Rumen Radev: Respect for the freedom of self-determination of the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia with Bulgarian identity is the key to the country's European integration
Bulgaria is prepared to provide support to its southwestern neighbour for faster implementation of the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership, the President stressed at the Bled Strategic Forum
Bringing the Western Balkan countries into the EU and consolidating the democratic principles and norms of behaviour in the Balkans is in the interest not only of United Europe, but above all in the interest of all citizens of the region. This is what Head of State Rumen Radev said before his participation in the Leaders' Panel on the enlargement of the European Union, which is taking place within the 16th Bled Strategic Forum in the Republic of Slovenia. The President stressed that the European integration of the Western Balkan countries will continue to be a priority of Bulgaria's foreign policy, with a special focus on the European perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia.
"Regrettably, in recent years, our relations with the Republic of North Macedonia have been brought to a dead end, and due to the inability and incapacity to explain our position, Bulgaria has even fallen into isolation with its European partners, and it is for this reason that the expectations for a compromise on Bulgaria's part are constantly growing," the President said. For this reason, both the caretaker government and the presidential institution are making systematic efforts to restore the top-level dialogue with the political leadership of the Republic of North Macedonia, as well as to defend this country's position before the European partners.
Rumen Radev underlined that Bulgaria is most interested in the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania with it embarking on their European path as soon as possible. Consequently, Bulgaria expects an active bilateral dialogue with its southwestern neighbour in order to achieve legally binding guarantees that will lead to sustainable and irreversible solutions for the development of bilateral relations, especially in the wake of the resolution adopted in July by the Parliament of the Republic of North Macedonia, which cements the non-implementation of the bilateral Treaty on friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation.
"We expect not only clear legally binding mechanisms, but also to see the eradication of hate speech and of the misrepresentation of Bulgaria in textbooks, museums, monuments, the media and even by top-level politics in the Republic of North Macedonia," Rumen Radev said. The Head of State also stressed that Bulgaria is open to dialogue and is ready to provide assistance to its southwestern neighbour so that it meets the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership more quickly. "We are particularly concerned about the respect for the rights of the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia with Bulgarian identity, and this is the key to progress in the enlargement process - respect for the freedom of self-determination of those citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia, who for decades have been persecuted and discriminated against because of their Bulgarian identity," the President stressed. In his words, this is also a real indicator that will prove that the Republic of North Macedonia has walked the path of reform and has confidently overcome the legacy of the totalitarian Yugoslav past.
The Head of State expressed his gratitude to President Stevo Pendarovski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev for restoring the dialogue at the highest political level, "so that we can seek an acceptable and sustainable solution that will guarantee the rights precisely of the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia with Bulgarian identity."
"That is why I also urged our European partners that the pressure should not be only on Bulgaria because there are things that need to be done on the part of the Republic of North Macedonia and they are in the fundament of the EU. These are the European values of civil liberties," the President further said. Rumen Radev expressed confidence that with joint efforts a sustainable solution will be found in the quickest possible way, which, however, cannot happen at the expense of the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia with Bulgarian identity.
The President also called on the parliamentary political parties in Bulgaria, on which the formation of a regular government depends, to be clearly aware that the pressure on Bulgaria will increase and that this country needs a regular government and a functioning parliament the earliest possible, which will clearly defend the Bulgarian national position before the international partners. "We need a policy that will help our friends from the Republic of North Macedonia to the maximum so that together we find these sustainable and irreversible solutions for the sake of our common European future," the Head of State added further.
The European perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia was also in the focus of the meetings of Head of State Rumen Radev with the President of the European Council Charles Michel, with the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, as well as with Matthew G. Boyse, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State. The problems in the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia can only be solved in a direct dialogue that will lead to real results, the Head of State stressed at the meetings.
In his talks with Charles Michel, the Bulgarian President reiterated the need for the European Union to develop and adopt an operational plan of its own for the protection of the European land borders in the event of a sharp increase in migration pressures, as well as for the timely provision of financial and material support to Bulgaria.