Author: Assis. Prof. Marijana Nikolova Stamova, Institute of Balkan Studies with Center for Tracology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Republic of Bulgaria
The friendship agreement between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia, instead of being what it should be, i.e. to contribute to the rapprochement of the two countries, turned into an act that led to the opposite effects. We will try to give some explanations about what will happen. Of course, we cannot ignore the historical processes in the past, but we will not emphasize this dimension of the Agreement.
First of all, we should emphasize that the Agreement between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia was concluded between the two governments as a first agreement, or before the conclusion of the Agreement between the Republic of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. At the same time, it is known that the conclusion of the Agreement with Greece was initiated as a necessity for the Republic of Macedonia to change its name to the “Republic of North Macedonia” as a condition for the country’s admission to NATO and for starting negotiations for the country’s admission to the European Union. In fact, Bulgaria did not insist on that Agreement with the Republic of Macedonia, but agreed to sign it as a kind of introduction to the next agreement, conceived with Greece.
This did not create any problem, despite the fact that the public in Bulgaria, especially the scientific public, was not convinced that the name North Macedonia was the most appropriate, ie. this did not entirely exclude territorial claims, which could arise from Greece in the future towards the Pirin part of Macedonia, which is within the territorial scope of the Republic of Bulgaria. Even the governing structures and people in the Republic of Macedonia were surprised that Bulgaria, as a friendly country and a possible protector of Macedonian interests in the European Union, so easily agreed to that name. Of course, the role of Greece was crucial for imposing the new name. Greece is the oldest member state of the Balkan states, integrated into NATO, and subsequently into the EU. Thus, the role of Bulgaria in those and similar processes was marginalized, and for some, especially for the governing circles in Greece, it suited them in its entirety. Perhaps under pressure, Bulgaria chose to sign the agreement with the Republic of Macedonia, without expecting that it would be used as a motive for signing the agreement with the Republic of Greece, by which the Republic of Macedonia commits itself and is required to change its constitutional name. In this way, the signing of the agreement between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia happened both very easily and very quickly, and when something is rushed, it happens exactly like that, or rather, the complete situation is not fully explained and the possible positive and negative consequences of that action are not foreseen. So, the signed agreement was insufficiently designed and what is more important in many segments of the agreement – insufficiently applicable as an international act and unenforceable in the light of historical processes and developing historical relations between the two states.
It is known that the ratification of the Agreement between the Republic of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia did not happen easily. The majority of the Macedonian public did not accept and has not accepted the change of the name to “Severna”. They did not accept to give up his ancient history. The Greek state tried not to mention the name “Macedonia”, but still, as a concession on their part, they agreed to let it happen. The government of the Republic of Macedonia, led by the then Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, made great efforts to convince the people that with that act the conditions would be created, i.e. the last precondition for the accession of the Republic of Macedonia to NATO and for opening the way for negotiations with the EU will be fulfilled, and that there is nothing more to wait for.
The approach of the Albanian population in Macedonia, which participated in the government with a disproportionately larger number of ministers according to the population itself, was supporting the agreement. It was interested in Europe without taking Macedonian national interests into account. Despite that pressure, the referendum to change the name was not successful. In addition, in all probability and through various types of pressures and direct interference of structures by NATO and the EU, the foreseen constitutional changes for the name and all other constitutional additions were carried out. The concrete result of this was only the admission to NATO, and the key one – starting negotiations for the admission of the Republic of Macedonia to the EU – was missing.
The Bulgarian state was not satisfied with what happened to the Republic of Macedonia. Only later did the government of the Republic of Bulgaria realize that an injustice was committed against the Republic of Macedonia, but also against the Republic of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian state realized that with that agreement Greece got a chance to realize its territorial claims, not only by changing the name, but also feels that its territorial integrity in relation to the Pyrenean region is threatened by Greece. We understood that the Agreement between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia was actually framed, because taking into account the historical circumstances, the agreement will not be fulfilled, and thus Bulgaria will lose the Republic of Macedonia as a close and friendly country.
First of all, Bulgaria requested the revision of the agreement and its addition with an annex, which caused resistance among the Macedonian public, especially in relation to the opposition. Mainly due to domestic political needs, the opposition did not agree to such an agreement, and even less to possible amendments and additions. Thus, the idea remained to work on the fulfillment of that agreement, such as it is.
After the division of the Yugoslavian Federation, the Republic of Bulgaria was the first to recognize the Republic of Macedonia on January 15, 1992. But Bulgaria refuses to recognize the existence of the Macedonian language and history, because, relying on scientific knowledge, it advocates the thesis that the Macedonians were not a separate nation, but that they are part of the Bulgarian. During the communist period, volumes of books proved that such people and language did not exist. Even the government of the Republic of Bulgaria, when adopting the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia on November 17, 1991 after its independence, refused to include Bulgarians as a national minority, as other ethnic communities were included, claiming that Bulgarians are not a minority, but a majority of the people of the Republic of Macedonia. This is the reason why Bulgaria recognized the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, considering the Macedonians as part of the Bulgarian nation.
Bulgarian historiography, as well as many other world scientists, believe that the Macedonian nation did not exist before 1944. With the constitution of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (FNRJ) at the Second Session of AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) on November 29, 1943 and other constitutional transformations, the existence of both the Montenegrin and Macedonian nations as constituent nations was later recognized in Yugoslavia and thus six republics with five recognized nations were created. The Bosnian nation was not recognized, but only Bosnia and Herzegovina as a republic, which is made up of three nationalities (Serbs, Croats and Muslims).
The recognition of the Macedonian nation was accepted by the Macedonian people. During 1945, the first codification of the Macedonian language was made and the building of the cult towards the national question began. This was helped by the fact that other nations in Yugoslavia, as well as outside it, recognized the existence of the Macedonian nation and its language. A national cult began to be created around the language and historical figures, for whom there are historical sources where they declare themselves as Bulgarians. Some of the people who deal with the language issue are still celebrated in science today, and their followers cultivate this cult, of course, using the privileges of MANU and other institutions, but also from the Yugoslav security services.
Most of the academics who were first elected by the committee from Belgrade (which was called Central committe) were from the ranks of linguists dealing with the study of the Macedonian language, as well as from the ranks of historians. For Bulgaria it was not important. For Bulgaria, there is no Macedonian nation, just as there is no Macedonian language, which was a dialect of Bulgarian, although this language was used as an equal, it developed, it was artificially separated from Bulgarian, and extensive publishing activity was created and is being created in that language which spread among the population. So yes, now there are actually two different languages, and Bulgarian science does not accept that.
Of course, that fact of denial of the Macedonian language and the Macedonian nation has a negative impact on the relations between the two neighboring countries. In addition, Bulgaria’s participation in the Second World War on the fascist side, which was also mainly done in the name of Macedonia, had a negative impact on the attitude of the Macedonian people towards the Republic of Bulgaria. Bulgarian historiography itself has an influence on that, which, in order to adapt to Russian and Soviet attitudes, for a long time after 1945 considered its historiography from the Second World War as fascist. This was also influenced by the hegemonic policy of the USSR towards the Balkans. From time to time, it was encouraged by the Yugoslav state policy, which through the services of the OZNA (Department for the Protection of the People), then the UDB (State Security Administration) led anti-Bulgarian propaganda and claimed that the Pirin part of Macedonia belonged to Yugoslavia, i.e. to NR/SR Macedonia as its integral part.
In such historical circumstances, less than a century has passed since the existence of the Republic of Macedonia and the recognition of the Macedonian nation with the exception of official Bulgaria. Through the Agreement on Friendship, Good Neighbors and Cooperation, Bulgaria is trying to achieve recognition of the historical truth, especially considering the fact that Greece achieved a lot with the so-called Prespa Agreement. But one must take into account the fact that the EU firmly stood behind Greece, which is not the case with the Republic of Bulgaria.
In our opinion, this good-neighborly agreement, as it was concluded, is difficult to fulfill. The Macedonian state, relying on its own historiography, will hardly agree to change the instruments that have been introduced in its history. The Bulgarian state is right when it claims that there are falsifications in the Macedonian historical science, and the Macedonian side does not try to think about whether this is possible, accusing the Bulgarian side of that, with the French proposal, it is asking for unrealistic and impossible changes.
Over the years, an antipathy was created on the part of the Republic of Macedonia towards the Republic of Bulgaria. The cult of scientific and political figures was built on the anti-Bulgarian cause. Part of the Bulgarian public is also to blame, which has historical figures to respect, but still insists on the names of figures for the Bulgarian clubs in Macedonia, which in the past “wronged” against Macedonia and are not unanimously and positively accepted in Bulgaria.
According to our assessment, with the elimination of mistakes on both sides, with flexibility, concessions and patience on both sides, Skopje and Sofia, the Agreement has the possibility to be fulfilled and to implement its provisions. The French proposal provides this possibility. It is most realistic to approach gradual rapprochement. The work of the multidisciplinary commission so far and in many cases shows an additional aggravation of the tension between the two states, as well as a more difficult perception of the conclusions reached and the decisions that are made.
*On 12.02.2019 The constitutional amendments come into force, which fulfill all the conditions for applying the name “Republic of North Macedonia”, abbreviated “North Macedonia”. In the analysis, the name Republic of Macedonia will mainly be used until the period of changing the name of the state, and after that period the “new” name will be used – the Republic of North Macedonia. The Agreement on Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation was concluded between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia on August 1, 2017, and entered into force after the exchange of ratification instruments between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs on February 14, 2018.
This analysis is part of the project: „Demystifying the (un) neighborly relations on the path to the EU: The case of North Macedonia and Bulgaria“, through the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI).The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of EUROTINK-Centre for European Strategies and can in no way be considered to reflect the views of the Canadian Embassy in Belgrade and the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives.