The Hate between Bulgaria and North Macedonia Is Detrimental to the Balkans

Well, we’ve all been in a situation in which a tipsy acquaintance is trying to make a point: “Do you respect me?” I can feel almost the same now that our politicians, apprehensive lest they disappoint Bay Ganyo*, rush to outdo each other in catcalling: “Hey, you, Macedonians, do you respect us?!”.

Being a (successful) politician in Bulgaria is extremely easy. First, you have to glorify Russia. Second, you have to speak against homosexuals and Roma. Third, you have to draw red lines with North Macedonia. Take these few steps, and you’re sure to land a position as a municipal councillor, a member of parliament, or even a government minister. If that’s what you want, of course. Because there are also people like us who do not want to identify with Bay Ganyo who makes up for his complexes by bragging that Bulgaria was founded back in AD 681, that the computer was invented by “Bulgarian” John Atanasoff, and that we Bulgarians placed fourth in the football World Cup.

Friends have often asked me about the point of standing up for those that the majority rejects as mavericks. I, for my part, have always wondered how it is possible to be a conformist…

Have you heard that a turtle cannot be separated from its shell? It is attached to that shell from birth to death. Similarly, a person cannot be separated from their position. It took shape decades ago, when their own parents formed their notions of good and evil and of the world and passed those notions to their child. Next, the person added notions of their own, until all that snowballed into a mass of opinion that cannot be changed by a snap of a finger.

All those commissions tackling the issue between Bulgaria and North Macedonia are totally pointless when the most important factor is absent: a willingness to opt for a well-intentioned tone. Treaties cannot possibly come together when both political elites make populist use of the dispute. All political analysts (of whatever stripe) are adamant: if Prime Minister Petkov makes a move about the veto, he will be ousted. Why? Simply because Bay Ganyo is bristling with rage, he doesn’t care about the future (after all, his horizon is limited to the present, from one drink to the next) but it is crucial for him to sense (and let the rest acknowledge it) that Gotse Delchev is his ancestor. Perversely, Bay Ganyo feels the putting of a stumbling block in the way of the European Union’s negotiations with North Macedonia as the success of his life, assuming that he thus contrived to frustrate the plans of the EU, of the United States of America. Here we come to the crux of the matter: manipulations about the role of the US combined with conspiracy theories about Soros, genders and similar crazy scares, are precisely what push us apart. Bay Ganyo is a fan of Russia, and he wants to serve the Federation rather than his own national interest. Because it makes no sense to stop a neighbouring country from joining a union of which you yourself are a part. It is not at all smart to egg on further, literally to incense, the population of that neighbouring country by your arrogant posture, demanding from your own politicians to pursue a self-defeating policy.

By playing up to the Macedonian language and trying to deter North Macedonia and Serbia from strengthening their relationship with the EU, Russia is following a plan. We can only say congratulations to them for working down a list.

For his part, Bay Ganyo has no such list. He brings emotion rather than reason into the subject. The very fact that instead of appreciating Kiril Petkov, whom I have described as a political gem, because we finally have an intelligent, educated and successful politician, unaffiliated to the communist-era State Security and not an incompetent political appointee, and giving the Prime Minister a chance to conduct a dialogue with North Macedonia, we continue to inflame ourselves against our neighbours in forums and on social media.

I hate to say it, but we can see exactly the same on the opposite side. “Wise guys” there deride everything Bulgarian, harass citizens who identify themselves as Bulgarians, and religiously insist that “whatever is Bulgarian is bad by definition”. You can even see Macedonians closely following Bulgarian politicians and historians on Facebook. A positive post on bilateral relations inevitably triggers a vitriolic response. I looked into part of these accounts hoping to find that they were trolls rather than real Macedonians, but they proved to be real accounts of real spiteful people.

Probably that’s the idea. Both Bulgarians and Macedonians have had their souls poisoned by rancour. The toxic seeds are already bearing fruit that confronts us, the present generations. Nevertheless, we are bound to find a way to each other. A well-intentioned tone rather than reciprocal threats will take us there. We need to ignore Bay Ganyo and Macedonian fanatics and focus on what matters most: the two neighbouring countries must join forces and help, not harm each other. The result will be stronger Balkans, happier citizens, and weaker influence of whatever foreign interests.

*A famous Bulgarian composite fictional character exhibiting Bulgarians’ negative traits.