News 18 May 11

Wikileaks: Bulgaria's Ataka Shows Anti-US Sentiment

In a cable sent from the US embassy in Sofia in 2005, the then American ambassador John Beyrle warned of the increasing anti-American stance of the nationalist Ataka party.


The anti-American sentiment from the party, which has backed the ruling GERB party in parliament since it came to power in 2009, focused on US military facilities on Bulgarian soil and the country's participation in the Iraq coalition.

The issues remain potent six years later, as was evident in a letter sent this week by Ataka leader Volen Siderov to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking the top US diplomat to withdraw the American ambassador to Bulgaria, James Warlick, over an alleged dispute between the two men.

Siderov claimed that his dispute with Warlick came after he approached the ambassador to ask the US to pay two billion dollars for the joint military bases in the country.

"This is not the first time His Excellency affords to abuse his rights as a diplomat and to intervene arrogantly in the internal affairs of a sovereign state with 1300 years of history..." the nationalist leader complained in his letter to Clinton.

In the September 2005 cable, released by the whistleblowers' Web site Wikileaks, the US embassy acknowledges that Ataka's nationalism has not yet had a signficant impact on politics in Bulgaria. It notes, however, that the party's views on foreign policy, including the key issues of Iraq and military bases, are often shared by the Socialist party, and raises concern that the nationalists might be able to co-opt a portion of their electorate.

The embassy notes that Ataka maintains strong and public ties with Russian diplomats, and makes mention of the Ataka daily, launched not long after the party itself was officially founded in 2005, remarking that the paper's "slick format, professional editing and provocative anti-American headlines have caused circulation to surge to the level of some of the smaller mainstream dailies".

The appearance of the paper raises questions about its funding, the dispatch reads, and the newspaper "provides a larger platform for its extremist views".

The dispatch notes that Ataka head Siderov uses his daily commentary column in the newspaper "to promote his overtly racist and xenophobic views, and constantly reminds his readers of 'the mercenaries and lackeys' in the incumbent government who have 'willingly surrendered the country's sovereignty to serve the West.'"

"The rabidly anti- American Siderov has not missed an opportunity to blame the U.S. and its allies for the plight of Bulgarians," the cable reads, who he says are "victims of a Western conspiracy against their small Slav Orthodox nation.'"

Siderov used his daily for an attack on US joint military bases in Bulgaria in the period just before the cable was sent. "'U.S. spy Robert Loftis, who is getting more and more impudent, requested the establishment of U.S. bases without paying a penny for them," Siderov wrote in one of his commentary pieces.

Siderov warned that the shared bases would turn the country into a terrorist target and might be used as U.S. nuclear bases. "The Americans will be allowed to pollute the bases like a bunch of pigs and transform them into drug trafficking centers," Siderov concluded. On December 8, he accused MPs of passing laws, "according to which we . . . follow foreign orders, send troops wherever Washington tells us to, and give all possible bases to the American assassins of children and women."

Following the publication of that commentary, Siderov appeared on the front page of "Ataka" with Russian Ambassador Anatoly Potapov. In an accompanying article headlined "Russia Will React to U.S. Basing," the paper says that Ataka MPs met with Russian embassy leadership at the invitation of Potapov.

The proposed U.S. military presence was among the key issues raised by Siderov at the meeting. Potapov is quoted as responding that "Bulgaria is free to make independent decisions but, of course, Russia was not happy about the deployment of bases near its territory." Ambassador Potapov concluded the meeting by "wishing Ataka a success in its patriotic activity and in protecting the Orthodox religion."

While noting that Ataka manages to get its voice heard, if only because it is the loudest party in parliament, the dispatch says that the party has not managed to garner support for its initiatives in parliament, includings proposals for the immediate withdrawal of Bulgaria's contingent from Iraq and a ban on state-television broadcasts of Turkish-language news.

"MPs also declined to debate Siderov's proposal for a resolution against 'the U.S. Ambassador's unacceptable interference in Bulgaria's domestic affairs.' Ataka's proposal for a parliamentary declaration against a U.S. military presence in Bulgaria was voted down by MPs as well," the cable notes.

The US embassy writes that the party continues to draw support from people discontented with the mainstream parties and from those who have suffered from the post-communist transition to a market economy. "It successfully exploits negative feelings among ethnic Bulgarians toward the Roma minority and growing discontent with the political influence of the ethnic Turkish MRF, which is widely perceived as corrupt." Ataka manages to take both from the left and the right; it attracts people from all ages and social strata.

In the cable, the embassy explains that it maintains a no-contact policy with Siderov and other Ataka officials, and has "encouraged Bulgarian leaders to speak out against the party's xenophobic message", adding that US officials "have concentrated on correcting their misinformation and encouraging others to question their financial backers."

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