Antibulgarian storm spreads in North Macedonia

Over the last two years North Macedonia and Bulgaria have been engaged in increasingly hostile diplomatic tensions.

Former right wing Prime minister Ljubcho Georgievski

Since, in last October, when Bulgaria decided to block the formal opening of the EU accession process, North Macedonia authorities unofficially launched in a large scale antibulgarian propaganda spread first in the national media and social networks and later on the international scene, trying to weaken Bulgarian government positions.

This week, tensions reached their paroxysm, with the multiplication of testimonies concerning citizens of North Macedonia who openly claim their Bulgarian identity and citizenship and who are questioned, pressured and even threatened by secret service agents. What makes this issue even more sensitive is the fact that over 130 000 citizens of North Macedonia have in addition a second - Bulgarian citizenship and officiality claim their Bulgarian roots and a Bulgarian self-identification. Huge media coverage has been given particularly on North Macedonia young singer Vasil Garvanliev, supposed to represent the country in the next edition of the Eurovision song contest. In the official video of his song, posted on Youtube, some people have seen a piece of art with colors resembling vaguely those of the Bulgarian flag (white, green, red). In parallel, a social media video from last year was released in which the singer openly and proudly claims its Bulgarian citizenship and roots. After a huge negative media and social media reaction, the singer was obliged to make public excuses for hurting his nation fellows feelings. Despite that, a petition against his participation has been initiated and more than 25 000 people have already signed it, insisting on the shame caused by someone who openly considers himself as Bulgarian and shows the colors of the Bulgarian flag. North Macedonian authorities remained silent so far but almost all media, including those who are close to the Prime minister Zoran Zaev have been actively part of this negative campaign.

The Macedonian academic and philosopher professor Katarina Kolozova

Several prominent North Macedonia personalities have, however, openly expressed their opposition to the late antibulgarian hysteria. Former right wing Prime minister Ljubcho Georgievski, talked about “chauvinism”, while former left wing Foreign minister Denko Maleski compared the current situation to the public lynching of “traitors” (meaning Bulgarians) during the mid 40’s after the Yugoslav Communists took power. The prominent Macedonian academic and philosopher, professor Katarina Kolozova denounced de collective “craziness” and concluded that with such acts North Macedonia was definitely not ready for the EU.

Antibulgarian propaganda in North Macedonia is rooted in post Second World War historical and nation building narratives, created by the Communist Yugoslav state and aiming to make a clear distinction and artificial opposition between Macedonians and Bulgarians, which historically used to belong to the same nation. This propaganda not only survived the collapse of Communist Yugoslavia in the early 90’s, but has been maintained and even reinforced by North Macedonia political elites from both sides left and right. According this narratives, still present in school manuals and taught to Macedonian kids, Bulgarians are described as aggressors, invaders, occupants, barbarians, fascists and main historical figures who claimed, at their time, their Bulgarian ethnicity are presented as pure ethnic Macedonians. These historical manipulations, appropriations and hate speech have been the main reason for the Treaty of Friendship and Good neighborhood signed by the two countries in 2017. This treaty was supposed to overcome the misunderstandings over the common history, but has not been even partially implemented, due to North Macedonia refusal to change any historical narrative that could connect with past Bulgarian identities and language. North Macedonia authorities seem increasingly joining and self-appropriating the antibulgarian hysteria who was the main trademark for more than 15 years of the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE. /BGNES

young singer Vasil Garvanliev