Stopping the Negotiations with Russia for Visa Liberalisation Would Have a Negative Effect on Bulgarian Tourism

Strahil Angelov, Bulgarian MP from Coalition for Bulgaria [Bulgarian Socialist Party], in an interview for Radio Focus’s broadcast Good Morning, Bulgaria.

Host: Mr Angelov, does Bulgaria have a clear official position regarding the Ukrainian crisis? Immediately before the start of the extraordinary European Council, Bulgarian PM Plamen Oresharski said that he would support a declaration of the EU for de-escalation of the tension in Ukraine and support the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Strahil Angelov: This is the position of the Bulgarian PM. As far as I know the European Council discussed the possibilities for imposing sanctions on Ukraine, and a decision was made for stopping the negotiations with Russia for visa liberalisation for Russian citizens, who visit EU member states. I would not say that this is very good, especially for countries, which offer tourist services to Russians, like Bulgaria. Many Russian tourists visit the Bulgarian Black Sea coastline, and now in March they start booking their summer holidays. The same applies for Greece, Croatia, Italy, and France, where a lot of Russians spend their summer holidays.

Host: Is this one of the negatives for Bulgaria coming from the Ukrainian crisis?

Strahil Angelov: Yes, but I think that there will be more negatives, having in mind the discussions at the extraordinary European Council. I doubt that Bulgarian citizens and tourist agencies, which offer tourism services in the winter and summer seasons will be very happy with these sanctions. Nonetheless, Bulgaria is a member of the EU. I have already expressed my personal position. Apart from economic relations, Bulgaria also has a spiritual connection with Russia. Our two peoples are very close. We have deep traditions in our bilateral relations, and I cannot become a Russophobe.

Host: Is there a possibility the imposing of a three-stage series of sanctions to have its desired effect, after neither Ukraine, nor Russia are a part of the EU?

Strahil Angelov: I think that no sanctions will have any considerable effect, and I believe that Russia will also respond to the sanctions. Imposing sanctions will do no good for either side.

Host: More than 350,000 Bulgarians live on the territory of Ukraine. This week it was announced that three Bulgarian families have asked for aid in the Paisius of Hilendar Bulgarian Centre in Crimea, because of the growing tension there. Should we expect a possible return of Bulgarians from Ukraine back to Bulgaria?

Strahil Angelov: I hope that the Bulgarian government uses this opportunity to give Bulgarian citizenship to the Bulgarians abroad, who want it. After all they are our compatriots. By the way, these people are very proud of their Bulgarian heritage, and in some cases they are even prouder than us, who live in Bulgaria.

Host: What specific steps should the Bulgarian government take, in order to provide shelter for Bulgarians from Ukraine, in case they look for such?

Strahil Angelov: The question is not about providing a shelter, but rather to facilitate the procedures and cut the timeline for giving Bulgarian citizenship to these people. As far as I know, Russia is preparing a legislation, which would facilitate the granting of Russian citizenship to Russian-speaking people, who live in CIS countries and in the former Soviet Union. This should be the main accent of the Bulgarian government at the moment. Obviously this crisis has a much broader scale, and because of this scale we will not be able to solve this crisis.

Host: Should we expect a new refugee wave, despite the fact that the Bulgarian government is quite convinced that this is hardly likely?

Strahil Angelov: No, I do not think that a refugee wave should be expected. As I said, these are ethnic-Bulgarians, most of whom speak Bulgarian, are Orthodox Christians, and cannot be called refugees per se. If any of these people would like to come to Bulgaria, we should not consider them as refugees. There is a big difference between the people, who came from Syria, and the ethnic-Bulgarians from Crimea. We should not even compare them.

Host: In this case, is it necessary to consider the integration of Bulgarians from Ukraine, if they decide to come to Bulgaria?

Strahil Angelov: The integration of such people, who speak our language and have Bulgarian self-determination, cannot be such a serious problem, I think. Especially when you have in mind the serious depopulation of Bulgarian towns and villages. I think that this question can be resolved easily, as long as there is political will to do so.

Host: What should we think about the decision of the Crimean parliament, the autonomic republic to join the Russian Federation?

Strahil Angelov: I think that over the past 25 years, and even before that, many peoples received the right to self-determination. I do not know why these double standards continue being applied everywhere and for everything. How come Kosovo was able to self-determine itself and Bulgaria recognised it as an independent country? They were a part of the Republic of Serbia, and before that – of Yugoslavia, so I do not see anything fatal, if these people want to join the Russian Federation.

Host: This is obviously a regional issue, which must be resolved at the spot.

Strahil Angelov: I have always thought that Bulgaria should not be so tolerant to all communities, which want to leave a certain country, because after all, we have minorities in Bulgaria as well. We must have a much stronger position in this regard.


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