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I saw in Afghanistan how important it is to have leaders in the army – talk with Minister Nickolay Mladenov, Darik Radio, The Week talk show, 30 January 2010
30.01.2010
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Presenter Kiril Valchev: The new Minister of Foreign Affairs and ex-Minister of Defence Nickolay Mladenov is already in the studio of The Week. Good morning, Mr. Mladenov.

Minister Nickolay Mladenov: Good morning.

Presenter: First of all, let’s talk a little about defence and finish with the Afghanistan issue. Why did you qualify as absurd the claim of the Talibans that the attack against the Bulgarian military base in Kandahar was aimed against you?

N. Mladenov: Because there were 48 missile attacks against that base last year alone.

Presenter: Without the presence of a minister there?

N. Mladenov: Without any minister in it, which is about one missile attack per month, although – of course – the attacks were not evenly spread in this way, there were periods with a higher intensity. At the moment … yesterday, to be more precise, the conference on Afghanistan in London ended, and before it, during the conference and probably for several days after it, the Talibans will be more active, because they simply see that this is the end of… they see that the wave is turning against them. And secondly, because the statement made was not the truth at all. The missiles fired were not six, there was one, there were no eleven casualties, etc.

Presenter: Nevertheless, there were comments, e.g., in the 24 Hours daily, that you provoked the attack with your visit and that – more importantly, according to these comments – some elementary safety rules, as they call them, were ignored: your visit was announced in advance. Class daily claims – I will not be able to check myself – that information about your visit had been posted for days on the website of the Ministry of Defence…

N. Mladenov: This is not true.

Presenter: … that although the normal practice is to pay one-day visits, moreover without staying overnight, you stayed 4-5 days there, that it was predictable, that you were to stay at the base in Kandahar where…

N. Mladenov: First of all, the information was not posted on the website. Second, all security measures were taken. Third, I didn’t want to go to Afghanistan just to have pictures taken with the troops and then to get on the plane and fly home, that was not the aim of the visit. The aim of the visit was connected with the currently changing strategy of the international forces, and we were about to make very important decisions in the overall situation on how to structure our involvement in Afghanistan. And in view of the London conference, I’m going back to it, where the entire international strategy on Afghanistan was discussed, I believe that it’s a bit absurd to make such important decisions without knowing the situation on the ground well. This required meetings both with General McCrystal, whom I saw in Kabul and we discussed in great detail where the Bulgarian military units are, why they are there, what the tasks facing us and the tasks facing the Afghanistan authorities are. If anyone thinks that it’s better to go out there just to have a couple of photos taken and just to be able to say that you were there, I believe that there’s work to be done. The security measures were taken in advance. There was no way in which anyone could have known who would travel where during that visit, therefore I think that these were very superficial comments in this respect.

Presenter: Sergeant Alexander Alexandrov is still in a critical condition.

N. Mladenov: Yes, he’s still in a critical condition. He has been transferred to Landstuhl already…

Presenter: The US military hospital in Germany.

N. Mladenov: … in Germany, at a US hospital, this is very… Look, I don’t wish to anyone to see what I saw during that night of the attack. From a personal point of view, I’ve been in much more difficult situations more than once in Baghdad, but it’s one thing to be thinking about your own security and quite a different thing to think about the security of 270 people around you. And what I saw is something that evokes deep – I don’t know how best to put  it – deep pride in each and everyone of us, because in the most difficult moment during the night, when the boys were in the hospital, the first question they asked were about how the others were, who else was wounded, telling us “I’m OK, leave me, see how the others are.” I witnessed a very high level of professionalism in the Bulgarian army with respect to the overall response to the situation. I saw what it means to  have  leaders in the army. I saw people who are indeed leaders and it is necessary to invest in these people so that they can develop. I saw that our boys and girls there are fully aware of the risks, but they are also aware of the professional training they have. From that moment on, all my colleagues and I gather information about the state of Sergeant Alexandrov and of the other two who are still in hospital.

Presenter: These are corporal Yordan Petkov and private Yavor Ivanov.

N. Mladenov: Yes, Yavor Ivanov, yes. I think that Yavor has already undergone leg surgery and someone even told me yesterday that he could walk using crutches, but that there was still some time that he needed before he recovers fully. Let’s pray for them and let’s give them strength to overcome what happened.

Presenter: If an attack of this kind is more on account of the conference in London, as you are saying, it follows then that there is some grain of truth in comments that had appeared in the press, including in the West, that the Talibans are trying to raise their price before that conference. And apparently they’ve succeeded, judging from the decision to set aside a fund of USD 500 million for reintegration of moderate Talibans.

N. Mladenov: I’m not sure whether they are trying to raise their price or whether it’s like the last sting of a snake before it dies, because it can be seen that there have been daily attacks and a higher level of threat in different regions of Afghanistan, in all bases: in Kandahar, in Baghdad, and elsewhere. The fund that was decided to be established yesterday is something that had been discussed for years, and how it was to be established. So the idea is to create a mechanism through which those people who had gone over to the Talibans at some point in time, whom we refer to – in an oversimplified way – as terrorists or Talibans … who were dissatisfied with their life, who could not see development in the places where they lived, who saw no prospects, who were angry…

Presenter: They are simply very poor.

N. Mladenov: … very poor, they are all very poor, to be given a chance to break free from the clutches of the groups that are indeed linked with terrorism, and this is Al Qaeda, after all. These are people who are dissatisfied and their dissatisfaction has driven them to cross over to the other side of the barricade, to put it in most general terms.

Presenter: It appears then that the free world would try to outbid Al Qaeda for these people.

N. Mladenov: No, no, there will be no bidding, the free world will not bid, the free world will do something that was done in Iraq – of course, the model will be much different, because the two countries cannot be compared – there were insurgents in Iraq, most generally speaking, who began to be organised in separate groups, each guarding the area it lives in, and this is how we started. People who had been part of the insurgence or part of the groups connected with Al Qaeda, and at some point the government turned to them and told them, look, this cannot go on much longer. We’ll give you salaries here, but you must start organising yourselves and you must start guarding your neighbourhoods. And this is how the pacifying of Iraq actually started. Naturally, it was necessary to see gradually who among these people had been connected with some crimes and who had indeed been part of some terrorist groups. This is a very, very long process. However, the problem in Afghanistan is that we spoke like that quite frivolously  and we turned the word “Taliban” into some kind of general concept. There are very different people there, very different groups and very different parties that are fighting for different things, very different terrorist movements – Al Qaeda being the most extreme among them.

Presenter: Will Bulgaria contribute to that fund of USD 500 million, and if so – how much? The first reports were that the money would come primarily from Japan, I couldn’t find an exact figure, then 70 million from Germany and several million pledged by London. Will Bulgaria contribute to such a fund?

N. Mladenov: We have not discussed this possibility at this stage, because I think Bulgaria currently participates in the operations in Afghanistan quite well for its potential. First and foremost, this is our military involvement in Kabul and Kandahar, which is very highly appreciated among the circles of all…

Presenter: We are talking about different things. London also participates.

N. Mladenov: Yes, true, but everyone must do it to the extent possible. Second, we are participating or are beginning to participate in the police mission, i.e., we are to train Afghan military and Afghan civilians. Whether…
 
Presenter:
Incidentally, David Milliband said that they were about 1,600 instructors there. How many instructors will Bulgaria…

N. Mladenov: Exactly. But it depends what you are implying that he said exactly, because, for example, in…

Presenter: That’s what he said, it’s not clear what instructors he had in mind.

N. Mladenov: … I may not be able to cite the exact figures, but we currently have 20 or 30 who are training a part of the Afghan army in the south, and we are ready to send more, who had been requested and agreed upon maybe nearly a year ago. It will happen, but they can’t go there because the Afghan side is not yet ready to receive them. We have a decision of the Council of Ministers to send up to five military policemen to train the police there. It seems that at least two will leave at some point for the NATO training mission. There are also people coming here from Afghanistan, I’m not yet fully familiar with the details, this is organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to train their civil servants in Bulgaria. As to whether we would contribute money to that fund, this is a matter that needs to be assessed in terms of the potential we have and in the extent to which our strength may lie elsewhere, because the financial strength is not our greatest strength.

Presenter: Incidentally, there are commentators who perceive a meaning of the Bulgarian involvement only if it’s translated into direct economic benefits. Vice President Khalili is said to have expressed before you his wish for Bulgarian companies to build the country’s infrastructure and economy.

N. Mladenov: We spoke…

Presenter: Any concrete idea how this is to be done?

N. Mladenov: … we spoke with Vice President Khalili. A memorandum has been drafted between the Chambers of Commerce of Bulgaria and of Afghanistan, when it is signed hopefully, their companies are to take part in exhibitions and trade fairs in Bulgaria, and Bulgarian companies in Afghanistan, so that contacts can be established. And here – I hope you won’t take it as unsolicited advertising – I would like to take the opportunity of being on the air and say that all Bulgarian companies that might be interested in taking part in the reconstruction of Afghanistan…

Presenter: What can they do?

N. Mladenov: … they can always get in touch with me so as to find some way in which we can be of help. We have an embassy in Kabul, we have a consulate, we have good contacts there. However, here we can identify what opportunities exist and seek possibilities. We can see whether someone might be interested. Incidentally, by the end of this year, following one of the decisions from London, there will be an economic forum on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, hosted by Turkey. Later, when it becomes clear when it is to take place, I’ll turn again to all Bulgarian companies to state their wish to participate, if they are interested. Because the example of Iraq is rather negative in this respect: we participated in the Iraq operation and then we could not enjoy any economic benefit from that.

Presenter: What are they to do in practical terms? For example, many building companies are currently underemployed in Bulgaria and are closing down, but they must know what they would be building…

N. Mladenov: In practice…

Presenter: … how can they go there?

N. Mladenov: … in practice, they must declare interest in this, so that we can inform them of the existing opportunities, because some opportunities are under the international aid, depending on the country providing the aid, whether it comes from the USA, Japan, Europe, etc., but nevertheless let’s remember that there is actually war in Afghanistan, the war there is real and this is very dangerous. This is not… we are not talking about Iraq in 2009-2010, we are taking about a situation comparable to some years ago, where the situation is still very difficult, as we see in the news all the time, but these are risks that every company must assess on its own. We can only help them establish their contacts, decide whether they are interested, and then we can help them, if they are interested. In my personal opinion, I’m not committing anyone with it at the moment, I believe that some more time must elapse, maybe six months to one year, when things there would appear different, therefore if someone wishes to participate, to have the chance to prepare it a little in advance.

Presenter: Your predecessor Rumiana Jeleva received many ironic comments for her answer during the hearing as EU Commissioner designate precisely on Afghanistan, because she said something of the kind that it is necessary to conduct negotiations with the moderate Talibans, but now it came out that the world discussed precisely that in London: “Talibans” with whom to negotiate?

N. Mladenov: No, no, you must make a very serious difference. It’s none of our business to negotiate with just anyone. There is the Afghan government that conducts the negotiations. And that was stated very clearly in London, namely that any form of negotiations, talks or discussions on how that reintegration fund is to be managed, etc., ought to be set in motion by the government of Afghanistan. We cannot – it’s going to be a bit like a bull in a china shop – whether we are Europeans or whatever else we are, we can’t negotiate. There is a very complicated tribal history there, with highly intricate historical relations. These are relations that they themselves must clear. We can help them with whatever we can, but it is not we who ought to conduct these negotiations. And this was stated very clearly, namely that this is an Afghan process conducted by the Afghans and supported by the international community. Anything else is not serious.

Presenter: Is there a Bulgarian nomination for a High Representative of the European Union in Afghanistan?

N. Mladenov: No, there isn’t.

Presenter: EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton made a mistake yesterday and then corrected herself that the High Representative was not Bulgarian but Lithuanian.

N. Mladenov: Lithuanian, yes. That was just a slip of the tongue of the lady.

Presenter: There’s no such nomination.

N. Mladenov: No, no.

Presenter: Incidentally, talking about diplomatic posts in the European Union, how will Bulgaria participate in the EU’s new diplomacy that is being formed? According to statistics, only 117 out of 1,675 officials in the structures dealing with the foreign relations of the EU are from the countries that joined after 2004. How many of these 117 people are Bulgarians, if any?

N. Mladenov: I can’t tell you exactly. But there are, I’m sure I know at least several, but I can’t give you the exact figure. A part of the talks conducted at the moment concerns not only how that service is to be structured and whether its structuring is to be on some kind of quota principle, e.g., this country or that…

Presenter: It seems that the big countries…

N. Mladenov: … get such and such quota…

Presenter: … are against the quota principle. They allegedly wish the choice to be based on capabilities.

N. Mladenov: Yes, they prefer capabilities. In the long run, the opposite idea is based on the criteria, on the requirements. All compete and whoever wins, gets the job, irrespective of the country he/she comes from. Both are logical.

Presenter: And what is Bulgaria’s position? Are we going to insist on having…

N. Mladenov: Well…

Presenter: … heads of some of the 136 missions…

N. Mladenov: This is what I’m going to find out now, when I appear at the Foreign Ministry on Monday and start familiarising myself with the situation in detail, but it seems to me that there are arguments in favour of Bulgaria also qualifying for these posts. We have a sufficient number of good specialists and diplomats. This is an interesting moment, because the missions that the EU had… on the one hand, there is a representative of the European Commission, and on the other – there is a special representative of the European Union on foreign policy matters, e.g., as was the case in Afghanistan, where there was a Delegation of the European Commission and separately a political representative. These two posts must gradually merge to become one, because these are the requirements under the Treaty of Lisbon, but there are not yet rules and procedures for how this is to happen. And the first case that we… that the European Union is facing concerns the choice of the Special Representative of the EU for Afghanistan.

Presenter: Incidentally, should the experiment that is currently made with a special fund for Afghanistan be extended for other cases as well? For instance, Haiti. It appears that the world relies on charity and on concerts, and on ad hoc decisions of governments to raise money, which most certainly delays the response.

N. Mladenov: I don’t see how you made that connection… you lost me slightly here. Haiti is a different case altogether. There is a very…

Presenter: I mean, should there be…

N. Mladenov: … substantial sum for it.

Presenter: … organised funds in the world that would be for…

N. Mladenov: For crisis situations?

Presenter: … crisis situations, which – well, you see,  Afghanistan can also be seen as a crisis situation…

N. Mladenov: Look, one of the ongoing discussions in the European Union in the past several years is whether it is necessary to build some common capacity within the Member States, some service,  capacities that help the Member States in their response to crises. For example, there is a forest fire in Greece in the summer, and they begin to extinguish it. In the meantime, fires break out in Bulgaria and in Italy, and Bulgarian and Italy start fighting their fires, but their capacities are not sufficient, there is no one to help, the Greeks are busy fighting their own fire and we fight ours. So, is there no need of some common capacity, in terms of equipment, people, etc., to help when such things happen somewhere, because we are perfectly aware that we are all living in an extremely connected world. This is an old ongoing discussion. I assume that the new EU Commissioner from Bulgaria, who will be responsible for crisis response, would have to assess the extent to which there is political will for developing such a capacity. This is for within the European Union. Outside the EU, for the world – broadly speaking – it is very difficult to make funds when you don’t know where you are going to use them and how, therefore we must simply have more flexible and faster response mechanisms. When an earthquake occurs in Haiti, not to have to wait for two, three or four weeks before international aid is mobilised, but to have a mechanism in place that would rally the countries that could help, and they to become involved. Now if all decisions need to be reached by 27 countries in Europe, by Luxembourg and Bulgaria, Malta, Latvia, Poland, the UK and Sweden, and all 27 , this would delay substantially the decision-making process. If this has to be done by 120 countries worldwide, the delay would be even greater. There is, of course the UN mechanism, which exists and which provides a good basis, therefore maybe we simply need to become aware that natural disasters of the type in Haiti will occur more and more frequently, and we all need to be able to respond to them more quickly.

Presenter: Bulgaria is to take one prisoner from Guantanamo, is that right? Or maybe it has not been decided yet? The Interior Minister even tried to outline his profile: a worthy man, with family values, and we would invite his wife as well. However, in principle, does Bulgaria support at all the existence of such a type of mechanism for detaining people – either in prisons, or on some territories? Such decisions most certainly contravene various conventions, e.g., the Geneva Convention, although I read that 66 states had such secret prisons for terrorists.

N. Mladenov: They contravene, insofar as they enter in a grey area…

Presenter: About that man, on what grounds are we going to take him and keep him…

N. Mladenov: … such a grey area of international law in which it is not very clear who is – to put it bluntly – bound by military discipline and takes part in a war, and who is a civilian. This resulted from the overall development of the situation with the terrorists after September 11. In other words, if you see and if there are some military actions and the other side has an army that you have captured, you know that they are military people. They are subordinated to some rules, they have rights and there are international requirements that need to be respected. But what can you do with a person who looks civilian, walks in the streets normally, and at the same time he is carrying a bomb and can blow himself up, i.e., he has turned into a weapon. Is he a civilian or does he participate in military actions? These are still unchartered waters. Bulgaria…

Presenter: And we become involved?

N. Mladenov: … no, we become involved in something else. We become involved in something that all countries in Europe have become involved in, and not only in Europe: to close down the detention centre in Guantanamo so that it can be abolished and these people for whom there are apparently insufficient grounds to be kept there, but at the same time who could not be returned to their countries of origin, to be given a new chance for reintegration. These are people who are… No one is talking about receiving in Bulgaria – or anywhere else in Europe – people about whom there is clear evidence that they are connected with direct terrorist attacks, but… no, no… give people a chance to change.

Presenter: But this will be done… Now, there is a difference…

N. Mladenov: But the issue is raised… and it’s happening… Look…

Presenter: …whether this will happen with their will or against their will?

N. Mladenov: … the issue is, after all, not to take a person who would be kept here under the strictest detention measures. Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter where a person would serve his sentence, but to allow that person to be gradually reintegrated in society.

Presenter: Well, he would have to… i.e., we would have to ask him – we, the Americans, that is – would ask him whether he wishes to come to Bulgaria, or won’t we ask him? I mean, is he going to be a detainee in Bulgaria, or a person reintegrating in Bulgaria on his own will?

N. Mladenov: Rather, he would be someone who’s got a second chance to return to normal life, and not merely a detainee who has a number of years more to spend in prison.

Presenter: I’m not sure I understood you well. Does this mean that the individuals whom we like, because he meets the requirements, can say ‘I don’t want to go there, I want to go back to Afghanistan, I want to go back to Pakistan, or to Saudi Arabia?

N. Mladenov: This is an issue that is yet to be… that depends on the legal grounds on which he would be released to come to Bulgaria, that is something that Minister Tsvetanov also said a few days ago, I think there had been a meeting of the committee at the National Assembly at which… actually, it was not a few days ago, it was earlier, maybe a month ago… these things were commented. Therefore, it depends on the legal grounds, on their nature, and also on the control that Bulgaria would impose. Because we have no interest in having someone here who would say “well, actually, it’s not interesting for me to live here, I’m going to this or that country” and then to blow himself up there. You understand that this would not happen. These are people who are aware that they had done something wrong, or that they had been wrongly detained. They must be given a chance to return gradually to normal life, but most certainly there will be some restrictions, e.g., not to be allowed to travel freely here and there, the usual restrictions for all refugees. If you are a refugee and you come to Bulgaria from some conflict, e.g., in Somalia, and you are granted refugee status, your status is subject to certain restrictions that gradually disappear one after another on the territory of the entire European Union. However, this does not happen immediately. Therefore, you are entitled to some kind of legal protection that is also based on international agreements.

Presenter: The whole thing is still foggy.

N. Mladenov: Well, wait a little for the fog to lift. You tend to…

Presenter: Generally speaking, not only from a Bulgarian but also from a global perspective these…

N. Mladenov: From a global one.

Presenter: …with terrorists who are held somewhere…

N. Mladenov: It is foggy because, as I told you at the beginning, if it was clear until recently when there is a conflict, and on the basis of that understanding all conventions were drafted: who the warring parties are, who are the civilians, what rights they have if one thing or another happens, and these conventions were generally respected worldwide. However, the situation changed after September 11. Simply the difference between the man with the hat walking in the streets and the man with the hat walking in the streets and a moment later blowing himself up cannot be identified so easily.

Presenter: You yourself mentioned Somalia. What’s happening with the negotiations for the freeing of the Bulgarian seamen taken hostage by pirates there?

N. Mladenov: This is something I’m about to learn after the end of your show, because I’m going to the Foreign  Ministry directly from here to become familiar with the latest…

Presenter: And the earlier question, because it’s connected with your previous position as Defence Minister. Should Bulgaria take part in military operations? Well, maybe not with a whole ship…

N. Mladenov: What do you expect from us … to send a boat?

Presenter: No. Maybe they are Bulgarians that had been put on another ship. Maybe they are…

N. Mladenov: Well, now we have two people who are at the crisis centre of the operation, which is located in England, and who…

Presenter: Of what operation?

N. Mladenov: Of the Operation Atalanta, which is an EU operation in the Gulf of Aden. Whether we are to participate or not is an issue of the extent to which this… actually, the question has two sides. On the one hand, to what extent it can really be of help to the operation if we send a ship, e.g., a frigate, and become involved in the operation.

Presenter: That frigate could guard some other ships sailing there.

N. Mladenov: On the other hand, of course, is the issue of the financial cost of such an exercise. Thirdly, there’s naturally the issue of the level of threat to Bulgarian nationals, Bulgarian ships, etc. passing there. If we send a ship there to take part in the operation and cover all ensuing costs, yes, we are involved, but the question remains of the extent to which we are helping the whole operation. Because the overall operation is not so much in need of ships as we all think. The problem tends to be rather that many ships passing through the Gulf are not declared and they don’t join the convoys organised there. Because there are still people who believe that they are luckier than this one or that one, and that they can survive without becoming involved in that operation. Therefore, it’s a matter of judgement. In my opinion, at this stage, of course, if… this can always change, and if there are sufficient resources for this, it can be done. At this stage there is no pressing need for us to become involved in the Operation Atalanta except in the way in which we participate: with the people at the crisis centre who are currently working there. Organising convoys is a very complicated process requiring a very sophisticated coordination by all countries involved on the spot. Atalanta manages to cope very successfully with the threat that exists there, i.e., the risk to passing ships is greatly reduced. However, that risk can never be totally eliminated, of course. All the more if someone chooses not to declare his intentions to cross that gulf.

Presenter: In other words, the problem with the hijacked ships and with the Bulgarian seamen taken hostage is that they did not join the existing convoys? They made the wrong decisions?

N. Mladenov: Yes, to the best of my knowledge, that was the situation with at least one of the ships. However, this does not in the least exempt either us or the British side of our obligations, because both ships sailed under a British flag, in the long run the obligation is to conduct negotiations and to do everything possible to free the seamen.

Presenter: And can you…

N. Mladenov: Next Monday, actually on the 8th, I’ll be in London. I’ll have a bilateral meeting with the British Foreign Minister, which could not have taken place now in the context of Afghanistan, and this will be one of the topics we are going to discuss with him.

Presenter: Can you please shed light on something that Prime Minister Boyko Borissov spoke about…

N. Mladenov: What do you mean?

Presenter: … about the paid debts of the previous government in connection with the case in Somalia? Because it must become clear then what  choice  Bulgaria is making, between what and what. If it becomes clear that money has been taken from the taxes of all of us, let’s see how much of it went to free Bulgarians, to see how much this costs and to judge whether it wouldn’t be cheaper to send a ship that would be close to every Bulgarian.

N. Mladenov: Many interpretations were produced here of the Prime Minister’s words. I agree with you that there must be absolute transparency and I think that this transparency will be secured gradually in every respect. However, I wouldn’t like to comment this at the moment because there is a lot…

Presenter: The most unpleasant thing in a possible comment is whether Bulgaria paid terrorists, or – to put it differently – whether Stanishev negotiated with terrorists, pirates or whatever else you would like to call them, and whether Boyko Borissov subsequently paid the money, which seems absurd to have happened. However as both seem to be somewhat reluctant to speak, obviously you can’t say anything more.

N. Mladenov: I prefer to refrain from any comments at this stage.

Presenter: Do you approve of the drastic cuts in the number of army generals, as the press qualified the 20% cuts in the higher army administration announced by the new Defence Minister and your former Deputy Minister, General Anyu Angelov?

N. Mladenov: I believe that if there are to be cuts in the army, they should not start from the bottom upwards but that they should start top to bottom. This means to examine first the structure and the personnel of the army headquarters and to optimise it. And then gradually, after the inspection of the defence sector, to see what structure needs to be preserved for the army down in the military units, bases, etc. This is the process to be followed. This is the process that both I and all colleagues introduced in the initiative of the inspection of the forces. This is a process that was explained to all generals last week at a conference that is organised every year by the defence commander. And from now on, this is the process that will be followed.

Presenter: Talking about generals, let me not forget to ask you whether you can comment that story that appeared on television about that general, I think his name was Samandov, who dropped his gun at your feet while you were giving an interview. I was wondering what would have happened if a private dropped his gun before the minister, it’s good that the gun didn’t go off…

N. Mladenov: Ha, how could it go off when it wasn’t loaded, you know… It can happen, what can one do… General Samandov and I spent 48 hours with maybe less than two hours sleep before that. Therefore, what he and his colleagues did in Kandahar was extremely dignified and they demonstrated that they are real leaders in the Bulgarian army. As to the incident when he dropped his gun – well, it just happened, and it’s no big deal.

Presenter: Did you decide jointly with Rumiana Jeleva to skip the ceremony of the taking over of the Ministry, or was it her decision? That was also noted by the press, I mean her absence.

N. Mladenov: No, I think that it was more of a practical solution because it so happened that I had to travel immediately and I had no…

Presenter: To London?

N. Mladenov: I simply asked for the Deputy ministers to remain for a while at the Ministry so that we can exchange a few words.

Presenter: How many will they remain? I mean, were they to remain for the few words, or would these Deputy Ministers remain your deputies?

N. Mladenov: I spoke to them at the Ministry building for about 15 minutes, wait a little.

Presenter: No, I meant something else.

N. Mladenov: I know, I know what you meant. But please wait a little. Give me some time. You know that I don’t rush with decisions and I don’t plunge into radical positions without thinking.

Presenter: Now that some time has passed, Kristalina Georgieva’s hearing is scheduled on 3 February for the post of EU Commissioner, and being clear that Bulgaria was the reason for the postponed voting of the entire European Commission, what analysis do you make? Where did those in power go wrong in the case with the Commissioner designate, which definitely inconvenienced the entire EU?

N. Mladenov: Well, there were two mistakes. The first one was that when those crazy rumours about companies, etc. started spreading, they had to be dispelled maximally early, not to be left until the last moment. In my opinion, this had to happen long before the hearing at the EP committee. And second, maybe in the preparations for the actual hearing. You know, a hearing at the European Parliament is no joke. I think one of the first things that someone told me, I don’t even remember who it was, before I went to the European Parliament, was not to kid myself that I can bluff my way around pretending I know something. With more than 700 members, if you broach some subject about which you know very little, which is not familiar to you, but you are nevertheless trying to pretend to be competent, having read a few sentences about it, there will always come someone who will cut you up. Hence preparedness is important, it must always be very serious. These were, I think, the two mistakes.

Presenter: In your opinion, judging from your work in the government, is there indeed a need in your team that is ruling over Bulgaria of yet another person who would be in charge of the euro, the currency board and economic issues, or there is no need, because the news from yesterday is that the expected Deputy Prime Minister from Singapore would not be coming after all.

N. Mladenov: This is a question…

Presenter: Is such a person needed or not?

N. Mladenov: This is a question to be judged by the Prime Minister. For me, apart from the issue of the concrete individuals and the structure of the Council of Ministers, it is important – and I said during the short time I spent at the Foreign Ministry on my way to the airport – to pay attention… if we say that Bulgaria’s accession to the Eurozone is a priority, then we must focus on this priority and see what it means. This means actions on the part of the Ministry of Finance, the Bulgarian National Bank, as well as preparation of a certain type of specialised initiatives within their competencies. However, it also means a very clear formulation of the political message on why this is important. And that would be my job already at the Foreign Ministry. We must secure that background, that logic of the message, which speaks to the people outside the concrete criteria of the European Central Bank, the mechanisms that exist under ERM-2, i.e., under the exchange rate mechanism in Europe, the criteria for the currency reserve, etc. Outside this, here is the political framework and the political background explaining why this is important.

Presenter: What you are saying means a lot more work along these lines. And the logic is that if someone is to do the job, he must come now, and not as Mr. Mihov explained that he was actually to come, if he did come, when we join the Eurozone.

N. Mladenov: It means a lot of work along different lines, it means much more interinstitutional work, i.e., different institutions sitting together, because the expertise in every ministry is different. They sit together and start working in a concrete direction. For example, the euro, or Schengen. Schengen is also a priority. Schengen cannot be left to the Ministry of the Interior only, where the principal criteria are to be met without the political background and support of the Foreign Ministry for that. Therefore, I would say that these are the priorities. In other words, more work, more interinstitutional cooperation, and not to leave the foreign policy to some people who are doing something abroad. I am now in a position for which there is an expression that I would have to eat my words, because several weeks ago I joked that the function of the Foreign Ministry was to undertake commitments that were to be implemented subsequently by the Defence Ministry. Now, going over to the other side of this barricade, I must tell you that I’ll be very careful of the commitments I’ll make.

Presenter: Greece and the compensations. There was information yesterday that the European Commission asked for accurate assessment of the losses sustained by the Bulgarian economy as a result of the protests of the Greek farmers. If I understood correctly, that assessment was to be submitted by 3 February. On the other hand, there were reports that next Wednesday the government would have to decide on the type of compensations and how to demand them…

N. Mladenov: No, no, the analysis is made on a daily basis by the crisis centre and we need to inform Brussels every day about the losses sustained by the Bulgarian economy. There is an operational time period under the European legislation between the filing of the complaint and its activation, for the judgement on the part of Brussels about whether there is indeed blocking of the free access of goods from a legal point as well. And this period is running now.

Presenter: However, when I read what they expect, starting with exact information on the onset of the problems, their duration, what border checkpoints are affected, with a concrete map…

N. Mladenov: Yes.

Presenter: Was there a way to circumvent them? Traffics, itineraries, statistical analysis of the products that cannot be transported from and to Bulgaria, etc.

N. Mladenov: What is your concern?

Presenter: I am concerned that we, Bulgarians, tend to make a lot of noise about those “bad Greeks” but we are not Germans who keep statistics… and this is not a reproach aimed at the government, not at all. Those companies that complain of their great losses, when they need to prove what they have lost, it may turn out that it’s a lot less…

N. Mladenov: We want to have rule of the law, don’t we? We want a functioning economy, don’t we? This means functioning economy and rule of the law. In other words, all these losses need to be recorded. Yes, maybe it sounds a bit bureaucratic, if you read it like this.

Presenter: Yes, logically, it’s bureaucratic.

N. Mladenov: However, it’s logical, it’s absolutely logical. And nevertheless there was…

Presenter: Finally, do you think that indeed…

N. Mladenov: … a situation that develops between Bulgaria and Greece in the Rhodope Mountains, and in the long run there are some people in Brussels, who need to ascertain on the basis of objective data what had happened. You need to provide these objective data. This is why the crisis centre was established. This is why this information began to be gathered and formulated.

Presenter: Are we accumulating evidence? Because, frankly speaking, three months later…

N. Mladenov: Oh, yes, we are accumulating evidence.

Presenter: … the Byzantines can say: “Blockade? What blockade? There was something there for a couple of hours.”

N. Mladenov: We are, we are accumulating evidence, of course, and this has been going on for maybe a week or two. This evidence is gathered and analysed very carefully, and very concrete data are sent to Brussels. However, from that moment on the issue is to set the procedure in motion.

Presenter: The Prime Minister’s visit to Turkey. The news that is posted on the first page of our website Darik News is that Bulgarian-Turkish committees are to discuss the compensations for the refugees from Thrace. What is actually the development on this issue?

N. Mladenov: What development there is since yesterday or…

Presenter: Yes.

N. Mladenov: What do you have in mind?

Presenter: Precisely what will happen with these compensations? What is the progress in these committees? Do you perceive any recognition on the part of Turkey that it owes something to Bulgaria and to the Bulgarians?

N. Mladenov: I understand it as a clear process in which both sides sit down with their experts to analyse precisely the issue so as to eliminate emotions from the conversation. Just as you said a moment ago with the example about Greece: to determine the exact parameters, etc., so as to be able to judge what actions need to be undertaken from now on. Therefore, I think that this is a very good achievement of the Prime Minister during his visit to Turkey, because there were certain people who asked questions before his visit: why was he going there, what was he going to do there, etc. Not to mention what my colleague Traykov achieved with these talks in the energy sphere.

Presenter: Can’t you say something more specific about the schedule of the work of these committees?

N. Mladenov: No, look, there is…

Presenter: Who should the heirs of the victims go to? There’s still a long way to go for this?

N. Mladenov: There is a long way indeed, but everything happened yesterday, I mean the political agreement. And from now on it must be rendered more concrete. However, there are other committees as well that have been working with Turkey for some time not only on this issue. It’s simply important to start clearing… I wouldn’t call them problems, but the open issues in our relations and in the relations with other countries, so that the economic exchange could be stimulated better, in terms of purely human contacts, and to abolish the things that generate a sense of uneasiness among the people.

Presenter: What is your position on the issue of whether Bulgarian citizens without permanent residence in the EU must have voting rights in Bulgarian elections?

N. Mladenov: Here I’ve had my personal position for a long time, but won’t share it with you because I want to understand precisely what had happened with the polling stations abroad at the most recent elections. I hear…

Presenter: Trud daily is asking whether you would fire the persons involved in the violations during the elections, after the two ambassadors were sanctioned, whereas those who actually did it… caused the confusion…

N. Mladenov: I hear things that I don’t like at all about what happened in some embassies and generally about the way in which the process was organised. But as I am merely hearing these things now, I need to study them more, hands on. I want to see the documents and to familiarise myself with the concrete actions. However, I would like to tell you that if there are concrete individuals who contributed with their actions or inaction to the formation of a feeling in Bulgarian society that there are some irregularities, these individuals must start looking for a job outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Presenter: Why did the ambassadors go and those under them did not?

N. Mladenov: But it must be made clear precisely who these people are. Here we are not talking of a political act of finger-pointing at someone and making him take the whole blame. We are talking about identifying precisely who failed to do his/her job and accordingly what needs to be done about the procedures for voting abroad, in our embassies, about the control on the safekeeping of the ballot papers, etc., which needs to be improved for the next elections.

Presenter: What will you do about ADIS? Incidentally, Trud daily asks five questions to the new Foreign Minister…

N. Mladenov: I saw the five questions in Trud.

Presenter: According to Trud, ADIS proved to be the first question. Will you change its management, which was close to Rumiana Jeleva, again according to that analysis?

N. Mladenov: Surely you don’t expect me to answer this question on my 15th minute at the Ministry. After all, in spite of public pressure, it took us a lot of time at the Ministry of Defence … to sell the property until we found out the real state of the concrete pieces of property, because there were irregularities in the documents of many of them. Therefore, I accumulated some experience in dealing with such matters as well. Unfortunately, it will be necessary to address such issues again. I can’t tell you anything about the people, I don’t know them and I have no idea how they work.

Presenter: And what is your understanding in principle? ADIS is not on the banned list for privatisation, another version is that the state does not need such a company, and that things can be resolved on the market. We are talking about property on which diplomats are living.

N. Mladenov: There are different options, the point is…

Presenter: Which is the position closer to your thinking?

N. Mladenov: … to find the best options for the situation in which Bulgaria is at the moment. In principle, I’m in favour of more market-driven approaches to problem-solving, because I believe that the market has a sufficient number of mechanisms through which…

Presenter: This can be translated immediately as “Nickolay Mladenov will sell ADIS.”

N. Mladenov: This can be translated so only in the head of some journalist who is not listening carefully to what I’m saying. Because I told you that in principle I’m in favour of such…

Presenter: And more specifically?

N. Mladenov: More specifically, when I look at the concrete situation, I need to assess it. I’m not going to reach a decision either on this issue, or on any other, on the basis of any such…

Presenter: Principles.

N. Mladenov: … views in principle, not connected with the concrete situation we are in.

Presenter: Finally, as this week was marked by very cold weather…

N. Mladenov: Yes.

Presenter: Do you share the disappointment of EU diplomats, cited again this week, incidentally, after the meeting on the global warming in Copenhagen, or – looking at the cold wave that hit all Europe – are you beginning to share the doubts that the global diplomacy is wasting its time on something that is not at all certain that it should address so actively?

N. Mladenov: Oh, no, no, I think we do need to address this very actively, and I tend to share the disappointment of those who said that Copenhagen failed to…

Presenter: It’s very difficult to convince someone listening to you at 25º below zero at the moment that there is some problem with the global warming.

N. Mladenov: Global warming does not mean that we would feel warmer or colder during most of the year, it means unpredictable and illogical climate change that we are not used to. You remember how warm this winter was until recently, and now all of a sudden  it became freezing cold.

Presenter: Old people say that this was how it was in the past, but…

N. Mladenov: Old people say that, but the situation in the south is even more unpleasant, especially in the regions that are closer to the equator where it’s getting hotter and hotter. And in the regions to the north the ice is melting and the level of the water is rising. You can imagine what this means for places like the Netherlands  and the regions in the world that are below sea level. Hence global warming is the problem of the 21st century. And that problem is how we would find the balance between developing our economies without endangering the planet. Because we are endangering it with every plastic cup out of which we drink our coffee and throw it in the street. We endanger it with every chimney billowing smoke. With every old refrigerator containing freons, etc. There are many, many problems, but this is the biggest problem of the 21st century. That and terrorism, and the clash between the transformation of religions into some kind of instrument for radicalism. In my opinion, these are the biggest problems of the 21st century.

Presenter: In other words, you tend to believe in the theory about the clash of civilisations?

N. Mladenov: No, precisely because I don’t believe in the theory, I believe that there are people who take a religion and the values in that religion, and they distort them and twist them, turning them into an instrument of violence. This does not mean that Islam and Christianity cannot live together, side by side in the world. This means that we must fight and defeat those who distort and abuse the religious beliefs of people, transforming them into weapons of terror.

Presenter: Nickolay Mladenov, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, a special guest of The Week show of Darik Radio.

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