North Macedonian opposition threatens to block negotiations with Bulgaria

Supporters of the opposition party VMRO DPMNE block a busy intersection in the capital Skopje on June 8, 2021. Photo: EPA-EFE / GEORGI LICOVSKI

North Macedonian main opposition party VMRO DPMNE on Wednesday pledged to maintain daily roadblocks until Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s social democratic government “becomes clear” on its ongoing talks with neighboring Bulgaria on their historic dispute.

After the opposition blocked three main crossroads in the capital Skopje for hours on Tuesday and organized similar blockades in other towns, party vice-chairman Vlado Misajlovski said roadblocks would continue in the next few years. days.

“We took to the streets to raise our voices and ask the government to show us what is on the table [in talks with Bulgaria], and if they negotiate again on the Macedonian identity and language, ”Misajlovski said.

Backed by Brussels, the two countries are considering a possible breakthrough in their historic dispute that would allow North Macedonia to open long-delayed EU membership talks on June 22 at the EU Council.

“We all support the EU candidacy, but there is something more important than that, the Macedonian state, the nation, the citizens and of course, the [national] identity, ”Misajlovski said.

The opposition also accused the government of engaging in secret talks allegedly focused on integrating Bulgaria’s long list of 2019 demands into the EU’s negotiating framework for the country, which would be detrimental. national interests.

Bulgaria blocked the start of North Macedonian EU membership talks last year, challenging its history, language and identity, which it says has Bulgarian roots. Since then, Skopje has reiterated that he cannot compromise on sensitive issues such as identity.

Opposition roadblocks began after EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi and Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Silva, whose country holds the EU presidency, in May a brief tour of the two countries where they presented a new plan to overcome the publish.

The most important aspect of the plan, which builds on previous efforts by the German EU Presidency to resolve the issue, is to allow North Macedonia to start membership talks this month, while putting in place mechanisms facilitated by the EU and a roadmap for the two states to strengthen cooperation and confidence so that they can ultimately, alongside the EU talks, resolve the most important issues. sensitive.

In his response to opposition protests, Prime Minister Zaev said on Tuesday that accusations of national treason during the ongoing talks were absurd.

He insisted that the new Portuguese plan had already been handed over to the leader of the opposition party, Hristijan Mickoski, and that the plan was part of the ongoing talks under the Portuguese presidency.

“Mickoski knows full well that the plan is good and that it is a starting point for reaching a solution. So now organizing protests with a few cars and a handful of people to block traffic is a message I really can’t understand, ”Zaev said.

Regarding the roadmap, which the opposition says allows Zaev’s government to negotiate on sensitive identity issues, Zaev said the accusation was not true.

“We are discussing the road map with Bulgaria, and discussions are focused at sectoral level, on the construction of railways and roads that are part of Corridor 8, on cooperation between the ministries of culture and the ministries of Education and Science, on labor and social policies and on health, as well as on cooperation between national youth agencies and national broadcasters, ”Zaev said. “Everything else is being discussed through the Portuguese presidency,” he added.

North Macedonia’s special representative in Bulgaria, Vlado Buckovski, also on Tuesday rejected opposition claims that Skopje was “secretly” giving in to Bulgarian pressure and endangering the country’s national interests.

“Our positions are crystal clear. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Mickoski has generated fake news, ”Buckovski told news portal

The opposition announced new roadblocks in Skopje between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday as well as similar roadblocks at the same time in ten other towns, saying the same could be expected on the following days as well.

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