Macedonian FM Accuses Sofia of 'Inventing' Skopje's Anti-Bulgarian Propaganda

February 14, 2013, Thursday // 02:08
Bulgaria: Macedonian FM Accuses Sofia of 'Inventing' Skopje's Anti-Bulgarian Propaganda
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki. Photo by EPA/BGNES

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki has accused the Bulgarian authorities of deluding the Bulgarian public about the existence of "anti-Bulgarian propaganda" in the former Yugoslav republic.

"It is on purpose that in Bulgaria they are creating the impression an anti-Bulgarian atmosphere is being formed in Macedonia. This is not true," Macedonia's Foreign Minister said in an interview for the Bulgarian daily Presa published Thursday.

"This is an artificially engineered sentiment which does not correspond to the realities. But it is used in order to support the position that through firmness, through setting barriers to Macedonia, something can be achieved," Poposki declared.

In his words, the decision of the Bulgarian Cabinet and President to block the setting of a date for the start of Macedonia's EU accession made in December 2012 was not in Bulgaria's best interest.

He believes that it was due to the position of certain factors in Bulgaria playing with nationalist feelings.

"Good-neighborliness is not created through contracts but through sincere and specific actions. Don't do unto others what you don't want others do unto you," he stated regarding Bulgaria's demand that Macedonia sign a bilateral friendship treaty.

"It is not a demonstration of high [moral] standards to block somebody from outside the EU in order demonstrate that you can," Macedonia's Foreign Minister added.

In his words, in the weeks to come, the fate of the proposed Bulgarian-Macedonian friendship treaty will become clear.

He did state, however, that Macedonia "prefers the approach of specific projects" such as new border crossings and new infrastructure.

According to Poposki, focusing on Macedonia's attempts to claim Bulgarian history and Bulgarian heroes as its own cannot provide for a better future.

"In the Balkans, each nation has its own identity and development. You won't find two Balkan nations agreeing on history 100%," he stated.

Since the early Middle Ages, all the way to the first half of the 20th century, Macedonia and its Slavic population were considered part of the Bulgarian nation not just by Bulgaria but also by its neighbors and the international community. This is why from its National Liberation in 1878 till 1944 Bulgaria waged five wars attempting to unite all of the Bulgarian-populated lands in the Balkans, including Macedonia – after the San Stefano Treaty of March 1878 providing one state for almost all Bulgarian-populated regions was revised three months later by the European Great Powers in the Treaty of Berlin leaving the regions of Thrace and Macedonia out of Bulgaria.

After both World War I and World War II, however, Serbia/Yugoslavia kept control of 40% of the territory of the geographic and historical region of Macedonia, the so called Vardar Macedonia (which in 1991 became the Republic of Macedonia), Greece retained about 50% of the region – the so called Aegean Macedonia, while only 10% of the region – the so called Pirin Macedonia – remained in Bulgaria.

The foundations of the contemporary Macedonian nation were laid in 1943-44 by Yugoslavia's  communists at a special congress that also proclaimed the creation of a Macedonian language and a Macedonian alphabet designed to differentiate the dialects spoken in the region of Macedonia from the Bulgarian language and to underline the creation of a distinct Macedonian national identity.

The so called question about the perceived Macedonian minority in Bulgaria exists since the late 1940s when the dictators of the Soviet Union and communist Yugoslavia – Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz Tito – attempted to arrange the post-World War II order on the Balkans through the creation of a Balkan federation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

One of the provisions of this state engineering project of the two notorious communist dictators was the creation of a Macedonian republic within the future federation. For that to happen, the leadership of communist Bulgaria had to cede Pirin Macedonia to Yugoslavia in exchange for the territories of the so called Western Outlands (the towns of Tsaribrod (Dimitrovgrad) and Bosilegrad where the recognized Bulgarian minority in Serbia lives today).

This provision was accepted unconditionally by the Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov who acted under direct orders from Stalin. As a result, in the late 1940s, the Bulgarian Communist Party undertook an unprecedented campaign to force its own population in the Pirin Region (today's Blagoevgrad District in Southwest Bulgaria) to change its Bulgarian nationality and identity into the newly invented Macedonian one, and the official census figures out of the blue recorded that 250 000 Macedonians living in Bulgaria.

The campaign to force the people of the Blagoevgrad District to become "Macedonians" was dropped by the Bulgarian Communist Party after the entire project for a Balkan federation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia was killed with the falling out between Stalin and Tito in 1948-49 – a rift that had wide repercussions for Europe during the entire Cold War period. This left the population of Southwest Bulgaria – which was harassed by its own government on orders from Moscow – to shake off the imagined ethnic Macedonian identity imposed on it.

Ever since, however, the authorities in Skopje whose legitimacy relies primarily on the doctrine described by the Bulgarian historians as "macedonianism", i.e. the distinct national identity of the Slavic population of the region of Macedonia, have resurfaced claims of "hundreds of thousands of ethnic Macedonians" living in Bulgaria under some sort of "brutal oppression." Macedonian media cite as evidence for such claims statements by the so called ethnic Macedonian party "OMO Ilinden-Pirin", whose members according to publications in the Bulgarian media are paid from Skopje and Belgrade to declare themselves as "Macedonians."

The provocations in the Macedonian media on the "question" of "ethnic Macedonians" abroad seem to be in line with last year's construction of monuments in Skopje of Alexander the Great and the medieval Bulgarian Tsar Samuil, both of which are deemed to be great Macedonians by the government of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his party VMRO-DPMNE – a move that caused anger in Greece, ridicule in Bulgaria, and criticism by the European Commission.

Some 50 000 Macedonians have granted Bulgarian citizenship in the past decade, and that the figure has seen a staggering increase in the past couple of years, as many Macedonians are, in the worlds of Bulgarian historian, ex Diaspora Minister and current head of the National History Museum, Bozhidar Dimitrov, returning to their "Bulgarian roots."

As of 2010, it is much easier for Macedonians to get Bulgarian citizenship because the Bulgarian authorities no longer ask them to provide a document of Bulgarian origin – which is usually some sort of a church or municipal certificate from the time of their grandparents; instead, for the purposes of granting citizenship, the Bulgarian state has switched to assuming that all Macedonians are of Bulgarian origin.

Unlike Greece, which gets enraged by Macedonia's moves toying with the cultural heritage from the Antiquity period and is tangled with Macedonia in the notorious name dispute, Bulgaria's governments traditionally react to propaganda fits by Skopje with disregard, while the general public in Bulgaria accepts them with ridicule. To the extent that Bulgaria has made any claims towards Macedonia, those have boiled down to the refusal to allow Skopje to hijack Bulgaria's historical heritage from the Middle Ages and the 19th century Revival Period.

Bulgaria was the first sovereign nation to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia in 1992.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev himself comes from the southwestern Bulgarian town of Gotse Delchev which is located in the wider historical and geographic region of Macedonia.


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