Bulgaria Tosses More EU 'Carrots and Sticks' at Baffling Macedonia

Diplomacy | October 26, 2012, Friday // 17:46|  views

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov made it clear Bulgaria has demands for Macedonia on the latter's path to the EU. Photo by BGNES

Bulgaria stands to win more than any other country from Macedonia's integration into the EU, therefore backing it wholeheartedly, according to a statement of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov.

"Bulgaria is the country that has the highest degree of interest in Macedonia making its way into the EU, fulfilling the criteria that are laid down in EU legislation. The security of this country, the stability of its society and the development of its citizens are in the interest of the entire region," Mladenov stated in the Bulgarian Parliament on Friday in response to questions from MPs.

"Our support for the European integration process is constructive and is based on our shared vision that all of our neighbors in the Western Balkans should be part of the EU. At the same time, Bulgaria will strictly adhere to the principle that this depends on the overall fulfillment of the membership criteria, which includes the principle of developing and maintaining good neighbourly relations", Minister Mladenov said.

He expressed regret that there about a "trend" in Macedonia's bilateral relations with Bulgaria that is in conflict with the Bulgarian-Macedonian declaration signed in 1999 on the principles of good neighborliness, adding that it stems from "the interpretation of history in a highly nationalistic spirit" by Macedonia.

"In recent years, Bulgaria has tried to solve the problem bilaterally. We have proceeded from the belief that the European road would make the government in Skopje adopt European principles and good neighbourly relations. Unfortunately, we have not seen that," Minister Mladenov said.

He stressed that Bulgaria has proposed to the Republic of Macedonia a joint roadmap to improve bilateral relations, "on the basis of purposeful steps and actions in this direction, but as yet there has still been no answer."

Mladenov further made it clear that Bulgaria's position at the upcoming European Council in December, which is to take a decision whether to start EU accession negotiations with Macedonia, "will depend entirely on whether the Macedonian government continues or changes its current line towards Bulgaria, and on its meeting the criteria set out in the European legislation".

At the same time, he explained that Bulgaria was not blocking Macedonia's path to the EU, because Bulgaria understands the need of the citizens of the country to benefit from the same advantages and opportunities that Bulgarian citizens enjoy after EU accession.

"How and in what way this road is traveled does not depend on Sofia, it does not depend on Brussels. It depends solely on the efforts of the Macedonian government," he said, adding, "At the same time, walking this road should not be at the cost of individual human contacts between Bulgarian and Macedonian citizens."

"For Bulgarian foreign policy to reflect to the maximum degree the consensus of Bulgarian society on this sensitive issue, serious debate is needed," Minister Mladenov underlined, emphasizing that "this was not a place for party politics".

In a special statement in August 2012, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov reacted strongly to hate speech against Bulgaria in Macedonia media.

Since the early Middle Ages, all the way to the first half of the 20th century, Macedonia and its Slavic population were considered part of the Bulgarian nation not just by Bulgaria but also by its neighbors and the international community. This is why from its National Liberation in 1878 till 1944 Bulgaria waged five wars attempting to unite all of the Bulgarian-populated lands in the Balkans, including Macedonia – after the San Stefano Treaty of March 1878 providing one state for almost all Bulgarian-populated regions was revised three months later by the European Great Powers in the Treaty of Berlin leaving the regions of Thrace and Macedonia out of Bulgaria.

After both World War I and World War II, however, Serbia/Yugoslavia kept control of 40% of the territory of the geographic and historical region of Macedonia, the so called Vardar Macedonia (which in 1991 became the Republic of Macedonia), Greece retained about 50% of the region – the so called Aegean Macedonia, while only 10% of the region – the so called Pirin Macedonia – remained in Bulgaria.

The foundations of the contemporary Macedonian nation were laid in 1943-44 by Yugoslavia's  communists at a special congress that also proclaimed the creation of a Macedonian language and a Macedonian alphabet designed to differentiate the dialects spoken in the region of Macedonia from the Bulgarian language and to underline the creation of a distinct Macedonian national identity.

The so called question about the perceived Macedonian minority in Bulgaria exists since the late 1940s when the dictators of the Soviet Union and communist Yugoslavia – Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz Tito – attempted to arrange the post-World War II order on the Balkans through the creation of a Balkan federation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

One of the provisions of this state engineering project of the two notorious communist dictators was the creation of a Macedonian republic within the future federation. For that to happen, the leadership of communist Bulgaria had to cede Pirin Macedonia to Yugoslavia in exchange for the territories of the so called Western Outlands (the towns of Tsaribrod (Dimitrovgrad) and Bosilegrad where the recognized Bulgarian minority in Serbia lives today).

This provision was accepted unconditionally by the Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov who acted under direct orders from Stalin. As a result, in the late 1940s, the Bulgarian Communist Party undertook an unprecedented campaign to force its own population in the Pirin Region (today's Blagoevgrad District in Southwest Bulgaria) to change its Bulgarian nationality and identity into the newly invented Macedonian one, and the official census figures out of the blue recorded that 250 000 Macedonians living in Bulgaria.

The campaign to force the people of the Blagoevgrad District to become "Macedonians" was dropped by the Bulgarian Communist Party after the entire project for a Balkan federation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia was killed with the falling out between Stalin and Tito in 1948-49 – a rift that had wide repercussions for Europe during the entire Cold War period. This left the population of Southwest Bulgaria – which was harassed by its own government on orders from Moscow – to shake off the imagined ethnic Macedonian identity imposed on it.

Ever since, however, the authorities in Skopje whose legitimacy relies primarily on the doctrine described by the Bulgarian historians as "macedonianism", i.e. the distinct national identity of the Slavic population of the region of Macedonia, have resurfaced claims of "hundreds of thousands of ethnic Macedonians" living in Bulgaria under some sort of "brutal oppression." Macedonian media cite as evidence for such claims statements by the so called ethnic Macedonian party "OMO Ilinden-Pirin", whose members according to publications in the Bulgarian media are paid from Skopje and Belgrade to declare themselves as "Macedonians."

The provocations in the Macedonian media on the "question" of "ethnic Macedonians" abroad seem to be in line with last year's construction of monuments in Skopje of Alexander the Great and the medieval Bulgarian Tsar Samuil, both of which are deemed to be great Macedonians by the government of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his party VMRO-DPMNE – a move that caused anger in Greece, ridicule in Bulgaria, and criticism by the European Commission.

Some 50 000 Macedonians have granted Bulgarian citizenship in the past decade, and that the figure has seen a staggering increase in the past couple of years, as many Macedonians are, in the worlds of Bulgarian historian, ex Diaspora Minister and current head of the National History Museum, Bozhidar Dimitrov, returning to their "Bulgarian roots."

As of 2010, it is much easier for Macedonians to get Bulgarian citizenship because the Bulgarian authorities no longer ask them to provide a document of Bulgarian origin – which is usually some sort of a church or municipal certificate from the time of their grandparents; instead, for the purposes of granting citizenship, the Bulgarian state has switched to assuming that all Macedonians are of Bulgarian origin.

Unlike Greece, which gets enraged by Macedonia's moves toying with the cultural heritage from the Antiquity period and is tangled with Macedonia in the notorious name dispute, Bulgaria's governments traditionally react to propaganda fits by Skopje with disregard, while the general public in Bulgaria accepts them with ridicule. To the extent that Bulgaria has made any claims towards Macedonia, those have boiled down to the refusal to allow Skopje to hijack Bulgaria's historical heritage from the Middle Ages and the 19th century Revival Period.

Bulgaria was the first sovereign nation to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia in 1992.

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Tags: Macedonian media, Macedonian language, Berlin Treaty, San Stefano Treaty, Skopje, Bozhidar Dimitrov, name dispute, greece, Aegean Macedonia, Pirin Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia, Southwest Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad District, Georgi Dimitrov, USSR, Joseph Stalin, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Tito, Josip Broz Tito, Bulgarian Communist Party, Communist Bulgaria, communist regime, Macedonians, macedonia, FYROM, propaganda, Omo Ilinden Pirin, Nikola Poposki, Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, Todor Petrov, world macedonian congress, ultranationalist, MEPs, human rights, Bulgarian Cultural Club in Skopje


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