Bulgaria supports the European integration of the Republic of North Macedonia but that should not be at the expense of Bulgaria’s national interests, it was agreed at a meeting of political leaders in Sofia on September 30.
The meeting was called by President Roumen Radev and attended by, among others, the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and the Bulgarian co-chairperson of the joint commission with North Macedonia on historical and educational issues.
Before North Macedonia is invited to begin negotiations on EU membership, Radev wants Bulgarian support for this not be at the expense of national history, language and identity.
Relations between Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republic were vexed for years, especially over contests over figures and events in history, but became officially more cordial with the ratification of a good-neighbourliness treaty.
For all that, there continue to be difficulties in achieving consensus on Gotse Delchev, a revolutionary figure from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, about whom Sofia and Skopje have not reached agreement.
Speaking after the September 30 talks, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said: “I have always said that we are one people. Let’s accept that we are fraternal peoples. This fraternal war should not continue on the side of propaganda from Skopje, because we have no closer people, no one is closer to us”.
Borissov said that if Bulgaria blocked North Macedonia from the EU, history would show that while the other 27 EU countries had supported North Macedonia, Bulgaria had not.
He said that Bulgaria had put in enormous efforts. “Our position, from the first day to now, is that it is crucial that they be accepted into the EU. However, it is extremely important that they understand that it depends on them and that it cannot happen at our expense – reshaping history”.
Krassimir Karakachanov, leader of the nationalist VMRO party that is a minority partner in government and who is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, threatened ahead of the meeting that if Bulgaria unconditionally backed North Macedonia’s EU accession invitation, he would pull his party out of government.
Speaking after the meeting, Karakachanov said: “These people make fun of us and spend their time playing around with us”.
He said that the next meeting of the joint commission on history was set for October 15, just before the European Council meeting of October 17 and 18.
Karakachanov said that it was not a good option “to separate the accession processes of Albania and Macedonia, because for us these are two countries in the region about which Bulgaria has stated clear political intentions to move for Nato and EU membership”.
Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said that Bulgaria always had supported the European prospects of the countries of the Western Balkans, including the Republic of North Macedonia, “but this support has never been unconditional”.
At Bulgaria’s insistence, the inclusion of the implementation of the good-neighbourliness treaty had been included as part of the process.
Radev said that the good-neighbourliness treaty had been expected to solve decades of problems in bilateral relations and provide an impetus and new prospects to the development of these relations.
He said that the lack of specific conditions in the treaty had led to a drastic lag in the European integration process of North Macedonia.
In spite of the great efforts by the Bulgarian side, the joint commission had not achieved any particular results “and our neighbour’s behaviour is creating uncertainty and mistrust”.
“In these circumstances and with the expected decision in the middle of this month to open negotiations for the Republic of North Macedonia, the participants in today’s meeting agreed in principle that actions are needed to develop a national position with clear requirements and criteria that protect the Bulgarian national interest,” Radev said.