The leader of the ethnic Albanian opposition party in North Macedonia, Zijadin Sela, has said the French proposal to unlock Bulgaria’s veto over Skopje’s EU accession path is acceptable, amid growing pressure from neighbouring Albania.
Following a proposal from the French that some areas of dispute, centered on culture, language, and identity, are integrated into the accession process, Macedonian society has been split on whether to approve it.
Sela met with Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and said that everything leading the country towards the EU should be supported, adding that Macedonians do not have another alternative.
He also called for the inclusion of the Albanian language in the Constitution as more than 20% of the country speaks it.
Meanwhile, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said it would be a “big mistake” if Skopje did not accept the proposal.
“It is about choices and now is the time to make a choice. My instinct and humble opinion tells me that it would be a big mistake not to accept them. It would be a big one because the country can be left far behind and no one will have the will to come back…so don’t do it, just don’t do it,” he said in an interview with Macedonian TV.
Rama underlined that if North Macedonia rejects the French proposal, Albania will seek to proceed separately on the issue of negotiations.
“Albania has now passed the point where it can go alone and of course, we will ask to go separately if North Macedonia will not accept it. But I am saying they must accept it because there will not be another proposal, it is final, and you do not want to sit in front of that door for another 17 years,” he said.
He continued that the door must be opened so that everything can be discussed.
“Every question will be answered in the dialogue between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, so open this door, open it now”, he said.
However, the process is not that simple. On Saturday, tens of thousands 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 “ethnocide” and activists made comparisons between Bulgaria’s rhetoric and that of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ukraine.
“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 civilised 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.
Meanwhile, President Stevo Pendarovski convened the National Security Council on Sunday to discuss the proposal.
He said it was acceptable and recommended the government add a sentence to the document stating that “from the moment of the opening of negotiation with the EU until their conclusion, if there will be any effort by any party, Bulgarian or any other, to affect the Macedonian language and identity, then Macedonia will withdraw from the talks immediately.”