Bulgaria: Obstacle on Way of South Stream

Bulgaria: Obstacle on Way of South Stream

The people of Bulgaria face trials and tribulations. The country has been struggling against a political crisis since February 2013. And it seems to be everlasting; there is no light at the end of tunnel. 

The European Commission is trying to make Moscow renew gas deliveries to Ukraine in an attempt to find a «mutually acceptable temporary solution for the coming winter». At the same time the Commission blocks the construction of an alternative route to Europe going across the Bulgarian territory. The project is called South Stream. The idea has the support of leading European companies and the countries involved. Bulgaria has been chosen by the supranational structures in Brussels as an instrument of this, rather strange, policy of obstruction. It was chosen as the poorest country of the European Union which is facing parliamentary elections on October 5. On September 30 Bulgarian «technical» Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki said the government will comply with the decisions by European Commission. It will also comply with the sanctions imposed against Russia. The Prime Minister said the sanctions will be supported as a contribution into the efforts aimed at normalization of the situation in Ukraine. The official automatically puts the blame for the Ukrainian crisis on Russia. 

The compliance with the decisions taken by Brussels is not enough to improve the country’s deteriorated economic plight. The close surveillance of the events taking place in Bulgaria by overseas partner does not alleviate the country’s economic woes (Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski suspended all activities related to the disputed South Stream natural gas pipeline project until his government reaches an agreement with Brussels that would be compliant with European Union laws. He announced the decision on June 8 in Sofia after meeting with United States Senators John McCain, Chris Murphy and Ron Johnson, who were visiting Bulgaria as part of a European tour to consolidate Transatlantic relations).

The right-center "Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria" (GERB) is an expected winner on October 5 with 35% of votes. The forecast for other parties goes as follows: the Bulgarian Socialist Party is to receive around 20% with 14-15% of votes going to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Three-four small parties may get representation in the parliament. GERB has no chances to have a one party majority (121 seats out of all 240 seats in the National Assembly). The period of irresponsible «service» governments will end up to start bargaining between Boiko Borisov, the leader of GERB, the top leaders of the Socialist Party and minor political groups. Any coalition to be formed by Boiko Borisov in case he defeats Socialists will be an alliance opposing the Russia-Bulgaria energy cooperation. 

At the same time discontent is spreading inside the country. Trade unions and employers protest the government plans to come up with changes and include more austerity measures into the budget. The clients of Corporate Commercial Bank being under special surveillance protest trying to avert the bank’s closure. They threaten to block regional and central election commissions and prevent the elections. The other problem the country faces are the waves of refugees coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq… 

It’s hard to understand how long Bulgaria is going to put up with the regime of «external governance» when the European Union takes the decisions while the Bulgaria’s government carries them out. There is a wide gap between politics and economy frustrating all the attempts to reach stability. Bulgaria gets 85% of its gas supplies from Russia, the only national nuclear plant uses Russian fuel and the only oil refinery belongs to LUKOIL. Russian tourists fill the Bulgarian beaches and Russians are leading investors in real estate. In 2004 the politicians who faced no alternative at the time made Bulgaria make an abrupt turn to the West bringing the country into NATO. Three years later Bulgaria joined the European Union. 

Today one can clearly see the results of the Euro-Atlantic integration in South-Eastern Europe. A Bulgarian commentator wrote that the country lacked inspiration to change the situation. By the end of September Agence France Press wrote that with the minimal wage of 340 levs (174 euros) a month some people are ready to sell their vote on October 5 even for food. The French agency cited an old Bulgarian lady who said that the poverty was overwhelming and there will be no refusal to do anything for 50 levs. She would agree to what somebody wants her to even for such a small sum as 20 levs. She said they were given two cutlets and two pieces of bread with all the remaining money going to those who buy votes. 

Perhaps the forces supporting the European development of Bulgaria will succeed in mobilizing their electors. According to many surveys, it has become routine to sell votes for money, food or fire-wood: every fifth Bulgarian family lives below the poverty line, 69% of respondents find their plight intolerable. 

Bulgarian experts say that the next session of National Assembly won’t last long if the construction of South Stream will not be restarted to end in time as the 2014-2015 winter is going to be really severe. The European Commission has taken on responsibility for the Bulgaria’s energy sector. But it cannot guarantee the Bulgarian citizens uninterrupted Russian energy supplies coming through Ukraine. 

Georgi Kolarov, PH.D, professor of Varna University (the Republic of Bulgaria)