousand million due to the implementation of the sanctions against Iraq, for which it was not compensated. All analyses and estimates to date lead to the worrying conclusion that our present achievements and our plans for the future are seriously jeopardised by the accumulated critical weight of negative social and economic consequences generated by the consistent and stringent enforcement of trade and economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro.

The available data indicate that among the neighbouring countries of the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria is the one that is most affected by the sanctions and the one which implements them most stringently. This is an internationally recognised fact. I should like to quote the latest data on the losses sustained by Bulgaria: total amount for 1992 – $ 942,6 million; for the period from 1 January 1993 to 30 April 1993 – $180 million; for the period after 1 May 1993, when United Nations Security Council Resolution 820/1993 on stricter sanctions came into effect – $ 259,2 million per month.

By the end of 1993, the total direct losses sustained by Bulgaria will reach more than $3,5 thousand million. This figure excludes indirect losses and missed benefits, as well as losses suffered by the private sector. These are disastrous losses compared with the economic potential of Bulgaria.

In addition to these huge losses, Bulgaria has found itself isolated from Europe in terms of commerce and transport. Resolution 820/1993 virtually suspended the trans-shipments of goods via Serbia and Montenegro and brought about the near complete isolation of the country from its traditional markets in central and western Europe. The virtual blockage of the Serb section of the Danube brought the commercial navigation on the river to a halt. The transshipment of goods via Romania, across the Danube bridge and the ferry-boat line Vidin-Kalafat is extremely hampered. Besides, the frequent transport strikes in Romania threaten to paralyse this single – though no more than consolatory – alternative for commercial access to Europe.

The staggering consequences for Bulgaria of the implementation of the embargo did not receive an adequate response – if any response – from the international community, apart from some compassionate pats on the shoulder. Despite the intentions, in practice, the group of the advanced and affluent European and non-European countries, which dominates the international organisations, unilaterally forces a country that is relatively poor for the moment, such as Bulgaria, to take the heavy burden of implementing an international punitive operation against some countries of the former Yugoslavia without any compensation. It turns out that, because of its geographical location, Bulgaria accidentally has to pay someone else’s bill and to be punished to no lesser an extent than Serbia. This is done despite the general awareness that Bulgaria does not bear the slightest direct, indirect, recent or past responsibility for the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Besides, it should not be forgotten that Bulgaria is in the midst of a political difficult and economically painful transition away from the totalitarian system foisted upon it by the Yalta Conference, towards a democratic system and market economy. The rich countries are far away from the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina and are not affected adversely by it. Sometimes the objection is raised that they dispatch “blue helmets” and convoys with humanitarian aid, but this is also done by Bulgaria in accordance with its size. I would mention the fact that a large contingent of Bulgarian “blue helmets”, which suffered some casualties, returned from Cambodia not long ago. The situation can be described with the Bulgarian proverb, “The ailing person carries the healthy one on his back.”

I should like to ask the question: Who is to blame for the massive manslaughter in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the last two years, which is a stigma on the history and the image of Europe as one of the cradles of human civilisation? It is undeniable that international and European organisations have failed to muster enough strength in the past two years to prevent this human tragedy, or at least to put out the fire soon after it had started. And precisely because of this impotent loitering, for almost two years, we have been forced to implement – more strictly than some other countries – the sanctions against Serbia, and to suffer losses through no fault of our own.

I cannot accept this as a normal or fair situation, although many foreign politicians, unaffected by this case, try to dodge the question, hoping perhaps that it will be gradually forgotten once the need for maintaining the embargo is gone. This is the reason why there is a growing belief within Bulgarian society that the international community is ready to sacrifice us in the name of a decision, taken by it, which impinges upon the vital interests of Bulgaria. We do not by any means want the Bulgarian people to lose their faith in the ideals and values symbolised by the Council of Europe. They will not accept the manslaughter and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in Bosnia-Herzegovina to be treated as a matter which did not and does not concern the Council of Europe as an international organisation committed to the protection of human rights. Neither will they accept the logic that the larger portion of the price is to be paid by countries which do not have the slightest responsibility for this tragic situation. We count on you, as representatives of the European democracies, to convey our message and to help overcome this arduous situation for Bulgaria. We are appealing not for help but for solidarity and compensation for the efforts that we are making in the name of the principles advocated by the international democratic community.

My government has no hesitation as to the strict enforcement of the sanctions. However, we think that the international community should take immediate and effective measures, if not to provide direct compensation of losses sustained, to at least assist Bulgaria by ways and means which can neutralise the comprehensive, destabilising effect of losses due to these sanctions.

There is an obvious contradiction between the assertion that peace in the Balkans is of priority importance for Europe and that Bulgaria could play a very useful role in their Europeanisation on the one hand, and the frequently demonstrated indifference to our interests on the other. How can we explain to our public, for instance, the delayed ratification by the European Community member states of the association agreement between Bulgaria and the Community, or the even more flagrant non-approval of the interim trade agreement, which places us in a discriminatory environment? Under these circumstances, it is difficult to convince the Bulgarian people that we are building a new, united and democratic Europe when there is a general impression that the choice of “extending a hand” or not is motivated by an estimate of the short-term “selfish” benefit, rather than by an analysis of the long-term objectives, implications and risks. All this may lead part of society to certain conclusions.

The two-year-old conflict on the territory of the former Yugoslavia and the ineffective intervention of Europe has taught us many lessons and confirmed many hard truths. One of them is that the Balkans should be integrated firmly in European structures and that they should be Europeanised, so that the ethnic tensions in the region can be brought under control and new ethnic conflicts averted. The achievement of that result is regarded as a priority in Bulgarian foreign policy. Our desire is for the entire Balkans to be covered by the European civic space. We can work towards the achievement of that goal, despite the developments in the former Yugoslavia. By the time the situation there becomes stable, we should have a blueprint ready for the development of the Balkans. The Council of Europe is one of the most suitable institutions to prepare that blueprint.

I should like to stress the aspiration of Bulgaria towards the Europeanisation of the Balkans. That Europeanisation, as we see it, implies the establishment of contacts and relations in the region, which correspond to the new character of the European system of international relations. Solutions to problems in the region should be sought collectively and on a European level.

One of the key lessons which history has taught us is that without European unity there can be no peace in the Balkans, and without peace in the Balkans, there can be no united Europe. The powerful attraction of a united Europe imparts uniqueness to the present moment. The Bulgarian people would not like to miss this rare historic opportunity.


Thank you for your statement, Mr Prime Minister. A substantial number of colleagues have indicated a wish to put questions to Mr Berov. In order to ensure that as many as possible are able to put their questions, I do not propose to allow supplementary questions. We must be extremely strict in imposing the time limit of thirty seconds for each question.

Mr TALAY (Turkey)

There is a risk that the current conflict in the territory of the former Yugoslavia will spread to other areas. Macedonia is one such high-tension area. As Bulgaria is one of the countries in that region, how do you propose to prevent this imminent threat spreading to the Republic of Macedonia?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that the policy of Bulgaria was to preserve the integrity of Macedonia and to stop the spread of conflict to Kosovo.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, in all the former communist countries, we see a trend towards restoration of the old situation. Astonishingly, former communist politicians are being re-elected – in Poland, for instance.

Is this turning the clock back? Does it mark a stop to progress, or is it actually a positive, pragmatic development? How do you rate it from your own standpoint in Bulgaria?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that this was an inevitable stage. In the first year after 1989 it had been believed that within a year of self-restraint the problems would have been resolved. This had not happened. The transition to democracy was very complex and painful, and the patience and enthusiasm of the people was disappearing. This increased support for left-wing and communist parties, but as left-wing forces became more aware of the democratic changes in their country, so the transition to democracy would be facilitated.

Mr ALEXANDER (United Kingdom)

Many people who are supporters of nuclear power are deeply concerned about the possibility of a Chernobyl-type disaster in your country, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has allocated $ 28 million towards upgrading your plant. I have two short questions. Firstly, are your nuclear reactors of the Soviet design, which means that they do not have protective containment vessels around them? Secondly, what regulatory body in Bulgaria monitors and inspects safety standards at your nuclear reactors?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that the risks attached to nuclear reactors in Bulgaria were exaggerated. He said that after the upgrading of standards in a particular nuclear reactor, safety standards were satisfactory and there was no reason to fear a Chernobyl-type disaster.

Mr SAYDAM (Turkey) (interpretation)

said that developing relations between Bulgaria and Turkey were an important guarantee against European conflicts. He asked Mr Berov what was his opinion of the development in that area.

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that the relationship was based on mutual interest in the economic and political field and had an important role in the balance of peace in the Balkans. He pointed out that the Prime Minister of Turkey was due to visit Bulgaria in December.

Mr KONIG (Austria)

Prime Minister, can you give us the reasons for the change of your government without new elections and which parties are supporting your government?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that changes in government were not always the result of elections. He cited the examples of France and Italy and said that the Bulgarian Government had a parliamentary majority made up of all parties. It was supported by the Movement for Rights and Freedom and was also supported by MPs from the Bulgarian Socialist Party. It was therefore a government of national interest.

Mr ROMAN (Spain) (interpretation)

thanked Mr Berov for the clarity of his answers. Mr Berov had spoken of the consequences for Bulgaria of the embargo against Serbia and Montenegro. He therefore asked Mr Berov what support he had requested from the international community and what had been the reply.

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that Bulgaria had not applied for direct financial assistance as the government realised there were no such resources available. The Bulgarian Government had requested indirect support in the form of relaxed access to European markets and had requested European governments to influence the commercial banks in settling terms for the repayment of foreign debts.


I cannot miss the opportunity to welcome you here, Mr Berov, and to express on behalf of the Greek delegation our pleasure at your presence. I also repeat again our support in any way possible towards investment in your country and improvements in the standard of living of your people.

Some time ago at Bulgarian governmental level — it was not necessarily your government, Mr Berov, but it certainly involved a previous one — public mention was made of the existence of Bulgarian minorities in neighbouring countries. I would very much appreciate it if you could refer to that issue and, should you confirm those references, I would greatly appreciate it if you elaborated on the issue and named the specific countries that you mean and tell us what you intend to do to support the claims of those minorities.

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that the Bulgarian minority in Serbia did not claim any territory and that the Serbian Government had said it would respect the rights of that minority.

Mr MARUFLU (Turkey) (interpretation)

congratulated Mr Berov for his clear statement and favourable attitude to the Turkish population in Bulgaria. He asked Mr Berov whether he expected good results from the Geneva proposals to deal with the problem in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that it was difficult to predict the future. He said that the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina would not be easily resolved and expressed the view that to solve the problem by redrawing borders based on ethnic lines was to set a dangerous precedent. He said that the Muslim minority in Bulgaria would have no problems in regard to the practice of their religion or the use of their own language.

Mr KELAM (Estonia)

As a representative of another state that has been liberated from a totalitarian system, I have a special interest in the progress of privatisation and capital investment in your country, Mr Berov. I thank you for informing us about these matters in your speech but I would like more precision about the size of foreign capital investments in Bulgaria. Can foreign companies freely transfer their profits from your country, and are foreigners entitled to buy land?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that his government was committed to privatisation but foreign investment had been limited because the country’s tax regime was not fully stabilised and because political conflicts, although declining, were continuing. Foreign companies were, however, free to repatriate their profits.


Thank you, Mr Berov. You were asked about the possibility of buying land in your country. I am sure that the Assembly would be interested in your answer to that question.

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that this was a complicated matter. For foreigners to buy land there had to be a seller and the land had to be profitable. Much of the land was still in the hands of the state but by the end of the year 60% was expected to be in private hands. Land would be available to a wider market from the following year.


I heard with satisfaction, Mr Berov, that your government has tried to maintain the line of the previous democratic government and has sought to restore a system that embodies a civil society. I understood that your government has tried to eradicate the totalitarian crisis of the previous regime. That being so, what is your government’s policy towards the aims and practices of the so-called decommunisation laws that were approved by your parliament following the proposals of the previous government?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that his country had a continuity of governments and each government obeyed the laws passed by its predecessors.


Thank you, Mr Berov. I do not see Mr Masseret in the hall, so the next question will come from Mr Solé Tura.

Mr SOLÉ TURA (Spain)

Instead of requesting single compensations, would it be more convenient for Bulgaria and the whole region to put an end to the embargo on Serbia and Montenegro without further conditions?

Mr Bérov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria (interpretation)

replied that it was in the interests of his country that peace return to the former Yugoslavia and that the embargo be lifted.


Thank you, Mr Berov. In answer to one of our colleagues, you said that your profession was not that of predicting the future. It is not our profession or even our responsibility either. Our responsibility as representatives of our people is to build the future. We are committed to building the future of our respective countries and even of Europe as a whole. Therefore, we want you to share in this endeavour. We think that you have done so by your participation in our debate today. Please take our best wishes to our friends in Bulgaria, namely to Mr Yordanoy, Speaker of the National Assembly, President Zhelev and certainly to your citizens and people as a whole. Thank you, Prime Minister.