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A Socialist Foreign Policy : Bulgaria’s Relations with the Mediterranean Arab States in the 1970s and 1980s

A Socialist Foreign Policy
Bulgaria’s Relations with the Mediterranean Arab States
in the 1970s and 1980s

Marietta STANKOVA

Standing in the hinterland of the Eastern Mediterranean, Bulgaria has historically been engaged in a complex and active relationship with the region. This was the context of the country’s policies to its immediate neighbours and beyond. During the Cold War one of Bulgaria’s key contributions was the support for Soviet strategies regarding the Straits whose geopolitical value remained undiminished.

Relations between Bulgaria and the states on the southern shores of the Mediterranean gradually expanded in the post-WWII period. [1] As Bulgaria’s Communist regime consolidated politically and economically, it was able to reach beyond the Soviet bloc. It looked on the other side of its traditional – and now Cold War – adversaries, Turkey and Greece, seeking potential political friends in addition to new economic links. Simultaneously, the Middle East and Northern Africa were among the most dynamic world regions captivating the attention of the Soviet Union and its minor allies. The regional conflicts, the processes of decolonisation and national liberation provided opportunities for external involvement, which the Communist states such as Bulgaria actively exploited.

It was in the late 1950s that Bulgaria began transforming its relations with the Mediterranean Arab states beyond the strictly diplomatic. The effort was catalysed by the Suez crisis, which marked a new phase in the Middle East conflict and accelerated the pan-Arab movement. In tune with the rest of the Soviet bloc Bulgaria condemned publicly the attack on Egypt and demonstrated support by sending medicines. Similarly, in July 1958 Bulgaria protested against the US military intervention in Lebanon. Internal developments in some Arab states also provided openings for overt Bulgarian reactions, such as the expression in 1957 of political support for the Syrian government, which was embattled due to its closeness to the Communists. The following year Bulgaria began aiding the Algerian FLN. [2]

Seeking to coordinate its economic and political links, Bulgaria invested a great deal in the promotion of its military industry abroad : the Middle East was considered a particularly promising destination on both accounts. By mid-1958 the Bulgarians had unsuccessfully tried to resolve the issue of the spare capacity of Bulgarian military plants within the Warsaw Pact and “countries in the Near and Middle East” were identified as prospective markets. [3] Within the next two years, with the country’s balance of payment straining, the appeal of the Czechoslovak model of military exports to “underdeveloped” countries grew. The Bulgarian Planning Commission reasoned that “the first steps” of decolonising countries were often to build their armies : this potential could be captured by setting up Bulgarian representatives in critical locations among which were mentioned the United Arab Republic, Tunisia and Morocco. [4]

During the 1960s deliveries of so-called “special property” proved the most active sphere of contacts with Arab governments and independence movements. One telling example was the Bulgarian initiative which resulted in a Syrian military delegation arriving in Sofia in January 1962 with a long shopping list ranging from tank ammunition to army field kitchens. The Bulgarians were also eager to secure contracts for training of military pilots, tank engineers and parachutist, as well as for building and renovation of military bases, airports and other facilities. In turn, the Syrians sought Bulgarian mediation for the securing of equipment produced only in the USSR and Czechoslovakia such as aviation, tanks and rocket artillery. The Bulgarian government was quick to justify the deal with what it termed “Syria’s strategic encirclement” – by Israel who possessed the latest Western weapons and hostile Turkey, in addition to the fact that Western influence dominated a number of the Arab states. The Bulgarian Politburo judged that in view of Syria’s domestic and international situation, it was necessary to carry out “a consistent struggle for the detachment of Syria from the imperialist bloc” – an endeavour in which a military boost for the regime was a useful first step. [5]

Indeed, arms deals and military cooperation served multiple purposes and were among the most competitive branches of Bulgarian industry. Yet, the long-term goals of Socialist policy in the Arab Mediterranean went further that just anti-imperialism. Evidence for this can be drawn from the results of the Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov’s visit in November 1965 to Egypt with whom relations were more guarded. He concluded that Egypt could achieve Socialism for which it needed economic and ideological help : the Bulgarians themselves were seriously attracted by the wide possibilities for export, especially of heavy industry products. [6]

Overall, at this stage, Bulgaria’s priority appeared to be the expansion of relations into various directions and interaction with different political and economic agents. Intensifying government exchanges were complimented by securing links at the level of political parties. While Arab Communists had been routinely supported since WWII, in the mid-1950s increasing interest was evident towards other political formations, typically those on the “progressive” and “anti-imperialist” side of the spectrum. A new consideration in this respect arose with the Sino-Soviet split whereby good terms were necessary so as to prevent the fall of organisations and personalities under the revisionist influence of China. Indeed, the ideological recognition and material stimulation of the local Communist parties continued without real prejudice to the governments of the day and their political parties. A prominent example is the balancing act that Bulgaria performed between Ba’ath and the Syrian Communists ; another – that good relations continued during Boumedienne’s rule in Algeria while Algerian Communists were repressed ; still later – Qaddafi’s open anti-Communism was tolerated.

In all of its actions regarding the Mediterranean Arab states, Bulgaria was guided by the changes in Soviet thinking and approach not only to this particular region but to the developing world as a whole. Often Bulgarian leaders literally followed in the steps of their Soviet comrades, both supporting and looking to gain from the Soviet initiatives in the region. Zhivkov’s visit to Cairo was arranged in the wake of Khrushchev’s precedent of May 1964. Conversely, Bulgaria was an attractive partner precisely because of its closeness to Moscow. Bulgaria also attempted to synchronise its strategy and tactics regarding the southern Mediterranean within the Socialist bloc as a whole.

The 1970s were a period of maturity in Bulgaria’s relations with the Mediterranean Arab states at a time when the Soviet bloc’s attention to the developing world as a whole intensified again. The consolidation of the new leadership in Libya, Egypt and Syria played a significant role to that effect as did the normalisation in the Communist sphere itself after the turbulence at the end of the 1960s. On its part, the Bulgarian leadership once again felt the need to explore new possibilities as the domestic economic situation remained difficult while economic subsidies from the Soviet Union could not be taken for granted. This became especially necessary in the middle of the decade when Bulgaria was on the verge of economic collapse. On the other hand, while the onset of détente was amenable to exploring new political options, the Yom Kippur war had a lasting impact on all international involvement in the region.

The ideological and the strategic aspect of Bulgaria’s approach are difficult to disentangle. When in mid-July 1973 Zhivkov spoke to the Central Committee on “The tasks of our country in the competition between socialism and capitalism”, the Middle East was one of only two specific regions in the developing world he chose to deal at length with (the other was Latin America). He unequivocally declared that the prevalent peaceful co-existence did not eradicate the competition between socialism and capitalism but only altered the modes of confrontation whereby the military had given place to the economic, ideological, political and diplomatic ones. He underlined that ideological struggle not only persevered but also grew in importance as “the capitalists should not be allowed to benefit from détente” ; nor had the danger of war disappeared and accordingly, the Socialist bloc should carry on projecting its influence and propaganda. [7]

One of the proven channels through which influence and propaganda were conducted was the help to fraternal parties. In addition to supporting the well-established Communists such as those in Syria and Iraq, Bulgaria also allocated resources on a somewhat ad hoc basis to less effective organisations, which were nevertheless seen as providing a useful foothold. For instance, in 1974-1975 the Lebanese Communist Party received the relatively small amount of 86,400 leva (the total in that allocation was over 4.2 million leva) but notably all of it was for military equipment. As with other similar payments, the Politburo recorded its decision as “material expression” of Bulgaria’s unqualified solidarity and consistent support for peoples fighting against colonialism for freedom and national independence. [8]

By the late 1970s, arms export persevered as one of Bulgaria’s best developed and most flexible industries and the most prominent aspect of the dealings with the Mediterranean Arab states. It earned a significant amount of the much-coveted hard currency as the oil-rich states, such as Iraq and Libya, paid in cash. But just as in 1978 sales of weapons and delivery of military expertise assumed a strategic status for the Bulgarian economy, the most valuable customers began experiencing financial and other difficulties and swiftly reoriented towards sale on credit. They remained premium contractors, with annual exports to Algeria for 1980-1985 planned to the value of 50-60 million USD while Syria was deemed able to absorb about 10 million USD. Libya’s appetite for weapons seemed insatiable and there was even optimism that others including Egypt would increase demands. [9]

The relationship with Syria was among the most active and productive ones Bulgaria had in the Arab world. Syria was judged the key to the Middle East with whom comprehensive links were espoused. The Bulgarian leadership and Zhivkov personally had tried to cultivate the good will of the Syrian government in the 1960s focusing in particular on the Minister of Defence Hafez al-Assad. By the time of his assumption of the presidency there was a record of successful exchanges and a degree of personal confidence.

Zhivkov review of his trip to the Middle East in February 1972 insisted that Bulgaria followed a specific international agenda fitting with its analysis of developments in the region and responding to the particular circumstances in each country. At this moment, he claimed that the balance of forces in the region was changing in favour of the socialist countries as proven by recent events such as the Sino-American rapprochement which in his view undermined the world-wide positions of both the US and China. Specifically, Bulgaria’s priority regarding Syria was the ending of Israeli aggression : for this “a political solution” was envisaged with the leading role bestowed on the Soviet Union. Yet, Zhivkov had openly admitted that “we are not pacifists and we know there could be war and we should prepare for war”. Accordingly, he was critical of the Syrian self-imposed international isolation not even taking part in the debates at UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) and told Assad that “we have to fight for you”.

Intertwined with the primary goal was “the achievement of unity of progressive Arab movements” for which Zhivkov appealed to his hosts to uphold even at times when there was no full-blown war. The theme of Arab solidarity in which a key role was attributed to Syria was taken up by Zhivkov in his next meeting with Assad in September 1974 after the Yom Kippur war. While staying adamant that Israeli troops should withdraw from the occupied territories, the wider impression Zhivkov sought to make upon his Syrian counterpart was that of the imperialist aspirations of the West and in particular the USA who were intent on weakening the Arab national liberation movement and distracting progressive regimes away from their way of development. In this he referred directly to the evolving position of Egypt, expressing concern that “some Arab leaders” were flirting with the US. In response to the issue of Egypt, Assad advocated efforts to keep Libya in the anti-imperialist camp despite its anti-Communist stance. Visiting Syria again in April 1980 Zhivkov was governed by the need to acknowledge Syria as the only remaining frontline state which was suffering “extreme pressure from imperialist, Zionist and reactionary circles” and commended its participation in the hard-line anti-Israeli Front of Steadfastness and Confrontation which had recently decided to expand its links with the USSR and the Socialist bloc. [10] In his last meeting with Assad in April 1985, Zhivkov voiced concerns about the growing Arab disunity, including the state of Palestinian resistance – a situation compounded by Assad’s remonstrance against both Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. At the same time Assad confided in Zhivkov Syrian attempts for rapprochement with Hosni Mubarak aimed at the abandonment of the Camp David Accords. [11]

Cooperation with the Soviet Union and the Socialist states was openly advocated by the Bulgarian side in all exchanges with Syrian representatives. Zhivkov never missed an opportunity to emphasize the Soviets’ significance for and after the Bulgarian Communists’ takeover and the presence of Soviet specialists ‘everywhere’ in the years of internal consolidation. The opposite side of this was the condemnation of the “unprincipled, insidious and treacherous” role of China with regards to national-liberation movements across the world including Vietnam and indeed, Syria itself. Extolling the benefits of a powerful mentor, Zhivkov also repeatedly pointed to his personal friendship with the Soviet General Secretary. As an illustration, in 1974 he highlighted his mediation in Egyptian-Soviet relations, which had resulted in a meeting of the Egyptian Prime Minister with Soviet President Podgorny. Whereas Zhivkov did not hesitate to present himself as Brezhnev’s confidante – demonstrating knowledge of the details of the Soviet military deliveries to Syria after the October war, the Syrian President also used the Bulgarians as a channel to convey his loyalty as an ally of the Soviets. He had resisted US-led attempts at isolating the Soviet Union from the Middle East process and forced Kissinger to request a meeting with Gromyko in Damascus while at the same time reaffirming Syria’s determination to follow “independent domestic and foreign policy”. Demonstrating thus that it was in the Soviet global interest to preserve Syria as a regional partner, Assad called for Zhivkov’s support in convincing Moscow of the necessity of sending further arms and especially surface-to-surface missiles. In 1985, Zhivkov again did not forget to convey to Assad Gorbachev’s greetings although the personal relationship between the new Soviet and the old Bulgarian leader was rather tense. [12]

There were few specific occasions on which the Bulgarian government sought reciprocal international support from Syria. In the mid-1970s, the Bulgarian government and party officials shared concerns on the issue of Cyprus, which they interpreted as an attempt by the West to consolidate positions in the Eastern Mediterranean through Turkey. A decade later, it was necessary to counter Western accusations of Bulgaria for the attempt on the Pope, illegal arms and drugs trade and international terrorism – a campaign Turkey was especially active in. Assad showed sympathy, reminding that Turkey was a US proxy. The Syrians suggested that Bulgaria and Syria should act jointly in a pincer movement against the southeast flank of NATO. [13]

The regional role attributed in Bulgaria’s policy to Syria as a pillar of anti-imperialist regional forces had its domestic corollary in the Bulgarian preference for a wide leftist political coalition. At the start of the 1970s, Bulgaria’s party ideologues were satisfied that such a part was successfully played by the Syrian Ba’ath party whose gatherings constituted “a forum of Arab national liberation movement where all Communist and progressive Arab parties were represented”. In private conversation and in official speeches, the Bulgarians openly advocated a united front with the Communists, which they saw as essential for the democratisation of local and central government. Assad who had shown sustained interest in the Bulgarian experience of the Fatherland Front consistently confirmed his willingness to cooperate with the Communists within the National United Front.

The Bulgarian Communist leadership also largely positioned itself as the mediator between the Syrian Communist leadership and the Syrian government, openly informing each of contacts with the other. Whenever looking to intensify its influence in the Middle East crisis and reinforce Syria’s stance, the Bulgarians consulted the Syrian Communist Party. In March 1979 concerned whether the Syrian Ba’athist regime would be able to withstand the pressures coming from the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, a delegation of the Bulgarian Central Committee discussed the situation with Khaled Baghdash. It was he who reassured the Bulgarians that Assad’s government retained its progressive character and remained the chief obstacle to the US advances in the region. He also endorsed Bulgarian cooperation with the Syrian Ba’ath. [14] The following year the Bulgarian experts proposed further strengthening of links between Syria and the Socialist bloc which would serve the dual purpose of stabilising Assad’s regime but also benefit the indigenous leftists. [15] Conversely, when Abdalla Al-Akhmar, the Deputy Secretary General of the Ba’ath was received by Zhivkov in December 1980, he spoke directly to the concerns of the Syrian Communists, in particular giving assurances for restrictions on the Muslim Brotherhood and for continuing with social and economic reforms aimed at improving the standard of living. [16] By the mid-1980s the Syrian Communists voiced understanding of the need for Assad to balance between different interests while Assad himself praised highly the Syrian Communists : all of this convinced the Bulgarians that they had made substantial achievements with regards to Syria. [17]

The Bulgarian government saw Syrian economic development and modernisation as closely linked to Syria’s overall international position. In his early contacts Zhivkov sought to impress on the Syrian leadership that its stance in the Middle East should be underpinned by securing the home front, not only in political by also in economic terms. The obvious implication was that Syria should adopt a model of economic development not too different from that of the Socialist countries and the Bulgarian practice was promoted as especially relevant. The increase of trade between the two countries – from 12 to 60 million USD for 1972-1980 – was judged as extremely valuable. The Bulgarian authorities were satisfied by the list of goods which included mainly oil, minerals and agricultural produce from Syria while in addition to the traditional livestock Bulgaria exported production from its metallurgical, chemical and pharmaceutical industries ; notably, there were few problems in the balance of trade. The negotiations for delivery of “special equipment” were also considered successful and in April 1980 a new agreement was reached in which the Bulgarians extended a 30-million-USD credit for Syrian purchases. Agreements were also concluded for a variety of engineering and construction works : Bulgarian contractors would undertake irrigation systems in the Tigris and Khabur regions, investigate the possibility of increasing cargo transit through Syria and expansion of shipping. There was also interest on the Syrian side in various feasibility studies for agrarian complexes for the production of fruits, grain and flowers. It should not be ignored that recently Syria had signed a Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union. [18] The Bulgarian enthusiasm was only tempered by awareness of the challenges of Western competition and their own deficiencies in respect of commercial ventures. [19]

In contrast to Syria, dealings with Libya were controversial and inconsistent. Starting from the mid-1960s, Bulgarian state companies steadily increased trade as well as building and engineering work. [20] Yet, political relations stalled in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi’s takeover in September 1969 due to his articulate anti-communism and anti-Sovietism. In 1973, Zhivkov seriously criticised this for its weakening effect on “the common front of the Arabs” and “objectively helping the imperialists and international reactionaries”. [21] However, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war and Egypt’s reorientation, Qaddafi presented himself as an alternative regional leader whom the Soviet bloc aspired to foster, an endeavour for which Zhivkov’s personal diplomacy was well-suited.
Even though it followed Qaddafi’s visit to Moscow, Zhivkov’s first trip to Libya in December 1976 was a diplomatic and political breakthrough. Links with Bulgaria would consolidate and expand Libya’s rapprochement with the Socialist bloc while Bulgaria was looking for a strategic partnership in the region. In view of these priorities, the two leaders tacitly agreed to disagree on issues of ideology, willing instead to seek common ground with regard to the conflict in the Middle East and developments in the Third World. Qaddafi appreciated Bulgaria’s anti-Zionist stance and portrayed Libya as the only progressive Arab regime, one that was able to stand up to the growing anti-Soviet trend as led by Saudi Arabia. [22] Yet, Libya possessed further attractions for the Socialist bloc, heavily engaged as it was in backing revolutionary nationalists in Eritrea, Western Sahara, Oman and Chad and supportive of what it considered the progressive policies of Iran, Algeria and Yemen. Although privately suspecting Libya’s intentions on the matter of Chad and doubting the optimism regarding Polisario, Zhivkov agreed that Qaddafi’s policies offered resistance to the pressure from the Western imperialist bloc on a wide geographic front.

During the following two years until Qaddafi’s visit to Sofia in July 1978, Bulgarian foreign policy experts detected some evolution of the Libyan positions bringing them closer to those of the Socialist countries. They took account of Qaddafi’s reservations regarding détente and disarmament as superpower agreements could be made at the expense of small states and national liberation movements. Notable also was his insistence that in Africa imperialist advances were forcing the progressive forces into a defensive position while his interventions in Sudan and intentions towards Chad were classified as adventurist. Nonetheless, the Bulgarians chose to concentrate on support for “the progressive tendencies”, emphasising the utmost importance of the fact that Qaddafi’s policies were anti-imperialist and anti-reactionary. Consequently, it was deemed advantageous to “preserve Qaddafi as an ally in the Middle East and Africa” which could be “particularly important for uniting the progressive forces in the Arab and African movements”. Libya assumed an important strategic position for the Socialist bloc : accordingly the Bulgarian foothold there should be used for influencing it positively and if necessary – guarding Qaddafi against rash foreign and internal actions.

Such thinking continued into the 1980s when Qaddafi’s radicalism and maverick attitudes were increasingly notable as he entered into disputes with Tunisia, became hostile to Egypt and interfered in Chad. The Socialist states were also concerned about Libya antagonising other regional players such as the PLO and destabilising the Front of Steadfastness. In tune with these concerns, during his visit to Tripoli in 1980 Zhivkov tried to exert a moderating influence on Qaddafi : he countered strongly-worded distrust of Arafat with admonition against internal conflicts within the Arab movement. [23]

Indeed, in relation to Libya too, Bulgaria’s leader tried to position himself as a channel to Moscow. On various occasions Zhivkov agreed to convey Libyan requests for Soviet military help – in connection to the issue of Chad in 1976 and to Ethiopia in 1984. It was in the latter meeting that Qaddafi used the Bulgarians to express disappointment with the continued Soviet “lack of understanding of Libya’s situation as the main object of imperialist pressure”. He was also dissatisfied with the Soviet failure to react firmly against the US aggression in Grenada and with the rationale of Soviet policy in the Iran-Iraq war in which the revolutionary potential of Iran was underestimated. Equally, the Soviets used Zhivkov to seek support on matters of importance, most notably that of backing publicly the Soviet entry in Afghanistan. [24]

A certain sign of the general approval of Libya’s overall foreign policy was Zhivkov’s authorisation in 1976 of arms contracts and his readiness to obtain Soviet permission for the sale of the full military assortment produced in Bulgaria. This was helped to no small degree by Libya proposing to pay in much-coveted hard currency. Libyan solvency was explored even further as the Bulgarian side looked for the granting of credits for the needs of the Bulgarian military industry. Indeed, the Bulgarians were eager to “assume positions there before anyone else” and envisaged steps such as the construction of arms production plants in Libya. All of this was justified with the desire to achieve military and political influence and to use Libya as a stepping stone to other countries in the region where further military and political influence was desirable. [25]

Bulgarian observers noted with satisfaction Qaddafi’s continued social and economic radicalisation after 1975, for instance the reforms of industry and agriculture aiming to end the country’s dependency on a single commodity and thus on imperialists markets. The biggest drawback was the adherence to “the wrong ideology ... influenced heavily by Islam and Arab nationalism” and there was some dim recognition that the Libyan ambition of setting a model for developing countries could engender a controversy with the Socialist camp. Yet, the Bulgarians were prepared to play on Qaddafi’s religious sensitivities for their own political purposes and financial benefit : in 1978 Zhivkov spoke of possibility to send Bulgarian Muslims for study in Libyan religious schools in order to alleviate some of the fears of the treatment of Muslims in Bulgaria, while the Bulgarian national air carrier flew Libyan pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. [26] Overall, the Bulgarian leadership flattered itself that it was “very likely to influence Libyan views of their internal political developments and in their international actions”. [27] Interestingly, in the late 1970s Bulgaria was watching carefully the improvement of relations between Libya and other Socialist states such as the DDR. [28]

Bulgaria’s economic priorities dictated that the relationship be placed on a long-term basis. The initial plans foresaw cooperation in agriculture, including the building of dams and irrigation systems, in hydro-geological research and the traditional sphere of construction. The exchange of goods was targeted at 200-250 million USD until 1980 and almost double that for the following five years. In reality, Bulgaria found it difficult to secure its economic interests, one early setback related to the high price of oil, which after 1975 it could no longer receive on barter. Even as unpaid bills accumulated on both sides, the Bulgarian institutions mostly focused on the overall figures, which showed that the value of trade was increasing and the trade balance was healthy. A telling example of the recurring problems was a concession for oil exploration in 1979, which proved to be unprofitable – not before massive investment of over 100 million USD. By 1980 Libya was in arrears of more than 60 million for construction and engineering projects – which threatened the very existence of the big Bulgarian contractor Technoexportstroy.

Zhivkov’s visit to Tripoli in March 1980 was overshadowed by the mounting tensions in the business partnership ; at one point the Bulgarian leader having to remind his hosts that Bulgaria had first extended its friendship to the then poor and backward Libya on the basis of principles and ideas rather than profit. [29] In December 1981 Andrey Lukanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Economic Affairs achieved a breakthrough arranging that Libyan crude oil would pay for Bulgarian goods at a moment when Bulgarian exports of around 530 million stood at double the amount of imports ; the alleviation proved temporary as oil deliveries were insufficient to clear old debts. After that new contracts for engineering decreased steeply, followed by decline in trade. A significant exception was a credit agreement for 1.3 billion USD for military purchases in April 1984 : this was meant by the Bulgarian Politburo as a stimulus for trade and economic cooperation but actually marked Libyan increasing reliance on credits. [30] Even so, Zhivkov was prepared to contemplate the setting up of a trilateral company with Lybia and Ethiopia for investment in industrial facilities in the latter. In his logic this would address the country’s pressing economic problems and demonstrate much-needed support for the Ethiopian regime ; as the financial risks would be underwritten by Ethiopian resources, the Bulgarian leader underlined that his primary motive was effective help to Socialist Ethiopia. [31]

Significantly, the Bulgarian side considered political contacts to remain stable. In September 1980, the Bulgarian delegation at the annual celebrations of the Libyan revolution approved of the domestic agenda articulated by Qaddafi in terms of reorientation to heavy industry, strengthening the state agriculture and tackling social redistribution : they detected signs of Qaddafi taking on board much of Zhivkov’s advice. [32] Even the fact that in the summer of 1981 Qaddafi had been refused a meeting with the Soviet leadership, because it was considered too erratic on global issues and demoralising the Arab movement with its hostility to the PLO, did not seem to dampen Bulgarian enthusiasm. [33] In fact, in January 1983 in Sofia the two states concluded a Treaty for Friendship and Cooperation. Two years earlier than the respective treaty with Syria, this could be seen as an instrument of keeping Libya within the Soviet fold while at the same time trying to moderate and modify the ambitions of the Libyan dictator. [34] In subsequent years there were wide discrepancies between the political assessment of the Libyan regime as “a proven and stable partner in both political and economic terms” and the reality on the ground where big construction projects such as the metallurgic plant in Misurata were frozen and framework agreements were signed with little prospect of fulfilment or questionable benefits. Bulgarian experts chose to focus on “increasing the confidence of the Libyan leadership” in order to help with the domestic consolidation and strengthening the anti-imperialist stance of Qaddafi’s regime so as to “ruin the plans of international reaction”. [35] The Bulgarian government stood by Libya during the US air-raids in April 1986 and Libya stayed largely neutral over Bulgarian attempted assimilation of the ethnic Turks through the change of their names. However, in May 1988 Bulgaria was disappointed that Libya voted for an Islamic Conference resolution criticising the Bulgarian treatment of the Turkish minority.

The limits of Bulgarian interest and involvement with the Mediterranean Arab states are clearly observed in its relations with Syria and Libya. These evolved exclusively within the parameters imposed by Bulgaria’s membership of the Soviet bloc, which dictated external economic and political links that were seen to compliment its own model of development. It is undisputable that the Bulgarian leadership consulted closely with their Soviet patron on the direction and major steps in its dealings in the Middle East and North Africa. Bulgaria traded on its proximity to Moscow, regarding military cooperation in particular, and positioned itself as a channel of influence and communication to the Soviets.
The establishment and maintenance of Bulgaria’s relations with a range of Arab players in the Mediterranean region stood at the crossroad of economic considerations and strategic objectives related to the ongoing Cold War. It is difficult to judge whether ideological motivations prevailed over the search for pragmatic solutions to economic predicaments. While prepared to tolerate the inconsistencies of its partners, Bulgaria believed that in the long-term it was contributing to the global consolidation of the Communist-led bloc through undermining of its imperialist Western opponents both at the domestic and international level. Another positive outcome for the Bulgarian regime was that in its own eyes it, and especially Zhivkov, had gained prestige and elevated the international profile of the country.

[1] Л. Огнянов, Дипломацията на съвременна България, Шумен, 2006, p. 197-202 (L. Ognyanov, The Diplomacy of Contemporary Bulgaria, Shumen) ; Н. Филипова, Българската дипломация в Египет, Сирия и Ирак във времето на Студената война, София, 2008, р. 25-71 (N. Filipova, The Bulgarian Diplomacy in Egypt, Syria and Iraq during the Cold War, Sofia) ; К. Цонев, Лица от големите портрети, София, 2005 (K. Tsonev, Faces from the Big Portraits, Sofia).

[2] Й. Баев, “Българската военна помощ за Третия свят”, Военен журнал, 1992/6, р. 5-6 (J. Baev, “Bulgarian Military Aid for the Third World”, Military Journal, p. 102).

[3] Central Party Archive, Sofia (hereafter CSA), 1/64/258 (the numbers signify fund/directory/item).

[4] CSA, 1/64/268.

[5] CSA, 1/64/294.

[6] Н. Филипова, Българската дипломация... (N. Filipova, The Bulgarian Diplomacy..., op. cit., p. 125-126).

[7] CSA, 1/58/81.

[8] CSA, 1/64/478.

[9] Х. Христов, Тайните фалити на комунизма, София, 2007 (H. Hristov, The Secret Bankruptcies of Communism, Sofia, p. 186-187).

[10] CSA, 1/66/2347.

[11] CSA, 1/68/346, 570.

[12] CSA, 1/68/570.

[13] CSA, 1/68/570.

[14] CSA, 1/101/86.

[15] CSA, 1/101/251.

[16] CSA, 1/101/303.

[17] CSA, 1/68/570

[18] CSA, 1/68/346.

[19] CSA, 1/66/247.

[20] В. Ангелов, Паметни бележки за българо-либийските отношения 1967-2007 г, София, 2007, p. 9-10 (V. Angelov, Memoranda on Bulgarian-Libyan Relations, Sofia) ; К. Цонев, Лица..., p. 200-204 (K. Tsonev, Faces..., op. cit.).

[21] CSA, 1/58/65, 81.

[22] В. Ангелов, Паметни бележки..., p. 68-69 (V. Angelov, Memoranda..., op. cit.).

[23] В. Ангелов, Паметни бележки..., p. 130, 132, 142 (V. Angelov, Memoranda..., op. cit.).

[24] CSA, 1/67/2875.

[25] В. Ангелов, Паметни бележки..., p. 89 (V. Angelov, Memoranda..., op. cit.).

[26] CSA, 1/66/1335, 1/101/250.

[27] CSA, 1/66/1335.

[28] CSA, 1/101/19.

[29] В. Ангелов, Паметни бележки, p. 102–104 (V. Angelov, Memoranda..., op. cit.).

[30] Ibid. p. 16–21.

[31] CSA, 1/67/2875.

[32] CSA, 1/101/250.

[33] В. Ангелов, Паметни бележки..., p. 129-130 (V. Angelov, Memoranda..., op. cit.).

[34] CSA, 1/67/2875.

[35] CSA, 1/68/198.


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