SKOPJE (Reuters) – The streets of Skopje, North Macedonia, were paralyzed on Friday amid protests over a proposed compromise deal with Bulgaria that would finally allow the Balkan country to begin long-awaited membership talks in the European Union.
On Friday, hundreds of people parked their vehicles around government buildings in central Skopje as well as on several other regional roads. Daily protests that began earlier this week have at times turned violent, injuring at least 10 protesters and dozens of police. No injuries were reported during Friday’s protest.
North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years, but its approval has been blocked first by Greece and now by Bulgaria, which wants North Macedonia to recognize a Bulgarian minority and share a history with the Bulgarian language.
A 2017 deal to change the country’s name from Macedonia to North Macedonia ended the dispute with Greece and appeared to open the door to EU membership talks. However, Bulgaria, another EU member state, vetoed in 2020 over history and language issues, which North Macedonians say attack their national identity.
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France, which held the EU presidency until July, drafted a proposal last month to amend North Macedonia’s constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority, while remaining issues would be discussed between Skopje and Sofia. The proposal does not oblige Bulgaria to recognize the Macedonian language.
Bulgaria’s parliament lifted its veto last month, which also caused unrest in the country and led to a vote of no confidence that toppled the government.
North Macedonia’s parliament is expected to debate the proposal next week.
“We will never, ever accept this treaty because it is against our national interest and our identity,” said Hristijan Mickoski, leader of the largest opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, which is supporting the protest.
Protester Acka Stanisheva is also against the compromise deal, saying it is not a European deal but a Bulgarian proposal.
“The government should not accept this proposal,” Stanisheva told Reuters.
Political analyst Petar Arsovski thinks the proposal is both good and bad for North Macedonia.
“It’s a good thing in a sense that it offers the start of accession talks, but the downside is that there is no principle of reciprocity and Bulgaria is not obliged to recognize the Macedonian minority.
He said the framework of the bilateral talks would allow the two countries to resolve all domestic issues.
North Macedonia was the only former Yugoslav Republic to peacefully leave the federation. But in 2001, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pulled North Macedonia from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian uprising and promised faster integration into the EU and the EU. NATO.
The Balkan country joined NATO in 2020, but has still not opened membership negotiations with the EU.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Skopje; Additional reporting by Ognen Teofilovski; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Josie Kao)
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