Authorities in North Macedonia consider the personality of Ivan Mihailov, after whom the new Bulgarian cultural club in Bitola is named, controversial. Although he shook the Bulgarian prime minister's hand, the Macedonian foreign minister refused to accompany him at the club's opening. In northern Macedonia, unrest continues over the new Bulgarian cultural centre "Ivan Mihailov" in Bitola. It was opened last Saturday in the presence of Bulgarian Vice President Iliana Iotova, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska and MPs from various political parties.
Skopje counted only 3,504 Bulgarians in northern Macedonia
Only 3,504 North Macedonian citizens self-identify as Bulgarians. This is clear from the results presented today in Skopje from the country's census, reports BGNES. It was held from 5 to 30 September 2021. The total population is 2 097 319 people, of which 5
30 March 2022
The chosen name of the club, however, sparked angry reactions among Macedonian politicians. President Stevo Pendarovski, for example, declared that Mihailov was a "proven collaborator of the fascist regime of World War II". And today Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani described the former VMRO leader as a "controversial and provocative" personality.
Kiril Petkov was greeted with insulting chants as he disembarked from the helicopter he arrived in northern Macedonia, reports BGNES. The prime minister, Vice President Iliana Iotova, Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska and MPs from the ruling and opposition parties came to visit Bitola.
"The provocation was not the opening of the Bulgarian club in Bitola, but the choice of the name. This should be well understood. The opening of clubs of the Bulgarian community is absolutely indisputable in the Republic of Macedonia. The Bulgarian community has this opportunity, freedom and encouragement to organize and manifest its cultural and identity attributes in any form, but not in a way that provokes or disturbs other citizens," Osmani, quoted by BGNES, said at a press conference specially convened for the occasion.
From his words it is clear that the only reason to allow the opening of the club is not to appear that Skopje is violating the rights of local Bulgarians. "We are a democratic country where all citizens and all communities enjoy all rights equally and we really will not allow an alibi that the human rights of any ethnic community, including the Bulgarian one, are being violated here," Osmani said during the briefing. The controversy in this case is the choice of name, as Ivan Mihailov's personality is considered "controversial and provocative" here. Otherwise, the country's leadership would also have been part of the event.
"We did what we had to do. We did not allow North Macedonia to be presented to the world as a country that restricts the rights of any ethnic community. It's not my job to care about the image of Bulgaria and what personalities they celebrate - they have a Foreign Ministry that has to explain to the Jewish and world community why certain personalities are so important to them," Osmani stressed.
He said that the request for the Bulgarian delegation to visit on the occasion of the opening of the cultural house in Bitola came from Vice President Iliana Iotova, and was later joined by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.
"Of course, one of our assumptions was that the visit of a centre that bears a controversial name here might have ulterior motives, and that is that the dispute is a human rights dispute, and that the Bulgarian community does not enjoy its rights here, and that we do not meet the Copenhagen criteria," Osmani said.
In his words, the absence of official representatives of the Macedonian state at the event in Bitola was a clear sign of Skopje's position. "We emerged victorious from what happened", he declared. He added that what happened showed Europe that not every person or event can be accepted as a common story.
The Macedonian foreign minister said his country could not break off negotiations with Bulgaria as this would affect Skopje's European integration. "If Albania starts negotiations in June, we will be in an even worse situation," he said.
"If we give in to emotions, we will make mistakes. If we make policy based on emotions, the result will sober us up very quickly. We must continue on our European path because we deserve it and we have no alternative. If we fail, the reason will be Bulgaria's lack of will, not the fact that we have given in to emotions", Osmani stressed.
Regarding the inclusion of Bulgarians in the constitution of the RS Macedonia, he said this cannot happen before the start of the negotiations.