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From England, Local Perceptions of the Balkans and the Brexit Vote editor’s note: while the migration crisis has focused European public discourse on the threat or perceived threat of migrants from Muslim countries, the perception of migrants from non-Muslim countries has been largely overlooked. However, in at least one important referendum on public opinion – the June 23, 2016 Brexit vote – antipathy to ‘Eastern Europe’ made an appearance that came as a surprise to many outsiders. Some interesting opinions on the issue are found in the following brief local assessment from Leicester.

By Antonio Scancariello

Eastern European citizens living in the United Kingdom are facing an uncertain future after June’s referendum, with which Britain decided to leave the EU. The decision, also known as ‘Brexit,’ triggered debates over the rights EU citizens will have to live in the UK and is a source of worries for Romanians and Bulgarians, too.

In an informal survey designed to take the pulse of the locals in Leicester, England, asked British citizens what their views on the issue of immigration are, and where they stand when it comes to EU enlargement policies.

A barman working in one of Leicester’s pubs said: “The whole thing was quite bad, really. There will be no major changes soon, but maybe in two years time there will be more work for them to get their visas. It’s a big loss for the free movement of people, I intended to travel Europe myself.”

Commenting on having immigrants working in the UK, he said: “I don’t have any issues, we have employed Europeans here. I think the Brits who voted ‘Leave’ were the ones too lazy to get a job.”

Another respondent, a PhD student voiced this concern and said, “many people will question if they want to [come in the UK] because after the vote they feel they are not wanted. They may because they have no choice and feel like they cannot survive at home. A solution for them could be to go somewhere closer, like Germany or France.

It will take time to find a solution that can please everyone. I am not opposed to EU enlargement but it needs some reforms and needs stricter criteria,” noted this respondent.”

After the ‘Leave’ victory in the referendum held on June 23, a spate of hate speeches affected British society, which in the most serious cases resulted in the spreading of leaflets asking Polish people to go back to their countries, and act of vandalism to European shops, as the BBC reported in an article titled “Anti-Polish cards in Huntingdon after EU referendum.”

Nevertheless, since then “the hate speech that followed the referendum has died out, it was a campaign of fear,” a sales assistant said. “I can’t see sudden changes, and now it’s up to the new Tory government. As long as our economy is a strong one, we need people who can work, and there are lots of low-paid jobs to be filled.”

When he was asked what ‘Brexit’ could mean for people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, this respondent said, “when it comes to finally leave the EU in two years time it will be hard for people to come here. But I don’t think there will be problems for the ones who are here now.”

Bulgarians and Romanians in the UK

There are 170,000 Romanians and 65,000 Bulgarians living in the UK, according to 2015 data quoted by Balkan Insight in March. Also, the UK is the fifth-largest destination for Romanian exports, accounting for slightly more than 4 percent of overall exports, evaluated at some 2.3 billion euros per year, according to the article. It notes that “social benefits are not the main drive luring Eastern Europeans to the UK, but jobs and higher wages, however.”

This motivation differs from the one frequently stated regarding MENA migrants, who have often been portrayed in European media as specifically seeking social benefits in generous countries like Sweden and Germany.

The future of both EU and non-EU citizens living in Britain is yet to be determined. Theresa May, who became prime minister after David Cameron’s resignation on June 24, put forward a new policy which would require non-EU citizens to match a £35,000 salary threshold to live in the UK, reported the Independent.

However, these are still early days and general proposals are not a substitute for final policies. Britain may have voted for Brexit, but it does not seem to be in a hurry to make the final divorce final. Nevertheless, persons who could be affected – even from EU countries like Bulgaria and Romania – will be watching events carefully in the upcoming period.


Exclusive: Secret Documents Confirm a Spiritual Cold War between the Vatican and the OSCE editor’s note: this comprehensive and unprecedented study, which draws on leaked internal Vatican documents, official speeches and interviews, reveals the uneasy relationship between two secretive institutions forced to act diplomatically- despite their own diametrically opposed understandings of human morality, freedom and the ideal role of religion in daily life. This analysis complements the comprehensive research contained in our book, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans: Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond.

By Chris Deliso

Although it has never been reported, the Vatican has, unsuccessfully, attempted to relay its stance on the gay agenda, contraception, abortion and secular education via the OSCE’s annual ‘hate crimes’ reports. The latter’s decision to ignore Vatican concerns on such matters is occurring at a moment when the Holy See is far from alone in lamenting the international community’s total failure to protect Christians from genocidal terrorist groups like ISIS.

Ironically, the cold war between the two monolithic organizations in the past decade represents a total reversal of the warm relations they shared in the early 1970’s, when the Holy See played an instrumental role in organizing the OSCE’s direct descendant, the CSCE- a time when religious freedom was very much on the agenda for all.

According to a secret questionnaire obtained from the Holy See’s nunciature in Sofia, Bulgaria, the above-stated issues were just some of those discussed in the wider debate on religious freedom- the politicization of which is clear, especially during Pope Francis’ present visit to the United States, where different interest groups are trying to make their voices heard on social issues affecting the Catholic Church and its relationship with the modern world.

The fact that the Vatican has offered such questionnaires to the OSCE – which nevertheless refuses to cite much of their findings – speaks to the tense relations between these two organizations- which, despite totally divergent ideologies, share certain practices and methods.

However, the total failure of both the Holy See and OSCE/ODIHR to comment for this article reaffirms that both understand they are bound to preserve diplomatic relations, despite a sort of cold war between the two. It may also indicate a certain incompetence at OSCE headquarters in Vienna and Warsaw, where staff appear ill-prepared to respond to issues that are not commonly raised, but that are nevertheless very much in their professional purview.

Some Fundamental Differences: The Vatican and the OSCE

The Holy See is an independent state, based in Vatican City, and its leader, Pope Francis, is the recognized head of the Catholic Church internationally. As a state, the Holy See has its own embassies (nunciatures), memberships in international bodies, agreed treaties and other essential trappings of statehood. It also has an established bureaucracy and the equivalent of government ministries and security bodies. There is a high level of job security (barring misconduct) for Vatican employees, and the cardinals, from whose ranks each new pope is drawn, serve lifetime appointments. Finally, there are clear and traceable institutional structures of the Catholic Church in most countries, radiating down from the Holy See to the smallest parish church. The Church of Rome has existed for roughly 2,000 years.

The OSCE, on the other hand, is quite a different animal. It came into existence formally only 20 years ago. And rather than state or even institutional legitimacy, it is merely a constantly evolving political agreement and thus susceptible to all manner of manipulation, from both within and without. Its staffs’ visible roles in conflict zones have led to numerous charges of espionage and double-dealing as different powers vie for influence over world events.

The OSCE also was born out of a different historical context: it derives ultimately from a 1973 conference, which served as a sort of Cold War-era avenue for communications between the rival power blocs. But, like NATO, it has outlived its original mandate and transformed its orientation. For whereas the CSCE was originally considered an initiative for outreach and common ground between two well-established and distinct world power blocs during the Cold War, it is today a liberal-globalist organization that claims to, but does not, represent the majority of its vast and variegated populations comprising 57 member states. Instead, it represents an ideological view shared only by a small, cross-national liberal elite.

At present, the OSCE plays a role in all manner of causes, from election-monitoring to human rights commenting and ‘conflict management.’ Its 2015 budget is over 140 million euros- a sign of how its ambition and reach have increased since 1991, when the budget of its precursor group was just the equivalent of 12 million euros. The high point was reached in 2000, in the wake of the Kosovo bombing, when the budget topped 202 million euros. However, as the budget heads towards gradual retraction, or at least stasis, career-hungry bureaucrats and political opportunists keep coming up with new and improved uses for the negotiated body- as ever, a political work in progress without permanent mandate, institutional grounding or accountability.

Prehistory: the Vatican’s Ostpolitik and the CSCE

The initiative that would ultimately lead to the creation of the OSCE – the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) – opened in Finland in 1973. The Soviet Union, NATO countries and neutral parties all saw advantages of their own in whatever security forum might derive from the talks. The Vatican was no exception.

The so-called Helsinki Process talks opened in the Finnish capital on July 3, 1973, and were attended by 35 states. The conference’s opening address was delivered by Vatican diplomat Agostino Casaroli, who would become a cardinal and then Secretary of State under Pope John Paul II in 1979. Casaroli had a long and distinguished career of dealing with Socialist countries like Yugoslavia and Hungary- a fact, incidentally that made him a favorite target of KGB bugging. (Indeed, Hungary was the Eastern Bloc state specifically tasked with anti-Vatican espionage, as we discuss in our book).

Speaking at the 1973 conference, Casaroli warned that human rights violations would lead “sooner or later, somewhere in Europe, to grave internal disturbances.” In the charged context of the 1970’s, the Vatican considered the West a sort of ally against Communist repression of religion. It is both striking and odd that, in its public rhetoric towards Christianity in Europe (such as the pope’s trip to Albania last year), the Vatican continues to concentrate on the dark days of communism, when in the contemporary setting it is actually post-Christian Western Europe and the ideals it claims to represent that are antithetical to the Vatican’s values. Perhaps it would simply be awkward to point this out too often to European audiences. At the same time, dwelling on past enemies is not going to help the Vatican face any of its present and future threats.

The evolution of the CSCE continued with a main working group phase, held in Geneva until July 1975. The Helsinki Final Act, which resulted from this, was signed by the 35 participating states during the third stage of the Helsinki Process- a three-day event beginning on July 30, 1975. This final session was opened by Msgr. Casaroli, chairman of the conference. Freedom of conscience, thought, belief and religion were agreed as being among 10 principles of inter-state relations. However, “this merely repeated in cursory language commitments made under previous treaties,” noted Jonathan Luxmoore and Jolanta Babiuch in The Vatican and the Red Flag.

“While these had treaty status, furthermore, the final act was ‘politically binding’ only,” the authors continued. Vatican conservatives were disappointed, thinking that the Soviet bloc had gotten off easy. But the real importance of this for the future, structurally speaking, was that it created a nebulous, non-institutional and diplomatically illegitimate area in which the CSCE (and future OSCE) could operate, with neither responsibility nor accountability- at the same time however increasing its leverage, funding and influence over real-world political, social and crisis events.

Similarly, owing to the geopolitical realities of 1973, the whole CSCE infrastructure and interface were made equally elusive. An annual rotating presidency (in 2015, being held by Serbia) would give individual states some sense of participation, but it also further decentralized responsibility and diffused records.

Meanwhile, the rules for consensus on decision-making were deliberately weak: negotiators took a negative approach. Quoting from the formative Blue Book of the negotiations, author Jan Sizoo recalled in 1984’s CSCE Decision-Making: the Madrid Experience what those present agreed: that in theory “consensus shall be understood to mean the absence of any objection… to the taking of the decision.”

This meant that silence by itself simply meant agreement, institutionalizing abstention and thus making it much easier for weak member countries to defer to the wishes of strong ones without having to risk political consequences. However, some parties were more resolute: “the Vatican representative during the Helsinki Consultations made the principled statement that his silence was not to be interpreted as agreement but rather as an effort not to stand in the way of the consensus.”

This sort of weak decision-making structure in an organization that only enjoyed legitimacy through simple political agreement laid very unstable foundations for the future OSCE. Just as bad, a tendency toward bureaucratic obfuscation that has similarly been inherited was also noted even from the beginning. For example, Sizoo added, “the official publications of the Final Act and subsequent concluding documents do not extend to reservations and interpretative statements made so that only specialized CSCE know anything about them.” The author also noted how difficult it was to find much of the original documentation, that at that time was of fairly recent provenance.

Although the creation of a permanent secretariat since then (and the development of the internet) have to some extent improves access to documentation, good luck getting anything meaningful from OSCE officials: theirs remains a notoriously secretive organization. Investigating its inner workings is an almost impossible task, partially because of the fear and paranoia the organization instills in its own employees- a condition which, somewhat ironically, would be more appropriate to some communist dictatorship of yesteryear. This, however, is a story for another time.

The Vatican’s Approach to the CSCE as Representative of its Overall Diplomatic Tactics

As we shall soon see in the troubled modern history of Holy See-OSCE relations, the former has tended to view the latter as a necessary evil- a body with significant cachet that must be dealt with, but one that has become far less friendly than it could have been since those optimistic early days.

The fact that the Holy See picked someone of Casaroli’s caliber in 1973, and that it would use its considerable diplomatic capital to have him chair the conference of the nascent CSCE, also reaffirms the value that the Vatican has historically placed on being involved in multilateral treaties and diplomatic processes. It has done this in part to make up for its small size and to preserve its sense of equality as a state actor under international law. For its voice to be heard more often on the world stage, groups like the OSCE play a useful role for the Vatican’s diplomatic projection.

Indeed, even if no one really could say what tangible results might come of the Helsinki Process in the 1970s, the Vatican’s keen instincts for taking a leading role in international diplomacy were evident at a time when it was gearing up to select a pope who would help take down communism. (The fear that if elected, Krakow Archbishop Karol Wojtyla would act aggressively against the Soviet Union was accurately predicted by Hungarian intelligence, several years before his papal election- as we discuss in our book).

Cardinal Casaroli was less of a hardliner than the Polish pope’s other advisors, and his ostpolitik outreach was thus mistrusted by some churchmen who favored blocking relations with the communist world as a sort of general protest against repression of religious freedom. Nevertheless, Casaroli’s policy prevailed, and he would play an instrumental diplomatic role in dealing with the declining Soviet empire.

The Post-Soviet Transformation of the CSCE/OSCE: The Power Grab

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Holy See went into high gear in the Balkans, marshalling support in European countries for the independence of Catholic Slovenia and Croatia, while moving quickly to revive its former fortunes in long-atheist Albania, and gradually to play a tacit role in the Kosovo negotiations.

The new European situation also meant that the CSCE, which had played a genuinely multilateral role previously, would be re-oriented towards a decisively liberal, pro-Western ideology. This is extremely important to note because it is not at all clear how this ideology – one that does not nearly represent the majority view of the citizens of the OSCE’s current 57 member states – was institutionalized. Precisely because of the enormous influence that the OSCE still retains over things like approval of election results, this is a question that should be raised, but never is.

The CSCE was renamed the OSCE on January 1, 1995, following a conference held the year before in Budapest. It was the conclusion of a post-Cold War initiative, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, signed in November 1990. The OSCE, though it was neither a state nor subject of international law, was institutionalized according to consensus and given a bureaucratic structure; this would consist of a formal secretariat, senior council, parliamentary assembly, conflict prevention center, and office for free elections (which would later become the so-called Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR). While the OSCE leadership was based in Vienna, the latter was based in Warsaw.

This was followed by the December 1996 Lisbon Declaration on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the Twenty-First Century (official document available here). Referencing both the Final Act of 1975 and the recent Paris agreement, this was where the organization made its definitive power grab, assigning to itself superhuman capabilities, the effects of which we are still suffering from today. (Not coincidentally, this was also the period in which gangster capitalism and Yeltsin’s weak rule brought Russian bargaining power to its lowest ebb).

For example, Article 4 notes that “respect for human rights remains fundamental to our concept of democracy and to the democratization process enshrined in the Charter of Paris. We are determined to consolidate the democratic gains that have occurred since 1989 and peacefully manage their further development in the OSCE region.” That is not ambiguous.

The next clause, number 5, really raises eyebrows: “the OSCE has a key role to play in fostering security and stability in all their dimensions.” This is quite a statement for a quasi-institution lacking any real status, in which consensus can be achieved simply by abstention. The clause urges the OSCE “to continue our efforts and further enhance its efficiency as a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation capabilities.”

In article 9, the OSCE further gave itself the mandate to enforce the social orientation of all member states, “with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The aim was “to anchor the common values of a free and democratic society in all participating states,” and to address alleged human-rights violations such as “involuntary migration, and the lack of full democratization, threats to independent media, electoral fraud, manifestations of aggressive nationalism, racism, chauvinism and anti-Semitism.”

The lack of a specific mention of anti-Christian attacks, and the need to protect Christians, in this clause would irritate the Vatican and in part help fuel the latter’s tenacious drive in subsequent years to have more attention paid to this issue. However, the backwards-looking nature of both the entire OSCE process and the church, which built their agendas out of an obsession with Communism, was ill-suited to a future reality when social values, technology, terrorism and the weather would become the most significant new features of political and social discourse. Lack of legitimacy aside, the nascent OSCE was therefore from the beginning ill-suited to tackling the emerging threats to world security.

In the 11th article, the group mandated itself the task of creating a position of an “OSCE representative for freedom of the media,” as part of its self-appointed mission to handle this burning issue, again within the backwards-looking context of communist oppression. In the 12th, the group expanded its powers widely and vaguely to include “security-related economic, social and environmental issues.” Numerous subsequent motions in the document regarding the Balkans and Caucasus indicate the degree to which the OSCE as a body developed its inherent institutional memory from the challenges of the years in which it first developed. This helps to explain the OSCE’s continued obsession and sense of entitlement in the Balkans today, in much different times.

The Great Legitimization: NATO Recognition of OSCE Power

Crucially, the OSCE was given further legitimacy by NATO the following year in the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Here the OSCE is credited as “the only pan-European security organisation,” one which “has a key role in European peace and stability.” It is thus highly significant to note that, again, the institutionalization and practical canonization of the OSCE occurred at the nadir of Russian strength under Yeltsin, and at a time when UN peacekeeping bodies (the ostensibly legitimate security actors) were being widely criticized for failures in different parts of the world. The document continued by adding that “in strengthening the OSCE, NATO and Russia will cooperate to prevent any possibility of returning to a Europe of division and confrontation, or the isolation of any state.”

In consideration of the OSCE’s work on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the Twenty-First Century, and the Lisbon Summit’s Charter on European security, NATO and Russia pledged to “seek the widest possible cooperation among participating States of the OSCE with the aim of creating in Europe a common space of security and stability, without dividing lines or spheres of influence limiting the sovereignty of any state.”

However, at the OSCE’s Istanbul summit two years later, the demand for a political settlement to the Chechnya crisis confirmed Russian concerns that the OSCE was in fact a tool of the West. Yet rather than exit the quasi-institution, Moscow decided to take advantage of its participation within it wherever it could, which is the same policy all other members have followed, to the extent to which they can- essentially reduplicating the same differences and animosities the whole enterprise was ideally meant to minimize in the first place.

This is the short version of how the outcome of a Cold War negotiation process eventually turned into a de facto institution wielding influence far beyond that of many states, while nevertheless not even existing as such. However, despite internal diplomatic and intelligence operations that would be expected within such a large and divergent body, the OSCE’s neo-liberal and ‘progressive’ worldview has remained stubbornly entrenched. And this is a large part of how the OSCE came into confrontation with the Vatican.

Vatican Concern over the OSCE’s Perceived Deviation from its Original Mandate: the 2008 Frontiero Intervention

While the Holy See has a clear hierarchy and, except for the odd exception, keeps discipline with the Catholic ranks, the OSCE is remarkable in that the liberal ideology it lives by is not even shared by all of its own employees, let alone the grand ‘international community’ it claims to represent. Some magical, invisible force seems to keep the organization’s public utterances pristine and political correct, however.

This comes into focus in terms of issues that are important for the Vatican (as well as other religious institutions). For example, while the OSCE is very active on the gay-rights agenda, only about a third of member states allow gay marriage, several have constitutional bans against it, and some large countries (such as Russia) have laws against ‘gay propaganda.’ And even in the United States, which seems inevitably headed for universal gay marriage, a large and vocal opposition continues to be mounted by Christian and other opponents.

The OSCE’s contemporary reorientation towards the championing of groups and causes not envisioned in its founding documents of 1973 has caused great consternation in the Holy See in recent years, but hardly only due to the ‘culture wars’ aspects of it. Rather, the OSCE is seen by the Curia as upholding moral relativism socially, while also impotently watching the wholesale destruction of Christianity in the Middle East from the sidelines.

Even before the final coming of Islamic State, this has been a point which the Vatican has tried, more or less unsuccessfully, to put higher on the OSCE agenda. For example, Msgr. Anthony Frontiero of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace made an impassioned speech in an October 2008 working group on ‘Combating Hate Crimes against Christians and Members of Other Religions’ with ODIHR in Warsaw. “The issue of religious freedom, of course, and the right to believe in God and to practice that belief, is a fundamental human right, one that is very much a part of the OSCE commitments,” affirmed the Vatican delegate.

In order to better understand the current situation and archival documents presented, it is worth citing Msgr. Frontiero’s 2008 argument in detail:

“The Holy See has expressed its deep concern over these situations in a concrete way through its active participation in the meetings of the National Points of Contact on combating hate crime organized by the ODIHR, and by joining in the comprehensive consultation process on this issue with governments and civil society alike. While the Holy See appreciates the efforts of the OSCE and ODIHR in combating hate crimes, it is increasingly concerned that the ODIHR is moving away from its strong commitment to combating hate crimes against Christians and members of other religions, and shifting its focus instead, and without the consensus of participating States, to other concerns. Hate crimes, intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions continue all too frequently and yet the ODIHR is increasingly downplaying these incidents and promoting other agendas that do not find a mandate in the OSCE commitments.

This is abundantly clear from the 2007 Annual Report on Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region—Incidents and Responses, and it is cause for alarm for the Delegation of the Holy See, which has repeatedly asked the ODIHR to refrain from putting the incidents of Christians and members of other religions on the back burner, and to remain appropriately focused on this OSCE agreed commitments. This said, the Holy See reiterates its call for a more balanced and transparent approach on the part of the ODIHR, in accordance with Ministerial Decisions and existing commitments.”

Although the words ‘gay rights’ are not mentioned, it is clear that the monsignor’s complaints have to do with the championing of issues such as these, that were not anticipated in 1973 and that have crept up into the OSCE mandate more or less as a result of changing cultural norms in the Western world. As a result, the Holy See (and Christianity in general) is in the present moment perceiving external hostility not only from those who set out to violently attack Christians, but the many more who discredit its tenets and beliefs.

The Arab Spring and the Evolution of Vatican Policy towards the OSCE under Benedict XVI

The Holy See’s concerns voiced in 2008 and earlier intensified as the predictably destructive Arab Spring got underway in early 2011. The Vatican was working on a policy developed under Pope Benedict XVI, long known as particularly sensitive to the issue of Christian survival in intolerant conditions. Practically coinciding with the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a roundtable was held at the Alcide De Gasperi Centre in Rome to discuss the issues. Entitled Preventing and Responding to Hate and Crimes against Christians, it was held under the then-Lithuanian chairmanship of the OSCE on September 12, 2011.

According to the official transcript, then-Secretary for Relations between States Msgr. Dominique Mamberti reminded attendees that “the Holy See is a participating State of OSCE since its inception in 1975 and seeks to contribute vigorously to OSCE activities and projects both through direct participation and through its Permanent Mission in Vienna.”

The Holy See’s strategy and pressure for further engagement, developed since 2007, further had born fruit in May 2011 when, Msgr. Mamberti added, “the three Personal Representatives of the Chairman-in-Office for combating intolerance and discrimination conducted their first visit to the Vatican, an event which further highlighted the continuous cooperation between OSCE and the Holy See.”

The State Secretary further noted the historical and legal view of OSCE responsibilities, which again confirms the strategic view of the Catholic Church towards continued participation in the group. “A main reason for this Round Table Discussion is the fact that the guarantee of religious freedom has always been, and still is, at the core of OSCE activities,” he said.

“Ever since it was enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and reaffirmed in no uncertain terms in subsequent documents, among which the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document and the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension of the then CSCE, the safeguarding of religious liberty has continued to occupy a central place in the comprehensive approach of OSCE to security issues.”
Regarding hate crimes against Christians, Mamberti referred to Pope Benedict’s 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace, in which the former pontiff said that “at present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom. This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development.”

While Mamberti conceded that the majority of hate crimes against Christians happen outside the OSCE area, he stated that there are “warning signs even within that area.” He cited the ODIHR’s annual hate crime report as providing “irrefutable proof of a growing intolerance against Christians,” and that to ignore this “sends a negative signal” to non-member states as well.

Further, in articulating that “a renewed awareness of the problem be raised everywhere,” Mamberti referenced the Resolution of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly “adopted this year in Belgrade as an important step towards “initiat[ing] a public debate on intolerance and discrimination against Christians, as stated in the document. Hopefully, concrete measures will be developed to combat intolerance against Christians as a follow-up of this Conference.”

What did the Vatican see as the solution? Mamberti again referenced comments from Benedict XVI regarding how best “to promote and consolidate religious liberty, the concept of which must be clear from the outset.”

“In his address of January 10, 2011, to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Holy Father argued that religious liberty is ‘the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator.’

Mamberti also quoted Benedict as having said religious freedom worldwide is “often called into question or violated” and that “society, its leaders and public opinion are becoming more and more aware, even if not always in a clear way, of this grave attack on the dignity and freedom of homo religiosus.”

Theological and Real-World Implications of Pope Benedict’s Stance: the Church Vs. Moral Relativism and Radical Secularism

Pope Benedict XVI was and is known as a theologian first and foremost, and his careful consideration of the wider definition of religious freedom – which informs the sort of hate crimes ostensibly covered by the OSCE – is part of what made a train wreck between the two institutions inevitable.

This is made obvious from the remainder of Mamberti’s 2011 lecture to the assembled OSCE audience. The argument presented seeks a much wider definition for hate crimes and anti-religious activities- an attitude revealed in the leaked Vatican documents we make available below. “It follows that religious freedom cannot be restricted to the simple freedom of worship,” the cleric said, “although the latter is obviously an important part of it.” Rather, he continued, “religious freedom includes, among others, the right to preach, educate, convert, contribute to the political discourse and participate fully in public activities.”

If the idea of Christianity appearing in public policy formulation were not enough to make OSCE liberal bureaucrats squirm in their chairs, the State Secretary’s further contentions certainly were. “Nor is true religious liberty synonymous with relativism or with the post-modern idea that religion is a marginal component of public life,” he challenged the audience. “Pope Benedict XVI has often underscored the danger of a radical secularism that relegates, a priori, all kinds of religious manifestations to the private sphere.”

Further, Mamberti added, “relativism and secularism deny two fundamental aspects of the religious phenomenon, and hence of the right to religious freedom, that call for respect: the transcendental and the social dimensions of religion in which the human person seeks to be related, according to the dictates of his conscience, to the reality, so to say, above and around him. Religion is more than just a private opinion or Weltanschauung. It always has an impact on society and its moral principles.”

He further expressed the Holy See’s gratitude to the OSCE for denouncing the kind of ‘hard’ persecution suffered by Christians (attacks, murder, etc.). However, he added, that is only one part of the full hate-crimes portfolio: “if it is true that the risk of hate crimes is connected to the denial of religious liberty, we should not forget that there are serious problems even in areas of the world where fortunately there is no violent persecution of Christians. Sadly, acts motivated by bias against Christians are fast becoming a reality also in those countries where they constitute a majority.”

Mamberti again referred to Pope Benedict’s same speech to the Diplomatic Corps, in which the uncompromising pope singled out the moral relativists of the West: “turning our gaze from East to West, we find ourselves faced with other kinds of threats to the full exercise of religious freedom. I think in the first place of countries which accord great importance to pluralism and tolerance, but where religion is increasingly being marginalized. There is a tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilizing to modern society, and to attempt by different means to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society.”

What the Vatican policy was getting at, therefore, was to instrumentalize an untrustworthy but necessary commodity – the ultra-liberal, unavoidable and influential OSCE – to transmit its theological views of an expanded ‘hate crimes’ definition, ideally, with real-world examples.

Indeed, Mamberti hoped, the 2011 conference would “help to shed light on the incidence of hate crimes against Christians even in regions where international public opinion would not normally expect them to happen. For hate crimes almost invariably feed on an environment where religious freedom is not fully respected and religion is discriminated against.”

In case there was still any misunderstanding about the Vatican’s venture, Mamberti added that “it is important that we continue our conversation on the substance of religious liberty, on its fundamental connection with the idea of truth, and on the difference between religious freedom and relativism that merely tolerates religion while considering it with some degree of hostility.”

Whether or not the latter reference was a veiled reference to the OSCE, it is indisputable, as we will see, that the OSCE’s own structure of hate crimes would definitely put it in that category, as far as the Vatican is concerned.

To appreciate the complexity of the Benedictine theological approach to the issue (which assuredly goes way over the heads of OSCE bureaucrats, who are in any case not interested in the subject), it is worth quoting in detail Mamberti’s citation of the pope’s 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace. In it, the Vatican diplomat notes:

“Religious freedom – the Holy Father said – should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth. […] A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others.

A will which believes itself radically incapable of seeking truth and goodness has no objective reasons or motives for acting save those imposed by its fleeting and contingent interests; it does not have an ‘identity’ to safeguard and build up through truly free and conscious decisions. As a result, it cannot demand respect from other ‘wills’, which are themselves detached from their own deepest being and thus capable of imposing other ‘reasons’ or, for that matter, no ‘reason’ at all.

The illusion that moral relativism provides the key for peaceful coexistence is actually the origin of divisions and the denial of the dignity of human beings.”

From this definition, Mamberti concluded that “precisely this vision which identifies freedom with relativism or militant agnosticism, and which casts doubt on the possibility of ever knowing the truth, could be an underlying factor in the increased occurrence of those hate incidents and crimes which will be the object of our debate today.”

An Unwelcome Reorientation of OSCE Values

If there really was a debate on that day in 2011, then the Vatican does not seem to have won over anyone in OSCE-land, as a careful review of their hate crimes reports shows no entries of any violations having to do with justifications arising from Benedict’s expansive theology. Rather, the hate crimes noted are merely the usual, garden-variety acts of vandalism and harassment. Yet this still does not answer the question of whether such data was collected by the Vatican and deliberately excluded by the OSCE due to ideological differences, or simply was never collected or presented by the Vatican at all. Since neither side would comment for this article, it will probably remain a mystery for the ages.

Whatever the case may be, the OSCE does seem to have an institutional anti-Christian bias, or at least negligence, in its priorities and emphasis. Of great significance in Msgr. Frontiero’s 2008 speech was the very fact that he was specifically talking about violations against ‘Christians and members of other religions.’

This is not just a question of random wording. Rather, it follows the exact category structure of victim groups on the OSCE website, which distinguishes hate crimes according to the following ‘bias motivators’: racism and xenophobia; bias against Roma and Sinti; Anti-Semitism; bias against Muslims; bias against Christians and members of other religions; bias against other groups, and bias against LGBT people.

Adding insult to injury for the Vatican, whereas Christians – the majority population in the OSCE region – are lumped in with ‘members of other religions,’ Muslims receive generous special treatment. They even get their own focus groups and government trainings by the OSCE, as well as special assistance documents: one is entitled, ‘How Can We Address Hate Crimes against Muslims?’ Another is called ‘Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims: Addressing Islamophobia through Education.’ The latter text is available in six languages and comprises consultations from around 40 experts, including academics and representatives of UNESCO, various NGOs and other ‘stakeholders.’ It must have been fairly expensive to produce. There are zero documents of comparable depth or importance on the relevant OSCE page regarding Christianity.

2015: A Partial Result for the Holy See

Years of lobbying, combined with the increasingly obvious existential crisis for Christians in the Middle East, led the OSCE to again entertain the Vatican’s request for a conference, on May 18, 2015, devoted to discrimination against Christians. An official summary discussed the proceedings. Delegations from various OSCE member states and NGO’s working on intolerance and discrimination against Christians spoke in three sessions “about the importance of enhancing efforts to prevent and combat intolerance and discrimination against Christians in the OSCE region, focusing on hate crimes, exclusion, marginalization and denial of rights.”

The Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), which covers 45 countries, was represented at the 2015 OSCE conference by Fr. Michel Remery, CCEE Vice-Secretary General, and Miss Raffaella Di Noia, an up-and-coming young Italian scholar with experience dealing with UN institutions for the Holy See in Geneva. Fr. Remery is notable as being the Holy See’s National Point of Contact for hate crimes against Christians. As such he was part of the Holy See’s official delegation, led by Msgr. Janusz Urbańczyk, Permanent Representative of the Holy See at the OSCE and other international organizations based in Vienna.

Msgr. Urbańczyk had previously been Vatican emissary to the UN in New York. A Polish priest ordained in 1992, he was nominated by Pope Francis on January 12, 2015 to the sensitive posting in Vienna, where he now has to deal with the often prickly and self-important OSCE administrative personalities on a regular basis. However, Urbańczyk’s remit also involves diplomacy with other, serious international bodies: these include the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

The May 2015 Conference as Confirmation of Vatican Policy Continuity on Religious Freedom

While researching this subject over the past year or so, we have had to ask an important question: whether some of the policy areas outlined in the 2011 Vatican questionnaire could have been uniquely commissioned by the more conservative Benedict XVI, according to his theological arguments of that year already quoted at length, and that they therefore may have been excluded from subsequent years’ questionnaires by the more liberal-minded pontiff in Pope Francis.

While this question is an important one, it will have to remain unanswered due to the unavailability of other more recent questionnaires and non-cooperation of Vatican officials. Nevertheless, any theological or policy deviation seems highly unlikely, judging by the tone and statements of the May 2015 conference. Even in the time of the supposedly more liberal Francis, these positions indicate a continued concern with issues regarding religious freedom specific to Christianity articulated in 2011 (and at all times earlier). There is thus no reason to suspect any doctrinal change in the past four years.

For example, in the conference the Holt See stated that “it is well documented that year after year Christians are the religious group most persecuted and discriminated against on the global level. In certain regions, including those at the doorstep of the OSCE region, one could even speak of genocidal tendencies in these persecutions. Thankfully, the Christians living in the OSCE region are spared such atrocities.”

More significantly, the Vatican participants also noted that “particularly worrisome is the fact that across the OSCE region a sharp dividing line has been drawn between religious belief and religious practice, so that Christians are frequently reminded in public discourse or even in the courts, that they can believe whatever they like in private, and worship as they wish in their own churches, but they simply cannot act on those beliefs in public.” This indicates that Benedict’s affirmation of Christian freedom to participate in public policy has not been altered by the current pontiff.

As we will see from the official Vatican documentation below, this remains a very sensitive spot which the OSCE refuses to consider in its reportage, straining relations with the Holy See still further as the cold war between the two drags on. That the two parties remain fundamentally at odds was confirmed by this striking conference statement:

“Tolerance towards one view should not lead to intolerance towards others. Intolerance in the name of ‘tolerance’ must be named for what it is and publicly condemned. To deny religiously informed moral arguments a place in the public square is intolerant, anti-democratic and anti-religious.”

These are strong words and no doubt greatly irritated the liberal OSCE representatives forced to be in attendance. In a cruel irony, the organization that the Vatican was quick to get behind in 1973 for the sake of religious freedom has turned out to be one of its gravest adversaries on the same issue, in a socially and politically distinct era.

However, despite their awareness that priorities in the OSCE have changed considerably in today’s post-Christian Europe, the Vatican remains true to its policy of using membership in international organizations such as this to make a case for its foreign policy and moral argument. Rather than censure the organization or even leave it, the Vatican seems to be retaining a patient but persistent policy of advocacy. It is better to make the best of a bad situation, it reasons, than to be excluded and have no voice at all. The Holy See thus concluded with the following invocation:

“We call upon the participating States to act clearly against such hate crimes and to protect the Christians in their territories. Furthermore, we encourage them to report these incidents and seriously engage in ensuring that all their citizens, including Christians, can live peacefully, freely professing and practising their faith.”

‘Hate Crimes’ Defined, Preferential Treatment and OSCE/ODIHR Operational Methodology

Like everything else about this quasi-institution, the OSCE’s definition of ‘hate crimes’ is somewhat opaque. According to the OSCE:

Hate crimes are criminal acts motivated by bias or prejudice towards particular groups of people. To be considered a hate crime, the offence must meet two criteria: First, the act must constitute an offence under criminal law; second, the act must have been motivated by bias.

Bias motivations can be broadly defined as preconceived negative opinions, stereotypical assumptions, intolerance or hatred directed to a particular group that shares a common characteristic, such as race, ethnicity, language, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or any other fundamental characteristic. People with disabilities may also be victims of hate crimes.”

Essentially, what the OSCE (through its ODIHR office in Warsaw) has done since 2004 is to collect, confirm and publish reports of hate crimes in the above categories, drawing on information gained from National Points of Contact in each OSCE member state. Such persons are entrusted with being the liaison and guaranteeing a smooth and accurate flow of data. The OSCE claims to work with religious organizations and NGOs, but to confirm the findings through getting official feedback from law enforcement officials in each country. Although some OSCE-member governments keep official logs of ‘hate crimes,’ many others do not. Thus, the final reports are uneven, and do note some cases in which a nominated hate crime cannot be confirmed by the authorities.

For a categorical example, according to the OSCE, “the Holy See has no hate crime laws and does not provide official data on hate crime to ODIHR. The Holy See reports on hate incidents related to bias against Christians in other participating States.” In fact, reading through numerous ODIHR reports indicates that the Vatican is one of the most active contributors of hate-crime information in numerous countries, though ODIHR often fails to confirm the Vatican’s assertion of bias.

ODIHR’s annual hate crime reporting cycle includes a multi-stage approach, which culminates with publication on November 18th, the so-called ‘Tolerance Day’:

“First, the Office issues a call for submissions to OSCE participating States, civil society organizations and its partner intergovernmental organizations. Second, ODIHR analyses reported data and information, and assesses whether it can be included in the report. Third, the Office releases data for consultation with participating States and other contributors. Lastly, ODIHR reviews suggested amendments to the report, updates to include late submissions, and prepares the information for final presentation.”

While this might all sound well and good, a careful reading of multiple ODIHR reports indicates that the structure, in which states are called upon to verify the charges made by claimants, is rigged against the Holy See. More often than not, the counter-confirmation of the ‘reporting country’ is given the benefit of the doubt, when denying that a particular offense was in fact religiously-motivated. On the other hand, NGOs reporting on more liberal-friendly causes like gay rights tend to be given the benefit of the doubt when claiming that an offense was committed due to bias. (We also know of cases in which Balkan NGOs, but not Christian ones, have literally and covertly attacked their own premises in the hopes of getting more sympathy and thus more grants money).

At the same time, the ODIHR assessors seem to give the benefit of the doubt much more frequently to reporting bodies (religious and NGOs) alleging ‘Islamophobic’ or ‘homophobic’ attacks. OSCE advocacy even goes as far as a full booklet entitled Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims: Addressing Islamophobia through Education.

There are thus several questionable aspects regarding the structure of OSCE/ODIHR hate crimes reporting, over a sustained period of time. Victim group preferences and strident political correctness are clearly visible. This can safely be considered a chosen policy, though who particularly chose it remains unclear.

Finally, regarding methodology it must be noted that NPCs in participating states “are given individual access to a web-based questionnaire,” which covers five main areas. The first is data collection methods (identifying which authorities collect data, what types of crimes and bias motivations are noted, etc). The second regards existing and proposed hate crime legislation. The third incorporates reported hate crime data, in the (relatively few) countries where hate crimes are specifically identified.

Fourth, the questionnaire considers policies and initiatives (including trainings, victim-support programmes, government and NGO activity and so on). Finally, the NPCs are asked to identify notable cases “that merited a specific response from police and other criminal justice agencies.”

The OSCE/ODIHR Hate Crime Report Methodology and the Vatican’s Turn to Creative Phrasing

The foregoing gives a good context for a deeper understanding of the leaked Vatican documents obtained by in the present report. Although they date from the year 2012, and refer to the year 2011, they confirm several important details about the relationship between the Holy See and the OSCE/ODIHR, not to mention the Vatican’s relationship with Balkan states and its own self-perceived role as a defender of Christian rights and values.

Considering the organized nature of the OSCE’s online questionnaires for NPCs, it is quite striking to note from the internal documents that the Vatican aims to circumvent this structure with its own format; nevertheless, for all its efforts, the Vatican’s uniquely-phrased questions have zero chance of appearing in any report published by a liberal organization like the OSCE.

Nevertheless, the precise and legalistic formulations of these questions is remarkable, no matter how unlikely they are to elicit a response that could be accepted by the OSCE under its own specific understanding of ‘hate crimes.’

To illustrate the yawning, irreconcilable gulf between the value systems of the Holy See and the OSCE, we can simply reproduce a few of the former’s entries on the 2011 hate crimes questionnaire. It is very likely that the Vatican also uses the questions on this questionnaire as a template for other of its questionnaires circulated around the world. The below questionnaire is thus probably not unique to the Balkans, despite having been circulated there.

One provocative question asks: “is it legally possible in your country for a pharmacist to decline the sale of abortifacients (the morning after pill, RU486) for ethical, conscientious or religious reasons?

Also regarding abortion, another question asks: “are there legal provisions that prohibit or otherwise limit the ability of Christians to demonstrate peacefully in public in front of clinics or other ‘health institutions’ that provide services contrary to human life?”

Another question sure to make any ODIHR liberal spontaneously combust would be the third one: “are there legal provisions that prohibit or otherwise limit the ability of Christians to publically express the immorality of homosexual acts, even while respecting the inherent dignity of homosexual people?”

As we have not seen any completed form, but only the empty one provided by the Holy See’s nunciature in Sofia, Bulgaria, it is impossible to know whether any local authorities even bothered to answer these questions. Certainly, Church diplomats already known well that even if they were supported by voluminous evidence, such topics would have no chance of being acceptable to the ODIHR evaluators. Still, the Holy See is duty-bound to try, as was made clear by Pope Benedict’s theological argument for religious freedoms, and thus, the perceived violations of them.

The Holy See’s Liaison with Intelligence Services as a Precautionary Measure to Expected OSCE Resistance

At the same time, the Holy See is well aware that the OSCE’s verification process sets the bar higher for Christian complainers than for others. From the point of view of the security community, this is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the whole operation. The Vatican’s field representatives’ decision to have questionnaires passed through secret channels to police and intelligence officials is due to an awareness that state bodies are, under the OSCE’s process, obliged to confirm or deny the anti-Christian character of any particular violation.

Therefore, the Holy See reasons it has a better chance of getting a sympathetic confirmation from the authorities – which would bolster its case in the final OSCE reportage – if it has advance knowledge that the state in question will support its specific claims. The need for this is quite obvious; a careful examination of OSCE reports in recent years shows that the reporting states generally have not confirmed many specific anti-Christian biases in attacks against churches and other violations, ones which the Holy See has specifically pointed to as being examples of Christian persecution. For both those persons charged with collecting the data and the curia, this must be a deeply frustrating lack of result.

It should be noted that the OSCE’s process here is not a secret. The organization’s website states that “the Holy See also collects information on hate incidents based on bias against Christians through its network of regional representatives. This information is submitted by ODIHR to authorities in the respective participating States for verification and information on the status of investigation and of hate motive.”

Aware that this practice will occur and may endanger the inclusion of a reported hate crime, the nuncio’s offices are tasked with liaising indirectly with the intelligence services of the countries in which they operate and hope to cover. While there is no evidence that the Vatican tries to exert pressure to get ‘a result’ through this practice, it is also clear that strategically the church wishes to gain an advantage over a hostile OSCE by previewing potential complaints with security services; however, the latter do not seem to have put any kind of priority on this mission, however. Instead, in some countries the practice has just served to cultivate internal suspicions over the scale of Vatican ambitions.

However, the Holy See does not have to rely merely on official connections. This (attempted) liaison activity is meant to complement the Catholic Church’s formidable intelligence-gathering apparatus, which includes church structures, charities, prominent individuals, and collaborators like the Knights of Malta, which has an official envoy in Sofia as well as other Balkan countries.

Vatican spying activity in Bulgaria “is not too problematic,” says one nonchalant Bulgarian security official for “We are aware of it, and we keep it under control.” Nevertheless, might the fact that the current documents were leaked from that country be understood as a sort of message? “I don’t know,” replied the officer. “Maybe it bothers the [Bulgarian Orthodox] Church more than us. Or politicians. Ask them.”

Vatican Nuncio Activities in Bulgaria, and the Uruguay Connection

There could be other reasons for discontent, however. As we chronicle in The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, there have been issues between the two in recent years. First, in 2012, the Holy See rejected the Bulgarian government’s appointment of ambassadorial candidate Kyril Marichkov, the grandson of another Kyril Marichkov, who had held the same position at the Holy See in the ‘warm years’ after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1993-1997). Officially, the Vatican had criticized the younger Marichkov’s lack of professional experience. The Holy See also argued that the young man did not meet the requirement for diplomatic delegates in Rome, since he was living in Italy already. However, the real reason for rejecting Marichkov, many in Italy believed, was because he had written a novel about a Bulgarian émigré in Italy- a book which contained homosexual scenes.

More recently, Msgr. Anselmo Guido Pecorari, the Vatican nuncio in Sofia since April 2014 and a 35-year veteran of papal diplomatic service, has been occasionally involved with discussing domestic politics. On 23 July 2014, when Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski suddenly resigned (the second prime minister to have done so in less than one year, Msgr. Pecorari stated that “Bulgaria does not need troublemakers now, but builders of bridges between different communities,” reported SIR (Servizio Informazione Religiosa) on 4 August 2014. SIR also clarified that the nuncio’s focus “will be above all directed towards the local Catholic Church, and will involve a dialogue with Orthodox and Muslim brothers.”

An equally distinguished a personality was Msgr. Pecorari’s predecessor, Archbishop Janusz Bolonek, who retired in 2013 having served his final five years as Nuncio to Bulgaria (and, for the final three, as Nuncio to Macedonia too). Bolonek had had a long and distinguished career serving in difficult assignments in Ivory Coast, Niger and Burkina Faso (from 1989-1995). It was Msgr. Bolonek himself, in fact, who in January 2012 commissioned and signed the hate crimes questionnaire request that we bring to light for the first time below.

The activities of the two no-nonsense nuncios were by then already intertwined, however, in an area that would make some of the questionnaire’s subjects particularly significant.

Before his 2014 Bulgaria-Macedonia appointment, Msgr. Pecorari had served (from 2008) as nuncio to Uruguay. Immediately preceding him in Uruguay (from May 1999 to 2008) was Msgr. Bolonek, who in this peculiar game of musical chairs would go on from there to Bulgaria.

In Uruguay, Msgr. Bolonek had taken an activist role against abuses of office in a scandal that both he and Msgr. Pecorari had to handle with extreme discretion. This case underscores the tendency for Balkan nuncios to have prior experience dealing with sensitive situations.

At some point after arriving in 1999, Msgr. Bolonek learned of a scandal involving Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay who had reportedly engaged in an illicit gay affair with a young Swiss Guardsman. Considering the affair improper at best and harmful to the Church’s image at worst (it had become an open secret in Uruguayan society), Msgr. Bolonek repeatedly demanded Msgr. Ricca be removed. However, as later Italian media investigations revealed, close colleagues in the so-called Vatican ‘Gay Lobby’ assisted Ricca by quieting the scandal, and actually helped elevate Ricca, until he eventually became the director of the papal residence, Casa Santa Martha.

The scandal, which shook Rome in July 2013, was particularly sensitive because Msgr. Ricca had actually recently been nominated to head the Vatican Bank (formally, the Institute for the Works of Religion) by Pope Francis, who had reportedly been kept in the dark about the whole affair. In his July 2013 report, l’Espresso’s Sandro Magister chronicled the long history of internal cover-ups that abetted Ricca’s discreet promotions. During his Uruguay nunciature, Msgr. Pecorari had thus been sitting on a ticking time bomb, and his handling of the sensitive affair indicated to the pope his ability to deal with complex situations; certainly, there are enough complexities involved with his current Balkan posting to indicate the appropriateness of the posting.

This highly unusual shared experience of two consecutive nuncios in the same two countries is worth mentioning, as the Ricca affair would have been an issue of quiet concern affecting for both men at the time in which the present questionnaire, with its comments about gay issues, was being written up- quite possibly and ironically, to be handed back to the so-called ‘gay lobby’ in Vatican City attested by Italian media. As the saying goes, you could not make this stuff up.

Conclusion: The OSCE/ODIHR Reports Indicate a Lack of Result for the Holy See

In the OSCE report on Christian violations, none of the above-cited concerns are reported. Again, it cannot be confirmed whether this is because no such incidents occurred, or whether there were simply no reported incidents during the period in question. Depending on how zealous one was in investigating, he could however find examples of violations, even on the most controversial questions, in Macedonia and Bulgaria. However, the actual existence of any Vatican questionnaire on hate crimes almost unknown publicly, due to the obsessive secrecy of the Holy See- which, paradoxically, limits its ability to collect data from local Christians.

Thus, successive ODIHR hate crime reports have not gone into great depth in researching hate crimes against Christians. They have tended to specify crimes like graffiti and vandalism against places of worship, the desecration of cemeteries and arson attacks against churches as the most common types of crimes motivated by bias against ‘Christians and members of other religions.’

However, and not surprisingly, the OSCE has categorically avoided any of the other, more controversial issues that the Holy See regards as intrinsic to its view of religious freedom. These include high-profile issues mentioned above like contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Both the OSCE and the Vatican have their own philosophies and definitions for human freedom, religious rights and morality, which are generally antithetical and mutually exclusive.

Thus, in the absence of a more open and honest discussion, it is likely that the OSCE will continue to grumpily tolerate (and ignore) the Vatican’s morally-based complaints, while the latter will continue to futilely make its case regardless, seeking to exploit the OSCE’s perceived influence in world affairs. And so, it looks like, the cold war will continue.



Vatican OSCE letter Balkanalysis 1

Document 1. The first page of the letter sent from Sofia by former Nuncio Bolonek, dated January 13, 2012. Addressed to Macedonian Catholic Archbishop Kiro Stojanov, the letter asks for assistance in compiling data regarding hate crimes against Christians in Macedonia during 2011. The letter, written in Italian, bears the official insignia of the Sofia nunciature.


Vatican OSCE letter Balkanalysis 2Document 2. The second and final page of Msgr. Bolonek’s letter expands on the kinds of hate crimes for which the Vatican seeks data. The letter requests that the reply be sent back by January 26- a tall order, being barely two weeks from the commissioning date. The letter is signed by the nuncio himself.


Vatican OSCE letter Balkanalysis 3Document 3. The title page of the Vatican questionnaire, with the hand-written words ‘Allegato No. 1’ and ‘Macedonia’ scrawled across it by an unknown cleric. The document, specifically titled as being from the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, asks for information on 11 kinds of anti-Christian hate crimes for the questionnaire. Interestingly, under the category ‘abduction,’ a general example is given: “November 7, 2009, Turkey.”


Vatican OSCE letter Balkanalysis 4Document 4. The first specific questions page, again topped by the handwritten words, ‘Allegato No. 2.’ This page raises the most explosive (by modern standards) questions regarding contraception, abortion, gay issues, laws against Christian beliefs on these issues and so on.


Vatican OSCE letter Balkanalysis 5Document 5. The third page of the questionnaire asks further questions about whether Christian groups are prevented from receiving public funding based on their beliefs, and asks if laws prohibit home schooling and religious education classes in public and private schools.


Vatican OSCE letter Balkanalysis 6Document 6. The final page of the Vatican questionnaire asks for the number of hate crimes perpetrated in the year and, most importantly, for the identities of the state security bodies consulted for confirmation of these incidents. It also asks the respondent to sign it.

It is not known if this questionnaire was ever completed as directed by Msgr. Bolonek, and whether any possible non-cooperation has influenced the Sofia nunciature’s outreach, or lack thereof, since 2012.

Document Analysis Reveals Bulgarian Perception of Mid-Term Security Threats

By Chris Deliso

Bulgaria is a country in a unique situation, with one eye historically on the western Balkans, and the other on eastern issues, such as Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Like Romania to its north, it was hustled into NATO and the EU due to this fortunate geography, despite failing to have really fulfilled all the mandated reforms.

The country’s national security policy in the post-Communist age of democracy has expanded on this vision of itself as perfectly suited to providing useful services to the Western alliance- especially when it can benefit in other ways.

For example, though it is not widely known, Bulgarian intelligence has been one of the key sources of NATO intelligence on goings-on in Damascus, as its previous good relations during Communism with Arab states (and current ground activities) have sustained an advantageous position that Bulgaria has exploited as leverage for the achievement of otherwise unrelated policy goals. The value NATO saw in Bulgaria was also evidenced in its proposed role in training the new Libyan army in November 2013, as discussed on this official US military press release. This has not turned out as planned, though the situation in Libya is certainly not Bulgaria’s fault.

The present document analysis discusses the policies that were officially agreed by the National Security Council and government in a text published on September 4, 2014. The publication of this text, two weeks before the NATO Summit in Cardiff, Wales was not coincidental.

The strategy describes the national security threats to Bulgaria and the steps needed to address them. It is stressed that Bulgaria alone cannot manage these threats, and invites the EU and NATO to do their part.

The major threats outlined include: Russia, militarily and in terms of energy control; cyberwar; separatist movements and instability in the Western Balkans, as well as immigration and Islamic terrorism. In late 2014 (and still today) these themes resonate with most members of the NATO alliance.

This assessment concludes by noting the prioritization and perception by the Bulgarian security establishment, and what this means for related political and diplomatic policies, in order to better understand their thinking. This in turn helps our understanding of Bulgarian policy and intended involvement in the region during the ‘enlargement freeze’ period.

Document Facts

The text, which comes to 43 pages in Bulgarian, is entitled Visiya: Bulgariya v NATO i v Evropeiskata Otbrana 2020 (Vision: Bulgaria in NATO and European Defense 2020). It is available on official Bulgarian government websites (including here, .PDF). Note that quotes below come from a private official draft, which is so mewhat shorter but which contains nearly identical text.

According to the draft document, the strategy was developed after parliament’s adoption of a White Paper on Defense and Armed Forces (from 28 October 2010), “taking into account the changes in the security environment, the implementation of the Development Plan of the Armed Forces and in connection with the expiration of the period of the plan’s mandate at end 2014.”

According to the document, the strategy was developed by an interdepartmental working group led by the ministers of foreign affairs and defense, which also included the deputy minister for defense policy, the Council on Defense, other experts and finally the Security Council to the Council of Ministers, which approved the document at a meeting on September 1, 2014. As mentioned, the full strategy document was published three days later.


The draft document had been finalized two weeks before its publication date, with a clear view towards the NATO Cardiff Summit. The Bulgarians were the only ones there to present such a strategy beforehand, one Bulgarian military official tells us, and clearly took advantage of expected requirements to gain an advantage in preparedness.

The Bulgarian delegation knew they would have an edge on their ‘allied competition’ by being prepared to step forward with a plan, and indeed this turned out to be the case, increasing the public perception of Bulgaria as a forward-thinking and active member on the Alliance’s strategic Black Sea periphery.

It might be said that another reason why post-Cold War Bulgaria has sought to step forward and be counted is because of lingering (and sometimes justified) concerns that it is still relatively easy for Russia’s intelligence services to penetrate Bulgaria, creating a critical vulnerability in the overall NATO architecture. But the Bulgarians know that the West thinks this, and subtly uses it as another justification for NATO to be more involved with the country.

Bulgaria was the first allied country ready to answer the Cardiff Summit’s concluding request for each country to come up with its own national security strategy that could be integrated into the overarching NATO vision. This helps explain why the document is entitled ‘Vision 2020’ and indicates a clever awareness of the ‘mood’ within the alliance.

NATO Bases and Operations in Bulgaria in the Context of a Perceived Russian Threat

From the wording and subjects discussed, it becomes clear that another strategic goal of the government was to, if not sensationalize, at least exaggerate somewhat the perceived threat from Russia, so as to maintain and ideally increase the existing foreign military presence in Bulgaria.

The long-sought US military presence had already been achieved, with the 2006 Defense Cooperation Agreement (official .PDF text here) between the two countries. It established the Joint Task Force East, with command (and more bases) in Romania, a structure ultimately under command of USEUCOM. (Not incidentally, our sources have identified Bucharest as the central focus of regional activity for Russia’s GRU).

The Joint-use US-Bulgarian military bases established according to the agreement included Bezmer Air Base (Yambol area), Aitos Logistics Center (Burgas area, near the Black Sea) and inland at Graf Ignatievo Air Base (Plovdiv area). Finally, the small east-central city of Sliven (where American and British servicemen out for a beer at night dramatically outnumber tourists) hosts the Novo Selo Range.

The last base was where, in April 2014, a week-long multinational military training exercise known as ‘Saber Guardian’ was held (the year before it had been held in Romania). According to an official US Army summary, the operation comprised “a week of scenario-driven, computer-based operations… designed to strengthen international agency and military partnering, and to foster trust while improving interoperability between NATO and partner nations involved in foreign humanitarian assistance operations with U.S. forces.”

The US Army in Europe’s Deputy Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Longo, who led the exercise, characterized it as “an incredibly complex exercise. This is the most complex exercise the United States Army in Europe has participated in, in many years.”

Significantly, the countries involved were largely from the Russian periphery (Bulgaria, Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine) as well as Turkey and the ambivalent Serbia. (The Belgians offered a token presence too).

The September 2014 Bulgarian security vision document must thus be assessed within this recent context. It is also worth noting that the Bulgarian strategy focuses on the year 2020.

This has been a stipulated date for everything from regional energy projects to investment targets, and it has become infamous as the minimal period of non-EU expansion as decreed by new European Commissioner Juncker. The last decision has raised fears widely that we are entering a dangerous vacuum period in which various actors will attempt to increase their influence due to Brussels’ waning appetite for new members.

Strategic Justifications for Increased Military Spending

The draft document further notes that “NATO and individual Member States have already carried out a strategic review of the decisively changed security environment and identified concrete measures, including adequate investment in the defense sector, and plan to increase preparedness.” The recommendation is made that Bulgaria should do the same- qualifying that this vision reflected the position of caretaker government in power at the time. However, we can expect any Bulgarian government to have broadly the same view.

The Bulgarians’ assessment of the “external security environment” was provided as justification for increased defense spending (and ideally, donations) in accordance with expected NATO requirements. The alliance (and particularly, the US) has long complained that European states largely do not invest enough of their budgets in defense, so Bulgaria’s security sector have hinted at this alleged shortcoming in requesting a bigger budget. The full Vision 2020 document goes into detail about the sub-sectors and some of the equipment categories involved.

The cumulative program anticipates specific projects at a budget of over 100mn leva (about $500mn). According to the strategy, “all projects will seek the maximum use of mechanisms common, joint and multinational funding in addition to the national and cooperation with agencies of the EU and NATO to achieve interoperability at minimal cost and with the possibility of integration of the defense industry and research sector in Euro-Atlantic space.”

This indicates that we can expect a larger role for US and European defense contractors in Bulgaria, and possibly an increase in the domestic sector itself. The Western obsession with the Russian threat, which is (at least militarily) irrelevant to Bulgaria, will thus have primary benefit for arms dealers and the militaries involved- and the politicians and lobbyists involved from the various sides.

Perceived Threats to Bulgarian National Security, as Presented

The strategy document goes on to list perceived national security threats, as characterized by a current environment of “dynamic, diverse challenges and changes.” These threats are “difficult to predict,” but include “asymmetric risks,” in one of “the areas with the highest concentration of risks and threats in the Euro-Atlantic community. Their development tendencies are negative in the medium, and in many cases, in the long term.”

The source of “significant” national security risks are stated as including “instability of regions located near the borders of our country.” These include “conflict confrontation in the Black Sea and Caucasus region,” as well as the “illegal annexation of the Crimea by Russia and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.”

In this context, the document lists a concept that has become fashionable in the Western media (‘hybrid war’), even if it is defined variously in different sources. This reference clearly indicates an awareness of, and desire to play into, the developed media discourse associated with Russia’s perceived method of operations today. Ironically, the definition provided (“techniques of guerrilla warfare, covert support to separatist groups, cyberattacks and propaganda, economic pressure and acts contrary to international law”) could just as well describe the modus operundi of NATO countries since the end of WWII and the creation of NATO’s ‘stay-behind armies’ and similar programs.

The reality of an economic effect of Russian sanctions on the Bulgarian economy is also mentioned, as are frozen conflicts and energy: “Bulgaria is highly dependent on a single supplier of energy resources. In this sense, is a key need for diversification of energy sources for Bulgaria and enhanced cooperation within the EU to reduce the negative economic consequences of the crisis to the east of us.”

This observation is also in line with existing NATO and EU priorities on the issue of creating a regional gas hub similar to Vienna’s. This is something that both Bulgaria and Greece might like to host. Of course, the political turbulence in Bulgaria over the decisions to build or not build South Stream is understood, though not specified.

The chronic Middle East and North Africa crises are also mentioned in the document. Conflicts specified include Syria, Iraq, Libya and, interestingly Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sinai and the Palestinian Territories. Although it is not completely specified exactly how, it is affirmed these conflicts “are a source of potential and actual risks and threats to Bulgaria and other member states of NATO and the EU.”

For good measure, the text adds that “Iranian ambitions to develop nuclear and missile programs also continue to be a risk factor for stability on the regional and global scale.”

This last talking point chimes with Bulgaria’s increasingly close relationship with Israel, though as we have seen, the recent re-election of the controversial Benjamin Netanyahu – who is not on the best of terms with the Obama Administration – puts Bulgaria in an interesting position, in terms of its policies regarding all actors.

Analysts might thus consider what position Bulgaria would take (and what would result from it) in the case of a nuclear deal being reached between the US and Iran, in the case that the deal would also be unpopular with Israeli leaders.

Perceived Balkan Threats to Bulgarian National Security

Most interestingly in the Balkan context is the draft paper’s specification of “existing potential risks associated with the Western Balkans.” These are said to include “political and economic instability, trends towards separatism [that would] delay their integration into NATO and EU, challenges to progress in the development of democratic processes and the risk of losing a clear Euro-Atlantic direction.”

Further, the document claims, the region “continues to generate risks to stability, including to Bulgaria, stemming from ethnic and religious intolerance, as well as deep-rooted nationalist ideologies.”

It is not precisely clear to what the authors are directly referring, but it is safe to assume that (on the military level) they include Albanian-Serbian grievances and unrest in Kosovo, Albanian separatism elsewhere in the region, and (on the political level) perceived nationalism in Macedonia, which is seen as negative for Bulgaria’s historic pretensions there. The talking points regarding ‘democratic processes’ and a lack of Euro-Atlantic prospects also align perfectly with the Euro-Federalist pressure projection shared by entities like the OSCE and UN in the region on Balkan countries. This strategy is effectively to put Bulgaria into the ‘first tier’ of EU countries that are entitled to judge, rather than be judged.

Bulgaria has in the past decade used its EU membership privileges as leverage to punish Balkan states, particularly Macedonia, at some times outdoing even Greece in this regard. Greek-Bulgarian shared obstructionist tactics have progressively increased over time. It is interesting to note for analytical purposes that Bulgarian national security doctrine seeks to overtly present a political policy used by successive foreign ministries as a fact somehow distinct from, and unaffected by, its own interventions into regional politics.

International Islamic terrorism, and particularly the role of foreign fighters as returning threats to European countries, is also mentioned. “The migration flow is a challenge to the system of border protection and integration capabilities,” the document notes, and this phenomenon has indeed been indicated, as recent police activities and media reports have shown. It is postulated that “the refugee influx in Bulgaria” could include the penetration of “other risk categories of persons involved in terrorism or other criminal activity. Increased immigration is a challenge to the existing legal framework in such crises.”

Regarding all of these risks to its security, the report states that “Bulgaria is not able to cope alone with them, and the only real way to meet them effectively is to use the opportunities that membership in NATO and the EU provide. Allied solidarity does not mean that we can not stop investing in our national security. On the contrary, solidarity requires long-term political, economic and financial commitment on the part of Bulgaria.”

Conclusion: the Intersection of Security Doctrine and Political Ambition in Bulgaria’s ‘Vision 2020’

In other words, Bulgarian national security doctrine until 2020 involves not only an increase in hard power designed to deter a military invasion. It also includes an invitation to wide participation of Western allies in Bulgaria’s entire political and foreign policy project.

This is an extremely important point to note, considering that Bulgarian political instability in recent years has been rampant, with the various governments not tending to survive long and coming under extreme pressure from outside influencers. Nevertheless, despite continued political turbulence, this strategy document indicates that the country’s leaders are in agreement at a state level over a national security doctrine that also has political aspects.

This fact differentiates Bulgaria from most other states in the region, which have not articulated (or which cannot sustain) a unified national security doctrine; in these cases, it is very uncertain that the reason for this failure is non-membership of NATO as a unifying and motivating force. It is thus not necessarily true that NATO membership will automatically create the conditions for a unified national security policy in complex and divided states. Concerted political pressure from NATO on the local governments, however, ignores this fact while continuing with the forceful sales pitch.

What the Bulgarian security doctrine does indicate – and this is also due to reasons not involving NATO per se – is that it is most similar regionally, on a structural level with Greece, which also has a core set of national security interests that have remained intact, despite chronic instability on the political level.

Indeed, the SYRIZA government has made no signs of changes to the existing Samaras policy, and campaign rhetoric regarding American bases and the need for NATO have diminished in public discourse. The Americans were so concerned in autumn 2014 that they called in a top SYRIZA leadership team to get a promise over the status quo not changing in future. They got their guarantee.

This is because Greece is not stupid. Like Bulgaria, Greece has historically invited NATO and the EU to help strengthen its own military and diplomatic project in the near-abroad. Since Greece does not face any serious potential military threat (except theoretically from fellow NATO ally, Turkey), this influence projection is inevitably mostly wielded on the policy and diplomacy front, such as blocking Macedonian NATO and EU accession indefinitely.

Indeed, it might be this shared structural similarity – not the actual specific policies – that best explains the increased level of coziness between Bulgaria and Greece, and the similarity of their approaches, despite other factors that would seem to differentiate their goals and objectives.

In the final analysis, Bulgaria’s ‘vision’ of its national security through 2020 indicates that the country will cleverly continue to highlight its strategic geography to gain special privileges, to exploit its institutional memberships for diplomatic and political purposes, and to entice foreign military contractors as a further stabilizing (and lobbying) force. All of this behavior, and especially the concentration on leveraging its value on the ‘Black Sea’ front, will support the country’s desire to continue playing an outsized role in the Balkans.

This indicates that Bulgarian decision-making on the security front will continue to be influenced by a historic and political perception of its own regional importance.

This analysis becomes especially compelling considering that Bulgaria is completely insulated from any military or political threat that could arise on its western flank. There is no scenario in which Bulgaria faces any direct military threat from any country and (with the exception of an immigration- or terrorism-related threat, which are extra-regional) there is no dramatic security event that could adversely affect the country.

While cyber-war, energy and the effect of economic sanctions on Russia are all deleterious to the country, these threats are all related to Bulgaria’s east- not west. Nevertheless, by bundling in these ‘popular’ security issues in with the less credible Balkan-related issues, the country’s security architects will continue to get tacit approval for national political and diplomatic activities in the Balkans, activities which can have destabilizing effects for other states.

In Eastern Macedonia, a Lost Fortress of Justinian

By Christopher Deliso*

High on a windswept ridge in Macedonia’ss barren northeastern expanse, some 17 kilometers down a rough dirt track heading towards Kratovo, it stands as a cryptic reminder of the country’ss still largely undocumented past: the rocky remains of what was once an important outpost in the Early Byzantine imperial hinterland.

Nevertheless, the lack of specific references in Late Antique and Byzantine sources means that we may never know what the name of the settlement or its fortress actually was- a tantalizing omission that could only be resolved “by epigraphy finds, which we so far haven’st encountered,” says Dr. Carolyn Snively, an archaeologist and professor from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. For the last decade, Dr. Snively has been working jointly with international and Macedonian experts, supported by local workers at Konjuh- in the process, shedding light on this little-documented period of Macedonia’ss remote history.


The lost fortress of Justinian at Konjuh had a strategic vantage point on a central ridgeline overlooking farmland and probably an iron mine (Photo: Christopher Deliso)

Recently having arrived back in Macedonia, Dr. Snively will soon lead excavations into an eleventh season of work. The dig will last from May 28 through August. Earlier today, she shared some insights and projections for this season’ss upcoming work with

Background and Significance

The Konjuh site was originally discovered in 1938, but only worked on extensively during the 1970s by Yugoslav archaeologist Ivan Mikulcic. This  expert drew the original plan of the site, which has been redrawn several times. Although the plan “seriously needs to be updated,” says Dr. Snively, “we have not had an architect on site with enough free time and surveying skill to do it in recent seasons.”

Although the name of the settlement and fortress has vanished, pottery finds date the ruins, clearly a fortress standing watch over now buried remnants of an urban settlement and church, to the 6th century- and the reign of Emperor Justinian I (r. 517-565), one of the greatest Byzantine rulers. Under Justinian, imperial authority was reasserted as far as northern Africa and parts of Italy. Justinian’ss expansion efforts were executed by a powerful military led by his renowned general, Belisarius, considered a master tactician who could win battles even when cut off from communications with the capital or other parts of the army.


Yugoslav archaeologist Ivan Mikulcic'ss original plan of the Konjuh site, with fortifications of the lower city outlined in orange (courtesy Carolyn Snively)

The Kratovo region, part of the mineral-rich Osogovski Mountain range, has always had strategic importance for its mines. Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans all excavated it extensively for gold, silver and iron. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Empire was beset by barbarian tribes in the Balkans but still held on to large areas through an extensive system of fortresses that allowed military garrisons to provide some measure of protection for settlements and ongoing economic activities. Indeed, an important part of the Justinianic legacy was the refortification of the region as part of his general military strategy.

At the fortress site, finds have revealed that one significant local activity then was the excavation of iron ore, a substance which archaeologists have discovered in large quantities among the various artifacts discovered to date.

The mining was carried out near today’ss village of Konjuh. A tiny enclave of a few hundred people, without even a village shop, the village is about 1km south of the ridgeline upon which the bygone fortress stands. Here there are no great stone towers or constructions, at least no remaining ones here, but the steepness of the ridge and its width at the top would have provided protection for defenders and adequate space to store weapons, provisions and, when necessary, people.


View of the northern terrace taken from the acropolis, end of 2005 season (Photo: Carolyn Snively)

The fortress ridgeline is surrounded by valleys and, further on, flanked by other small ridges that could also have served as military outposts. At the top, the acropolis, there is a remarkable 3m (15ft)-deep cistern, and the remains of several small stairways and paths chiseled into the sides of the rock. Naturally formed turrets overlook the plain, behind which Byzantine bowmen could have taken aim at any invaders below.

Below the fortress, on the lower town located on a northern terrace, excavators have made their most substantial discoveries. A street system, and the base of a Late Antique church indicate organized settlement occurred there over a period of several centuries. The settlement likely dates from the 5th century, says Dr. Snively, adding that “there was probably a 3rd or 4th-century settlement in the vicinity, though I don’st think the inhabitants started living on the northern terrace until the need for building a fortification arose later.”

2009: Upcoming Plans

In keeping with the professional approach to managing the site, the remains of the foundations are all painstakingly reburied each year at the end of the digging season- partly, for their own protection, since the project hasn’st the funds to hire a full-time guard. According to Dr. Snively, the team won’st re-dig everything that has been buried in previous seasons. “This year, we will concentrate on excavating the apse of the basilica we discovered last year,” she says.

This exciting discovery confirms the significance of the site as a former center of civilization with some amount of population. According to Dr. Snively, one of the main goals of the 2009 dig in terms of this structure will be “to define the basilica’ss shape and dimensions- we can say with 95 percent certainty that it is a 6th-century basilica, which would have been built within a few decades of Justinian’ss fortification works.”

Indeed, the whole region is remarkably rich in sites once populated during the Late Antique period. According to Katie Haas, an archaeology student from Gettysburg College who has come to Macedonia for the summer thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation, “there is a marked efflorescence of Late Antique sites in this region.” As a member of the dig team, Katie will concentrate on the important job of small finds analysis- particularly, spatial pattern analysis of the site. She is part of a nine-person team (comprised of American, British and Macedonian archaeologists, who will be aided by local workmen.


Sketch of the site'ss acropolis, showing the tripartite fortress (Carolyn Snively)

Methodology and Cultural Heritage Protection

While locals have since learned to respect the site’ss integrity and have developed good relations with the excavation teams, some nefarious diggers have in the past attempted to search here, as almost everywhere in Macedonia, for gold €“ in the process, breaking their drill heads when inadvertently striking the solid bedrock.

While occasionally outsiders continue to show up illegally, Dr. Snively does not anticipate any trouble this summer from the “wild diggers,” as such people are known in the press. Indeed, other local inhabitants are more in danger, as when the villagers’s sheepdogs were sadly poisoned en masse by a probable sheep-rustler- indicating that this still is the wild east to some extent.


Taking the plunge: American Fulbright scholar Seth Elder descends into the fortress'ss murky cistern depths (photo: Christopher Deliso)

Part of the archaeologists’s sustained good relations with the locals owes to education and trust-building efforts carried out since 1998. But it also owes to something that helps explain why the fortress has attracted relatively little attention thus far- a lack of shiny objects. The lack of major awareness of the site, despite its historical significance, probably stems from the fact that neither gold nor silver, nor colorful mosaics have yet been discovered. Traditionally, these sort of €˜big-ticket’s items are what draw attention from the central government (this is of course not only the case in Macedonia).

Although archaeologists do not anticipate making stunning discoveries of buried treasure at Konjuh, the possibility cannot be completely excluded. Working with extraordinary diligence since 1998, Dr. Snively has deliberately not chosen to dig for burial areas on the site €“ even though such spots would have the best chance of containing jewelry and coins €“ partly because there has not been sufficient support available to protect the site during the off-season. Were the site to gain a reputation for riches, the thinking goes, it would become more difficult to protect it from looters.

Another reason why the team is deliberately not looking for burial sites is because of lack of sufficient support for an activity which would greatly enlarge the scope and character of the operation.

“If we found a cemetery, we would then have to bring in a physical anthropologist too,” says Dr. Snively, noting also the further permits and bureaucratic requirements that would be needed in such cases. While the Macedonian government has pledged an all-out campaign for excavating “mega-sites” like Stobi, Heraclea and Ohrid-area locales, more modest sites like Konjuh have gone largely unnoticed.

Konjuh: “A Great Example of Cooperation”

Konjuh locals have also been happy to see the site remain undisturbed, archaeologist Snively believes, because it has provided an occasional source of employment for the economically depressed village, when additional workers or watchmen have been needed over the past decade. “Injecting even a few thousand dollars into the local economy makes a big difference in a small village like this,” she notes.

The cultural heritage protection aspect of the Konjuh fortress site is particularly intriguing to Seth Elder, an American Fulbright scholar from DePauw University in Indiana. Seth chose to come to Macedonia for his research on the practical connections between archaeology, local communities and economic development. Since arriving in Macedonia last year, and touring numerous sites, he has gained insight into the Konjuh site from a comparative sense.

According to him, “the Konjuh site is a great example of cooperation between local and international archaeologists, and also with the local community. Since Macedonia has been somewhat isolated from international archaeologists’s attention, there’ss a real need for more work like this to be carried out in the future.” He also emphasizes the need for Macedonian archaeologists to publish their findings more widely in foreign journals, as this activity is a key part of attracting the attention of outside experts who often have the ability to acquire funding and personnel for increasing archeological efforts.


From the well-worn fortress wall remnants, unfinished bridge sections in the distance show how close the site would be to organized transport, and so tourism, if the authorities someday finish the long-promised connection to Bulgaria (Photo: Christopher Deliso)

Future Tourism Potential?

Indeed, one of the very interesting aspects of the site for the future is its specific placement. The fortress is set in what is today literally the middle of nowhere, on a ridge above the Kriva River near Konjuh. However, some raised concrete pillars that might seem equally mysterious to outsiders may hold the key for the area’ss development as a tourism destination. Long-neglected skeletons of bridge supports, these and other similar structures dot the wilderness in eastern Macedonia- unfinished pieces of proposed railway and highway links to Bulgaria. For various reasons, the long-hoped-for infrastructure project has never been completed. If it were, the site would be ideally located for travelers to access.

Even today, the Konjuh fortress site is accessible enough for visitors, if coming with a professional guide, and part of a cluster of local sites around Kratovo, such as the standing stone dolls of Kuklica, the enigmatic Neolithic rock site of Cacev Kamen, and the magnificent Lesnovski Monastery. When combined with the natural beauty of this mountainous region and the potential for outdoor activities, plus the architectural attractiveness of Kratovo itself, this clearly indicates the potential for a multi-faceted tourism product that could conceivably put this forgotten corner of northeastern Macedonia back on the map- even if the name of the fortress settlement has vanished from the map long ago.


*The author is the director of and co-author of the newly-released Lonely Planet guide to the Western Balkans, for his part specifically covering the Republic of Macedonia. Although he did not have space to discuss the Konjuh site in that book, the guide does contain information on a wealth of other archeological and historical sites in Macedonia, not to mention similar coverage by co-authors, on locales in Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia.

Snow Descends on the Balkans, to the Relief of Ski Resorts

( Research Service)- The first New Year’s gift of 2009 to the citizens of many Balkan countries has come in the form of the season’s first significant snowfall, blanketing large areas in Macedonia, northern Greece, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Albania.

In the Macedonian capital of Skopje, some 16cm of snow has accumulated in the past three days- posing a challenge for motorists as city officials, caught dozing by the holidays and an insufficiency of snowplows, have been unable to clear major central streets. In Sofia, Bulgaria, similar conditions have been encountered, but authorities have a more formidable fleet of snowplows (137, to be exact) at their disposal.

Despite a handful of minor accidents, however, Macedonian citizens have generally been enjoying this unusual chance to sled in the center and to see the giant faux Christmas tree in the square, distastefully topped by a giant pink T (a gesture to likely sponsor T-Mobile), adorned by actual snow. Forecasts call for snow to continue falling until Tuesday, and resume later in the week.

Snowfall has been enabled by freezing temperatures across the region. So far, the standard has been set in ever-chilly Erzurum, Turkey. This eastern Anatolian town recently recorded temperatures of minus 36 Celsius.

Snow has also made things interesting in northern Greece, where officials have called on drivers to use chains amidst freezing temperatures as low as minus 13 Celsius and snowfall of up to 25cm across Epiros and the province of Macedonia.

Aerial footage from northern Albania shown earlier this week showed the mountainous region completely snowed under. Already hard enough to navigate in the best of times, this sparsely populated area has become inaccessible in large parts due to snowfall of up to half a meter.

Nevertheless, the sudden snowfall has also meant relief for some ski areas that had until now been hit hard by the lack of snowfall. In Serbia, the snowfall has been a boon for ski areas such as Mt Kopaonik, currently full of skiers and with 45cm of snow coverage.

Macedonia’s main ski area, Mavrovo in the west, was bare until a few days ago, causing concern among company officials. One official stated last week that since snow-making equipment was too expensive, they have been left at the mercy of the elements- which had been proving uncooperative, until this week. Now, however, the center reports over 40cm of snow coverage, many visitors, and predicts that the snow will remain for the duration of the season.

Macedonia’s other major ski center, Ski Centar Kozuf on the Greek border, did not open earlier due to cold temperatures, a company representative stated on December 30, adding that the resort would be opening soon. This new operation claims to have the most modern equipment in the Balkans, including artificial snowmaking guns and a state-of-the-art, six-person German-made lift.

Still a work in progress, the resort which opened just last year has yet to finish paving the 30km-long access road from Gevgelija, let alone to finish construct all of the facilities (though all of the allocated space for ski lodges has long since sold out). Here, the goal is to make an environmentally- and aesthetically-friendly resort; for example, while there will be a movie theater, it will be built underground.

The previous lack of snow, coupled with the general global economic downturn, have meant ski resorts in the region have been late to open or are seeing lessened demand. In Bulgaria’s leading resort area of Bansko, for example, there were still plenty of reservations available during the usually packed holiday period. The reduced number of skiers thus far has also meant declining profits for travel agencies booking tours and local hoteliers. Other, smaller Bulgarian resorts include Chepelare in the Rodopi Mountains (set to open on Jan. 7), are less hectic and cheaper as well- good for bargain-seekers.

Indeed, with no end in sight to the economic recession, regional ski centers can only adjust prices and hope that the skies at least will cooperate for the remainder of the winter season. However, the strange weather patterns of the past few years, perhaps caused by global warming, mean that nothing can be taken for granted and skiers should enjoy the conditions while they have them.

Top Balkan Ski Resorts

Want to make use of the good weather? The following Balkan ski resorts can be found online here.


(See here)







Ski Centar Kozuf


(See here)

Macedonian Peacekeeping Contributions Recognized at International Defense Conference in Sofia

By Christopher Deliso

Two Macedonian Army representatives were among the chosen expert speakers at a conference last week in Bulgaria devoted to peacekeeping issues involving the former conflict in Bosnia and the Balkan security situation today. The conference was organized by the Bulgarian General Staff and NATO, and held at the prestigious G.S. Rakovski Defense and Staff College in Sofia.

The Macedonian army’s positive and ongoing activities in NATO peacekeeping operations and the military reforms made by Macedonia for NATO were also presented in front of a group of experts from the defense ministries of countries including the USA, France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Serbia, Latvia and Bulgaria. The Macedonian experience was thus presented on an equal level with other notable presentations from the military representatives of these countries.

The two Macedonian representatives, Lieutenant-Colonel Mitko Saraliev and Major Robert Tasevski, are undertaking advanced training at the G.S. Rakovski Defense and Staff College, as part of a bilateral agreement Macedonia has with Bulgaria. Macedonia has similar agreements with Turkey, Estonia, England, Germany, Croatia and the USA, so that Macedonian officers can undertake new training in special programs at staff colleges in these countries.

Before the distinguished guests, Lieutenant-Colonel Saraliev spoke on the participation of Macedonian peacekeeping units in the EUFOR Althea operations in Bosnia, and lessons learned from the experience of Macedonian helicopter detachments and medical teams in Bosnia. Major Tasevski, who is a Military Police commander, spoke about the lessons learned from IFOR and SFOR missions in Bosnia and how to improve institutional cooperation and planning among the NATO countries, and the need for Macedonian soldiers to improve English-language skills for dealing with allied peacekeepers.


(Left to Right) Major Robert Tasevski, Dr. Mark Schiller, Lt-Colonel Rossitsa Russeva, Lt-Colonel Mitko Saraliev

In the conference, numerous Bulgarian experts also provided their insight, such as conference organizers Dr. Dimitre Minchev and Lieutenant-Colonel Rossitsa Russeva of the defense college, who spoke, respectively, about the historical context of the Bosnian conflict and the Bulgarian peacekeeping contribution there. The conference’s special guest was Dr. Mark Schiller of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA. Dr. Schiller spoke about information tactics in peacekeeping operations and the importance of having good public information officials and keeping good relations with journalists, from an American perspective. Numerous complementary perspectives were also provided in presentations from representatives of the aforementioned countries.

The Macedonian representatives also made the point that the ARM will continue its reform efforts. “Our reform process did not stop because of the negative result at Bucharest, and we will continue until we join NATO,” said Major Tasevski. “We will never give up from the NATO path and our American allies.” According to him, the USA has provided help with everything for Macedonia, from equipment to training and know-how.

Major Tasevski says that through training from the Vermont National Guard he has made many American friends and learned a lot. “I learned from the American colleagues that we must respect and trust everybody in our ranks- it doesn’t matter if the person is a soldier, Non-Commissioned Officer or officer. From the American training, I have learned to value the collecting of different opinions to make informed decisions.”

The US soldiers have also said that Macedonian soldiers are eager students, and learn very quickly. Said Major Tasevski, “I think this is true because we enjoy the job and the Americans are excellent teachers, who make it interesting for us, providing real experience in the training.”

The Macedonian advanced military students are also very happy with their cooperation with the Bulgarian military, and the professional working of the G.S. Rakovski Defense and Staff College. Lieutenant Colonel Saraliev is finishing his two-year assignment in Bulgaria in a few weeks and will return to his regular work in the Department of Inter-army Cooperation in the ARM General Staff. He reflects on his Bulgarian experience, saying, “I am very happy because here I have had the opportunities to use libraries, to be present at technical conferences that discuss strategic and tactical issues, and to present briefings.”

He also has good opinions of his Bulgarian colleagues. “Whenever I asked for help of any kind, or to find information, I was helped without any problems and with hospitality by our Bulgarian colleagues,” he says.

Major Tasevski agrees, saying that he has experienced only good cooperation and friendship with the Bulgarian colleagues. “In the beginning, I was a little nervous because of the difficult history and sometimes disagreements between Macedonia and Bulgaria,” he admits, “but after two weeks it disappeared. At the Rakovski Defense and Staff College, they always want to help us with everything, and even just keep us company so we don’t feel lonely here. I have made many friends and visited many places with my Bulgarian colleagues.”

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American Friends of Bulgaria: Interview with Roy and Anne Freed

In this detailed interview, director Christopher Deliso gets a contemporary view on Bulgaria from a unique perspective- Americans Roy and Anne Freed, at 91 years young undoubtedly among the most senior of American lovers of this Balkan country.

Roy and Anne had long and distinguished careers in the legal and psychology/social work fields, respectively. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1940, working thereafter for the Department of Justice and private law firms; then, from 1960 onwards, Roy pioneered the nascent subject of computer law. For her part, Anne graduated from Smith College in 1941 with an M.S.W. in clinical social work. She thereafter worked as a practitioner, supervisor, administrator, teacher, and researcher in this field, and set up a mental health clinic at Family Service of Greater Boston. During the Second World War, Anne worked as a community analyst at the War Relocation Authority in Washington, DC; in addition, she was the specialist on Jewish culture for a refugee camp in Oswego, NY, which took in approximately 1,000 European Jewish refugees from a displaced-persons camp at Bari, Italy.

Despite completing a full and long lifetime of professional service and help to others, the Freeds were not finished: at the age of 71, they ventured to the Balkans to interact with the locals at a time of historic change. At an age when most Americans relax to enjoy their golden years in tranquility, this dynamic couple embarked on even greater challenges. After visiting Bulgaria for the first time in 1987, the Freeds returned two years later as Fulbright scholars. They have kept up their relationship with the country and its people ever since.

Most recently, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the US Department of State, which administers the Fulbright Program, named Roy and Anne Freed as the March 2008 Fulbright Alumni of the Month for their engagement with Bulgaria. Their memoir, Fulbrighters in Retirement: Networking With Bulgarians Keeps Us Engaged, is now available. They are probably among the few nonagenarians to maintain their own official website.

Christopher Deliso: I understand you are descendents of eastern European Jews. When did your ancestors move to America, and which ones?

Roy & Anne Freed: Our mothers came from Lithuania shortly before WWI, when Anne’s father came from Belarus. Roy’s father’s father came from Belarus in 1888, because of the notorious Kishniev pogroms.

CD: Previous to your initial Bulgarian trip, was there anything in your lives to suggest such a future encounter as a possibility? Had you wished to make trips to Bulgaria or other former Soviet states earlier in the Cold War, if so, why didn’t that happen at the time?

R&AF: Before our 1987 Bulgarian trip, we had no idea to visit any of the former Soviet states or their affiliates. Even though we knew our first Bulgarian friend Nevena Geliazkova through Anne’s meeting her at the international school in Geneva in 1937, we never had the desire to visit her until we happened to reestablish contact with her in 1986 and were about to go to Zurich.

CD: How did you happen to choose Bulgaria specifically during Communism for your Fulbright Teaching Fellowships?

R&AF: We chose Bulgaria for our Fulbrights because the person on the Bulgaria desk at the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars mentioned that possibility, out of the blue. By our futile contact with him on behalf of a Bulgarian student taking place during the Cold War, we suspect that it had a dearth of applicants for that country.

CD: Did you wonder if you would be eligible for Fulbrights at age 72?

R&AF: Anne certainly did. But when she inquired about our eligibility, we were told not to worry because there was a 75-year old male Fulbrighter in Taiwan.

CD: How were you received in Bulgaria as Americans during the Cold War?

R&AF: The Bulgarians completely ignored the ostensible Cold War antipathy between our two countries. They received us very warmly, with their traditional gracious hospitality. They welcomed us into their homes. They shared their experiences with us both during and after Communism. They eagerly sought the professional knowledge they thought that we could impart from our respective fields. Even Communist bureaucrats were hospitable.

CD: Was there any controversy with Anne’s discussion of psychology from an American perspective, compared to the Communist-inspired study then still practiced?

R&AF: Anne actually played an important in bringing psychodynamic psychology to Bulgaria. Although psychiatrists in the Soviet Union, during its early period, enthusiastically embraced Freud’s innovative, if not radical, teaching about the major role the unconscious plays through the mind and the usefulness of talking therapy, and actually almost pre-empted Vienna as the center of that learning, Stalin later squelched that and it became anathema there and in the affiliated countries, including Bulgaria.

Nevertheless, through the initiative of the late Dr. George Kamen, a Bulgarian psychiatrist, a very small group of psychiatrists, including Dr. Toma Tomov, and others started to become interested in it through psychodrama, which entails play-acting psychological situations and discussing them in that context. Nevertheless, the general population did not yet have that interest until Anne introduced it.

CD: That’s interesting! What was the reaction when she did?

R&AF: Many students at Sofia University and outside professionals enthusiastically grasped the opportunity to attend her lectures, which were opened to the public. Anne’s lectures unexpectedly planted a basic seed that matured three years later when Dr. Toma Tomov, one of the pioneers at the time and whom she met by chance when he was on a study tour in the USA right after Bulgaria abandoned Communism for a democratic market economy, enlisted her help to found the School of Clinical Social Work at the New Bulgarian University in 1992, with its curriculum based substantially on that of the Smith College School for Social Work, from which Anne graduated and at which she taught.

CD: As for Roy, how was his teaching about American law received then?

R&AF: Roy’s teaching about American law, which, as common law, was conceptually very different from the Bulgarian civil law, was enthusiastically received by both undergraduate students in the law faculty of Sofia University and professionals working in the computer industry. The latter especially were eager to learn about the American legal protection of computer programs. The students took the opportunity to express their cynicism about ostensibly positive Bulgarian laws. For example, one stated that, in Bulgaria, they adopted “dead” laws, meaning apparently socially positive ones that were not enforced.

CD: In Anne’s opinion, how is the issue of gender equality in Bulgaria progressing? Has she witnessed or experienced specific changes in the fortunes of Bulgarian women in society, and to what does she attribute them?

R&AF: Even though Bulgaria is a traditional patriarchal society, at least during Communism women achieved considerable equality, at least to do hard work. Children were raised by their grandparents, a practice which continues to date, to free up their mothers to work outside the home. Many women became professionals in what in the West had been considered men’s fields, especially in engineering. While more progress can be made, Bulgaria has achieved an impressive level.

CD: Have you ever had any dangerous experiences in Bulgaria? If so, what happened?

R&AF: We did feel as if we had a dangerous experience in Bulgaria. During our Fulbrights, we were fortunate to befriend a group of social scientists in a think tank supporting the Central Committee of the Communist Party. On a few occasions, they arranged for us to be driven by Party chauffeurs in the traditional official black Volga automobiles. We felt as if those drivers operated their cars like kamakazi pilots of the Japanese air force, as they sped heedlessly on the streets of Sofia.

CD: You witnessed a period of incredible and very rapid change in Bulgaria. What surprised you most about it? Was there ever a time when you felt that perhaps the country would not have a solid future, or that it was in danger of collapse?
R&AF: We were surprised by the lack of advance notice that the Communist Party would cease to control Bulgaria and the speed with which it occurred. We did not get a clue from our friends in the official think-tank.

While we didn’t anticipate that the country would collapse, it was obvious that it was not functioning efficiently during Communism because the people lacked the necessary incentives. As we look back, it collapsed out of inefficiency. Goods were of poor quality and services were bad. Waiters were probably the worst in the world. However, the performing arts were thriving, especially the theatre and music. As the economic reforms occurred, we often feared for the people because the efforts were weak and the people were rightfully impatient for rapid real progress. It was amazing how, promptly after the changes, the waiters reformed and performed at truly fine standards.

CD: In your memoir you state that you were able to serve as €šÃ„òcitizen diplomats’s during the Cold War, to bring together Bulgarians working with the Politburo and the American ambassador. How were you able to accomplish that, and what came of it?

R&AF: We were fortunate to become citizen diplomats entirely by chance. Avram Agov, a young student whom we had met as the roommate of Zlatko Enev, another young student who introduced himself to us during our social first visit to Bulgaria, happened to cause members of the think-tank of the Central Committee to want to meet us on the possibility that we might be able to help them start to make contact with American scholars. During the late stage of Communism, they got the desire for that interaction. He told them that he knew us when he applied to work with them with respect to North Korea. We had no idea how we might help them but we agreed to try.

All we could think of was our knowing the American ambassador. But, because we were able to introduce them to the receptive American ambassador only very shortly before the political and economic changes, nothing materializeddirectly. There was no need to. Nevertheless, right after the changes, the Ambassador enabled one of them, a friend of ours, to lead a tour to the US. When in Boston, he visited us unexpectedly and introduced us to Dr. Toma Tomov.

CD: You have said that €šÃ„òrepeated coincidences’s were frequently involved in your Bulgaria experiences. How do you explain them?

R&AF: Practically all of our countless Bulgarian experiences arose as coincidences, starting with the finding of Nevena Geliazkova, Anne’s friend from the Geneva school, in 1985 by two fellow students at the Geneva school in 1937, after losing her through Communism and our McCarthyism. In 1985, those two fellow students happened to find an old issue of Life Magazine containing a letter from her to the editor and got her address that way.

They arranged for her to meet them at the Sofia railroad station on their way back to the US from Saudi Arabia, where she gave them an unaddressed letter to Anne, which they sent to us the next year. That led to our first visit to Bulgaria.

During that visit, we met Zlatko Enev when we were arbitrarily barred from the national library. That led to our unexpectedly getting Fulbrights, which led to the start of our networking with Bulgarians. Anne’s teaching prison social workers in 1991 through the invitation of Dr. Tomov, whom we met by chance in Boston during his study visit after the changes in Bulgaria, led to the establishment of School of Clinical Social Work and our meeting Dr. Galina Markova, who attended it and became its outstanding director, and ad infinitum. We account for the coincidences only by our being active and exposing ourselves to their chance happening and then disposed to take advantage of them. We do that because we are open to meeting new people and looking for opportunities to help them.

CD: How would you rate the value of your Fulbright activities in comparison with other international activities sponsored by the American government? Can you give us some examples of your actions?

R&AF: If our Fulbright activities were more socially beneficial than many other international activities, as we think that they were, that probably was because we were mature; had professional skills, especially social work; and enjoyed meeting people to help them and establish close continuing relationships with them.

CD: Of the many Americans who have studied, done research or taught in Bulgaria, have you met any who you would single out as having done a particularly good job of being ‘cultural ambassadors,’ if so in what respect?

R&AF: We do know a number of Americans who have been very effective “cultural ambassadors.” They include the late Nancy Cook, a clinical social worker from San Francisco, who secured a Fulbright and set up a trauma center in Sofia as a placement site for students at the new School of Clinical Social Work; Prof. Joan Berzoff of Smith College School for Social Work, who taught at the School for Clinical Social Work on a number of occasions; Dr. William Deveney of Boston, who secured a number of Fulbrights to consult in Bulgaria on social work practice and taught at the School there; Prof. Jean Anastas of the N.Y.U. School of Social Work, who taught at the School there; former Ambassador Sol Polansky, who has served on the boards of trustees of both the American University in Bulgaria in Blagoevgrad and the American College in Simeonovo in Sofia; and Kay Lamer of Boston, a clinical social worker whom we inspired to go there to teach a number of times at the School.

CD: Your activities reflect constant effort to help people. What moves you
to do that?

R&AF: For all our lives, we have been motivated to foster a decent and concerned society. Specifically, both us feel that helping people is the most rewarding experience one can have. We enjoy the success of socially positive activities in which we participate.

CD: How have your Bulgarian activities affected your own lives? Did they change any of your basic beliefs or assumptions about the world, or merely provide enhanced details?

R&AF: Our Bulgarian activities have enriched our lives immeasurably during our long retirement, at a time when many of our contemporaries merely coast. In general, they have enhanced our knowledge of history, culture, psychology, and the like in many respects, confirming our basic beliefs and assumptions, but adding the important dimension in Bulgaria that people as a group can be basically civil. We observed that in the traditional Bulgarian acceptance of ethnic and religious differences in their genuinely multi-ethnic society, as exemplifed by their freedom from significant anti-Semitism, specifically manifested by their saving their entire 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Treblinka against the goal of their Nazi ally during WWII.

CD: How do you think your activities have affected the lives of Bulgarians?

R&AF: While we know from experience countless miscellaneous ways our activities have affected positively the lives of Bulgarians, we especially are proud of them for fostering modern social work there that helps families and children in a variety of ways. Specifically, we helped our friends make their incipient travel business relatively successful economically for both themselves and the people they hired. We helped a number of Bulgarians change their careers by acquainting them with their scopes. We assembled and transported a large library of English-language social work books for the School.

CD: Bulgarians sometimes seem to be a withdrawn, even depressed people. Do you agree? If so, is this a matter of nature, or specific economic/political/whatever local factors?

R&AF: We have observed that many Bulgarians in Bulgaria have an apparent inferiority complex and some of them overcompensate by acting superior, especially those in the Sobranie [Parliament] and the government! Many also are afflicted by envy or jealousy in that they don’t want what others have but don’t others to have more than they do. That could be part of their deep egalitarian streak that moved them to favor the humanitarian aspects of Marxism. We have no idea about the source of those emotions.

CD: Since your time in Bulgaria, how have you been able to continue your cooperation from America?

R&AF: We conducted our activities with Bulgarians in Bulgaria by making fourteen trips between 1987 and 2002. Now, we continue our Bulgarian activities through the Internet, with the help of many Bulgarians who have immigrated here, and by encouraging other Americans to go there to teach and consult.

CD: I understand that you helped organize a Jewish-themed tour for your Bulgarian travel agent friends. Was there sufficient demand among American Jews to go? And do you think this is a concept that could be successful for tourism providers in other Southeast European countries?

R&AF: From the very beginning of our visits to Bulgaria, we identified it as ideal for tourism for its scenery, history, and culture. When we learned of the unique Bulgarian civility, with their freedom from anti-Semitism and saving of their Jews, we particularly thought that it should attract American Jews. We suggested this to our friends who operate a tour company there and helped them design an itinerary, drawing on our American perspective. While our repeated effort to find an American marketer for such tours was not successful, our friends finally have been able to find one to start to offer those tours. We do not know yet about the interest in those tours. Jewish tours are offered by others to Eastern Europe and Spain.

CD: You have mentioned the gratitude that Jews feel to the Bulgarians for protecting the country’s Jewish minority during World War II. However, at the same time the Bulgarian army deported the Jews under their control in occupied Macedonia and Thrace. Considering the depth of nationalistic feeling in Bulgaria especially with regards to Macedonia, have you had any encounters with any Bulgarians on this topic? If so, what is their perception of the tragic contradictory role? Is this something American Jews are aware of?

R&AF: We are aware of the unfortunate deportation of about 12,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia while under the administration of the Bulgarian Army during WWII. Many people who are aware of it, Jews and others, hold that against the Bulgarians, which we believe that they shouldn’t. That was solely the responsibility of wily young Tsar Boris III, who was walking a tightrope fending off Hitler from occupying Bulgaria. He, at least, was moved to call off the impending deportation of Bulgarian Jews within Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian people and Church leaders were not in a position to stymie the external action as they did in Bulgaria after word leaked out through the secretary of Alexander Belev, the person in charge of the effort. Moreover, the Nazi Army was present when that was carried out. We interviewed a Macedonian former newspaper reporter from Skopje, who witnessed the event and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the Bulgarian Army general from carrying it out.

CD: What is your assessment of the Bulgarians through the many you have known? And can you say that this is a people that the outsider can easily understand, or does it take much more time and effort to really know them?

R&AF: We continue to have a unique opportunity to know a wide variety of Bulgarians and have a very positive feeling toward practically all of them. They were all Bulgarian Slavs except for one unusually well educated Roma. They are no more difficult to understand than most people. We find those we meet to be predominantly warm and family oriented, which they manifest to outsiders they get to know. They are generous to a fault, highly intelligent, very literate, loyal, humanitarian, and socially responsible. We found it interesting that, despite their forebears being under the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, they reflect the social and intellectual values of the Western Enlightenment.

CD: What current problems do you see confronting the Bulgarians in Bulgaria?

R&AF: A major problem we are aware of is persisting corruption and gang criminality. We hear that education, formerly highly valued, is suffering. Also, the health care system apparently needs substantial improvement. We suspect that the government pension is inadequate and many retirement-aged people are dependent upon remittances from family abroad.

CD: One problem is the zero population growth amongst Bulgarians, and the decline of marriage as an institution, amidst strong competition from an opposing popular culture and a poor economy. Do you see this as a problem that will change in the future, if so, how and when?

R&AF: We see the zero population growth as a great problem, but it is not limited to Bulgaria. We cannot see that people will be eager to have children so long as the economy is weak and lacking in the types of career opportunities many find abroad. We have no idea if and when that will be corrected.

CD: Speaking from the point of view of elder visitors to Bulgaria, are there specific things the country could do to increase the ease of travel and comfort for older guests, in terms of infrastructure or organization?

R&AF: We haven’t been in Bulgaria since 2002 and, hence, are unaware of current conditions. When we were there, conditions were not favorable for frail or disabled people. There were too many stairs and too few elevators of adequate size. We are aware, from a friend in Boston, that serious efforts are underway to improve facilities and service in the tourism sector.

CD: If you were to say any words to American potential travelers young or old, about why they should visit Bulgaria, what would they be?

R&AF: We view Bulgaria still in political and economic transition as a living laboratory for the intellectually curious. It is refreshing to get to know the type of Bulgarians we have been privileged to meet, for their warmth, civility, and intellect. People like us who like to help others well could find countless opportunities. Bulgaria is unusually rich in history, going back to the Thracians as much as 7,000 B.C.E., with succeeding Greek and Roman vestiges. For outdoors people, the countryside is very attractive. There are wonderful opportunities to enjoy classical opera and music.

CD: How do you compare the experiences of Bulgarians in America with those in Bulgaria?

R&AF: We are impressed by how rapidly and well Bulgarian immigrants take advantage of the resources and opportunities in America. The vast majority of them we know do well for themselves and make a significant contribution to our society. This shows that they simply need the appropriate environment to use their innate skills to benefit themselves and the society in which they live.

While many Bulgarians do come into their own here in America, many in Bulgaria, often against great odds, do shine for their accomplishments. We are particularly aware of those in the field of social work. Our friends are contributing to the type of positive social environment they identify as desirable and they deserve.

CD: Now, almost 20 years after your Fulbrights in Bulgaria and sixteen years after the School of Clinical Social Work was started at the New Bulgarian University, how do you see the legacy of your activities there?

R&AF: We are delighted that you asked. We recently received a very positive report from Dr. Galina Markova, the first student at that School at Anne’s suggestion, its impressive director for many years, and the holder of a doctorate from the Smith College School for Social Work.

She just completed her major assignment- to de-institutionalize the notorious Moglino orphanage, which is the subject of a recent and very critical film. This effort has been spurred by the EU to reduce orphanages in Bulgaria and move to foster care for abused and neglected children, most of who were abandoned rather than true orphans. A major challenge was to trace the developmental history of the children, many of whom lost contact with their parents.

Now, she is initiating a bachelor’s degree program at the School to complement its master’s degree program since its establishment in 1992. Also, she inaugurated an entrepreneurial culture at the University to foster a closer relationship between it and the community. Similarly, she has developed a casework approach for an orphanage in Sofia for young children. Finally, she reported that a Roma female student supported by a fund we established there won support for a Roma community program for parents and children.

CD: Roy and Anne Freed, thanks so much for speaking with us today and good luck with your future Bulgarian endeavors.

R&AF: And thank you.

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Bulgaria To Finally Open Secret Files

By Jan Buruma

Almost two decades after the fall of communism, Bulgarians are still wrestling with their totalitarian past. They do not yet have complete access to the files of the communist-era secret service (Darzhavna Sigurnost), but that is about to change. In June 2006, a legal deadline to open the files expired. But only in April 2007 has Bulgaria appointed a parliamentary commission to work on the topic.

The Bulgarian secret service was formally abolished in 1990, just after dictator Todor Zhivkov was forced to resign. Despite public pressure to open its archives like in other post-Soviet countries, in January 1990 most of the files were destroyed – those listing 46 percent of the secret services’ collaborators, 30 percent of those citizens who had been placed under surveillance and 91 percent of those who let facilities to the police.

The most high-profile case was the disappearance of the Georgi Markov file. Markov was a dissident writer and journalist who was famously killed in 1978 in London by a poisoned umbrella. KGB officers revealed in the 1990’s that they had cooperated on that case with their Bulgarian counterparts.

Bulgarian investigative journalist Hristo Hristov wrote the bestseller Kill the Tramp about the Bulgarian and British policy in the Markov case. The book was launched in June 2005, just before the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) was expected to win the parliamentary elections. Hristov’s book got a lot of publicity abroad, though not in Bulgaria itself. It is typical that only almost two decades after the fall of communism such a book could be published. In the early 1990’s the Bulgarians still feared the ghost of the formerly all-powerful DS. The publication of this groundbreaking work came only after the 1997 Velvet Revolution, when Bulgaria moved towards the West, joining NATO in 2004 and the EU at the beginning of this year.

However, the Balkan country still remains the only former Soviet satellite that has not yet given complete access to its secret files. Hristov wrote about his difficulties to get access to some documents. In May 2006 a 15-year legal deadline on confidential information expired, and the government announced it would gradually make public over 250,000 documents. However, all personal details were to be erased from the files, neutralising much of their effect.

Ever since 1989 Bulgarians have been discussing this controversial topic. In 1993, the right-wing Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) tried to pass a law to open the secret files, but this initiative was amongst others blocked by Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the ethnic Turkish party (DPS). In 1997, the SDS managed to pass the law. It could have led to the implication of about 150 ministers and members of parliament, as well as numerous presidential and parliamentary candidates, as agents and collaborators of the secret services. However, the Constitutional Court ruled that names listed on documents from destroyed files could be manipulated and therefore should not be revealed. SDS-leader Kostov admitted that some files could have been destroyed by his own party’s sympathisers, although he refused to reveal any names. Some names though, were made public, the most high-profile being Ahmed Dogan. He had served from 1974 till 1988 as DS-agent, but was prosecuted by the same organization from 1988, and therefore survived the ensuing public outrage.

In June 2006 the renewed debate took a presidential turn, as both current socialist President Georgi Parvanov and his right-wing predecessor (and current SDS-leader) Petar Stoyanov became involved. Parvanov admitted that he knew that a file on him existed under the name Gotse, but denied that he had actually worked for the secret services. Parvanov blamed Kostov for revealing the information. The latter admitted that he had known about the Gotse file back in 1997 when, as prime minister, he had set up a commission to investigate accusations.

However, not only the current president was accused. An internet forum posting claimed that Stoyanov had a file under the covert name Victor. Stoyanov immediately denied this, explaining that he and his family had been persecuted by the communist authorities before 1989. The SDS-leader called upon Interior Minister Rumen Petkov to investigate the claim and make a public statement declaring that they were not true, and threatened to cause an international scandal if he would not do so. Petkov denied that there was any information proving Stoyanov worked for the state security service, although the Interior Minister admitted that the secret service had followed Stoyanov because of his family’s background.

The political controversies were not limited to Bulgaria. It affected relations between Bulgaria, on the one hand, and NATO and the EU on the other. Dutch MEP Mrs. Els de Groen, who is a member of the delegation to the EU-Bulgaria Joint Parliamentary Committee, has been lobbying for complete access to all secret files. According to Mrs. De Groen, Bulgaria must be completely frank about its communist past in order to be a democratic and transparent EU-member. Therefore, she organised in July 2006 an international conference on the secret files.

Meanwhile, Greens in the European parliament warned that the continued existence of the secret files could lead to corruption and blackmail. In 2000 a parliamentary commission had started to work on the opening of the secret files. However, in 2002 it was closed by Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. Metodi Andreev, the then-chairman of the commission, said it is a public secret that there are links between former secret service generals and organised crime. The EU is deeply concerned about the level of organised crime in Bulgaria, and there is speculation that the remaining files may contain revelations of links between prominent Bulgarians and organised crime groups. Therefore, as a brand new EU-member, Bulgaria will remain fir another three years under the strict control of Brussels.

In December 2006, Bulgaria’s parliament finally adopted several highly controversial amendments to not make public the files of those former agents when either their lives or national security could be endangered. Further, all documents would only be made public with the personal approval of the parliamentary commission’s chairman. Right-wing MP’s disapproved completely, claiming the decisions were made under pressure of the left-wing President Parvanov.

Nevertheless, it took the Bulgarians another four months to set up the commission, chaired by left-wing MP Evtim Kostadinov. SDS and the nationalistic party Ataka boycotted the 6 April 2007 vote on the commission, because they have no representative. The National Investigative Service denied SDS-candidate Georgi Kostantinov access to confidential information. He had allegedly masterminded the blowing up of a foreign diplomat’s apartment in order to hamper ties between Bulgaria and the United Kingdom. However, and likely of greater importance, Konstantinov was persecuted by the communist regime and spent ten years in Bulgarian prisons. In 1973, he fled Bulgaria and sought political asylum in France.

Progress thus remains slow. Stoyanov said the SDS was not going to put forward another candidate, because he very much doubts the commission will perform its duties properly. For his part, Kostadinov announced at a press conference on April 6, 2007 that his commission will start to check the past of the Bulgarian candidate-MEP’s, as elections for the 18 Bulgarian members of the European Parliament will be held on 20 May 2007.

Trilateral Signing in Skopje Brings AMBO Oil Pipeline a Step Closer to Realization

By Christopher Deliso

Economy ministers representing Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania signed an important trilateral convention at a ceremony at 1 PM on Wednesday at the Macedonian government building. The signing paves the way for preliminary work to begin on the long-anticipated AMBO oil pipeline, devised since 1994 but still not executed.

However, with yesterday’s signing another hurdle was cleared. At the same time, the world was given the most tangible evidence yet that AMBO will be a pipeline, and not just a pipe dream. Interestingly, the signing “beat,” by more than a week, a similar ceremony between Greece, Bulgaria and Russia over a shorter pipeline, from Burgas in Bulgaria to Alexandroupolis on the northeastern Aegean. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline project has been presented as a rival project to AMBO in the past. But internal disputes over port controls and other issues have kept B-A from getting off the ground. The trilateral signing for that project is to be held on February 7 in Burgas.

Before a full room of officials, onlookers and journalists, Macedonian Minister of Economy Vera Rafajlovska and her peers, Bulgarian Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Asen Gagauzov and Albanian Minister of Economy, Market and Energy Genc Ruli, spoke of the importance of AMBO for their countries and the region. But the most attention was given to a special visitor, the president of the AMBO corporation, former BP executive Ted Ferguson.

In their speeches, the ministers made the usual comments about how the project was good for regional cooperation, security and economic development. Macedonian Minister Rafajlovska stated that the pipeline would help to diversify and thus make safer local energy supply. For his part, Albania’s Ruli stated that AMBO would “become another factor in [our] cooperation and security… and will pay for other projects at a regional level.” His Bulgarian colleague said that “by signing today the tripartite convention, we express the commitment of our government to provide political support for this very important project… not only an oil pipeline project, but also part of Corridor 8, of vital importance for our three countries.”

According to a prepared media announcement, the pipeline will be 894.5 km long, with four pumping stations, and have a capacity of 750,000 barrels of oil per day. It is expected to eventually transport some 30-40 million tons of crude oil annually. Macedonia, which will host 273 km of the pipeline as well as one pumping station, is due to receive $30 million in annual transit fees from the project. The total investment costs are anticipated at $1.2 billion.

In Skopje, the local media has occasionally expressed sarcasm over the allegedly slow pace of activity around the pipeline, taking a “we’ll believe it when we see it” point of view. In his comments, AMBO President Ted Ferguson acknowledged local eagerness, saying that everyone was probably most interested to know “when we are actually going to start some work.”

Although he took care to first remind that the signing was “an agreement between the three countries, not with AMBO,” Mr. Ferguson went on to say that with the signing the project was now “entering into a very exciting stage.” With the signed agreement, initial funding that has been raised can now be allotted for necessary preliminary studies.

According to the AMBO president, “we are now mobilizing people to come to the region for the environmental assessment. These studies should take six months, after which we will start engineering and ordering of materials. Before the end of 2008 we would expect to start construction… by early 2011, we should have a commissioned pipeline and be loading the first tanker in Vlore.”

In comments after the event, Mr. Ferguson added that the first necessary study is a Red Flag Survey of the most environmentally sensitive areas along the pipeline’s anticipated route. According to him, a contracting firm has been identified and can begin work “as soon as we sign a contract with them, in the next few weeks is what we’re aiming for.”

The signing ceremony also gave the public insight into the origins of the AMBO project, with the reading of a special letter from the chairman of AMBO, Stephanie Tashkovich. The letter chronicled how her late husband, Vuko Tashkovich, a former co-chairman of the World Macedonian Congress diaspora group, watched with concern in the early 1990’s as war engulfed the Balkans. The fledgling Macedonian state was imperiled by a trade embargo from the Greeks and economic sanctions on neighboring Serbia.

“Vuko tried night and day to figure out what Macedonia might have or might do that would make it in the self-interest of powerful nations to protect Macedonia’s stability and territorial integrity if it were ever challenged,” Mrs. Tashkovich recalled.

A situation soon presented itself: in January 1994, after having learned of the ever-increasing build-up of tanker traffic in the Bosporus and the anticipated future rise in oil exports from the Caspian, the patriotic and enterprising Tashkovich flew to the Balkans to negotiate exclusive rights with the Albanian, Macedonian and Bulgarian governments to develop a pipeline that someday “would surely hold the attention of Western nations who benefited from it.”

However, despite this visionary thinking, the AMBO plan was slow to get started. The ongoing volatility and war in the region kept potential investors leery, but even more of an impediment was the amount of attention given to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project from Washington and the oil majors at the time. Then there was the brief though unhelpful outbreak of war in 2001.

Indeed, all the evidence suggests that rather than a narrative of wars surreptitiously engineered from the outside to create the conditions for the trans-Balkan oil pipeline, the project thus seems to have represented exactly the opposite scenario: that of a constructive project for regional security that somehow has managed to stay afloat despite the odds stacked against it.

Although the man who first envisioned the trans-Balkan pipeline died a decade ago, the project has been kept alive by his wife and their son, Gligor- an AMBO executive before being named Minister of Foreign Investment in the Macedonian government after elections in July 2006. “Like Vuko, he did not care about the odds, he believed in AMBO and was determined to carry on his father’s dream,” stated the letter from Stephanie Tashkovich.

In his first few months in government, the younger Tashkovich has been working 80 and even 100-hour weeks, while traveling around the globe to raise Macedonia’s stature as a foreign investment destination (Gligor Tashkovich and Vele Samak, another young foreign investment minister, have been dubbed the “flying ministers” by the local press due to their constant travel). Despite the draining workload, he is optimistic and calls working as a government minister “the realization of a life-long dream.”

Minister Tashkovich affirmed that with the tripartite signing, the necessary work preliminary to the pipeline’s construction can begin. He identified the candidate for the environmental Red Flag Study as Walsh Environmental of Colorado, a company with previous experience on similar Balkan projects.

Although other oil pipeline projects have been stymied by protests from environmental groups, most noticeably in Georgia’s Borjomi region, Minister Tashkovich does not anticipate similar issues arising in Macedonia. He also notes that the original pipeline route was modified years ago so as to avoid the sensitive Lake Ohrid area.

Such studies as that now to be undertaken for AMBO are not simply a gesture of goodwill to nature- it is a regular and necessary process in the evolution of any pipeline. “Specifically, it is called an Environment and Social Impact Assessment Survey, and performing one is a requirement of the international financial institutions,” Minister Tashkovich underscored.

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Why the EU Needs a Strategy for the Black Sea Region

By Lara Scarpitta*

It is old news that geography matters in foreign policy. A dormant EC/EU had to learn this vital lesson in 1989, when communism crumbled behind its safe walls. Faced with the sudden prospect of bordering poor, unpredictable and unstable neighbours, it responded by anchoring the former soviet satellites of Central Europe with the offer of EU membership. But now that a new enlargement has been completed, geography matters even more. With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on the 1st of January, the EU’s new eastern border has moved south, to the shore of the Black Sea. Across its waters, however, lies one of the most unstable and conflict-prone regions of post-Soviet Eurasia.

For centuries, the Black Sea region has been a theatre of violent conflicts and power struggles, due primarily to its geographical location and character as a transit route. During the Cold War, all Black Sea states (except Turkey) were within the Soviet sphere of influence and at the periphery of international strategic interests. But as the Soviet Union began to break down in 1991, the Black Sea region plunged into chaos, torn apart by several ethnic and separatist conflicts. The end of the Cold War’s artificial stability freed long concealed (and suppressed) historical grievances and a number of new independent states such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Empire.

Nevertheless, most of them are still very weak democracies, facing territorial separatism, ethnic tensions, undemocratic trends in domestic politics, slow economic progress, environmental degradation and endemic corruption of public officials. The long years of armed conflicts have caused disruption to trade and damaged infrastructure. Due to its potential for conflict, the region has attracted relatively little foreign investment and most such countries are still today heavily dependent on the Russian economy. Unemployment rates are generally very high, with almost all states suffer from a hemorrhagic migration abroad of a consistent percentage of the working-age population.

Today the Black Sea region is also a major source and transit area of several security threats, from terrorism to international organised crime as well as arms and human trafficking. It is home to four so-called “frozen” conflicts — Transnistria, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia – the unresolved separatist issues which followed the breakdown of the USSR.

Despite years of diplomacy and talks, hopes for finding a peaceful and long-standing resolution for these conflicts remain bleak. Apart from fuelling bilateral tensions, these “frozen’ conflicts have been a bane for the region’s democratic and economic development, breeding instability and corruption and favouring the proliferation of organised crime. Uncontrolled territories in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, have become safe havens for the activities of powerful organised criminal groups involved in people smuggling, human trafficking as well as goods and arms trafficking. The phenomenon of arms trafficking is widespread in the region and much of the large weapons stockpiles abandoned by Russia in the early 1990s have ended up on the grey and black markets. The region is also a major source of drug production and a trafficking route for drugs coming from Central Asia and the Middle East (especially Afghanistan) into Europe. Large profits are also being made from smuggling people across the region with a promise of a better life in the West, and there is evidence that these profits are being reinvested into drugs and arms trafficking, as well as financing terrorist activities, as a recent Europol report highlighted.

This situation carries significant implications for EU security. A power vacuum in the region can potentially result in a security vacuum with consequences which are self-evident yet highly unpredictable. Because of its sudden and new geographical proximity to the wider Black Sea states, the EU will no longer be immune from the backlashes of instability and conflicts in the region, but rather will be directly exposed to a whole range of security threats, from organised crime to drugs and arms trafficking, as well as refugee and illegal migration pressures.

Aside from these security concerns, however, the Black Sea region offers many positive opportunities. The most obvious is in the field of energy. Thanks to its proximity to the oil-rich Caspian Sea and its vast energy resources, the Black Sea region can play a major role for the EU’s energy strategy, to secure alternatives to Russian energy supply.

Many ambitious pipeline projects were launched in the 1990s to guarantee direct access to Caspian oil via the Black Sea. These include the U.S. East-West Energy Corridor and the EU Traceca project (Transit Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia).

Although these failed to materialise when conflicts erupted in the Balkans and in the South Caucasus in the 1990s, it is in the interests of the EU that these projects be reinvigorated to ensure greater Western access to Caspian energy resources.

Perhaps most importantly, the Black Sea region matters for its strategic importance, owing to its proximity to the Middle East. Since 9/11, the US has played an active role in the region to safeguard its vast security and economic interests, especially access to Caspian oil and gas reserves. American “pipeline politics’ has gone hand in hand with its war on terror and the U.S. administration has been keen to support the NATO aspirations of some Black Sea countries.

Yet is the EU ready take up these challenges with similar energy? Can it exploit the region’s huge and lucrative potentials and prevent the Black Sea from becoming a permanent source of security threats?

Most likely, it will only be able to do so partially. The reasons are multiple. First, the EU does not have a Black Sea policy, or at least not a coherent strategy as such. It has opted instead for a patchwork of policies and approaches: enlargement to South-eastern Europe and Turkey, the “European Neighbourhood” policy and a structured cooperation with the South Caucasus states.

Indeed, therein lays part of the problem. While the EU enlargement policy – with its strict conditionality and convergence to EU norms and standards – has (at least so far) been relatively a success story, other policies failed to deliver the expected results. Bilateral cooperation with post-Soviet Eastern neighbours like Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, as well as with the South Caucasus states (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), put in place since the mid-1990s hardly proved a recipe for stabilisation and prosperity. The over 3 billion euros from the EU’s TACIS funds allocated in the last ten years have failed to convince reluctant post-Soviet governments to introduce sound democratic and market-based economic reforms. Part of the problem is that the EU lacks sufficient leverage to push for such reforms. This is hardly a surprise if one considers that most of these states are still heavily under Russia’s influence. The 2006 energy crisis in Ukraine and Moldova, as well as Russian import bans on Moldovan and Georgian wines and water are a stark remainder of Russia’s economic power over its neighbours.

The EU, by contrast, continues to have a limited impact on the region. But the EU “stabilisation’ policy has also been too weak in its incentives to push for reforms. The so-called Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PACs), lacked not only a prospect for membership but also a strict conditionality and were based primarily on a multidimensional cooperation on economic and cultural questions and a political dialogue on issues concerning minorities, human rights and security in Europe.

The “European Neighbourhood” policy, launched officially on the eve of the 2004 “big bang’ enlargement, was aimed at addressing some of these problems. But judging by the results so far, the innovative offer of “everything except institutions,” has not been the trump card the EU was looking for as an alternative to enlargement. The colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia have not given way to the expected substantial democratic reforms. Moldova continues to struggle to control its separatist region of Transnistria and there are no signs of Belarus abandoning its totalitarian regime. Little progress has been made in fulfilling the various Action Plans, the EU’s own financial commitment for the region for 2007-2013 has increased but remains marginal and the EU has continued to politely dismiss the long-term membership aspirations of some of its pro-Western neighbours.

Paradoxically, with these differentiated approaches towards its neighbours the EU has in fact achieved the rather unexpected results of widening the economic, political and social gap between them. While in Romania and Bulgaria the EU accession process has arguably ensured the successful creation of sound democratic institutions and fast economic growth, the EU’s eastern neighbours have witnessed a halt or reversal of their democratic process, as highlighted by the 2005 Freedom House Report, with most struggling with macroeconomic and structural difficulties and declining standards of living.

So what should the EU do? For a start, think strategically. After the 2007 enlargement and with the accession negotiations already underway with Turkey, the EU has already become an actor in the Black Sea region. Developing a coherent and well articulated Black Sea policy to protect EU economic and strategic interests has therefore become imperative.

No doubt, anchoring the countries of the Black Sea region is not going to be easy, not least of all because without a realistic prospect of EU membership for most of these states, the EU lacks its most powerful point of leverage. On the positive side, however, the EU is now in a far better position to develop an ambitious and realistic policy for the region than it was some years ago. It can now draw on its expertise and the instruments developed in the past decade, by abandoning rhetoric and reinforcing its concrete actions.

The coming months may be crucial for the development of a coherent EU Black Sea strategy. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier made it clear that Germany intends to achieve concrete results in Black Sea Region during its presidency by examining the effectiveness of the European Neighbourhood policy.

Still, by itself this policy is not sufficient. The stability of the region requires political courage and long-term strategic thinking. The EU should certainly put “some meat on the bone’ on its neighbourhood policy, by offering to its neighbours concrete and lucrative economic incentives in exchange for serious and tangible commitments to democratic and market-based reforms and the protection of human rights. But a credible EU Black Sea policy also needs to demonstrate that the EU is serious about the resolution of all the “frozen’ conflicts in the region. The support for the EU Border Assistance Mission between Ukraine and Moldova and the appointment of a EU Special Representative for Moldova in 2005 is a positive sign that EU commitment heads in this direction.

However, concrete steps must be taken at regional and bilateral levels to find durable peaceful solutions. In this respect Brussels must also find the political courage and determination to take the initiative diplomatically with Russia. Unfortunately, EU reactions to Russia’s allegedly “imperialist’ policy to its near abroad have remained weak and not much more has been done beyond expressing disappointment.

Finally the EU needs to step in with greater support and financial involvement to support regional cooperation efforts. So far the EU has paid lip service to regional cooperation preferring to focus instead on bilateral relations. As active regional partners and new EU members, Romania and Bulgaria are likely to play an active role in this respect.

Romanian President Traian Basescu has made it clear on several occasions that Romania intends to promote more assertively the idea of a strategic vision for the Black Sea region and a greater involvement in regional dynamics. Black Sea economic cooperation in particular can offer the EU an ideal forum for promoting projects in the field of energy as well as non economic areas, such as the protection of the environment, controlling immigration and fighting arms and human trafficking. Ultimately, the extent to which the EU will be able to secure its immediate and distant neighbours in the Black Sea region will depend on its ability to increase its role and impact on the region and become a pulling factor for democratic change. A democratic and fully integrated Turkey will be crucial in this respect.

The benefits of a coherent, realistic and forward-looking strategy towards the Black Sea region are enormous. If the EU’s “close’ and “distant’ neighbours can successfully complete their economic and political transition, security threats will be weakened. Similarly, the creation of stable democratic institutions, functioning economic structures and vibrant civil societies will undermine the operation of criminal groups. To achieve this long-term objective all EU instruments and forces should be mobilised. Otherwise, the region may well plunge once again into chaos. However, this time EU citizens many not be immune.

*Lara Scarpitta is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Birmingham. Before embarking on a PhD, Lara worked in Holland, Italy and recently in Brussels where she worked as an intern in the Cabinet of Vice President of the European Commission Franco Frattini, EU Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice.

2004-2009 Back Archives