Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University


In ‘We, the People: Popular Culture and Popular Identity in Modern Europe’ Peter Burke examines the uses of various kinds of popular culture in defining popular identity. He tries to ensure that popular culture is not left out the story of construction and reconstruction of popular identity. In this context, he uses the term identity as something plural and included a sense of membership in a city, a nation, a region and a class. Thus, he discusses the very notion of ‘the people’ as an important form of collective identity in post-medieval Europe and examines two concept of this collective identity: the inclusive and the exclusive. First of them linked with the right-wing politics and defines ‘the people’ as a term including everyone in a particular nation or a city as opposed to other people. The second associated with the left-wing politics and defines ‘the people’ as the members of subordinate as opposed to the ruling class (Burke, 1992). Taking Burke’s perspective of the cultural construction of identity into account, in this essay I shall try to define the very concept of identity through placing particular emphasis on the culture.  In the following analysis it will be shown how collective identities have been formed or reformed and ‘identities of resistance’ has started to appear. Further, I shall discuss the rise of ‘class consciousness’ among the subordinate classes.

According to Burke, in many parts of Europe, ordinary people were always invited to identify themselves as members of a class and as members of nation at the same time. But the important question is whether these invitations received a response as expected or not. Initially it might be argued that the task of identity building is by no means easy. For instance, when we look at the politics of European Integration, the years of 1990s can be defined as a ‘cultural term’ regarding European Union elites’ attempts to invent Europe through the medium of ‘culture’. Even though European Union was traditionally defined as a common market dissolving the barriers to free movement of goods, capitals, services and labor, European Union has always harbored a deeper vision of cultural construction of Europe and the issue of Europe’s identity has become important isssue since it has being seen as parallel development to the construction of European Union. In 1992, Maastricht Treaty, for example, created the category of European citizenship and it gave the European Commission legal right to promote integration in the sphere of culture through enhancing what it saw as ‘the European identity’. Thus, European Commission has defined a European identity which is harmoniously integrated with other identities such as local, regional, ethnic, religious and it has argued that people can have multiple identities. Therefore, the creation of identity or identities discussion yields an obvious question whether these identities are in fact antagonistic or compatible. Just like the Commission has defined, Burke has defined the term ‘identity’ as in essence plural but he has also argued, ‘the same individual or group may privilege one identity over another according to the situation and the moment.’ (Burke, 1992). Thus, I might argue, the possibility of conflict between different multiple identities is out of question in Burke’s work and in European Union case and a sort of apolitical conception of identity has been defined and it has been grounded consensus model of society.

Another important issue is that of ‘identities of resistance’ which is defined by Burke in his work “We, the People: Popular Culture and Popular Identity in Modern Europe”. Throughout the world, as Burke puts it, collective identities have been formed or reformed and ‘identities of resistance’ has started to appear. From Burke’s perspective, whilst the inclusive concept of the people was associated with the acceptance of these changes, the exclusive concept of the people associated with the resistance to attempts by other people to change their very own culture and the way of life.  While Burke gives particular attention to identity of resistance is that of ‘the people’ in the exclusive sense, more exactly, the subordinate people as opposed to the ruling class, we can also give an example of identity of resistance from European Union in the inclusive sense. In this context, the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty by referendum in France and Netherlands in 2005, the strong “Non” and “Nee” of the French and Dutch voters were not only a simple vote on the content of the constitutional text but rather they indicates a sense of resistance to top-down regulations, rules and most importantly identities that are constructed exclusively above by European Union elites (Wind, 2001). Thus, an antagonistic relationship with the state is being rejected at the European Union level.

As stated before, in “We, the People: Popular Culture and Popular Identity in Modern Europe” Burke gives particular attention to the spread of the idea of the people more exactly among the subordinate classes. Thus he has defined identity of resistance is that of ‘the people’ in the exclusive sense, the subordinate people as opposed to the ruling class in particular. The ruling class has been using the term ‘the people’ to refer the rest of the population by defining them as ignorant, disorderly and so on. The problem, for Burke, was to discover when and where this rest of population identified themselves as ‘the people’ or the working class. Much has been written and discussed on the rise of ‘class consciousness’ but Burke defined it from somehow different perspective. He has argued, ‘Ordinary people seem to have become aware of resisting what they regarded as attempts by the privileged classes to take this culture from them.’ (Burke, 1992)

All in all, in this essay, I have tried to analysis the work of Peter Burke, ‘We, the People: Popular Culture and Popular Identity in Modern Europe’. In this respect, I have pointed out the cultural construction of identity and the culture. My examples were mostly from European Union and its history.



BURKE, P. (1992), ‘We, the People: Popular Culture and Popular Identity in Modern Europe’, in Lash and Friedman (eds.), Modernity and Identity, Oxford: Blackwell.

SHORE, C. (2000) Building European Union: The Cultural Politics of European Integration, London, Routledge, pp.15-65

WIND, M. (2001). The Commission White Paper: Bridging the Gap between the Governed and the Governing? Academy of European Law.



Nuran Yıldırım

Middle EastTechnical University


Following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in a crucial referendum, the relationship between the EU and Balkan countries came into discussions. Although the referendum seems like territorial, it has led disastrous impacts across the globe. While Balkan countries affirmed their commitment to European integration, concerns raised over the uncertain future of the EU following Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

Serbia applied for EU membership in December 2009 and Serbia’s progress on the EU path was conditioned on dialogue with Kosovo. In this sense, the EU- facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade made significant progress in order to normalize relations in the process of Serbia’s accession to the European Union. But Serbia does not intend to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Thus, the European Council agreed to grant Serbia the status of candidate country on March 2012 and accession negotiations at a political level between Serbia and the EU started in January 2014. Chapter 35, on “Other Issues”, which in Serbia’s case, refers to Kosovo is deemed crucial for Serbia’s path to EU membership. Nevertheless, it must be noted that Serbia does not necessarily need to recognize Kosovo as an independent country in order to become a member since a number of member countries including Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Romania have not recognized Kosovo as an independent country as well.

Duck protests

Besides, corruption in Serbia is one of the most important issues affecting the accession of Serbia to the European Union. On the night of April 25, for instance, a group of masked 30 men knocked down multiple buildings in the Savamala district’s Hercegovacka Street that stood in the way of Belgrade Waterfront. Since Savamala district overlaps the area under development, the overnight demolition by masked men lead concerns in the mind of citizens. Belgrade Waterfront (Beodrad na vodi) is a project for which is worth more than €3bn and features a gleaming tower surrounded by luxury apartments, hotels and a shopping centre on the banks of the river.  Thousands of Serbs joined a fresh protest over the Belgrade Waterfront development, one month after an unexplained incident in which the masked men demolished buildings in the riverside area where the state-backed project is to be built. The word duck which means ‘fraud’ in Serbian, became a powerful symbol of resistance to the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project. At a press conference, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that the highest city officials gave the order, but he is sure they did it out of pure motives.

In the 2015 edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide since 1995, Serbia scored under 50 and was ranked 71st of 168 countries. Thus Serbia have stayed under the score received in 2014 and continued its negative position.

In fact, corruption is recognized as a serious crime in the EU, the member states are expected to ensure respect for justice, judiciary and fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the acquis and by the Charter 23 and 24. In this sense, the European Union encourages candidate and potential candidate countries to tackle corruption and to increase transparency early in the accession process. Nevertheless, Serbia have not opened Chapter 23 and 24 in its EU membership talks and has led to the extension of the negotiation process.

Serbia will remain on EU path

While Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that there will not be a referendum call in Serbia, secretary of foreign affairs Ivica Dacic confirmed their commitment to European integration and said that Serbia will continue on its EU path.

According to prime banks, Serbia has less to lose from Brexit than its neighbors now that it has more relationships, especially on economics, with the countries such as Austria and Germany than Britain. Even though, in short terms, Serbia or more generally the European Union will not be effected from Britain’s vote to leave the EU, it is too early to talk about long-term effects of referendum. Moreover, while European integration has a great importance for all the member countries, it is surely a mistake to think Brexit as something positive for Serbia.

Having played an important role in regional integration with its supranational structure, EU unfortunately suffered a significant loss of credibility with Brexit. Following Britain’s referendum decision, possible referendum proposals ​​by other member countries came to the agenda. It can also be said that in case of recognition of any privilege to the United Kingdom, other members can be requested privileges as well. From the economic perspective, 19 billion pounds of payment of Britain to the EU every year is also at risk. Under these circumstances, Britain’s referendum decision cannot be evaluated as a positive development both for candidate and potential candidate countries.

Russia can expand its sphere of influence on Balkans

Located on the EU’s enlargement calendar, the six Balkan states – Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania – are at different stages in the enlargement process and there are concerns over their ongoing negations with the EU following Brexit vote.

Even though the countries affirmed their commitment to European integration and expressed to remain on EU path, we must also take into account the other global players such as Russia. Since Britain voted to leave from the EU, Russia more likely to expand its sphere of influence on Balkans and fill the vacuum. Some of the underlying causes of such influence can be specified as uncertainty in the region after Brexit, Russia’s relations with the Balkan countries, the lack of stability in the region, and the corruption of politicians. Aiming to develop good relations and deepen economic cooperation among the Balkan countries, the EU was playing an important role in the region. When viewed from this aspects, it is possible to talk about the negative effects of Brexit for the Balkan countries.

As a result, Balkan countries voiced their commitment to the European Union following Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Nevertheless, we are at the beginning of the process yet and everything is unknown. Although Balkan countries are not directly affected in the short-term, Britain’s decision to leave the EU is likely to cause difficulties for the Balkan countries in the EU accession process. In the coming years, indeed, the EU will have to devote enormous energy in order to solve its own internal crisis. In the medium to long-term results of Brexit is still difficult to predict because such an exit from the EU had not experienced before and everything is unclear yet. Under these circumstances, the Balkan countries should maintain the current relationship with the EU and continue the negotiating agenda through opening of new chapters. Briefly Brexit should never be an excuse.






Nuran Yıldırım

Middle East Technical University


Since the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty in two of the European Union’s founding member states in spring 2005, much has been said about the gap between the European Union. Thus, European actors, especially the European Commission, have increased their efforts on communicating European values aiming at re-gaining public support for the European integration process and at establishing the grounds for a European sense of belonging (Seeger, 2007). As it will be laid down in this paper, the European Commission has determined that citizens should be aware of their duties as citizens and became actively involved in the process of European integration, developing a sense of belonging and a European identity. Therefore this study uncovers the way in which EU elites, particularly the European Commission, have attempt to bridge the gap between the European Union and its citizens. While the commission has expended considerable time and energy in several projects in order to win its citizens over on its side, my particular focus will be on the project, namely, ‘Europe for Citizens’. I will also try to evaluate whether it contributes to the narrowing or the widening of the gap between the European Union and its citizens.

In the recent years, the European Union faces a problem of the lack of trust in politicians and the lack of interest in what goes on in political decision-making circles. In a comment to the Commission White Paper, President Romano Prodi made a very precise statement about the ongoing paradox of European and national governance: “On the one hand, politicians are expected to find solutions to those pressing problems that confront our societies. On the other, there is a growing lack of confidence (or just interest) among ordinary citizens in politics and political institutions.” (Wind, 2001). This is, nevertheless, a  matter belongs to the past since the European Community has enlarged and the integration process has reached a deeper level, the progress on the issue of getting citizens interested, creating spaces for public debate and empowering citizens.

The growing relevance of public opinion has been recognized in 2005 by the Heads of the State and Government, which decided a reflection pause on the future of Europe after the ratification process of the Constitution, was suspended. Through the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty by referendum in France and Netherlands in 2005, the strong “Non” and “Nee” of the French and Dutch voters were not only a simple vote on the content of the constitutional text, rather, all these indicates that great deficits in achieving a legitimate and acceptable political order at the European level (Wind, 2001). Similarly, case in the Danish Maastricht referendum (1992), the accession of Norway (1972,94) and the Nice Treaty in Ireland (2001), seems here not only inadequate, they may weakening the EU even further and pushing it ever deeper into a crisis of legitimacy from the union is conspicuously ill equipped to escape (Hansen, 1999). There is no doubt, however, that all these visible signs of disagreement between the Union and its citizens send shockwaves throughout Europe, making the European establishment, in particular, extremely uneasy, not only about the European future, but also about the most important themes on the European agenda  (Wind, 2001) Furthermore, the important and rapid changes of the European Union make it necessary to engage citizens and civil society organizations in a deep, long lasting reflection on the future of Europe. To support this reflection, the Commission proposed the Plan D to strengthen dialogue, debate and democracy in Europe. The Europe for Citizens Programme is an important tool in this context. It can be used to set up a structured dialogue in societies in view ‘of fostering a sense of ownership of the European Union among its citizens’ as mentioned in the programme objectives.

The issue of Europe’s identity has come to be fore in recent years because it is being seen as a parallel development to the construction of a European Union and a response to the specific problems that have confronted the European Union. However, the task of identity building is by no means easy.  In 1992 Maastricht Treaty created the category of European citizenship, strengthening of European Parliament and more importantly, it gave the Commission the legal right to operate a cultural policy. Long before the 1992 Maastricht treaty, however, the EU had embarked upon various initiatives in different the fields to promote integration in the sphere of culture by enhancing what it saw as the European identity (Shore, 2000). For the Commission, the first significant step on consciousness-raising as a strategy for bringing Europe ‘closer to the citizens’ and creating ‘Europeans’ for European unification came in 1973 with the ‘Declaration on the European Identity’. A year later at the 1974 summit, the European heads of state agreed to a study into the special rights which could be granted to citizens of the member states as members of the community. This was followed by 1975 Tindemans Report on European Union recommended measures for protecting rights of Europeans and a specific policy for forging a ‘People’s Europe’. Then in 1983 by the Solemn Declaration in European union signed by EC heads of government in Stuttgart, which invited member states to ‘promote European awareness and to undertake joint action in various cultural areas’ (Shore, 2000)

On 13 October 2005 the European Commission launched its Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate as a foundation for a debate on the future of the European Union (EU). Plan D seeks to foster communication and debate on the activities of the EU by addressing the need to listen to citizens’ expectations. It sets out a process aimed at encouraging wider debate on the future of the EU, between the EU institutions and citizens (EURAPA, 2007). In the beginning of 2006 it also launched a White Paper on Communication (Commission of the European Communities 2006) for ‘Bridging the gap’ between EU politics and citizens. At the end of 2009, the Lisbon Treaty led a number of changes towards bringing the Union closer to its citizens and the new Article 11 of the Treaty sets out a whole new dimension of participatory democracy, declaring that ‘The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action. The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society.’ (The Lisbon Treaty, 2007). Considering the European citizenship as an important element in strengthening and safeguarding the process of integration, therefore, the Commission intended to remedy the gap between the European Union and its citizens. To this end the Commission introduced various projects for encouraging and facilitating citizens’ wider involvement in the European Union. These projects range from the need of ensuring a broader understanding of the history of the Union and its origins to the need to adopt common measures like common passport, European citizenship and stronger political institutions of the European level through enabling the citizens to participate in the construction of an ever closer Europe.  (EACEA, 2015)

To this end the ‘Europe for Citizens’ programme is a significant instrument aimed to bridge the gap between the European Union and its citizens by funding schemes and activities in which citizens can participate. Ending in 2006, the European Commission on 6 April 2005 adopted a proposal for a programme to run from 2007 to 2013. In 2014 another programme started that will continue until 2020. Thus, under the overall aim of bringing the Union closer to citizens the general objectives of the programme are: to contribute to citizens’ understanding of the Union, its history and diversity, as well as to foster European citizenship and to improve conditions for civic and democratic participation at Union level. Furthermore, the specific objectives shall be pursued on a transnational level or with a European dimension: raise awareness of remembrance, common history and values and the Union’s aim that is to promote peace, its values and he well-being of its people by stimulating debate, reflection and development of networks; encourage democratic and civic participation of citizens at Union level, by developing citizens’ understanding of the Union’s policy making process and promoting opportunities for societal and intercultural engagement and volunteering at Union level. (EACEA, 2015)

The Europe for Citizens Programme, which ran from 2004 to 2013, with a view to actively involving the public in the process of European Integration, materializes the legal framework to support a wide range of acitivities and organizations. The programmes objectives are reflected in four types of action, firstly, ‘Active citizens for Europe’. According to programme guide this action involves citizens directly means of town-twinning activities and citizens’ projects to debate European issues and develop mutual understanding through direct participation. Action 2, namely ‘Active civil society in Europe’ comprises: structural support for European public policy research organizations (think-tanks) and for civil society organizations at European level, as well as support for projects initiated by civil society organizations at local, regional and national levels. Action 3 ‘Together for Europe’ supports high profile events such as artistic events, studies, surveys, information and dissemination tools. Lastly, Action 4 ‘Active European Remembrance’ comprises projects to preserve active European remembrance. These are mainly projects designed to preserve the main sites and archives associated with the mass deportations and former concentration camps and to commemorate the victims of mass exterminations and mass deportations that took place during the Nazi and Stalinist regimes. (EACEA, 2015)

For the period 2014-2020, the programme is implemented through two strands and a horizontal action. The first strand is European remembrance that aiming to raise awareness of remembrance, common history and values and the Union’s aim. According to programme guide, the European Union is built on fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. In order to fully appreciate their meaning, it is necessary to keep the memories of past alive as a means of moving beyond the past and building the future. To this end this strand supports activities that invite to reflection on European cultural diversity and on common values in the broadest sense. Second strand is democratic engagement and civic participation in order to encourage democratic and civic participation of citizens at Union level. The strand also covers projects and initiatives that develop engagement and volunteering at Union level. One of the measures in this strand ‘town twinning’ that aims at supporting projects bringing together a wide range of citizens from twinned towns around topics in line with the objectives of the Programme. Another measure of the second strand is ‘networks of towns’. The European Commission supports the development of networks between municipalities on issues of common interest appears to be an important means for enabling the Exchange of good practices. Thus, municipalities and associations working together on a common theme in a long-term perspective can develop Networks of towns to make their cooperation more sustainable. Lastly, the measure ‘civil society projects’ aims at supporting projects promoted by transnational partnerships and networks directly involving citizens. Those projects are aiming to gather citizens from different horizons, in activities directly linked to Union policies, with a view to give them an opportunity to concretely participate in the Union policy-making process in areas related to the objectives of the Programme.

The European Commission is ultimately responsible for the smooth running of the Europe for Citizens Programme through managing the budget and setting priorities, targets and criteria for the Programme on an ongoing basis, after consultation of the Programme Committee. The Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) and the Member States and other participating countries are responsible for the implementation of the most of the actions of the Europe for Citizens Programme. As defined in the programme guide, the Programme has an overall budget of 215 million euro for the seven years, 2007-2013, as well as a budget of EUR 185 468 000 for the period 2014-2020 will be allocated for the programme. The programme is targeting ‘European’ Citizens and it is open to all stakeholders promoting active European citizenship, such as local authorities and organizations, European public policy research organizations (think-tanks), citizens’ groups, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, trade unions, etc.  Some actions of the Programme are however targeting a more limited range of organizations; the eligibility of applicant organizations is therefore defined in the Programme Guide specifically for each measure and sub measure.

All in all, European actors have increased their efforts on re-gaining public support for the European integration process and at establishing the grounds for a European sense of belonging, especially the European Commission. The Maastricht Treaty’s introduction of a European citizenship and strengthening of the European Parliament is the most visible elements of this strategy. Also, to solve the problem, certain symbols have been created in order to increase the visibility and representation of European Union in the popular images such as flag, EU driving licenses, common passports, common language, etc. Some of those elements such as a truly European society and citizenry are in the process of being constructed and others, such as a common language seems never exist.  The question, thus, whether the programme ‘Europe for Citizens’ contributes to the narrowing or the widening of the gap between the European Union and its citizens; does it contribute to the narrowing of the gap between the citizenry and the EU, between the governing and the governed? The task of bridging the gap between EU and its citizens is by no means easy, and the picture is not simply black and white. There is little doubt that reforms will be absolutely essential for the Union to regain its strength and even survive in the longer run. However, this is a process of manufacturing and legitimizing a European identity from the top down (Laffan, 1996) According to Soledad Garcia, ‘European identity, however, cannot in any case be constructed exclusively above. Europe will exist as an unquestionable political community only when European identity permeates people’s lives and daily existence. This will require a civil society. Thus civil society is seen here neither as a private sphere independent from the public sphere (state) since west European societies have been modernized with the strong participation of the state, nor as being in an antagonistic relationship with the state.’. On the one hand, adopting the programme, ‘Europe for Citizens’ as a way to bringing the Union closer to citizens may have certain advantages. On the other hand, there is a danger in trying to construct a Europe in which public opinion is left behind by national and European elites.  (Garcia, 1993)



Title 2 – Provisions on democratic principles (Articles 9-12), Article 11. (2013). January 3, 2015, Eurostep – EEPA-The Lisbon Treaty: http://www.lisbon-treaty.org/wcm/the-lisbon-treaty/treaty-on-european-union-and-comments/title-2-provisions-on-democratic-principles/75-article-11.html

‘Europe for Citizens’ programme for the period 2014-2020. (2015). January 3, 2015, EACEA-Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency

Garcia, S. (1993). Europe’s Fragmented Identities and the Frontiers of Citizenship. S. Garcia, European Identity and the Search for Legitimacy. London: Pinter.

Hansen, L.; Williams, M. L. . (1999). The Myths of Europe: Legitimacy, Community and the ‘Crisis’ of the EU. Journal of Common Market Studies, 37.

Laffan, B. (1996). The Politics of Identity and Political Order in Europe. Journal of Common Market Studies, 34.

Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate. (2007, January 22). January 3, 2015,EUROPA: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/institutional_affairs/decisionmaking_process/a30000_en.htm

Seeger, S. (2007). Bridging the gap between. EU-China European Studies Centres Programme.

Shore, C. (2000). Building Europe: The Cultural Politics of European Integration. London: Routledge.

Wind, M. (2001). The Commission White Paper: Bridging the Gap between the Governed and the Governing? Academy of European Law.





The Diplomatic Observer magazine has carried out an exclusive interview with Mehmet Okyayuz. The wide-ranging interview covers the structural exclusion of migrants and minorities, migration in Germany, pro-immigrant social movements, German Federal Election and Brexit.


Middle East Technical University



Mehmet Okyayuz is a university teacher in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Middle East Technical University in Ankara/Turkey. He studied Political Science, Philosophy and Sociology at the universities of Paris, Berlin, Heidelberg and Marburg.

He completed his M.A. at the University of Heidelberg and his Ph.D. at the University of Marburg. Some of his areas of research and education are labor migration along with Political Theory/Thought, Social Policy and Ideology Research. At present, he is teaching “Immigration Policies in Europe” and “Public Participation of Turkish Labor Migrants in Western Europe”. In addition, he is conducting research projects on “Return Migration from Germany to Turkey” and “Media Behavior of Turkish Migrants in Germany”. He was chairman of the Executive Board of the NGO Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM). He published texts (among others) concerning the issues of European and Turkish asylum systems, return migration, global migration and immigration policies.


Throughout Europe, tensions around issues of race, religion and national identity have been growing. And the meaning of migrants casts in the ambivalent conditions of modernity, as Zygmunt Bauman points out. In this sense, migrants have one dimensional existence, a peculiar position, as being neither inside nor outside, neither friend nor enemy, neither included nor excluded, which make the existential situation of the migrants is radically different, an opaque, not a transparent existence. Since the migrants are assigned no status inside the cultural realm, they want to make their own. The migrants therefore depicted the ambiguities which are troublesome and creating conflicts. Is it possible to overcome the structural exclusion of migrants and minorities so often lamented in mainstream discourses?

Let me first say that the relation between the ‘foreigner’ and the state has its most determinant basis in the immigration laws of the different states. Immigration Law is what we would call an exceptional legal system not fitting (politically liberal) principles such as calculability, rationality and transparency. Thus, this relation is asymmetrical in the sense that the state or (more concrete) the political actors defining, formulating and executing migration-specific issues do have a nearly unlimited disposition over the foreigners, and this even more if we consider the fact that public and political participation of these foreigners is limited if not totally ‘forbidden’ The things mentioned so far focusses on the structural dimension of (im)migration law and policies, and this dimension which is more or less independent from the actors, makes it categorically difficult for the migrants or – as formulated in your questionnaire – ‘foreigners’ to establish an understanding of their own living and working perspectives including the self determination of their ‘identity’. Nevertheless, there are periods within the German labour migration history after 1945 in which attempts to question mainstream understandings of what integration, multiculturalism, or identity could be were tried to be undergone by the migrants themselves. E.g., during the 1970’s the migrants tried to organize their own interests by becoming – may be the first time -self-conscious actors articulating themselves and their needs as part of the society. Up to that time they were solely objects of so-called migration research, but from this time until now they are aiming at attempting to be subjects of their concerns. This development was eased by the fact that a lot of migrants (foreigners) do possess the German citizenship which provides them a legal umbrella of protection. Unfortunately, nowadays there is a big gap between this political-legal aspect which is indeed of existential importance for the migrants, and the present social reality of a time in which xenophobia has become widespread in nearly all the European countries, particularly in traditional migrant-receiving countries such as Germany, France or the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the only hope for a multi-layered conceptualization of integration and multiculturalism, in sum: of the possibility of living together rather than of living side by side, lies in the hands of the migrants themselves who should insist in articulating their interests as part of the interests of the whole society, and further more in informing the public of their new home countries about the structural reasons of population movements. It seems that in a World in which population movements have become a non-preventable part of international relations, this is the only realistic solution.


Germany is a sui-generis country in terms of immigration policies. In retrospect, Germany has been using immigrants for many years to support the country’s labor force, although it is often voiced especially by the politicians that Germany is not a country of migration. In this context, Germany is home to the highest number by far of all third-country nationals in the EU. On the other hand, despite the large share of immigrants in its population, Germany has long been one of the most restrictive in the EU in terms of citizenship policies. Could you give us a short history of citizenship and migration in Germany?

In most general terms we can divide German labour migration history after 1945 in four periods. The first period took place from the mid-fifties until the beginning of the 1970’s, more concretely spoken until the so-called recruitment stop of 1972/1973. In this first period foreign labour force was recruited from countries such as Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Greece, (former) Yugoslavia to be employed in the traditional industrial sectors of Germany which’s main characteristics were uncomfortable working conditions in combination with relatively low wages. In the beginning the working contracts were based on the so-called rotational model according to which the recruited worker should work for one, or maximum, two years, and then return to his home country to contribute to the economy of the sending country. Behind this model we can state a conceptualization of each and every single worker as ‘human capital’ providing ‘innovative effects’. At least this was presented to the sending countries in the fore-evening of the bilateral agreements. In fact, this never happened in reality. According to the wishes of the German entrepreneurs, who were satisfied with the productivity of the labour migrants, the working (and resident) permits became extended. Even if migration has social dynamics immanent nearly impossible to control, and even if it became more and more evident during the sixties that most of the labour migrants would not return to their home countries, the fifties and sixties can be characterized as time period in which the social dimension of labour migration was in general neglected. In order to define this I use the formula: Immigration Policies as Labour Market policies. Thus, from the late sixties onwards it was more and more clear, that not only the majority of the recruited migrants would stay in their new homes, furthermore it was clear that they would bring their wives and husbands to Germany. By the way, it should be mentioned that nearly one third of the recruited labour force were women. To summarize one can say that until the recruitment stop Germany had in fact become somehow an immigration country. But until now this reality is more or less still not officially accepted. Until now this issue remains one of the taboos of German immigration policies, in addition with the refusal of providing labour migrants from Turkey with double citizenship. Even if after the establishment of the coalition between Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) new-born children are granted to possess double citizenship under certain conditions, for the vast majority of foreigners this still remains unreachable.

In the seventies we can state some positive developments. Some of them were mentioned within the framework of the answer of the first question. The foreigners more and more attempted to self-organize. Additionally we can state the debates of new issues, such as public and political participation of foreigners. Furthermore, at the end of the seventies, the first time official ‘voices’ began to discuss possibilities and necessities of double citizenship. The social dimension of migration was debated in public. Something completely new within the history of the relation between the foreigner and the state.

Starting with the 1980’s this partially positive development came somehow to stop as a result of beginning economic crisis symptoms of the Western European receiving countries, which provided the basis for an anti-migrant propaganda which is ongoing until now. The migration issue began to be formulated as a problem, integration was evaluated as having failed, the ‘foreigner’ itself was defined from ‘above’. Identity politics, this time, were not conceptualized by the foreigner it was directly executed from above by the state authorities. More and more the multi-dimensional and multi-directional approach to integration was replaced by a technical and formal one-sided approach, e.g. evaluating language courses as the solely mechanism of integration. The discourse of Migration Management shaped the mainstream content of immigration policies. Together with an increasing atmosphere of intolerance, xenophobia, and even open racism it is clear that the living and working conditions of the migrants get worse. Within the limited context of this interview it is not possible to list and analyze all the reasons for his negative process. I have therefore only mentioned the general cornerstones.


According to a report by Süddeutsche Zeitung based on data from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), about 55,000 migrants who were not eligible for asylum or were refused it left Germany voluntarily between January and November 2016. Why would thousands of people voluntarily leave Germany? Is it possible to talk about a serious threat against immigrants, especially by the government?

I am aware that part of my answer will include a certain level of ‘speculation’ due to the fact that no one really will know about the real reasons why people would ‘voluntarily’ leave a country where they have at least existential protection from dangers they would face in their home countries. But let me again speak of structural patterns shaping the attitude against asylum-seekers and refugees having come to a negative climax since 2-3 years when the so-called Syrian crisis did reach the borders of EU countries. Since 2 months refugee policies have become step by step more restrictive. Since then, the securitization of the state is openly dominant compared with human rights issues. Thus, in the first week of December 2016 in the party congress of the CDU principal suggestions were made in certain areas of immigration policies, such as an extension of the right of the state to deport refugees more easily. Furthermore it was suggested to deport so-called ‘tolerated’ people. These are persons whose refugee status determination process had ended in disfavour of them, but nevertheless – due to existential threats in their home countries – were granted to stay in Germany. Radical populist spokesmen of – not only – right-wing parties are aiming at deporting these people. It is possible to list more such steps to establish restrictive policies on asylum-seekers. The planned changes I mentioned above may be a sign that not – or not only – free will, but also indeed pressure, was the motor of the decisions to leave Germany.


In September 2017, Germany will elect a new parliament and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in power since 2005, announced her plans to run again for office. Yet, Angela Merkel has been facing criticism over her controversial open migration policy and her popularity is much weaker than it was months and years ago. So, is it possible that such voices in German public opinion can affect her campaign negatively and, thus, impact the election results? Additionally, a string of attacks and security alerts involving refugees and migrants this year has boosted support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which could damage Merkel’s re-election hopes. Far-right party the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has made gains in the wake of the migrant crisis and Brexit victory in the UK. How will the AfD perform in the election?

The voices mentioned in the question have already affected the political statements of Angela Merkel, even more if one has predictions in mind that the right-wing/populist AFD will continue to be successful in the next federal elections. Some journalists even claim that the AFD will get a least 10% of the votes Germany-wide. Within this context have in your mind that the CDU as a classical conservative party always has the trend to adopt right-wing slogans as part of their own politics in order to prevent these extreme parties from becoming too strong. Unfortunately, the prize paid for this is a drift from the center-right to more extreme positions. Let me give an example for such a development: In the mid-sixties the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany), a legal extreme right party, had success in some regional parliaments. In these years the first time anti-migrant issues became politicized, and – like nowadays – paved the way for political ‘career’ of populist right-wing spokesmen. The CDU adopted a lot of political contents during these years. It might be concluded that Merkel will ‘repeat’ such an attitude by formulating restrictive politics even if this would somehow contradict with her ‘open-border-politics’ mentioned. On the other hand we have to see that the structuralization of immigration policies is shaped not only by the attitudes of parties such as the AFD, but also by the attitudes of ‘big’ economic actors’ such as the representants of big enterprises. For them migration means the possibility to more or less unlimitedly access foreign labour markets. Angela Merkel will have to position herself between these two main actors. But without doubt, even if labour market issues and the need to recruit foreign labour force will continue to be important, Europe will strengthen efforts to build up ‘Fortress Europe’, where Turkey is planned to play the role of a guard preventing people from going to Europe (e.g. see the readmission agreement between the EU and Turkey from last year, and the recently planned similar agreement between Switzerland and Turkey). Bi- and multi-lateral agreements, and furthermore ‘national’ restrictive policies as executed for example in Hungary, or latest planned to be executed in Malta, will undoubtedly affect Merkel’s policies to the disadvantage of foreigners.


Donald Trump officially became the 45th President of the United States on January 20. Trump campaigned for president on promises of imposing more severe restrictions on migration. In a joint interview with the Times of London and the German newspaper Bild, US President Donald Trump has said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made a “catastrophic mistake” with a policy that let a wave of more than one million migrants into her country at the height of the migrant crisis. Trump also said that if they (the EU countries) hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, EU wouldn’t have a Brexit. What does Brexit means for migration policy of Germany, in particular?

Concerning Brexit, I would not say that this has directly something to do with migration issues. By the way, it is propaganda that Europe ever opened the doors for people fleeing from war etc. to a broad extent. On the contrary, Europe including Germany, never had a real ‘welcome’ culture extending the level of political self-presentation. Trump’s words have to be understood within the context of his own anti-migrant populist discourse, and thus cannot be taken seriously. What can be seriously taken indeed, are actual numbers of asylum-seekers residing in EU countries which are ridiculously low compared to countries like our own, or countries such as Lebanon.


On the other hand, we can talk about some pro-immigrant social movements. So what are the dynamics of such social movements with a special emphasis on the “Refugees Welcome Germany”?

It is true, on the other hand, that a lot of individuals and organizations in countries such as Germany are trying to organize solidarity with foreigners and to inform the public about the structural patterns of migration enabling people to approach objectively to the issue and to overwhelm prejudices and fear. But in my opinion, more than the discourse of human rights concrete political steps should be done in favour of the foreigners enabling them to prepare for their new lives. A whole new approach to migration seems to be necessary.


Having regarded as the bedrock of the Nazi ideology, Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was one of the best-selling books of nonfiction in Germany last year. According to the report published by the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, the new version of the book “Hitler, Mein Kampf, A Critical Edition” spent 35 weeks on Der Spiegel’s best-seller list and sold about 85,000 copies. Do you think the book would fuel nationalist sentiments and anti-immigrant propaganda?

Let me start to say that the publication of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is still prohibited in Germany. The recent publication is edited by the Institute of Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte) and is thought to be a critical scientific edition, and as such is including texts concerning the theoretical-historical framework of this book. Concerning this issue the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) declared that “Mein Kampf must remain prohibited”, but that they would not object to a critical edition “contrasting Hitler’s racial theories with scientific findings, to be at the disposal of research and teaching”. More than this book actual texts from authors such as Thilo Sarrazin trying to ‘scientify’ racism will fuel nationalist sentiments and anti-migrant propaganda.


Thank you very much for joining us; we really appreciate it.


Note: This article was first published in the February 2017 issue of Diplomatic Observer magazine.




Middle East Technical University, Ankara Turkey



The collapse of communism in 1989 have changed the existing situation in the Europe and marked the opening of a new chapter of European history. Eventually, for the most of the countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact, this meant ‘a return to Europe.’ The post-Communist Bulgaria has followed a pro-Western foreign policy with its diplomacy being overall in step with the diplomacy of Western governments and organizations, including EEC/EU and NATO. Nevertheless, the most recent Bulgarian foreign policy seems to be in conflict with the EU’s agenda, for example, voters in Bulgaria elected a pro-Russian populist President on 13 November 2016. In this respect, this study is devoted to attempt to examine Bulgaria’s new pro-Russian foreign policy towards European Union by taking historical background of Bulgaria’s relations with Russia into account. It also provides a brief touch on the political life of the country. Thus, this study attempts to answer how Bulgaria disengaged from its proximity with the EU to adopt a pro-Russian foreign policy. Finally, conclusions are drawn with respect to the political and social prospects of Bulgaria within the EU.


Keywords: Bulgarian politics, pro-Russian foreign policy, the European Union, Presidential election


Introduction: Bulgarian foreign policy in New Europe

At a press conference on 22 January 2003, the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has conceptualized Europe in terms of NATO membership and distinguished it into ‘old’ and ‘new’ categories. Rumsfeld, responding to a reporter’s question about how he saw European criticism of the US’s conduct over Iraq, stated:

“You are thinking Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the East. And there are a lot of new members.”[1]

Rumsfeld associated ‘old Europe’ with all NATO member states which had gained membership into the organization prior to its expansion eastwards in 1999. On the other hand, ‘new Europe’ included states of the former Soviet bloc which had either recently joined or were to join NATO and they tended to support the US, especially towards Iraq (Sedivy, 2012:2).

In addition, the term ‘new Europe’ should not be regarded as neologism which was first used and conceived by the US conservatives. In fact, this dichotomy was developed and used for the political purposes (Longhurst, 2005:18). Rumsfeld’s statement expressed a view which was shared by many political commentators and publicists, already in the second half of the nineteenth century. For example, the President of Czechoslovak Republic Thomas G. Masaryk wrote a book so-called ‘The New Europe’ which stated ‘new Europe’ as territorial changes after the First World War, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe (as cited in Katsikas, 2012).

Following the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, many Central and Eastern European countries experienced thoroughgoing transformation of their political, economic and social structures and they turned their foreign policy to the West, a shift symbolically represented as ‘a return to Europe.’ Indeed, the countries had to transform into a new identity and experienced serious economic problems caused by the absence of systematic market reforms. In many respect, Bulgaria faced similar challenges to other East European states in the post-Cold War period. Bulgaria has turned towards Western institutions and economic models accelerated after 1998, and the country became a member of NATO in 2004 and of the European Union (EU) in 2007. It had to consolidate the countries newly established

democratic system and ensure a smooth transition from the economic system of the Communist era to a free market economy (Katsikas, 2012).

Despite the similarities of the post-Communist Bulgaria’s foreign policy with other East European states, Bulgaria’s historical relations with Russia and the Soviet Union makes the Bulgaria’s case study unique. Bulgaria embraces Russia and the Soviet Union as a friend and liberator, a view other countries did not share. Hence, Bulgaria has continuously walked a tightrope, balancing its relations with Russia and its status as a member of European Union and NATO.[2]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria held its first presidential election in 1990. The last presidential election held in Bulgaria on 13 November 2016 have resulted in an outcome that will deepen the political crisis of the country, especially regarding its relations with the European Union and NATO, since a pro-Russian candidate Rumen Radev swept to victory with 59.4 percent of the vote, compared with 36.2 percent for the candidate of the ruling centre-right GERB party, Tsetska Tsacheva. The last election featured the most contenders also because the Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov announced that he would resign from the office if his candidate Tsetska Tsacheva was not elected as the President.

Communist ideology, based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism, was meant to play significant role in the political life of the socialist system, which Bulgaria adopted after the Second World War. At the very least, communist doctrine was used to justify policies a priori or a posteriori and for that reason (Katsikas, 2012:11) before examining Bulgaria’s the most recent pro-Russian foreign policy, it is necessary first to look at the historical legacy of Bulgaria, including two transformation from the most loyal ally of the Soviet Union in the former Warsaw Pact to a full member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and then to see how Bulgaria disengaged from its proximity with the EU to adopt a pro-Russian foreign policy.

Historical Legacy of Bulgaria

In 1878, Bulgaria was liberated after almost five centuries of Ottoman domination and Bulgaria finally attained the freedom as a result of a Russian victory over the Turks in the Russo-Turkish war. The treaty of San Stefano, signed on 3 March 1878, established Bulgaria as an autonomous principality, encompassing nearly all the territories including ethnic Bulgaria, Thrace (south of the  Balkan Mountains) and Macedonia.

Nevertheless, Britain and Austro-Hungary regarded the treaty as a dangerous expansion of Russian influence and the Congress of Berlin in June 1878 forced through a drastic revision and the territory of Bulgaria was carved into five parts. Whilst the lands in the north-east were given to Romania and Serbia as compensation, Macedonia and Aegean Thrace were returned to the Sultan. The southern Bulgaria (named Eastern Rumelia) formed an autonomous province under a governor appointed by the Sultan. The rest formed the Principality of Bulgaria, including the territory in the region of Sofia and the north of Balkan Mountains. Within a few years, political, judicial and administrative system of the Principality of Bulgaria took shape. In 1879, Sofia adopted the progressive Turnovo Constitution which guaranteed individual rights and freedoms. In the following two decades, a number of political parties were established, including the National Liberal Party and the Bulgarian Agrarian Union (Bugajski, 2015).

In 1885, the Bulgarians made the first and only completely successful step towards unification of Bulgarian principality with the autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia. This act, which was a breach of the Berlin Treaty, met with strong disapproval from the Russian emperor, but was strongly supported by Britain and other powers (Pantev, 1996:16).  Following 1886, Bulgaria experienced deep divisions in Bulgarian politics between the Russophiles who felt that the country simply could not go against the wishes of its liberator, and the nationalist[3] who considered that Bulgaria had to pursue her own interest (Dimitrov, 2001:16).

Meanwhile, Sofia’s relations with Moscow broke down completely and in August 1887 a group of army officers carried out a coup d’etat on direct instigation of Russian diplomats. Stefan Stambolov organized a counter-coup; the pro-Russian orientation was soon counteracted by a pro-European one. During the Stambolov, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria from 1887 to 1893 and nicknamed as the ‘Bulgarian Bismarck’, modernization process catalyzed and the pro-European orientation reached its peak.

The country proclaimed its full independence from Turkey in 1908 after several revolts, including the Ilinden uprising in August 1903, centered in the Macedonian and Thracian regions. Bulgaria’s territorial claims contributed to fueling two Balkan wars. In 1912, Bulgaria joined Greece, Serbia and Montenegro in a war to drive the Turks once and for all from European soil (Otfinoski, 2004). The war ended in utter defeat for the Turks. The second Balkan War in 1913, Greece, Romania and Montenegro took the side of the Serbs against Bulgaria. Bulgaria was unsuccessful in its military campaign against Serbia and Greece and once again lost almost every inch of territory it had gained from the First Balkan war with the treaty of Bucharest. During the First World War, Bulgaria at first remained neutral but in 1915 it sided with Germany and Austria.  The end of the First World War left Bulgaria in total disarray, both politically and economically (Otfinoski, 2004). It was forced to accept harsh peace treaty at Neuilly in November 1919 and lost all access to the Aegean Sea.

The interwar period were mainly spent overcoming the traumatic effects of the war and Bulgaria witnessed social and political turmoil and economic crisis, particularly after the overthrow of the Agrarian government led by Alexander Stamboliyski in 1923.

During the Second World War, Sofia imposed a royal dictatorship and capitalized on the German occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece to forge an alliance with Berlin to regain parts of Macedonia and Thrace. On 1 March 1941 Bulgaria joined the Tripartite Pact, as much frightened by Germany’s might as attracted by the promises of the recovery of the Aegean coast and consequently Macedonia from its neighbors, but it was once again the mismanagement of foreign policy that led to a fundamental rupture (Dimitrov, 2001:20). Bulgaria’s territorial advances, including access to the Aegean coastline, were again reversed at the close of the Second World War, as Sofia found itself once more on the losing side.

Communist Experience

Communist forces, with Soviet military and political assistance, occupied Bulgaria in September 1944 during the closing stages of the Second World War. The occupation marked a fundamental rupture in the history of Bulgaria and led to the total repudiation of the political, social and economic system, attempting to construct an entirely new order (Dimitrov, 2001:22). For a few years after 1944, Communist forces eliminated all organized political and social opposition and held elections in order to legitimize their assumption of absolute power. A former General Secretary of the Communist International Georgi Dimitrov returned back to Bulgaria from the exile and assured leadership of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP). A new ‘Dimitrov’ Constitution was passed in December 1947. Under the Soviet supervision, Bulgaria was isolated from the West and conducted a full-scale drive towards state control over the economy (Bugajski, 2015).  After the death of Dimitrov in June 1949, Vulko Chervenkov, compromised as a hard-line Stalinist and had lived in Moscow, had returned to Bulgaria in the footsteps of the Communist forces. In April 1956, Chervenkov was replaced by Todor Zhivkov, but remained as the Prime Minister and one of the dominant figures of the country.

In 1989, Central and Eastern Europe experiences historic and unprecedented changes when a number of apparently well entrenched Communist regimes collapsed one by one (Giatzidis, 2002). As a result of the wave of public protest and increasing pressure against the communist regime, on 10 November 1989, the Bulgarian Communist Party’s (BCP) monopoly on power ended. Todor Zhivkov resigned and was replaced by foreign minister Peter Mladenov as head of the BCP. During this period under the chairmanship of Mladenov, Bulgaria experienced a series of domestic political changes, including political parties, think tanks and ethnic minority groups, to transform itself into a modern democratic state.

According to Vesselin Dimitrov (2001:35), Bulgaria’s transition to democracy began not as a result of internal evolution but rather as a part of an attempt by some of Zhivkov’s colleagues to save their power at a time when the communist bloc was collapsing around them. Thus, Bulgarian transition to democracy after 1989, was not based on political principle, but rather o the much more pragmatic grounds as well as on the personal interests of BCP’s governing Politburo and Central Committee members. The BCP also needed to renounce communism and adopted a new name: the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The parliament, controlled by the BSP, elected Andrey Lukanov, who is ‘surprisingly’ the former minister of foreign trade.

By that time, Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) entered into the political area as the chief democratic opposition alliance and Zheliv Zhelev became UDF’s first leader. In addition, Turkish minorities established a party so-called Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). Meanwhile, especially by the reformist within the opposition parties, supported to the creation of a fully competitive democratic system and they argued that the country’s foreign policy should be turned towards the EEC/EU. Also, the relations with the Russian Federation and the other former Soviet Republics had to be kept at a level that would not negatively affect the country’s accession to the EU. Nevertheless, there was also a common belief that integration into the EU did not necessarily mean that Bulgaria had to become a member of NATO.

Return to Europe: Bulgaria’s New Foreign Policy

During the Communist era Bulgaria earned for itself the reputation of the most loyal satellite and has no need to formulate its own foreign policy. The dissolution of the Soviet Union left Bulgaria without an important patron which had until then guaranteed national security, internal political stability, social support and economic support. In this sense, the very notion of independent policy making has had to be re-created after four and a half decades of almost colonial dependence (Dimitrov, 2001:93).

Moreover, Bulgaria’s loyalty to the Soviet Union in the Cold War should not be seen as a kind of involuntary enslavement. Indeed, the relationship between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union was certainly beneficial for both side. Bulgarian communist regime’s loyalty to the Soviet Union secured the country’s industrialization with the substantial support received by the Soviet Union in terms of both financing and raw materials. Bulgaria also after the consecutive defeats in the Second Balkan War, the First World War, and the Second World War, found its alliance with the Soviet Union, the necessary security cover to guarantee its interest. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, found in Bulgaria the only devoted ally in a region where it traditionally had an interest.

The end of the Cold War, the break-up of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of the CMEA and the Warsaw Pact meant that Bulgaria had to seek a new identity in a totally unfamiliar environment. Bulgarian foreign policy turned to the West, and the return to Europe has become synonymous with social, political and economic reforms. In this respect, Bulgaria has made efforts towards securing entry to the European Union, which has emerged as the central institution of the post-Cold War Europe. Along with the EU, NATO has emerged as the parallel and complementary instrument of European integration. On a deeper view, joining EU meant embracing Western values such as liberal democratic politics and a free market economy (Giatzidis, 2002:134). In addition, the country like other post-communist countries had experienced serious economic problems caused by the lack of systematic market reforms. Importantly, unlike some other Central and Eastern European states, Bulgaria had almost no experience of democratic politics prior to the Communist period. Indeed, this lack of the democratic tradition and culture make Bulgaria one of the most interesting and unique case for study among the former Communist bloc countries.

In this context, he official relations between Bulgaria and the EC (from 1 November 1993 the European Union) established in August 1988 and in May 1990 a Trade and Co-Operatation Agreement was signed. The next step was the criteria membership, formulated by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993, and the Association Agreements, which together identified a path for integration into European structure. Finally, on 1 January 2007, Bulgaria joined the European Union.

Europeanisation, for Bulgaria, has coincided with the process of modernizing its political, economic and social systems beyond the harsh reality of communism and the even more daunting consequences of post-communism. It is thus reasonable to claim that, as with the other EU applicant states even though with a significant time lag, the processes of Europeanization and integration coincide with the transition to liberal democracy and market economy (Bojkov, 2004). Transition in Bulgaria has been marked by a period of initial political instability. A huge stumbling block for reforms has been the continuation of former communists in political power in the first years of transition (Bojkov, 2004).

While analysts have often praised the EU for acting as a powerful ‘anchor’ to this process, by providing political guidance, the EU leaders hastened to complete the Fifth Enlargement by including Bulgaria largely unprepared. Following accession of Bulgaria to the Union, the European Commission was not exceptionally successful in pressurizing the government to deal with their unresolved problems because of the politically complicated post-referenda context in France and the Netherlands and the increasingly negative attitude of the West European public towards future enlargements (Andrev, 2009).

Bulgaria’s Unfinished Project of Europeanization

From the centrally controlled communist regime to a pluralistic market oriented democracy, Bulgaria’s relation with the Soviet Union and later with Russian Federation was not as stable and smooth as is widely believed. There were moments of disagreements and conflicts between the two countries. For example, the Soviet Union did not support the unification of Bulgaria in 1885. During the harsh time of the Balkan Wars, Bulgaria expected the Soviet Union to be a mediator, but it did not happen and Bulgaria lost most of its territories. In addition, Bulgaria fight alongside with Germany and Austria against Russia during the Second World War. Hence, the history of Bulgaria has been marked by the competition between different preferences and orientations in the foreign policy.

On the other hand, there are historical and cultural reasons which can explain Bulgaria’s political proximity to Russian Federation. Since the national independence from Ottoman rule, there has been a strong Russophile among a large section of Bulgarian society, including a sizeable part of the political elites. The common Slavonic language which employs the Cyrillic script, Orthodox religion, and a strong peasant-folk tradition can be regarded as historical and cultural ties between two countries. This thesis also seems to be supported by the result of recent presidential election in Bulgaria.

Voters in Bulgaria, on 13 November 2016, elected pro-Russian populist president, deepening the political crisis of the country even further. Pro-Russia, anti-migration candidate Rumen Radev swept to victory with 59.4 percent of the vote, compared with 36.2 percent for the candidate of the ruling centre-right GERB party, Tsetska Tsacheva at presidential elections in Bulgaria. Having been the former commander of Bulgaria’s Air Force, Radev was backed by the opposition Socialist Party and is considered a Russia-friendly newcomer to politics.

Radev used his victory speech to reiterate his opposition for declaring Moscow as an enemy and called for EU sanctions against Russia to be lifted.  He said “In his election campaign (Donald Trump), already elected, said clearly that he will work for a better dialogue with Russia. This gives us hope, a big hope, for a peaceful solution to the conflicts both particularly in Syria and in Ukraine and for reducing the risk of confrontation,” but Radev has also emphasized that an improvement relation with Moscow indeed does not mean a retreat for Bulgaria’s Nato and EU membership since there is “no alternative” for Euro-Atlantic values. Radev will take office on January 22 for a five-year term.

Overall, Bulgaria faces a political uncertainty amid political outsider Rumen Radev has won Bulgaria’s presidential run-off, inflicting a crushing defeat on the main ruling party’s candidate Tsetska Tsacheva, nominated by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The results also constituted the first ever election loss of centre-right Prime Minister Boyko Borisov since the party was set up in the mid-2000s. Bulgaria’s pro-Europe Prime Minister Boykov Borisov said that “The results clearly show that the ruling coalition no longer holds the majority.” And he added “I apologise to those who supported us. I thought I was doing the right thing.” [4]

Thus, the results shows that the majority of citizens in Bulgaria still have the pro-Russian feelings while the West and Russia have been often regarded as two opposing others. In this respect, a transition from the communist regime to the EU, regarded as democratization and free market economy, may begin but never be completed since the overthrown of the old regime and the recovery of freedom are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the integration of Bulgaria to  the EU. In this respect, the collapse of the communist system in 1989 was not automatically leading to Europeanization.

Having analyzed the actual situation in Bulgaria with the hindsight of the past experience, one could assume that the former have largely moved beyond the point of significant post-accession mobilization of their domestic political and social forces. Thus, democracy has been reconfirmed as the ‘‘only game in town’’ and the preferred regime for a sizeable part of Bulgarian society after the European accession (Andrev, 2009). In addition, European integration has operated top-down, from the supranational to the domestic level.


The main goal of this study has been to examine Bulgaria’s new pro-Russian foreign policy towards European Union by taking historical background of Bulgaria’s relations with Russia into account. Overall, the collapse of communism in 1989 have changed the existing situation in the Europe and marked the opening of a new chapter of European history. The socialist states were completely destroyed, and its place, a welfare state of the West European type is being created (Baeva & Kalinova, 2010:57). Eventually, many Central and Eastern European countries experienced thoroughgoing transformation of their political, economic and social structures and they turned their foreign policy to the West, a shift symbolically represented as ‘a return to Europe.’  Most notably, nearly all states from post-communist Europe had to transform into a new identity and experienced serious economic problems caused by the absence of systematic market reforms. In many respect, Bulgaria faced similar challenges to other East European states in the post-Cold War period. However, despite the similarities of the post-Communist Bulgaria’s foreign policy with other East European states, Bulgaria’s historical relations with Russia and the Soviet Union makes the Bulgaria’s case study unique. Moreover, Bulgaria has been a distinct case regarding its apparent inability to swiftly deal with the political and social challenges cropping up after accession, as well as to adequately respond to the process of Europeanization because of the unfinished political and socio-economic Europeanization (Andrev, 2009).









Andrev, Svetlozar A. 2009. The unbearable lightness of membership: Bulgaria and Romania after the 2007 EU accession. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 42 (2009) 375e393. Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

Baeva, Iskra & Kalinova, Evgenia. 2010. “Bulgarian Transition and the Memory of the Socialist Past.” In Remembering Communism, ed. Maria Todorova. New York: SSRC Press.

Bugajski, Janusz. 2015. “Bulgaria: Progress and Development.” In Central & East European Politics from Communism to Democracy, eds. Sharon L. Wolchik & Jane Leftwich Curry

Dimitrov, Vesselin. 2001. Bulgaria: the uneven transition. London; New York: Routledge Press.

Giatzidis, Emil. 2002. An introduction to post-Communist Bulgaria. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Katsikas, Stefanos. 2012. Negotiating Diplomacy in the New Europe: Foreign Policy in Post-Communist Bulgaria. London; New York: I. B. Tauris.

Otfinoski, Steven. 2004. Nations in Transition: Bulgaria. New York: Facts On File, Inc.

Pantev, Andrei. 1996. “The historic road of the Third Bulgarian State.” In Bulgaria in a Time of Change: Economic and Political Dimensions, ed. Iliana Zloch-Christy, 7-22. Avebury: Athenaeum Press.

Sedivy, Jiri. 2005. “Old Europe, New Europe and Transatlantic Relations.” In Old Europe, New Europe and the Transatlantic Security Agenda, eds. Kerry Longhurst & Marcin Zaborowksi, 1-29. London; New York: Routledge Press.



[1] http://www.rferl.org/a/1102012.html  (Accessed on 11/12/2016).

[2] http://www.dw.com/en/opposition-candidate-rumen-radev-leading-in-bulgaria-presidential-elections/a-36284829 (Accessed on 09/12/2016).

[3] Bulgarian nationalists in 1880s considered the interests of Bulgaria, but they were not against Russia as such.

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/14/pro-russian-candidates-win-presidential-votes-in-bulgaria-and-mo/ (Accessed on 07/12/2016)

[5] This article was first published in the January 2017 issue of Diplomatic Observer magazine.