BULGARIA: Bulgaria and America: Promoting democracy and fighting terrorism
Bulgaria has had a somewhat rocky road towards integration into the West since the breakup of the Soviet bloc some 13 years ago. Various governments have tried everything from a 'new socialism' that sought to marry the old state social net with a market economy, to radical market reforms with severe austerity measures.
In the midst of these swings in economic policy, there has been one constant voice that has persistently advocated a future for Bulgaria in close ties with the United States and West Europe.
When Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the ex-king-turned politician, became prime minister in July 2001, he turned to that man, Dr. Solomon Passy, to become his foreign minister.
As the head of the Atlantic Club, Passy had for years built up a network of influential contacts in Washington and other Western capitals, working to realize Bulgaria's integration with the West. As foreign minister his work could be taken to a new, official level.
In April Bulgaria will become a full member of NATO, fulfilling one of the key objectives of Western integration, and on January 1, 2007, Bulgaria should enter the European Union, fulfilling the second such major objective.
On a visit to Washington in the last week of February, Dr. Passy took time to speak with Diplomatic Traffic about deepening US-Bulgarian ties and other issues, noting at the outset that last year marked the 100th anniversary of relations between the two nations.
During the Operation Iraqi Freedom Bulgaria offered basing facilities for US troops when Turkey denied them facilities and transit rights on its soil. Bulgaria proved itself a good US ally at a time when many West European nations were pulling back from offering support for the war effort.
Bulgaria supports the allied effort in Afghanistan and maintains 500 troops in Iraq, and intends to continue that support for the US-led effort, Passy said. "We are determined to fulfill our mission there," he stressed.
Hence, Sofia's relations with Washington "are better now than ever before," the minister says, and he expects the US military presence in the Burgas area on the Black Sea, to become a key component of ongoing bilateral relations.
Noting that cooperation between the two countries is "excellent" in both the political and military spheres, he said America and Bulgaria should continue "to work together to promote democracy and fight terrorism" in the Balkan region and beyond.
He said Bulgaria offers excellent geopolitical and social conditions for the development of closer bilateral ties.
The foreign minister hopes that cooperation between the two countries can help revitalize Bulgaria's defense industry, which was very much diminished by the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the consequent loss of markets. Bulgaria hopes to attract US defense industry investments, along with US investments in IT, one of its most successful sectors.
"We would like to revitalize our defense industry with our US and other NATO allies," Passy said.
One of the other major areas for US investment is energy, as Bulgaria is a major supplier to the Balkan region, providing from 50-80 percent of the energy needs of some of its neighbors, such as Macedonia, and significant quantities to Greece and Turkey.
In 2006 Bulgaria's nuclear power plant will be decommissioned, and Passy said his country would like to see an American company build a safe plant that can take its place.
With Burgas a major terminal for Russian oil, two pipeline projects are on the table to transport oil from Burgas to Alexandropoulos, on Greece's northern Aegean coast, and Durres, on Albania's Adriatic coast. This latter project, ANBO, is spearheaded by American oil companies.
Last year, Foreign Direct Investment in Bulgaria rose 60 percent on the year before, Passy said, although most of that came from European countries. However, a US group of investors (Viva Ventures/Advent) purchased the fixed line telecoms company from the government. Bulgaria would like to see many more such major American investments, to fulfill what Passy called a "huge potential" for bilateral economic development.
Passy said the economy is "very good," with five percent growth of GDP in the last year, and a reduction by seven percent in the unemployment rate, to 11 percent. Inflation is stable at around 6 percent.
He points out that due to prudent fiscal policies, Bulgaria's international credit ratings have improved steadily over recent years.
Varna on the Black Sea was the center of the furthest-south resort area for Eastern Bloc natives seeking the sun within Soviet-controlled boundaries, and now Bulgaria is attracting a diverse clientele, with its tourism industry growing by 20 percent in 2003. Nevertheless, there is a significant need for new investments in the industry, and Passy hopes American companies will participate in this sector as well.
Another indicator of success he points to is the jump in applications for passports by residents from neighboring countries. In 2003, these reached 13,000, double the level in 2002, showing a growing confidence in Bulgaria's future.
Bulgaria's native population has actually been shrinking of late, and it now stands at seven and a half million.
One of Bulgaria's most difficult foreign affairs issues has been the five-year imprisonment of a group of nurses in Libya, where they were accused of infecting patients with AIDS. Initial death sentences have been commuted, but Passy hopes that the current climate of change in Tripoli might lead to their release, a position for which Bulgaria has strong support from the US and EU.
CV of Dr. Solomon Isac Passy, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria
Born on December 22, 1956, Plovdiv, Bulgaria; Married, with three children
2001-- Chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee, Defence and Security, at 39th National Assembly
2001-- Member of Parliament, National Movement Simeon the Second
1992-2001: President and CEO of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria
1990-1991: Member of the Grand National Assembly, Union of Democratic Forces, (UDF)
1984-1994: Assistant Professor in Mathematical Logic & Computer Science at
Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" and at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
EDUCATION & DEGREES
1985: Ph.D., Mathematical Logic & Computer Science, Sofia University
1979: M.S. Mathematical Logic, Sofia University
1977: B.S., Mathematics, Sofia University
POLITICAL AND PUBLIC
1991-- Founding President of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria
1998-- Vice-Chairman of the St.St.Cyril & Methodius International Foundation
1997-2000: Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Civic Society Foundation
1999-2000: Member of the Program Committee of the DemNet Program
1996-1999: Vice-Chairman of the Atlantic Treaty Association, Paris
1999: Co-chairman of the Host Committee for the visit of President Bill Clinton to Bulgaria
1994: Leader of the Bulgarian delegation for the Audience with H.H. Pope John Paul II
1991: Chairman of the Host Committee for the Dalai Lama of Tibet' visit to Sofia
1993-1996: Member of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition to Livingston Island, Antarctica
1990-1991: Member of the Grand National Assembly and co-author of the new Bulgarian Constitution
1989-1994: Founder and Spokesman of the Green Party of Bulgaria
1990-1991: Member of the Coordination Council of UDF
1989-1990: Participant in the National Round Table for transition to democracy
1989: Activist of Ecoglasnost opposition movement
1985-1989: Individual opposition to anti-Muslim repressive policy of the Communist regime
Co-founder & member of Board of:
Euro-Atlantic Foundation for Security & Foreign Policy (1992--)
Bulgarian Aero-Space Agency (1993--)
Manfred Woerner Foundation (1994--)
Euro-Atlantic Youth Club (1996--)
Economic Policy Institute (1997--)
NATO Information Centre (1997--)
Institute for Regional and International Studies (1997--)
Bulgarian Antarctic Institute (1994--1996)
Bulgarian Wildlife Fund (1989--)
Member or founding member of:
Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds -- BirdLife Bulgaria (1997--)
National Geographic Society (1998--), B'nai B'rith lodge in Sofia (1992--)
Photo Vacation Foundation (2000--)
Liberal Council of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Bulgaria (1995--1997)
The Auditing Council of the Union of the Bulgarian Foundations (1995--1997) and others
A dozen of publications in leading international journals on logic and computer science;
more than hundred interviews and political analyses for national and international media