Strained relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia
As tensions between the Balkan neighbours continue to simmer over historical and national differences, North Macedonia’s interior ministry announced on May 7 that it had temporarily barred a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament and four others from entering the country because they were “potential violators of public order.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Ivan Kondov, on 10.5.2023, said at the press conference that Bulgaria expects the EU candidate country to effectively protect all citizens without distinction. He was referring to North Macedonia and added that: “Instead, we are witnessing attempts to silence the Macedonian Bulgarians’ voices by bringing unfounded allegations against them, pressuring them with lawsuits, demonising them in the media, especially on social media.”
At the press conference, Kondov discussed the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia and pointed to the latest developments regarding the attitude of the North Macedonian authorities towards Bulgarian citizens. Kondov also pointed to alleged hate speech and threats against the Bulgarian community in North Macedonia. He also reminded that on May 6, Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev, who is the Spokesperson of the EPP Group for Enlargement and Southern Neighbourhood, Bulgarian Memory Foundation President Milen Vrabevski, and another three persons were barred from entering the Republic of North Macedonia for a commemoration at a Bulgarian military cemetery near Novo Selo. The border authorities delivered documents to Bulgarian citizens that they are on a blacklist in the Republic of North Macedonia border control system.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs all of Sofia’s partners about this unprecedented act contrary to the declared intention of Skopje to maintain good neighbourly relations and achieve its obligations. Formal letters will be sent to the EU institutions. Kondov emphasised the need for the government of the Republic of North Macedonia to build public support for the inclusion of Bulgarians in the country’s constitution. The lack of public support for guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens points to a serious problem concerning the country’s Integration into the EU. The statements of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria point to the escalation of relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia in recent months.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, responded by arguing that the inclusion of Bulgarians in the constitution would remove the argument that there is discrimination against any community in North Macedonia.
“I don’t want to speculate, but I doubt there is any “deal” between our radicals and their (Bulgarian) radicals to feed each other. For the Bulgarians, the whole campaign – in the EU, in the Council of Europe, through international bodies – is that there is massive State discrimination against them in North Macedonia. They refer primarily to the statements of our opposition, to their views,” Osmani said.
Regarding the denial of entry to North Macedonia by MP Andrej Kovatčev, Osmani said he never felt better than when he said in Sofia that people who provoke and create tension will not be allowed into North Macedonia, which he agreed with prime minister Dimitar Kovačevski.