The former vice-president of the European Parliament Ryszard Czarnecki believes that with its more than 1,300-year history, Bulgaria belongs to “old Europe” and is one of the countries of the “new Union”, which will give fresh energy to the old values of the continent. He points out that after the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, tendencies of returning to traditional values can also be seen in the West, where in the last year the conservatives won in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Italy.
The MEP is adamant that we, “Poles, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Croats and others, should be proud of our heritage. Our history is often much longer than that of Western European countries. A good example is Belgium. Their history is almost 200 years, more precisely 192 years. And look at Bulgaria – over 1300 years, Poland – 1050 years. As we can give other examples.”
Czarnecki, a leading representative of the Polish ruling party “Law and Justice” in the parliament in Brussels since 2004 and held ministerial posts in his homeland, was one of the participants in the event organized by the Bulgarian MEP from the Party of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Angel Dzhambazki and “New Direction” Foundation Conference “Western Balkans”, which was held in Sofia on December 3. In his address to the participants and guests of the forum, the politician expressed the opinion that Germany and France “instrumentalize” the accession negotiations of the countries of the region . And the inclusion of Ukraine in the whole package turns it into a “hot potato” that European politicians will pass to each other for a long time. After his participation, he was kind enough to further develop some of his theses to the special correspondent of the bulgarian “Focus” Agency, Ivan Hristov.
Mr. Czarnecki, let’s continue the topic you touched on in your speech at the Western Balkans conference. Namely, that France and Germany instrumentalize the accession process and in practice postpone it.
“Firstly, Berlin and Paris officially say they support the Western Balkans accession process, but in fact work to delay the process. And secondly, they put in the same group, the same box, Ukraine. In political practice, this means delaying the entire enlargement process, because Ukraine is a large country, its size is quite different from that of the Western Balkan countries. Adding Kyiv into this group will be an excuse, and perhaps a real reason, for delaying the accession of every one of that states. The Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, and possibly Georgia.”
As a graduate historian, I would like to ask you the following. According to the theory of Arnold Toynbee from his capital work “A Study of History”, in the simplest terms, with the inclusion of new territories and peoples, centers of civilization also include their problems. Ultimately, these problems become internal. Can this be applied to the Western Balkans, given the well-known Russian influence in the region and the many unresolved conflicts? Could the Western Balkans become Moscow’s Trojan horse after its eventual accession?
“First I want to say that I am extremely pleased that you quoted Arnold Toynbee, who I consider to be one of the most important historical thinkers along with the German Oswald Spengler. When a Bulgarian journalist asks questions a Polish politician about Arnold Toynbee, I see that we have the same cultural and civilizational bridge…
On the matter. I think that the „new Union“, created through the countries that joined the EU in this century, as well as those that will join the EU in the future, I mean the countries of the Western Balkans, are the hope of Europe. This is the fresh blood of Europe. Because I think the EU 15, as well as the EU 27 in part, is a car with an old engine. And this car keeps breaking down and breaking down. And we need fresh energy in the old values. I think Europe can be stronger if, firstly, it is bigger politically. And secondly, if it turns back to traditional values. The accession of Serbia, North Macedonia and others will be a big boost for the EU because they are countries that profess traditional values derived from Christianity and can potentially develop a modern economy. I also think that the accession of the Western Balkan countries can improve the real diversity in the EU, because we currently have a single standard that does not fully represent the vast cultural heritage of Europe. I think that not only for geopolitical reasons, but also, more importantly, for cultural, civilizational and Christian reasons, opening the doors to new members from this part of Europe is very important.”
Having talked about values, one topic that Bulgarians are very interested in, is the institutional and ideological conflict between your country and Hungary, on one side, and Brussels, on the other. How do you see things from Warsaw? Are you worried that Law and Justice might lose the election next year? How will this end?
“Firstly, I should note that elections were held in four European countries this year. In three of them, the conservatives won. These are the Czech Republic, Sweden and Italy. Obviously, we cannot directly say that there is a conflict between Western Europe and the “new Union”. Because now apart from the countries of our region, which as I said bring new energy and are more pro-European and Euro-enthusiastic than the old EU countries, we can see new tendencies in Western Europe, in the countries I mentioned, but not only, for a return to traditional values.
Yes, the elections in Poland are next year and we are very optimistic. The fight will not be easy. It should also be borne in mind that within the framework of our two mandates we have done a great deal not only in the political sphere, but also in culture and education. So I think we managed to change, at least partially, the mentality and open the eyes of many of our countrymen to traditional values. And they are returning to their roots. I believe that we, I mean Poles, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Croats and others, should be proud of our heritage. Our history is often much longer than that of Western European countries. A good example is Belgium. Their history is almost 200 years, 192 years to be exact. And look at Bulgaria – over 1300 years, Poland – 1050 years. We can give other examples. I think that after the very dramatic period of the Iron Curtain and the communist era, our region should return to its important role on the continent. And I’m not just talking about its economic role, but also its cultural and civilizational role. For me personally, this is an important reason for our close cooperation, between the countries of the eastern and central part of Europe. I know that our Western partners, such as Germany, are not very happy about this fact, but this is another reason for us to continue to deepen our relationship.”
Could Russia stand in the way of cooperation between Poland and Hungary, given Budapest’s special relationship with Moscow?
“Friends sometimes have different opinions on many issues. In our Visegrad Four, Poland has a different opinion from Hungary on the “Mobility Package”, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia have a completely different opinion.
As for Russia, we, supported by the Baltic countries, the Nordics, the Nordics and much of our region, are very skeptical of Russia. Budapest has a different opinion. But! When there is a vote on a package of sanctions against Moscow, Hungary always supports them. When it comes to a vote, Budapest always joins the majority. The last time it was Belgium, not Hungary, that imposed the veto.”
The war in Ukraine shook the world. Poland is among the most important supporters of Kyiv and the largest in Europe. Against the background of the successes of its armed forces on the battlefield, hopes for a Ukrainian victory increased. But how do we, in Europe, understand the victory against Russia?
“A win for Europe is surely long-term peace. But I am a realist and I know that this war will be longer than we want, than the Ukrainians want. The same applies to the other side – the Russian government. I think next year will be decisive, but I don’t want to venture into predicting whether the finish will be good or bad. I expect next year to see increased Western pressure, especially from France and Germany, but also from the US, to end the war. Maybe not with a peace treaty, but with a truce.
On the one hand, I have been to Ukraine many, many times and I know for sure that Kyiv will not agree part of its territory to remain under Russian occupation. But on the other hand, it is clear that Berlin and Paris, and most likely in a few weeks or months Washington too, will pressure Kyiv to negotiate and reach a truce. However, if we look at the eight-year period between 2014 and 2022, there was also a truce. But in practice hostilities continued. The upcoming elections for the Verkhovna Rada in 2024 are also an important moment. And we must bear in mind that the politicians in Ukraine would find it very difficult to take a “step back”, if I may say so. For purely domestic political and electoral reasons. If until then the Western world remains united on the issues of war, we can be optimists. However, if solidarity breaks down, then Russia will have room for maneuver.”
On December 3, the “Western Balkans Summit” conference was held at the National Palace of Culture, organized by the “New Direction” foundation and MEP Angel Dzambazki.
European Commissioners Maria Gabriel and Oliver Varhey gave speeches at the forum. Also participating were Emilia Rexhepi – Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo for Minority Affairs and Human Rights, former Minister of Transport of Bulgaria Petar Mutafchiev, MEPs Bogdan Rzonca (Poland), Ladislav Ilcic (Croatia), Ana Fotiga (Poland) and Charlie Weimers (Sweden) ), politicians from the region, professors, journalists and public figures.
The process of the enlargement of the European Union towards the Western Balkans, the improved connectivity of the Western Balkans and security, migration and external intervention in the Western Balkans were discussed on various panels within the conference. The focus was also on the War in Ukraine, the energy and economic crises and their regional impact.