Bulgaria - Foreign Relations
The country's national identity is shaped in large part by the oversimplified legend of the so-called "500-year Turkish yoke," a remnant of the days when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire.
Bulgaria became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004, and a member of the European Union on January 1, 2007. It is a member of the United Nations, and in 2002-2003 served a 2-year term as a nonpermanent member on the UN Security Council. Bulgaria served as Chair-In-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2004.
The country joined the World Trade Organization in 1996. In July 1998, it became a full member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), which called for the reduction of tariffs by 2002 on most industrial and agricultural goods traded between CEFTA countries. Bulgaria has initialed free trade agreements with Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Israel, Albania, and Latvia.
On September 22, 2009, UNESCO’s Executive Board nominated Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova to become its next Director General; she took office in November 2009.
Bulgaria's relationship with its neighbors has generally been good. The country has proven to be a constructive force in the region and has played an important role in promoting regional security. Pursuing its initiative as a partner in the South-East European regional cooperation, Bulgaria held the chairmanship-in-office of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) for the period May 2007-May 2008.
The eight countries signatory to the Sofia declaration included Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Rumania, Serbia (Serbia and Montenegro at the time), and Turkey. The success of this initiative resulted in some other countries joining the Declaration, including Croatia (in 2005 ?.), Moldova (in 2006 ?.), Montenegro (in 2007 ?.) and Slovenia (in 2010 ?.). Kosovo was a somewhat different case as its membership was initially blocked by a couple of Balkan states. In 2014, however, Pristine was incorporated into the process “on equal basis”.
The Republic of Bulgaria has been an active participant in the regional cooperation in South-Eastern Europe (SEE) and has played a key role in the stability and security of the region. Bulgaria’s foreign policy has always been focused on strengthening security and democracy in this region, as well as on the region’s political stability and economic development. The political changes of 1989 made Bulgaria aware that the inter-state relations had to be reinstituted and the multilateral political dialogue had to be improved. Therefore, following the Balkan peace achieved in 1996, the country initiated the establishment of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) as a political dialogue leading format in this region. That was one of the major achievements of Bulgaria’s foreign policy in the area of multilateral cooperation over two decades. Bulgaria took over the Chairmanship-in-Office of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) for the period 1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016. Under the motto “SEECP – 20 Years Key to Regional Cooperation”, the Bulgarian Chairmanship-in-Office works actively towards strengthening the role of SEECP as a leading political format for cooperation in the region and a factor for security, stability, and prosperity.
At the end of December 2011, Bulgaria assumed the remainder of Hungary’s term (through 2013) on the UN Economic and Social Council based on an internal agreement between the two countries.
In an Arabic language "Refugee Handbook," Bulgaria ranked first among countries asylum seekers should avoid. Refugees said xenophobia and Islamophobia were widespread and that they try to skirt around the country. More than 10,000 people came to Bulgaria during a wave of refugees who arrived in Europe from 2013 to 2014. The majority of them reported having been treated poorly by Bulgarian authorities as well as by the general population. Bulgarians said refugees made up the stories of mistreatment to get further west more quickly. The Bulgarians look at these people as some kind of gypsies. The "gypsy" label has a very negative connotation in Bulgaria. The only contact that the average Bulgarian has had with 'foreigners' has been with Roma.
Bulgarian politicians and experts took a hard line on the Islamist terror attacks in Brussels, which killed 34 people on Tuesday 22 March 2016 , blaming them on failed policies of multiculturalism. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov set the tone by claiming that “Europe cannot integrate [Muslim] terrorists” and criticizing German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her liberal immigration policy towards Syrian refugees.
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