For the first time a Bulgarian prime minister took part in the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary since the deportation of more than 7,000 Jews from the territory of what is today Macedonia to the Treblinka concentration camp.
“The visit by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to Skopje is unprecedented,” comments Martin Minkov, the Bulgarian National Radio’s correspondent in the capital of Macedonia for many years:
“The message is entirely future-oriented, though it rests on some painful historical facts. A “March of the living” is held in Skopje every year. And every year, this march is entirely turned against Bulgaria. The overcoming of this way of thinking regarding the tragic events of 75 years ago is a distinctly positive sign that there is something fundamental that is changing in the relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia. The anti-Bulgarian rhetoric, with the exception of some isolated Macedonian media outlets, has been toned down to a minimum. There was such a humane gesture in Boyko Borissov’s words: “We mourn for every human life, sent to the Nazi camps to burn.” These words somehow have a different ring to them in this country, because we saved our 48,000 Jews. On the territory of the so-called old boundaries of Bulgaria, which were under Bulgarian administration, but in actual fact were under the Nazi boot (Macedonia and Northern Greece), the Jews were not given Bulgarian citizenship and could not be saved – these are facts. The regret at these events, expressed by Boyko Borissov reverberated widely in the public domain in Macedonia despite the historical prejudices regarding Bulgaria that are still harboured, more specifically prejudices regarding this period in history.”
Bulgaria’s prime minister also made mention of something that is still in the thoughts of the contemporary Macedonian citizens – the horrors of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the bloody way this federation fell apart – events that must never be repeated in the Balkans:
“To us, these events were a bit further away, but the people in Macedonia lived them. That is why I cannot understand the people who are still slaves to ideologemes – there are some people like that in Bulgaria as well, but there are more of them in the media and the opposition circles in Macedonia, who have been trying to keep tensions running high between Bulgaria and Macedonia. There is something I would like to share with you which was, to my mind, telling. A prominent Macedonian historian – a Macedonist and, inherently not harbouring any pro-Bulgarian sentiments, Todor Cepreganov, had some powerful words to say. He compared Boyko Borissov’s gesture of going to Skopje for the 75th anniversary with the historical gesture by Willy Brandt, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, who went to Warsaw on his first visit and who laid down a wreathe to commemorate the victims of the events during the war in the Warsaw ghetto.”
Historian Todor Cepreganov described this visit by Borissov to Skopje as “a courageous decision of a statesman”. “I think that this is a serious message which I hope more people in Macedonia will hear,” Martin Minkov adds.
Is Bulgaria successful in its endeavour to have its presence more tangibly felt in Macedonia – in the media, culturally, economically - and do people there feel this?
“Of course they do, especially in terms of the economy. Very soon after the friendship and good neighbor agreement was signed, economic relations started looking up. Contacts among people, even in periods when inter-state relations were frozen, have never stopped. Still, there is a lot more to be done with regard to culture, to the knowledge of contemporary Bulgarian art, to Bulgarian media, all of them far below the necessary level. It should be said that the same is true of the presence of the culture of contemporary Macedonia in Bulgaria. There is one more difficult task lying ahead – forming a working commission of academic researchers from Macedonia and Bulgaria, who will, slowly, be successful in bringing the ways we regard our history closer, and do this on a scientific basis and based on sound arguments. Because no one can deny the extent to which it is a shared history.”
Martin Minkov is optimistic, adding that no fault can be found with the way Bulgaria is demonstrating the ambition, as a country member of the EU, to do everything needed to open up the Union to the problems of the Western Balkans and guarantee their European perspective. “In this regard what is most important to us are our immediate neighbours, and first and foremost – Macedonia,” Martin Minkov says.
English version: Milena Daynova