Progress registered in preparation of good neighbour agreement between Sofa and Skopje

Talks between the foreign ministers and delegations of Bulgaria and Macedonia held on June 20, 2017
Photo: BGNES

Bulgaria’s Premier Boyko Borissov and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev negotiated recently that the highly anticipated good neighbour agreement between Sofia and Skopje will be singed on August 2 this year. Last weekend Bulgaria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva and Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov held consultations on the draft of the good neighbour agreement between the two countries. At the talks, which passed in a constructive atmosphere, the two sides reached an agreement on the basis of compromise. The next steps involve internal consultations and coordination, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs. The latest developments of that topic leave an impression that the preparation of the good neighbour agreement has been progressing, despite some obstructions expressed by the two sides. However, it became clear that despite the optimistic attitude expressed at the meeting between the Premiers of the two countries, no basis for compromise was actually reached until the consultations held last weekend. Last week Bulgaria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva told the National Assembly Foreign Policy Committee that she had not been officially informed about possible delay of the agreement of good neighbourly relations. However, such unofficial information came from some Macedonian media in relation to the fierce criticism of the Macedonian opposition towards Premier Zaev that he negotiated secretly with Sofia and accepted Sofia’s conditions. A day before the consultations held last weekend Minister Zaharieva said that Bulgaria was not going to compromise anymore with the topic regarding the recognition of the Macedonian language. Deputy Premier Zaharieva made it clear that the document on good neighbour agreement will be signed in two copies in Bulgarian in line with the constitution of Bulgaria and in Macedonian in accordance with the constitution of that country. Zaharieva added that Sofia has been following that formula in its negotiations with Skopje since the recognition of Macedonia’s independence. Ekaterina Zaharieva also said that the signing of the document on good neighbour agreement with Macedonia on August 2 will depend on whether that country would remise claims for recognition of Macedonian minority in Bulgaria for instance.

Last week a dispute between GERB and the Bulgarian Socialist Party in relation to that good neighbour agreement occurred. According to the socialists, Bulgaria should not hurry signing the document on good neighbour agreement, because in their view “the project for establishment of Macedonian nation, language and state was anti-Bulgarian”. According to the ruling coalition, however, Bulgaria is not rushing to sign that document, because the good neighbour agreement has been prepared in a long period of time and that currently Bulgaria merely wants to benefit from the positive adjustment of the new Macedonian cabinet which intends to normalize the bilateral relations with Sofia which deteriorated during the mandate of the former Macedonian government. It became clear after the latest consultations last weekend that the document on good neighbour agreement is expected to be singed on August 2 when both countries celebrate separately the anniversary of the historical Ilinden Uprising. That leads to the conclusion that Bulgaria and Macedonia have not changed their intentions to celebrate together common historical events. However, Bulgaria’s Premier Boyko Borissov made it clear during the visit of his Macedonian counterpart Zaev to Sofia that the road towards joint celebrations has not been fully cleared yet and that the two countries should further specify the phrase “common history” before signing the document on good neighbour agreement. Less than one month before the expected signing of the document there are still some open questions surrounding this agreement. Perhaps, the sides will discuss those issues during the forthcoming consultations and coordination procedures.

English version: Kostadin Atanasov

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