Interview conducted by Antoinette Kiselincheva with general Angel Marin, Vice President of the Republic of Bulgaria from 2002 to 2012; Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
How would you qualify the openly unbalanced and aggressive behavior of President Plevneliev, at the parade on 6th of May? In his speech on the occasion of the Bulgarian army holiday, he openly made verbal attacks, talked about hybrid wars and attempts at destabilization of entire regions, referring to Crimea.
I stick to a rule that does not allow me to comment on the words and activities of the president. From collegial point of view I do not consider it admissible to make evaluations, since I was vice president for 10 years. In a lot of interviews and conversations with journalists from different media I avoid giving answers to this question. But lately I think this rule should gradually be broken because the words and behavior of President Plevneliev go beyond the permissible and what he can and should speak. Therefore there must be a reaction. Because with his words and his behavior, not only on 6th of May, but on other occasions he puts Bulgaria in an awkward and uncomfortable position. It’s embarrassing to listen to him lashing out with such malice and hatred when he talks, especially when it comes to Russia. The awkwardness may be overlooked, but that he puts Bulgaria at a disadvantage is unacceptable! This affects the interests of the state and the people who live in it. Therefore, there should be a response in some way to exert public pressure on him. As the saying goes, he should measure his speech.
In fact, the theme of hybrid Wars is a favorite of Plevneliev and the defense minister. Maybe they know what hybrid war means, and should know that hybrid wars were fought from time immemorial. War is not only shooting weapons and conflict on the battlefield. War and propaganda, agitation, espionage, manipulation, subversion, discrediting of the leaders of the opposing sides and more, much more. But what is noticeable? Essentially, Plevneliev blames Russia for conducting a hybrid war, aggression and other sins that another is guilty of, not Russia. Common practice! What the US does is interference in the internal affairs of other countries, creating tension, conducting hybrid wars, creating chaos in other countries under the slogan of fighting terrorism. Such is the case with the “Arab Spring”. And more so – they manipulate public opinion, they defame. All that the US does, including against Russia, Plevneliev attributes to Russia. This is a very simple approach. This is unbecoming of a president. He essentially does the following: he participates in the fight of the United States against Russia in order to preserve their global leadership. This is the formula!
Do you think the behavior of politicians with Rosen Plevneliev and Polish President Andrzej Duda’s “rank” is normal? Why do the Baltic countries and Poland use the most aggressive rhetoric?
There is one fable from Krylov, which tells of a puppy which encountered an elephant and began to bark at him. The elephant continued on his way, and the dog thought that the elephant was frightened and was running away. The more paltry and insignificant a person, the more he seeks to shine with something. In other words, it’s an overflow of complexes. For some countries and their management that is traditional. For example, in Poland there is traditionally an anti-Russian sentiment in the face of a large number of statesmen and politicians. Of course, there are also pro-Russian Polish. But somehow the animosity is natural, given the historical burden of relations between Poland and Russia. I have repeatedly met with President Kaczynski, who unfortunately died. At several conferences within the organization GUAM – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova, I represented our country as vice president of Bulgaria. There I annually met with President Kaczynski. He was a charming, energetic man had and relations between him and me were good. But when the conversation went to Russia, he transformed – the gleam in his eyes, facial expressions and tone, the content of the talks were soaked with wild hatred of Russia. So with them this is somehow traditional. With Bulgaria it’s just the opposite, the anti-Russian manifestations of President Plevneliev are un-traditional. There were other cases in which Bulgarian statesmen had an anti-Russian sentiment, but nobody has spoken with such fervor and such aplomb against Russia. We have even been in a war with the Soviet Union during the Second World War as allies of Germany, but even then such anti-Russian rhetoric was not allowed. This is a breach of good manners. On top of that it’s unbecoming for our particular foreign minister to cry “See who I am, I am going to spank Russia!”.
In fact, the suspicion arises of why President Plevneliev is doing that, since it’s not traditionally accepted in Bulgaria for statesmen to refer to Russia in this manner? There’s something fishy! He is searching in the political filth for political support of the United States. It’s so transparent! In fact, we should not put all Eastern European leaders, including Bulgarian, in an equal plain. Among them there are those who hold a ton of respect for Russia, with the understanding for the need to cooperate with this huge country with huge resources, huge opportunities and huge markets, and that it is best to keep relations normal. Since the democratic changes, which president allowed himself an anti-Russian rhetoric ?! I see here some pathology. To demonstrate his commitment, in this case for the US, and hatred towards it’s opponent – this shows you as their servant, their lackey. I think a Bulgarian syndrome is activated, to hurl headlong into another great power that plays a leadership position in the world, and when it starts to come down from the stage and no longer plays a decisive role, we are left with cold relations with everyone. We are left to the whims of fate. Let’s end this practice! Let us like the US but also other countries! Everywhere, including in America, there are wonderful people – in politics, and culture, literature and the arts. Why should you hate one, to prove that you love another? This is abnormal. It is not beautiful. It is very ugly and vulgar! And most importantly – it harms the interests of Bulgaria.
However, of all the leaders in Eastern Europe – presidents, prime ministers, politicians, statesmen who are of anti-Russian sentiment, there are three groups. The first, is a group of people who have grown in an anti-Russian environment – family, community, with a traditional historical animosity. We can understand them. The second group is chasing an interest, because it is no secret, for example, that the United States intervenes in solving important personnel matters, appointment of important government positions of people in these countries. In Bulgaria, the foreign ministers – the current and former, are under the wing of the United States and serve them, rather than Bulgaria. They take care that when their mandate ends, they manage to get some other position – prestigious and comfortable … We can somehow understand them as well. The third group are those who do it out of stupidity. The first to do it out of belief, this can be changed. The second out of some interests that are also subject to change. The third are incurable. Stupidity is usually for life.
But at the same time observations indicate that the majority of the Bulgarian population is not hostile to Russia, but a small handful of so-called. political elite formalize a relatively hostile discourse against Russia. Where does this contrast come from? Are they agents of influence or simply obedient?
The fact that the majority of the Bulgarian people have sympathy for Russia and that the so-called elite is anti-Russian, is another argument that the elite has separated from the people. It lives another life, it has other ideas. They are some other community outside the Bulgarian people. But this is not the biggest trouble. Let them haunt where they have chosen. The trouble is that in this way they work against their people. One can have sympathies, feelings, antipathy, hatred, and another is to have a policy based on those feelings. Because that would have terrible consequences for the state. We fall into a situation of losing rather than cooperating with Russia in any area that is in the common interest of both countries. Relations became strained and we have direct losses because of violations of trade balance and in many other ways. Not to mention human factor between Bulgarians and Russians. Because that mistreatment is not accepted by the Russian side. Where is the interest of Bulgaria in all this anti-Russian rhetoric? We lose! A politician, a statesman, is elected and appointed to work for Bulgaria. Look at the oath taken by every MP, Prime Minister, President, Vice President – to observe the Constitution and laws of the country and to work in the interest of the people. A large part of them will not even be able to reproduce the text of the oath they made before taking office. People who put Bulgaria at a disadvantage with their anti-Russian rhetoric are dangerous for the state. This is not to praise Russia, but for a normal attitude. Of course we cant like everything in Russia. I am a person who can think and speak about Russia with love, but I know very well what problems and shortcomings they have internally. But in terms of a collaboration, if something interferes with the interests of Bulgaria, it could be discussed. But it’s not our job to deal with the internal problems of Russia. Our job is to maintain good relations and cooperate. This is in the interests of Bulgaria.
On top of that, the centuries have created a spiritual proximity between Bulgarian and Russian people. It’s a great wealth. This is an immeasurable potential. Rarely do peoples of the two nations face each other such feelings, as we and the Russian people do. This should be conserved because it was achieved and acquired by the generations before us because it is beneficial for us. Moreover, it would now be difficult to assess the direction the world will develop in. Obviously, the consumer society can not give an answer to thinking people about the meaning of life and the future of humanity. Gluttony, predatory behavior and excessive greed for consumption will lead to the elimination of human civilization. The loss of spirituality will erode societies. People will turn into beasts. I have lived in Russia, I have friends and I know that the Russian people, as well as the Bulgarian, are spiritual people. We need to hold fast to spirituality. If with anything we are commensurate with other nations, it is in spirituality. We are unlikely to ever become first in economic or military prowess. But we are on par with other major nations in spirituality. The Russian academician Dmitry Lihachov called Bulgaria “the nation of the soul” and has developed this thesis very well. This is our wealth. It’s this that relates us closer to the Russian people. Incidentally, I love Americans and Brits, and the French. On July 13, 2009 I went to the United States specifically for the anniversary of the birth of American journalist MacGahan in the town of New Lexington, Ohio, to give respects at his grave. Because of his reports after his visit during the April uprising, he tells the world about the tragedy and the truth of what happened at Batak. This incites European countries, especially Russia, to intervene. Then the Russo-Turkish War occurs and we are liberated. So MacGahan is also a liberator of Bulgaria. Incidentally in the cemetery of his hometown of New Lexington there is a monument that says: “MacGahan – Liberator of Bulgaria.” Next to it there is a large granite block, similar to the moraines of the Vitosha Mountain, which was placed there by grateful Batak in 1925, by the then diplomatic representative of Bulgaria to the United States, Simeon Radev. I took to MacGahan’s grave a handful of earth from the grave of the old church in Batak, because MacGahan set foot on this land soaked with the blood of the murdered. From his tomb I took a handful of earth that I brought back to the court of the Batak church. I also regard with love and respect the English statesman William Gladstone, and Lady Emily Strangford, who came after the Batak uprising to help people. She continued the mission of her husband, who was an English diplomat in Constantinople. Before he died, he bequeathed it her to do everything possible to help the Bulgarian people because he defined himself as a Bulgarian supporter. She raised money for charity in England and even took her savings, and came to Bulgaria. When she arrived in Batak, she asked people: “I want to help you. Tell me, which should I do first? Build houses, buy food or build a hospital?”At this time because of the decomposition of the corpses, major infections had developed and 50 people a week died. But the surviving citizens of Batak answered: “We will endure hunger. We will make huts for homes. The hospital can also wait. You should immediately build a school, so that our children can begin to learn.” Lady Strangford was so moved, that not only did she builds a school, but give them all the other things as well. How can I not have love and respect for the British people, whose representatives were advocated for Bulgaria. Just because I love Russian people, does not mean that I can’t treat with love and sympathy the Americans, the Brits, and other nations.
Is the pro-European orientation of Bulgaria preventative of good relations with Russia? Or is this just a suggestion that the US pursues?
In fact, the European civilization has formed a requisite understanding within the smartest people in Europe, that they should live together with Russia and cooperate. And we have seen how, in certain periods there was cooperation on a fairly high level. For example between France and Russia and between Germany and Russia. But under pressure from the United States there is a policy of anti-Russian orientation of a number of European countries. Look at what happens during a meeting of ASEAN – countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. The US is doing everything possible to prevent visit of the heads of state and government representatives to participate in this meeting. In February, a similar meeting was held in the US, but nothing resulted from it. And now agreements began to be signed for cooperation between Russia and each of these countries. Why does the US prevent them from cooperating with Russia? Some time ago President Barack Obama in a public address announced that Transpacific cooperation, which is an analogue of TPTI (Transatlantic partnership for trade and investment), allows the US to make the rules of trade between these countries, not China. Can you imagine? So the reason to sign the agreement, is to dictate the rules of trade by the USA! Why them and not from China, for example? Or why not have the rules be made and dictated by a consensus, from all the countries involved? In the same way they are trying to impose this transatlantic agreement here in Europe. Terrible for us if we allow this. This is the aspiration of the United States, that they determine what, how and why should happen, and what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is not, what is democratic and what is totalitarian. They want to define it all. This is not fair and the world will not tolerate this.
There is a process of strengthening the eastern flank of NATO in Europe in the line of the Baltics, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey. The Pentagon argues that this is about optimizing continuous training in rotation, and that the motive for the movement of a huge volume of military equipment is the danger of Russian aggression. Do you think that Russia creates real threats? Or rather, is it a “preventive aggression”, ie NATO creates provocations?
I am absolutely convinced of that! I am convinced that not Russia, but the US are a threat to European countries. In thinking about this subject I came to one conclusion. If Russia is a threat to anyone, it is for those who are a threat to Russia. The bad thing is that some of the Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, are included in the sanitary cordon that is created around Russia, to isolate it and keep it under pressure so it throws more money for new weapons. This happens under the old formula of the Cold War through which the arms race should exhaust the Russian side, as it did the Soviet Union. This is the usual formula which the US is pursuing. Moreover, it once brought them success during the Cold War. It is not serious to talk about training measures or measures to protect against Iranian missiles. Did the United States not sign an agreement with Iran? Didn’t things there get worked out.
What kind of an instrument is NATO? The vast majority of military spending in the Alliance comes from the US budget. On the other hand, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, NATO still can not find plausible reasons for its existence. In fact, is this not a military instrument through which the US pursues geopolitical and geo-economic interests and tasks?
In fact, the biggest problem is that NATO is outdated and that it’s time for it to descend from the political scene. As a military-political union, it’s exhausted and should be left in the museum of history. NATO essentially becomes a tool in the hands of the US to impose their will, influence and leadership in the world. Let us recall briefly, that NATO was created in 1949 in order to threaten the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact was created in response. Not vice versa. The Warsaw Pact is gone, and NATO still exists. It’s logical and natural that after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, NATO should also be disbanded.
But is there interest from the United States for such a thing?
No, because NATO is not designed to defend, but to hold under pressure and exhausts Russia. Now Russia whatever it does, will be criticized, blamed and condemned. Do you know when the United States and its satellites in Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, will start to like Russia? If it starts to fall apart, to weaken and become a vassal of the United States, then they will love her.
But then the US will have no enemy to boost their military industries. They will hardly be satisfied…
Exactly. In fact, in response to the opening of this missile defense in Romania and commencement of construction of it in Poland, Russia announced two very important things. One is that they will not succumb to an arms race. Yes, they will take measures, but they will not make the mistake of the Soviet Union to throw all means of competition to armament. Incidentally, they have already shown they have the means to respond to this aggression. And the second thing that is very important – it is time to create a non partisan security system. NATO and the US don’t have the potential, the ability to take responsibility and provide assurances about the security of countries around the world. It is impossible. NATO can not ensure peace and security in the world, without the participation of other countries that are not members of the Alliance. No without big countries like China, Russia and India, but also not without small countries, because they can also do great damage.
The issue now is where we are and what do we do. Once the circumstances and the military-political situation required us to become a member of NATO. As a member of NATO we need to fulfill our alliance commitments, including by actively participating in the development of solutions within the Alliance, including the most important decision that has to be made. The dissolution of NATO. Why doesn’t Bulgaria offer this proposal – not for the release of our country from the alliance, but for it to be disbanded? Let’s start this process and simultaneously create a non partisan international security system.
Is it enough for us to rely on a NATO membership in order to have a peace of mind that someone will take care of our national security, instead of us? For example, our neighbors Greece and Turkey, which are also NATO members, maintain a very serious military potential.
The fact that Bulgaria is a member of NATO gives security and calmness to our country. But we should never forget that the national security of Bulgaria is ours, a Bulgarian obligation. No one will do for Bulgaria what it must do for itself, including for national security. You know, for the rescue of the drowning, the work of the drowning themselves is most important. Nobody will do our work for us. Moreover, no one can stop us to do what we need to do for our national security, except ourselves. And I will give you at least three arguments in support of my thesis. To have a good army and national security requires many resources, but we are in such an economic situation that is difficult to provide them. And if the political and state leadership do not take serious measures to overcome our economic lag, we will not be able to allocate resources to do the necessary for national security. Whoever helps us, the main must be done by ourselves.
The second thing we ourselves interfere with is this inconsistency. We will buy planes! No, wait, we will buy ships! Wait, wait – will take aircraft and ships! So the result is self-excitation conducted by the empty talk of responsible figures, as if something great has happened. But when we take a look at ourselves – we are still the same. Talk alone does not work. We need to design a vision and pursued it with consistency. In the last year or two when I was in the army, there were seven plans to reform the Bulgarian Army. Even the greatest, super technological and well equipped army can not withstand such mood swings and such reforms.
And the third thing with which we defeat ourselves is the weak leadership of the army. Just follow the so-called political leadership of the Bulgarian army in the face of the Ministry of Defence. See what kind of defense ministers are appointed! Any party that aspires to power, races against the former to appoint the defense minister, who in the most cruel way will humiliate and destroy the army – starting from the comic Staliiski, and ending with today’s tragic personality Nenchev. Tell me, what army can withstand such leaders?! What of the events in recent months with guarding the Bulgarian sky. Can you imagine, the aircraft of other countries is to guard the Bulgarian sky! You know what that means? A national collapse! A people who can not create an army that can at least protect them from possible dangers, do not deserve to have a state. What is the purpose of the state? To guard it’s people! Not only to collect taxes and feed politicians.
As a specialist in defense, do you think that a professional army is a better and more effective for protection, rather than conscription? Do you think that the Bulgarian army has the potential to protect us?
Both professional and conscription based armies have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, with a professional army like what we have now, there is the advantage that we invest funds for training and creating a military contingent, which is well prepared and can be used in a longer term. The downside is that a large part of the population of Bulgaria is not covered by military training and in case of need, we can not increase the military contingent to solve bigger problems. That is, in case of danger, the army can not grow mobilization resources. Of course, there are many other positive and negative sides, but I will just mark those.
Conscription has the advantage that through it, pass all the young population that is fit for military service. Moreover it educates, not just in a military sense, but also in an everyday sense.
Do you think the neo-ottoman doctrine of Turkey is a threat to the security of Europe and in particular of Bulgaria? Can we expect Erdogan, to make a move that would threaten our territorial integrity?
Neo-Ottomanism is a real threat to the security of Europe, including in Bulgaria. This threat is already implemented in at least two directions. The first is the growing influence of neo-Ottomanism within the former Ottoman Empire and beyond. What does it leads to? To the division of people. For example, it separates those with a Christian religion, and those who profess Islam and other religions. Not only does it divide them, it begins to make them oppose each other. Hostile relationships arise, relationships of hatred. And this is the surest way to erode the state, to weaken it, and the biggest threat leading to the emergence of internal strife and conflicts. The second direction, which neo-ottomanism takes is the threat of terrorism. There is a base, there are channels, there is encouragement, there is a threat. And this unfortunate and terrible for Bulgaria doctrine, was presented with the help of Bulgarian scientists and statesmen. They admired how cute and great the Prime Minister of Turkey Davutoglu was. And now, what was written in “Strategic depth” is happening. Yes, it has been happening for a while, but now it is happening with an even greater strength and scale. As to what can be expected from neo-ottomanism in the presidency of Erdogan – he looks like a man from whom anything can be expected. There can be terrible problems for Europe and Bulgaria. But I think there is no threat to the territorial integrity of Bulgaria. By using neo-ottomanism he is able to influence such a vast region, so why would he need the risk of taking a territory? It’s much cheaper, quieter and safer for him to use neo-ottomanism to strengthen his influence and thus receive much greater results than simply by conquering territories.
In late 2016 there will be a presidential election. What are the prospects that Bulgaria can have for president a dignified statesman and a good diplomat who recognizes the need to protect national security and national interests?
As you watch the personal socio-political panorama in Bulgaria, do you think that we have a chance for something better? We should not be pessimistic and need to be able to get deserving, serious people involved in politics. But we have managed to create and improve a system in which not the best, but the worst rise to the surface. There are a few good members, good ministers, serious and responsible people, but that’s it! It’s as if they were allowed in there to soften the brutal image of the establishment, to fix up the taste, so we swallow the frog. Lately in the media are touted people who will obviously be nominated for president at the next election. When listening to these eulogies I remembered this story, of a great connoisseur of wines, who went to the house of a winemaker – a known master of making wines. The winemaker of course, gave him the best. The guest drank from the fine wines, enjoying them, but staying silent. The winemaker was irritated. He thought: I give him the best wine, and he is not saying a word. He got angry and poured from a cask, which held some very shoddy wine that was for disposal. The wine-taster drank and said: What a fine wine! He began to talk and to emphasize its merits: what hue, what flavor! The winemaker exploded and replied: “Well, listen! I gave you the best wines and you uttered not a word about them. And when you got some of the most shoddy wine, you praise it. How come?” The guest replied as follows: ” Good wine is good, it does not need praise. For a bad wine to go to the market, it needs praise”.
So when the political market starts to praise someone, the more they overdo it, the more dubious he is. That’s why decent people can’t break through. We need to be more realistic.During the last presidential elections when our term ended, I followed closely the discussions of the candidates for president and vice president. At one time a journalist asked me what I would advise the candidates. I answered him: They should read the Constitution, or at least the chapter “President of the Republic of Bulgaria”. As far as I followed the candidates for vice president – they promised such miracles! But not one of them said what his main duty will be, which is one sentence in the paragraph of the Constitution – the president in his activities, is assisted by the Vice President. This is the duty of the vice president, rather than trying to shine and show how much smarter he is from the president. And most importantly, not to oppose the behavior and words of the president. Excuse me, but besides me, do you remember another vice president who has been loyal to the president? He just has to fulfill the Constitution. So my motto is: The vice president needs to do much work and little talking. Because the president is the figure – the head of state who represents the unity of the people, and represents Bulgaria in foreign policy. It’s a giant responsibility. There is talk that the president should have other powers. Well, those they are big enough in complexity and scale. For example, the veto to overturn laws, appoint officers of the army, as well as representatives of Bulgaria in other countries. This alone is a great deal. Or the question of unity of the nation. How can you unite the nation if you favor one side or the other. One English writer wrote in the book “The Golden Bough”, which tells of interesting cases in ancient times, of how tribal leaders were chosen. Among the candidates the battle was to the death of all but one. However, even when the leaders mandate ended, he was also killed. Why? So he does not interfere with the next leader and not to mislead and deceive tribesmen that something could be done, that he did not while he was in power. Of course, these are very cruel ways. Not as a physical act, but as a social structure and tradition things have to be placed so that a politician should behave very seriously towards being elected president. This is not an occasion for joy but a reason to work harder.