Tens of thousands of Macedonians took to the streets of Skopje on Saturday over the so-called ‘French proposal’ aimed at unlocking the Bulgarian veto over their EU accession, amid calls from civil society over “ethnicide” and comparisons of Bulgaria to Russia’s stance towards Ukraine.
Sixteen years after North Macedonia was accepted as an EU candidate, while hoping to formally open accession negotiations, Bulgaria vetoed its path over issues regarding language, culture, and history, as well as claims of human rights violations of Bulgarians in the country. This also halted Albania’s path as the two Western Balkan neighbours were linked.
French President Emmanuel Macron then made a proposal to include the bones of contention from Bulgaria in the accession process.
Skopje refuted the deal and said it did not take the wishes of Macedonians into account, such as the right to call their language aand identity Macedonian and the non-including of historical issues in the negotiating framework- clauses directly in conflict with Bulgaria’s demands.
Following a disastrous EU-Western Balkan summit at the end of June where Skopje’s and Tirana’s leaders took aim at the EU and accused it of “impotence” over failing to reign in Sofia, diplomatic cogs have been turning.
On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron said at the NATO summit in Madrid that “We continued our consultations with the Macedonian and Bulgarian authorities, because our commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans is to be able to open the first chapters for Macedonia and Albania. Based on these consultations, I am convinced that we have found a compromise solution that suits everyone’s sensibilities. In the interest of Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia, acceptable to all.”
He did not give any further details on how, or if, a compromise had been found between the two, but Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said the “Macedonian language and identity” are protected by the proposal.
The news was confirmed by Skopje who used more measured language and said the proposal put forward was “the basis for a broad consultative process”. EU Council President Charles Michel was more enthusiastic and said he welcomed the agreement that “addresses concerns expressed.”
With no final deal yet, the following days were to be crucial in hammering out details.
However, tens of thousand of Macedonians took to the streets on Saturday, protesting against the French proposal and saying their ethnicity and language is not up for debate. Protestors held signs accusing Bulgaria of “ethnicide”.
Others such as Meto Koloski from the United Macedonian Diaspora compared the behavior of Sofia to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin said Ukraine and Ukrainians were invented by Stalin. Bulgaria’s President Radev says Macedonia and Macedonians were invented by Tito,” he wrote on Twitter while posting pictures of the protest.
“We do not need Europe if we have to be assimilated,” opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski told reporters before the start of the protest. “The answer is no for the latest French proposal.”
“If Europe is not ready to accept us civilized Macedonians where we belong, then we will wait until there are people who will understand that Macedonia and Macedonian identity is above and before all,” he added.
Sofia has so far remained tight-lipped on the details of the deal in what it says is an effort to allow Skopje to debate the issue without speculation.