Statement by the spokesperson of the MFA17 March 2023 News
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is following with increasing concern the attempts at curtailing the right of freedom of association of Bulgarians in North Macedonia.
On March 16th, the Commission on the use of the names of historical figures in North Macedonia issued a negative opinion concerning the use of the name of Ivan Mihailov by the association Cultural center “Ivan Mihailov” in Bitola. Based on that opinion and reiterating its argumentation, the Minister of Justice of North Macedonia, Krenar Loga, has signed a decision, rejecting the request of the Cultural Center “Ivan Mihailov” to maintain its name.
Simultaneously, the Central Registry of North Macedonia announced that it rejects the request of the association “Tzar Boris III” from Ohrid to use its name.
The above decisions of the authorities in North Macedonia are directly linked to the state of democracy in this country. They are at odds with the commitments of Skopje in the field of human rights and with the obligation to ensure equal rights and freedoms for all citizens, including those self-identifying as Bulgarians. We recall that in 2009 the European Court of Human Rights found that North Macedonia had violated article 11 of the ECHR (right of association). In its decision, the Court underlined that the name of an association “Radko” (a pseudonym of Ivan Mihailov) cannot in itself be considered a risk or threat to public order.
According to the publically available information, the Central Registry of North Macedonia has sent to the Ministry of Justice the files of approximatively 17 000 associations. By the end of the legally established deadline, only the Cultural center “Ivan Mihailov” and the association “Tzar Boris III” have received negative decisions concerning the use their names. This demonstrates that the amendments to the Law on associations and foundations, which were adopted without public consultation, under a fast-track procedure and with retroactive effect, were designed with the purpose of deregistering these specific two organizations.
These events once again demonstrate the necessity of reaching an objective reading of historical events and figures from Bulgaria and North Macedonia’s common history. The Joint Multidisciplinary Expert Commission on Historical and Educational Issues was set up exactly with this purpose. Today, we are witnessing how unilateral and tendentious interpretations of historical events can be used as a motive to curtail fundamental rights and freedoms.
According to the Protocol, signed on July 17th 2022, from the meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission, created under article 12 of the Treaty on Friendship, Good neighborliness and Cooperation, North Macedonia has committed itself to taking measures to ensure effective access to equal rights, protection from discrimination and the safeguard of the culture and identity of Bulgarians living in that country. Bulgaria will carefully monitor the implementation of these commitments.