Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Balkans: Bulgaria took the right decision in 1999 about strikes on Yugoslavia

Source: FOCUS Information Agency

March 24th marks 9 years since the start of NATO air strikes on former Yugoslavia. Velizar Shalamanov, Deputy Minister of Defense in the cabinet of Ivan Kostov, comments in an interview with FOCUS News Agency on whether Bulgaria’s decision at that time provide air corridors to NATO was rights and whether the decision now to recognize Kosovo is right.

FOCUS: Mr. Shalamanov, today marks 9 years since the beginning of NATO’s air strikes on former Yugoslavia. Now, from the distance of time, do you think that Bulgaria;s decision to provide air corridors to NATO was right?

Velizar Shalamanov: Bulgaria’s position, for the first time for many years, according to me, was very right and this allowed the processes of integration to the EU and NATO to speed up. And this led to positive changes for the Bulgarian citizens.

FOCUS: The strikes in 1999 were designed to protect the interests of Kosovo Albanian population in the region. From this point of view, is the decision of the Bulgarian government for recognizing Kosovo independence right or not?

Velizar Shalamanov: I would like to stress that our decisions for the NATO operation in former Yugoslavia were dictated not only by the goal to protect the Albanian population that was then put in practice to genocide and ethnic purge of the region. But these decisions were to a great extent related to Bulgaria’s national interests in curbing that crisis and fast finding of solutions to the problems created by the regime of Milosevic, as the aim was to find a positive environment for the development of Bulgaria. According to me, now the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, has, to a certain extent, come late, as it is dictated by the principle interest of Bulgaria to enlarge the zone of freedom and security and to speed up the integration of the region to the European Union and NATO, and this goes through the recognition of Kosovo.

FOCUS: However, the recognition of Kosovo on behalf of Bulgaria lead to problems with Serbia. Could Bulgaria suffer losses from the recognition of the new European state?

Velizar Shalamanov: The problems with Serbia come from the Serbian side, and not from Bulgaria. I hope that our neighbors in Serbia, those who want Serbia to be a democratic and free state, part of the European Union, would manage to express that at the upcoming elections there. After all, Bulgaria takes decisions in the context of its Euro-Atlantic orientation and its decisions could not be in the interest of certain groups in Serbia, or even in Bulgaria, instead of being in the interest in the future of Bulgaria as a serious EU and NATO member state.

FOCUS:Don’t you think, that it is namely in view of the European integration that Bulgaria ought to support Serbia on its way to NATO and the EU?

Velizar Shalamanov: This is indisputable, and we are doing that. But the fact that is that we could support Serbia when it asks for help. No one could help forcefully a state to become a NATO and EU member state. I think that most of the Bulgarians, or perhaps all of them, understand the positives for Bulgaria, which come from our NATO and EU membership.

FOCUS: Could you draw some parallels between the events back then and the current situation on the Balkans?

Velizar Shalamanov: It is really essential now, nine years later, to draw a parallel – at that time, the strikes, the operation, started on the Eve of NATO summit in Washington when the Alliance celebrated the 50th anniversary since its establishment, and when issues about the next enlargement ought to have been solved. Now, we are almost in the same situation – when two summit meetings are to take place – in Bucharest and in Berlin, for marking the 60th anniversary and for finalizing the Alliance’s enlargement in Southeastern Europe and the start of the process in Ukraine and Georgia.

The second very important parallel is the fact that in 1999, when the strikes started, Bulgaria had fortunately just adopted by the parliament a concept for a national security and military doctrine and had built a serious capacity in the field of security, by means of the Security Council with the Prime Minister. This allowed Bulgaria to take the right decisions and to apply them. There is now, to some extent, both a positive and a negative parallel because Bulgaria, as a member, fails to adopt in the last few years a new strategy for security and military doctrine, which to, let’s say, enlighten this hard road for the development of the region for security and freedom.

Least, but not last, Bulgaria managed to deal with those things the because it had really warm contacts with NATO, USA, UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Greece, as well as a very close contact between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And if this does not work very well now, it is quite possible, since the situation on the Balkans is not very easy, mistakes to be done and this would not be in the interest of the Bulgarian citizens.

FOCUS: Do you think such mistakes could be really done?

Velizar Shalamanov: it is quite possible in deed because, unfortunately, a wrong idea is being created that Bulgaria takes decisions under external pressure. In 1999 there were similar accusations too, but they were clearly refuted. And now, unfortunately, this opinion is spreading much among Bulgarians and we could fast reach to the point where Bulgaria’s decision taking option would be exhausted. And in difficult situations, if a state cannot take decisions, sooner or later it collapses.

FOCUS: What exactly should be undertaken as measures so that to avoid such a situation?

Velizar Shalamanov: What should be done is a new strategy for security in terms of the new situation should be accepted, a new military doctrine to be drafted in regards with the new conditions, a very close cooperation is needed with the EU, NATO, USA, and the UK, as well as close collaboration between the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which becomes the Security Council, and by means of that interinstitutional situation center, which was functioning during the crisis in Kosovo. If these things are missing, the speed with which events develop would leave us behind. And if we react to the position of situation-decisions, these decisions would not be in the interest of Bulgaria.

FOCUS: Do you think there is political will for this to happen?

Velizar Shalamanov: I don’t think so. If there was political will, the strategy and the military doctrine would already have been in parliament. After we have 10 promises in a row by the President and the Prime Minister that this would happen, and it has not yet… If an institutions and a leader, who cannot keep their promises to present publicly their visions, they have absolutely no chance of realizing this vision and to be transparent. Everything starts with a publicly presented vision and will for it be applied, which generates trust in people that we are moving in some direction. They believe that someone is pressing us, and this is very bad for Bulgaria