Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Bulgaria’

A Taste of Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th December, 2016

bulgarian-eveningLast night Kingston Liberal Democrats hosted a very successful Bulgarian evening at the Bulgarian House restaurant in Surbiton. This is one of a whole series of social events initiated by former MP Ed Davey to celebrate different member states of the European Union. Those of us who felt bruised by the outcome of the EU Referendum welcome such opportunities to savour European diversity, and what better way than through sharing food? It is interesting to note that according to opinion polls the popularity of the EU has gone up in the UK since June 23rd; perhaps people are beginning to realise just what we seem to be about to throw away. It’s a pity more was not done to celebrate EU membership before the Referendum; successive governments failed to make the case, instead lazily falling into the habit of blaming Brussels for anything that went wrong while claiming full national credit for anything that went right. It is telling that on the morning after the Referendum the most common google search in the UK was reportedly “What Is the EU?” If only more people had taken the trouble to find out before they voted! As the UK will remain a member of the EU for at least another two-and-a-half years, however, it is not too late to make up for lost time, not just celebrating the cuisine and cultures of our 27 partners but championing the cause of Europe as well. At the very least we should stay in the Singe Market, but of course, if we do that, we might as well stay in the EU as well. This should be an option in any future referendum that might occur after Brexit negotiations have produced a putative deal.


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Welcome Migrants from Romania and Bulgaria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th January, 2014

migrant workers 1I guess many people go into politics out of a sense of frustration; I know that’s true in my case, in particular frustration that the debate about Europe in the UK is so skewed by the ignorant and at times malicious content of rags such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and, more recently, the unrestrained rants of UKIP and the Tory right. That sense of frustration has been heightened further recently by the disgraceful prejudice that has been whipped up in this country against EU migrants from Romania and Bulgaria by those same culprits. Nigel Farage — who is a  dangerous political menace behind his jolly man-in-the-pub facade — famously warned that 29 million such migrants were eligible to come to Britain (and other EU member states, of course) from 1 January. In fact, according to statistics provided by the Romanian Embassy, in consultation with the UK Border Agency, precisely 24 Romanians have arrived in the UK this month to date. Not a flood, not even a trickle. Moreover, the stigmatisation of Romanians in particular in the popular right-wing Press, as if all are those minority of Roma who beg and sleep out at Marble Arch, has helped lead to unpleasant acts of discrimination and voiced hostility to Romanians working here, the vast majority of whom contribute to British society, and I don’t mean just by paying their taxes. They work in a whole range of jobs from dentists to nurses, fruit pickers to waiters, in some cases doing jobs that indigenous Brits don;t want to do. So the next time you meet a migrant worker from Romania — or from Bulgaria — remember that it is highly likely that they have borne the brunt of prejudice that has been orchestrated against them, so please smile and make them feel welcome.

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Why EU Freedom of Movement Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014

freedom of movementEarly this morning I was interviewed on Voice of Africa radio countering some of the negative propaganda in Britain about migration from other European Union member states, notably from Bulgaria and Romania. On 1 January, the temporary restrictions on the free movement of labour from those two countries were lifted and there were scare stories in the more sensationalist newspapers — including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — warning that Britain risked being flooded. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, stoked fears by declaring that 29 million migrants would have the right to come. Disgracefully, some Conservative politicians have also jumped on the anti-migrant bandwagon, pandering to the worst sort of xenophobic impulses. In fact, in the first fortnight of 2014 only a handful of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania have arrived on these shores, and most of those already had jobs lined up. Conservative Ministers have hinted darkly that the principle of free movement within the EU should be over-turned, even though this is one of the greatest achievements of the European single market, which benefits British workers, retirees, students and others just as much as it benefits people coming here to make a new life. Any unilateral action by Britain would be illegal under current EU laws and invite retaliation, and it could potentially jeopardise the status of UK citizens abroad. There are a million Brits living in Spain alone. Moreover, as I told Voice of Africa listeners, the impression given by the popular press that EU migrants are milking the UK’s benefits system is a distortion of the reality. Only 3% of EU migrants claim benefits such as job seeker’s allowance and as a whole they pay far more into the system than they take out. It is reasonable that there should be a period before such benefits can be claimed by new arrivals, perhaps three months — but certainly not two years, as some politicians on the right have argued. Just as Britain benefits from EU membership, in areas such as jobs, environmental protection and security, so the country gains from freedom of movement and Liberal Democrats should not shy away from championing it.

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England My England, Bulgarian Style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th June, 2013

England My England 2Tony PalmerThe British author and film-maker Tony Palmer has had a lifelong passion for music, though unusually he straddles both pop and classical and has made a whole series of remarkable films covering both genres. Tonight, in the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Kensington he attended a screening of his 1995 masterwork about Henry Purcell, England My England, which he says he made for a mere £90,000 — amazing when one considers the length of the movie and its brilliance. Several days shooting took place in Bulgaria — hence the link, as well as there having been a Bulgarian associate producer for the film — including shots of medieval streets meant to conjure up the packed dwellings of seventeenth century London during the plague, as well as a set of building facades on fire representing the Great Fire of London. The film has some first rate acting by Simon Callow as Charles II (and the actor-playwright in a parallel contemporary story line) and Michael Ball as Purcell. But the thing that really makes England My England truly unforgettable is the sublime level of the performances of Purcell’s works, which are seen in the context of his life and British history, including both rehearsals and performances as if in the period. The ending aptly incorporates a stunning Dido’s Lament. The script picks up on the poetry of Dryden and other librettists in a skilfully controlled screenplay by the late John Osborne. Osborne’s quirkiness comes through at times, not least in a sudden blast against the Common Market, forerunner of the European Union, which Tony Palmer warmly endorsed, but struck some audience members as misplaced. In the Q&A session after the screening he described the EU as a ‘con’. But his most vitriolic remarks — and he is, as one might say, a plain speaker — were reserved for some members of the audience who had talked inanely almost non-stop during the film, repeatedly glancing at their mobile phones to see the time, before noisily leaving two thirds of the way through, and even more so for what Palmer called the idiotic presenters, all female as it happens, who front Arts programmes on both the BBC and the independent channels these days. I had better not mention the young ladies’ names as they might justifiably consider the criticism libelous. But Tony Palmer is right, of course, about the way that television talks down to viewers as if they are thick and need to have everything explained or made ‘relevant’and he was delighted that he got a handwritten note of solidarity from the acerbic Arts critic Brian Sewell who read some of the director’s opinions in yesterday’s Times.

Links: and

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Facing up to UKIP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013

Nigel Farage 2The strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in this week’s county council elections and recent parliamentary by-elections has been causing shudders in Britain’s other political parties and strengthens the hand of right-wing Conservative MPs who have been urging David Cameron to drift towards the UKIP agenda in an effort to stop the haemorrhage of traditional Tory voters. I trust we will not hear any such nonsense from Liberal Democrat parliamentarians. Even though sizable numbers of traditional LibDem voters also probably opted for UKIP this time I believe that was mainly as a form of protest. All three main political parties are suffering from voter disaffection and in particular the LibDems, as unfortunately many people in the UK don’t understand Coalition politics and the fact that as a junior partner in government the Liberal Democrats have only a certain degree of clout. But the really important thing, I believe, is that the Liberal Democrats must be bold enough to confront UKIP’s two main policy planks — anti-immigration and anti-EU — and tackle them head-on. I deliberately put immigration first, despite the fact that withdrawal from the EU is UKIP’s most well-known USP, as I believe the scare-mongering by UKIP regarding immigrants was more effective in garnering votes for the party than Nigel Farage’s attempts to ridicule Brussels. Opinion polls consistently show that for the vast majority of British voters Europe is way down their list of political priorities. But Farage and his colleagues have been steering the anti-immigrant bandwagon in a way that used to be more the role of the BNP and National Front. Farage’s repeated warning about the UK “opening its doors” to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January not only ignore such realities as the fact that the more favoured destinations of Romanians who do want to emigrate are Italy and France, and for many Bulgarians Germany is seen as more desirable because of low housing costs and a growing economy but also propagate the distinctly racist implication that all Romanians — and particularly Roma — are criminals. The LibDems — who currently have a working group looking at immigration and related issues — need to stress how much the British economy has benefited from immigration (which of course has to be controlled but not in an arbitrary fashion). Moreover, with regard to the EU the Liberal Democrats need to be brave enough to stand up and proclaim why leaving the EU would be disastrous for Britain. Certainly some reforms of the EU are needed, but you do not reform an organisation by leaving it. The European debate has been hijacked by UKIP and it is urgent that the alternative case is put strongly — by the LibDems.

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Montenegro’s EU Aspirations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013

Montenegro flagAleksandar Andrija PejovicWhen the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s,  the immediate concern of the new states created was to secure their boundaries and to establish the apparatus of a national government. But most also dreamed of the day when they could complete the transition from Communist province to full member state of the European Union. Slovenia — which has always thought of itself as being in central Europe rather than the western Balkans — was the first to achieve that goal, in 2004; Croatia will follow suit this year. But the next is likely to be tiny Montenegro, which only declared independence (from a rump Yugoslavia made up mainly of Serbia) in 2006. Last night, the tiny republic’s chief negotiator for Montenegro’s accession to the EU, Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, joined London Tory MEP Charles Tannock — who is the relevant rapporteur in the European Parliament — at Europe House to give a presentation on Montenegro’s progress. The government has managed to put together an impressive array of committees and structures in Podgorica to manage the adjustment of Montenegro’s laws and practices to fit in with the EU’s massive acquis communautaire. Interestingly, a sizeable majority of the key people in that process are women. Moreover, local NGOs have been integrated into the deliberations, which is a first. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Montenegro will complete the accession process before the end of the decade. This is partly because the EU is going through a difficult time at present but also because there is general recognition that Romania and Bulgaria were unwisely fast-tracked into membership in 2007 before they had sorted out some serious deficiencies. As Charles Tannock warned, Montenegro also needs to tackle some issues around corruption and organised crime. But it should become the 29th EU member state one day — or the 30th, if Iceland gets its act together and races past on the inside track.

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Spirit of Bulgaria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th May, 2011

Next Tuesday, 24 May, is the Day of the Slavonic (early Cyrillic) Alphabet, but last night, a week early, the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, Smith Square, London, launched an exhibition in its honour: ‘Spirit of Bulgaria’. This featured some lovely bronze sculptures by Bulgarian artist Yanko Bonev and both paintings and icons by his compatriot Mila Moussakova. The contrast in style between Moussakova’s two genres is startling. Her icons respect the traditions of Byzantine Art, not surprisingly, when one learns that she graduated from Sofia’s School of Applied Arts specialising in Iconography and Restoration. The colours are often subdued, the expression on the figures faces melancholic — with the notable exception of a jaunty young St George on horeseback. But Moussakova’s oil paintings are much more impressionistic and in this exhibition, at least, largely inspired by the urban landscape of Paris. In a short speech at the opening of the show, the Bulgarian Ambassador Lyubomir Kyuchukov pointed out that when his country joined the EU in 2007, it brought a third alphabet into the union — the Slavonic one that is full of resonance of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.


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Black Sea Implications of Turkey’s EU Accession

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th May, 2009

JF speaking at Black Sea ConferenceI took time out from Euro-campaigning the other day to attend a day-conference in Leicester on the Black Sea, hosted by the Department of Politcs and International Relations at the university there, with the support of a couple of European academic groupings and the British Embassy in Bratislava. The Black Sea is one of the regions in which I have lectured on cruise ships in recent years and the theme of the paper I delivered at the Leicester conference was ‘Black Sea Implications of Turkey’s EU Accession’.

The Black Sea is viewed by most Britons as more than peripheral, though when Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU two years ago, it became the Union’s eastern shore, just as the Mediterranean is the EU’s southern shore, the Atlantic the western and the Arctic the northern. However, if and when Turkey accedes to EU membership (as I believe it will and should, though probably only in about another 10 to 15 years time), the Black Sea will largely become part of the Union, with important implications for relations with Russia and the European aspirations of countries such as Georgia and Armenia.

The EU will suddenly acquire frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran and its centre of gravity will move sharply to the south-east. Moreover, I believe its character will inevitably change. When the old Mediterranean dictatorships, Greece, Portugal and Spain,  joined, they were grasping democracy and human rights eagerly. Similarly, when the eight former Communist states of central and eastern Europe joined, they were turning their back on 40 years of an oppressive ideology and were embracing a free market economy. Even though the accession process is already the stimulus for positive economic and political reforms in Turkey, it will not fundamentally change when it becomes part of the EU. Instead, the EU will be even more diverse than it is already — a diversity which I beieve will be stimulating and should be celebrated.

(photo courtesy Carol Weaver)

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Turkey Looks West

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st August, 2008

Sailing through the Bosphorus the other evening, with Europe on one side and Asia on the other, I wondered (not for the first time) exactly where Turkey is heading. So do many Turks. The events of the past week have included two terrorist bomb attacks in Istanbul and a judicial attempt to oust the democratically-elected government on the grounds that it is surreptitiously trying to introduce sharia and turn Turkey into an Islamic state. To say the country is divided is an understatement, as it balances the competing demands of redefining Islam, secularism, nationalism and internationalism within a complex, modernising society. The government is determined to keep on the path of accession to the European Union one day, despite opposition  from some of the nationalist forces, not to mention some EU member states, including Austria and France (though interestingly not Greece). The next few weeks, months and years are going to be bumpy for Turkey, though at least the economy is growing at a rate of which most current EU member states can only feel envious.

I’ve just spent three days testing the water (metaphorically and literally) in three other Black Sea countries: Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania, and will be leaving Constanta this evening for Istanbul again, for more lectures, more journalism and more political temperature-taking.

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Bulgaria under the EU Spotlight

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd July, 2008

The European Commission has suspended €500 million in funds destined for Bulgaria because of concerns over persistent corruption and organised crime. Both issues were highlighted in the the lead up to Bulgaria’s joining the EU in January last year, during which Sofia promised to tackle the twin problems, but as the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, admits, ‘there is a discrepancy between the political will, which is a fact, and the achievement of concrete results.’ The Commission is also withdrawing the right of two Bulgarian agencies to administer EU funds.

Brussels hopes these measures will serve as a wake-up call to the Bulgarian government to get its house in order. An earlier draft of the Commission report was even tougher, threatening the suspension of Bulgaria’s progression to join both the Schengen area and the eurozone, but this was toned down at Sofia’s request. The pressure is really on Bulgaria now to show it can clean up its act, otherwise future enlargement, to take in countries such as Croatia, could be put at risk. I’ll be in Bulgaria next week, so I will be asking some tough questions.

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