Brunnbauer: Bulgaria is playing with fire in regional policy

Brunnbauer: Bulgaria is playing with fire in regional policy

Bulgaria and North Macedonia disagree on the language and identity of North Macedonia. It seems strange; but this clash has an impact on safety and is probably an explosive mix, says historian Ulf Brunnbauer of the University of Regensburg in Germany.

“The removal of North Macedonia from the European path is a potentially explosive mix. There is a Bulgarian imaginary pain, according to which North Macedonia is part of Bulgarian history until it became Yugoslav in 1944 and received an “artificial identity”. In this narrative, the Macedonians are in fact Bulgarians. As for the identity policy, such an option remains open, especially since many Macedonians have applied for Bulgarian citizenship in recent years to become EU citizens. No one in Bulgaria today is serious about changing the border. But things can change”, Ulf Brunnbauer warns.

Ulf Brunnbauer is director of the Leibniz Institute for Eastern and Southeastern European Studies. Ulf Brunnbauer is an excellent scholar of both Bulgarian and Macedonian history and is often present in the public dialogue of both societies. In an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, he warned of the dangerous consequences for the region if Bulgaria continues to obstruct North Macedonia on its path to the EU.

“The conflict between Bulgaria and North Macedonia is not just a strange Balkan conflict. If Bulgaria blocks the European perspective of its neighbor, it is dangerous. In North Macedonia itself, tensions are rising because Albanians’ faith in the country is uncertain if they do not join the EU. In addition, if Bulgaria’s subconscious claim to power in the country is observed, it is a potentially explosive mix”.

Asked what that exclusion meant for European politics, Brunnbauer said the case showed that EU countries could live their obsessions safely and without fear of sanctions. The tolerance of Brussels and the big capitals is great only when one pursues a lonely and even blackmailing policy. “And, of course, it has to do with the fact that there is little enthusiasm for EU enlargement. Some countries want to hide behind the Bulgarian veto”, Brunnbauer said.

According to him, this makes the enlargement process even less credible and increases frustration in North Macedonia. “This is dangerous for the fragile balance between the Macedonians and the Albanian minority in the country. Because what unites the country is exactly the European perspective. Bulgaria is playing with fire in regional policy”, Brunnbauer said.

The parliamentary memorandum is strongly reminiscent of communist propaganda of the early 1970s, Ulf Brunnbauer said.

Asked what he believes as a historian when a country wants to dictate a point of view from its history to another country, Ulf Brunnbauer replied: “This is really unusual. In the Bulgarian parliament, however, there is a broad consensus on this from left to right. It would be strange if this parliament wants to mark a specific historiography for its country. There is obviously a lack of understanding of how historiography unfolds in a pluralistic society, especially in a free open society.

The memorandum adopted by parliament is strongly reminiscent of communist propaganda from the early 1970s. Even then, the regime denied the Macedonian language and identity. “This shows how deep the national communist image of history is in Bulgarian society”. But he added that “what the Bulgarians are looking for is difficult to see at first glance”.

Answering the journalist’s question why both nations claim that Goce Delchev is theirs, Brunnbauer answers as a historian: “Delchev, it can be said, was Bulgarian. He was named as such. Politically, however, he was Macedonian. His political vision was an autonomous Macedonia as part of the Democratic Balkan Federation. He had nothing to do with the Bulgarian monarchy at that time. As a man of action, his national background was less important to him than his political identity. When a neighbour includes a respectable personality in his or her historical narrative, it is different from the moment he or she forms a war criminal hero. Delchev’s memory is easy to share. His goal was the freedom of the region in the form of a fraternal democracy. “He saw the struggle against Ottoman rule as a common task for local Christians and Muslims; it was also an offer to locate citizens of both names in both countries”.

His message to the European Union to calm the situation down is simple: “Clear messages are now needed from Brussels and Berlin to lift the blockade from Sofia on North Macedonia and finally start accession talks”./ibna