WED, 10 OCT 2001 23:08:57 GMT
Sofia Sides with Anti-Terrorism Coalition
AIM Sofia, October 3, 2001
After Bulgaria granted the U.S. permission on Sept. 25 to send transport
aircraft through its air space as part of its anti-terrorism operations,
a growing number of ordinary people and politicians are asking whether
this new commitment is a guarantee of national security.
This question seems almost inappropriate in the wake of the attack on
the U.S. on Sept. 11, when it turned out that even the most powerful and
best protected country in the world is helpless when faced with
terrorism. If the U.S. is unable to give guarantees, what can other
countries do? No one feels secure even at NATO Headquarters in Brussels,
and how can one then feel secure in the Balkans, or in Bulgaria -- what
can it expect in the event of a terrorist attack, especially when no one
dares to make such promises? Nevertheless, the political decision was
unanimous. It is still interesting to compare reactions of about a year
and a half ago, when Bulgaria provided air corridors to NATO aircraft
for air strikes against Yugoslavia. Although that decision was also
unanimous, the debate was more heated and the number of opponents much
Politicians today are acting differently, as are ordinary people. Maybe
because, as Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi put it, "Terrorism
is the worst plague and right now it and civilization are at war and no
one can be neutral."
According to Bulgarians this is perfectly all right, but once Bulgaria
has given free access to its skies other demands might follow, they say.
Even though it is not yet a fully-fledged NATO member, Bulgaria is
actually an ally of NATO, and, especially, of the U.S. This being the
case, maybe Bulgaria is at war itself?
Furthermore, it is not clear whether the anti-terrorism coalition will
request some concrete help from Bulgaria. It is not even clear whether
the corridors granted by Bulgaria will be used at all. "For the time
being we will send no troops to support NATO operations. But the
Bulgarian armed forces are ready to participate in NATO operations if
Parliament gives its approval," said Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai
Svinarov. The cabinet will pose no problem -- all its members said
without dissent that "we will act as NATO allies from the beginning to
the and of the anti-terrorism campaign."
Will Parliament still be unanimously in favor if participation of
Bulgarian armed forces is requested? It seems highly unlikely that it
will act in the same manner as it did on Sept. 21 when it issued a
declaration confirming Bulgaria's readiness to offer assistance and
logistic support to NATO during its passage through the country, in line
with an existing agreement. The declaration was supported by 158 votes
in favor and one against, which never happened in the past.
Given that the thrust of the anti-terrorism campaign is aimed at certain
parts of the Islamic world, one should consider the position of Muslims
in Bulgaria. Bulgarian Mufti Selim Mehmed said Muslims support Sofia's
decision to act as NATO's ally although some Islamic countries could be
targeted. "Bulgarian Muslims condemn terrorism, but they are against
terrorism being described as entirely Muslim," he said.
Bulgaria's position is generally the following: full support is being
extended to the anti-terrorism campaign on condition that every NATO or
U.S. request is debated separately. If, however, the participation of
Bulgarian armed forces in concrete operations ends up on the agenda the
debate is hardly likely to go smoothly.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party has said that this should be completely
ruled out. The public generally shares this view. According to a poll
taken by Gallup, 21 percent of the people support the participation of
the Bulgarian armed forces in anti-terrorism operations, while 66
percent are against.
Siding with the anti-terrorism coalition Bulgaria is likely to expose
itself to a terrorist counter-attack. According to George W. Bush,
failure to support the coalition would have been tantamount to siding
with the terrorists. That would have been the end of its plans to join
NATO and the EU. Politicians have decided that such security risks are a
Ordinary people, however, are not so certain. Some 56 percent of
Bulgarians fear that terrorist acts in the U.S. could lead to armed
conflict, the results of a survey taken by the Noema polling agency
show. Slightly over one-third of respondents fear a possible world-wide
economic crisis or a wave of terrorist attacks, and 51 percent believe
that Bulgaria could be a possible target (49 percent disbelieve this).
Many fear that the Kozloduj nuclear plant could be one such target.
Experts, on the other hand, are certain that this is the least likely
terrorist objective. They say facilities flying the U.S. flag --
embassies, consulates, diplomatic residences, U.S. cultural centers,
universities and colleges, vehicles, etc. top the list of potential
Facilities owned by the U.S. and Israel, such as various missions,
companies, commissions, societies, should be included as well. Last but
not the least are the planes of Balkan Airlines, which is still
The tightest security measures have not eliminated all fears. In the
aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack no one's safety is
guaranteed,particularly if one is on one side of the invisible