A negotiation process has been initiated under the mediation of France for the settlement of the language-history conflict between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, which has been going on for many years. The Paris administration presented a draft proposal, called the “French Proposal”, to the parties regarding the settlement of the dispute, which constituted a major obstacle for North Macedonia, which applied for European Union (EU) membership in 2004, to join the union. The Bulgarian Parliament accepted the “French Proposal” on 24 June 2022 and decided to remove the veto, which prevented North Macedonia’s EU membership, by putting some conditions. On the other hand North Macedonia stated that it will start negotiations if the proposal is updated. The Government of Skopje has started to evaluate the updated “French Proposal” together with its political partners. However, this situation caused a reaction in the opposition. The largest Macedonian opposition party in the country, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Macedonian National Democratic Union (VMRO-DPMNE), staged a protest and asks the government to reject this proposal, arguing that the “French Proposal” pursues Bulgaria’s interests and makes Macedonian language, history, identity and culture controversial. In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents to your attention the views it received from Plamen Ralchev, Head of the Department of International Relations at the University of National and World Economy, in order to evaluate the proposal submitted by France for the settlement of the conflict between North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
- Firstly, how do you evaluate this proposal of France for the settlement of the conflict between Bulgaria and North Macedonia? Do you think it will be a solution for conflict?
The proposal of France was the first time when Bulgarian claims and positions were projected and uploaded onto the EU agenda. Bulgarian government considers this as success because previously our arguments remained unnoticed.
However, this move will hardly solve the stalemate in Bulgarian-Macedonian relations. The core of the problem is about identity politics and the way Macedonian identity is constructed on the basis of anti-Bulgarian rhetorics and hate speech.
- “Bulgarian Parliament accepted a proposal to give the Council of Ministers a mandate to accept the French Presidency’s proposal for lifting the veto on North Macedonia. Can Bulgaria make a profit with this agreement?
Bulgaria does not seek a profit, but only normalization of relations with North Macedonia. Macedonians have to come to terms with its real, not fake, past, and only then it could be possible to start working on bilateral relations normalisation. The only interest of Bulgaria is to settle the past and build the European future with Macedonia. But I think only Macedonian Albanians understand Bulgarian positions.
- On the other hand, tens of thousands of Macedonian people protested French proposal on solving a dispute with Bulgaria in order for North Macedonia to open membership talks with the European Union. Will these developments cause a political crisis in North Macedonia as in Bulgaria?
Macedonian identity is a sensitive and still unsettled issue. Macedonian Albanians are quite well aware about their identity. Macedonian Turks are also aware of who they are. Roma people, Vlachs and Serbs in Macedonia are also clear about their primordial identity. But the issue is about those who have been instructed for several generations after 1946 that they are ethnic Macedonians and who speak a language that is so close to Bulgarian that it is hard to find the difference. It is the real issue – acceptance of identity and the language. Just as Belgians don’t claim they speak Belgian but admit they speak French, or Austrians don’t say they speak Austrian, but German. Neither Belgians are French, nor Austrians are German. Therefore, Bulgaria expects that Macedonians should accept our common roots and division of identity and language only after 1946. Yes, this is a painful move and many people in Macedonia will not like it, nor accept it. This could really cause a political crisis in Macedonia as it will affect the foundations of national identity.
- What do you think about the resolution of the conflict between the two countries? How will this be resolved?
The resolution does not seem possible in the near future, or at least it will take the whole period of negotiations for accession of North Macedonia to the EU, which in the best case scenario means another 10-15 years. The burden of the so called Macedonianism of former Yugoslavia is still there. Several new generations both in North Macedonia as well as in Bulgaria should be changed in order to expect any resolution to this conflict.