Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sofia - Skopje: New High-Tension Power Line of the Balkans

Recently the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin stated that his country would not support unconditionally the EU integration of Macedonia. In the framework of the “historiography clash” between the two countries, this statement becomes extremely disturbing. Does Macedonia have to name its nation “western Bulgarians” and its language “Bulgarian” in order to join the EU? Why did Bulgaria wait for this moment to show its teeth...

Neighbours often quarrel about the paternity of some of their “authentic” products like food, music, etc. For example, Greece and Turkey often had and have such petty quarrels.
When Greece won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Number One” in 2005, its neighbour Turkey, which was absolutely delighted with the song otherwise, indulged itself in a rather sterile quarrel about the paternity of the “kemancha”, which the Greek team played on stage. According to Turkey, the “kemancha” is an authentic instrument of the Turkish Anatolian Black Sea region. Again, while the “döner” is famous in Germany as “Turkish sandwich”, France knows this meal as “Greek sandwich”. It is literally forbidden to order a “Turkish coffee” in Greece, for there this coffee is called “kafes ellinikos”.
The dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria is not that petty, however. Indeed neither Greece nor Turkey would ever like to give up on the paternity of “kemancha”, “döner” or “Turkish coffee”. However, even if they did so, they would not have lost their entire national identity.

Macedonia - hostage of its EU aspirations

Ivaylo Kalfin (photo: Bulgarian Post)
Ivaylo Kalfin

On 24th July, the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin stated that his country would not support unconditionally the EU integration of Macedonia. In the framework of the “historiography clash” between the two countries, Kalfin’s statement becomes extremely disturbing.
Although Bulgaria was the first to recognise Macedonia after its independence in 1991, it did only recognise the Macedonian state, not the nation and its language. According to Sofia, Macedonia is no more than a geographical term, and the Macedonians are no more than “lost Bulgarians” through “historical accidents”.
The chairman of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation- Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO-Bulgaria), Krasimir Karakachanov commented on Ivaylo Kalfin’s statement quite explicitly: “For the last 15 years IMRO-Bulgaria has been saying that we must lend a hand to Macedonia but by helping it we must also help it part with its false past and not assist it to become a state based on anti-Bulgarian feelings. We can start by the fact that it falsifies and appropriates a big part of Bulgarian history and we can end by saying that it attacks Bulgaria every chance it gets and pretends to have some made-up minorities”.
Krasimir Karakachanov was the first, who stressed that Bulgaria should put conditions to Macedonia, and only then support its accession to the EU. According to the IMRO-Bulgaria leader, one of those conditions must be the “re-writing of the Macedonian history”.
Krasimir Karakachanov
Krasimir Karakachanov

Macedonian institutions and media vehemently reacted to this rather unexpected statement of the Bulgarian Minister. That Bulgaria will be an EU member in January 2007 makes out of this vague statement a serious “warning”.
It seems that Macedonia will be the “hostage” of the neighbouring EU member-states in the future. While Greece disputes Macedonia’s name, Bulgaria questions the authenticity of the Macedonian nation and language. Does Macedonia have to name its land “Skopje”, its nation “western Bulgarians” and its language “Bulgarian” in order to join the EU?
Some EU member-states abuse their privileged position over their neighbours. And this politically short-sighted policy of blackmailing ruins the long-term peace strategy of the EU in the western Balkans.
Macedonia is the key to the pacification of the whole Balkan region. However Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, which respectively dispute the name, the nation, the language and the church of the country, do not help much their neighbour. Especially in a period when an independent Kosovo is in the making, it is very dangerous to insinuate that Macedonia is an “artificial creation of History”. The large Albanian minority of Macedonia could get the “message”.

Interesting timing

The statement of the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs happened to coincide with three major events in Macedonia:
- Just weeks before the general elections in Macedonia, Vlado Buckovski and Ljubco Georgievski, the two former prime ministers, proposed to celebrate the Ilinden Uprising together with Bulgaria. The nationality of those, who had participated in this famous Uprising of 1903, is now subject to a serious dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria. This is what makes the two former premiers’ proposal so special.
- Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) triumphed at the 5th July elections in Macedonia. VMRO-DPMNE is known for its pro-Bulgarian attitude.
- Ljubco Georgievski, former premier and current leader of VMRO-Narodna and one of the most fervent Macedonian nationalist, obtained the Bulgarian citizenship. This provoked a hot scandal in the Macedonian public opinion.
The outgoing Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski’s proposal might be an electoral manoeuvre. Foreseeing the victory of the pro-Bulgarian VMRO-DPMNE, he might have tried to loosen his party’s firm attitude towards Bulgaria at the very last minute.
Right after the victory of Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, the leader of the Bulgarian ultra-nationalist coalition ATAKA, Volen Siderov labelled the outcome of the Macedonian elections as a “victory against the foreign economic influence of Greece”. According to Siderov, the Macedonian economic space should be taken by larger part of Bulgarian companies since that was historically justified.
When the main spokesman of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, United Macedonian Organisation (OMO Ilinden-Pirin) was prohibited in February 2000 by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, the then ruling party of Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE remained stragely inert. The government was then accused of “unwillingness to protect its fellow-countrymen in Bulgaria” by the Macedonian mass media and the opposition. At that time, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE and prime minister was Ljubco Georgievski. And the opposition party was no other than Vlado Buckovski’s Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia
Volen Siderov (photo: haber7)
Volen Siderov
(SDSM).
Macedonia’s future prime minister Nikola Gruevski has made public his party’s mainly economic platform, “Renaissance in 100 steps”. Gruevski’s priority is the improvement of Macedonia’s poor economic situation: fight against corruption and high rate of unemployment, increase of the foreign investment, etc.
Only the economic renaissance can stop the massive immigration to Bulgaria. It is known that tens of thousands of Macedonians have applied for Bulgarian citizenship, and at least 7000 of them have already been approved. As one young Macedonian farmer from Staro Konjarevo pointed out, “There’s no money in being a patriot”.
As the future member of the EU, Bulgaria is a “poisoned ivy” for the Macedonian youth. The Bulgarian officials are aware of that fact. And the statement of the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs probably signals that Bulgaria will use that trump card whenever it can. That is why a very tough test of regional diplomacy is waiting for the new Macedonian government.
Unless being an ominous Cassandra, one can predict that the current uneasy relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria hint at the creation of a new “high-tension power line” in the Balkans.

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