We bring to your attention an open letter signed by citizens on the initiative of BOLD (Bulgarian Organizing for Liberal Democracy). The letter expresses the positions of the signatories in their individual capacity.
- Mr Boyko Borisov – Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria
- Ms Ekaterina Zaharieva – Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria
- Ambassadors of EU Members States to the Republic of Bulgaria
- Representative of the European Union in the Republic of Bulgaria
Ladies and gentlemen,
We write to express our concern that, following a short period of progress in bilateral relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia (RNM) in the aftermath of signing the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation (the Treaty), the political elites of both countries have allowed this achievement to unravel. We are particularly concerned that Bulgaria has blocked the start of accession negotiations between the RNM and the European Union without providing a clear justification in the framework of international relations. We think that Bulgaria will be paying a reputational price at different levels internationally, with unclear consequences. At this time, the friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation that are the main pillars of the Treaty are at stake. There is an alarming increase, including at a high political level, of insulting behaviour, arrogance and short-sighted historical interpretations with a clearly nationalistic and chauvinistic flavour.
This crisis jeopardises not only our neighbourly relations, but also our joint future as responsible member states of the European Union and NATO. Our chances for good neighbourly cooperation within the united European political space are put on hold. The Republic of Albania’s schedule of EU membership negotiation which is tied with that of the Republic of North Macedonia in also at risk. Moreover, the geopolitical dimensions of this crisis should not be underestimated: our disunity is increasing our vulnerability to threats from outside the region.
Some of the main causes for the current crisis are set out below:
- Despite the good intentions underlying the Treaty, its implementation is plainly flawed, with an excessive emphasis on historical issues and elimination of aspects of cooperation related to the other groups of socio-political, economic and other issues covered by the Treaty.
- The Joint Multidisciplinary Expert Commission on Historical and Educational Issues established under the Treaty has, on a number of occasions, applied approaches supported by both sides that are not aligned with the philosophy and approaches of modern historiography, thereby seriously undermining the Commission’s effectiveness.
- The flawed reliance, in the negotiation process, on prioritisation of historical issues has imposed undue political responsibilities on the Joint Multidisciplinary Expert Commission. Complex multifaceted policy decisions with huge national, bilateral and geopolitical implications have become dependent on the Commission’s narrow expert opinions.
- The process of Treaty implementation remains to date restricted mainly to the political and diplomatic level. Rather than participating through a series of attractive and innovative civic, academic, cultural, educational and other initiatives, citizens ended up as witnesses of fierce rhetorical fights between the heavyweights of historical scholarship on both sides of the border, replaying conflicting views from the 20th century. Instead of fostering creativity for the sake of a better future, this development mobilised historical sensitivities and stereotypes among the general public.
- At the level of policy and diplomacy, current approaches are inconsistent with the spirit, objectives and texts of the Treaty, including Bulgaria’s refusal to recognise the name of the official language of the RNM (a name recognised by the UN), its non-acceptance of the existence of a separate Macedonian nation and of the right of North Macedonian citizens to self-determination. These approaches are unacceptable in the European political space. There have been instances of hostile speech coming from both state parties to the Treaty.
Having drawn attention to the above deficits in the implementation of the Treaty so far, we also emphasise that thousands of citizens in both countries continue to feel a natural connection at the level of everyday life.
In view of the foregoing, we call on you to show statesmanship and, at this critical time, take urgent steps as follows:
- Bulgaria should immediately, in accordance with the established procedure, unblock the start of negotiations for membership of the RNM in the European Union. We call on you to do this before the end of 2020, within the framework of the German presidency of the Council.
- The question of the EU membership of the RNM and Albania should also be on the agenda of the forthcoming presidencies of the Council.
- New priorities, approaches and initiatives in bilateral relations with the RNM should be developed, having in mind that:
– All such issues should be addressed in the spirit of, and according to, standards of modern international law related to bilateral and multilateral relations. We believe that in such a negotiation framework, there is no place for conditions coercing one party to adopt the other party’s unrealistic demands, such as a full or partial renouncing of its people’s self-determination or its citizens’ right to self-identification.
– It is inappropriate to expect that, under whatever kind of negotiation process, any governing team would burden itself with the suicidal action of making a political decision regarding the self-identification of its citizens and ruling that, from a certain point, the entire population has changed its belonging to a certain ethnic group.
– We recall the traumatic experience of Bulgaria during the time of the communist regime when she tried to impose “the historical truth”, by repeatedly resorting, through political decisions, to assimilation of ethnic Turks, Pomaks and Roma, aiming to “revise” their ethnic and religious identity and impose a Bulgarian Christian “self-identification” – of the living and the dead alike. We further recall the fact that the “historical truth” in question was decided by “authoritative history commissions”.
– Transparency and openness to consultation with civil society must be ensured.
- A roadmap should be adopted specifying joint time-bound actions of Treaty implementation, provided that it would:
- Ensure a decisive start of activities with a strong potential for creating a warmer climate of cooperation through promoting political, diplomatic and civil exchanges, military cooperation, joint action in areas including the economy, the environment, education, culture, science, the media and human rights protection.
– Establish bilateral public and civic expert bodies with mandates to facilitate joint initiatives in the areas of cooperation established by the Treaty, with broad citizens’ representation. Flexible mechanisms should be agreed for the implementation of joint citizens’ initiatives in the relevant areas.
– Ensure that issues and activities related to history are not given undue weight or allowed to dominate Treaty implementation, as is the case at present, but are instead limited to one of the specific aspects of cooperation in the areas of culture and education. The discussions of issues of history should be based on modern historiography approaches and diversity of expert participation.
– Require that all joint action bodies with a coordinating and expert mandates reflect the socio-political diversity and the range of views in both countries in an open and pluralistic manner, ensuring broad access for institutional and civil society experts with a democratic pro-European orientation.
– Urge that politicians, citizens and media in both countries actively counteract hate speech and attitudes of historical revanchism, arrogance and superiority in political and public life.
In conclusion, we call for a serious change in the philosophy, approaches, means and actions aimed at the realisation of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation, so that it can accomplish the purpose contained in its title.
We support the suggestion to name a part of the planned transport infrastructure between the two countries (in Corridor No 8) after Gotse Delchev, to symbolise both the historic and present-day interconnectedness of people on both sides of the border.
We call on you to show strong leadership and political will for achieving the objectives outlined above.
SIGNATORIES (in alphabetical order)
Prof Albena Khranova – Plovdiv University
Prof Aleksandar Kiosev – culturologist and literature scholar, University of Sofia
Antoaneta Nenkova – journalist
Antonina Zhelyazkova – historian
Prof Antony Todorov – political scientist, New Bulgarian University, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Boyan Zakhariev – economist, researcher in Open Society Institute
Boyko Tsenkov – clinical psychologist, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Dimitar Atanasov – historian
Prof Dimitar Vatsov – philosopher and culturologist, New Bulgarian University
Dimitrina Petrova – human rights expert, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Prof Evgenia Ivanova – historian and ethnologist, New Bulgarian University
Kalina Bozeva – expert on ethnic issues, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Keti Mircheva – historian
Krassimir Kanev – chair of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Prof Mikhail Ivanov – adviser to President Zhelev on national and ethnic issues (1990-1997)
Mikhail Mishev – student, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Mila Mineva – sociologist, University of Sofia
Prof Milena Yakimova – sociologist, University of Sofia
Prof Nadya Danova – historian of the Balkans
Radost Nikolaeva Cohen – art manager, Circle Art Movement
Rositsa Atanasova – lawyer, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Rumen Avramov – economist and historian
Rumyan Russinov – political scientist
Savelina Russinova – human rights expert
Stefan Dechev – historian
Prof Svetlana Ivanova – historian, University of Sofia
Tsvetozar Tomov – sociologist
Vania Kaneva – child rights expert, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Vladimir Kolev – human rights activist, BOLD (Bulgarians Organising for Liberal Democracy)
Yuliana Metodieva – human rights journalist, Marginalia