North Macedonia hopes it will overcome issues with neighbouring Bulgaria over the two countries' common history with “intense communication”, Foreign Affairs Minister Bujar Osmani said in a statement on September 19.
Relations between the two neighbouring countries have been strained for years particularly over historical events and figures that are claimed by both sides, but relaxed after Sofia and Skopje signed a Friendship Treaty in August 2017. However, Skopje unilaterally terminated the joint committee with Bulgaria set up to resolve the issues related to their common history in mid-December after the issue of the famous historical figure Goce Delcev, claimed by both countries, became a stumbling block.
Delcev is a revolutionary figure who fought for an independent Macedonia at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century but the issue for the joint committees is whether he belongs to Macedonian or Bulgarian history.
Earlier in September, Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said that his country will block North Macedonia’s first intergovernmental conference with the EU if no agreement is reached on controversial historical issues between the two countries.
Osmani noted that the government’s priority is to have good relations with its neighbours and that the issues with Bulgaria can be overcome thanks to the treaty.
However, the question of which country can lay claim to Delcev has caused tensions in Skopje, where supporters of the right-wing opposition VMRO DPMNE protested in mid-September, accusing the government of betraying Delcev’s memory in negotiations with Bulgaria.
“Delchev is our last bastion, Delchev is our fortress, Delchev is our Bear Stone and we shall not give up a span, nor a millimeter from Delchev,” VMRO DPMNE wrote in a Facebook post with pictures from the rally.
EU officials expect to launch the first intergovernmental conferences with North Macedonia and Albania in December 2020.
Skopje’s entry to both the EU and Nato was previously blocked by its long-standing dispute with another neighbour Greece, which it finally solved by renaming the country North Macedonia, which unblocked its EU and Nato bids.
However, similar issues have now been raised by Sofia. Macedonian news agency MIA reported on September 17 that the Bulgarian government has sent EU member states a document outlining issues with North Macedonia should be resolved prior to the start of negotiations.
In the document, published by MIA, Bulgaria says that the term “Macedonian” historically refers to a geographical origin, not a national identity and claims that the Macedonian language was artificially created after the WWII. This angered Skopje and politicians commented that it is seriously eroding the good relations between the two countries.