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Bulgaria: As New OSCE Chair, Sofia To Focus On Fight Against Terrorism

Bulgaria, which today formally takes over the rotating chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, says the fight against international terrorism will top its agenda. RFE/RL looks at the priorities of the security organization and its readiness to face new challenges.

Prague, 15 January 2004 (RFE/RL) - Bulgaria today assumes the yearlong rotating chair of the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Bulgarian officials stress that improving cooperation in the fight against terrorism will be one of the main priorities.

Ivan Najdenov is Bulgaria's former envoy to the Vienna-based OSCE. He told RFE/RL the OSCE can play a unique role in this regard. "Taking into consideration the activities of other international organizations, like the UN, EU, and the Council of Europe, Bulgaria will seek to further improve coordination -- so that each organization, with the specific means at its disposal and according to its specific membership, can make a concrete contribution in the fight against terrorism," he said

Anna Kreikemeyer is an analyst with the German-based Center for OSCE research. She told RFE/RL that the OSCE will continue to focus on the root causes of terror. In that way, she says, it does not overlap with other international bodies. "The common denominator of the antiterror efforts of the OSCE is, as far as I see it, still related to the so-called root causes of terrorism, which means economic and social, and political problems," she said.

The Bulgarian chair will have to counter perceptions that the OSCE has lost influence to other more powerful players on the international stage. It's been seen as weak in trying to resolve crises in areas like Moldova and Chechnya, among others.

Kreikemeyer says to doubt the OSCE's continuing relevance in international affairs would be to underestimate its impressive successes. But she added: "In [the present international] context, the OSCE is not so powerful -- but that was always the case. The OSCE is only as strong as its member states want it to be."

The OSCE initially focused its activities on the former communist countries in Eastern Europe but has in recent years devoted more resources to Central Asia and the Caucasus. Najdenov says this refocusing is likely to continue. "Knowing the special interest of the EU toward Southeastern Europe and the EU's prospects for these nations, we will have to review, in close cooperation with the EU, OSCE activities in the region," he said. "And that could probably lead to a lesser involvement in the western Balkans."

Kreikemeyer says the OSCE is not neglecting the Balkans. But she says the needs in Central Asia may be more acute because of the relative distance from the EU and NATO. She adds that the task will not be easy because of what she says is a lack of interest on the part of Central Asian governments in cooperating with international bodies. "There is a kind of formal, facade behavior toward international organizations on the part of the political elite," she said. "They still rely on their traditional political links like clan and [client] structures, which are for them much more reliable. But at the same time they try, of course, to make use of the interest and the financial means of international organizations."

For the future, Kreikemeyer says the OSCE could expand into areas like trying to forge a dialogue between cultures. But she says for now it has its hands full and does not dare open what she called a "Pandora's box."