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North Macedonia Law Change on Associations ‘Concerns’ Bulgaria

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Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday night expressed “strong concern” over North Macedonia’s amendments to the Law on Associations and Foundations and the Law on Political Parties, which was passed in response to a spree of opening Bulgarian clubs named after World War II collaborators.

The ministry led by Nikolay Milkov noted “serious concerns that they [the amendments] are aimed at discriminatory restriction of the right of association of Bulgarians in North Macedonia, for which the one-sided interpretation of historical facts is the reason”.

North Macedonia’s parliament passed the changes on November 2 with the support of both ruling and opposition parties. They are aimed at “the protection of North Macedonia’s anti-Fascist past and historical truths” and preventing extremism and hatred.

They were passed after two Bulgarian clubs that opened in North Macedonia caused big controversies because of their names. The new regulations would force these clubs to rename themselves within three months.

The first club opened in April in the town of Bitola and was named after Ivan Mihailov, a controversial 20th century nationalist leader who became a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Born in today’s North Macedonia, he proposed that Macedonians are in fact Bulgarians and should be part of the Bulgarian state.

The second club, opened in October in the town of Ohrid, was named after the wartime King Boris III of Bulgaria – who occupied much of today’s North Macedonia in the war and allowed the deportation of its Jewish community to Nazi death camps.

On both occasions, the Jewish community condemned the naming of these clubs and said this was a clear case of promoting Fascism and Nazism.

However, the Bulgarian ministry insists that “the legitimate aspiration to oppose all forms of extremism and hatred cannot be instrumentalised to deliberately restrict the rights of specific communities”.

Additionally, it accused authorities in Skopje of having failed to condemn the Communist era between the end of Wolrld War II and the breakup of federal Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as a time of atrocities against ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia, simply because of their ethnic determination.

The opening of the club comes against the backdrop of a bitter dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria over history and identity.

Bulgaria insists that the Macedonian Identity and language have a Bulgarian origin. Among other things, it wants North Macedonia to change its textbooks referring to the three-year occupation in World War II as “occupation” and alter that to  “Bulgarian administration”.

Bulgaria has blocked North Macedonia’s EU accession over this dispute for almost three years and only this summer agreed to conditionally lift the veto, following a recent French proposal to resolve the dispute and end the blockade.

The so-called French proposal, which was backed by the Social Democrats-led government in Skopje, angered the opposition who accuse the government of betraying national interests.



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