Scuffles on Macedonian-Bulgarian border amid ongoing tensions
Bulgarians trying to enter North Macedonia to celebrate the birthday of a hero shared by both countries said they encountered difficulties at the border, yet the overall celebrations passed without major incident, despite fears and toxic rhetoric.
During the days leading up to the 151st anniversary of the birth of Gotse Delchev, a national hero for both countries, tensions simmered between Skopje and Sofia as politicians traded barbs and even threats.
On Saturday, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said that North Macedonian authorities had not allowed Bulgarians into the territory of the neighbouring country and claimed that Macedonians have an “unofficial” Bulgarian blacklist.
The authorities in Skopje however said that delays on the border and with crossing into the country were due to a computer system failure.
Later, North Macedonia’s Interior Ministry announced that three Bulgarians, including former Vazrazhdane deputy Angel Georgiev, had been detained at the border for insulting and attacking police officers.
“They first behaved rudely and inappropriately using the most derogatory words and then tried to physically attack the police officers while performing their duties, which was a reason to be detained,” the Macedonian police said in a statement.
However, the Bulgarian delegation, led by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivan Demerdzhiev, managed to lay a wreath on the grave of Gotse Delchev in the Church of St. Spas in Skopje.
“There were various attempts at provocation, I think we behaved in the most correct way possible, as required by responsible political and statesmanlike behaviour,” Demerdzhiev told Bulgarian journalists.
“The mutual respect we declare for the people of North Macedonia and the assurances we received meant (Skopje) to give everyone the opportunity to come and honour the memory of Gotse Delchev,” Demerdzhiev said.
Relations between the two countries reached their lowest point after Hristiyan Pendikov, the secretary of the Bulgarian cultural club in Ohrid “Tsar Boris III”, was beaten, which coincided with the pre-election period in Bulgaria.
The name is considered provocative by Macedonians as Boris led Bulgaria into the German-led Axis in WWII and occupied most of what is now North Macedonia.
North Macedonia’s Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski said the police acted appropriately.
“I want to congratulate and acknowledge the professionalism and dedication of all parts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the exceptionally well-done operational work in ensuring security during the celebration of Gotse Delchev’s birth,” said Spasovski.
“Thanks to the citizens, media and journalists who have shown understanding and in the most professional way possible contributed to a dignified celebration of the great Gotse Delchev,” he added.
Last year, Bulgaria adopted the so-called “French proposal” and announced that it will remove the veto on the EU integration of North Macedonia. The condition is that the Bulgarians are added to the other peoples in the North Macedonian constitution. So far, there is no majority in the parliament in Skopje to fulfil these demands. The events of recent weeks put the agreements between Bulgaria, North Macedonia and the EU at risk of being cancelled.
(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg, Alice Taylor | EURACTIV.com)