An attack on the secretary of a Bulgarian Cultural Club in Ohrid has increased tensions between Bulgaria and its neighbor, North Macedonia. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Milkov discussed the matter during a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels, asking his counterparts to take a stance against the renewed violence against Bulgarians.
The victim, Hristian Pendikov was severely beaten on his way out of a Skopje pub on January 19. He sustained multiple injuries and had to be flown to Bulgaria by a government aircraft for medical treatment. He suffered multiple injuries on the face and body, as well as a fractured lower jaw. He is still recovering following surgery. The attack prompted a visit to Sofia by Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, while Sofia summoned its ambassador to Skopje for consultations.
Milcov blames the events on the adoption of “repressive legislation” against the Bulgarian community in North Macedonia and said that a “remarkable consensus exists between the power-holders and the opposition in Skopje on an anti-Bulgarian basis, which means a lot because the power-holders and the opposition there almost never agree. After that, a Bulgarian club was set on fire, and the perpetrator got a conditional sentence. Three more attacks followed against other [Bulgarian] clubs, and one was shot at, but the culprits were never apprehended.”
In response to these events, the President of the Republic of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, called a meeting of his country’s Security Council on Monday. He had asked that his government ban the entry into North Macedonia of a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament and an unspecified number of other Bulgarian citizens who may seek to visit the country for the upcoming 151st birth anniversary of revolutionary Georgi Nikolov Delchev. Delchev (1872-1903) was a Bulgarian-Macedonian revolutionary who fought to free his people from Ottoman domination, and he is widely recognized as a national hero in both countries.
“According to all estimates, it will be an event of high-security risk, and the competent authorities must not and will not only be mute observers of what will happen,” Pendarovski declared. He called for the ban on entry into North Macedonia of “a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament and several other citizens of Bulgaria because of the actions they have taken and are still taking against our country.”
“In addition, for the February 4 event to pass as it should, we will have to take all the necessary measures on the ground, which means that only people coming to pay tribute to Georgi Delchev will be allowed from the border crossings to the event venue in Skopje – not those who seek to humiliate the Macedonian people," Pendarovski added. “Macedonia is not your enemy, but this country has laws and dignity, and when these lines are crossed, we will react to protect ourselves.”
In a statement in Parliament Tuesday, the Deputy Chair of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Kristian Vigenin, condemned the recent attack and demanded that Bulgarian authorities undertake a more active and comprehensive approach with regard to the Republic of Macedonia. “The Bulgarian Socialist Party considers as unacceptable the approach of the President of the Republic of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, to ban the entry into the country of a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament and an unspecified number of other Bulgarian citizens. The party is waiting to see what the next steps will be…. This case should not be left to be swept under the rug and simply ignored,” Vigenin declared.
Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the Vazrazhdane (Bulgarian Revival) Party demanded that Bulgaria should veto the accession of North Macedonia to the European Union. “Bulgaria and North Macedonia are allies in NATO, meaning that the two countries are military allies,” Kostadinov argued. “On the basis of exactly what decision will Bulgaria’s military ally [North Macedonia] impose a possible decision to ban the visit of Bulgarian MEPs, MPs, and representatives of any political formations. Is this allied behavior? When are we going to raise the issue with the NATO Council of Foreign Ministers about these unfriendly actions.”
Foreign Minister Milcov did not rule out a Bulgarian veto on Skopje’s EU accession, but he expressed hope that it wouldn’t come to that.