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
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
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