As EU Decision on Macedonian Accession Looms Nearer, Bulgaria Shows Increased Symptoms of Their Macedonian Syndrome

By Metodija A. Koloski, UMD President

In an impressive display of their Europeanness, Bulgarian officials are borrowing straight from the Greek playbook for extracting concessions from Macedonia. As we near the decision by the European Union regarding Macedonian accession, Bulgaria is aggressively stepping up its demands for changing history. By threatening to veto, Bulgaria hopes to force Macedonian politicians into obedience on deeply important historic questions. The most concerning part: their scare tactics are working. 

From Friendship to Historical Expropriation

Ekaterina Zakharieva, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, recently said that politicians are bolder than historians. She noted that politicians can and must find ways to resolve any outstanding disputes, including questions about history. With Zaev as partner in this quest, the task suddenly seems easy. 

The Macedonian government led by Zaev has freely and repeatedly bargained away aspects of Macedonian history, identity and heritage in return for accession promises. The Prespa agreement already tapped into the depository of our national heritage. The “friendship agreement” with Bulgaria threatens to do the same. 

The “friendship agreement” appallingly claims that Macedonia and Bulgaria share one and the same history. This claim, of course, stands in direct opposition to the generations of Macedonians who fought against Bulgarian oppressors during the World Wars and the Balkan wars, against Bulgarian fascists, and against the aspirations of Stalin’s puppet, Todor Zhivkov. When bold politicians make it their task to rewrite history, as Zakharieva noted, even the most unlikely things can be achieved. 

Interestingly enough, the Bulgarian position has shifted because of obedience demonstrated by Skopje and the upcoming decision on Macedonia’s accession. One year ago, Bulgarians seemed content with acknowledging the two countries’ “common history.” However, seeing the willingness of Zaev’s government to give away Macedonian national heritage, Bulgaria’s position shifted from acknowledging common history to singlehandedly reclaiming history.

Daniel Smilov, an analyst at the Center for Liberal Strategies, said the following: “In politics and international law there is no such thing as the recognition of history … Let historians deal with history.” Noting the willingness of Zaev’s government to give away the Macedonian national heritage, Bulgaria’s position shifted from acknowledging common history to singlehandedly reclaiming history.

Angel Dimitrov, the co-chair of the execrable friendship commission, expressed his utter happiness at Macedonian officials’ willingness to accept St. Clement of Ohrid, St. Naum of Ohrid, King Samuil and others as exclusively Bulgarian. He even called this a good step by Macedonia toward synchronizing the Macedonian approach to history with the requirements of EU membership. 

With the veto threat looming larger, Bulgaria continues to up the ante. The next item on the list of Bulgarian ultimatums is Macedonian recognition that Goce Delcev was a Bulgarian and not a Macedonian. The intensity of the Bulgarian campaign to hijack Macedonia’s history makes it clear that the ultimate goal is to abolish the Macedonian identity altogether. This morning, Macedonian President Pendarovski did not accompany his Montenegrin colleague President Djukanovic in laying a wreath at the grave of Goce Delchev, in Skopje, Macedonia for fear of upsetting the Bulgarians prior to the EU vote on October 17th-18th

Instead of defending the national interests, Zaev thanked Bulgaria for bringing Macedonia back into the focus of European politics. He seems determined to submit to the demands of Sofia and rewrite history in accordance with Bulgarian desires. The ability to move from a position of common history to a complete rewrite that emphasizes Bulgarian sole ownership is an impressive achievement. What will remain of the Macedonian history, heritage and identity after this quest is over is an open question. 

European Attitudes Toward Nationalistic Pretensions 

Bulgaria suffers from what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) called the “Macedonian Syndrome”. This phrase refers to Bulgaria’s intense preoccupation with claiming Macedonia as being one and the same with Bulgaria. The campaign has always been prevalent, but it gained traction during the communist regime in Bulgaria.

At the time, Bulgaria was a Soviet puppet state, and as such only had one nationalistic outlet: a strange and unreciprocated obsession with Macedonia. Nothing came out of Zhivkov’s desire to unite Macedonia and Bulgaria, but the dream of forcing a connection between the two distinct countries remains alive to this day. 

Today, Bulgaria is abusing its veto power to extract concessions from an unpatriotic Macedonian leadership. Ironically, NATO and the EU, organizations that should oppose nationalistic quests to rewrite and control other countries’ history and identity, have been loud supporters of both Greece and Bulgaria. EU commissioners and other EU martyrs for democracy have stressed that joining the European family means that Macedonia must resolve its outstanding historical and identification disputes with its neighbors. 

EU officials have expressed support for both the Prespa Agreement and the Friendship Treaty between Macedonia and Bulgaria, while turning a blind eye to provisions in these agreements that threaten to nullify the Macedonian nation. This makes EU officials complacent in the process of stripping an independent country of its national identity.  

As one among many examples, take the issue with the official EU parameters around the linguistic legal framework. The European Parliament proudly displays their commitment to providing legal and political basis for linguistic expression and diversity. The EU Parliament writes that “languages are an integral part of European identity and the most direct expression of culture.” 

Why is it, then, that EU officials never condemned Bulgaria’s continued effort to undermine and exterminate the existence of the Macedonian language? How are Bulgaria’s attempts to suppress Macedonians’ right to their language not a violation of this legal principle? How is pressuring Macedonian politicians to classify our language as “a dialect of Bulgarian” not a clear and concerning threat to the Macedonian identity? 

Resolving the language issue according to Bulgarian demands is only one area of the multifaceted ultimatum that Bulgarian leaders sent out to their Macedonian counterparts. Macedonia’s EU future depends on agreeing to these demands. And while the EU and Zakharieva consider Macedonian leaders’ willingness for concessions to be bold steps forward, Macedonians throughout the world are dismayed. 

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