Brussels, Mar 26 (RFE/RL) - Bulgaria's President
Zhelyu Zhelev stood next to NATO Secretary General Javier Solana
yesterday in Brussels to praise the western military alliance.
Zhelev said NATO, as well as the European Union (EU), should open
their doors to the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Latvia's President Guntis Ulmanis and Estonia's President Lennart Meri
were also in Brussels to meet and talk to NATO and EU officials.
Each of these presidents is an advocate of his country's early
admission to NATO and the EU. And each wanted to demonstrate and
emphasize his country's readiness to enter the western institutions.
Zhelev also used the occasion to criticize last week's vote in Russia's
State Duma on the CIS-USSR issue. He said that it has shown the reason
for Bulgaria to strive hard for Nato membership.
Ulmanis and Meri made similar comments.
Zhelev and Ulmanis today met Jose Cutileiro, Secretary General of
the Western European Union - then, one by one, Ulmanis, Meri and
Zhelev met the President of the European Commission, Jacques
Santer, and the EU minister responsible for relations with Eastern
Europe and the CIS, Hans van den Broek. Each of the presidents will
visit the European Parliament.
Zhelev, Ulmanis and Meri presented a range of statistics to
demonstrate how well their countries are advancing toward membership in
the European structures.
Bulgaria is considered among the least likely of the Eastern European
countries to be considered for either NATO or EU membership anytime
soon. Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania still require visas for travel
to EU countries.
EU officials have showed concern about Bulgaria's Socialist
government's economic policies. They have decried stagnant
privatization and the slow pace of reform.
Zhelev himself yesterday said that Bulgaria's government "lives in
the past," having pursued a return to collective farms and new
restrictions on the media.