EU Must Be Enlarged in Balkans, Bulgaria Tells EC

Politics » BULGARIA IN EU | October 31, 2012, Wednesday // 18:55
Bulgaria: EU Must Be Enlarged in Balkans, Bulgaria Tells EC EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov (right) in Sofia on Wednesday, October 31, 2012.. Photo by BGNES

Bulgarian Foreign Minsiter Nikolay Mladenov has reiterated Sofia's support for EU enlargement in the Balkans, after earlier on Wednesday President Plevneliev and Prime Minister Borisov set conditions on Macedonia's EU accession in talks to Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele.

"When we were an EU candidate country, we gradually resolved key issues in relations with our neighbours that had been a burden for years. We are certain that the way that our neighbours in the Balkans, including Macedonia, must walk involves solving this kind of issues and identifying measures that improve trust between countries," Bulgaria's Foreign Minister stated Wednesday afternoon at a joint news conference with European Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fuele.

Commissioner F?le has the full support of Bulgaria in his work, because as a country that most recently joined the EU, Bulgaria has best seen the benefits of membership, he added.

"We stand for the idea that Europe should be expanded here on the Balkans. This is part of a major project to return peace and prosperity to our continent," Minister Mladenov said.

Mladenov made it clear he firmly believes that co-operation between Bulgaria and the EC Enlargement Directorate-General should increase so that the views of Bulgarian society could be appropriately reflected in the European Commission's initiatives.

EU Commissioner F?le said that Bulgaria has a key role in expansion, thanks to the country's successful experience in transition and its geographical location.

"Today I came to see how this potential can be fully implemented in the enlargement," Commissioner F?le said, adding that Bulgaria provides an important example for all countries in the region that want to become part of Euro-Atlantic structures.

He said that all the issues between Bulgaria and Macedonia could be solved on the basis of European values.

"We need to break away from the past, because accession negotiations foster a very favourable climate for the development and strengthening of good neighbourly relations, Commissioner F?le said.

Minister Mladenov expressed hope that by the end of the year a plan would be drafted and co-ordinated to "show the Bulgarian, Macedonian and European societies that our two countries are able to assist each other on Macedonia's road to the EU in the same way that we have already done for 20 years".

Earlier on Wednesday, during his meeting with Fuele, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev made it clear that Bulgaria believes Macedonia is far from ready for EU accession talks because of the anti-Bulgarian propaganda of the authorities in Skopje.

“Bulgaria plays a key role in enlargement - a very welcome role. Thanks to its experience with successful transition and its unique geographic position, Bulgaria has a lot to gain from the enlargement process and also a lot to offer especially when it comes to its immediate neighbours - former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. I came today to discuss how Bulgaria's potential vis-?-vis the region could materialise fully and how the European Commission can help Bulgaria play an even more prominent and positive role,“ Fuele said in his statement in Sofia.

“Bulgaria as a Member State sets an important example to the countries of the region striving to become part of the Euro and Euro-Atlantic structures. I also came to Bulgaria today to better understand how Bulgaria's  current policy especially when it comes to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is matching its own enlargement vision and potential as a key player in the region,“ he added.

“We understand that Bulgaria has concerns in this respect. But Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have strong and deep ties and we are convinced both countries can address and solve any open issues in a good neighbourly spirit based on the EU values and we are also making this point in our contacts with Macedonian authorities. I welcome the fact that Presidents have exchange letters, and that Ministers Mladenov and Poposki are contributing to improving relations between the two countries. I am confident that through constructive dialogue and common understanding real progress can be achieved,“ Fuele concluded.

Earlier, Bulgaria's President Plevneliev has thus in effect reiterated the position of Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov who recently made it clear that Bulgaria does not support Macedonia's EU entry unconditionally.

In a related development, in a special statement in August 2012, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov reacted strongly to hate speech against Bulgaria in Macedonia media.

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 YugoslaviaJoseph 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.

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Tags: Macedonian media, Macedonian language, Berlin Treaty, San Stefano Treaty, Skopje, Bozhidar Dimitrov, name dispute, greece, Aegean Macedonia, Pirin Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia, Southwest Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad District, Georgi Dimitrov, USSR, Joseph Stalin, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Tito, Josip Broz Tito, Bulgarian Communist Party, Communist Bulgaria, communist regime, Macedonians, macedonia, FYROM, propaganda, Omo Ilinden Pirin, Nikola Poposki, Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, Todor Petrov, world macedonian congress, ultranationalist, MEPs, human rights, Bulgarian Cultural Club in Skopje, EU enlargement, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fuele, Stefan Fule, EU accession, Nikolay Mladenov, Foreign Minister
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