Bulgarian Delegation Attends Opening of Bulgarian Culture Centre in Bitola

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Bulgarian Vice-President Iliana Iotova, Foreign Affairs Minister Teodora Genchovska and several other Bulgarian state officials and politicians from Bulgaria attended on Saturday the opening of the Bulgarian Cultural Centre in Bitola “Vancho Mihailov”. The Bulgarian state officials addressed messages for reconciliation between the two countries and overcoming of the bilateral disputes, but pointed out that the respect of the human rights of Bulgarians living in North Macedonia is essential for that matter. “The well-being of Bulgarians in this country is a guarantee for good bilateral relations. Constitutional rights of Bulgarians are very important for the entire process. While the two governments work on overcoming the issues, I expect for the Bulgarian community in this country to act as a bridge so we can win the minds and hearts of the people here,” Petkov said. Vice-President Iotova reiterated that the resolution of the issues with the human rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia is a condition for approval of the start of the EU accession talks, adding that this is not the only condition Bulgaria will demand to be fulfilled by Skopje. She said that Bulgaria is a country which according to its Constitution has no minorities, adding that the European Court for Human Rights never demanded from Bulgaria to recognise a Macedonian minority within its borders. President Stevo Pendarovski came out with a reaction about this event, in which he stated that the decision to name a cultural centre by a person who collaborated with the fascist regimes from those time does not go in favour of the cause for bringing the cultures of the different people together. “Back in 2017 the two countries initiated the establishment of the Historical Affairs Commission in order to find compromise over historical events and persons of mutual impotence for the two countries and their people, but unfortunately, the event in Bitola on Saturday was an attempt to present a fascist collaborator as someone who is to represent a bridge between the two different peoples. I seriously doubt that the Macedonian or the Bulgarian people believe that the name and deeds of Vancho Mihailov can contribute to improvement of the relations between them,” Pendarovski stated. After this event, the Bulgarian delegation departed for Ohrid, where a similar centre was opened. During the visit of the Bulgarian delegation, a great number of citizens of Bitola staged a protest in front of the premises of the Bulgarian Culture Centre, with the organisers stating that the protest is not directed against the Bulgarian people, but against their government which implements policies that openly deny the existence of Macedonian language and culture, claiming they are Bulgarian. Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said that the government stands behind the freedom of expression of all citizens, and expects reciprocity about this from official Sofia too. “North Macedonia allows all citizens to freely practice their ethnic, religious and ideological beliefs. The government and the people of North Macedonia also expect the moment in which citizens of Macedonia ethnicity will be able to freely identify as such in Bulgaria,” Kovacevski said. On the other hand, VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski accused PM Kovacevski and Foreign Affairs Minister Bujar Osmani about making concessions in the negotiations with Bulgaria. “If Bulgarian PM Petkov really wants to give example of good-neighbourliness, he should open Macedonian culture centres in Sofia, or Blagoevgrad or Sandanski,” Mickoski said, and also addressed criticism at the government in Skopje for, as he said, their lack of strategy and their self-destructive positions. Bitola Mayor Toni Konjanovski evaluated the opening of the Bulgarian Culture Centre in the city as an indirect provocation in the bilateral relations between the two countries, saying it does not contribute to the processes for building good relations between the countries and their people. The opening of the Bulgarian culture centre and the visit of the Bulgarian delegation was met with negative reactions by many other politicians, including former FM Nikola Dimitrov, Kumanovo Mayor Maksim Dimitrievski, Levica leader Dimitar Apasiev, as well as by numerous citizens on social networks.