Macedonians protest against French proposals on breaking with Bulgaria

SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Tens of thousands of people gathered outside government offices on Saturday evening to protest against a French proposal to resolve the dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria which is blocking the country’s accession negotiations with the European Union.

The government of North Macedonia said the proposal was a “solid basis”. But the main centre-right opposition party VMRO-DPMNE rejects the proposal, arguing that it favors Bulgarian claims that challenge Macedonian history, language, identity, culture and heritage.

“We don’t need Europe if we are to be assimilated,” opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski told reporters before the start of the protest. “The answer is no for the latest French proposal”.

“If Europe is not ready to accept us civilized Macedonians where we belong, then we will wait until there are people who will understand that Macedonia and the Macedonian identity are above and before everything,” he added.

EU member Bulgaria has insisted that North Macedonia formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots, recognize in its constitution a Bulgarian minority and stifle “hate speech” against Bulgaria.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this week at the NATO summit in Madrid that he believed “a compromise solution” had been found, without giving details. “I am convinced that we have found a compromise solution,” he said.

North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said “the Macedonian language and identity” is protected by the French proposal and “it should be accepted as soon as possible” for the country to begin the accession negotiations with the EU.

North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years. The country has been given the green light in 2020 to start accession negotiations, but no date has been set for the start of negotiations.

Bulgaria has used its power as an EU member to block North Macedonia’s membership, since all enlargement decisions require the unanimous approval of the 27-nation bloc.

The dispute has also stalled Albania’s progress towards EU membership because the bloc treats the pair as a political package. All three countries are members of NATO.

The demonstration ended peacefully. Another was scheduled for Sunday.