Monday, January 22, 2007

Anti-Bulgarianism in Macedonia

The commemoration of the 79th anniversary of the death of Mara Buneva, a Bulgarian rebel who fought against Serb terror in Macedonia in the late 1920s, turned into a scene of anti-Bulgarian activities in the centre of the Macedonian capital Skopje on January 13.

About 30 hooligans with masks and sticks attacked participants in her memorial service, which took place at Buneva’s memorial stone near a bridge in the city. Among the participants were Bulgarians, Macedonians with Bulgarian identity and representatives of Bulgaria’s Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO). The attackers threw stones chanting “Bulgarians, Tartars” and “Die, Bulgarians, it’s Macedonia here”.

The Macedonian Interior Ministry initially reported that only one person had been injured and hospitalised. But the hospital in Skopje reported that four or five people were harmed in the attack. That same night, Buneva’s monument was pilfered and all the flowers and wreaths around it were burnt. According to witnesses, the Macedonian police not only didn’t interfere in the fight, but watched from the side. IMRO accused the Macedonian government in organising the attack.

The Bulgarian newspaper Standart reported that, according to Skopje-based journalist Victor Kazunov, in the evening of January 12 there had been a controversial TV show on the channel Sky Net . It called on the public to send text messages in support of stopping the “the celebrations of the Bulgarophiles for Mara Buneva”.

According to Kazunov, this campaign meant that the attack had been planned in advance. According to the journalist, during the past few months there has been “an incredible, hysterical, anti-Bulgarian, chauvinist campaign” in the local media. Reportedly a group of Macedonians of Bulgarian descent sent a protest letter to the Bulgarian ambassador to Macedonia, Miho Mihov. In it, they asked that Bulgaria respond to the pressure being put on Bulgarophiles in Macedonia.

The media mentioned the attack. But the media played down the incident. The Macedonian daily Utrinski Vesnik rejected accounts that four or five people were injured. Instead, the paper reported just two victims, Dragan Popov, and Miroslav Rizinski, an MP candidate during the most recent Macedonian parliamentary elections.

According to the paper, police called a number of suspects for interrogation, but so far no one has been recognised by witnesses at the commemoration. Suspects were thus released and the police still haven’t detained anyone, the Macedonian newspaper Dnevnik added.

Macedonian television A1 reported that Bulgaria wanted an official explanation on the incident from the Macedonian embassy in Sofia.

However, according to the A1 report, the Macedonian foreign ministry still had not commented on the incident. Only A1 mentioned that the Bulgarian-Macedonian relationship could suffer as a result of the attack. Bulgarian and Macedonian leaders said the relationship between the two countries was improving, but the incident showed otherwise, A1 said.

The reaction in Bulgaria was stern. On January 15, Macedonian ambassador to Bulgaria Abdiraman Aliti was called to the Interior Ministry. There, the director of Europe 1 Directorate in the Foreign Ministry Kossyo Kitipov gave Aliti a verbal note.

Moreover, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said he expected the Macedonian authorities to take quick actions to solve the case. He added that he would make the same demand at the Macedonian embassy in Bulgaria, Focus news agency reported. The Macedonian media artificially and unnecessarily contribute to anti-Bulgarian feelings in Macedonia, said Kalfin on Nova TV on January 14. Kalfin said the Macedonian government wanted to maintain a good dialogue with Bulgaria. But at the same time, he said: “We would like to see a more serious engagement from the Macedonian politicians to stop this anti-Bulgarian campaign”.

The incident in Skopje is considered part of a ongoing anti-Bulgarian campaign in Macedonia, said former Bulgarian ambassador to Macedonia Angel Dimitrov.

The incident was a proof that certain circles in Macedonia continued their attempts for leading active propaganda against Bulgaria, said the spokesman of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, Dimitar Tsantchev. He added that it was obvious that some people in Macedonia still preferred to live in the past and remain closed to European values and standards.

IMRO’s reaction on the incident was also uncompromising. In a special declaration, the party called for an immediate cease of dialogue between the Bulgarian government and the authorities in Skopje regarding Macedonia’s possible accession to Nato and the European Union.

“The political position the Bulgarian Government so far has had toward Macedonia – to close their eyes to such incidents in the name of maintaining a good relationship between Sofia and Skopje – is obviously in vain. They have the exact opposite effect in Skopje. This position is accepted in the anti-Bulgarian circles in Skopje as indecisiveness and a lack of interest in Bulgaria towards the rights and interests of its citizens living on the territory of Macedonia,” the declaration read.

A new Macedonian encyclopaedia includes the Bulgarian towns of Blagoevgrad, Petrich, Melnik and Sandanski as Macedonian land.

The encyclopaedia includes Thessaloniki, Skopje, Kavala, Bitolja, Tetovo, Kumanovo and others as part of these territories.

“The provocations are not accidental,” Bulgarian historian professor Bozhidar Dimitrov told Focus news agency. According to Dimitrov, Macedonian nationals seek to distance Macedonia from the EU and Nato, because the country’s membership in the international organisations would put an end to claims on its neighbours’ lands.

Bulgaria has been supporting Macedonia’s bid to join Nato and the EU. It was also the first country to recognise Macedonia as an independent country in 1991. Bulgarian visas were made free for Macedonians when Bulgaria had to introduce a visa regime to its neighbouring countries, which are now the EU’s external borders.

Bulgarian officials may speak of good and improving relationships between the two countries. But some people in Macedonia think differently.

No comments: