Dogan or Erdogan – the fake dilemmas before Bulgaria’s national security

Dogan or Erdogan – the fake dilemmas before Bulgaria’s national security


On the deceitful political reality.



The nationalists, a.k.a. patriots, pursue a “double bottom” policy line at a critical junction for national security. There is no shortage of fighters for Islam. The nominal choice is between siding with the Turkish ethnic party, DPS, or joining the Erdogan loyalists?!


The narrative goes that it is fine for the leader of GERB to befriend the Turkish president, while the ethnic Turks and their parties in Bulgaria are a liability when it comes to national security and opposing him?!


One of the cornerstones of the ruling coalition before coming to power was the commitment to shut down the channels of influence of Erdogan’s regime through the funding of institutions of Islam in Bulgaria.


The results of the last presidential vote in Turkey are now out – 25% of the eligible Turkish citizens, residing in Bulgaria voted for Erdogan, while almost 60 % sided with the opposition in Turkey.


The bad news is that pro-Erdogan voters in Bulgaria present a potential channel of backdoor influence and their numbers are on the up. The Bulgarian government’s policies in containing the Neo-Ottoman threat are irrelevant or inefficient at best.


The good news is that most Bulgaria-based Turkish citizens remain supporters of secular Islam and Kemal Ataturk.


On both counts the number of Turkish citizens residing in the country represent a small fraction of the number of Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks.


While perusing the statistics it would be worthwhile to look beyond them for context and trends. There are a plethora of ambiguities and doublespeak that defy the gravity of the facts. Many questions and concerns remain unanswered or unattended.


The current model of blocking the Islamist threat from Turkey at a state level has been centered around the MRF and its leader Ahmed Dogan. The stated reason he exited active politics and was put under heavy guard has been the role he played in warding off Neo-Ottoman advances. Many believed he might be a natural target, confirmed by the odd assassination attempt, believed to be inspired by his external enemies who were displeased with his role as a barrier to Ankara’s control over the Bulgarian Turks.


The post-communist nomenclature and the State Security Service have been long proud of Ahmed Dogan as a counterweight to block Ankara’s advances. The deal was simple, though not necessarily commanding the moral heights – the Bulgarian state would assist the MRF in mastering sufficient financial and political power, including access to public resources and virtual immunity from persecution. In return, the Lord of the Saray would protect Bulgarian secular Islam against infiltration from Erdogan’s diehard Islamists.


The problem with the design of the plan, the pundits pledge, looms when the DPS is not in power, and when Borisov becomes a friend with Erdogan. The Bulgarian PM and Dogan are bound in a complex system of ties with the elite in Turkey, going well beyond politics. Borisov himself originates from the same circles, yet he has offered an upgrade to the original Dogan/MRF gameplan. Instead of allowing Dogan to broker relations with Turkey, the Bulgarian PM interacts with Peevsky (the political sponsor of the MRF), while concurrently developing a “balancing” track with Erdogan. It would be naïve to believe that this has been his own invention, or that he has been allowed to rise to power while navigating safely through a legacy of leftover dependencies. Yet it is a fact that the bulk of the new interconnectedness has emerged only after Erdogan and his entourage ascended to power and managed to consolidate his grip on power in Turkey.


This implies, among other things, that the PM is unlikely to challenge Erdogan’s Islamist moves in the Balkans or dare to directly confront him on the Turkish Department of Religious Affairs’ (the Diyanet) role in providing imams and funds to Bulgarian Muslims. Not surprisingly, most analysts expect that once fully empowered as president with full executive powers, Tayyip Erdogan will continue unabated his campaign to consolidate his influence among ‘the outer Turks’, including in Bulgaria. The threat of cross-border spillover of Islamist radicalism from Turkey is anything but fading.  The clouds are gathering due to the collapse of the internal Turkish system of checks and balances – there is nothing that can stop Erdogan from engaging in a more extremist foreign policy and radical Islam. This in turn augments the entropy in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy and the likelihood of aggressive actions both at home and abroad.


The debate on how to contain the threat of new peaks of neo-Ottomanism should be reopened immediately. If one believes Sultan Recep and the Turkish Islamists are likely to honor the ‘sovereign right’ of the Bulgarian government to fence off financial flows and cadres coming to Bulgarian Islamist institutions and the Muslim Community, he is living on another planet.


Consider how relevant and adequate is the ongoing dramaturgy behind the alleged policy change of the Bulgarian government towards the operations of the Diyanet. While projecting a nationalist, often extremist agenda, the ‘Patriots’ and the ruling coalition turn a blind eye, deliberately ignoring the Erdogan – Islamist – threat, undermining efforts to build up Bulgaria’s response capacity and security buffers within the collective defense systems of the EU and NATO.


In an environment of unpredictable and growing risk, instead of sustaining healthy distances from the regime in Turkey, over which we have no influence or control, PM Borisov chooses to promote his Erdogan personal agenda at a high level within the EU, engaging in Chamberlainian appeasement by handing over opponents, exposing vulnerabilities and inviting fresh and bigger concessions.


A comparison of Bulgaria’s subservient approach to Erdogan’s Turkey to the policies of Greece and Austria exhibit a stark difference.


The Turkish ethnic minority in Bulgaria, instead of being encouraged to upkeep its secular and pro-European identity is being recklessly subjugated to the short-term volatility in Borisov’s game plan with the Turkish president. These dual citizens have done more for Bulgaria’s national security by voting against and criticizing Erdogan than our own senior politicians who are pursuing trusted relationships with the Turkish president.


In order to sustain privileged relations in Turkey, the Bulgarian Prime Minister seems ready to trespass laws and elementary precaution barriers, including alarms of basic survival instincts. The gains, if any, are personal or for his coterie, most in tactical terms. In the interim huge gaps of vulnerability yawn. Handing over Erdogan’s opponents is not only a criminal act, but an immoral policy that undermines the trust in Bulgarian Muslims that they could provide shelter to their fellow Turks and that opposing Erdogan is a safe bet. The centuries-old tradition and the Bulgarian Apostle Vassil Levski’s covenants to protect the persecuted as soon as they enter Bulgaria are thrashed. Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Turks, Russians, Serbs, Syrians and many other persecuted have found refuge in Bulgaria. Borisov overturned this line in the country’s history and succumbed to subservience, humiliating not only himself, but the whole nation. His act could in time be interpreted and judged against the refusal of the Bulgarians to surrender their compatriot Jews to the Nazis.


The trivial explanation for this is conduct is that the PM is engaged in “grandmaster politics”, which is probably not a far cry from a comparable political expediency facing Bulgarian politicians, clergy and the Bulgarian monarch in 1943. King Boris III had a “close” relationship, being an ally of Hitler, yet he was able to make the difference between the easy and the right decisions.


Borisov now claims “in his notorious modesty” that it is precisely because of these close relations with the Turkish president that the problem with refugees has been resolved. Without underestimating the pragmatic value of good neighborly relations, there are limits to self-aggrandizement. The refugee issue is far from being the only one, even the central one in bilateral relations with Turkey, as it is essentially determined and shaped at a European Union-Turkey level. Migrants take the risk to cross borders and imperil their personal lives not because they are attracted by Bulgaria. The hard fact is that virtually no one has chosen to remain.


Yet Borisov persists on his personal footprint and wastes no time in congratulating his “friend Tayyip” on his election win, sparing even the most muted criticism on human rights violations and election fraud. His only words have been to call for more EU funds for Turkey, exposing himself as a backbench political broker to the detriment of Bulgaria’s reputation and the wider national interest. One should not wonder then why countries such as France, the Netherlands and Austria are not overjoyed to accept us in the Eurozone, the Schengen zone and the Banking Union. The bottom line has always been – trust comes with convergence of values.


One can only speculate as to the extent and depth of the double bottom in the warm relationship between the real leader of Bulgaria and the Turkish President. There is only one thing certain – the denominator is in both politics and business. Refugees are secondary plan, a backdrop of political correctness.


Such doubts are reinforced through the grapevine on the alleged discontinued Diyanet funding for the Muslim clergy and the educational institutions in Bulgaria during Ognian Gerdjikov’s interim government. As soon as Borisov returned to power, his government leaked the news that the cashflow from Turkey had been discontinued. Possibly fearing reprisals from Erdogan, the Borisov government tried to pass on responsibility to the caretaker government, while scoring points with the Bulgarian nationalists. Yet it is strange that the fears that the Imams would revolt, being deprived of means, never materialized. This implies that either the Diyanet transfers have never ceased and Erdogan is continuing to essentially control the Muslim clergy or Borisov has found a  substitute source of funding that is not recorded in the state budget, which is highly unlikely both in terms of legislative and budgetary constraints and the improbable scenario of the Bulgarian PM standing up to Erdogan. The chances that the interim government had the time and the resolve to terminate the intergovernmental agreement allowing the Diyanet to provide financial assistance in Bulgaria, are slim given the time-consuming procedure and the limited mandate. It seems more likely that the rumor has been deliberately spread to calm down concerns within Bulgaria and score fresh points, pulling sensitive cords in the patriotic public, while diverting attention away from the nature of exchanges at the top level with the Turkish president.


When the cheap and easy talk of “Turkish yoke” is in full swing, there is no shortage of nationalistic verbiage, yet when it comes to openly challenging a key premise in Erdogan’s foreign policy as part of the new Sultan’s spheres of influence, Borisov and the patriots remain silent. It is worth extrapolating the current quagmire onto the premises of the long Ottoman rule. Many things have changed, but the main algorithm explaining the long foreign domination has remained unscathed – the invariable presence of the Bulgarian accomplices, willing to strike unilateral deals, seeking personal gains at the expense of the public good.


The exemplary case above of the political schizophrenia of the pro-Russian and pro-Erdogan Bulgarian nationalists and ruling elite is in sharp contrast with the news from Austria, where the government is safeguarding against Islamic and Pro-Erdogan radicalism, closing mosques and unilaterally banning Diyanet’s activities in the country.


In response, the Turkish President threatens a new war between the Cross and the Crescent at the gates of Vienna.


The difference in the reaction of the Bulgarian government of populists and patriots could not be more dramatic. A huge abyss has opened and a mortal danger is hanging over Bulgaria.


We have neither the military defense capabilities nor the legal armor to secure alternative means to nurture a local independent-from-Turkey and self-sustained secular version of Islam capable of shutting down highways for infiltration of Islamic radicals, including from Turkey. At the moment there is no plausible scenario where Borisov would opt to ‘unfriend’ Erdogan and instruct GERB’s parliamentary group to speed up the necessary legislative changes. The draft waiting in parliament aimed to resolve the problem has been progressing at a snail’s pace with enough built-in bugs to postpone indefinitely its adoptions – only the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Chief Mufti Institution are recognized as being eligible for government support – a provision that could hardly pass in a EU member country.


The final tally – Bulgarian Turks vote against Erdogan, while GERB and the patriots carefully tailor their policy not to engager Borisov’s special relationship with the new Sultan and cut off external dependencies and Diyanet’s oversight. And this comes at a cost to Bulgaria’s national security.


It turns out that the Bulgarian Turks are greater patriots and care more for Bulgaria’s independence and self-esteem than elected Bulgarian politicians.


By Ilian Vassilev

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