Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov was due in Kyustendil on October 31 2012 on his latest stop on a tour to discuss with local leaders in areas close to neighbouring countries the future approach of Bulgaria’s foreign policy towards other Balkan countries.
In early September, Bulgaria’s Cabinet agreed to the drafting of a conceptual document setting the foundations for the country’s neighbourhood policy.
Towards drafting this document, Mladenov has held talks with Bulgaria’s ambassadors to Balkan countries, and on October 30 started his series of visits to meet municipal, business and other leaders in a number of Bulgarian towns.
In the course of his meetings, relations with Macedonia have been a key talking point. Relations between Sofia and Skopje are regularly troubled by a nationalistic outlook in political and media circles in the former Yugoslav republic and there have been complaints from the Bulgarian community within Macedonia about that state’s attitude towards it.
“Before drafting a document on policy towards our neighbours, for me and for the Government it is important to hear what people think, especially those who like you are most closely connected with our neighbours,” Mladenov said during a visit to Blagoevgrad on October 29. “It is important that our position has the maximum support of Bulgarian society,” he said.
Mladenov met Blagoevgrad mayor Atanas Kambitov and regional governor Kostadin Hadzhigaev.
“What we can do together is to honour the past, because that is the way to build the future,” Mladenov told city councillors and citizens. He said that there should not be hesitation about speaking openly and directly about problems with Macedonia, because that is the only way to protect Bulgaria’s interests in the world. “If we create limits within the Balkans, we create limits for ourselves. What must be done is to create as many as possible opportunities for collaboration and exchange. The key instrument for doing this, as well as building active cross-border contacts, are cross-border co-operation projects.”
Bulgaria’s main concerns regarding the most recent European Commission report were that it did not reflect issues that are key to Bulgaria such as the topic of good neighbourliness, the attitude towards Bulgarians in Macedonia, Bulgarian entrepreneurs, for whom this state is becoming increasingly difficult, Mladenov said.
These issues will also be discussed with European Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, who was to visit Bulgaria on October 31, Mladenov said.
Mladenov called for the issue of Bulgaria’s relations with its neighbours not to be politicised, emphasising that so far the behaviour of all political parties in this country has been constructive and appropriate.
“We have achieved a high level of political dialogue with Greece and Romania, and conducting joint meetings makes it easier to overcome obstacles and problems that we had not been able to solve before. This is the way that relations with all of our neighbours should be,” Mladenov said on October 30 in Gotse Delchev, the second stop on his tour.
Mladenov met mayor Vladimir Moskov, the regional governor and municipal councillors.
“If we show equal respect to the history of our neighbours, we expect the same attitude to ours. Let us honour together not only dates in history, but also each other’s culture and find themes that unite us rather than divide us,” Mladenov said.
Five years of membership of the European Union is a sufficient time for us to be clear about what we have achieved and what our priorities are both in Europe and in our region. On the other hand, many things in our neighbourhood have changed in the past two years, we are aware also of the economic crisis into which someone have fallen. In this way, Mladenov summed up the reasons why the discussion on Bulgaria’s neighbourhood policy was starting now, a Foreign Ministry statement said.
There should be more opportunities for co-operation not only with Greece but also with Macedonia, because such exchanges create human and institutional contacts, which is important for the whole region, Mladenov said.
Obtaining citizenship is not just a matter of issuing a document, but a serious commitment and responsibility, Mladenov said at a meeting with residents of Petrich, responding to questions on the procedure for granting citizenship to Macedonians. Petrich was the third stop on the Foreign Minister’s tour of southwestern Bulgaria to discuss Bulgaria’s policy towards its neighbours in the Balkans.
For Petrich municipality, it is important to have good relations with its neighbours, because the closest towns to us are not in Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia, residents of Petrich and local government representatives told Minister Mladenov. The people of Macedonia are welcoming, but the policy that the government pursues is not in the public interest because the problems that the Macedonian institutions create interfere with mutual daily contacts and business, they said.