Position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs04 February 2023 News
Since 1991, the Republic of Bulgaria has been demonstrating consistently genuine will for the development of good neighborly relations with the Republic of North Macedonia. After the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Good-neighborliness and Cooperation in 2017 a practice was established of joint commemorations of historical figures from our common history, amid whom undeniably is Georgi (Gotse) Nikolov Delchev.
Unfortunately, the celebration of the 151st Anniversary of his birth did not contribute to the improvement of the bilateral relations between Sofia and Skopje. We note with deep regret that the 4th of February 2023 will mark history as the date on which the authorities in Skopje, with extremely unconvincing arguments and in breach of the previously offered assurances, did not permit Bulgarian citizens to honor the life and legacy of Georgi Delchev. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs deems todays behavior of those who govern North Macedonia against the Bulgarian people and the Republic of Bulgaria as demeaning and unacceptable.
We consider such actions a noncompliance with the commitments made to the provision of free and unrestricted access to all citizens of good will, who wanted to show their respect to the great revolutionary. This act, together with the refusal of a joint laying of wreaths by the delegations from Bulgaria and North Macedonia, represents a withdrawal from the established good practice and erodes all the efforts of the Republic of Bulgaria, aimed at building and maintaining good neighborly relations.
Today the actions by the authorities in North Macedonia brought serious harm to the process of reestablishing trust, despite the efforts of prime minister Galab Donev, who initiated a de-escalation process in a very challenging situation and those of the deputy prime minister and minister of internal affairs Ivan Demerdziev, who visited Skopje both on the 30th of January and the 4th of February precisely for that purpose.
According to the information, currently available to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bulgarian citizens were not permitted to enter the territory of North Macedonia through the border crossings due to technical issues. Part of the Bulgarian citizens received an official refusal to enter the territory of the neighboring country, while others were forced to turn back due to the long delay, which lasted for hours. Among those affected by the restriction measures were journalists, who were denied entry on the grounds of “posing a threat to public order, national security or the international relations of the Republic of North Macedonia”. Meanwhile in Skopje, a surprising and unsuccessful attempt was made to limit the size of the official Bulgarian delegation during its pilgrimage to the St. Spas Church.
The Minister of Foreign affairs called on the ambassador of North Macedonia in Sofia with a request for intervention and reestablishment of the freedom of movement. The same request was made on multiple occasions in Skopje by the visiting Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Ivan Demerdziev. Once again we note, that the declarations and assurances, which we received from representatives of the authorities in Skopje did not match the situation on the ground. Such an approach is in no way conducive to a constructive dialogue in good faith.
Regarding media reports on the arrests of Bulgarian citizens, the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Skopje officially contacted the local authorities with requests for information, despite the fact that such information should have been immediately offered by the authorities in Skopje without the need for notification.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls upon all affected Bulgarian citizens, who have received a written refusal for entering the territory of North Macedonia, to inform the Ministry, with the aim of undertaking the relevant diplomatic actions and informing our international partners.
We reiterate that the free movement of people is among the founding principles of the European Union. More than that, it is a concrete measure for the promotion of good neighborly relations. If necessary, Bulgaria stands ready to offer technical assistance to North Macedonia to guarantee the unfettered functioning of the border crossings.
The establishment of good neighborly relations requires and least two trustworthy counterparts. It is increasingly difficult to recognize in the authorities in Skopje the genuine commitment required for the building of trust, friendship and cooperation.