In the wake of a Commission report on Macedonia that underlines the country's "good" relations with its neighbours, the Foreign Ministry removed information from its website that was seen as irredentist by Bulgaria and Greece.
Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle tabled yesterday (16 April) a much-awaited report on Macedonia, commissioned by EU ministers last December to assess the state of relations of the candidate country with its neighbours, Greece and Bulgaria in particular.
The report underscores the on-going implementation of reforms and says the country is largely back on track, after the political crisis of January-February.
“Relations with neighbours remained good and steps have been taken on the bilateral relations with Bulgaria and Greece. Formal talks on the 'name issue' under the UN auspices took on new momentum during the reporting period. The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative tabled another proposal last week in talks in New York with the two negotiators and hope that this can lead to agreement,” the Commission statement says.
However, diplomats told EurActiv that the assessment by Füle’s office were way too optimistic. Bulgaria has held four rounds of talks with Macedonia in an effort to agree on series of measures for improving bilaterial relations. According to information obtained by the Bulgarian national radio (BNR), Bulgaria is not satisfied with the results.
Bulgarian news media also reported at length about the Macedonian Foreign Ministry having removed a document containing “estimates” on the number of “Macedonians” living in Bulgaria and Greece from its website. The information removed said 750,000 Macedonians live in Bulgaria and 700,000 in Greece.
These figures are seen both in Sofia and in Athens as grounds for future territorial claims. In Bulgaria, the latest census in 2011 showed that 1,654 Bulgarian nationals identified themselves as Macedonians. No ethnic Macedonians were counted in Greece's census.
According to the Bulgarian daily Trud, Macedonia removed the data just before the publication of the Commission report.
The modified document can be found on the Macedonian language version of the website, in the section ‘Diaspora’, then down to “????????? ?????????”, and clickable on „?????? ?? ???j????, ????????? ? ????????j?”.
However, a phantom version of the initial version of the document still exists on the ministry’s website, EurActiv has found. The document can be found here.
Diplomatic sources told EurActiv that Sofia would not give the go-ahead for Skopje to begin accession negotiaitions until the country ensures that it would not apply Article 49 of its Constitution.
The article reads that “the Republic cares for the status and rights of those persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighbouring countries.” Bulgaria and Greece see this text as irredentist, EurActiv was told.
Macedonia ‘not sure’ that the document exists
Vasilie Andonoski, responsible for public relations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia, said he was “not sure” about the existence of a document on the Ministry’s website, specifying the number of Bulgarians and Macedonians in Greece and Bulgaria. He promised to check and provide a more precise reply but did not call back at the agreed time.
In an interview with Bulgarian National Radio, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said he had no knowledge about such a document and could not comment further. “Such estimates [about the number of Macedonians abroad] cannot be an exact science”, he said.
The minister also said that Bulgaria insisted to sign a new bilateral treaty, while his country’s position was “better no treaty, than one that creates problems”.
“We have no territorial claims against any country, this is written in our constitution,” Poposki also said.
Greece considers that Skopje is misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. Similarly, Bulgaria considers that Macedonia is cherry-picking heroes and glorious episodes from its mediaeval history and the 19th- and early-20th century struggle against Ottoman rule.
Recently, Skopje angered Athens by erecting a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje. Both nations claim Alexander as a native son.
Similarly, an Macedonia-sponsored exhibition of mediaeval manuscripts in Brussels recently infuriated Bulgaria. The manuscripts mention Bulgaria and the Bulgarian language, and never Macedonia, which became an independent nation in 1991.
Macedonia has also invested heavily in badmouthing Bulgaria, the most striking example being the film “Third halftime” that depicts wartime Bulgarians as fascists, despite the Bulgarian government's decision to refuse Nazi orders to deport the 48,000 Jews in the country to concentration camps.
- Commission: Press points by Commissioner Štefan Füle
- BlogActiv, Reuniting Europe: Skopje counted 1.450.000 ‘Macedonians’ in Bulgaria and Greece