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CEE Weekly Update: Bulgaria Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

CEE Weekly Update: Bulgaria Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

April 4, 2024

Author: Casimir Pulaski Foundation

CEE Weekly Update: Bulgaria Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


Autor foto: Domena publiczna

CEE Weekly Update: Bulgaria Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Author: Casimir Pulaski Foundation

Published: April 4, 2024

I. Russia Prepares for an Offensive Using Memory Wars

Russia is likely to replenish its forces and equipment for a summer offensive. The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces recently announced that Russia is preparing 100,000 troops for a potential offensive push.[1] Although the extent of Moscow’s ability to launch such an offensive is not yet clear, recent rhetoric reveals the Kremlin is gearing the public up for war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has recently changed official Kremlin rhetoric, stating that Russia is now ‘at war’ because of Western intervention in its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.[2] His comments came five days after President Putin’s reelection, setting Russia’s citizens up for a prolonged conflict with the “collective West.” [3] These comments, which have been echoed by Russia’s mainstream media, are readying the public to commit themselves to war with the US and its allies. This viewpoint is currently not reciprocated by the US public, which still hopes this conflict will remain contained within Ukraine.

As Russians are fed a vastly different reality from the West, the danger of conflict emerging from each side’s distinct rhetoric grows. Western states believe they are fighting for democracy by supporting Ukraine, while Russians believe they are on the right side of history, carrying on Russia’s fight against fascism and the culture-destroying US. Putin’s narrative of Russia as a fascism-fighting country with a populace predisposed to struggle for this cause is built on WWII— what Moscow calls the Great Patriotic War— history. This narrative is ingrained emotionally and ‘factually’ into peoples’ minds through school curricula, the persecution of opposing versions of history, and memory-centred traditions.[4] Putin has linked Russia’s present and future to the past of a glorious Russia that defeated nazism but was denied its spheres of influence by the West after the Cold War. Now, Putin has geared his society to fight Western influence on Russia’s culture in whatever form he deems right— even through a war on innocent civilians.

For its part, Ukraine is awaiting the Czech initiative’s promised 800,000 artillery shells, which, once delivered (in June at the latest, according to Czech officials),[5] can fill some part of the void caused by frozen US aid package.[6] Additionally, last Tuesday, President Zelensky officially lowered the draft age, eliminated some medical exemptions, and started a database to identify draft dodgers in attempts to replenish Ukraine’s depleted troops.[7] While awaiting new weapons, Ukraine’s military plans to continue sabotage missions behind enemy lines to keep the Russians at bay. Finally, yesterday, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO’s support for Ukraine will be geared toward a long-term timeline. Stoltenberg stated it is in NATO’s interest “to do more, to step up, and to ensure that we do [support Ukraine] in a predictable, robust way for the long haul.”[8]


II. Bulgaria and Romania Step into Schengen

This weekend, Bulgaria and Romania took a landmark step, joining the world’s largest free travel zone: the Schengen Area. Their admission follows a decision by the European Council that officially admitted the pair in December 2023.[9] The decision came after Austria finally gave way to Sofia and Bucharest’s admission following border security concessions to Vienna’s concerns over undocumented immigrants entering the shared open-border space.[10] In this partial entry, Bulgaria and Romania’s maritime and air border controls were lifted on Sunday. Checks at internal land borders, however, will be lifted at a future date, as these require further coordination between Schengen security agencies.[11] This step, once achieved, will integrate Bulgaria and Romania’s policing capabilities with those of the rest of Schengen, creating a more interconnected security landscape.


III. Spinning in Circles: Bulgaria’s Electoral Merry-Go-Round

Even as Sofia finally entered the Schengen Area after 14 years of EU membership, the excitement was marred by the government’s inability to fulfil a government-forming mandate. The ruling coalition’s third and final unsuccessful attempt to form a government means Bulgarian citizens will head back to the polls for the sixth time in three years.[12]

Bulgaria is stepping back into the election spiral that has plagued the country for the last three years with five general elections held and now a snap election—making six — on the way.[13] In June of last year, the political parties GERB/UDF and We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria established a coalition, promising Eurozone and Schengen-area entrance to the constituency. Although the coalition delivered on the latter promise, the government has been unable to overcome the polarisation that has kept Sofia from forming a united, functional government since 2021.[14] Now, the coalition has effectively fallen apart after nine months.

Following GERB/UDF withdrawal from the planned power rotation in leadership, Bulgarian President Radev handpicked the nationalist There’s Such a People party (ITN). However, before the GERB/UDF and We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria coalition crumbled, it imposed an important change. The coalition restrained the president’s power to form an interim government, so he is no longer able to form his own cabinet. Instead, he must now choose a “caretaker” prime minister. His choices, unfortunately for him, do not contain any immediate allies. This new requirement may help curb the pro-Russia president’s powers, as the nine-month-long coalition originally ran on opposing President Radev’s pro-Moscow leanings.[15]


IV. Polish Humanitarian Volunteer Killed in IDF Strike in Gaza

The Israeli invasion of Gaza so far has not dominated the Polish media sphere. As one of the few countries recognising both Israel and Palestine, Poland avoided targeted statements, and politicians dodged the subject. However, on the internet, reports of war crimes committed by the IDF went viral from the very beginning of the invasion, with growing anger against Israeli actions expressed on social media.[16] Many have connected the conflict to Ukraine, stating that Poland has no moral right to condemn Russian terrorist actions against civilians without also acknowledging the much more severe atrocities committed by the Israeli army.[17]

On Easter Monday, a Polish volunteer of a World Central Kitchen, Damian Soból, was killed by an Israeli strike along with six other international humanitarian workers. The convoy was hit three times by rockets launched in a coordinated attack by the IDF despite having humanitarian marks and notifying the army in advance.[18] The Polish MFA contacted the embassy and its counterpart in Israel, demanding a fair investigation into the matter. Early evidence indicates that there is no room to treat this as an accident, and the event has the features of a war crime. Thus, the incident brought Polish attention to Gaza and provoked firm comments from leading Polish politicians, ending their restraint and causing a diplomatic clash. After a wave of condemnation by some public figures, the Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, posted an impertinent statement on X, calling them antisemitic,[19] which caused even more anger on the Polish side and a clarification remark from the platform.

Radosław Sikorski claimed that he would advise the Israeli ambassador to Poland to be ‘more humble’ as ‘this is not the first time that the Israeli army has abused force.’[20] Furthermore, Donald Tusk, in an X post, addressing Prime Minister Netanjahu and Ambassador Livne, observed that the Polish people’s reaction is an ‘understandable anger.’ In his post on X, he also pointed out that “The vast majority of Poles showed full solidarity with Israel after the Hamas attack” and that such actions are ‘putting this solidarity to a tough test’.[21]

According to Secretary of State Andrzej Szejna, Poland demands an independent and quick investigation; a public presentation of its results; punishment of those found guilty; and political, moral and financial responsibility taken by Israel. ‘I would also like Israel to implement the UN Security Council resolution’, says Szejna, adding that in the case of the hit convoy, ‘there was a lack of goodwill’ from the Israeli side.[22]

Ambassador Livne reheated the tension with his live interviews on public TV and a popular YouTube channel, where he refused to take responsibility for the attack, naming it an unfortunate accident, blaming terrorists covering behind humanitarian workers and changing the subject to rising antisemitism. His interventions sparked even more anger in Poland. The Minister of Defence joined the condemnation group with an X post calling the interview ‘full of arrogance’ and ‘proving that there is no reflection in [the Israeli] attitude’.[23] Leaders from all Polish parliament parties and the president have already condemned the attack or the Israeli communication approach, while the ambassador has been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Friday 5th of April, 2024.

With the USA withdrawing its blockade for the UN SC resolution; the EU choosing firmer words; and more countries, such as Spain, announcing they will recognise Palestine’s statehood, the Easter event in Gaza will likely add so far reluctant Poland to the frontline of countries trying to stop the war crimes in Gaza and restrain itself from alliances with Tel-Aviv with domestic bipartisan support and more attention of the public.

Author: Casimir Pulaski Foundation’s team



[1] Reuters, “Ukraine says Russia preparing 100,000 troops, possibly for summer offensive push,” Reuters, March 22, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-says-russia-preparing-100000-troops-possibly-summer-offensive-push-2024-03-22/.

[2]Andrew Osborn, “Kremlin, in change of language, says Russia is ‘at war’ due to West’s role in Ukraine,” Reuters, March 22, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kremlin-says-russia-is-war-due-western-intervention-ukrainian-side-2024-03-22/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jade McGlynn, “Imposing the Past: Putin’s War for History,” War on the Rocks, March 15, 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/03/imposing-the-past-putins-war-for-history/.

[5] “Poland to give logistical support to Czech ammunition plan for Ukraine,” Reuters, March 21, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/poland-give-logistical-support-czech-ammunition-plan-ukraine-2024-03-21/.

[6] Casimir Pulaski Foundation Team, “CEE Update: Europe Steps Up, Filling The US Security Void,” CPF, March 12, 2024, https://pulaski.pl/en/cee-update-europe-steps-up-filling-the-us-security-void/.

[7] Andrew E. Kramer, “Zelensky Lowers Ukraine’s Draft Age, Risking Political Backlash,” NYTimes, April 3, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/03/world/europe/zelensky-ukraine-military-draft-age.html.

[8] Jens Stoltenberg, “Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Brussels,” NATO, April 3, 2024, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_224117.htm.

[9] “The Schengen area explained,” European Council, 2024, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/schengen-area/.

[10] Jonas Hayden, “Bulgaria, Romania get official green light for partial entry into Schengen,” POLITICO, December 31, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/bulgaria-romania-schengen-area-green-light-partial-entry/.

[11] European Commission, “Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen area,” EU, March 30k 2024, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_24_1722.

[12] Svetoslav Todorov, “Snap Elections Face Bulgaria With Return to Political Stalemate,” Balkan Insight, March 28, 2024, https://balkaninsight.com/2024/03/28/snap-elections-face-bulgaria-with-return-to-political-stalemate/.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Teodora Yovcheva and Fernando Casal Bértoa, “Bulgaria Is Stuck in an Electoral Doom Loop,” Foreign Policy, March 31, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/03/31/bulgaria-election-parliament-president-radev-putin-russia-ukraine-polarization/.

[15] Svetoslav Todorov, “Snap Elections Face Bulgaria With Return to Political Stalemate,” Balkan Insight, March 28, 2024, https://balkaninsight.com/2024/03/28/snap-elections-face-bulgaria-with-return-to-political-stalemate/.

[16] Przytłaczające dowody popełnienia zbrodni wojennych. Całe rodziny giną w wyniku izraelskich ataków na Strefę Gazy, Amnesty International, 20th Ocotber 2023, https://www.amnesty.org.pl/cale-rodziny-gina-w-wyniku-izraelskich-atakow-na-strefe-gazy/

[17] Nikita Smagin, The Gaza War Has Convinced Russia It Was Right All Along, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7th December 2023, https://carnegieendowment.org/politika/91189

[18] Sam Jones, Gaza aid convoy strike: what happened and who were the victims?, The Guardian, 2nd April 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/apr/02/gaza-aid-convoy-strike-what-happened-and-who-were-the-victims

[19] Amb. Yacov Livne, (@YacovLivne), “Skrajna prawica i lewica w Polsce oskarżają Izrael o umyślne morderstwo…”, X, 2nd April 2024, 17:35, https://twitter.com/YacovLivne/status/1775185377189323175?s=20

[20] Radosław Sikorski: Ambasadorowi Izraela radziłbym więcej pokory, Rzeczpospolita, 3rd April, 2024, https://www.rp.pl/dyplomacja/art40102511-radoslaw-sikorski-ambasadorowi-izraela-radzilbym-wiecej-pokory

[21] Donald Tusk (@donaldtusk), “Panie premierze Netanjahu…”, X,  3rd April 2024, 08:58, https://twitter.com/donaldtusk/status/1775417561674322317?s=20

[22] Lidia Lemaniak, Po tragedii w Strefie Gazy Polska ma żądania wobec Izraela. Wiceszef MSZ Andrzej Szejna tłumaczy, czego się domagamy, Portal i.pl, 3rd April 2024, https://i.pl/po-tragedii-w-strefie-gazy-polska-ma-zadania-wobec-izraela-wiceszef-msz-andrzej-szejna-tlumaczy-czego-sie-domagamy/ar/c1-18430939

[23] Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, (@KosiniakKamysz), “Przepełniony arogancją wywiad ambasadora Izraela …”, X, 3rd April 2024, 21:30, https://twitter.com/KosiniakKamysz/status/1775606716639420668?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet