On the Agreement on Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation Between Macedonia and Bulgaria

By Victor Bivell

Broadcast on SBS Radio, 4 August 2017

The Agreement on Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation Between Macedonia and Bulgaria has some positive and some negative aspects. Just as a general point, it is written in diplomatic speak, so it can be hard for normal people to be certain what the real point and the real intent of the agreement is. We've seen that with other agreements, like the Treaty of Bucharest where they carefully divide up the territory and you'd never really guess by reading it that they are dividing up militarily stolen land. So what the government and what the diplomats intend and what people read may not necessarily be the same.

The use of diplomatic speak or diplomatic language means that governments can achieve a certain intent that may not be readily apparent to a normal reader. With the Treaty of Bucharest, the intent was to divide up Macedonia after the Balkan Wars. But if you read the Treaty, a normal person would never know or never guess that these governments were dividing up land that was stolen by the governments, by their armies, and dividing it up between themselves. So we just have to be a little bit careful, if we're not trained in diplomatic speak, to try and work out what the real intent of the Agreement may be.

So with that qualification, for me the main negative in the Agreement is in Article 11, particularly Clause 5 - where the Macedonian Government abrogates responsibility and concern for the Pirin Macedonians. This is very disappointing.

The same thing happened with the Interim Accord with Greece in 1995 when the Macedonian Government gave up responsibility and concern for the Aegean Macedonians. Now Zaev is doing the same with the Pirin Macedonians and even the wording of the agreement with Bulgaria is almost identical to the wording with Greece when it comes to the two minorities.

To be balanced, Gruevski when he came to power said he would help the Aegeans and the begaltsi but in the end nothing happened. So both parties are guilty of giving up responsibility and concern for the minorities in Bulgaria and Greece.

What the Agreement shows, and what that particular clause shows is that the Macedonian Government is either weak, or doesn't care, or is prepared to trade the rights of the Macedonian minority for other, unknown benefits or just vague benefits.

In a true agreement of friendship between equals, I think it would be fair for the Macedonian Government to clamp down on any separatist movement, to give the Bulgarian Government that guarantee, that certainty that it would not promote separatist movements. And in return, in a good agreement between equals, the Bulgarian Government would recognize the Macedonian minority in Pirin Macedonia, and it would give them their full human rights. And both governments would know that they could go forward into the European Union where all people would be equal.

Now, that's an agreement between friends and between equals. But I don't think that's really the case here. Because I think giving up responsibility for the ethnic Macedonian minority in Bulgaria is a really big move.

But what the agreement does tell us is that the Pirin Macedonians are strong, or strong enough or numerous enough to be a problem for the Bulgarian Government. So that's positive. But unfortunately the Pirin Macedonians are on their own. It seems no one cares for them. So it is up to the Macedonian people around the world to support them, to help them, and to do what we can for them in every way we can.

If we look at the options the Pirin Macedonians have, one option is the take up dual Macedonian citizenship. That way the Macedonian Government can then officially look after their interests and help them. And the Agreement does explicitly that the Macedonian government can look after Macedonian citizens in Bulgaria.

That of course is a decision up to the Pirin Macedonians and how they handle their affairs. But, certainly, becoming a dual citizen with the Republic would seem to be in their interest.

The problem is that the Macedonian Government has made it hard for ethnic Macedonians who are not from the Republic to become citizens. I seem to recall that many years ago being an ethnic Macedonian helped you to become a citizen. But that was changed and now you have to live there or you have relatives there or you have to do something great for Macedonia. It's harder to become a citizen. That policy is shortsighted and it's wrong. Macedonia needs Macedonians. Makedonia ima potreba za Makedontsi. It would help the Republic if more ethnic Macedonians became citizens, and I think it would help the Pirin Macedonians if they became dual citizens.

A positive in the Agreement is that at the end it says the Agreement is in the "Macedonian language" and the "Bulgarian language". It would be interesting to know the implications of the use of the phrase "Macedonian language". The two languages are put on equal terms. So I wonder: is this de facto Bulgarian recognition that it recognizes the Macedonian language and that its language dispute with Macedonia is over? I don't know the legal or diplomatic implications, if any, and it would be good to see or get a legal or a diplomatic opinion on this.

If it does mean that then it could be something of substance in the agreement for Macedonia. But if that is the intent then why not state it explicitly? If that's not the intent, if that's not what it means, then you have to wonder what the Macedonian government is getting out of the Agreement apart from some good intentioned generalities.

Copyright: August 2017

Source: www.pollitecon.com