Recently, there were problems in Bulgaria with the registration of UMO Ilinden PIRIN (The United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden–Party for Economic Development and Integration of the Population. The Bulgarian transliteration spells out as PIRIN), the party of ethnic Macedonians. Some Bulgarian-Macedonians claim they can’t openly declare themselves Macedonian. Macedonia also has Bulgarians who cannot declare themselves Bulgarian. What do you think of all this?
I think Bulgarians are not (that well) culturally and politically organised in Macedonia.
There was an attempt (to organise the pro-Bulgarian RATKO) six years ago.
Yes, but it didn’t happen. There wouldn’t be any problem to do that now – Macedonian ethnic freedoms are exemplary. The two governments say that there are some 5000 (Bulgarians in Macedonia and Macedonians in Bulgaria) on each side. I know that there was an argument going on in Strasbourg (about the prohibition to register the then OMO Ilinden Pirin) while I was an ambassador. (The argument was decided in favour of Macedonians) and now they will participate in elections. I think that this was their purpose – to win at local elections.
In Pirin Macedonia.
Yes. They could probably have a couple of mayors.
How do you see relations between the two countries developing from now on?
Some 10 to 20 years ago, cultural relations in the whole of the Balkans were catastrophic, but things are improving. A book of Macedonian poetry and anthologies of Macedonian prose and drama were recently published in Bulgaria. So we are not China and Japan to each other any more. Unfortunately, economic relations are still catastrophic, even if there is good political will on both sides. But the problem, I think, is that our economies are too alike and don’t complement each other. (As to nationalism), the closer Bulgaria gets to Europe, the less prominent nationalism will be. This is valid for Macedonia, too. We are now in a process of reconciliation with Albanians. As to Bulgarians, we don’t have any pronounced nationalist sentiments. There is no person who would have a problem saying that he or she is Bulgarian in Macedonian.
Some weeks ago Macedonia arrested Bulgarian journalist Yovo Stefanovski – one of those involved in the failed RATKO.
I was in Sofia back then (when RATKO was being established) and I don’t have detailed information about this – I was informing myself from Macedonian and Bulgarian newspapers.
What do you think of Albanian nationalism in Macedonia? I know the story of an Albanian who, when asked about the reasons for the 2001 war, started talking about human rights. Only when prompted to cut to the point, he pointed to a spot in the distance and said: “Do you see (the village of) Grupchin over there? This is where the Bulgarian–Albanian border has to be”. Do sentiments like this still run underground in Macedonia?
The phenomenon of Albanian nationalism was more pronounced amid politicians than the masses. The masses don’t want war. Even while the conflict went on, there was no crisis point. This is a sign that multi-ethnic sentiments are already inbuilt in Macedonia, which has always been multiethnic. Branislav Sarkanjac, a professor in philosophy, wrote this book Komsi kapicik. It’s a Turkish name and it means a small door. In earlier times, each house in Macedonia was separated from the other with a wall that had a door in it – kapicik. If they went through this door, the comitadji (revolutionaries) could walk the whole city without ever stepping on the street. In Macedonia, these doors were often between two religions, too. Komsi kapicik is the traditional Macedonian logic of co-existence. And it would last another 2000 years if politicians don’t set it afire (laughs).
Will the European Union and NATO cure Balkan nationalisms?
They should be careful not to import it because the Europeisation of the Balkans is possible only if Europe doesn’t Balkanise.
We see it happen in Kosovo.
We see it in Holland, what Kosovo? It happens in the centre of Paris, too. But the problem is hidden – no diplomat will tell you that. And this is exactly why Europe is closing its doors at the moment, right in front of our nose and the nose of Croatia. Some say that this is a measure to protect Europe from immigration or protect the European labour market, but the essence of things is that Europe wants at least 10 years to strangle the vital Balkan nationalisms. In 10 to 15 years, I don’t think they will be that virulent as to infect Europe.
Should NATO should hurry to accept Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, for the sake of security?
NATO is a different thing. NATO should hurry to include these countries within the next two, three years because of the economical development of the Western Balkans. Only then can the Balkans start to speak of fading nationalism.
We are hearing voices that Macedonia should be first to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
It is normal that the neighbours are first to recognise a new country. It was the same with Macedonia – Bulgaria was first to recognise us. Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, I think, would be first to recognise Kosovo – after the Serbian “amen”. Kosovo can become a country only after the Serbian amen. It is either war or an amen. But the amen will be given – these are the realities of Kosovo. So Kosovo is no problem for us. It would be a problem if it becomes a grey criminal zone. So, from this point of view, it is better for us to have Kosovo take over the responsibilities of a state and evade that.
Macedonians who want Bulgarian citizenship have to go through a very long procedure.
And it will become even longer because of Europe. There are Bulgarian citizens who want Macedonian citizenship, too, but the figure is manifold on the side of Bulgaria. Three years ago (Bulgarian political scientist Ivan) Krustev came out with five or seven examples of Macedonian-Albanians who took Bulgarian passports and signed themselves up as Bulgarian. He said that a Schengen passport is more important than national feelings and made me laugh a lot. We, frustrated Balkan people, think that national feelings are much more important.
National sentiment is a mobile thing. Today you feel a Turk, tomorrow you feel whatever you want. It is not the 19th century. We have an agreement about double citizenship with Serbia, Albania and the US as well. So what if a Macedonian takes an American passport? He will become a national traitor? The young generation laughs at this stupidity. Nationalisms are funny. There is no nationalism that is less funny or less tragic – tragic in its effects on others and funny in its effect on you. And in the past 200 years, it is like we had this clown in the Balkans, who would take the knife and slaughter serious people. It’s just terrible, terrible and funny. People work their land, do business, theatre, write books, and a funny guy comes and slaughters them – it is frightful. This is the Balkans.
Steps have been taken to take the RATKO case to the International Court in the Hague, IMRO-BNM (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Bulgarian National Movement) leader Krasimir Karakachanov told The Sofia Echo. On June 13 2006, Bulgarian journalist Yovo Stefanovski and Macedonian citizen Alexander Markoski were charged to six months in jail for causing provocations and are now in custody pending appeal. According to Bulgarian-Macedonian sources, it was Macedonians who had thrown smoke bombs in the building where RATKO was being established, trying to provoke unrest.
The IMRO-BNM recognises the right of 5000 people in Bulgaria to call themselves Macedonian.
When asked what language they speak, 70 per cent of Bulgarian-Macedonians say that they speak Bulgarian, diplomatic sources told The Sofia Echo.
The IMRO-BNM says that OMO Ilinden PIRIN is paid for by Skopje, and says that RATKO was not paid for by Bulgaria.