On the scenery of a widening row between some western members of EU and Turkey, the Balkans have their own headaches related to the powerful neighbour. Milen Marinov discusses the problems facing Bulgaria, who border with Turkey and now face the possibility of being pawns in the larger row between the European Union and Erdogan’s government.

On Sunday, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused the Dutch government of behaving like Nazis after the Netherlands refused to let Turkey’s foreign minister’s plane land for a rally for the constitutional referendum will be held in Turkey on Sunday, 16 April. Following that incident, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmusen cancelled a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim.

In reaction, Turkey once again threatened to re-start allowing migrants and refugees into the EU. Omer Celik, the Turkish EU affairs minister, said that Ankara should reconsider the deal struck with the Union last year, which dramatically reduced the flow of people from the Middle East entering Europe from Turkey.

Turkey has a border with two EU member states- Bulgaria and Greece who are both struggling with an economic and political crisis and with a lack of capacity to manage the flow of migrants.

Turkish influence in local elections

Bulgaria is in the final two weeks ahead of parliamentary elections. And the relations between Sofia and Ankara are under pressure after Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Boyko Mirchev summoned the Turkish ambassador in Sofia. The meeting was in concern over reports that a Turkish minister had campaigned on behalf of the ethnic-Turk Dost party in advance of Bulgaria’s March 26 general election. Dost was founded in 2015 by Lyutvi Mestan, the former leader of Bulgarian party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), founded by Ahmed Dogan and which has an electorate made up largely of Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity.

According to reports the Turkish minister of labour and social security Mehmet Müezzinoğlu had endorsed Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party. Added to that, a report on March 6 by Bulgarian news agency BTA, stated that Müezzinoğlu had called on Bulgarian expatriates to vote massively in the March 26 elections. Also, a DOST electoral video shown on the Bulgarian national television, featured the Turkish ambassador for Bulgaria, Süleyman Gökçe.

Violating electoral sovereignty

Krasimir Karakachanov, the leader of Bulgarian nationalist VMRO party, underlined that the appearance in a DOST election clip of the Turkish ambassador was a violation of the Vienna Convention on the role of diplomats and was a “bold provocation”. VMRO is a part of the United Patriots (UP) coalition along with Valeri Simeonov’s National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and Volen Siderov’s Ataka.

The threat that Ankara can reconsider the deal with EU about the refugees can have a serious impact in Bulgaria`s elections. In the countryside, like most of the east European member states, there is a tension and unwillingness for migrants to be hosted. Weeks ago a number of towns around Bulgaria have protested against hosting refugees. This week a Catholic priest from the northern Bulgarian town of Belene announced that he is going home to Italy after his decision to shelter a refugee family caused tensions. A Turkish threat could make tensions sharper and to put water in the mill for Bulgarian nationalists.

Milen Marinov
Bulgarian journalist and devoted to the European cause.

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