Professor Ilchev: Sofia and Skopje need to communicate better

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Photo: BGNES

In 2017 Bulgaria and North Macedonia signed an agreement of friendship, good neighbor relations and cooperation. The improvement of the relations is a prerequisite for the start of negotiations for accession of the Republic of North Macedonia to the European Union. A joint commission on historical and educational issues was established with the signature of the good neighbor agreement between the two countries. Its task is to solve the disputes on the common history of Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The commission made a progress on the Medieval period, but its function was blocked during the discussion of the recent history. Bulgaria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs called on the historians to make a progress, so that Skopje can receive a European perspective. Professor Ivan Ilchev who is a member of the Bulgaria – North Macedonia Joint Commission on Historical and Educational Issues told Radio Bulgaria details about the work of the commission:

North Macedonia’s members of this commission are people who formed as professionals for 20 to 40 years. It is not easy for them to admit the facts written in the historical sources, Professor Ilchev explains. A politician would risk his career in North Macedonia if he turns against the policy line conducted for 100 years in this country. The words of North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski about Gotse Delchev are a huge step forward. He said Gotse Delchev was Bulgarian and of course added that he fought for independent Macedonia. Objectively speaking this is true, because the leaders of VMRO did not have any hopes that Macedonia could join Bulgaria and rather saw its future as an autonomous country.

Can we rely on any EU experience to solve similar issues?

We learnt accidentally that two experts from Western Europe were appointed as consultants by North Macedonia. I always repeat that we cannot draw parallels between the interpretation of the history made by Germany and France on one side and Germany and Poland on the other side, because we are talking about completely different nations and totally different history. However, in our case we are talking about one nation which unfortunately split in two over the years due to political circumstances. We can also make parallels between Greece and Cyprus, Romania and Moldova, Albania and Kosovo, Serbia and the Republika Srpska, Croatia and the Muslim- Croat Federation.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister called on the join commission to make a progress by the end of the year. It is able to meet this target?

I personally had decided to hand in my resignation, because of the delay of the Macedonian side. Things changed slightly after the last sitting of the commission, Professor Ivan Ilchev went on to say. Unfortunately, the historical truth is too flexible. It is subject to various interpretations. For example the North Macedonian members of the commission are trying to act with some postmodernist arguments that in The Middle Ages there were no ethnicities in the modern sense. But there is good self-awareness among the inhabitants of medieval Bulgaria. They knew they were Bulgarians. For instance, our North Macedonian colleagues said that Tsar Samuil was Bulgarian king, but perhaps he was not Bulgarian. The Bulgarian historiography does not dispute this claim. Some people presume that he was of Armenian descent. This does not matter for the state at all. King Ferdinand was not Bulgarian either. But he was Prince and later King of Bulgaria, like Samuil was king of Bulgaria, not of Macedonia.

Can we expect from your North Macedonian colleagues to say after some time that they were subject to political pressure and deny what has already been agreed?

The good neighbor agreement consists of 14 articles and 45 subparagraphs. Only one of the articles regards the work of the joint commission, but everyone fixed their eyes on it. We said at the first sitting of the commission that the history textbooks are extremely important, but the media environment is no less important. In Ambassador Angel Angelov’s words, the media environment in north Macedonia is relatively good, because the number of publications with anti-Bulgarian rhetoric has decreased, which is encouraging to some extent. But the environment must change indeed. I believe that the two countries should pay attention to infrastructure, because the travel between the two countries is extremely important. Unfortunately, we travel a distance of 208 kilometers for 5 hours when we hold our sittings in Skopje. It is obvious that the economic exchange between the two countries and the communication between the people from Bulgaria and North Macedonia is difficult with the current state of the road infrastructure. Unfortunately, a decline in the economic relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia was registered in the first trimester of 2019, despite all declarations. There is also a decline in tourist trips.

English version: Kostadin Atanasov


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