Bulgaria Defense and Security
Bulgarian military spending in the last decade has been among the highest compared to those of its European neighbors (around 1.6% of annual GDP), although it has been declining in recent years. Military forces are oversized and suffer from a chronic lack of funds. The low wages and poor condition of the facilities are limiting the army’s recruiting capacity, after compulsory conscription was phased out in 2007. For this reason, the armed forces, which in 2007 consisted of about 40,000 active soldiers, have rapidly dwindled to a little over 31,000 today. For Bulgaria defense and foreign policy, please check relationshipsplus.com.
The budget of the defense ministry has also come under severe pressure due to Sofia’s choice to demonstrate her political loyalty to the US with military deployment in various missions abroad. The deployment of a contingent of over 400 men in Afghanistan (reduced to 110 in 2015) took place as early as 2003 (before the country’s official entry into the Atlantic Alliance, which occurred in 2004). The unpopular decision to also participate in the mission in Iraq was reviewed as early as December 2005, when the government chose to withdraw its troops. To counteract this decision, Washington and Sofia had just signed a defense cooperation agreement, which grants the US military joint access and use of most of the military bases in the country.
Due to its NATO membership and the tensions arising from the Ukrainian crisis, Bulgaria offers logistical support and participates in military training operations taking place in the Black Sea during 2015.
Not only Hungary: Bulgaria’s anti-migrant wall
In November 2013, even before the migrant issue in the Balkans arose in all its emergency, Bulgaria had approved the construction of a barrier along the entire border with Turkey. The first section (32 kilometers) was completed in 2014 and, according to the Bulgarian interior ministry, had prevented a significant influx of illegal immigrants into the country (only 4,000 people in the reference year compared to 11,000 in 2013). In August 2015, faced with an exponential increase in the number of migrants along the eastern European borders – in particular Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans – and as a result of the controversial decision taken by the Hungarian government to isolate the border with Serbia by building its own defensive barrier, Bulgaria reacted to the situation by first ordering only the dispatch of some armored vehicles at the border crossings with Macedonia, with the aim of controlling illegal flows and entries. Secondly, however, it decided to expand the construction work on its wall on the border with Turkey. The entire barrier will have to be 160 kilometers long, four meters high and will be built with wire mesh, barbed wire and cameras all along the way. To guarantee a firm surveillance along the Turkish border, at least one soldier will be placed on guard every 100 meters.
The role of the Turkish minority in the Bulgarian political scenario
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) is the reference party of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria (750,000 residents). The DPS, which experienced a steady rise between 2001 (when it had collected 7.5% of the votes) and 2009 (14.5%), has been, since its foundation (1990), under the leadership of Ahmed Dogan, former dissident during the Soviet period. A supporter of the party’s success, he is heavily criticized for his almost total control over it. In January 2013, he escaped an assassination attempt during a rally in Sofia by a Bulgarian citizen of Turkish origin: the motives should be sought in the infighting within the DPS. The party program, which has always remained in the wake of moderation, it ignored the demands of the separatist front and pushed forward the demands of the Bulgarian-Turkic speakers for wider cultural, religious and economic rights for the Turkish minority. Nonetheless, the system of discrimination against Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin has not been completely demolished.