Ska Keller came just to support the Pirin protests in Bulgaria – a case of government corruption intertwined with business interests that seek to open for commercial logging a World Heritage and EU Natura 2000 site. It turned out however that not the protests, but rather she was in the eye of the storm. Not only a propaganda campaign commenced against her, but unprecedentedly the Deputy PM of the country called for her expulsion of the country.
The only reason for Ska Keller to be in a country was just to reinforce a rather simple message – that we must uphold our common values and the European standards – democracy, transparency, the rule of law, media freedom.
And this is how our conversation began.
Please, introduce yourself. We know that you’re member of the European Parliament since 2009 and one of the youngest ones
My name is Ska Keller, I’m the president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament.
Thanks! Let’s dive into the political questions. What can Bulgarian citizens, who are actively opposed to corruption and the destruction of Bulgarian nature, do? Given that the media, the prosecution, the government and the parliament are in the hands of a small circle of corrupt officials, enjoying strong support at an official European level from bureaucrats such as Mr. Juncker?
When I joined the protests in Sofia just a little bit longer than one week ago, what really deeply impressed me was how much the Bulgarians are committed to standing up for their rights, the environment and the rule of law. This is the time to raise public awareness across the European Union about the decline of democracy and the rule of law and media freedom. Bulgarians have the same right as any other people in the European Union including protection of the environment, democratic standards and the rule of law and media freedom.
How could the European institutions respond in cases when a country is a “captured state”?
It is very important to not lower the pressure on the Bulgarian government. As the Bulgarian government took over the Presidency of the EU Council, they are under strong supervision, this is a momentum we should use. When it comes to the Pirin National Park, I already asked questions to the European Commission in how far they see a breach of the European Union´s law in Pirin. The European Commission has the duty to ensure that all EU citizens can enjoy protection from EU law and we as Greens/EFA will follow closely the European Commission´s decisions.
Single MEPs who are interested in Bulgaria are welcome, of course, but the systematic problem requires systematic solutions. What can they be?
There are common standards with regards the rule of law including media freedom and freedom of expression applying to the whole European Union. This is what makes the European Union a model based on common values.
What is the strategy of the major European parties including the Greens regarding the Orban model, which is increasingly perceived by Eastern European countries as an easy way to replace liberal democratic principles with a liberal crony corruption?
It is a shame the Conservatives in the European Parliament do not raise their voice against Viktor Orbán just because he is part of their political family. We must not leave room for any double standards but have to apply the same high standards for the rule of law in the whole European Union. This is also important for the European Union to keep its credibility.
Nature is a scarce resource that can be spent and disappear for future generations. What do we need to resolve when we make decisions about nature?
To preserve nature we have to apply high standards for protecting the environment as well as the highest possible transparency for plans like the planned ski area in the Pirin National Park. The European Union has formulated standards for the protection of Nature and the minimum is to uphold these standards. We have to make sure that while we enjoy nature, we at the same time save our environment for the coming generations to enjoy.”
Have you seen the Bulgarian nature? And are there things that need to be preserved at all costs?
When I came to Bulgaria a bit longer than a week ago, I very much enjoyed experiencing the beauty and magnitude of Kresna Gorge and Pirin National Park. These are areas unique in the European Union and the Bulgarians can be very proud of this environment, the more the Bulgarian government should do to preserve this area for future generations.
Many people see a contradiction between nature conservation and development. Is there such a contradiction and, if so, how do we get out of it?
There does not have to be a contradiction, we just need to balance saving our environment and development so everybody can benefit from both in the presence and in the future. And actually much of the economy depends on ecology. Skiing tourists, for example, will not come to a destroyed nature park.
You now have an idea of the peculiarities in the Bulgarian political life. What would happen if the German Vice Chancellor requested publicly to extradite a foreign MEP from your country?
Frankly, I still cannot understand how a Deputy Prime Minister requests a foreign MEP to be expelled out of the country because of supporting people in their call for the rule of law and for legal standards which apply to their country in the whole European Union, be it Bulgaria or Germany. The violent tone the Bulgarian Deputy PM used just shows how nervous he is about people fighting for their rights and even being supported by politicians from abroad.”
There were claims in our mainstream media that you came to take the livelihood of the people. How can we overcome media manipulation?
I can understand people being afraid of losing their income as this is what they are being told all the time. We need media freedom and media pluralism, a wide range of opinions and information to give people the chance of having a choice.
You started your political career very young. What advice can you give to young people who want to deal with politics in Bulgaria? How can they be motivated?
I think the best motivation for committing themselves is to have a look at all those courageous people protesting every day and every week, demanding for their right of having their own opinion, for democracy, media freedom and the rule of law. Those people give a very good example of what dedicating themselves to an idea worth fighting for means.