Macedonians met the Bulgarian foreign minister’s comments on Tito with an avalanche of laughter

Bulgarians fail to understand that they have made mistakes in Macedonia throughout history, says Sonja Stojadinovic, a Macedonian political scientist, who reflects on Bulgaria’s veto at the start of North Macedonia’s negotiations with the EU.

Sonja Stojadinovic has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from the Saints Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje. Currently she is working on her second master’s degree at the University of Graz in Southeast European Studies. She is a leftist activist and author for several regional leftist critical portals.

Mrs. Stojadinovic, Bulgaria made significant efforts to present itself as the lobbyist for the Western Balkans’ accession to the EU, signed a Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourhoodness and Cooperation with the Republic of Macedonia in 2017, then promoted the European future of Western Balkans at the EU summit during its presidency of the Council of the EU in 2018. How do you explain the Bulgarian veto at the start of Macedonian negotiations with the EU in November 2020 and the apparent change of foreign policy image or priorities of the government in Sofia? Who benefits from it in national, regional and international plans?

Before we jump to conclusions of who benefits from this Bulgarian veto, we have to go deep into the reasons why the Bulgarian government has decided to take the strongest action possible as an EU member state. This veto pulls its roots from the long and hard protests that hit Bulgaria this year and were focused on the deeply corrupt government. Also, Bulgaria is facing incoming parliamentary elections next year in March and like every other government who has nothing to offer to its citizens, it offers only nationalistic rhetoric. This form of political behaviour is not unfamiliar to Macedonian citizens because nationalistic vocabulary and the creation of false interethnic tensions has unfortunately long been the practice of political parties in the face of incoming elections. So in order to win cheap political points in the face of elections, the government of Borisov plays the nationalism card in foreign policy, while having failed in the internal policy towards its citizens.

Who benefits from the veto? Only nationalist political parties on both sides of the border together with the corrupt governments with tight connections to the capitalists.

How are the words of Bulgarian foreign minister Ekaterina Zaharieva: “You can’t want to be in the EU 30 years after the start of the (social-political) changes and still celebrate one of the darkest dictators Tito” perceived in Northern Macedonia and former Yugoslav countries, some of which in the meantime have become EU members?

Regarding Tito, this statement by Zaharieva really sparked an avalanche of laughter on social media in Northern Macedonia. People started to post pictures of Tito en masse and embrace the period of his rule along with the legacy he left behind. Also, we cannot and do not want to forget Tito and his role in the Second World War and his contribution together with the Yugoslavian partisans and Yugoslavian Communist Party, in the struggle against fascism. It is a long lasting, incorrect practice from Westerners to draw a parallel between Tito and Yugoslavia on one side and the USSR, Stalin and the rest of the state in the Eastern bloc on the other. Yugoslavia was not under dictatorship and it was the best given model of socialism in the given time.

Also, there was a reaction from intellectuals and university professors from Zagreb, Belgrade, and Sarajevo to Zaharieva’s statement, enhancing the legacy of Tito. Tito has unified the Slavic nations on Balkan soil, given a new form to the kingdom of Yugoslavia and recognized Macedonians as equal citizens in this new country with their own language, republic and identity. Macedonians are the ones who are celebrating Tito the most and I strongly doubt we would have had the chance to establish our own republic if Tito had been a dictator.

Judging from your experience with both peer-to-peer interaction and from official state positions what do Bulgarians fail to understand about Macedonians?

Bulgarians fail to understand first and foremost, that denying their fascist past in the Second World War when they occupied Macedonia, killed thousands of innocent people, and deported 7,200 Macedonian Jews to Treblinka will lead nowhere. Zaharieva and Karakachanov have attacked Macedonian citizens by denying their language and identity and now they are hypocritically crying that there is hatred in Macedonia against Bulgaria. Let me be clear, ordinary Macedonians do not hate ordinary Bulgarians like we did not hate Greeks during the long lasting issue with the name of our country. We had and still have strong economic cooperation with Greece and Macedonians every summer spent their holidays on Chalkidiki. Do not forget that Macedonians are also frequent tourists to the ski resorts of Bansko and Borovets and they will likely again be the first to visit Bulgaria when the borders open again. Behaving like a bully because Bulgaria is an EU member state and we are not, does not contribute to the image of Bulgarians in the eyes of Macedonians and other EU member states. We are not asking Bulgarian politicians to act like Willy Brandt and apologize for the occupation and massacres in the Second World War because I do not believe that there are still politicians like Brandt. But nobody can erase the historical facts upon which our monuments from WWII were erected, and Karakachanov wanted to send the army to pull them down. Fascist Bulgaria was an occupier, not a liberator.  

And what’s your understanding of the arguments, pointed out by the government in Sofia in order to explain why “Macedonia is not ready to start negotiations for accession to the EU”? How significant or justified are they?

If these arguments were based on the criticisms and comments from the European Commission reports based on the level of implementation of the reforms required to start negotiations, yes, Sofia would be right. But they are not. The argument that Macedonia is not ready to start negotiations is just an unspoken sentence which sounds something like this: You are not ready to accept our denial of your identity, just accept the abuse of our position as an EU member state, you have to lie that we didn’t occupy you, and we were not an ally of Nazi Germany in WWII.

Our future does not lay in denying and bullying each other, but in building the railway Skopje-Sofia, constructing new roads, expanding our economies, strengthening academic cooperation, and eradicating poverty. Macedonians and Bulgarians have similar mentalities, laugh at the same jokes, have similar cuisine and both sides can offer amazing culture, theater, literature, but also suffer from the same problems: Poverty, corruption, brain drain, mass migration. You can easily offer nationalism and hatred to hungry citizens.

Photo: Sonja Stojadinovic (source: Sonja Stojadinovic)

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