Global Independent Analytics
Radostina Schivatcheva
Radostina Schivatcheva

Location: Bulgaria

Specialization: Sustainable development, International relations, Comparative European politics, European integration, Eastern European politics and EU-Russia relations

Erdogan’s Soft-Power in Bulgaria: A diplomatic attaché campaigning for a local political party in mosques

Soft power should dispel rather than stoke tensions, but Turkey’s ‘soft power’, which has underscored its international success, has become tense and even intrusive

The Bulgarian foreign minister stated recently: “The ties [between Turkey and Bulgaria] are too important to depend on the political crisis within one or other Bulgarian party or the actions of Bulgarian or Turkish politicians”.

What prompted his words?

In the last few months the presence of Turkey in Bulgaria`s political life has become more noticeable. A battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Bulgarian Muslims, waged by Turkey, has been intensifying. The tense relations between Turkey and Russia, stoked by Erdogan’s downing of the Russian plane, have reverberated into the domestic Bulgarian politics via the Bulgarian political party largely representing the Bulgarian-Turkish minority. The leader of the center-left Bulgarian opposition and the second largest Bulgarian party, Mihail Mikov cautioned regarding Turkey by explaining that Bulgaria is located in a significant spot, and recently has been witnessing the most active presence of Turkey. “This has been evidenced by the latest events, taking place in Bulgaria”, he said.

The most recent manifestation of the neighbourhood tensions is the mini-diplomatic crisis, that just shook the Balkan horizon: the mutual declarations of each other’s respective diplomats as ‘persona non grata’ by both Bulgaria and Turkey. Western analysts only mentioned that a Bulgarian diplomat was expelled from Turkey on the accusation of ‘spying’. However, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News (HDN) explained that Bulgaria’s expulsion of Turkish diplomat Ugur Emiroglu has prompted Ankara to take a counteraction by declaring Zornitsa Apostolova, First Secretary at the Consulate General of Bulgaria in Istanbul, ‘persona non grata’.  What caused this will be explained shortly, but first, the basics.

Bulgaria and Turkey – a socio-economic comparison

Bulgaria has no interest in disrupting the good relations with its powerful neighbour. Compared to Bulgaria, Turkey is a giant. Turkey’s GDP is 1.641 trillion USD (PPP, 2016) with GDP per capita $20,888 USD (PPP, 2016). In contrast, Bulgaria’s economy is the modest (or rather tiny) GDP of $128.1 billion (PPP). The reported GDP per capita $17,869 (PPP) is definitely a myth rather than reality. In fact, the average monthly salary in the poorest EU member-state is only 300 euros. The two countries share 275 km of borders and both expressed a shared desire to live in peace and cooperation.  Turkey and Bulgaria are both NATO allies; and Bulgaria, an EU member-state, is supportive of Turkey’s application for European membership. In 2012, Turkey was among the first five trading partners of Bulgaria. The Turkish Foreign Ministry estimates the bilateral trade volume at 2.8 billion USD in the years 2011 and 2012.

Socially, relations between the two countries are delicate. While Turkey has 74 million citizens, Bulgaria has only 7. The Turkish newspaper ‘Today’s Zaman’ reported that now there are about 300,000 ethnic Turks living in Bulgaria. HDN estimated that “ethnic Turks and other Muslim groups make up about 13% of the 7.2 million population”, thus placing their number at 700,000. The newspapers refer to the traditional core electorate of the Bulgarian political party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). Although parties of ethnic and religious nature are nominally forbidden by the Constitution of Bulgaria, MRF has traditionally represented the Turkish ethnic minority. The Movement is a centrist political party, established by the politician Ahmed Dogan in 1990. On 19 January 2013, the politician Lyutfi Mestan was elected as MRF’s second chairman.  The close ties between MRF and the kin state Turkey are not a secret for anyone.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF)

While the political leadership of MRF has been characterized by internal tensions and divisions, recently these have become more pronounced. In December, 2015, Mestan was removed from power on the insistence of the founder Dogan.  According to HDN, the reason for Mestan’s removal was that he had declared support for Turkey “over the downing of the Russian airplane”. Mestan is quoted as stating that Russia's violation of Turkish airspace amounts to a violation of the sovereignty of NATO territory and that Russia had previously been given many official warnings. Dogan, to whom HDN referred as “a respectable elder statesman of Bulgarian politics”, has criticized Mestan harshly by saying: “We are in a crisis, but we do not recognize its scale and depth. And we could be victims, cannon fodder, to this crisis. Just imagine the potential conflict between Russia and Turkey. Mr. Mestan, your statement was a blunder”. In turn, Mestan accused Dogan of being pro-Russian: “You cannot say that you are of NATO and tout Russian power”. 

The rift between the two chief men of MRF was noisy, messy and public, to the point that the former second most powerful man in MRF had to seek refuge in the Turkish embassy in Sofia. Now Mestan has just announced that he is forming a new liberal political party called Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance (DRFT). ‘We will be a radical NATO and European party’, promised Mestan.  It remains to be seen if the court will register the party or if it would deem it unconstitutional, and if approved, how much electoral support will DRFT gain.

Turkish newspapers admit that support for Mestan’s new party comes from high places in Turkey. ‘Today’s Zaman’, for example, noted that “Mestan has close ties with Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party”. In Bulgaria, both the parliamentary majority and the opposition concur. Tsveta Karajancheva, the executive-head of the Parliamentary group of the center-right Bulgarian parliamentary majority party, said that Mestan is helped by people close to President Erdogan. The leader of the major opposition center-left party Mihail Mikov echoed this thought, stating that there is information that the new party of Lyutfi Mestan is supported by the Turkish state. Karajancheva also cautioned that Turkey’s support for Mestan’s Party is “a signal to the regions with large populations of Bulgarian Muslims, to switch their party allegiance to the new political subject”. Even the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov complained about having been pressured by both the President and the PM of Turkey to intervene in the conflict that broke out in the MRF. In an interview with the private Bulgarian bTV station Borisov said that both Recep Tayyip  Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu have sought his support for Lyutfi Mestan.

The means and ends of soft power

The drama in Bulgaria’s domestic politics has been accompanied by larger dramatic acts in the relations between the neighbouring countries. On February 21, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to its Turkish counterpart demanding that the Turkish attaché Ugur Emiroglu leave his post at the Consulate General of the city of Bourgas. The diplomat was accused of interfering with Bulgaria’s domestic affairs. Since 1997 Emiroglu has served in different cities of Turkey - Bursa, Trabzon, Dyunihane. He has also worked in the Diyanet (Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs). He then worked as an imam in Strasbourg, France. After returning to Turkey, he worked as a mufti in Bursa’s quarter "Orhaneli" until 2015. It was only then that he was sent to work at the Turkish consulate in Bourgas, Bulgaria.

Emiroglu was supposed to work as an attaché on social issues, but it is alleged that he spent most of his time in Bulgaria interfering with the religious confessional activities of Bulgarian Muslims. The Bulgarian newspaper Standard reported that the Turkish attaché has worked on the preparation of a Muslim conference in January. At the conference Mustapha Hadji was re-elected as the Chief Mufti. Also, Emiroglu has been involved in Islamist agitation. Hurriyet Daily News mentioned that the Bulgarian Focus news agency said that Emiroglu had been putting pressure on the Bulgarian-Turkish minority to extend their support for the Bulgarian politician Lyutfi Mestan.

Since the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declined to comment, the Bulgarian private television ‘Nova TV’ decided to seek answers from a different source and invited for an interview Nedim Gendzhev - Chairman of the Supreme Muslim Religious Council and former chief mufti of Bulgaria.

According to Gendzhev, Emiroglu is the ‘smallest fish’ - the most insignificant person of some 90 Turkish nationals - sent to Bulgaria by Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs. “This man [Emiroglu] has been going to all the mosques and had been urging that Erdogan should be praised there. Then he has been urging the people to join the new party of Mestan. I suppose that he has been an agent of the Turkish intelligence, he must have been one”, said Bulgaria’s former mufti Gendzhev.  He explained that in all Bulgarian Muslim religious centers there are people who are linked to Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet). [The expelled diplomat] “was only a small-level officer; the Bulgarian authorities need to kick out more people”, said Gendzhev.

A not-so-soft power

Soft power should dispel rather than stoke tensions, but Turkey’s ‘soft power’, which has underscored its international success, has become tense and even intrusive. The struggle within MRF gives a glimpse into the hidden mechanisms of this not-so-soft power at play in the inter-state relations. Now in Bulgaria there may be several parties vying for the vote of the Turkish minority and the Muslim electorate. Paradoxically, Russia seems to be the divisive issue rather than the parties’ own domestic programmes or policies on how to best to improve the well-being of the voters. This preoccupation with Russia reflects the concerns of Turkey’s government, rather than the needs and priorities of the electorate. Consequently, rather than providing political representation, the party-political divisions may encourage, social, political and religious tensions rather than dissipating them.

Related ARTICLES

EU Blackmailed by Turkey, Member States blackmailed by EU

EU Blackmailed by Turkey, Member States blackmailed by EU

The crème-de-la-crème efforts of the EU to address the refugee crisis are pathetic.

03 June 2016

by Valerijus Simulik

Did Erdogan’s War Against Kurds Reach Brussels?

Did Erdogan’s War Against Kurds Reach Brussels?

Erdogan`s method of using the media and TV to brainwash people, and of using Islamism and extreme nationalism,  is working for now. He also succeeded in putting fear into the hearts of the Europeans.

23 March 2016

by Joshua Tartakovsky

From Istanbul to Brussels: What Is Going On?

From Istanbul to Brussels: What Is Going On?

On March 19, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Istiklal street, by Taksim, Istanbul. And today, March 22, a major terror attack took place in Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station.

23 March 2016

by Joshua Tartakovsky

POPULAR ARTICLES

Not Found

OPINION

Vladimir Golstein

Vladimir Golstein

The Danderous Acceptance of Donald Trump

James N. Green

James N. Green

Politics in Brazil: Fasten Your Seat Belts!

Barbara H. Peterson

Barbara H. Peterson

Health officials confirm spread of Zika virus through sexual contact in Texas, first in US

Danny Haiphong

Danny Haiphong

WHY IS OTTO(SUPER)MAN ERDOGAN LOSING HIS CHARISMA?

Miray Aslan

Miray Aslan

How relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a breaking point

Navid Nasr

Navid Nasr

How relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a breaking point

Writers

chief editor

Joshua Tartakovsky

Analysis should serve as a method to better understand our world, not to obscure it.

Materials: 42

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Materials: 7

Specialization: Balkans, NATO and EU policies, Strategic communications

Materials: 3

Specialization: Foreign politics, Immigration, Human rights.

Materials: 2

Specialization: Political Science, Social Anthropology

Materials: 3

Specialization: Eastern Europe

Materials: 14

Specialization: Industrial Safety, Corporations

Materials: 12

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

Materials: 3

Specialization: American history, way of life, and principles

Danielle Ryan

Ireland

Materials: 10

Specialization: US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias

Materials: 20

Specialization: War, Racism, Capitalist exploitation, Civil rights

Materials: 8

Specialization: Modern Japanese History, Modern Chinese History, Military History, History of Counterinsurgency, History of Disobedience, Dynamics of Atrocities in Wartime

Dovid Katz

Lithuania

Materials: 3

Specialization: Holocaust Revisionism and Geopolitics; East European Far Right & Human Rights; Yiddish Studies & Litvak Culture

Materials: 20

Specialization: History, Catalunya, Spain, Geopolitics, Nationalism in Europe, Islamization, Immigration

Materials: 5

Materials: 3

Specialization: migration, international relations

Materials: 1

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy and strategies, BRICS/SCO

Materials: 19

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Materials: 10

Specialization: Jihadist Groups, Islamic Terrorism, Global Security

Materials: 4

Specialization: Geopolitics

Materials: 4

Specialization: Media and government relations

Materials: 2

Specialization: Latin America, Brazil

Jay Watts

Canada

Materials: 2

Specialization: History, Marxism-Leninism, Imperialism, Anti-imperialism.

Materials: 2

Specialization: International Relations, Sociology, Geostrategy

Materials: 1

Specialization: civil rights

Lionel Baland

Belgium

Materials: 22

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Maram Susli

Australia

Materials: 3

Specialization: Geopolitics

Materials: 2

Specialization: Civil rights, Racism, US politics

Materials: 1

Specialization: geopolitics, economics

Max J. Schindler

Palestine-Israel

Materials: 9

Specialization: Politics

Miray Aslan

Turkey

Materials: 12

Specialization: Media, Politics

Materials: 5

Specialization: Politics, International relations

Navid Nasr

Croatia

Materials: 13

Specialization: Global security, Politics

Materials: 9

Specialization: Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

Materials: 9

Specialization: Greece, Crisis of the US hegemony; Israel / Occupied Palestine, Oppression of Black people in the US

Materials: 4

Specialization: geopolitics, Russia, USSR

Pedro Marin

Brazil

Materials: 17

Specialization: Latin America, Ukraine, North Korea

Materials: 13

Specialization: Sustainable development, International relations, Comparative European politics, European integration, Eastern European politics and EU-Russia relations

Materials: 8

Specialization: Politics

Materials: 16

Specialization: Counterterrorist Finance

Seyit Aldogan

Greece

Materials: 3

Specialization: ISIS, Middle East, Globalization, Migrant crisis

Materials: 1

Specialization: Head of "Srebrenica Historical Project"

Materials: 3

Specialization: Economy, Social politics

Stevan Gajic

Serbia

Materials: 1

Specialization: Full time researcher at the Institute for European Studies

Materials: 5

Specialization: Geopolitics, Geoeconomics

Materials: 2

Specialization: Civil rights

Tobias Nase

Germany

Materials: 8

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy, Ukraine

Valerijus Simulik

Lithuania

Materials: 2

Specialization: Politics and economics in Baltic States, education and science, non - governmental organizations, globalization and EU

Van Gelis

Greece

Materials: 17

Specialization: Middle East

Materials: 1

Specialization: Kosovo, Serbia, Belgrad bombing

Materials: 5

Specialization: international relations, Russia

toTop