Macedonian and Bulgarian historians of the joint multidisciplinary commission on historical and educational issues will hold a meeting on Thursday after nearly a year-long hiatus.
This is the joint commission’s tenth meeting, to focus on issues and topics in a bid to overcome historiographical disputes. It is taking place amid a tense situation after Sofia set a new condition to Skopje with regards to the EU integration process.
Bulgaria recently sent an explanatory memorandum to EU countries, outlining serious claims and red lines on North Macedonia’s EU path, which were confirmed at a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers, Bujar Osmani and Ekaterina Zakharieva, held in Sofia last week.
Macedonian top officials strongly urge that language and nationality, i.e. identity issues cannot be disputed in the 21st century, yet the Bulgarian side doesn’t cave in and keeps to its theses on the origin of the language in the neighboring country, but also the origin of the nation.
Last week, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Macedonian people may have to be ready for the possibility that the first intergovernmental conference won’t be held in December, due to Bulgaria’s non-European demands to the country.
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, on the other hand, said that Bulgaria’s FM Ekaterina Zakharieva demanded during her meeting with Osmani in Sofia for the signing of a new agreement similar to Prespa, including constitutional changes to define the existence of the Macedonian nation and language as of 1945.
In response to the claims made by the opposition leader, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani on Wednesday stressed that there’s no new agreement with Bulgaria, only improving mutual communication at all levels.
“I want to make something clear about relations with Bulgaria and my visit there: there’s no new agreement, only strengthening mutual cooperation at multiple levels. Both countries are openly discussing all issues stemming from the Friendship Agreement and are working to ensure commissions’ activities resume uninterrupted. The joint multidisciplinary commission on historical and educational issues will meet on Thursday and Friday in Skopje, thus making a step towards achieving agreement provisions,” the FM said in a Facebook post.
He urged for political maturity, adding that relations with neighbors aren’t regulated by fueling speculation.
President Stevo Pendarovski also responded to reports by the media, pointing out that so far, no one from Bulgaria has even verbally demanded a new agreement and constitutional revision.
“As President, I have not received a written demand or even a verbal information that Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani was given any set of demands at his meetings in Sofia, as reported by media,” Pendarovski told Telma TV.
He underlined the country’s firm position that if we do not join the EU as Macedonians speaking the Macedonian language, then we do not need that kind of EU.
“It is beyond any reason to discuss any constitutional revision or annexes to the treaty,” Pendarovski said.
He noted that Sofia is displeased because of an alleged neglect of the treaty on the part of North Macedonia, unlike the Prespa Agreement. The agreements differ from a legal point of view, since one is a bilateral one and the other an international one, but in a political sense, they are both important for North Macedonia, opening the country’s doors to its European integration.
Asked to comment on Mickoski’s remarks, PM Zaev on Wednesday stressed that at the moment, it’s vital to protect our interests all the while taking into consideration the interests of Bulgaria.
He said talks between North Macedonia and Bulgaria are ongoing, stressing that the Macedonian side has been making utmost efforts for the country to move forward.
“I don’t know what is Mickoski exactly referring to, but we are in negotiations. We are a responsible party, we want to see our country moving forward. I believe we’re doing our best and being completely committed to reach the deals,” Zaev told reporters.
“I’ve already said that with proposals like these, our people should be aware that the first intergovernmental conference might not take place. But, I’ve also said it’s neither in our interest nor in the interest of Bulgaria,” the PM added, voicing confidence that a solution can be found.
Reactions also keep pouring in both from Sofia and the wider region, and according to Bulgarian analysts, Bulgaria will face an increasing pressure not to block North Macedonia’s EU integration process, as Berlin and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel will strongly support it.
Amid such political strife, Macedonian and Bulgarian historians will need to rise to the challenge on Thursday and find a common ground.
Issues and topics in a bid to overcome historiographical disputes, as well as obstacles to work, will be on the table at the tenth meeting of the North Macedonia-Bulgaria joint multidisciplinary commission on historical and educational issues, set to take place on Thursday and Friday in Skopje.
The joint commission will be focusing, among other, on wrapping up discussion to align positions on recommendations for seventh-grade history textbooks in North Macedonia.
“After a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission will hold its tenth meeting on October 15 and 16 in Skopje. Focus will be on issues and topics in a bid to overcome historiographical disputes as obstacles to fostering good relations and friendship between the two countries and their people,” the Macedonian team of experts said in a press release.
“In addition to the usual topics, history textbooks and proposals for joint celebration of historical figures and events, the commission will also discuss topics and issues that have recently been an obstacle to its work, or a reason for politicizing its work and academic and expert character which causes damage to the process of building good neighborly and friendly relations,” the press release reads.
This will be the joint commission’s first meeting in 2020. In June, the joint commission held a video conference discussing content of the minutes from its ninth meeting.
The North Macedonia-Bulgaria joint commission on historical and educational issues has so far made progress in relation to ancient history and the Middle Ages, but no agreement on the Goce Delchev issue.
So far, within a period of two years, the commission has already proposed that governments celebrate together Ss. Cyril and Methodius, St. Clement, St. Naum and Czar Samuel.
It has also made recommendations on antiquity as presented in fifth-grade textbooks in Bulgaria and sixth-grade textbooks in North Macedonia’s educational system.
After the meeting on Friday (October 16), co-chairs of the commission, North Macedonia’s Dragi Gjorgiev and Bulgaria’s Angel Dimitrov, will give a joint media statement at the Club of MPs in Skopje.