Personalities in the shared histories of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia remain a sensitive issue and some disagreements linger, for all the warming of official relations in recent years.
This much was apparent after the first – and long-delayed – meeting of the joint intergovernmental commission between the two countries on June 10, co-chaired by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva and her counterpart from North Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov.
There is a joint commission on history involving specialists from the two countries, meant to come up with consensus positions on issues that long have been matters of contention.
This commission on history has not produced an agreement on Gotse Delchev, a hero in the histories of Bulgaria and of North Macedonia. It is difficult to say much about the 19th century revolutionary without being accused of taking the side of one of the two countries.
Speaking after the joint intergovernmental commission, Bulgaria’s Zaharieva said that her country would continue to support North Macedonia obtaining a date for the start of EU membership talks, but would “strictly observe the implementation” of the bilateral treaty of good neighbourliness – “especially in the history section”.
Zaharieva underlined that in North Macedonia’s association agreement with the EU, there was an obligation for good neighbourly relations “and our condition is for the implementation of the treaty of friendship, good-neighbourliness and co-operation, including the part about history”.
Dimitrov responded by saying that the Republic of North Macedonia was “fully committed” to this process.
“I am convinced that this is not simply because we have signed the treaty, but it is very important to us. We encouraged the historical commission to continue working. This process will end with wisdom and friendship,” Dimitrov said.
Zaharieva said: “”I can say that at that time the politicians have overtaken the historians and we are already celebrating together Gotse Delchev, the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising, the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius”.
She called for more intensive work and a clear timetable and concrete results by the end of the year by the historical commission.
“Unfortunately, the commission failed to reach agreement on the personality of Gotse Delchev. Their proposal is definitely unacceptable to us. It is absurd to celebrate dates associated with the Comintern and Tito,” Zaharieva said.
“We have a common understanding that it is not easy, but on the other hand we have to be brave because we only want the truth and nothing else. Although sometimes, as if to tell the truth, it seems more difficult than repeating a lie a hundred times. I very much hope that, as the two prime ministers have already celebrated Gotse Delchev and not on that date, the historians in the commission from the Republic of Northern Macedonia will show the same wisdom,” she said.
“If we want to build a friendship that no crisis can destroy, we have to teach the young people the truth.”
Zaharieva said that the historical issues between Sofia and Skopje must be resolved because “we should not bring unresolved bilateral issues into the European Union”.
“I would give the historical commission a chance by the end of the year before we give up,” she said.
She also noted that while bilateral trade between Bulgaria and North Macedonia had grown steady in 2017 and 2018, forecast results for the first quarter of 2019 showed a decline on an annual basis, and the two countries’ economy ministries had been told to analyse the situation.
Zaharieva reiterated that Pan-European Corridor 8, which should connect the Adriatic with the Black Sea, is a top priority not only for the two countries but also for the region.
“It is commendable that the two Ministries of Transport have set up a joint commission and already have a very clear timetable, and the corridor received funding that Prime Minister Borissov has negotiated at the Berlin Process Meeting in Trieste,” Zaharieva said.
Zacharieva personally thanked Dimitrov.
“Our relations, as well as those of our prime ministers, are always excellent, even when we discuss delicate issues. Bulgaria holds to the truth, although it is sometimes harder to be spoken, “she said./ibna