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Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov and Macedonian (then) Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Dimitrov (source: Republika)

A look back in time

Let’s go back in time almost two years which is not very long ago, when you sit down and think about it, but seems like an eternity ago when you contemplate the speed of time these days as accelerated by events in our world.

In January of 2019, before the government of Zoran Zaev forced through an illegal change to Macedonia’s Constitution and thus the name and identity change, I wrote “… relations with Bulgaria will worsen as the Bulgarians, emboldened by the Prespa Agreement and their own treaty on so-called “good neighborly relations” will start demanding more and more concessions from Macedonia — if Macedonia wants Bulgaria to agree to NATO and eventually EU membership.” I admit I got it wrong on NATO membership — Bulgaria readily agreed — but right on EU membership as current events are dictating.

The following month, February of 2019, after Zaev forced these things through, I wrote, “ Both Bulgaria and Greece have plenty of upcoming opportunities to wring more concessions for the next many years if this or a future government of Macedonia wants to enter the EU.”

Others wrote and said as much back then as well and it does not take a genius to predict such things if you have a modicum of understanding of both politics and human nature. And yet here we are today in the middle of October of 2020 and the Bulgarians are, yet again, threatening to block the start of accession talks with the EU. According to a news article by German outlet DW, “A document titled the ‘Explanatory Memorandum on the relationship of the Republic of Bulgaria with the Republic of North Macedonia in the context of the EU enlargement and Association and Stabilization Process’ caught the attention of the media in North Macedonia last week. The six-page memorandum, sent to 26 EU capitals from Sofia in August, lays out Bulgaria’s position on several historical issues. Key among them, as Sofia claims: ‘the ethnic and linguistic engineering that has taken place’ in North Macedonia since World War II.”

The gist of the rest of the article should not be unfamiliar: the Government of Bulgaria claims that a distinct Macedonian nation and Macedonian language are not real; that Macedonians are really “Bulgarians” and that the Macedonian language is really a “Bulgarian dialect.”

But now, of course, with the start of EU accession talks looming, Bulgaria is, as predicted, pressing its advantage as “a member of the club” as so many EU, American, and NATO officials repeatedly told Macedonia when it was ready to NATO join in 2008 — “You are not in the club and these other countries are in the club so you must agree to what they want” was the line given by the Western elites to Macedonia after the Greek veto at the NATO Bucharest Summit in April of that year.

And so now, it seems, Bulgaria is simply agreeing with that previous line of reasoning: “Still more steps to be taken to join the next club!” they fairly shout.

For his part, Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev warned Macedonians to expect a veto on the opening of those accession talks by Bulgaria. Nikola Dimitrov, who, as foreign minister, negotiated both the so-called “Prespa agreement” with Greece the so-called treaty on “good neighborly relations” with Bulgaria, was quoted as saying “It is not European for the Macedonian language to become an obstacle to our European future and integration. If the European Union somehow allows the Macedonian language to be an obstacle to our integration, then it will not deserve the adjective ‘European’ in its name, and I do not know if we can believe in such a European Union.”

Which is all fine and good and actually correct, except that this has all been done and said before and his authorship of and contribution to the so-called “Prespa agreement” underscores the fact that, working with his Greek counterpart, he essentially figured out how to agree with the Greeks on many points vital to Macedonia’s identity, heritage, culture and yes, language, performing acts of linguistic gymnastics to agree with the Greeks, get the agreement done and ratified and then to continue “onwards and upwards” as Dimitrov is fond of saying at every opportunity.

So now the Bulgarians are essentially saying “You came up with a deal with Greece that denied your identity, now do it with us or expect a veto.”

From a January 23, 2019 interview with AFP, we read this: “Speaking to AFP in his Skopje office, Dimitrov said he believed protesters, including critics in his own country who see the name change as an embarrassing concession, would some day come around. ‘I feel that I am definitely on the right side of history on this one, and I think that some years from now… even those who are now angry protesters, will say: ‘Looks like they were right’,’ he told AFP.”

I wonder if Nikola still feels this way.

Srdjan Cvijic of George Soros’ Open Society Foundation wrote back on January 17, 2019 and regarding Macedonia making all of these changes so that it could achieve EU membership, that “… compromise pays off, and that sacrificing entrenched notions of national identity to secure a common European future is worthwhile.”

The Bulgarians certainly seem to think this is the case and that Macedonians should sacrifice their “entrenched notions of national identity to secure a common European future.”

Isn’t that right, Nikola?

Proud American & Arizonan w/Hungarian ethnicity & passion for Macedonia, Hungary & Estonia. Traveler, PR man, history buff & wine, craft beer & cigar enthusiast

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