Georgi Gotev argues that on Macedonia, Borissov and Radev have no major differences, but rather play good cop – bad cop. What is funny is that Borissov is in harmony with what he calls his political adversaries in Macedonia and in Greece, while the EPP-affiliated President of Macedonia can only find as interlocutor a left-leaning Bulgarian President.
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov yesterday (14 June) refused to receive Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, who is on a visit to Sofia planned before 12 June, when the governments in Skopje and Athens agreed to solve the name dispute. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev took the occasion to criticise Borissov, and also to voice some concerns regarding the deal.
Ivanov represents VMRO-DPMNE, the force of former PM Nikola Gruevski, who opposes the agreement, hoping to topple the government of Zoran Zaev and come back to power. VMRO-DPMNE calls the deal an “absolute defeat” for Macedonia’s diplomacy, and Ivanov has said he will refuse to sign the deal. However, the agreement foresees that his signature won’t be needed, as the Parliament in Skopje will vote instead.
On 13 June Zaev was received by Ivanov, but reportedly the visit lasted only 2 minutes, and according to reports Ivanov threw out the prime minister.
Hosting Ivanov in such circumstances has certainly not been an easy job for Radev. Speaking to the press in Sofia, Ivanov criticised Borissov for not playing his role as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency.
“Boyko Borissov is the prime minister of the EU presidency, and he is talking about dialogue. But with this gesture he takes a side and does not fulfill the main purpose of his presidency”, Ivanov said.
“I do not accept qualifications that hinder stability in the region”, the Macedonian president continued. He added that he did not expel anyone from his cabinet, but since he hadn’t seen the agreement before, he had nothing to comment about it.
“We know who is blocking Macedonia and is taking away its future. We know who hinders the prosperity of a people. I was sworn to respect the Constitution and I cannot accept a legal act that contradicts it This is my personal decision regarding the actions of a prime minister, who hasn’t understood the negative consequences of a treaty” Ivanov said.
Radev too expressed the view that Borissov should have received Ivanov. Borissov is on a visit to Israel and the meeting he refused was to be held on Friday morning.
The Bulgarian President said that he has had difficult talks with his Macedonian counterpart.
“Bulgaria is worried about the breakup of dialogue between the institutions in Macedonia. I urged President Ivanov to be more than a participant in this dialogue”, Radev said. He continued:
“We also discussed the current issue of the change of name of the Republic of Macedonia. I welcome the efforts to find a solution to this case. This is an important step for the Euro-Atlantic integration of our neighbors. We realise however that this is a complex and lengthy process that causes tensions. Macedonia and Greece. It is also important as a case study, because it affects also other countries like Bulgaria.”
The Bulgarian President insisted that its recently signed bilateral neighborhood treaty with Macedonia will remain in force also after the agreement on the name of Republic of Northern Macedonia will enter into force.
“The treaty between Macedonia and Greece imposes a change in the name of Macedonia, which means for us to continue to respect its commitment not to interpret its Constitution for interference vis-à-vis its neighbors. There is a wording in the treaty with Greece that it will not be targeted at third parties, which is too general. If we compare the two treaties, we will see that the treaty with Greece excludes corrections and a cancellation, while the treaty with Bulgaria allows for termination. That puts Bulgaria in a position to seek additional guarantees. We must categorically exclude any intervention and support for Macedonia for organizations on our territory that are targeted against our Constitution. I expect the Bulgarian government and the MFA to enshrine these contractual commitments in Chapter 35 of the future EU-Macedonia accession treaty”, Radev said, adding that this means clear procedures for monitoring and observing the fulfillment of the conditions.
Radev also voiced concerns that geographic denominator in the name “Republic of North Macedonia”.
“At the same time, Macedonia, which is proposed to be named Republic of North Macedonia, lies to the west of Pirin and southwest of Sofia. There are geographical realities and historical burdens that make us very cautious in this situation to monitor and assess not only the outcome of the negotiations between Macedonia and Greece but also the fulfillment of the contractual commitments in our bilateral relations that we must acquire irreversible nature”, the Bulgarian president said.
Other Bulgarian politicians, including the new leader of the small centre-left party ABV Rumen Petkov, voiced worries about the name “North Macedonia”, because in their words Pirin Macedonia is also at the North. Macedonia is a geographic region almost equally divided between Greece (Aegean Macedonia at the south, FYROM (Vardar Macedonia at the north-west), and Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia at the north-east).
In the meantime, Borissov commented his refusal to meet Gjorge Ivanov in Sofia. He said that the reason is that Ivanov tries to wreck the agreement on the name dispute.
“It would be treason, if after this 120 second meeting [the meeting between Ivanov and Zaev reportedly lasted two minutes] I would meet him [Georgiev] with honours and fanfare. It wouldn’t be fair to their [Tsipras and Zaev’s] efforts. I decided that today is not the right time”, Borissov said.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister further commended Tsipras and Zaev.
“Despite the fact that they are socialists, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev are extremely brave [Tsipras is not a socialist, but attends PES meetings]. The Macedonians love that word. They are brave prime ministers from my adversaries’ political family. They have all my support for the efforts and risks they are assuming”, said Borissov.
Borissov and Radev are in a constant war of words. However, on Macedonia they seem to play good cop-bad cop. Borissov is the good cop, who hasn’t made any critical remarks to the Athens-Skopje agreement, although he certainly shares the concerns expressed by Radev. The paradox is that Borissov, whose GERB party is EPP-affiliated, is playing against his sister parties VMRO-DPMNE in Macedonia, and New Democracy in Greece. And Radev, who was elected on the ticket of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, is willing at least to speak to Gjorge Ivanov, the VMRO-DPMNE strongman in Skopje.