North Macedonia protests against deal with Bulgaria enter third day

North Macedonia protests against deal with Bulgaria enter third day
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje July 4, 2022

Protests in North Macedonia’s capital continued on July 4 for the third day in a row against the French proposal for solving the dispute with Bulgaria, which is expected to lift its veto on the start of EU accession talks with Skopje.

For most people in the country the French proposal is unacceptable because it incorporates the Bulgarian demands, which are seen as harmful for the Macedonian national interests.

The first day of protest under the motto "Ultimatum - No thanks" was held on July 2. The opposition in North Macedonia claims that the proposal is against the country’s national interest and takes into account only Bulgarian demands. Some smaller parties from the government coalition also said they would not support the proposal in the parliament if amendments are not made.

Some of the demonstrators clashed with the police, who set up a cordon in front of the government building, after they broke through the protective fence and started throwing eggs, stones and firecrackers at the building.

The protest started in a tense atmosphere, after the leader of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski, called on citizens to gather in great numbers because, as he said, the government intends to accept the proposal of the French presidency on July 5. Then it will be voted on in the parliament.

Later, most of the demonstrators headed towards the parliament. Some of them tore down the protective fence in front of the assembly building. Protestors were singing patriotic songs, demanding the resignation of the government and a complete rejection of Bulgaria's demands.

The series of protests came after North Macedonia’s authorities said on July 1 that what they said was a modified French proposal is acceptable as it protects the Macedonian language and keeps historical issues out of the EU negotiation framework. But the opposition accused the government of lying.

According to the opposition and some experts the proposal only means Bulgarisation of the nation in a long-term EU accession process, and denies the existence of Macedonian identity.

“The consultation phase is still ongoing. We are working intensively on consultation about this proposal in order to make an appropriate decision in the coming days,” Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bojan Maricic said on July 4.

“We did not commit ourselves to specific deadlines... but we have been waiting for 17 years. And in a situation where we have a proposal that pays attention to all our remarks, I think it is a package that is worth considering seriously," said Maricic.

The President of the European Council Charles Michel is visiting Skopje on July 5 to convince the country to accept the French proposal and open EU accession talks following a two-year delay due to Bulgaria's veto. 

Bulgaria’s parliament on June 24 approved a French proposal that would lift the country's veto on the start of North Macedonia’s EU membership talks. 

According to the text adopted by the parliament, Bulgaria’s government can lift the veto if four conditions are met. The text of the French proposal should be refined so that it guarantees inclusion of the Bulgarians living in North Macedonia in the constitution on an equal basis with the rest of peoples in those sections of the constitution where these peoples are mentioned.

Sofia also wants a clarification of the texts that would guarantee that nothing in the process of North Macedonia’s EU accession can be considered an admission of the existence of the Macedonian language by Bulgaria.

Bulgaria will also seek guarantees that the good relations between the two neighbours will remain part of the criteria that North Macedonia should fulfil to be accepted in the EU.

Sofia also wants a friendship treaty signed in 2017 to be referenced in the documents on the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession talks.