Energy and Interests: Bulgarian Upheavals in the Balkans.

Bulgaria, has been plunged into public demonstrations against its government since July 9, 2020. Now going into its 66 week of protest, The Slavic nation, along with major Bulgarian enclaves around the world, have seen demonstrations and protests. It is believed that some are displeased with what is perceived as rampant corruption and misuse of funds among other things. Bulgaria, the poorest nation in the European Union. The Slavic nation has been a member of the EU since 2007, only 13 years into its tenure with the EU chaos has erupted on its streets, drawing further scrutiny to the strength and viability of the European Union itself. Nearly half of its populations (41 percent), are at risk of falling into poverty and nearly 10 percent are in extremely poor, according to the World Population Review.

Those involved in the protest have been pushing for the resignation of the current administration under the helm of its prime minister, Boyko Borissov among other key figures. Bulgaria’s capital, Sophia has seen the brunt of the protests as the country reels under the weight of Covid-19. While the European Union has had oversight of the Eastern European nation, Sophia has remained closer to Russia—its former communist ally for many years. It seems many Slavic states may not have the confidence in the Western conceived European Union, as it does in the Kremlin. Could it be the EU struggles to relate and understand its Slavic members for their unique background and history?

Bulgaria, however, is also seeking opportunities in the US among other nations, as Borissov met with the US president as early as November, 2019 to discuss several matters. Foremost in that conversation was visa waivers for Bulgarians who are seeking greener pastures and can no longer use EU access to migrate to the United Kingdom.

“I am convinced that US visas will be removed.” Said Borissov, according to an official release from the Bulgarian Council of Minister, “The visa waiver program with Canada is a clear example that we are not creating any problems. President Donald Trump could remain in the hearts of Bulgarians for many years if he made this gesture. He promised me to work actively on this and that is why I expect the focus of our next meeting to be on the visas.”

In addition to working with the US, Bulgaria had been busy securing strategic deals with some of the foremost powers in the world (like Canada) before upheavals began in July 2020. Borissov is also quoted stating, “And I was firm enough to offer him [US President] options in which our interest is to be protected. I told him – if we are not the Balkan center for gas diversification and trade, how can I explain to the Bulgarians that Turkey and Greece can do that, and we cannot?! And what should we to do with our gas transmission system or the reversible US compressors we bought? This is when the US President agreed with me . . .”

Evidently Sophia was seeking to carve out an economic niche for itself as a conduit between the US and gas interests in the Balkans, hoping to create a reciprocity by purchasing reversible compressors and gas transmission systems. Washington’s earlier efforts to access Balkan gas interests through an alliance with Ukraine were thwarted when the sudden coup in the Ukraine failed to secure control of Crimea. The US has been discreetly moving closer LNG interests, not long after it learned of its longtime partner, China’s intent to move away from dependence on Crude Oil. Just 10 months after his visit to Washington, the Balkan nation is now plunged into chaos seeking the ouster of its premier. Whether or not all is lost with its efforts in Washington, Sophia has forged on seeking to create energy alliances with Greece and addressing frequent high level talks with the European Commission on unrest throughout the region.

Bulgaria like many Eastern European states have remained closer to the Kremlin than most EU members, seemingly able to find more stability and commonality on the Eastern Slavic side. The mistrust and ideological distance between Slavic states and Western ones seem to be highlighted even in its attempts to forge workable international deals even as a member of the European Union. and now the current EU economic quagmire and geopolitical handling in the region, North Africa and the Mideast has left many questioning the viability of the Union itself–eroding the tentative confidence Balkan states gave the EU’s fiscal and leadership prowess. With high debt to GDP ratios, economic stagnation, and Brexit, many members are beginning to seek greener pastures and better alliances for themselves and their people. Many like Bulgaria are seeking to take advantage in the high stakes game of allying with the US, as Washington decoupling from China begins to mount. Many developing nations and failed states will want to fill the place China once occupied with the US. As Washington seeks to play catch up by cobbling together a wily and roughshod alliance among disparate nations to fill its labor, production and manufacturing voids, the EU may lose more and more ground. Only time will tell how Bulgaria will pivot in the new order.