Bulgaria asks Skopje to table anti-hate roadmap

North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. [EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI]

North Macedonia’s government should come up with a roadmap for recognising common history, rewriting textbooks and fighting hate speech against Bulgaria, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said, commenting on a landmark interview given by North Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev.

Read also: Bulgaria spells out conditions for unblocking North Macedonia’s EU path

In the interview, Zaev basically admitted that his country and Bulgaria had common history.

The opposition party in Skopje VMRO-DPMNE was quick to lash at Zaev and ask for his resignation, while in Sofia, the VMRO party of Krassimir Karakachanov said words were not enough, and asked for written commitments.

Zaev, who is also the leader of the Social Democrat party, has been advocating rapprochement with Bulgaria, while the VMRO-DPMNE party, formerly led by Nikola Gruevski, has professed anti-Bulgarian politics and rhetoric still present in media and in textbooks.

History books in North Macedonia describe Bulgarians as descendants of tribes of thieves from Tatar origin.

In the Bulgarian perspective, the Slav population of North Macedonia and the Bulgarians are the same people, separated by history. Also, textbooks and other propaganda  in Skopje frequently speak about “Bulgarian fascists”, referring to the World War Two period when Bulgaria was allied with Germany and the Bulgarian army held the territory of present-day North Macedonia.

In his interview to the Bulgarian agency BGNES on Wednesday (25 November), Zaev said he was opposed to the “ethnic description of fascism”, and said Bulgaria and his country had a common history, with some episodes with a more Macedonian angle, and others – with a more Bulgarian angle.

The interview caused a storm in Skopje, with Christian Mitskoski, president of VMRO-DPMNE (EPP-affiliated), blasting it as treason to the country’s interest.

In Bulgaria, the interview was received positively, but the deputy prime minister Krassimir Karakachanov, who apparently has the last word on relations with Skopje said words were not enough. Karakachanov is the leader of VMRO, a historic party with roots in the struggle for freeing Macedonia from the Ottoman empire.

North Macedonia’s government should come up with a roadmap for recognising common history, rewriting textbooks and putting an end to hate speech against Bulgaria, Karakachanov said.

Referring to the roadmap, the Bulgarian deputy prime minister said: “We want a written plan, we want a road map. We want this condition to be very clear in the agreement with the EU and it should be clear that we can stop this process at any time if the agreement between Bulgaria and Macedonia is not implemented.”

Karakachanov also stressed that there should be “deadlines, as the EU accession negotiations process […] can last up to 10 years.”

According to Karakachanov, Zaev had gained “courage” in an attempt to warm relations between Sofia and Skopje after Bulgaria vetoed the start of Macedonia’s EU membership negotiations.

(Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com, Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

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