President Rumen Radev's address to the people and the National Assembly after the swearing-in ceremony at the 47th National Assembly
Mr President of the National Assembly,
Madam Vice President,
Madam Mayor of the Capital City,
Honourable Members of the Constitutional Court,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Representatives of the judiciary,
Members of the Supreme Bar Council,
Honourable Presidents of the Republic of Bulgaria and Presidents of the National Assembly,
Chief of Defence,
Generals and Admirals,
Representatives of religious communities in the Republic of Bulgaria,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Five years ago you entrusted me with the responsible mission as President of Bulgaria to work for the unity and prosperity of our people, for the sovereignty and security of our centuries-old state. Five years later, you entrusted Mrs Iotova and me again with the difficult task of continuing on the path we took together, making the first decisive steps.
Your trust is the most fitting tribute to the difficult decisions we took during our mandate and to what we achieved together as a society. On the day we step into the second term, my first words are those of gratitude to you, dear fellow citizens.
The first presidential term came at a dramatic time, when the old, authoritarian model of governance was reaching its apogee, while public resentment was growing at the corruption, lawlessness and propaganda on which it rested.
The 2020 civil revolt against the mafiosisation of power brought to the surface facts and processes that it had been withholding. I am not comfortable with that either, but I prefer the truth, and the public was used to accepting it with resignation. Bulgarians rebelled against the one-man rule, the feudalisation on the ground, the scheming, the prosecutorial umbrella over abuse and the crooked mirror of the media. Against the poverty, hopelessness and lawlessness that have driven hundreds of thousands of our compatriots abroad.
Citizens' expectations of the presidential institution have far exceeded the powers the Constitution gives it. We had to both catalyse social transformation and be a pillar of stability in a period of acute crisis of confidence in the political class.
The protests unleashed the process of restoring democracy and the rule of law. This process will be difficult, with the inevitable errors and disappointment. It is naïve to think that, after more than a decade of allowing corruption to grow and arbitrariness to proliferate, we will put Bulgaria back on the track of law and democracy overnight. The old regime is in the past, but the dismantling of the bequeathed power model will take time. Citizen alienation from the political class, distrust of institutions, partisan administration, corrupt media, corruption with impunity, abuse of power and dramatic social stratification will be the challenges facing us all in the years to come.
During my fist term, I have appointed three caretaker governments. The last ones have contributed to the restoration of trust in the institutions, and proved that people from different political horizons can achieve unity for the sake of Bulgaria. They created a model of a broad democratic alternative. They exposed many instances of abuse. They have shown that the country can be governed transparently and responsibly, according to the law and with the weak in mind. But these governments are now part of history.
The elections last November resulted in a new parliamentary majority that has taken over. It is up to us, the elected representatives of the Bulgarian people, to identify the priorities and join forces to put them into practice.
We are facing a cascade of crises and their social and economic impacts. This task is already 'dominating' the agenda of the government and parliament. I remain open to dialogue and share responsibility for tough and unpopular but necessary solutions. I will, however, continue to be critical when I find the decisions of the legislature and the executive to be wrong.
The current crises, which are being exacerbated and used by backstage forces, should not distract the attention from strategic priorities. It is my duty as Head of State to return the agenda to the long-term goals of the nation, far beyond the horizon of political mandates: curbing the demographic crisis, tackling poverty and inequality, raising the standard and quality of life, spiritual development; guaranteeing sovereignty and security, defending national interests and dignity, and promoting this country's positive image abroad.
The economy has been the standard priority of all politicians over the years. Alas, focusing on macroeconomic indicators often eclipses the concern for the individual, who is much more than a worker and consumer. Consequently, I'd rather approach priorities from the perspective of the human being.
The first precondition for the success of society is individual freedom and dignity. The feeling of being an equal member of a community that guarantees your rights and on whose destiny you have a say. Democracy and the rule of law are the foundations that we must restore.
The elections prepared by the caretaker cabinets have proved that bought and controlled votes can be done away with, while invalid votes minimised. I consider it necessary for parliament to continue with the changes that will eliminate the imperfections in the electoral process, and I remain ready for fruitful cooperation.
I am convinced that there is an anti-mafia consensus in Bulgaria. It unites the overwhelming majority of honest Bulgarians, who voiced it in the squares and at the polls. Our compatriots voted for many different parties, but with a single hope: justice and legality. The country should not be governed from now on through the screen, under the table, on the phone or covertly. Corruption must be broken down if we are to survive as a country and a society. Young people are aware of it, business is aware of it, honest people in the administration are aware of it, the thousands who supported the protest parties are aware of it. There is a historic opportunity to bring Bulgaria back into the rule of law. All other good intentions depend on it. Without strengthening the state, our country cannot fulfil its enormous potential. Parties and politicians who share the cause of establishing the rule of law and a healthy and transparent media environment in Bulgaria, of building a well-ordered state with effective institutions, can count on the understanding and support of the presidential institution.
When handing over the mandate, I said that if the ruling majority does not achieve a quick, decisive breakthrough in the reform of the prosecution and the judiciary, it will open the way for a revenge of the status quo. I repeat it now.
We need a clear political will, legal and constitutional changes. I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that opening up the Constitution to change must not be limited to a revision of the judiciary towards responsible and effective prosecution. Three decades after the beginning of democratic change, we should show maturity in our conviction that the the human being is the fundamental constitutional value. Therefore, the constitutional amendments should also include extending citizen participation in the governance of the state and strengthening guarantees for the protection of human rights. Democracy is incompatible with public apathy. It needs not just voters, but active citizens with ambitions for the future of the country and the tools for their participation in shaping that future.
Statehood consolidation requires enhanced constitutional guarantees for the division of powers and a transparent and predictable law-making process. It is also time to give municipalities a chance for economic and social uplift through constitutionally guaranteed financial decentralisation.
The second consensus is driven by common sense. For the sake of Bulgaria's future, Bulgarians must be here. The demographic downturn is a consequence of all the crises of the transition: poverty, insecurity, health problems and moral crisis. This nation is experiencing the transition as a trauma comparable to war. It is time for long-term, financially secure policies to increase fertility with a focus on responsible parenthood, reduced mortality and curbed emigration. Charity is no substitute for state care. The market and PR cannot compensate for the lack of working social mechanisms.
The third consensus around which I am convinced we should unite is the cause of an enlightened and educated nation. It is historically rooted in the National Revival and for a century and a half was the driving force of Bulgaria's development. The corruption of transition has devalued education. Thousands of brilliant Bulgarians are looking for a career abroad. Science suffers from lack of funding. Poverty has thrown thousands of children out of education. We urgently need to invest in young Bulgarians. Our survival as a nation is at stake. This is a long-term investment that will not bring political dividends to this generation of statesmen. But it is a duty and a historic task that cannot be postponed. The time of strategies is over. We need fast, effective and sustainable measures to get all children into school. For their patriotic education and the fight against immobilisation and drugs. To train teachers and build critical and creative thinking in schools. For raising the criteria in the habilitation of scientists and accreditation of higher education institutions. For stimulating lifelong learning and making it a solid foundation for a modern knowledge and growth economy.
No national goal can be achieved without a healthy nation. The pandemic has laid bare the problems of Bulgarian healthcare and confirmed the existence of a public consensus to change the healthcare model towards quality and affordable healthcare, where patient health is not a commodity and young doctors and nurses do not leave Bulgaria. The caretaker government has set out important projects in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan to ensure quality emergency care for every Bulgarian citizen and to bring healthcare back to small and remote settlements. Their implementation will be a strong sign that the state is returning to the people.
Our progress as a society requires an accelerated transformation towards a new economic model based on science, innovation and high added value industries. It requires the provision of clean, affordable and predictable energy. I expect the new energy strategy to ensure maximum energy independence, the rational use of our natural resources and new-built capacities, and the use of promising technologies. But, above all, all of the above requires a stable and predictable regulatory environment, protection of property and competition, encouragement of entrepreneurship and investment.
As is often the case, in times of hardship we forget about Bulgarian culture. And it is precisely this culture that we rely on to build those spiritual values that unite us as a nation. State support for culture is an irrevocable investment in our future.
My active dialogue with the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the leaderships of the religious denominations represented in the National Council of Religious Communities in Bulgaria, as well as my work with the political forces represented in parliament, has been the basis for amendments to the Denominations Act, which have contributed to the full functioning of religious communities while guaranteeing the protection of the national interest. In the future, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and traditional faith communities can count on my support as Head of State.
I will continue to develop the charitable initiatives of my predecessors – the 'Bulgarian Christmas' and 'Support a Dream'. Not only because of the help to our children, but also because of the faith they give us that we live in a humane society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ensuring security in a world saturated with the dynamics of geopolitical processes and the complex nature of risks and threats is a fundamental task of public policy. That is why the development of the armed forces has always been a top priority in my role as Commander-in-Chief.
The first Consultative Council for National Security that I convened was dedicated to the main challenges facing the Bulgarian armed forces: the outdated equipment, the lack of resources for full training, the alarming outflow of personnel. I called for a long-term vision for the development of the armed forces, for the accelerated implementation of modernisation projects, which should be accompanied by industrial cooperation programmes, for a decisive increase in the professional qualification, motivation and social prestige of the servicemen, for the maintenance of the equipment and weaponry up to the moment of their replacement with new models, for the involvement of the Bulgarian defence industry in the development of the security sector.
Due to the lack of progress in solving the above-mentioned problems, in a short period of time I have convened two more Consultative Councils for National Security on the same topics.
My firm insistence as Commander-in-Chief has contributed to launching a number of constructive processes in the development of the armed forces. Of course, quite a number of tasks remain unresolved and need resources, organisation and strong leadership, but I believe that the process is irreversible. We need a common understanding that the commitment of the state leadership to defence is not limited to major modernisation projects. Modernisation is a continuous process of building up-to-date defence capabilities with a focus on people in the armed forces, on innovation and new technologies.
The development of capabilities and interoperability is not only an allied duty, but above all a supreme responsibility towards the security of the homeland. I definitely believe that, with better preparation and political will, industrial cooperation agreements can provide better opportunities for both the armed forces and the economy in the field of high technology at that.
Countering modern forms of terrorism, crime and corruption, guaranteeing the security of Bulgarian citizens, requires continuous efforts to improve the professional training, motivation and technological backup of the Ministry of the Interior and security services.
Throughout our mandate, Vice President Iliana Iotova and I have defended the conviction that Bulgaria must conduct a proactive foreign policy, steadfastly pursuing the national interest. The balanced and pragmatic approach, the reasoned formulation of positions, as well as the open dialogue, have contributed to Bulgaria continuing to establish itself as a predictable and desirable partner and ally that can generate promising ideas, seek pragmatic solutions, and contribute to stability and sustainable development.
There is a consensus in our society on Bulgaria's European belonging. It was confirmed and formalised by the previous generation of politicians with Bulgaria's accession to the European Union. Membership in the Union is a process of active interaction with the partner countries, of strengthening its unity and of day-to-day defending the Bulgarian stance in the Union. Bulgaria's voice must resonate loudly in the debate on Europe's future, on its strategic autonomy and security.
The commitment made by all NATO member states to spend 2% of GDP on defence is an important step in enhancing security, but it also forces smaller countries like ours to invest significant resources in the economic and social systems of the more developed arms-manufacturing countries. That is why, at the 2019 EU summit, I raised this issue openly and called for us to look for mechanisms to ensure that the Alliance does not become an alliance between producers and buyers of defence products, but rather an alliance between partners that jointly develop defence capabilities through the integration of research and joint production. An idea that has been met with considerable interest and has contributed to the creation of the Security Investment Programme and mechanisms for joint innovation development. I believe that Bulgaria will continue to be an active participant in this process and will work to integrate our scientific units and innovative companies into the initiative.
Over the years of the mandate, we have strengthened the strategic partnership with the United States. We have re-established the top-level dialogue with Russia after a decade-long hiatus. With the President of China, we raised our relationship to the level of a strategic partnership. We have deepened ties with a number of countries beyond Europe.
As five years ago, so today, I stand by the position that, in the face of clashing geopolitical interests and growing confrontation in our region, the role of the Head of State is not to exalt concerns and to name an enemy, but to help resolve crises with the mechanisms of the alliances of which we are members. These crises do not have a military solution, but require dialogue and diplomatic efforts for de-escalation.
I will say again that our foreign policy must be formulated at home by consensus between the institutions and defended consistently abroad. I cannot but point to our relations with the Republic of North Macedonia as an example. When the implementation of the 2017 Treaty stalled, I convened a consultative meeting despite my strained relations with the government. A consensus was reached to develop a Framework Position, adopted by a Declaration of the 44th National Assembly, to refine and defend Bulgarian interests and positions. I am satisfied with the fact that, despite the profound political changes since then, the latest Consultative Council for National Security demonstrated unity and consistency on this important topic.
The government-proposed multi-track approach in relations with our neighbours has the potential to dynamise dialogue and strengthen trust, and should be supported. However, it should not leave behind the issues of the rights of our compatriots and our common historical and cultural past.
I want to be properly understood. I am among the politicians who want the Republic of North Macedonia to become a member of the European Union as soon as possible. That is precisely why we must help our brothers to overcome the ideologies of the totalitarian past more quickly and to achieve the membership criteria. As a responsible member of the European Union, Bulgaria must integrate partners, not problems. I will reaffirm my position as President of all Bulgarians that the equal rights of the Macedonian Bulgarians, many of whom are also Bulgarian citizens, must be guaranteed by including them in the country's constitution on an equal footing with other parts of the peoples. This act, alongside the adoption of reliable mechanisms for the eradication of hate speech and the preservation of the Bulgarian cultural and historical heritage, should be a precondition for our greenlighting the accession negotiations.
I am convinced that the foreign policy economisation, which I have actively worked for, can yield much better results if we achieve more effective coordination between institutions and overcome the lack of project readiness in important investment areas.
Since the beginning of the mandate, Mrs Iotova and I have used every possible opportunity to expand the Bulgarian cultural space and to defend our achievements. One example in this respect was the participation, at my invitation, of the Director-General of UNESCO in the celebrations of 24 May in Sofia, which was a recognition of Bulgaria's contribution to the world cultural heritage. We will continue this policy even more actively against the backdrop of the increased attacks on Bulgarian culture and history.
Our priority in this mandate will be to maintain a lively connection and spiritual inclusion of Bulgarian communities abroad, as well as to defend their rights and identity. Urgent legislative amendments are needed to accelerate the acquisition of Bulgarian citizenship by our compatriots abroad. I also hope that the Vice President's long-standing idea to establish a Bulgarian cultural institute for our communities will meet with the support of the executive.
This is the place to express once again my gratitude to Vice President Iliana Iotova. The challenges of the first term have strengthened our understanding and cooperation, and I am sure that this will continue to be the case.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to my team in the presidential administration for their dedicated work.
I am convinced that we can overcome the crises and make our dream for Bulgaria come true only with the knowledge, talent and united efforts of the whole nation. That is why the Presidency will continue to be open to citizens and organisations, to all those who have ideas for our better future.
At the beginning of the past term, I stated that it is not important for me how long I will be President, but what kind of President I will be. This conviction motivated me not to compromise my principles and to stand on the side of the people. Together with you, dear fellow citizens, we have overcome many trials. Today, with my hand of the Constitution, I want to assure you that I will continue to serve the Fatherland honestly and responsibly. Mrs. Iotova and I will put all our strength into building together with you a free, democratic, modern and prosperous Bulgaria.
President Rumen Radev’s Address to the 43rd National Assembly after Taking the Oath of Office