Bulgaria has repeatedly shown goodwill towards the Republic of Northern Macedonia, but nevertheless Skopje is using hate speech against our country, institutionalized in textbooks and the media, which call Bulgarians "Tatars" and "fascists". With its current behavior, RNM cannot start EU accession negotiations without a clear roadmap, which must be part of a mutually agreed framework for negotiations with the EU.
Such a position was expressed by Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovachev in a letter to Swedish politician Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, who accused Bulgaria of blackmailing the Republic of Northern Macedonia on its path to the EU "for reasons far in history". Bild rebuked our country in an article on the Balkans, published in Prpject Syndicate.
In his answer to Bild, the Bulgarian MEP reminded that more than 130,000 RNM citizens have acquired Bulgarian citizenship on the basis of origin, but their existence has been completely neglected by Skopje. He called on the Swedish politician to join the efforts for true European reconciliation and to reject the brutal crimes and lies against Bulgaria, which are part of the communist legacy. Here is the full text of Andrei Kovachev's letter to Carl Build.
"I was rather surprised by your article (The Dangerous Balkan Standstill), which was uncritically translated in many Bulgarian media outlets.
In your article you claim that North Macedonia is currently being “blackballed by Bulgaria for reasons that go far back in the region’s history (but that lack any contemporary relevance).” I would like to use this opportunity to bring to your attention some facts about the recent history of the relations between the two countries after the independence of the current RNM from communist Yugoslavia. The ruling elites in Skopje after 1944, before and after its independence have been utilizing hate speech and lies, they have been falsifying and manipulating history for decades now. Their hatred has been institutionalized since school text books and media outlets refer to Bulgarians as ‘tatars’ and ‘fascists’. While more than 130 000 of RNM citizens have acquired Bulgarian citizenship based on origin, their existence has been totally overlooked by Skopje. At a population of around 2 million, about half of which are Roma, Vlachs and others, this figure is substantial. In the past these people have been persecuted, nowadays they are targeted with verbal abuse and discrimination, and they fear to openly self-determine as Bulgarian. The discrimination and violence have been carried out not only by ordinary RNM’s citizens, but also by some representatives holding official positions. A recent case was of Mr Zoran Ivanov – the then Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Macedonian Information Agency (MIA), who was sacked after a vulgar comment about Bulgaria’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva. Prior to that, the RNM contestant to Eurovision Vasil Garvanliev, was subject to death threats and hate speech after he mentioned in a TV interview he has a dual citizenship - and Bulgarian, based on origin. This hatred started by the Communists is certainly not part of the founding European values. In this regard, I would expect that you are going to join me on the path of the true European reconciliation and reject the communist legacy of brutal crimes and lies. You may wonder why so little has been heard about this issue internationally. Bulgaria, in a stark contrast to Greece, never wanted to export the problem to the international scene as we always believed that we will manage – in brotherly fashion, to overcome the painful legacy of communism. Unfortunately, our efforts have been one-sided and thus fruitless so far.
The Republic of North Macedonia does not comply with Copenhagen criteria in regard to respecting the rights of its citizens. This has also been recognized in the European Parliament’s annual reports on RNM. The numerous ugly instances of hate speech, violence and discrimination against people who openly express their Bulgarian identity and/or background have been denounced in the EP’s annual reports on the Republic of North Macedonia. For further reference you can find the reports here: 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019-2020.
The EP has been underlying the importance of historic reconciliation; of overcoming the deep divisions of the totalitarian past, which still exist today. The only reason the European Parliament ceased to adopt these texts referring to discrimination in 2017 and 2018 was the signing of the Good Neighbourly Relations Treaty. Just as Bulgaria, the EP hoped that the momentum of the signing of the treaty would lead to actual improvement of the relations between Sofia and Skopje. With its current behavior RNM cannot start negotiations for EU accession without a clear roadmap, which should be part of the mutually agreed EU negotiating framework. This is something Skopje doesn't agree to for the time being. Bulgaria expected that the Treaty will be a step in the right direction to overcome the divisions from the communist dictatorship, but we have been very much disappointed to see that the post-Yugoslav elite has no courage to carry out the needed changes. To the contrary – the ruling class in Skopje has used all efforts after the signing of the Good Neighbourly Relations Treaty to portray Bulgaria’s position as a ridiculous request, related solely to age-old history. It is very unfortunate to see so many Western European thinkers influenced by this state-sponsored propaganda. Now, the relations between the two countries are even worse than before the signing of the Treaty – there are more and more instances of hate crimes and the situation has become unbearable for anyone who openly declares themselves Bulgarian in North Macedonia.
The trust has been lost and needs to be re-build again. In the last 30 years, Bulgaria showed goodwill. Sofia was the first to recognise Skopje after its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia. We immediately gave the young republic military equipment in order to protect itself from a potential threat from the Yugoslavia, dominated by Milosevic's Serbia. We supported Skopje with food and fuel deliveries during the Yugoslav embargo. After its end, we defended the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the then Republic of Macedonia during the events of 2001. Bulgaria was one of the first to ratify North Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol in order to protect RNM from third-country influences. Historically speaking, the fact that the geographical area of Macedonia remained within the Ottoman Empire after the Treaty of Berlin was a huge drama for generations of Bulgarians, who – at the time - represented the largest ethnical community in the geographical area of Macedonia. Bulgaria has always supported with all its powers and means, even at the risk of its own existence, the struggle of the Macedonian Bulgarians for autonomy, liberation and independence in line with what was happening on the world stage. There is no doubt that both Bulgaria and I respect modern realities, which are a consequence after the dramatic events of the last century. This is not a party position, but the national position of the Republic of Bulgaria. It is not based on nationalism, but on the European values of justice and respect for the dignity and the rights of all citizens, regardless of their self-determination.
Only together, hand in hand, as part of the great democratic European family we can overcome the suffering and divisions of the past. This is the reason why the motto of the European Union is "United in Diversity". I would expect you, as an experienced and long-standing politician, to call on the political forces and academia in the RNM to find the strength to overcome the decades of division and discrimination against Bulgarians and Bulgaria. It depends on the candidate country when and how quickly it will become part of the EU - something that both Bulgaria and I want and have been working on for decades. I hope that you will have a little more patience and desire to receive information from various sources about the problems in the Balkans.
As an older EU Member I would expect both Sweden and you personally to have a bit more patience and willingness to gather information from different sources on the real problems of the Balkans"./BGNES