SPEECHES AND STATEMENTS
Address by President Rumen Radev at the National Conference "European Perspective on Good Neighbourly Relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia"
Dear Madam Vice President,
Dear representatives of state institutions,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank all of you present here today - representatives of state institutions, academia, diplomats, journalists, public figures, experts in Balkan studies, representatives of the non-governmental sector, members of organisations and associations of Bulgarians in the Republic of North Macedonia. I would especially like to welcome the representatives of the clubs of the Macedonian Patriotic Organisations in the USA and Canada. The oldest authoritative emigrant organisation of the Macedonian Bulgarians, whose 100th anniversary we will celebrate this year.
Today's conference goes far beyond the dimensions of Bulgarian domestic and foreign policy, but it is taking place because of your active stance over the years on the issue of our relations with the Republic of North Macedonia. I would like to thank you for doing your utmost to develop a sincere relationship of friendship and good neighbourliness. For doing your best to overcome the ideologies of the totalitarian Yugoslav regime, which for years have crippled dialogue and prevented full exchange - cultural, social, economic - between the people on both sides of the border.
I would also like to thank the media for your presence at this important conference. I am convinced that the European perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia has no alternative, that this is the strategic goal not only of Bulgarian foreign policy, I can say, of our state, of our society. I am convinced that, sooner or later, the desire of the people on both sides for full communication without barriers and borders will lead to the abolition of artificial divisions. Of course, there is also a lot of work to be done to make this happen. Work that Bulgaria has done over the years.
We all know that over the last three decades Bulgaria has done a lot for the development of our relations. We are the country that first recognised the independence of the young country in 1992. We were always there with an outstretched hand to help in economic and political isolation, in regional and internal conflicts, in crises and disasters. We unconditionally supported the membership of the Republic of North Macedonia in NATO and thus provided a guarantee for its security.
But if we want our relations to develop progressively, to reach more quickly this strategic goal that we want on both sides, we have to be frank in our dialogue. If we were pursuing this friendly policy, I must say that it has not met with an adequate, reciprocal policy from the other side, and there is currently an anti-Bulgarian campaign in our neighbour, unfortunately involving state institutions, politicians, the media and political parties. The processes of cohesion, especially in the area of connectivity - transport, infrastructure, whatever - are blocked. Corridor VIII has remained only in the realm of declarations. The Treaty of Friendship, Neighbourhood and Cooperation, which we signed with great hopes in 2017, is not being implemented. The work of the Joint Commission on Historical and Educational Issues is blocked. All sorts of mechanisms are being used to lobby and put pressure on Bulgaria through the European institutions, through our partners and allies to compromise and lift the veto. The scandalous census last year highlighted the deep problems with the rights of the Macedonian Bulgarians.
Here, I think, at this conference, we should also seek answers to difficult questions - how our domestic and foreign policy, in terms of action and inaction over the years back, has helped this to happen, to get us to this situation today, and against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, which is being used by European institutions as an argument for urgent, immediate integration of the Republic of North Macedonia into the European Union, even at the cost of severe compromises on our part for the sake of the stability of Europe. Certainly, as Brussels understands this problem. We are facing a very important historical issue in terms of the European integration of the Republic of North Macedonia, a historical choice, I might say. This is a question that concerns not only our foreign policy, our bilateral relations, our relations with the EU, it is a question that deeply affects the foundations of our national identity, it affects our self-esteem as full European citizens, and it affects our dignity as a people that has contributed to the cultural development of the continent. Not only that, this issue affects the sustainability and future of the European Union in perspective, even if it is not realised in all its dimensions by the European institutions and by our partners, by many of them.
Against this backdrop, we are faced with important decisions and a difficult dilemma - how to ensure that negotiations begin as soon as possible, to give consent for the Republic of North Macedonia to start negotiations for integration into the European Union, while at the same time putting up a clear barrier to militant Macedonism, protecting the rights of the Macedonian Bulgarians and defending our history, culture and identity. Resolving this dilemma requires answers to many difficult questions - what guarantees should we achieve in a bilateral and European format, how the integration process can be sustainable and irreversible, what are the factors behind the key problems of our relations, what are the driving forces, what is their genesis and how do they relate to our long-term political goals. Also, what policies and resources are needed so that we can develop our relationship as quickly and comprehensively as possible, and I repeat, so that we can achieve our strategic objective - the integration of the Republic of North Macedonia into European structures as quickly as possible.
It is clear that these issues are difficult, it is clear that not everything is black and white, we have to look for our interests to cross somewhere, and we have to look for compromises. When we talk about compromises, I want to say frankly that as president I cannot compromise with the rights of the Macedonian Bulgarians, because their equal rights along with other peoples must be guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia, alongside the other peoples empowered there, so that these people, many of them Bulgarian citizens, let us not forget, can fully integrate into the economic, social and political life of our neighbour. This is a definite barrier to ending the processes of de-Bulgarisation. I cannot compromise with our history, our cultural and historical heritage and identity, I cannot accept the multi-perspective approach to our common history, we cannot agree with the theft of history, its replacement and classification. This does not lead to a sustainable solution and full integration. Ending hate speech and eradicating it is extremely important. It starts with changing the textbooks on history and geography, with reflecting the historical truth. But I cannot accept that the young generation in our friendly neighbour is being educated in a spirit of hatred towards Bulgarians and all things Bulgarian. This is absolutely inadmissible and we cannot accept it, because we are responsible for the future of our two countries and their relations. There is no way forward unless the archives of the Yugoslav totalitarian communist services (UDBA) are opened up to make clear the thousands of broken human lives, persecuted and murdered, simply because they have decided to continue to call themselves Bulgarians. I do not say this with even a tinge of the idea of seeking retribution, no, but just as all the countries of Eastern Europe experienced their catharsis for breaking with their totalitarian past and embarking on the path of democracy, so too the Republic of North Macedonia cannot make an exception for breaking with its totalitarian past, with the ideologies of the Communist International and steadily embarking on the path of democracy.
I cannot compromise on our responsibility as a democratic country for the future of the EU. If the depth of the historical problem and the potential of Macedonism to destabilise the EU in the future is not currently realised in some of the European institutions, in some of our partners, then we are responsible, we are a responsible and loyal member of the EU. We must not assume, and I will use Marin Raykov's phrase: 'We must integrate partners, not problems'. This is how we show our responsibility and loyalty to the EU. These are things that, as president of the Republic of Bulgaria, I cannot compromise on.
The big question facing Bulgarian politics and our society is when Bulgaria will greenlight the negotiation process. I have always argued that this should be after North Macedonia's Constitution has been changed and the Bulgarians have been included on an equal footing with the other parts of peoples. Why do I think we should do it before? We already have many events and processes that have led us to a position of losing credibility. For 5 years now we have had a treaty of friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation, but what has happened so far? Has anything changed, politically speaking? Only the note to the UN, which was prepared a long time ago. What guarantee is there that something will change in a positive direction in the next 5 years? What are the mechanisms by which the EU will guarantee not just our national interest, but whether the EU will guarantee its sustainability with regard to this problem? Is it in the stabilisation and association process, is it in the negotiating framework, with what road map, or are we going to be proposed to make unilateral declarations that have no legally binding force? And something very important - the change of the Constitution and the insertion of one word, one single word, "Bulgarians", alongside the other parts of peoples means that you accept the European idea, that you accept the Copenhagen criteria.
I understand very well the internal political problems of our neighbour, we have our issues, they have theirs, and the statements that they cannot do it at the moment because they lack a 2/3rd majority in parliament, excuse me, if the parliament of the country does not have the political will, the government does not have the political will to administer agreement with the Copenhagen membership criteria in their most important part - human rights and non-discrimination, then what national goal are we discussing about our neighbour becoming an EU country? I think that would be a clear sign, a clear statement that 'yes, we are ready' as a consolidated policy, as a consolidated society to be a member of this EU. I am also in favour of opening the door to negotiations when we see clear guarantees for a sustainable and irreversible process of protecting our cultural and historical heritage. What are the conditions to achieve these objectives? First of all, to adhere to the National Framework Position adopted by the declaration of the 44th National Assembly, to the latest decisions of the Consultative Council on National Security. To adhere to the 1+5 package, which is now, after sending the note, the 1+4 package. I would like to recall some things from the building up of the Bulgarian position, because even in our partners from the European institutions over time there has been a misunderstanding of what exactly our Bulgarian positions mean, what our arguments are.
Yes, the pressure is enormous. Unfortunately, and this is paradoxical, the pressure is on the Member State for the most part and on the applicant country for the least part. But pressure because of a lack of understanding of precisely the profundity of the historical problems. This pressure was particularly strong last year on two occasions, there were two Councils that were ready to consider the enlargement issue, but this did not happen because this position was defended.
And I thank many of you who I see in this room, whom I have spoken to, we have been looking together for solutions with the caretaker government, the two caretaker governments, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to highlight the big issue that has been missing from the agenda of Bulgarian politics for many decades. We were very shy. We somehow did not want to look at the fact that, yes, there are Bulgarians there, and when the rights of these Macedonian Bulgarians, the need to protect them as an important element of the fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria, came to the fore, believe me, our partners from the presidencies of the European Commission, the President of the Council of the EU, the Parliament, from the Chancellor of Germany, the President of Germany through the President of France, the US Secretary of State, started to understand where there is actually a big problem that needs to be solved. Sofia came back as a policy maker and the 1+5 package was developed here in Sofia. And everybody that I spoke to, that I mentioned, and many others, when we saw each other said, 'yes, yes we know - 1+5'. This means that this formula is accepted and it is working and it is the perspective for the sustainability of the integration process and we have to follow it.
In my opinion, another important factor to achieve success is the consolidation of our society. It is amazing how Bulgarian intellectuals, who swear by European values from morning till night, are actually ready to overturn the European values and the Copenhagen criteria. They say: 'Go ahead immediately, we lift everything unconditionally'. The same intellectuals who do not let a hair of doubt fall that they are virulent anti-communists are legitimising the ideas of the Communist International. I think Bulgaria has many, many more other intellectuals and I thank you for being here.
The all-round development of our relationship is very important as a condition for progress, and it's really wonderful that the energetic new prime ministers of both countries have taken a step in that direction. Working groups, sectoral policies, a great insistence on developing cooperation in many areas, a week-by-week timetable, but I continue to insist to them, and I have spoken to both of them, that I want to see a timetable not only for economic, transport, infrastructure, and cultural cohesion, a timetable for resolving outstanding political issues. Because if we do not resolve them, all this and the efforts of the two governments will again go to the wayside.
Of course, the work with our partners: I am grateful that many of the ambassadors are here. We have a regular dialogue with them. It is important to clarify the issues. It is important to clarify our position in its overall comprehensiveness. I can say that Bulgaria is not acting from a position of strength. Bulgaria is acting from a position of truth and EU responsibility, and therein lies the strength of our position. It must be defended in all political formats. Here we have to see whether our scientific community is active enough, whether it is sufficiently supported by the state for international publications, and joint historical research. Attracting historians from other countries. Let us learn from North Macedonia. They have a vast experience. If we keep track of the number of publications, of conferences, of scholars involved, we will see that the ratio has some rather drastic dimensions.
I would like to draw attention to a draft resolution 741 of the US Congress, according to which, if passed, the month of September will be designated in the United States as the month of the Macedonian language, history and cultural contribution of Macedonians to the development of the United States. When one reads it, one is indeed extremely impressed. This thing is being done under the nose of Bulgarian diplomacy, and I thank the Macedonian patriotic organisations which have reacted and written to the US Congress that this is disrespectful of their rights and identity. It means a substitution of the historical truth, as the letters say.
First of all, many of the people who are put on this list have left written proof of their Bulgarian ancestry and as the organisations have written very well in their letters, they do not agree that the members of these organisations, their geographical, regional Macedonian identity of Macedonian Bulgarians to become an ethnic Macedonian identity.
I want to thank our Consul General in Chicago for his address to the Illinois Congress. This shows the state of our national strategy and policy in terms of working with our communities abroad, with their involvement with Bulgaria, with our policy of defending and expanding the Bulgarian cultural space worldwide. In this respect, we can see the huge lack of a single centre to unite efforts, at least at the moment this policy is scattered across different ministries. There is a lack of a centre that unites the efforts of all institutions, that has a clear strategy, policy and resources to defend this cultural and spiritual space. I think I should stop here, because you are much more important - the experts, the participants in this conference. I would love to hear a frank answer to these questions. I would like to give the floor to Mrs Iliana Iotova, for whom this centre has been a cause for many years.