MON, 22 FEB 1999 23:50:13 GMT
AIM Sofia, 18 February, 1999
"On 22 February, Bulgaria and Macedonia will finally put an end to their linguistic controversy", declared Bulgarian prime minister Ivan Kostov. That is when, in the course of the visit of new Macedonian prime minister Ljubce Georgijevski, signing of a joint declaration on cooperation is planned. The declaration will be signed in the official languages of the two countries - in Macedonian, pursuant the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, and in Bulgarian, pursuant the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. This will finally end the long controversy on Macedonian language which has been an obstacle for bilateral relations for almost six years. As known, Bulgaria was the first country in the world which recognised the new state Republic of Macedonia, but not the Macedonian nation and language.
The news that the controversy will be solved was announced on the day when 120th anniversary of Bulgarian parliament was observed. In his statement on the occasion, prime minister Ivan Kostov stressed: "This is today's European news on the occasion of the anniversary of the national assembly. We have accepted the formula to speak in the language of united Europe - the language of friendship, tolerance and mutual respect of interests. Bulgaria and Macedonia will give their joint contribution to stability in the region".
In the mentioned declaration, two parties declare that they have no mutual territorial aspirations. Macedonia will declare that nothing in its Constitution can be the foundation for interference in internal affairs of Bulgaria in order to protect rights of persons who are not its citizens. Politicians believe that this means that Skopje will probably give up on its claims that there is a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. This also means that ethnic Macedonian organization OMO "Ilinden" which is illegitimate pursuant Bulgarian legislature, will not be recognised.
The document will enable signing of about 20 commercial, economic and cultural agreements. According to Bulgarian prime minister, this will stimulate mutual investments, the road to commercial and economic development will be opened, customs and border formalities will be reduced, conditions will be created for broader cultural exchange. "This long expected declaration is a unique document and a natural continuation of a historical fact that Bulgaria was the first to recognize independence of the Republic of Macedonia", declared Ivan Kostov.
The formula according to which the linguistic controversy will be solved is neither new nor surprising. The idea about the declaration in official languages of the two countries in accordance with their constitutions has existed ever since the time of their socialist governments - it was launched by the then foreign minister Georgi Pirinski. Some time later the current head of Bulgarian diplomacy Nadezda Mihajlova estimated this possibility for solving problems as the most feasible one among 12 elaborated during all these years. The only obstacle was the ruling Social Democratic coalition in Skopje which has never manifested interest in establishing good neighbourly relations with Sofia. On the contrary, it did its best to aggravate them, presenting Bulgaria as an enemy. During its rule in Skopje, it insisted on full and unconditional recognition of Macedonian language which was absolutely unacceptable for Sofia.
Bulgarian politicians waited with plenty of tact for change of authorities in Macedonia in order to be sure that they would not be manipulated by signing of such a declaration. Talks about resolution of the controversy started soon after establishment of the new Macedonian government by VMRO-DPMNE and DA. Not a month had passed since the two parties had talked on the level of deputy foreign ministers in Skopje when Ivan Kostov made news public that an agreement was reached with his colleague Ljubce Georgievski. On that same day Bulgarian minister of trade Valentin Vasilev was considering with his Macedonian colleague Nikola Gruevski the possibility of the beginning of free trade between the two countries as of the year 2000.
Nevertheless, has not Bulgaria capitulated in the linguistic controversy with Macedonia? Politicians of all colours in Sofia are seeking answer to this question. They are unanimous in the assessment that it was high time that this problem between Sofia and Skopje be solved and that at least for the time being this seems to be the most realistic and acceptable possibility. Reactions of the media, however, are quite the opposite. The headlines are approximately the same: "We have recognised Macedonian language".
Majority of deputies of the national assembly received the news stated by Kostov with applause and exclamations "Bravo". But the opposition was not so united in its reactions: "This is indeed a major event since in the past few years a great deal of our political energy was concentrated on resolving this issue. Thank God, it is about to be resolved to mutual satisfaction", declared president Petar Stojanov.
Leader of opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Georgi Prvanov was critical about the declaration: "This reminded me how we recognised Macedonia in a hurry in 1992 led by narrow party interests. This is by no means a victory, but a difficult compromise the price of which still is not clear", declared the leader of Socialists.
All the other politicians - from the ruling forces and the opposition, leader of Bulgarian VMRO Krasimir Karakachanov inclusive, greeted the declaration which according to them offers a good foundation for development of bilateral relations. Nevertheless, deputies of the opposition will demand to be informed about the declaration to more detail. Deputy of the party of Euro-Left Elena Poptodorova declared in this connection that it was very important what Macedonia would offer in answer to the compromise Bulgaria had agreed to. As concerning deputies of BSP it was especially important for them whether with this declaration Skopje would definitely give up on its aspirations on existence of Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. "The fact that we are signing a document in two languages does not mean recognition. If it is signed it will be a positive moment in relations between the two countries. I doubt it, however, that the agreement will be signed because internal political pressure will be exerted on Ljubce Georgievski", declared Karakacanov. According to him, the old communist forces which are working in favour of blocking relations are still quite powerful. It is therefore, very important what will be happening in the days until signing of the declaration.