After 17 years of candidate status, North Macedonia received an invitation to start negotiations with the European Union. But there are still many obstacles for the small country, including the demands of Bulgaria, which is a member of the EU and has veto power.
Bulgaria demands that North Macedonia recognize its Bulgarian minority, and that its language has Bulgarian roots. Protesters responded to these demands with outrage.
“It should be rejected! I don’t think it should be accepted. We are being blackmailed, and we just haven’t been given the same opportunity as other countries, like Serbia and Montenegro,” says one of the protesters.
“It couldn’t be worse. The crazy ones accepted it,” adds another. “No negotiations with the Bulgarians!” concludes another man.
The protests, which have been going on for a week, turned into violence, with dozens of police officers injured and several protesters arrested.
Despite the violent outburst, the government believes that North Macedonia should start accession negotiations.
“We understand all the concerns and emotions of the people, but we try to explain that this is about the strategic orientation of our country. And that we can enter the European Union as Macedonians with the Macedonian language,” said Bojan Maricic, deputy prime minister for integration. in the EU.
One of the conditions of the negotiations is the inclusion of the Bulgarian minority in the Constitution of North Macedonia, which would require a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, something that needs the votes of the ethnic Macedonian opposition parties.
“We say that we will not support this proposal and the change of the Constitution for the simple reason that what is being asked of Macedonia by this proposal and by Bulgaria is going to the very roots of the nation,” said Aleksandar Nikoloski, Vice President of VMRO DPMNE, the main opposition party.
From Skopje, our special envoy Borjan Jovanovski gives us his perspective:
As French President Emmanuel Macron said, North Macedonia is at a historic crossroads.
It has to choose between the path of EU accession negotiations – challenging national issues – or the path to unknown destinations offered by growing anti-EU political intentions.