Fri, 08/30/2013 - 12:25

Belgian ambassador stresses importance of accountability

Anick Van Calster.jpg

A fragile woman, who is the mother of three, Anick Van Calster is unusually outspoken for an ambassador. She has been in Bulgaria for just a year, but that appears to have been sufficient for her to get to know not only the Bulgarian politics of the day – an achievement in itself having in mind how complicated, opaque and irrational this can be; but also to travel round the country and explore Bulgarian culture, heritage and cuisine. With wide experience in various diplomatic postings in the Middle East (The United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and so on) and with special appointments at the Belgian Royal Court behind her, Anick seems to be feeling pretty much at home in Sofia – in the heat of possibly Bulgaria's most turbulent summer since Communism collapsed in 1989.

One year may be enough to get to know a country the size of Bulgaria, but is it a sufficiently long period to get to know its people?

When I arrived here last August the election campaign had already started, of course unofficially. What struck me was that the debate was very harsh and very personal. Well, the election came, and it came earlier than expected. In February, there was a spade of protests about economic issues that forced the former government to resign and call a snap ballot. At the time there were various media speculations: were the protests organised or not organised, did people get paid to participate and so on. One thing is clear, however. The economic reality is very harsh for many Bulgarians especially in wintertime when they are faced with having to pay high electricity bills.

Is Bulgaria a better place now than it was a year ago?

The facts are these: you had an election which produced a difficult result. For any politician anywhere in the world this would be a difficult situation. Still, a government was formed. Very soon after that, following a controversial appointment, we saw many people taking to the streets to protest.

What does this indicate?

In my view, people demand accountability. There have been free elections, now there is a government, and they feel the government has to work for the interest of the whole population. The protesters have doubts whether this government is able or willing to do this, but it is also a message of grander proportions that seeks to address not just the incumbent government but the whole political class.

When I came to Bulgaria I was told that civil society was not very strong. There were a number of movements mainly around environmentalist topics, but apart from them not much happened. Then all of a sudden there appeared a large group of people who did not take to the streets for economic, but for purely political reasons. I think it is positive that people show their concerns about the political system, and I trust that there will be more civil society control over the politicians.

What do you think will the ongoing protests evolve into?

That depends on a number of circumstances. There are similarities between the Bulgarian protests and massive protests in other countries, and of course there are differences. The similarities include the common call for accountability and the way the protests are organised – mainly through social media. This has an obvious advantage: the message spreads very quickly. But it is also its weakness – they have no leaders. This makes it also difficult to dialogue with them.

What the protests lead to depends not only on the protestors but also on the way the authorities, including the police, react.

In Bulgaria, the police have been a positive example in that there have been very few incidents.

Let me put the question in a slightly different way. Can something like this happen in Brussels? You've got over 60 days of continuous rallies in the middle of town, disrupting the traffic and the daily routine of many citizens who do not subscribe to them. The police do nothing except protecting the protestors. Could that conceivably happen in Belgium?

In Belgium, I guess the government reaction would depend on many factors but here would probably be a stronger political reaction, there would probably be an invitation to dialogue – to which then of course there would have to be a reply from the other side.

I think there are two ways for the situation in Bulgaria to develop. One is for the protestors to define their demands in a more clear-cut fashion, or to disperse. The other, which we should hope for, is for those citizens who have clearly shown an interest in politics and a concern for the future of their country to get involved through new parties or the existing parties. That's for me the best possible outcome.

What is the worst-case scenario?

I think there are many other people that are much better than me at imagining worst-case scenarios.

If you were a Bulgarian, what would you do?

I am a civil servant and that's the way I try to contribute to the prosperity of my country. If I were a Bulgarian I would probably also look for a way to contribute.

Do you think Bulgaria can overcome the current impasse on its own, or does it need outside help?

It strikes me that Bulgarians very often look to the outside to find solutions or problems. In the difficult situation now I see Bulgarians asking around, who is going to help us?

I think the Bulgarians have to do it for themselves. Of course, Bulgaria has friends, being a member of the EU and NATO and so on. There can be sharing of examples, best practices, encouragements, and so on. But ultimately the Bulgarians will have to do it themselves. The Bulgarians should trust that they can do it.

Does Belgium have a stand on parties like Ataka?

We do not have a stand on any foreign political party. In Belgium, we are concerned about the legality of any action by any political party. If a politician in Belgium indulges in antisemitic language or hate speech or is be breaking the law in any other way, you can start a court case against this person.
We come again to the issue of tolerance.

As I said, what strikes me in Bulgaria is that the political language has been very brutal, both before and after the election. Still, this is a representative democracy. Each member of parliament represents the people who voted for him or her but the government also has to represent the people who did not vote for them. If two political leaders do not like each other, this is their problem. But their dislike for each other should not be allowed to influence the development of the country. I often see little room for compromise or large consensus, something we Belgians are said to be champions at.

It is one of the basic principles of democracy that politicians acknowledge their responsibility to the citizens – and that they try to gather a large consensus.


Issue 83-84

Commenting on

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on


Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

dr bonka mutafchiyska
The interview with Dr Bonka Mutafchiyska, a leading dentist with almost 20 years of practice, was not an ordinary one. We wanted to know more about the personality of the founder of the outstanding Mutafchiyska Dent Clinic, in Plovdiv.

Dr Branimir Kirilov Medical Dent
The quality of dental professionals in Bulgaria is impressive, but even in this highly competitive field one name stands out.

m+s hydraulic vladimir spasov
When talking about successful business stories in Bulgaria, M+S Hydraulic PLC is one of the best examples. Based in Kazanlak, in the Valley of Roses and Thracian Kings, it will soon celebrate 60 years on the market.

Petar Torneff, Director of Accenture Technology Center in Bulgaria
How will technology develop and how will it affect the way we live and do business? This is a tough question that has engaged the brightest minds of our time.

Vladimir Dokov EGT
Euro Games Technology (EGT) is an example of the concept that everything is possible when the right goals are set, and innovation goes together with strategic management and a winner’s mindset.

higia hospitals tsvetelina spiridonova
When Tsvetelina Spiridonova, MD, PhD, took over Higia Hospital in early 2019, she had big shoes to fill.

Silvia Veselinova welcomes us to the new offices of Idea Buildings where she is surrounded by smiling colleagues and a multitude of tulips.

Giuseppina Zarra
Giuseppina Zarra is no novice to the Balkans. She is one of the rare breed of diplomats who have made a comeback to Sofia after her initial spell here in the 1990s.

dr nely djurkova art dent clinic
When beautiful and healthy smile is concerned, Dr Neli Djurkova is one of the best specialists around to ask for advice and help.

Bulgarian IT industry is the most rapidly developing sector of the local economy. What are the challenges that it faces? What is the climate in which it operates? What changes did it experience in the past 10 years?

Florence Robine
Florence Robine, the French ambassador to Bulgaria, has spent about two years in the country as most of the time her schedule and activities have been impeded by the varying and changing Covid-19 restrictions.

Iliyana Tarnina DTC Commerzbank Sofia
Increased digitalisation, customised approach, improved data security: banking, which has been a part of civilisation for centuries, is transforming before our own eyes. And a team in Bulgaria has a significant role to play in this change.