Bulgarian deputy PM raises obstacles for Macedonia’s EU, NATO accession

Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov. [Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria]

Bulgarian deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov stated on Saturday (8 December) that he would not let Macedonia join the EU and NATO, reacting to recent statements by the Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev about the Macedonian language that have also infuriated Athens.

Statements by Zaev in the Skopje parliament prompted the main Greek opposition party New Democracy to state that it would block the name change deal recently reached between Athens and Skopje after almost thirty years of dispute.

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Zaev reportedly said in the parliament in Skopje that the Prespa agreement he concluded with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would allow the Macedonian language to be taught in Greece. As the statement made big waves in Greece, Skopje issued a statement saying that ”language policies in both countries are not determined by the Prespa agreement, and we understand and respect that the question of what languages are taught in Greece is an issue of internal affairs and domestic policy.”

Bulgaria recognises Macedonia, but not the Macedonian language, seen as a Bulgarian dialect in which Serbian words and grammar have deliberately been implanted after 1944. However, this has not been an obstacle to relations. Bilateral treaties have been signed  without mentioning the Bulgarian or Macedonian language, but “the languages of the two countries according to their constitutions”.

Karakachanov, who holds the post of Minister of Defence, is the leader of the VMRO-BND party, which claims to be the successor to the historic Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.

Boyko Borissov’s GERB party’s majority in parliament depends on its coalition with the United Patriots: Volen Siderov’s Ataka, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria of Valeri Simeonov, and VMRO-BND. When the government was formed in May 2017, Simeonov and Karakachanov were appointed as Deputy Prime Ministers, while Siderov became leader of the United Patriot’s group in the National Assembly.

VMRO-BND explained that its new position was related to the “latest provocative statement by Prime Minister Zaev in the Macedonian parliament, in which he implies that the Prespa agreement identifies a Macedonian language, and that no one can object to it”.

“North Macedonia is a geographic denomination that also includes current territories of Bulgaria. Mr Zaev could as well ask that the Bulgarian dialect they use to be studied as an official foreign language in Bulgaria. This is unacceptable. This is a provocation”, says Karakachanov, as quoted by the website Mediapool.

Karakachanov also lashed out at the work of a common Bulgaria-Macedonian commission tasked to settle historic disputes.

“This is why in my capacity of leader of VMRO-BND and Prime Minister responsible for public order and security, I will ask the commission to come up with a clear and categorical statement that the history of today’s Macedonia is common with that of Bulgaria until 1944, and an annex to the Treaty for good-neighbourly relations would be added, in which the official authorities of the two countries recognise this. If they refuse – they will not obtain our support for NATO and the EU. I will not allow compromises with history.”

A bilateral treaty signed between Sofia and Skopje in August 2017 put an end to years of diplomatic tensions.

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Zaev was in Lisbon on Sunday, where he attended the congress of the Party of European Socialists that endorsed Frans Timmermans as Spitzenkandidat of the EU centre-left for next May’s European elections.

He didn’t comment on language issues, but on a scandal in which the name of Karakachanov is involved: the passport-for-cash scheme, reportedly under VMRO-BND’s patronage.

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He said the Bulgarian authorities have not sought his country’s assistance in relation with its investigation.

Zaev said the parliament in Skopje would finish the ratification of the Prespa agreement between 15-25 January.

“With this agreement, just as with the treaty with Bulgaria, we put an end to our bilateral issues with our neighbours”, the Macedonian PM said.

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