Books on Bulgaria
Update No: 125 - (26/10/07)
Sarkozy comes to town
Official fanfare and a motley crowd waving the tricoleur greeted French
president Nicolas Sarkozy on his first official trip to Bulgaria. This is a
visit of no small moment for Bulgaria.
His day-long visit began with him being welcomed by President Georgi Purvanov a
little after noon on October 4 in front of the Alexander Nevski Memorial
Cathedral in Sofia. The two placed a wreath on the monument to the unknown
soldier, accompanied by Franco-Bulgarian singer Sylvie Vartan, who was
influential in spurring the release of the seven Bulgarian medics and
Palestinian doctor from their eight-year imprisonment in Libya.
Vartan, who was born in Bulgaria and whose father was Bulgarian of Armenian
descent, had created an online petition in which she called on people to take it
onto themselves to help the Bulgarian nurses in Libya. In December 2006 she sent
an open letter of support to the Bulgarian nurses who were being held in Libyan
jail on the accusation of deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV.
Sarkozy's visit, too, is in relation to his and his wife Cecilia's decisive role
in helping to free the medics. The day's schedule included a lecture at Sofia
University, a meeting with Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, and much speculation
about the positive future of French-Bulgarian economic relations. The medics did
not, it appears, suffer in vain.
Government survives no-confidence motion
Bulgaria's Socialist-led government, pressured by a long-running teachers'
strike, survived a no-confidence vote on October 23, fending off opposition
claims that it had failed to fund schools adequately.
The motion, tabled by the parliamentary opposition, was rejected in the
240-member legislature along party lines by 160-61, with one abstention. The
remaining 18 lawmakers were absent.
It was the third confidence vote the centre-left government had survived since
taking office in 2005, and the second since the country joined the European
Union on Jan 1st. A teachers' strike has left most schools in Bulgaria shut for
more than a month. They are demanding 100 percent salary hikes and more state
funding for education.
Some 120,000 teachers work in Bulgaria's state schools and nurseries - roughly a
quarter of all state employees - at an average monthly wage of 440 leva (€225;
US$317), according to government figures. Despite repeated attempts, the
government and teaching unions have so far failed to reach a compromise that
would end the strike.
Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev has said that giving in to the teachers' pay
demands would fuel inflation - which at 13.1 percent on the year in September is
already the EU's highest.
During debate, opposition lawmakers accused the government of failing to live up
to its promises to increase educational funding and said excess centralization
stifles the independence and development of schools.
Former prime minister Ivan Kostov, who leads the Democrats for a Strong
Bulgaria, a right-wing opposition party, said the cabinet had reneged on a
promise that education wages would exceed the public sector average, even though
the country's budget is running a substantial surplus.
Stanishev acknowledged "internal contradictions and tensions" in the
teachers' status but claimed that most of the problems were inherited from
He warned that doling out the budget surplus would undermine hard-won successes
in society, increase inflation and bring renewed pressure on the lev. "We
will not allow this to happen under any circumstances because financial
stability, guaranteeing people's real income and savings, is the foremost
condition for the success of the country," Stanishev said.
The government - a centre-left coalition of the Socialist Party, the centrist
National Movement of Bulgaria's former king, Simeon, and a mainly ethnic Turkish
party - was formed in 2005.
Education the solution
In his opening speech at the General conference of UNESCO in Paris on October
16, Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov said that Bulgaria appreciated UNESCO's
decisiveness to address the challenges of today's world like illiteracy,
deepening poverty, exploitation, social instability, intolerance and
discrimination, and the destruction of the environment.
"The solution to all these problem starts with education," Purvanov
said. It is a fact that education of girls brings a massive benefit in the shape
of a fall in the birth-rate and a fall in population, which greatly alleviates
UNESCO's General Conference consists of the representatives of the States
Members of the Organisation. It meets every two years, and is attended by Member
States and Associate Members, together with observers for non-Member-States,
intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The General Conference determines the policies and the main lines of work of the
organisation. The meeting takes place from October 16 to November 3 2007 in
BULGARIA AND THE GAS PIPELINE PROJECTS
Bulgaria was hoping that the 900-km South Stream gas pipeline project of
Russia's Gazprom and the Italian group Eni would strengthen a long-standing
partnership between Gazprom and Bulgargaz, the natural gas distribution company
in Bulgaria, Energy Business Review wrote in an article on October 17.The new
pipeline was expected to transport gas from Russia to Italy via Bulgaria's Black
Sea port of Bourgas, cross Greece and pass through the Adriatic Sea.
The Financial Times quoted Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov as saying that
the country was "attempting to build modern relations with Russia",
based on economic activities.
Purvanov further said that Bulgaria had contacts with Moscow because Russia was
the major source of energy for the region. However, the Balkan country's vision
was to become a part of European Union's energy policy through diversifying its
oil and gas sources as well as the pipeline routes, Purvanov was quoted as
As part of its attempts to diversify EU energy sources, Sofia also signed up for
the Nabucco gas pipeline project, a proposed natural gas pipeline expected to
transport natural gas from Turkey to Austria, via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.
A recent article in Eurasia Daily Monitor however, said that Bulgarian
authorities seemed to prefer Russia's South Stream project seeing it as the
cheaper and better of the two. Should it materialise, Bulgaria's opportunity
would be a loss for a number of countries: mainly those involved in the Nabucco
project, but also Ukraine and, ultimately, European consumers, Eurasia Daily
South Stream is a rival to the Nabucco project, both for gas resources in
Central Asia and for markets in Southern and Central Europe.