Western Europe and the United States
Under Zhivkov Bulgaria's policy toward Western Europe and the United States was determined largely by the position of the Soviet Union. Events such as the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan automatically distanced Bulgaria from the West; then, in the early 1980s Soviet efforts to split NATO by cultivating Western Europe brought Bulgaria closer to France and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany)--a position that continued through the 1980s. A 1988 application for membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was refused because of the Turkish assimilation program, after widespread expectations of success.
Decades of complete isolation from the West left traces on Bulgarian policy even in the 1980s. In early 1989, President François Mitterrand of France was the first Western head of state to visit Bulgaria since before World War II. Between 1945 and 1989, the highest visiting United States official was an assistant secretary of state. And in 1985 Sir Jeffrey Howe became the first British foreign secretary to visit Bulgaria since the nineteenth century--an indication that isolation began before the onset of communism.
The first post-Zhivkov regime recognized quite early, however, that Cold War politics no longer could limit Bulgaria's choice of economic or diplomatic partners. Within a few months of the Zhivkov ouster, the National Assembly Committee on Foreign Policy had received the head of the Council of Europe and received a pledge of closer ties, and Bulgarian diplomats and businessmen had described reform goals, priorities, and investment opportunities to a CSCE Conference on Economic Cooperation. Shortly thereafter Prime Minister Lukanov visited the headquarters of the European Economic Community (EEC) in Brussels. Lukanov signed a treaty on trade and economic cooperation to remove all trade barriers by 1995 and guarantee Bulgarian access to EEC markets. Lukanov also gained substantial support for Bulgarian membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and GATT.
A critical stage in the new policy was Zhelev's meeting with Western leaders in Europe and the United States in the fall of 1990. Zhelev explained Bulgaria's nonaligned position and its needs to United States President George H.W. Bush and to Mitterrand, receiving substantial pledges of aid from both leaders. Traditional trading partner Austria also pledged substantial new investment in the Bulgarian economy during Zhelev's tour of the West.
Bulgaria's new policy toward the West was reflected in a series of decisions taken in 1990. Diplomatic relations were restored with South Korea and Israel, Western allies in sensitive areas of Cold War confrontation. An official invitation for Pope John Paul II to visit Bulgaria constituted a new level of recognition of that religious leader's authority. And in early 1991, Bulgaria sent token noncombat forces in support of the United States-led Persian Gulf War effort. In 1991 Zhelev's cooperation with an international investigation of the Markov murder was another significant gesture to the Western world.
From the beginning, the success of Bulgaria's intense campaign for closer relations with the West depended on continued progress in economic and human rights reform and was measured in economic terms. As the stature of the Soviet Union dwindled steadily in 1991, the hope of gaining full status in the European community was a powerful weapon for reformers within Bulgaria. Given Bulgaria's strategic position and chronic instability elsewhere in the Balkans, Western nations monitored Bulgaria carefully and rewarded its progressive steps. Nonetheless, in 1991 Bulgaria remained far behind Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland in receiving Western aid.
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