President of the Republic of Bulgaria

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 23 April 1997

I would like to begin by thanking Mrs Leni Fischer, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, for the invitation and the opportunity to address you today. For me, this is an honour and a challenge. It is a challenge to try to convince you, the representatives of the whole of Europe, that my country is no longer the same after the events of the past few months. This is the reason why I have come here as a proud European for whom Strasbourg is a symbol of a new united Europe and the historic reconciliation of our continent.

The idea of a unified Europe is not new. The wonderful thing about ideas is that, even if they fail to come to fruition, they live on in the aspirations of the next generations. It is the idea of European unity that inspired the foundation of the Council of Europe after the second world war. Conceived as an organisation of all European countries, the Council began to play its true role only after the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall when the prospect of a genuinely united Europe was resurrected. The Council of Europe became one of the first institutional bridges linking the two freshly reunited parts of our continent.

As President of the Republic of Bulgaria, I feel proud that my country, which has embarked upon the path of democracy, has been a full member of the Council of Europe for several years now. I am also proud that, on joining the big European family, Bulgaria became actively involved in the life of the Council of Europe.

It is worth mentioning some of the Bulgarian initiatives which set new trends for co-operation among member states, such as the project for improving the built environment – a text to this effect was incorporated in the Vienna 1993 Declaration – and the project for promoting co-operation among the Danubean countries. As is well known, the latter has prompted the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to work on the European Charter for the Danube Basin.

I am happy to inform you that only three days after parliamentary elections, Bulgaria has made an irrevocable choice in favour of reform, democracy and Europe. The past three months have been crucial for Bulgaria and the democratic transition following the changes of 1989. At long last an end was put to the tactics of imitation reforms. At first glance, we had all the players in the market, yet the rules within which they were to act stifled the free market by extra-economic coercion.

Corruption reached unprecedented levels. In foreign policy, the proclaimed European and Atlantic integration remained mere phraseology. Effectively, we lagged behind some other post-communist countries with which we had started the process. With the exception of the short-lived government of the democratic forces in 1991-92, these tendencies have regrettably persisted until January 1997.

The will for change in all public domains including the economy, politics and morals as well as bringing about a peaceful shift of power through direct, free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, has led to the emergence of a new social contract between people and government. The rigorous and unpopular reforms can only be implemented through an ongoing, articulate and honest dialogue between the new political class and the people of Bulgaria.

My optimism that, this time around, the reform will succeed is founded in the agreement signed on 4 February by all parliamentary political forces, including the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which ceded its mandate to form a new socialist cabinet on that same day. This agreement, unique in the new political life of Bulgaria, represents a minimum consensus on the principles of pulling out of the crisis, thus giving the go-ahead to the reform that has already started and the steps it entails – notably, faster and transparent privatisation, attracting foreign investment, financial stabilisation, a clampdown on corruption and the shady economy, and prompt reprivatisation of land.

As never before, public sentiments in Bulgaria are in favour of democratic reforms and European integration. Never again should people’s expectations be deceived and their hopes dashed. It is wise to learn from one’s failures. Our categorical lesson from several squandered years is that the rigorous and painful structural reforms have no alternative. Now, we are firmly determined to break with the previous practice of vacillations and make up for lost time. Our present situation calls to mind the punch line from Aesop’s fable, “Hie Rhodus, his salta!” “This is Rhodes, jump here!”

I want once again to declare clearly from this rostrum that Bulgaria has opted irrevocably for full integration in the organisations of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. The Bulgarian society of today is rallied around that idea. Bulgaria is trying to be a respectable partner to all European states. It links its European future with a full membership of the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Western European Union.

Europe should become a single security space in all its aspects – military, strategic, political, social, economic, environmental and cultural. I am firmly convinced that Bulgaria, as a traditional partner of the countries in the south-east of our continent, will make its worthy European contribution. However, Europe’s open door should not remain a fine metaphor. The destroyed Berlin Wall should not be replaced by other divisions, whatever we may call them. There could be nothing more discouraging than mistrust and a lack of prospects. The Bulgarians are not among the kidnappers of the mythological Europa, the daughter of Agenor, King of Phoenicia. Culturally and geographically, we have always belonged to Europe. Now, we are poised to take the next step and join Europe in its living standards.

I assure you that I will use my constitutional powers to be a guarantor of the human rights of all Bulgarian citizens and a champion against any forms of racial intolerance, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Incidentally, all Bulgarian political forces today share that creed. It is a projection of the tolerance of the Bulgarian people fostered throughout the centuries. It is not surprising, therefore, that Bulgaria rescued its Jews during the second world war.

The forced name-changing campaign launched by Zhivkov’s regime against the Turks represents one of the most shameful pages in Bulgaria’s recent history. The Bulgarian people never approved of that outrage. That is why the Bulgarian opposition became a champion of ethnic tolerance from the moment it was organised. Today that wound is healing and most instrumental in the healing process has been the Turks’ involvement in the government of the country.

On a more personal note, I want to point out that I grew up in the ancient Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, where Bulgarians, Armenians, Jews, Turks and Gypsies have lived together in peace for centuries. It would be no overstatement if we called that Bulgarian Babel a city of tolerance.

I wish to assure you of my very high esteem for the Parliamentary Assembly and its role in the Council of Europe. The Assembly is a unique forum for the exchange of views, discussions and joint actions of parliamentarians from all European countries; it is a unique laboratory for new ideas. Importantly for the people’s deputies from countries in transition, the Parliamentary Assembly has become a true school for parliamentarianism – a school for democracy. As a school for democracy, the Council of Europe occupies a place of honour in the Bulgarian foreign policy doctrine. We would like to join in the general effort towards building a single European legal space where democracy and the rule of law are the underlying principles and the main rights and freedoms of all citizens have been guaranteed, including the right to be different and the right to cultural diversity.

The Vienna Summit defined the Council’s role in the changed conditions of uniting Europe on the eve of the twenty-first century by the notion of democratic security. That includes the building of stable democratic forms of government in all European states, guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms and protecting the rights and freedoms of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic and religious identity. It is a key element of the set of guarantees for security and stability of our common European home.

The Council of Europe has been fulfilling the mandate of the Vienna Summit. Yet today, on the threshold of the third millennium, the time is ripe to go even further ahead. For the Council of Europe, the process of enlargement is about to be completed. However, that process will reach its stage of maturity only when an active culture of democracy becomes firmly established across Europe. That will entail not only effective democratic institutions, but profound and irreversible changes in people’s mentality – in other words, when democracy becomes a state of mind and a mode of conduct for all citizens.

Democracy cannot be achieved once and forever. It needs to be rediscovered and mastered by every coming generation; it needs to be fought for, built up and improved further. To quote President Havel, “Democracy is a never accomplished human task; it is man’s never ending road.” Only then can we talk of a European democratic culture, an inherent consequence of which will be the democratic security of all nations and states in Europe.

I want to define the Council’s contribution to building up and asserting the European democratic culture as one of the noblest objectives of our Organisation on the eve of the twenty-first century. The Council of Europe, which will be fifty years old in 1999, can act as the architect of the pan-European democratic culture. The forthcoming second summit could formulate that task explicitly and translate it into a specific mandate for the Council. As a first step in that direction, the Council of Europe should broaden its activities in the area of culture and ethics, focusing on the problems of education in a spirit of respect for the main values of democracy.

I should like to dwell briefly on democratic culture as a component of the European cultural identity. Each living culture strives for harmonisation rather than homogenisation. A cultural identity can be developed and protected only in the free space of a legal community. That applies even more to the democratic culture and the democratic cultural identity.

Today, in the age of globalisation and interpenetration and the interlocking and interfacing of communication networks, we may feel more than ever a need to preserve our European identity as well as our personal and national identity. A pluralist identity is emerging, which we must protect. If we abandon philosophical speculation and face reality we will realise that an identity that is too literal and essentially undemocratic could degenerate into fundamentalism. It is inadmissible to defend such an identity by any means – including violence, which is outside the space of a legal community.

Acknowledgement of other, different people, is a condition for the survival of any culture. That is why the fostering of a general European democratic culture should become our main goal. If we fail to achieve it, a united democratic Europe could remain a mere political Utopia.

In conclusion, I should like to return to the idea of a united Europe. It is at long last about to become reality. May the wind of change be our fair wind! I wish the Parliamentary Assembly a fruitful and successful working future in fulfilling its responsible tasks on the threshold of the third millennium.


Thank you very much, Mr Stoyanov, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. The first question was meant to be from Mr Columberg, but I think that he is not due to arrive until later. I therefore give the floor to Mr Jaskiernia.


Mr President, you spoke about the necessity of economic reform. You have heard about the conception of so-called shock therapy. Would you like to introduce shock therapy in Bulgaria?

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

thanked Mr Jaskiernia for his interesting question, which he said was uppermost in the minds of Bulgarian people. The reforms in Bulgaria would be successful only if there was social protection of those people most affected. Bulgaria not only needed humanitarian help, social protection was also needed. The Bulgarian Government had convinced the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank of this need in its discussions.

He expressed the hope that it would not be necessary for Bulgaria to introduce shock therapy.

Mr RAMIREZ PERY (Spain) (interpretation)

said that on a recent visit to Bulgaria he had noticed that there were great differences between the attitude of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Christian Democrat Party. He asked if Bulgaria was ready to resolve its ideological differences.

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that on 4 February all Bulgarian political parties had signed an agreement to support the caretaker government in its discussions with the IMF. The United Democratic Forum had a majority which would enable it to govern on its own; however, it had been consulting all parties with the aim of pulling Bulgaria out of its current crisis. There was a reform-minded majority consisting of members from all parties who were backing up the government in implementing reforms.

He said that nowadays Bulgarian political life was becoming dull and uninteresting.

Mr REWAJ (Poland) (translation)

Mr President, we had the opportunity of a dialogue with you some months ago in Warsaw. After your parliamentary elections, are you more confident that the stringent reforms required in Bulgaria will be fully accepted by a society which expects to see its living standards rapidly improve?

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

thanked Mr Rewaj for his question. He said that a sound institutional basis had been formed to carry through reforms, despite the cost. He accepted that Bulgarian citizens might be disillusioned, as the reforms of the previous four years had not been genuine. He said that it was now clear that there was no alternative method. He said that he was optimistic because the situation had never before been so favourable, and because Bulgaria was now on the right path.

Mr KELEMEN (Hungary)

I too am hoping for an optimistic answer. Bulgaria faces economic dangers because of misrule by the former communist government, which left power only under the pressure of mass demonstrations. Does your Excellency have enough constitutional power to keep Bulgaria within the framework of the new Atlantic integration process. Do you believe that the western world will offer you enough moral and financial support to put into effect a successful programme that will bring about recovery in Bulgaria?

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that the constitutional issue had been widely discussed. He was satisfied that the Bulgarian President had sufficient and well-defined powers. He said that the President was best placed when there was a consensus which secured co-operation. He believed that Bulgaria was receiving support from international and financial institutions, but that it was important for Bulgaria to show that it could deal with its own problems. Bulgaria had a strategic objective to be part of the pan-European home.

Mr RUFFY (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, thank you for the message you have conveyed to us and for the hope you have given us for your country’s future.

While the central and eastern European countries are having difficulty in attracting the public and private investment necessary for their economic takeoff, and are incurring huge debts, we see them also making large capital deposits in western European banks.

What is the explanation for these quite unbelievable movements of capital? How can a stop be put to these practices, which are harmful to everyone in virtually every respect, and I would even say, perverse?

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

thanked Mr Ruffy, and said that he had pinpointed a key issue. Bulgaria had signed and ratified the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime, but there remained a problem which could not be overcome single-handed. A joint effort by all European countries was needed. The caretaker cabinet in Bulgaria had taken steps to clamp down on crime and corruption.

He emphasised that Bulgaria was firmly committed to carrying on the fight against money laundering. He sought the co-operation of all member countries in this process.

Mr ONAINDIA (Spain) (interpretation)

congratulated the President on his speech and the whole Bulgarian population on the steps being taken to deal with such a difficult situation. He wanted to know what measures the government would take to solve its economic problems, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

conceded that precious time had been wasted doing nothing in Bulgarian agriculture. The reprivatisation of land would, however, mean that private owners would once again become the major players in the agricultural economy. The government would give priority to making loans for machinery and equipment available. Any help offered by member countries would be gratefully received. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was an excellent forum in which to discuss the needs of Bulgaria.

Mrs FLEETWOOD (Sweden)

Last week I had the opportunity to visit your country as one of the election observers from the Council of Europe. As has been said, I am glad that the elections were fair and free. I intended to ask a question about the economy but you have answered so many such questions that I shall ask another that I have in mind – it relates to your parties. You have quite a few parties in the coalition. In your opinion, what is the likelihood of their continuing to co-operate after the election or, indeed, their ability to do so? I suppose that there will be many difficulties within and among those parties.

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that the parties were united by the need to deal with the economic crisis. He regretted that it had taken a difficult situation to bring the parties together. They would now pool their efforts. Even the recent landslide victory was a coalition of parties. However if the Bulgarian political parties were to disagree with one another again it would mean that the economic crisis had passed and a return to normal political life had come about.

Mr BEHRENDT (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, like the caretaker government you installed, you have once again emphasised your country’s wish to join Nato and the European Union. In a recent interview with a German news magazine you painted a gloomy picture of the economic situation in your country, saying that in the past only sham reforms had been carried out and that the economic situation was characterised by hyperinflation, a fuel crisis and bread shortages.

I should like to ask you how, given the economic situation of your country, you assess the time-scale within which you will create the economic conditions that will enable you to join the European Union.

The second part of my question concerns your country’s membership of Nato: do you have any advice for us as to how the Russian Government’s misgivings regarding Nato’s eastward expansion can be dispelled or overcome?

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that he was frequently asked when the results of Bulgaria’s economic reforms would become apparent, when Bulgaria was likely to join the European Union and what was the future of Bulgaria’s relations with Russia and Nato. The current caretaker government had taken reforms further and the next government would have to continue this process without delay. He hoped that the results of economic stabilisation would be manifest by the end of the year in a greater sense of confidence among the population that reform was worthwhile.

Bulgaria had a strategic desire to join Nato although it was not the most advanced of the candidate member states. Nevertheless, it had some obvious comparative advantages: its geopolitical location, excellent relations with all its neighbours including Nato members Greece and Turkey, its excellent conduct during the Yugoslav conflict and a high level of technology and skills. Nato membership would not represent an act of defiance towards Russia; Bulgaria was committed to improving relations with Russia on the basis of mutual respect for sovereignty and it was hoped that Nato membership would improve relations with Russia by establishing them on a clear and unambiguous basis.


Five more members wish to ask questions. In order to give others a chance, I ask for short questions and short answers. I call Mr Zhirinovsky, Mr Dinçer, Mr Bratina and Mr Vangelov to ask questions. Please try to limit them to thirty seconds.

Mr ZHIRINOVSKY (Russia) (interpretation)

said that Russia had liberated Bulgaria from 500 years of Islamic rule and also at the end of the second world war. He could not therefore understand why Bulgaria wished to join an anti-Russian alliance.

Mr DINÇER (Turkey)

As a Turkish deputy who was bom in Bulgaria, I am particularly grateful for your excellent and constructive speech, supporting democracy, human rights and stability for the people in our region.


May we hear the question please?


In November 1992, Bulgaria and Turkey signed a document stating that the two countries could not conduct military exercises involving more than two battalions within fifteen kilometres of the border. We reduced the number of soldiers along our common border to a minimum. Do you agree that bilateral initiative makes an important contribution to co-operation in the Balkans, and can be taken as an example by the other Balkan countries?

Mr BRATINA (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, in your speech you said you were strongly in favour of the European option. I would therefore like to ask you how you envisage the initiative proposed by the United States concerning a new form of co-operation between the states of southern Europe, or rather the states of southern central Europe, which includes all of the countries belonging in one way or another to the Balkan region, in the broadest sense of the term.

Mr VANGELOV (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) (translation)

Mr President, may I ask you about a matter which causes political friction between Bulgarians and Macedonians. I refer to the language question, which has political consequences.

I listened to your address and noted your statement that Bulgaria today is not the same country as before. May I therefore, Mr President, ask you one very simple question. What minimal constructive measures can you propose to solve this problem of many years’ standing, which concerns a perfectly ordinary matter but is extremely tricky? I remind the Assembly that it makes impossible any normal behaviour between two neighbouring countries, and even worsens the political situation in the region.

Mr Stoyanov, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (interpretation)

said that he was faced with giving the shortest answers to the most difficult questions. Responding to Mr Zhirinovsky, he said that relations between the Bulgarian and the Russian people had always been very good. He said he loved Russia, but most of all, he loved Bulgaria. He hoped that if Bulgaria did join Nato, relations between Bulgaria and Russia would become brilliant.

He said to Mr Dinçer that he was convinced that what united Bulgaria and Turkey was the wish that both peoples should communicate as neighbours; he welcomed events over the last three years.

Bulgaria supported American initiatives in the Balkans, which were already bearing fruit. He hoped that all countries in the region would be favourably affected.

In his reply to Mr Vangelov, referring to the question of language, he said that the history of Macedonia was the most romantic part of the history of Bulgaria. He was sure that all outstanding linguistic problems could be solved.


Thank you. That brings to an end the questions to Mr Stoyanov. I thank him most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for his address and for the remarks he has made in the course of the questions.