The reaction to the terrorist attack on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast shows a tolerant nation struggling to modernise, says Nikolay Manov.
On 18 July 2012 a bomb exploded at Burgas International Airport, killing six people and injuring 30 others. Five of the victims were Israeli citizens planning to spend their summer holidays at the Bulgarian resorts on the Black Sea. The sixth was the bus driver, who was of Turkish descent. Despite a huge amount of interest by the mass media, Bulgarian authorities managed to handle the situation in a professional manner.
Although the state was able to respond to the bus bombing, this could not be said for the society. People were shocked by the attack and could not believe that this had happened in their fatherland. Bulgaria considers itself an example of tolerance – the so-called ‘Bulgarian ethnic model’ encourages Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religions life in the country without open (public) tension between them. This can be best illustrated if one visits the downtown of Sofia – in less than 500 meters from each other one can find an Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church, a Synagogue and a Mosque.
As a result, the initial expectations of both the authorities and the public were that it was unlikely for a Bulgarian national to have been the terrorist and the investigation began with an international search their origins. The official line, that a second person was supposed to help the bomber, has not been confirmed thus far, leading to much speculation.
This was the first, and hopefully, last bombing to take place in Bulgaria since the beginning of the War on Terror after the 11 September attacks in the USA. Bulgaria has provided military contingents to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet it seems that few, if any, Bulgarian state officials considered the country a likely target. Perhaps because of this intelligence failure, it remains unclear who is behind the attack. An announcement that Hezbollah were responsible was made at the beginning of February 2013 by the Minister of Internal Affairs, yet this hypothesis had been rejected by a source within the Interior Ministry two weeks earlier.
Lastly and probably most importantly, what remains a concern for the country and its citizens is the fact that measures adopted after the bombing are apparently not being taken seriously. For instance, a ban on the transportation of parcels by coaches appears from personal experience and the investigations of the media to be superficial. Drivers of smaller companies especially still accept boxes in return for a small payment. Oversight of security measures remains lax.