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Bulgaria Disappoints
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A headline by the Bulgarian website EU Inside in early November was titled “Macedonia is facing a civilizational choice.”  If you have been following the news lately, then you know what the rest of that story is about.  It is, in the eyes of the writer, about how Macedonia is behaving “badly” toward Bulgaria, and how Bulgaria would be fully justified in blocking the start of talks for Macedonia with the EU in December.

In October, the European Commission – for a fourth time – recommended that accession talks with Macedonia begin in earnest.  It also stated that the talks begin but that the so-called name issue could be solved in tandem with the accession talks, meaning that Greece would have to allow Macedonia to at least begin the talks without a so-called solution first.   But now there is another country raising its voice and stating that it too, like Greece, will not allow Macedonia to even begin the talks –  Bulgaria.

And what is the issue for Bulgaria?  That general catch-all phrase, “good neighborly relations.”

And what, specifically, is Bulgaria complaining about? According to the EU Inside website “Bulgaria for years has been complaining from nationalist policies by the Macedonian government, from nationalistic and even insulting publications in Macedonian media, and also from ‘history theft.’” Complaining about what the Macedonian media says is hardly a basis to block two million people from beginning talks with the EU.

Continuing on.  EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule has been pressing Greece (and now Bulgaria) not to object to the start of talks, though Bulgaria continues to raise its issues with him and the Commission.  That Commissioner Fule has not really given the Bulgarians the time of day on this is to his credit.  But still Bulgaria raises the possibility that it might block Macedonia, Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev going so far as to say that Macedonia is “not ready.”

For its part and in trying to show the world that it is the one trying to solve these “problems” Bulgaria has suggested that the two countries celebrate some historical dates, starting with Ilinden.  But while those in Brussels may not fully understand the importance of Ilinden to the Macedonian nation, the Bulgarians do and proposed that the two countries celebrate it together precisely because Macedonia could not accept Bulgaria’s version of history in that regard.  The Bulgarians are simply playing an old trick – pretending to make an offer, make concessions knowing full well that what they offer is “an invitation to national suicide” to quote American analyst Charles Krauthammer.

Rationally and naturally, Macedonian president Ivanov responded to this offer with a counter offer: that the two celebrate something less contentious such as the day Macedonia was recognized by Bulgaria, Europe Day and one other.  Naturally but irrationally, the Bulgarians were “offended” and ran off to tell Fule and the EU that they extended the olive branch but those awful Macedonians responded with more hate.

A number of leaders in Macedonia have said –  recently and in the past – that history should be left to the historians and that the business of Europe should move forward.  This is the correct attitude but in an odd twist of fate, it is both Greece and Bulgaria who insist that history be a part of the political process of getting Macedonia into the EU and NATO (which, for the record, I no longer believe is very desirable).  It is Greece and Bulgaria who constantly talk about history, about Macedonia’s “lack of history,” about Macedonia’s “theft of history” and about their “glorious past.” It is Greece and Bulgaria who are constantly talking about history.

Our Bulgarian friends have enough problems of their own, starting with their economy.  Bulgaria is far behind the rest of the EU when it comes to wages and jobs and the EU has rightly pointed out problems within Bulgaria’s judicial system.  Most recently the EU Commission publicly took Bulgaria to task over the appointment of a new member of the Constitutional Court stating “The Commission called upon the competent Bulgarian institutions, and in particular the Parliament, to assume its responsibility and to carry out thorough checks of allegations of corruption trade of influence and conflict of interest. Today the Commission takes note that the Bulgarian Parliament did not carry out checks, despite [the] Commission’s signals expressed over the past few days.” Bottom line?  Bulgaria, like Greece, needs to take care of its own problems first.

Bulgaria disappoints.  Yes, Bulgaria was the first county to recognize Macedonia as Macedonia, the country.  But Bulgaria should not be given bonus points for doing what it ought to have done in the first place.  When you claim recognition for having done the right thing in the first place, your claim is really empty.  But more than this – Bulgaria still does not recognize the Macedonia people as a nation, the Macedonian Orthodox Church or the Macedonian language.  And until Bulgaria itself matures, it will continue to disappoint.

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Jason Miko
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