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The policy of the Republic of Bulgaria towards the countries of the Western Balkans

By Dr. Anton Panchev

Weaknesses and advantages of Bulgaria in the creation of regional politics

Weaknesses:

 · Population shrinkage,

 · Political instability,

 · Underdeveloped infrastructure in this part of the Balkans,

 · The lack of a clear strategy for the Western Balkans and the passivity towards the processes in this region.

 Advantages:

 · Membership in the EU and NATO,

 · Bulgaria’s strategic role in several economic fields,

 · Absence of disputes with most states of the region.

The war in Ukraine and the challenges for Bulgaria from aggressive Russian policy

Humanitarian and demographic consequences– over 300.000 Bulgarians who live in southern Ukraine. Tens of thousands of them together with many Ukrainians, Russians, and Gagauzians seek refuge in Bulgaria (until March 20, over 80.000 came to Bulgaria seeking refuge). Bulgarian business is ready to create 200.000 jobs for these people and has many positions, especially as IT specialists.

Political consequences– In Sofia the four-party coalition government faces many challenges (like governments in Europe) and governmental stability is much needed in this moment. Very difficult decisions have to be made and it is normal to have disagreements between the coalition partners, especially when it is known that they have different ideological profiles.

Economic consequences– Bulgaria is a key producer of strategic commodities such as wheat (7,16 million tons in 2021), sunflower (940.000 tons in 2021) and other food products, and electricity in the Balkan region (as Bulgaria exports over 1300 megawatt hours of electricity). At a time when the world’s leading producers (Russia and Ukraine) cannot supply the world with wheat, as well as due to large-scale blockages in transport channels, Bulgaria’s economic role is constantly growing.

Strategic and military consequences– Bulgaria returns to a primary place in the policy of NATO and the EU to block the Russian dictator and, to protect the Euro-Atlantic bloc in the Black Sea and South-Eastern Europe. Military aid to Ukraine depends to a large extent on Bulgaria, because their weapons and their parts are the same as Ukrainian, ammunition that is in possession of the Bulgarian army and is produced in Bulgarian factories. All military equipements were under Soviet licenses, which is the same as in Ukraine. So Ukrainians can use these military equipements without training. In this dynamic situation, Bulgaria can become one of the leading suppliers of the Ukrainian army.

The main issues between Serbia and Bulgaria:

· The Bulgarian minority in Serbia and its rights;

· Bulgarian conditions for Serbia’s EU membership are linked to the condemnation of the totalitarian regime;

· Bulgaria has a negative attitude towards the “Open Balkans” initiative because it increases Russian influence in the region.

Relations between the Republic of North Macedonia and Bulgaria:

  • What is not the dispute between Skopje and Sofia?
  • It is not a denial of identity;
  • It is not a bilateral dispute, but on EU principles;
  • It is not a historical context, but about human rights;
  • Bulgaria does not want to change the constitutional model of North Macedonia.

What does Bulgaria want?

The rights of the Bulgarian community in this country;

Historical falsifications and destruction of cultural heritage;

Avoiding racism and hate speech;

Claims against Bulgaria;

Condemnation of the totalitarian regime.

Completion of the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia

Amendment 4: the part of the Bulgarian people to be included in the Constitution;

Amendment 5: language;

Amendment 6: representation in public institutions;

Amendment 7: the ecclesiastical question;

Amendment 8: the identity and culture of the Bulgarian community in the RMV;

Amendment 9: the historical treasure of Bulgarians in NM.

Settlement of disputes between North Macedonia and Bulgaria:

Respect for the Constitution and the laws of North Macedonia by the authorities of this country;

Compliance with agreements with Bulgaria;

Compliance with the Negotiating Framework;

Respecting the acts and documents of EU institutions;

All disputes must be resolved on the basis of dialogue, on EU principles, respecting bilateral agreements and EU normative documents;

Resolving historical issues.

The way to solve these negative phenomena that keep North Macedonia “hostage” of the totalitarian past, are included in the Friendship Treaty, signed on August 1, 2017 by Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia. There it is expressly stated that if there are disputes about historical periods, events or figures, they must be resolved on the basis of “historical sources, based on authentic evidence for the scientific treatment of historical events” (Article 8, p. 2).

The position of the European Union

Resolution of the European Parliament from May 19, 2022:

– In point 39 PE “recalls the need to open the archives of the Yugoslav Secret Service (UDBA) and the Secret Service of the Yugoslav People’s Army (KOS)”;

– In point 76 EP “calls for historical reconciliation on the basis of common history, as foreseen in the Treaty for friendship, good neighborliness, and cooperation”;

– In point 79 PE “calls again on all regional political leaders to create a regional commission for clarifying the facts regarding all victims of war crimes and other serious violations of human rights, committed in the territory of former Yugoslavia”;

– In point 80 PE “calls insistently for the resumption of work regarding textbooks in the of history for schools in the Republic of North Macedonia;  emphasizes that the texts must present the treatment of historical facts and events from the common history of both peoples on the basis of authentic historical documents/sources; so, this is the basis on which both states should build their relations and the relations between the future generations of North Macedonia and Bulgaria which will be reflected in the educational processes in both states”;

– Point 81 condemns any attempt to replace historical monuments and/or artifacts, including the destruction of authentic cultural heritage, as well as all attempts to rewrite history; emphasizes that such incidents cause serious concerns, including in the context of the lack of fulfillment of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborhood and Cooperation from 2017.

The introductory statement of the EU for the beginning of negotiations for membership from North Macedonia

Point 2 … special attention should be paid to the protection and non-discriminatory treatment of citizens belonging to minorities or communities….

Point 3… as a future member state, we expect you to adhere to the values ​​listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union, namely respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. So, human rights, including the rights of persons belong to minorities…

Point 4… today, we recall the importance of achieving visible results and implementing bilateral agreements in good faith, including the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the Agreement on Good Neighborly Relations with Bulgaria.

Point 5. Bearing in mind what was said above, North Macedonia’s commitment to good neighborly relations and closer regional cooperation, including the achievement of visible results and the implementation of bilateral agreements in good faith, including the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the Agreement for Good Neighborly Relations with Bulgaria of 2017, as well as the annual reviews and measures for its effective implementation according to Article 12…!

The reformation of Serbia and North Macedonia

In countries like Serbia and North Macedonia, a racist ideology still prevails in the public space, which has been drawn up in depth and its beginnings can be found 150 years ago, in the academic and political circles of Serbia;

The ideological platform of Belgrade and Skopje is based on a strong propaganda machine, which includes not only local academics, journalists and politicians, but also foreigners;

Insults and discrimination against Bulgarians and Albanians, the destruction of Bulgarian and Albanian cultural heritage, are common part of this racist ideology;

The integration process of these two countries in the EU is the last moment for the reform, of their societies and institutions because the membership as alone will not solve the ideological problems;

Special monitoring is necessary for Serbia and North Macedonia by EU institutions with a clear program and concrete deadlines for the reformation of these two states;

Any hesitation in this direction would endanger the basic values ​​of the Union, as well as endanger the relations of the EU with other countries around the world, because its foreign policy is based on the principle of the protection of human rights and on combating all forms of racism, hatred and discrimination;

If Serbia and North Macedonia were to advance towards EU membership without clear commitments to reform themselves and to drop their racist doctrines, the EU itself would be violating these core principles and undermining its ideological foundations of his foreign policy.

Note: Professor Anton Panchev lecture was held at the Diplomatic Academy of Kosovo, in the year 2022.

(Translated and edited by Blerim Abedini, ISSD-NM)

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