Vrabchev: The Primitive Nationalism in Bulgaria Comes from Kremlin
Andrey Vrabchev is a sculptor from Sofia and a candidate for the Bulgarian Parliament from the party “We Continue the Change” in the elections that will take place on 2nd April. According to him, Russian propaganda has a direct link to the poor relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia and the main instrument of such a policy is primitive nationalism. Vrabchev advocates the construction of a railway line Blagoevgrad – Kochani, as well as the Three Seas Initiative (Baltic, Black, and Adriatic Sea), with envisaged infrastructure projects that would also pass through North Macedonia.
Author: Goran Lefkov
What, in your opinion, are the effects of the Kremlin’s propaganda in Bulgaria and wider? What is the role of the detrimental undemocratic impact of the Kremlin in Bulgaria?
The Russian propaganda in Bulgaria is quite strong. A few years ago, research on the undemocratic Russian propaganda practices was published. The consequence of Russian propaganda is devaluing Bulgarian politics to a large extent. Russian propaganda is directly linked to the poor relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia. The main instrument of such a policy is primitive nationalism, which has been used to influence large groups of people – sometimes even not too large groups – but often loud, who actively incite fear in the politicians, so that they will adopt decisions in line with Kremlin.
A much stronger Russian weapon in Bulgaria is that they have a “fifth column”, people who are directly working for Kremlin’s interest. A large part of the Bulgarian economy in a way is in the hands of Russia and highly positioned politicians are working for those interests.
Bulgaria has a 45-year history of strong promotion of love towards Russia and the Soviets. Whole generations were infected with that ideology. After the fall of Communism, we just changed the economic model, but not the cultural model.
How does this propaganda affect the Macedonian-Bulgarian? Do you think that the opposition against North Macedonia in Bulgaria and the opposition against Bulgaria in North Macedonia, to a large extent, stem from the efforts of the Kremlin or do you think that it is a matter of intrinsic policies?
I mentioned that Russian propaganda in Bulgarian-Macedonian relations is basically founded in primitive nationalism. The same is true for Macedonia. I can argue with solid ground that the two VMROs (VMRO-DPMNE in Macedonia and VMRO-BND in Bulgaria – author’s remark) are somewhat coordinated regarding this issue. Many of the provocations used by one side are used by the other side as well, which is quite concerning. I think that both parties are semi-vocal European, but their actions are not European. All nationalist formations in Bulgaria are very similar phrased as those of the Kremlin. They advocate their own Bulgarian way, but the Bulgarian way for them practically means abandoning the Euro-Atlantic course and rapprochement towards Russia.
All the anti-European parties in Bulgaria are – in one way or another – connected with Russian intelligence and funded thereof.
I sincerely hope that the pro-European values in both countries, where freedom of speech, rule of law, and democratization, in general, were made possible with so much effort, will come together and will be talking the same language.
I think that Bulgaria made a big mistake by vetoing EU accession of Macedonia. Things went backward due to the actions of President Radev. The National Security Council conveyed by the President did not get together in the form required and all stakeholders were present for a valid official decision-making. As a result, the demands of one party, ABV, which was a strong Russophile party, and especially those of former President Georgi Parvanov, prevailed. They required an Annex to the Agreement on Good Neighbourly Relations and they were against such an agreement. Those same ideas prevailed in the Bulgarian Parliament with the framework position and ever since things are going in the wrong direction. Problems that were solved returned on the agenda to incite emotions and that really lit the flame of the relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia.
Good media relations must exist to reflect the good relations between the citizens of both sides. I am a founding member of the Foundation Tatkovina (Fatherland) and we managed to push the signing of the Agreement between MRT and BNT, but nothing happened after that. When the cooperation between the media will intensify, many other things will become much more clear.
The same is true with infrastructural and economic relations. Macedonia has many large businesses, but they are connected with the big parties and they are the most vocal ones that claim that Macedonia is difficult for business. They put themselves against the good relations between both countries. That imposes the question: “How can those that are against good relations between both countries work without problems, while those who believe in good relations have a more difficult time”? That is the other answer – there are other interests that are different from the societal and national interests. At one moment they reached their peak and they impose the direction and the tension of the relations. Those same structures on both sides are connected to the Kremlin.
If we are quarreling, that means instability in the Balkans, it means weakening NATO’s south wing, it means emasculating the position of Bulgaria in NATO and in the EU, and means difficulties for Macedonia. Only the opponents of NATO, EU, Bulgaria, and Macedonia can benefit from that. Putting obstacles on Macedonia’s way to Europe is absurd. Bulgaria inflicted a deep wound on itself. The survey stating that 85 percent of the Bulgarians supported the veto was incorrect. Travelling around the country, especially in Pirin Macedonia, I can see that people believe that we should get together, and cooperate, but unfortunately the media – even more than the politicians – insist on creating a toxic atmosphere. They also are connected with specific propaganda.
An owner of media outlets in Macedonia who for years was against good relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria was proposed as Honorary Consul of Bulgaria in Macedonia. On the other hand, the media that oppose good relations between the two countries, when they want to reflect something bad, very often do not say that this or that medium reported this and that, but they quote “according to Macedonian media”. Bulgarian media never mentioned that the hate-speech against Bulgaria came from media close to VMRO-DPMNE, while the media close to SDSM did not have that kind of а tone. Here, they were saying “Macedonian media”.
You are a founder of the Fatherland Foundation. What are the goals of the foundation?
I am one of the founders of the Bulgarian-Macedonian Friendship Group, but it should not be identified with the club established in Bitola. Our Foundation has nothing to do with Viktor Stoyanov. His actions are just a series of provocations which, in fact, is the model of the Russian propaganda. The people who parade with nationalism are always linked to some kind of “chetniks”, army, history… That provides food for the same kind of nationalists in Macedonia, thereby feeding the conflict.
Another important element of the Russian propaganda is church propaganda. We saw what happened with the Church issue. When the Macedonian Orthodox Church turned to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Church was supposed to address the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Shortly before that should have happened, however, a scandal burst out between Bartholomew and the Bulgarian society. It became difficult for our dignitaries to address Bartholomew after the fierce attacks in Bulgaria. He was accused of something he did not say. That deprived the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of playing a key role in the resolution of the Macedonian Orthodox Church dispute. After that, Russian Patriarch Kirill came to Sofia and things went into a completely different direction. The Church is one of the propaganda instruments of the Kremlin, especially in Orthodox countries.
The fact that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is still silent means that it approves a bicentric model of Orthodoxy. There is no such thing as a bicentric model of Orthodoxy – this model was installed by Russia. The fact that the name dispute of the Macedonian Orthodox Church is still lingering serves Russian interests. Unfortunately, our Church had been choosing cadres who – and I will quote a friend of mine – “are Russians in heart”.
There are people in Bulgaria who identify themselves as Bulgarians, but their common denominator is that they all love Russia. That is so sad. Groups like “Vuzrazhdane” (Revival) (a pro-Russian party in Bulgaria) will receive part of the votes next Sunday which is not that little…
As a candidate for Member of the Bulgarian Parliament, what are your commitments if you get elected regarding the relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria?
All the causes that I am committed to will not be abandoned even if I am not elected at the elections next Sunday. I will continue to work for these causes. I am entering politics from the civil society sector. I am not a member of any political party. We are committed to increasing civic control over the Parliament – within Parliament itself and then in other institutions. Hence, I will advocate infrastructure projects between Bulgaria and Macedonia. If the people from Southwest Bulgaria and East Macedonia express a will for such projects that will connect us, that will be a big argument for their implementation.
Therefore, I will visit Kochani to meet people and get feedback. Connecting Blagoevgrad with Kochani by railway is not a new idea, but a project more than 80 years old. For Bulgaria, this route is crucial because Blagoevgrad will be one of the natural crossroads in the Balkans. In Macedonia, the route from Kochani should continue throughout the middle of the country thereby becoming the backbone that connects the whole country. Routes going to all directions will appear later on, connecting many settlements with industry, mining, and agriculture.
The Kochani-Blagoevgrad link is much better and cheaper than the Kumanovo-Gyueshevo project.
I am stressing the railway link because without it the large industry cannot work. There are some EU documents pointing out that in the next 2-3 decades the entire freight will be rerouted to the railway.
That Central Macedonian route could be later developed from Blagoevgrad to the east towards Pirin, Thrace and the Black Sea. Our ambition is, from Kochani and Veles, this route to grow up to the Adriatic Sea. I am saying this because Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania are lying on a triangle called the “Three Seas” – Black Sea, Adriatic Sea and the Baltic Sea. This initiative encompasses 12 countries placed on the triangle. Approximately 20 percent of the European GDP comes from these countries. If we include Ukraine, it becomes a market of 150 million consumers.
This railway can serve as an artery that will attract other projects. It is not competitive with the current Corridor 8, but that Corridor is not serving Macedonia so much, since it goes almost by the northern border.
This railway will serve and secure stability for the whole of Macedonia. It is also quite significant from a military viewpoint. It will connect NATO bases in Krivolak, Thrace and the naval bases, enabling easier communication between them.
My task in the Parliament – and beyond – is to put this project on the agenda. I will engage social interest in favor of the project.
My other priority will be the opening of the border crossing Klepalo, because little needs to be done on the Bulgarian side and nothing has been happening for a very long time. That will bring about development to the entire Maleshevo area.
I will strive for much greater cultural and media communication between both countries. I will request the erection of the Unknown Hero Monument in Blagoevgrad, which is one of my old initiatives. All that will continue.
BDZH (Bulgarian State Railways) only from Sofia to Blagoevgrad will have 5 trains per day in both directions. They will be modern trains. After a few years, they can be sent to Kocani as well, going back to Sofia and anywhere else. Part of my manifest refers to the modernization of the entire line to Kulata (our note – border crossing between Western Bulgaria and Greece) to Vidin. Due to the poor railway infrastructure, part of the freight transport is avoiding that railway route.
What do you expect from the next elections in Bulgaria? Can you tell us something more about the role of the people with dual citizenship (Macedonian and Bulgarian) during the upcoming elections in Bulgaria? Do you expect strong support from them?
My wish is to constitute a government as a coalition – Democratic Bulgaria and We Continue the Change. I personally am skeptical about the coalition with GERB – it will complicate the tasks at hand. Macedonia was vetoed during the rule of GERB and Karakachanov, which was a big mistake. I am seriously doubting the pro-Western orientation of GERB. My desire is to have a government composed of reform-inclined forces – it could be possible for We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria to have up to 5-6 percent advantage. The second option is to have elections yet again in October. That is a bad option because President Radev has been ruling the Technical Government for much too long. That option scares me.
Concerning the voters from Macedonia – I do not want citizens to love or even like me. I want them to recognize my commitments and ideas. More important for me is for the people from Macedonia to accept my initiatives for the railway and the cultural connection, instead of voting for me. I have friends who said that they will vote for me – if that was your question. In Bulgaria, however, the turnout is low and many people abroad cannot be organized to vote. Many Bulgarians in Bulgaria do not vote, therefore I do not think that the Macedonians with dual citizenship will vote.
If someone wants to see progress in Macedonian-Bulgarian relations, he/she should vote for the coalition We Continue with the Change and Democratic Bulgaria. By warming up the relations between the two countries, the European future will be in the hands of the citizens of Macedonia.
What do you expect from the visit of East Macedonia?
I was invited by Stojan Rashkov and the first thing that we will do is to check the route for the future railway Blagoevgrad – Kochani. Many traces from past development can also be found there. I want to talk to the people, to ask them whether they like the idea and do they want to be connected by railway to Blagoevgrad. We will have meetings with mayors. I have great expectations from that visit. After presenting the old-new idea, many people from East Macedonia have responded quite positively, and all that encourages me to think that we are on the right track.