Osmani before Nova: Relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia are at the Lowest LevelDiplomacy | December 19, 2021, Sunday // 14:01| views
Immediate talks between Bulgaria and North Macedonia and decisions by January. This is what the foreign minister of our western neighbor wants. In a special interview with Nova TV, Bujar Osmani said he hoped our country would make a U-turn in the negotiations for North Macedonia's membership in the European Union, but also said the six-month deadline was too long.
We meet in days when the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia are discussed more and more often. There has been a new wave in recent days. Have you heard and read Kiril Petkov's interview with the Financial Times, in which he says that we are ready to make a U-turn on the negotiations?
- First of all, thank you for the opportunity for this interview. Unfortunately, the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia are at the lowest possible level, including in the trust between us. I follow, of course, the situation in Bulgaria. It was an extremely important year for us to start negotiations. There were three electoral processes in the Republic of Bulgaria, a caretaker government… and this did not help to overcome differences and lift the veto or blockade.
The fact that there is political power in Bulgaria already gives us hope that two legitimate authorities can sit down and talk on all issues and the first messages give optimism, because that is exactly what we ourselves said. There must be a comprehensive approach. History - yes, it is important, but every day we make history, we create history.
We have a new government since the beginning of the week. Do you already have contact with our new foreign minister or the prime minister?
- You know that there was a telephone conversation between the two prime ministers - Zaev and Petkov. In which these issues were discussed, the fact that if there is now political power in Bulgaria, it must mean that there is a greater impetus for talks on the merits, which will lead to a solution to the differences.
What did Kiril Petkov say in this conversation? Did he promise you something, did he set deadlines?
- I think that this new approach with the inclusion of the present and the future is an important message for us. I have said several times in public that 6 months is a very long period for us, because not only is the country waiting too long for this process, the authority of the European Union in this region is facing a serious challenge.
When did this conversation take place?
- On the first day after the Prime Minister took the oath in the National Assembly.
What impressions did your prime minister had after meeting ours?
- He was left with a positive feeling, because we are returning to a normal communication in which the focus is - in addition to the past, to talk about the future.
However, are you worried that Petkov's intentions may be the same and that the coalition partners may think differently?
- We also followed the debate in the formation of the coalition, the different nuances between the different parties. However, the responsibility lies with the government in both countries. There are also differences between the different parties in the Republic of North Macedonia.
You said six months is a long time?
- I accept only one argument why no solution has been found so far, because there was no political cabinet. Now there is really no reason to give long deadlines, when there is a political cabinet, there is a stable majority in both the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia. We can sit down tomorrow, continue the talks and have a decision in January.
Last year we had power and then we vetoed you. You know the motives then - they said that you do not comply with the negotiating framework and we cannot give the green light.
- We had intensive negotiations with the previous political government, intensive talks, we exchanged ideas, in many moments we were very close to decisions, but of course, this government was in a pre-election situation, in an internal political situation that made it difficult to find of decision.
Are you ready for any compromises? Bulgaria's request is for the language to be called the official language of the RNM, and what do you want, what should it be called?
- As proposed by the European Commission. Macedonian language. Language derives from the right to self-determination in each country. They recognize countries, not the attributes that those countries have. Therefore, we believe that this is not a request that should be a dispute or an obstacle on the way to EU membership, but we believe that this proposal of the European Presidency - both sides to have their unilateral positions in the EU on language, and the EU itself to accept both positions. For us, this is a solution to the problem. For all other issues that are not part of the package, within the 5 + 1 package we have given compromise solutions.
One of the other reasons is Skopje's demand that there be no claims to the recognition of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.
- The Republic of North Macedonia will not interfere in the internal structure of the Republic of Bulgaria in terms of the organization of its citizens. The Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Bulgaria have different structures in terms of the ethnic organization of citizens. In our country, the constitution recognizes ethnic communities. The Constitution states - the Macedonian people, parts of the Albanian, Turkish, Roma, etc. In Bulgaria, this thing does not exist in its Constitution. Our position is that this is an issue on which Bulgaria itself will decide how to organize. We have no intention of interfering in how the Republic of Bulgaria will be organized. Regarding the other questions - the hate speech, the work of the historical commission, the inclusion of Bulgarians in the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia, the issue of rehabilitation of victims of communism, the short and long name of the country, we answered, but unfortunately , we did not receive a response from the Bulgarian side.
However, other Member States have stopped you over the years. You mentioned yourself - Greece, France vetoed you in one of the years, Bulgaria. Have you done well with other countries and are they ready to accept you?
- At the last council in Brussels, as well as the previous one in June, 26 countries voted for Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia to start negotiations. Only the Republic of Bulgaria was against.
What kind of important points does the 2017 Treaty Good-neighbourliness mark?
- I will start with the statement of Prime Minister Petkov, who said that we need to form working groups to focus not only on history but also on infrastructure, economy, energy, etc. This is exactly what the 2017 contract provides for.
The treaty provides for two instruments. One is the intergovernmental commission, which includes several ministers led by foreign ministers. These are 6-7 ministers from our side and 6-7 from yours, with whom we should speak most responsibly and discuss where we have progress, where we have no progress and where we should focus in the future. And these groups that Prime Minister Petkov is talking about are, in fact, a return to the main instrument of the Treaty - the intergovernmental commission with all the groups that are part of this commission. Unfortunately, we have wanted the second meeting of the intergovernmental commission to be held for a year, but we have no answer from the Republic of Bulgaria. Ah, this is the best tool
The second instrument is the Commission for Historical and Educational Affairs, which must find common ground between the two countries and the people. This commission initially made some progress - a common text was reached for 5 individuals on how to interpret their role. 2 periods were also agreed. It had to continue with the same dynamics and recommendations for textbooks.
The region has no alternative but the EU. We are not on the periphery, we are in the heart of the Union. The region is surrounded by member states. There is no way the Union can have a hole in its heart. The holes in the body are either for bleeding or for foreign influence. This is what the region can become if it is not invested in.
Starting negotiations does not mean membership tomorrow. This will take years. Someone has calculated that about 200 times from the beginning of the negotiations to the end, decisions will be made by compromise. The Republic of Bulgaria can stop the road to North Macedonia 200 times.
We do not forget that Bulgaria was the first to recognize the Republic of North Macedonia when it was Macedonia - as independent. We had a great relationship. After the signing of the good-neighborly agreement, there was an increase in economic exchange by 20-30%, the attitude of the people changed. And instead of using this energy to strengthen the relationship, we are now in a pre-contractual situation and the relationship is at its lowest level. We will not give up partnership and friendship.
After the accident, we seem to have shown that we can be on good terms?
- That's right, I am grateful for the attitude of the Bulgarian authorities. I have a positive attitude towards the way the Bulgarian state has presented itself and I am sorry that we cannot have the same attitude on all other issues of public life.
We see Bulgaria as an EU because it is an EU country. And now I think that the key in Bulgaria is whether this region will move in a positive direction or enter a destabilizing model with all the consequences across the continent.
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