Bulgaria is considering suspending joint projects with North Macedonia due to attacks against a Macedonian citizen who identifies as a Bulgarian, Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov said on Thursday.
Relations between neighboring Balkan countries have seriously deteriorated after last week’s attack on an official at a Bulgarian cultural center in Ohrid, North Macedonia.
The Bulgarian government has decided to recall its ambassador to North Macedonia for consultations.
The North Macedonian authorities, on the other hand, assured that ethnic minorities do not face discrimination in that country and said that it did not justify the withdrawal of their ambassador by Bulgaria.
“The entire nation cannot be blamed for the actions of a few individuals,” said Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski.
The head of Bulgarian diplomacy guaranteed that his country will not give up the protection of the rights of his community in North Macedonia and warned his partners in the European Union (EU) about the case.
“Things cannot continue as they were, this is not a productive approach. It must be clearly understood that things have changed. We are going to review various components and elements of our bilateral cooperation with this neighboring country”, stressed Milkov, in statements to national television BNT , without specifying, however, which joint projects can be suspended.
The Bulgarian minister added that Sofia will not prevent its neighbor’s integration into the EU because North Macedonia has never formally started negotiations.
In a statement, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had announced the withdrawal of its ambassador for consultations and warned of a growing number of hate crimes against its citizens.
“The aim of the consultations is to discuss possible measures to avoid a dangerous trend of increasing pressure on North Macedonian citizens with Bulgarian identity, as well as prospects for further development of bilateral relations,” said the Bulgarian government.
This recent incident comes just a few weeks after Bulgaria requested that the prosecution of hate crimes against ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia form part of EU accession negotiations.
Sofia’s request followed attacks on two Bulgarian cultural centers in North Macedonia, including Ohrid.
After blocking the official start of negotiations on Skopje’s accession to the EU for two years, Sofia lifted her veto in June 2022 on condition that North Macedonia guarantees the rights of Bulgarians in the country, through constitutional changes, and pledge to maintain good relations with Bulgaria.
The EU has been developing a policy to support the progressive integration of the Western Balkan countries.
In 2013, Croatia became the first country from the Western Balkans to join the EU, with Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina being officially candidate countries.