From: Krassen Nikolov |
Skopje’s Actions Create Political Tensions in Bulgaria

President Rumen Radev openly criticised Prime Minister Kiril Petkov for his visit to Skopje in January, explaining that the visit was “hasty” given recent actions by Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski. A few days ago, Pendarovski met with representatives of Ilinden-Pirin, an illegal organisation in Bulgaria, which the Bulgarian authorities accuse of separatism.

From Sofia’s point of view, Pendarovski’s actions appear to be a provocation amid attempts by the new governments in the two countries to reconcile. According to the Bulgarian president, “any positive signal can be interpreted as some concessions from Bulgaria.” Radev reiterated the demand for changes to the Macedonian constitution to ensure equal rights for Macedonians with Bulgarian identity in the neighbouring country.

“Macedonian Bulgarians are fighting for equality, which is guaranteed in their constitution. They are fighting for their full integration into public life in the country. This is radically different from the separatist attitudes and minority claims professed by the people President Pendarovski meets. Every hasty action of the Bulgarian government, every positive signal, can be misinterpreted as some concessions from the Bulgarian side. The Bulgarian prime minister’s visit to North Macedonia was hasty. I had frank conversations with him,” Radev said.

The Bulgarian president claims that “Bulgarian diplomacy should fully exercise its professional capacity, not trust external expertise, non-governmental organisations and not succumb to external pressure.”

President Radev says Bulgaria is open to dialogue, although politicians from the Republic of North Macedonia have toured European capitals and avoided Sofia in the past year.

“I am just happy that this dialogue has started. I keep in touch with President Pendarovski. We will look for a suitable moment for a high-level meeting, but it also depends on his actions,” commented Radev, who questioned the possible meeting with his Macedonian counterpart this month.

On Tuesday, Pendarovski explained that the constitution of North Macedonia should not be revised, rejecting Bulgaria’s main demand. He appeared surprised by the Bulgarian irritation over his meeting with representatives of the OMO Ilinden.

“Who was bothered by this meeting? There is nothing controversial in my speech and that of my interlocutors. This is not contrary to the 2017 agreement. If anyone is worried about the meeting of the President of North Macedonia with Macedonians from anywhere in the world, this is something else and this is not my problem or it should not be our problem. There is nothing in the background in this meeting. For two and a half years now, I have not refused anyone who wants to see me. Before that, I hosted citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia – Bulgarians, and I do not think there is anything wrong with that. President Radev also met with citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia with Bulgarian identity and I do not see what the problem is,” Pendarovski was quoted as saying by the Bulgarian Telegraf Agency.

Bulgaria says it seeks equality for Macedonians with a Bulgarian identity within North Macedonia, while OMO Ilinden is seen as a separatist organisation.

OMO Ilinden-Pirin was officially established to promote the rights of people in Bulgaria who consider themselves Macedonians. It has been trying to register as a political party since the early 1990s, succeeding in 1999, but the following year the Constitutional Court declared the party illegal on the grounds of separatism.

Bulgaria believes that OMO Ilinden-Pirin is undermining the rights and freedoms of other people through these actions. According to the 2001 national census, the number of people who identified themselves as Macedonians in Bulgaria was 5,071.

Bulgaria was later convicted before the European Court of Human Rights for refusing to register the organisation, but the country still has no intention of enforcing the ruling.