Hundreds of supporters of North Macedonia’s opposition VMRO-DPMNE party staged a protest in Skopje on November 26 to defend national interests following what they said was a "scandalous interview" by PM Zoran Zaev with Bulgarian media.
In an interview with Bulgarian BGNES published a day earlier, Zaev seemed to defend Bulgarian positions on some historical issues related to WWII and also said that former Yugoslavia, of which Macedonia was one of the six republics, was a reason for divisions between Bulgarians and Macedonians.
He also called President Stevo Pendarovski a “not so very experienced politician” because of the president’s statement that Bulgaria has not yet emerged from the matrix of former communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who did not recognise the existence of the Macedonian language and nation.
The opposition protest took place under the slogan "Protest now, before it’s too late!"
Due to the situation with COVID-19, the VMRO-DPMNE supporters gathered in their cars and led the protest procession waving Macedonian flags from Boris Trajkovski sport hall to the government building.
“Now is the time to raise our heads and say, ‘Enough!’ It is time for the Macedonians to fight for their justice,” VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said in a speech in front of the government.
He said that Zaev’s interview with BGNES is shameful for the country and there is no one who watched the interview that was not ashamed of Zaev's meekness.
“Let us unite now, so that it is not too late," Mickoski told the crowd, stressing that Zaev should urgently apologise for his statements to the Bulgarian media and resign.
He announced that the party will organise protests in other cities in the country on November 27.
The interview drew mixed reactions at home, but predominantly negative as it was seen as servile and cringing.
“We inherited time that was not favourable for friendship between us. Yugoslavia was dividing us,” Zaev said in the interview.
Zaev also told BGNES that a document was sent to the Bulgarian authorities stating that Macedonia has no territorial claims, that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of Sofia and that it has no demands for minorities.
Bulgaria recently used its veto to block the start of EU accession talks with its western neighbour North Macedonia. Bulgaria insists that the Macedonian language is a Bulgarian dialect and the Macedonian nation was formed after WWII, something it wants to be accepted by the Macedonian side.
A number of Macedonian intellectuals, citizens and politicians, even some from the ruling party, expressed their disagreement and distanced themselves from the viewpoint expressed by Zaev.
"I made it clear that the Macedonian-Bulgarian dispute can be resolved only if the dignity of both the Macedonian and Bulgarian people is consistently respected and by avoiding the dangerous trap of historical revisionism when it is based on political constructions rather than facts,” Pendarovski said after the interview.
However, the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) supported Zaev.
“The position of the party and the PM is that Macedonia's future is in the EU, Macedonians with their Macedonian language are moving forward towards Europe, prosperity and friendship with all neighbours,” the SDSM said in the statement.
Immediately after the broadcast of the interview, several Macedonian members of the joint historical committee set up between Skopje and Sofia, distanced themselves from the views of the prime minister.
The first to react was the historian Ljubica Spaskovska, who appealed to politicians not to comment on topics they do not understand.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zakharieva was cited by media on November 26 as saying that she wants the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia to be similar to those between Spain and Latin America, whose countries were once colonised by Spain.
"I take the example of Latin America. The fact that Argentines and Chileans speak Spanish does not make them any less Argentine and Chilean. The fact that at one point they have a common history does not diminish their sovereignty today,” she said.
Her statement was seen in North Macedonia as another provocation.
North Macedonia’s government officials hope that their diplomatic efforts to solve the disagreement with Bulgaria will yield results and the country will get the green light to start EU accession talks in December under the German EU Council presidency.
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