Bid to ‘normalize’ relations with Bulgaria sparks protest in North Macedonia

Lured by the prospective EU membership, the North Macedonian government continues to negotiate unpopular agreements with neighboring countries

July 11, 2022 by Muhammed Shabeer
From the anti-government protest in Skopje (Image via Levica)

Massive protests took place across North Macedonia over the past few weeks against efforts to normalize relations with Bulgaria under the diktats of the European Union (EU). The nationalists and the Left are taking part in the protests, with the North Macedonian government accused of compromising the country’s sovereignty by succumbing to the EU diktats of ‘normalizing’ relationships with neighbors such as Bulgaria and Greece, in order to gain EU membership. The Bulgarian government’s attempt to life the country’s veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession has led to the fall of pro-EU Kiril Petkov administration, as a coalition partner withdrew support to the government over the issue.

Opposition parties in North Macedonia, especially the Levica (Left), organized massive protests in the capital city, Skopje against the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) coalition government’s approval of talks with Bulgaria on the “Treaty of Good Neighborhood” under the instigation of the EU. Levica primarily opposes the government’s adherence to foreign interests, which it claims cater to the ruling class’ fascination with EU membership. 

The nationalist sectors in the country are outraged at Bulgaria’s demands of special status and rights for the Bulgarian minorities and nationals in North Macedonia, as mentioned in the Treaty of Good Neighborhood. 

Despite the ouster of the Kiril Petkov-led government from power in Bulgaria on June 22, on June 24, the Bulgarian parliament voted in favor for lifting the veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession and to continue dialogue on the Treaty of Good Neighborhood with North Macedonia. The major Bulgarian opposition party, the conservative Citizens for a European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), which had vetoed North Macedonia’s EU accession talk when in power, supported the proposal. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) abstained from voting.

On July 5, Levica stated, “People have been saying loudly and decisively ‘no’ to this humiliating decision, which the SDSM government is trying to spread among the Macedonian people with lies as a positive thing for Macedonia and manipulations that this is the last chance for negotiations with the EU. This will not bring Macedonia closer to the EU, the negotiating framework and the Protocol at no point guarantee this—on the contrary, it leaves room for Bulgaria to take us backwards with each new chapter, via its veto right.”

“These ‘European values’ of humiliation, chauvinism and fascism on smaller nations, by obstructing the opportunity of self-identification through blackmail and pressure, are not the values we aspire to as a people and an independent state,” added Levica.

Levica leader Dimitar Apasiev has condemned the government’s attempts to portray the protesters as rioters. He also accused pro-government parties for attacking anti-government demonstrations.

North Macedonia had signed the Prespa Agreement with Greece on June 17, 2018, to withdraw Greece’s objection towards North Macedonian accession to the EU and NATO. As part of the agreement, Macedonia-FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) was renamed as the Republic of Northern Macedonia in order to distinguish it from the northern Greek province of Macedonia. The agreement was opposed by leftists and nationalist sectors in both Greece and North Macedonia. Nationalists in both countries decried what they called the surrender of heritage linked with ancient Macedonia. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) denounced the agreement as an imperialist ploy for NATO expansionism in the region. 

The Levica in North Macedonia has criticized the Prespa Agreement, stating that it was ratified internally in spite of a failed referendum in the country, and that a deeply criminal internal parliamentary process resulted in four constitutional changes instigated by the agreement. Levica has called for Prespa’s annulment, not only because of the criminal and illegal way in which it was passed, but also due to its contravening of the principle of self-determination. Levica also called for the withdrawal of the country’s membership to NATO. To this date, Levica has refused to approve the official renaming of the country to ‘North Macedonia’ and preferred to use the title ‘Republic of Macedonia’, as part of their protest. 

In November 2019, On behalf of the Presidium of the Levica, Recep “Haktan” Ismail told Peoples Dispatch that the “only offering by the political in the country to the people of Macedonia for the past roughly 30 years of post-socialist independence, has been the attainment of two goals: membership in NATO and membership in the EU. Demonstrating an uncritical loyalty to these goals was a constant feature of all governments in the post-socialist period after 1991.

“In this period, with the help of foreign funded media, civil society and public intellectuals, a pervasive hegemonic discourse was built around the following message – that membership to NATO and EU are synonymous with prosperity and stability; that the political elites only need to deliver membership in these organizations, and prosperity and stability will automatically follow.”