Pro-Russia Donetsk Republic orders all Jews “to register”

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 17/04/14

I am based in Brussels and cannot confirm the authenticity of this document, but I guess it deserves attention.
A website of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk has published a photograph of a leaflet propagated by the authorities of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” with the following content:

“Dear citizens of Jewish nationality! Due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community in Ukraine supported Bendera junta in Kiev and are hostile to Orthodox Donetsk republic and its citizens , the Main Headquarters of the Donetsk republic ruled as follows :

All citizens of Jewish nationality over 16 years, residing in the territory of Donetsk sovereign republic, need until 3 May 2014 appear in front of the Commissioner for Nationalities in the building of Donetsk Regional Administration, Office N. 514 for registration. The registration fee is U.S. $ 50.

You should have cash in the amount of U.S. $ 50 for registration fee, your passports where your religion will be marked, documents of your family members, as well as documents attesting of the real estate property owned by you and your vehicles.

In case of failure to register the perpetrators will be stripped of their citizenship and deported forcibly outside the country with confiscation of property. Your Peoples’ Governor Denis Pushilin”

Putin’s propaganda calls the pro-European Ukrainian citizens fascists. Who are the fascists, actually?

Ukraine crisis: what went wrong?

Who and when has messed things up, such that after Crimea’s annexation, we speak of a new Cold War. According to my journalistic notes, the root of the problem stems from November 2008, when we first heard talk about the “Eastern Partnership”, which some said was modeled on the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, a project that is dear to me because I was the Pact’s spokesperson until March 2008, when it passed into history.

The Eastern Partnership appeared as a response of the Mediterranean Union, an initiative that Nicolas Sarkozy launched at European level on the occasion of the French EU Presidency, in the second half of 2008. Poland and Sweden countered with an initiative in favor of the remaining countries of the European Neighbourhood policy, those from the East: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Thus, under the Czech EU Presidency, on May 7 2009 in Prague, the Eastern Partnership was launched. The initiative foresees the possibility for the conclusion of association agreements and free trade deals, similar to those which the EU had already offered the Western Balkans. The difference was that the Western Balkans had been promised EU membership when they met Brussels’ requirements, while the Eastern Partnership countries received no such promise.
The Prime Minister of Ukraine at that time was Yulia Tymoshenko, supposedly pro-EU, but in fact she hurt those relations with her conflict with then-President Viktor Yuschenko. In late 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election. Though he was considered a pro-Russian leader, it was under Yanukovych that the Association Agreement was agreed upon and initialized. It is indeed ambitious, and I’m glad I was the first to publish about it in this blog, in December 2012.
In the meantime, on 7 May 2012, Vladimir Putin became president again. Shortly before that, as prime minister, he first mentioned plans to create a Eurasian Union on the basis of the Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, founded on 1 July 2011. In the EU, my impression is that no one took these plans seriously.
On the one hand the EU progressed with association agreements with Ukraine , Moldova and Georgia; on the other hand, Russia sought to extend the Customs Union in post -Soviet territory, including to those same countries.
The turning point came the day when Yanukovych said that Ukraine wants to be a member of both the Customs Union and to sign an Association agreement, and a Brussels official said that the EU Association agreement is not compatible with the Customs Union. It’s either-or, the anonymous official said. This was in December 2012.
Initially, no one paid much attention to these words. No one in European Union institutions realised that this was a de facto declaration of war. Any further statements by Brussels that the signing of an Association agreement with Ukraine was not directed against Russia did not sound serious. The next developments are widely known, culminating in the refusal of then-President Yanukovych to sign an Association Agreement during the summit in Vilnius on 28 and 29 November last year.
Two weeks ago, Pierre Vimont, the number two in Catherine Ashton’s External Action Service, said that the EU was “pushed into the wall by Cold War reflexes”. He also said that the choice between the Association Agreement and the Customs Union was not as “inescapable” as initially thought.
“What strikes me is when we ask is this really incompatible as it’s really said, we discover, discussing with our experts, that maybe it’s not exactly that, and we can find a common ground,” Vimont said.
So much about facts. Now for my commentary. Asked who they prefer, Russia or the EU, the Ukrainians are divided , but in Bulgaria, the country I know best, society is not unanimous either . Happily enough, when entering the EU, no one offered Bulgarians an alternative.
The Presidential elections on 25 May will show whether a majority of Ukrainians would prefer the EU or Russia. What is less clear is if the minority will accept the choice of the majority, or Ukraine will split up.
Otherwise, the EU and Russia will sooner or later have to assimilate their neighborhood projects: Whether it will be called Trans- European area from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or a Common Economic Space , it doesn’t really matter. What matters is to overcome the current crisis. It’s a big one, indeed.

Serbia in EU? Well well well…

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 22/03/14

Fifty eight per cent of Bulgarians approve Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with 38% against. A similar percentage of Bulgarians were against the NATO strikes on Belgrade over the Kosovo ethnic cleansing by Milosevic. And were against the Kosovo independence.
Each time the going gets tough, a stable majority of Bulgarians approve Russia against the West. Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski reportedly said that his country is likely to use its veto right if the EU decides to impose heavy sanctions on Russia.

Butt let’s look at Serbia. Bulgaria’s western neighbour is even more pro-Russian and its economy is even more dominated by Russia than Bulgaria’s.
The Crimea crisis will have a lot of consequences. It would be logical that that the EU won’t take on board any new ‘Trojan horses’. By the way, a hardcore nationalist has just won absolute majority in the Serbian elections.

P.S. The combined Serbian and Russian flags on the image, a Serbian “souvenir”, say: “Same colors, same faith one blood”.

Where will the next Maidan be? In Moscow? Or In Istanbul?

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 27/02/14

Ukrainians should be grateful for the Olympics in Sochi. The security concerns around the games have kept Putin very busy, and this benefitted the Euromaidan.
In a way, the winner of the Sochi Olympics was Ukraine.
In the rare moments when he could have a glimpse to TV reports from Kyiv, Putin may have been thinking whether he should send the tanks to restore “order”. But more probably, he thought about the chances of such a scenario developing in Moscow. Without any doubt, the image of the Red Square as a Maidan will be haunting Putin.

The images of Yanukovich’s house and the riches of other high officials of his regime speak for themselves. These people were plundering their country and probably thought they could not be removed from their positions, just as Louis XVI may have imagined.
In Turkey too, when the Prime Minister Erdogan is entangled in a major eavesdropping scandal, many opposition-minded Turks are looking at the Euromaidan protests as a model for bringing down his autocratic regime.
So there may be new Maidans soon. What is Maidan? I like best the description made by Anna Yavorska:
“People who are physically on Maidan today are delegates, each one representing hundreds of others ready to join their brothers and sisters on Maidan when the call goes out. Even if Maidan is cleared by force, it will remain in the hearts of the people. Maidan is not just a place, it is a state of mind. It is a phenomenon that is evolving day upon day, giving people the opportunity to meet, communicate and exchange ideas with every passing hour, to develop strategies, hold meetings and implement their plans. Maidan is alive, it thinks, reflects and takes action, it deals with regular attacks and sheer physical exhaustion, it rises to the occasion every single time. Maidan is the place where Ukrainians forge and formulate their own values and build the ideal model for the country I want to live in.”
Will we see soon how Putin’s private residences look like? Will we see Erdogan’s?

Anti-gay of the world, unite!

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 16/02/14

Putin is Russia’s President and strongman, but also he is the chairman of United Russia, a political force that describes itself as conservative. In the past Soviet Russia was opposed to the West on the basis of ideology. But isn’t a new ideology beginning to replace old political divisions?

The negative attitude vis-à-vis gay marriage in conservative EU and the anti-gay policies of Putin have a lot in common. Putin is seeking to grab as much influence on the basis of traditional Orthodox anti-gay sentiments in several countries of Russia’s “near neighbourhood”, from Belgrade and Athens to Tbilissi and Yerevan. This photo with the kid was taken in Belgrade.

In Western Europe we see that the only subject matter capable of mobilising tens of thousand of people to take the streets is rejection of gay marriage, France being a good example.

Suddenly this has become the main dividing line between the European centre-left and centre-left, and the issue may be indeed a hot topic in the coming European elections.
Putin has everything to gain if the European society gets further polarized on the gay rights issue. This will legitimize his home policies and help strengthen his grip on the “near neighbourhood countries”, as the Eurasian union he tries to build will obviously be based on these values.

Trolls in Bulgaria, cleanup time?

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 15/02/14

The internet community in Bulgaria tells me that tons of internet posts are being erased, in an attempt to defuse publications exposing major manipulation efforts of the public opinion by the company Leadway Media Solutions with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) being the client. [more]
(Trolls are people hired by PR companies to post laudatory comments for the client, or to blackmouth the client’s rivals. Troll business is big business in Bulgaria) But the internet community is mobilized and has made tons of screenshots which are likely to embarrass BSP even further.
Before I conclude this short blogpost, I would like to say that I’m ashamed of BSP, for whom I have voted in the past.
For the progressive-minded millions of Europeans, politics is not lying-cheating. Sergei Stanishev, leader of BSP and President of the Party of European Socialists, needs to step down from both posts. Fast.

Wow! Le Pen attacks PES for siding with extreme right

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 06/02/14

I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it.
Speaking in the talks show “Mots croisés” on French public TV France2 on 4 February, the leader of the far-right party Front National Marine Le Pen attacked French minister of economy Pierre Moscovici, a socialist, for tolerance vis-à-vis what she called “the real extreme right”.
Replying to Moscovici, who accused Le Pen of destroying France by fraternising with nationalist, xenophobic or separatist forces such as Italy’s Northern Ligue, the Dutch Party of Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders and the Flemish Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest, VB), Moscovici got a rebuke he apparently didn’t expect.
Le Pen hit back mentioning Ataka, the extremist party in Bulgaria thanks to which the Socialist-led minority government in Bulgaria survives. Sergei Stanishev, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, is also leader of PES.
This is the transcript, but better watch the video from minute 1 hour,17 minutes and 20 seconds. It lasts 46 seconds.…

Marine Le Pen: I am not destroying France through Europe as you do. I defend France.
Pierre Moscovici: You do it, with your friends from the North Ligue, with Geerd Wilders, you do it with do it with people from Vlaams Beland…
Marine Le Pen: How about Ataka? What do you think, Mr Moscovici? Mr. Calvi (the journalist moderator), do you know that the PES President, the Party of European Socialists who is Bulgarian, governs with the extreme right, the real extreme right, Ataka? You better sweep in front of your door and we can discuss. Sweep inside the PES! Sweep inside the PES! Sweep inside the PES!

Dan Luca’s battle: The voice of Romania in EU

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 08/01/14

My friend and colleague Dan Luca, who is chairman of the Romanian socialists in Brussels and MEP candidate, recently published a book of reflections on how Romania should improve communication in Brussels. I was honoured to attend the book launch in the European Parliament in the presence of MEPs Hannes Swoboda and Ivailo Kalfin and made this video.

Even more recently Dan spoke to Romanian news agency Agerpres on the same issue. He argues that the restrictions to the labor market in Belgium (which were lifted only on 1 January 2014, seven years after Bulgaria and Romania’s EU accession) prevented the nationals of those countries to take their rightful place in the Brussels galaxy of federations, associations, consultations, law and lobbying firms, media etc. that together shape European policies along with EU institutions.

Indeed, EU institutions have a quota for Bulgarian and Bulgarian nationals, but outside the public sector nobody keeps places for those nationals. To obtain a working permit was a major obstacle, as many employers massively rejected candidates from Bulgaria and Romania, fearing burdensome administrative hassle.

Dan Luca says that for the voice of Romania in the EU in the EU to be heard, the presence of 5,000 Romanians in Brussels is needed, while their present number is only 2500.

Only now, seven years after Romania and Bulgaria were admitted to the EU, these countries at last get equal opportunities with other member states for access to the European capital, says my colleague.

Romanians are actually very well organized in Brussels have a website and published a guide with advice to newcomers – how to prepare for municipal formalities, what they need to know about Belgian law, how to apply for work, how to contact the Romanian representations, associations and churches (eleven in Belgium), what to do to sign up their children to school or kindergarten – more than 200 pages of tips.

In Romania’s Permanent Representation to the EU works diplomat whose job it is to make sure that more Romanians to get high positions in European institutions. This year for the first time, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta invites all senior Romanians in European institutions to Bucharest, where he will brief them with the priorities of his government, but also to listen and establish a personal contact. Large countries like France, Germany organize similar meetings ago.

Bulgarians in Brussels are not so well organized, I must confess. Inspired from Dan, I wrote an article for the Bulgarian readers. I agree with him that seven years after joining the EU, Bulgaria and Romania are still not equal to the others, because they are subjected to humiliating monitoring, which themselves the accepted. Are also because they are not sufficiently represented, and do not act as a national team.

The European elections are a good occasion for the governments in Sofia and Bucharest to reflect on these issues. Romanians are better prepared, be it only for the fact that they have such a strong candidate as Dan Luca. I hope his party gives him on the list the place he deserves.

Bulgaria’s first seven years in the EU

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 03/01/14

On 1 January Bulgaria has marked its first seven years of EU membership. There is a saying in Bulgarian about the first seven years of a human being: “either you have them or you don’t”. Either during your first seven years you have learned something that will make a man out of you, or you will be a burden to society.

This text is a translation I made myself from my article in Bulgarian published days ago by the bi-monthly magazine L’Europeo. I only added a few hyperlinks and made the text more understandable to non-Bulgarians. If someone decides to re-publish or quote from this text, a written agreement from L’Europeo is required. I can help facilitate this (see my contact details).

Bulgaria’s EU membership was conceived in sin. Tony Blair decided to reward Bulgaria and Romania for their help during the 1999 NATO air strikes against the former Yugoslavia. A huge majority of Bulgarians were against this war, but now it looks that this support mostly contributed to the entry of the two countries into the prestigious clubs of NATO and the EU.

The first decisive episode took place in March 1999. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister at that time Ivan Kostov was lying to his nationals, telling them that Bulgaria had not offered its airspace to NATO. But I was accidentally at NATO and ingenuously asked their spokesman Jamie Shea: Did Bulgaria give you its airspace? “Many thanks to Bulgaria,” said Jamie. We were on CNN, so the next day all Bulgarian newspapers came out with huge titles: “NATO thanked us for the airspace”. There was a lot of internal confusion, but it’s fair to say that Sofia’s gesture was highly appreciated.

Let me open a parenthesis. Britain was indeed the country who most wanted the membership of Bulgaria and Romania. Not because they like us a lot, but because the Brits have always wanted to water down the EU into a loose federation of heterogeneous states, thus torpedoing plans for greater European integration. They may be on track to achieve its goal. But in any case, UK doesn’t ask for more EU expansion.

The second episode was the closure of four units of Kozlodui nuclear power plant, especially the 4th and 5th unit. On 1 October 2002 was incidentally in Brussels and spoke with officials from the European Commission. They were so happy that they greeted me (me, the journalist who defended Kozlodui, for the “courageous decision” of the cabinet of the then Prime Minister Simeon Saxe Cobourg-Gotha to close those two nuclear reactors. The then foreign minister Solomon Passy had signed the decision the night before. I called my colleagues in Sofia, where nobody knew about such a decision.

I wrote all this in the newspaper Sega where I worked then, it became the front page headline. The then President Georgi Parvanov arrived in Brussels the next day, on 2 October, to meet with the then European Commission President Romano Prodi. When he saw me in the lobby of his hotel Parvanov told me – “I saw what you wrote”. He had learned from my newspaper that the blocks are to be closed down. The government had not informed him. An hour later Prodi thanked Parvanov for this “courageous decision” in front of many astonished journalists.

Irony and politics go hand in hand. Parvanov was against the Iraq war, although as President he was commander in chief. And it was him who represented the country at the ceremony of the country’s NATO accession at the November 2002 Prague summit. Parvanov was a defender of the units at Kozloduy, but accepted the thanks for closing them down. But who cares today?

This is how Bulgaria crawled until 2006, when it’s EU accession was hanging in the balance. Olli Rehn, the Enlargement Commissioner at that time, knew perfectly well that neither Bulgaria nor Romania were ready for EU membership in the classic sense. So he thought of some sort of us semi-membership – that the countries would be admitted as members, if they agreed to a “Cooperation and Verification mechanism” (CVM), that is, to monitoring, comparable only to the one to which candidate countries are subjected. This was a unique experiment that Brussels is determined not to repeat.

Bulgaria agreed. Romania tried to resist, but my country screwed them, it put them with a fait accompli. Imagine the humiliation for them if Bulgaria was admitted to the EU and Romania was postponed? Willy-nilly Bucharest swallowed the bitter pill. Bulgarian spineless policy obviously worked. It even made a EU member out of Romania.

Some time elapsed, our integration stalled, a series of scandals unfolded, the so-called SAPARD case, a powerful minister had to be evicted, and in June 2009 a new government led by Boyko Borissov took power. He came to Brussels and said he was at war with the mafia Octopus. Barroso gave him his trust. On credit course, but he gave it.

Borissov was asked then, in 2009, what will be the European priorities of his cabinet. I even helped him, by suggesting in my question “joining the eurozone and the Schengen space?” The answer was, “Absolutely.” When I asked him if the exit from the Cooperation and verification mechanism was a priority as well, he answered “This is very important,” but he did not mean it. He added ” Our objective to join Schengen remains 2011″.

Neither Borissov nor his successor Plamen Oresharsky adopted as a priority the obvious: the need for Bulgaria to get out of CVM, so that the country would finally become a full member and would no longer be summoned by Barroso. The Commission doesn’t use tough language against any member state, except Bulgaria and Romania, because they have accepted it. And because both countries did nothing in the meantime to change the situation.

So Borissov made Schengen his battlefield, unaware that it was a bad choice and that he would fail. In 2009 he said that all that was needed for Bulgaria to join Schengen was “plastering a building”. This sentence made big headlines. But old member states will not allow Bulgaria in Schengen until their business complains of corruption and outrages by Bulgarian courts. By not allowing Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen these countries tells Sofia and Bucharest every day: yes, you’re sitting at our table, but please shut up.

But let me go back to the beginning of the mandate of Borissov. There was a nightmarish period when every time an important EU official set foot in Sofia exploded a bomb. It sure was a heavy blow for Borissov, the “last action hero” in Bulgarian politics. The message of the mafia was – don’t believe this tough guy Borissov: as you can see, crime and even terrorism flourish under his rule…

In the same logic, a series of eavesdropping tapes were leaked to Bulgarian media, with allegation of the President and the Bulgarian EU commissioner being tapped. The Commission didn’t say much. Media indicated scandalous misuse of EU funds. Can a Twitter account be worth €50,000, paid with EU money? In Bulgaria this is possible, and the female public relations aides of Borissov’ agricultural minister could be asked about details.

In one of the leaked tapes the Sofia prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov, a gentleman who resigned since, gives advice to Naydenov how to “fix” these ladies, which can be understood in every way. This of course is only a small tip of a large iceberg of scams and intrigues to the attention of EU officials who are watching Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian diplomacy in this period had only one task – to make sure the CVM report contains at least one sentence which Borissov could proudly quote. The most famous such sentence was that “the [Borissov] government has the political will.” The report basically says implicitly that the Prime Minister is no good, but at least he is trying.

EU summits bored Borissov to death. I have often seen him playing with his cell phone, either because he was annoyed, or because he didn’t have enough words in English for small talk. Once I took a whole series of photos. At a meeting of the European People’s Party , where he was seated next to the then newly elected Prime Minister of Portugal, Pedro Passos Coelho, Borissov was concentrated on his touchscreen and never talked with his new buddy . I have on photo the face of Coelho staring sadly at this unsociable neighbor.

Having said this, Borissov knows how to talk to counterparts from football superpowers. I’m sure he didn’t know that Coelho is from the country of Cristiano Ronaldo. While Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was still Prime Minister of Spain, Borissov used to powerfully tap him on the back, shouting “Messi, Messi”. Indeed, Borisov has secured an image among his EU counterparts of a man capable of great sacrifice, missing football derbies and attending instead boring summits.

During the 28 June 2012 summit, the Euro in Poland and Ukraine was ongoing and Germany played Italy on this very day. Borissov was convinced that the leaders will arrange the program so as to watch the match. But it didn’t happen that way. Probably better, because Borissov’s forecast proved to be wrong and he missed the chance to kiss Merkel, as Germany’s team lost.

Bulgaria indirectly suffered bad press with the disastrous hearing of candidate commissioner Rumiana Jeleva. Her replacement Kristalina Georgieva was an excellent, but alas belated move. Many in the EU got the impression that the Bulgarians were able to do the best and worst. Electing Sergei Stanishev as leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES) was very good news, his choice of Delian Peevski, a controversial media mogul, to be the boss of of the country’s State Agency for National Security (DANS) was very bad news, including for him.

The fall of the Borissov government last January, because of the high electric bills, surprised many in Brussels. The poverty levels in Bulgaria are difficult to be understood. I once had lunch in the Commission’s Berlaymont restaurant, sitting at the same table with a former employee of that institution. Journalists and retired employees have access to this restaurant. We introduced ourselves, discussed incomes. I mentioned that the minimum pension in Bulgaria is 70 euros. The lady did not understand me. You mean seventy euros per day, she asked. The average pension of Commission employees is € 4,300. As I explained that 70 euros was the income of retired people for a full month, the lady didn’t touch her meal further.

Lately Bulgaria has shocked the Commission with the rise of nationalist and extremist formations, amid a wave of refugees that should not be a problem for a normal state. There were a lot wrong moves. Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetlin Iovchev advocated closed refugee centres and of refugee push-backs from the border. Such things are not only unacceptable under European law, but also under international law. The cabinet tried to correct its fire, but the bad impression remained. Unfortunately, latent xenophobia in Bulgaria is widespread, as was the collective madness that had infected the National Assembly over the vote of a moratorium to sell land to foreigners.

In Bulgaria it is fashionable to say – why should WE pay for refugees? But why should the EU be obliged to give Bulgaria billions? Another issue is that Bulgaria is the only country of the fifth EU enlargement where the situation now is not better than before the accession. In Bulgaria, too much pubic wealth gets stolen.

The same profiteering attitude became obvious over the South Stream latest developments. On 4 December, I was the only journalist to report that the Commission said that all bilateral gas pipeline between Russia on the one hand, and Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria on the other, violate EU law and should be denounced and renegotiated from scratch.

As it turned out, on 18 August, the Commission had officially informed Bulgaria that South Stream cannot be built unless they be renegotiated, which would take at least two years. But this did not impede the government to stage on 4 November a “first welding” ceremony. Or to drill in the sea near Varna. The question is: who is Bulgaria trying to cheat?

Bulgaria puts its EU membership at risk, as recently wrote in his my blog my distinguished colleague Veselin Zhelev, whom his daily newspaper Trud fired from his post of Brussels correspondent. In Bulgaria, good work is never appreciated. I have nothing to add to his analysis. If nationalism and profiteering prevail, the EU will find a way first first to close the tap, and then show Bulgaria the door. After seven years in the EU, my country so far qualifies for the office dealing with juniors in distress.

Apocalypsis 2014: Beware of Bulgarians!

Posted by Georgi Gotev on 21/12/13

On 1 January all remaining restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers to the EU will be lifted. Seven years after the accession of these countries to the Union, the last remaining older EU states that have not yet lifted these restrictions, including France, Belgium and Great Britain, are under legal obligation to do so.

What will happen? Mayhem? Apocalypsis? In any case this is what UK Prime Minister David Cameron expects, if you believe his words. He recently announced that Romanians and Bulgarians would not be entitled to the same social benefits as other Europeans in Britain.

Others believe that Cameron knows perfectly well that the problem will not arise. But he will continue to make noises, hoping to make sure that the populist radicals, such as the Independence Party (UKIP), would not enjoy exclusive rights in exploiting the issue in the wake of European elections in May 2014 and the UK general elections a year later. And Cameron probably wants to make sure UKIP would not blame him for being a wimp.

The British tabloid press has exacerbated the fears of an influx of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals after 1 January. For me, in my capacity of Bulgarian journalist, this is a déjà vu. In 2006, on the eve of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, almost exactly the same UK media phenomenon happened.

At that time, Britain was one of the few EU countries to still maintain visas for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, and had to abandon visa restrictions from the date of accession on 1 January 2007. The tabloids had imagined hordes of hungry thieves and prostitutes rushing to Albion, to set the islands on fire.

Already at that time, immigration experts predicted that nothing spectacular would happen, as Bulgarian and Romanian had the opportunity since 2001 to travel in the EU borderless Schengen area without visas. As Sofia and Bucharest keep saying since then – those who wanted to go have already left. There will be no new wave, or at least the phenomenon would not be worth mentioning.

But at the time there was no UKIP and the tone was more moderate. This time around, the British press and politicians surpassed themselves and their hostile and xenophobic language aroused astonishment and bitterness in Bulgaria and Romania, as the many articles of the UK tabloids get translated and make big headlines in these countries.
In the country I know best, 18,000 British have settled, they purchased villas, enjoying cheap prices in an almost Mediterranean climate. There is no animosity between British and Bulgarian to my knowledge, except in the virtual space of the hostile tabloids articles and the comments they generate.

Paradoxically, it is in Britain that Bulgaria and Romania should thank for their accession to the EU and NATO. Historically, it was Tony Blair who fought for these two countries to join the EU, to reward their support to the NATO intervention in 1999, which aimed to stop the atrocities of the regime of Slobodan Milsoevic in Kosovo.

At that time, the governments of Bulgaria and Romania had offered their airspace to NATO fighter planes, although public opinion was strongly opposed to this undeclared war. Isn’t it ironic? This decision of the elite in power, perceived as an outrage by many, has actually opened the door of the coveted clubs: NATO and the EU.

But why did Blair fight for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania? Actually, it’s constant of British politics, beyond party lines, that enlargement should dilute the Union into a loose confederation of heterogeneous states. So the Brits got what they wanted, didn’t they?

Hence my conclusion: Bulgarian and Romanian do not have much to worry about Cameron’s rhetoric, let him practice gutter communication, if he thinks this could do him any good. Although to my mind, he is losing the European elections. But for many reasons Bulgarian and Romanian do have a bad image in the EU, which they should repair, the faster, the better.

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Georgi Gotev is senior editor of EurActiv more.