May 5 - "There is broad consensus in Bulgaria on its bid for membership in NATO," Rudolf Seiters, deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag, told a news conference after the meetings the German parliamentary delegation had. Seiters, who leads the delegation, arrived in this country yesterday. In his opinion, the different partners they talked to firmly declared themselves to be for Bulgaria's joining NATO. Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev received the German parliamentarians. "At the talks Dr. Zhelev pointed out that the question of Bulgaria's membership in NATO should not be linked to other countries and the decision on it should be made by Bulgaria itself," the President's press office said. In Zhelev's opinion, NATO's enlargement eastwards would provide greater stability. The Bundestag delegation showed interest in this country's relations with Russia. The President told them that he is for preserving Bulgaria's good relations with Russia and that the latter should not be dismissed wholesale because its isolation would help the most retrograde forces take the upper hand. The Bulgarian Head of State believes that Russia should not be allowed to decide which country could join NATO and which not. "Of course, there are various questions concerning security in Europe, one of which is Russia's behavior and its participation in NATO," Seiters said at today's news conference. "Germany supports NATO's eastward enlargement but there are three elements on which the structures of European security should be built. First, NATO and membership in it; second partnership with Russia; and third, extension of the operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This is the only way of guaranteeing the security of all that participate in these structures," the German parliamentarian said. The German delegation met with Georgi Pirinski, Minister of Foreign Affairs, with Ivan Kostov, Chairman of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces, and with Anastasia Moser and Stefan Savov, Co-chairpersons of the Popular Union. At their meeting with Lyubomir Filipov, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Bulgaria, the Bundestag delegation showed interest in the country's economic situation and the views on Bulgaria's external debt and its settlement. At the moment the National Bank of Bulgaria is holding talks on cooperation with the German Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau. The Bundestag delegation was to meet Prime Minister Zhan Videnov today but the meeting did not take place as Videnov had to report to Parliament for question time. GOVERNMENT: 100 DAYS IN OFFICE
May 5 - The Government managed to fulfill the tasks set in its policy declaration concerning the most pressing measures and prepared the three major documents: the White Paper, the draft budget and the draft tenure program, Prime Minister Zhan Videnov said today, speaking at a news conference called in connection with his Cabinet's first 100 days in office. He believes, however, that what really matters are not the past 100 days but the forthcoming 1,000 days of its tenure, when the Government will concentrate on the priorities in the program which will be made public next week. Since it went into office, the Council of Ministers has issued 69 decrees, 15 orders, more than 150 decisions, 19 bills and 54 draft instruments of ratification, Prime Minister Videnov said. He said he was pleased with the Cabinet's teamwork, proving wrong some analysts who predicted back when the government was formed that part of the ministers were mere figureheads and would be replaced shortly. Foreign policy, national security and international economic relations are the three areas on which the Cabinet members have "ironclad unity," as the Prime Minister put it. He described as ludicrous the allegations that the government is in international isolation. Mr. Videnov emphasized Bulgaria's continued commitment to a balanced and restrained policy of equal treatment of its neighbors. This is a policy of non- intervention, whether direct or indirect or under the auspices of international organizations or world forces, in military operations directed at the territory of neighboring countries. The Prime Minister described as "pernicious for the country" the attempts to fan up minority or other problems between Bulgaria and its neighbors. The Government will intensify its relations with Bulgaria's traditional partners, the CIS countries as well as the countries of the Balkan region and the Eastern Mediterranean, he noted. "We are making efforts to pursue these relations together with the key priority: European and Euro-Atlantic integration," he noted. There are also plans to intensify contacts with the Central European countries, the Prime Minister said. All member countries of the Central European Free Trade Area have been approached with insistent proposals for the conclusion of free trade pacts. Initiatives are being worked out for contacts between the Black Sea Economic Cooperation countries and the Central European Initiative under EU auspices. The Prime Minister said there are good chances to sign agreements with the international financial institutions before the end of the year. The basic prerequisites for their signing are an active trade balance, a prompt passage of the 1996 national budget act and a success of privatization. Mr. Videnov singled out as the most valid criticism at the Socialist Cabinet the need to specify its key commitments: sustained economic growth, structural adjustment in industry and agriculture, halting the immiseration, the implementation of a legal and institutional reform, and association with the European Union. "The Government does not intend to yield to provocations, confrontational and sometimes openly churlish gestures of other powers," Mr. Videnov said, asked about the relationships between the Cabinet and the Office of the President.
May 5 - "Bulgaria will avail itself of every opportunity offered by the North Atlantic security and defense structures, so that in the event of their enlargement in the future Bulgaria could join them, granted that its national interests are fully respected, without trying to build its national security at the expense of third countries. An indisputable proof of this is Bulgaria's participation in Partnership for Peace," Prime Minister Zhan Videnov said today during question time, answering a question by former premier Filip Dimitrov, MP of the Union of Democratic Forces. Dimitrov insisted that Bulgaria state clearly and firmly its will for admission to NATO. Prime Minister Videnov said that the Government is complying with the declaration adopted by Parliament in December 1993 on the relations between Bulgaria and NATO and is promoting contacts with NATO within the framework of Partnership for Peace, cooperation with the European Union, with the Western European Union, with the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe and with the Northatlantic Cooperation Council. The Cabinet is guided by the understanding of the complex nature of security in the modern world, i.e. that apart from its defensive and military aspects, security also has geopolitical, geo-economic, financial, environmental, social, ethnocultural and other dimensions, the Prime Minister said. According to Videnov, the Government views national security issues as related to the promotion of foreign political relations not only with defense organizations but also with the all existing, newly transformed and newly established structures of integration institutions in Europe. The Cabinet has no intentions of embracing any anti- or pro- orientations in its foreign policy on national security. Videnov accused Filip Dimitrov of insinuating that those who are not for immediate membership in NATO are against NATO. "Your are approaching the issue as a dilemma - either NATO or Russia", Videnov said. Upon taking office the Government said that integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures is a basic priority of Bulgaria's foreign policy. Prime Minister Videnov's first official visit abroad was to Brussels and Strasbourg. In a radio interview a week ago President Zhelyu Zhelev declared himself for regular NATO membership and said that he was left "with the impression that the BSP actually does not wish NATO membership but is afraid to say so categorically".
May 5 - At a news conference today, Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev and Justice Minister Mladen Chervenyakov made public a package of urgent crime control measures approved by the Cabinet at its meeting yesterday. The package includes plans for legislative amendments to re-vest the police with powers to participate in preliminary inquiries into criminal matters and to authorize the police and the judicial authorities to use special surveillance means for collection of evidence and to access companies' bank accounts and financial documents. "These are not emergency measures, nor are the methods unconventional," Mr. Nachev emphasized. He denied that this will abridge human rights, arguing that such action will be taken in pursuance of the effective Special Surveillance Means Act and on a written warrant signed by a public prosecutor. Another amendment is needed so that the information gathered in this way could be admitted in evidence. The law-making measures include drafting bills on money laundering, on insurance, on the operation of private detective and security firms, on the formation of citizens' units to assist crime control. Such units will be formed in the small population centers which have no police presence or where this presence is inadequate. The Union of Reserve Officers has expressed readiness to cooperate with the Interior Ministry in this respect, Mr. Nachev specified. The regulations for the residence of aliens in Bulgaria will be revised. The current rules are quite liberal: to obtain a permanent residence permit, a foreigner needs just 50,000 leva, the minimum capital required for registration of a commercial partnership, Mr. Chervenyakov explained. Strict controls will be imposed on wireless communication equipment. The right to possess firearms and ammunition will be restricted. Mr. Nachev said that individuals and companies have been issued so far with more than 140,000 weapons, apart from 20,000 or so hunting rifles. In terms of organization, the police will continue its specialized operations against persons with criminal record and the "strongholds" of the criminal groups. Trunk road patrolling will be intensified. Security will be stepped up during the high tourist season, limiting the share of private security operators in the resorts. Mr. Nachev reported that 49,775 offenses have been committed in the first quarter of 1995, half of the number in the like period of 1994. Homicide is 20 per cent down, and car theft 17.3 per cent down. As a result of the heavier police presence, offenses committed in public places have dropped 14 per cent from last year. The clearance rate has also increased from January - March 1994. Interior Ministry Nachev said the upward tendency of crime has not yet been contained. Offenses are most often perpetrated by Roma, young and unemployed people. The crime rate is higher in the large cities and highest in Sofia, with 902 offenses per 1,000 population. Mr. Nachev noted a substantial rise in what he called "group crimes with an element of organizedness." "Corruption has assumed unprecedented proportions. Organized crime is gathering strength. It may well get out of state control and turn into a 'parallel society,'" he emphasized. The Minister also said that organized criminal groups of a mafia type establish their monopoly in the underground economy: illicit trafficking in fuel, cigarettes and drugs, gun running, illegal emigration and immigration, gambling, audio and video piracy, prostitution and smuggling of works of art and antiques. Profitable operations in the economy, banking and insurance, distributive trade and tourism are being forcibly monopolized. Serious attempts are being made to reinvest "dirty" money in lawful business, including the laundering of proceeds from international organized criminal activities, Mr. Nachev said. In his view, these processes involve the formation of organized criminal rings by Bulgarian and foreign citizens. There are symptoms that Bulgaria is emerging as a sort of communication center and transshipment point for international crime syndicates, the Interior Minister said. He noted that society has now reached a point beyond which crime will either become hardly controllable and will take a long time to cope with, or will be "straitjacketed" with concerted efforts. These are the Government's motives for approving its urgent crime control package.
May 6 - "The Government has the will to fight crime and it feels the public's persistent demand for a radical solution to the problem. This does not mean we shall start administering justice in the street, open fire without warning, spy, wire-tap and restrict the citizens' rights. Bulgaria is not going to become a police state," said Prime Minister Zhan Videnov in the weekly political show Panorama on the national television tonight. He called on for prompt introduction of the necessary constitutional and legislative amendments. "The Government is waging war on crime and we need firm legislative ground, reliable partners in the other powers, particularly the judiciary and strong home front with the public," Zhan Videnov said. As for the 100 days of the Government's office, in connection with which he was interviewed, Zhan Videnov said: "I believe that the Government managed to avoid blunders, it also managed to use certain however slim chances and escape the numerous traps. There are two things the Government can be proud of: the country's economic stabilization and its dignified foreign policy."
May 5 - Early this morning Parliament passed the 1995 National Budget Act. After an almost 18-hour sitting with only two half-hour breaks, at 7:40 am the MPs voted of the transitional and final provisions of this act. The macroeconomic framework of the budget, setting revenues at 215,491,300,000 leva, expenditures at 264,242,000,000 leva and the budget deficit at 48,750,700,000 leva was passed early in the morning on April 21 at a similar unprecedented 16-hour sitting. The final version of the budget does not differ greatly from the draft moved by the Cabinet of the ruling Socialist Party, based on a 40% inflation rate and a 1.5 GDP growth. The numerous proposals of the opposition were voted down by the parliamentary majority of the Socialists and their coalition partners. Presenting the draft budget to the MPs, Prime Minister Zhan Videnov described it as "a reasonable balance of needs and potentials" and assured Parliament that the Cabinet would do everything possible to curb inflation at 2% a month in the second half of the year, to ensure an at least 1.5% GDP growth and to keep the budget deficit within 5-6% of the GDP. However, Videnov said that the implementation of the budget depended on many conditions - legislative amendments, the policy of the central bank in respect to the exchange rate and the base interest rate and understanding on the part of the trade unions. According to MPs of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), the tax revenues envisaged by the budget act are greatly underestimated, leaving space for abuse and violations of financial discipline. Thus the Cabinet left itself an enormous reserve, according to UDF leader and former finance minister Ivan Kostov. This is also the opinion of economist Ventseslav Dimitrov of the opposition Popular Union (a coalition of Agrarians and Democrats). The UDF MPs also criticized the principal appropriations: 24,000 million leva for defense, 10,000 million leva for the Interior Ministry, about 36,000 million leva for health care and 15,000 million leva for education. These funds are absolutely insufficient but most of the opposition's proposals for increasing expenditures on these items at the expense of the budget deficit were rejected by the majority. The opposition also protested strongly against the greatly reduced budget of the judiciary. In a declaration the UDF said that the cut in the budget of the judiciary was an indirect way of encouraging crime. However, according to Finance Minister Dimiter Kostov, the average growth of the allocations for the judiciary are 2.5-fold last year's figures, while for the other items this increase in 1.6-fold. The cut in the budget of the Presidency also provoked strong protests from the opposition. According to Prime Minister Videnov, the 84,000 million leva allocated for social security will make it possible to greatly curb the drop in incomes this year. Videnov said he expects the average monthly wage to go up 33.5% by the end of the year. The opposition argues that the social security budget is insufficient and drastically reduced and that "by the social party generously making campaign promises before the elections". Parliament decided to assign the servicing of the budget to the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB, the central bank) through commercial banks of majority state holding with a well-developed network of branches across the country. The opposition proposes that private banks be also allowed to take part in the servicing of the budget. The total sum of the central government and the local administration budgets was set at 30,812,539,000 leva, of which 26,973,614,000 for general subsidies, 4,097,000,000 leva for special subsidies and 258,079,000 leva for budget contributions.
The national budget was passed in violation of the democratic norms, secretly from the public and in the presence of parliamentary dictate and a complete information blackout, says a declaration of the parliamentary group of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) read in Parliament today. According to the UDF, the budget concealed considerable central government budget revenues from banks and financial groupings, gambling, customs duties and the confiscation of smuggled goods, from the participation in the Yanburg natural gas conduit and from privatization.
May 5 - The MPs gathered for the question time sitting, though they had worked for 18 hours since yesterday to adopt the 1995 National Budget Bill. The Government will draft a program for development of the areas, where tobacco growing provides the basic living for the population by the end of May, Prime Minister Zhan Videnov said in reply to a question by MP Hassan Ali. Recently the Government made personnel changes in the Supervisory Board of the Bulgartabac Company. A Consultative Council on the Policy and Strategy of Tobacco Growing was set up with the Ministry of Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation, Zhan Videnov said. 30,285 tons of tobacco totaling 1,858 million leva were purchased by March 31, 1995; however, only 675 million leva have been paid so far, leaving an outstanding amount of 1,182 million leva which tobacco growers are yet to be paid, the Prime Minister said. He promised that despite the financial difficulties, the payment would be settled after enacting the 1995 Budget Bill.
May 6 - Today Bulgaria celebrates the Christian holiday of St. George, which is also marked as the day of the Bulgarian army and day of valor. In Sofia's central square President Zhelyu Zhelev received a parade of representative military units. The units, representing the various forces in the Bulgarian army and the higher military schools passed in a solemn march under Bulgarian army flags, witnesses of military glory. The Bulgarian Patriarch Maxim solemnly consecrated Bulgarian army flags. Liturgies commemorating the soldiers who died for the freedom of the motherland were served nationwide. Concerts were staged round the country. A monument to the soldiers from the region of Razgrad (Northeastern Bulgaria) who died in action was unveiled last night by Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. The memorial, commemorating the Bulgarian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian soldiers from the region who died in the wars is a work of local artists. A monument to the soldiers who died in the war was also unveiled in the town of Montana (Northwestern Bulgaria). The adherents to the opposition Union of Democratic Forces celebrated the holiday with a march, organized by the coalition's central leadership. The procession laid wreaths at a number of monuments to Bulgarian fighters for national liberation.