Interview conducted by Desislava with Lyubomir Kyuchukov, director of the Institute for Economics and International Relations. Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront.
Do you think that without combating the reasons, we have a chance to achieve an effect in the fight against terrorism? As if lately we only assess the consequences of the attacks in Brussels, Ankara, Paris …
For me it is very important to see beyond the series of attacks, and to the processes that cause them, . They are definitely extremely disturbing. Here I return to a recent statement by the former head of military intelligence of the United States during the war in Iraq. He characterized the American and European policy after the September 11 attacks as the behavior of fools. He said: “We asked ourselves the wrong question – where are the terrorists so we can kill them, not why they exist and why they attack us.” That’s the right approach – we must recognize that the world is now fundamentally different. This is a very profound geopolitical issue generated by the processes of globalization. It is between the Euro-Atlantic world as a whole – from Vancouver to Vladivostok, and others. We tried to export values, but imported instability.
Can it be considered that the terrorist wave in recent years is a result of the Arab Spring and the use of Islam for geopolitical goals?
Undoubtedly, as the Euro-Atlantic community we have our responsibility for everything that happens. Simply we did not notice a change in the world. After the disappearance of the bipolar model, we lived with the illusion of a unipolar world. As a result, they were born Afghanistan, and Iraq and Syria, and Libya. But it really turned out to be an illusion, because the world is no longer unipolar. We see that it is becoming more multipolar and along with the BRICS countries, that is to say the other geopolitical factors – Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa, a significant impact on international relations, particularly the situation in the Middle East, are caused by regional factors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. From this perspective, the new Cold War is an anachronism, because – as mentioned – we live in a new world and there is no ideological alternative. That is, we try to solve new problems with old tools, the most paradoxical is that the two poles – Russia and the United States responded to new challenges as a connected axis. They sought an external enemy, and they found him in the face each other – Russia for internal consolidation, the United States with the aim of an international consolidation around itself, and so they missed the most important processes that situate them on one side of the barricade.
During the previous attacks in the media was heard the thesis that terrorism in Europe has always existed, so you should not worry too much. An example was the times of the Red Brigades. Can you even make a parallel between these processes?
I would say that the processes are very different. The Red Brigades and previous attacks in Europe – I speak for those who then were ideologically motivated, they were within the state and they were aimed at combating the leadership, ruling the country. Now we have a completely different process – it goes beyond countries. The war is no longer against countries and its not conducted with armies. Its between ideas and between people. This is one of the main features of the “Islamic State” and radical Islam. For them the war for territories and resources is a tool. The aim is to fight for the minds of people striving to turn religion into an ideology into a radical anti-Western ideology. It should be borne in mind that the terrorists are not just criminals, they are indoctrinated killers. And insofar as each country has the tools to fight criminals, we have no tools to fight the ideology. So they recruit new killers every day, within our societies. Here the biggest fault is already beyond the geopolitical. Its within European societies.
After the bombing in Brussels we again witnessed the minor on duty, casual speech by European leaders that we should have solidarity with the victims and be determined against the terrorists, that we should not deviate from the democratic path. In your opinion, does Europe have the strength to change their policies so as to eliminate the source of the problem, rather than simply waiting for another attack?
Things should be seen in at least two layers. Naturally, one layer are the security measures, using all available resources and mechanisms to prevent such terrorist attacks. But the second, more important is how we can oppose precisely this radicalization of this geopolitical confrontation. And while the former is a matter of mobilization of national and European resources and mechanisms, the second question is a much longer process.
This looks like a crisis that is not cyclical. And it is related to new processes that develop in the world. We have exposed inequalities worldwide. The poverty in Africa is now problem of Europe. And when we talk about refugees – this is the tip of the iceberg. This process could somehow be adjusted. But much harder would be to regulate the process with economic migrants. If we make an analogy – as once people have moved from small villages to the capitals where they searched their livelihood and a better life in a globalized world, the same is happening between poor and rich countries. I say “global world” because the protective shell of the nation state was largely broken by globalization. There is no obstacle to the free movement of information provided by communications, or to the free movement of capital. Virtually no obstacle to the free movement of goods, and we are trying only to stop people. It will hardly be possible.
A very common assertion is that among refugees and economic migrants there can be deployed terrorists. In your opinion are the attacks related Are bombings in Brussels connected with the refugee flow? Often it turns out that the people who carry out attacks in Europe were born and raised on the old continent.
That is the most alarming. The processes in our world are not just between countries, they are inside the society. We see the division of our societies. We see profound confrontation. On the one hand, there appear far-right, xenophobic tendencies. On the other hand occurs ghettoisation of other communities. If we go along the lines of ethnic and religious confrontation, this means that we will move along the track of “Islamic state.” It seeks to confront domestic societies to bring the war in Europe, to sow fear and eventually become international terrorism and radical Islam in a war between religions. If we want to look for permanent and long-term solution, the war with radical Islam can be only in union with a much wider Islamic community worldwide, and to isolate radical Islam, so it cannot constantly draw recruits and new fighters. And for me it is very important that the victims should not be compared and should not be pitted against one another, because human life is equally valuable in Brussels and Istanbul and Ankara, and Mali – wherever there were bombings last week. We can not afford our solidarity to further divides us.
Specifically how do you imagine to limit radical Islam?
Naturally, the first is the fight against radical Islam – where he is entrenched. We are talking about Syria, about Iraq, we see similar trends in Libya and Yemen. The international community must understand that the geopolitical confrontation in its current appearance – Russia, Europe and the United States, is counterproductive because the common enemy is one and he is much scarier. Second, of course, is what to do next – and this is already a process that can not be solved in one or two days – we still have to decide how humanity will live together. For this purpose it is necessary to seek a solution to problems such as poverty, unemployment, pandemics and everything else, allowing the world to find a new balance. If the balance is disrupted, disturbed is the stability.
Do you think the reaction of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was rather inadequate on what happened in Brussels? His statement that its “not fair” that jihadists dealt a blow to Europe and that “there is no way to integrate terrorists” sounded ridiculous …
I would say that the problem is not national. It really is global. From this perspective, closing national borders and building walls does not solve the problem. And all the things that especially the Central European countries offer as a solution for the problems with the refugees is not a solution, but a transfer of the problem. This is an expression of a kind of ostrich syndrome. You can not bury your head in the sand because the problems will not pass us. We should look for common solutions and that are long-term.
Is there a risk that Bulgaria would be affected by such an attack? We remember the attack at the airport “Sarafovo” in Burgas. Are the ruling elite able to ensure the security of Bulgarian citizens?
No country is immune to such an attack. Even if it were possible for every citizen of every country to be escorted by a policeman, it would still not guarantee the absolute security of people. From this perspective, we need to take all measures, which the systems and security structures can take, to protect citizens, but without long-term decisions that affect the genesis of the problem, this sword of Damocles will always hangs over us.
A few years ago, shortly after the attack in Burgas, the media asked this question: “Why does Bulgaria not know if it exports jihadists?”. It is clear that in some parts of the country, especially populated by Muslims, there is talk of someone fueling radical Islam. Is there a real danger Bulgaria will become a breeding ground for jihadists?
A real threat exists in Bulgaria and the Balkans and throughout Europe. As we see there are tens of thousands – according to official data – fighters of ‘Islamic State’ which are European citizens. Quite a few of them are from countries of our peninsula. When we talk about the recruitment of fighters from the Balkans, they are mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, part of Albania and Macedonia. However I would distinguish them – about real indoctrination we can talk about fighters coming mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where obviously the war in post-Yugoslav space make it possible to generate such radical, jihadi trends, then for the other countries – Kosovo, Albania Macedonia, I would rather speak of mercenaries.
And when we go back to Bulgaria, the Balkans, here we also need to make a distinction of Muslim communities in the Balkans and those in Western Europe. The Balkan Muslim communities are traditional, they are here for centuries. They have already established relationships within communities, within countries, between Muslims and Christians, and this radicalism is missing. While in Western Europe they are new communities that are yet to establish internal relations with the host country. And from this point of view – of course, attempts will be made by the “Islamic State” but moderate Balkan Islam can somewhat play a deterrent role in the radicalization of Islam in Europe.
Returning to the subject of the attacks in Ankara. How would you comment on the fact that during the latest attack in Turkey, Erdogan ordered all social networking sites to be blocked, and television was ordered to not broadcast footage of the attack?
I would put this action in the overall process of creeping authoritarianism in Turkey in the last 12 years since Erdogan and his party took power there. There is a gradual undermining of the foundations of the secular state. There is a creeping Islamisation and a growing concentration of power in the hands of Erdogan, respectively restriction of democratic rights and freedoms. We know of repressions, including against political opponents, against media representatives, and on to the systems of investigation and prosecution, who tried to institute the appropriate consequences even to family members of Erdogan. This is a process of growing authoritarianism in Turkey.
Turkey now literally cashes its geopolitical importance in Europe. I say geopolitical, in the meaning that Turkey is seen by Europe as a kind of buffer of the overflow of instability of the Syrian crisis as an obstacle and a possible refugee flow brake. Recognizing this importance, Erdogan seeks to obtain the corresponding concessions from Europe.
We, as the European Union, we preferred the stability of Turkey during the elections last year, during the visit of Chancellor Merkel, and we saved the criticisms by postponing the EU report on the state of Turkey. We chose stability over democracy in Turkey. Of course, we now consume this decision. On the other hand, Turkey is a factor that is crucial in all these processes, and it can not be overlooked.
You said that Europe’s war against the “Islamic State” would be more easily won in Syria and Iraq, than in Paris and Brussels …
I think it is clear – we as the European Community, NATO, we have all the necessary power and strength to deal with each opponent, with each country. For better or worse, we witness everything that happens in the last 15 years. With can deal with the state component of the “Islamic state”, if it exists at all. Insofar as this is associated with a territorial management, etc. More complicated is dealing with the Islamic component that is radical Islam, namely the ideological component, which we mentioned. Its carrier is no longer a state institution, but individual people. So when we talk about the “Islamic state” we mention that its fight is about people and their consciousness.
There are opinions that Europe has three alternatives – to become a Sunni or Ottoman caliphate, to return to fascism in the face of various paramilitary formations, or to go to a real fight against extremism, but like the fight of Israel, Russia and USA …
It is obvious that the first two options are not possible. We must combat extremism realistically. But here the big problem is that Europe can not be closed. It is a pity that 16 centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire we have not invented anything better to deal with this type of problem, than by building walls. First, the attempt to build walls, to turn Europe into a besieged fortress, will sooner or later turn its citizens into prisoners. Secondly, I would say that a fortress is conquered from within. We are a society with ethical and religious diversity. We could not solve the problems with our societies, by shutting ourselves within ourselves. So here again the problem comes down to the key question: How do we live together from now as a humanity?