Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov warned EU hopeful North Macedonia on Thursday (20 June) against what he said was “anti-Bulgarian rhetoric” and appropriation of Bulgaria’s history as its own, saying it “must stop”.
North Macedonia suffered a heavy blow when EU ministers failed to reach consensus for opening EU accession talks on 18 June, despite having reached a historic agreement with Greece on the country’s name.
Bulgaria has been a strong supporter of the EU integration of the Western Balkans, including its neighbour North Macedonia. However, press reports in both countries in recent weeks have revealed different interpretations of recent history.
Bulgaria, whose statehood was established in the seventh century, considers that the former Yugoslav republic, which is known under the name of Macedonia only after the end of World War II, is stealing episodes of Bulgaria’s medieval and more recent history.
In an exclusive interview for EURACTIV, North Macedonia’s new President Stevo Pendarovski warned of growing potential for tensions with Bulgaria, primarily related to the work of a joint commission that deals with the two countries’ common history.
Skopje and Sofia have concluded an agreement on good neighbourly relations and agreed to set up a joint commission to work on disputed issues such as history, language or ethnicity. According to reports, this commission has made little progress, and the opposition in Bulgaria is criticising Borissov for being too lax with the neighbouring country.
“The Bulgarians have started complaining in Brussels about the commission’s work, complaining that there have been no results… Informally, they are saying that if there are no results, ‘we will block’,” Pendarovski said in the interview.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment the lack of consensus at EU level to open accession talks with North Macedonia, Borissov said:
“They still have a lot of things to improve. Don’t get me wrong, but until they argue about Gotse Delchev, whether he is Bulgarian and Macedonian, until this pettiness continues, about heroes who have fought both for Bulgaria and Macedonia, about the land of their birth, and our best songs are linked to this. Until this is their subject, and the [Bulgarian] opposition asks me what the bilateral commission is doing, they should better come of age. Don’t get me wrong.”
Gotse Delchev (1872-1903) was a Bulgarian revolutionary active on the territory of today’s North Macedonia, which was still part of the Ottoman Empire at that time. In North Macedonia, he is also seen as a national hero and a Macedonian.
The director of the North Macedonian Institute for National History and head of his country’s team in the bilateral commission on history, language and ethnicity, Dragi Georgiev, recently said North Macedonia would never recognise Gotse Delchev as Bulgarian.
Bulgaria takes such statements as extremist and offensive.
President Pendarovski also hinted in the interview that recognising Delchev as a Bulgarian was a red line Skopje might not be ready to cross.
Borissov was asked if the delaying of the start of accession talks with North Macedonia would strengthen the anti-EU and anti-Western forces in the neighbouring country. He replied:
“We need time for the commission (the commission on history, language and ethnicity under the bilateral agreement) to finish its work. They [Skopje] may say “Bulgaria is stopping us” or “Bulgaria is making obstacles”, but I cannot allow this [to continue]. Bulgaria did everything, and they went up to the sky. Now they have to make compromises in the commission. And the anti-Bulgarian rhetoric must stop”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]