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  • Borislav Ivanov

North Macedonia Protests Bulgarian Push For Constitutional Change

Leaders in North Macedonia have expressed strong disapproval in response to Bulgaria's request for a 'consultative' role in the proposed amendments to North Macedonia's constitution.

As the country prepares for a significant constitutional change, which involves recognizing Bulgarians as a constituent people in the preamble in order to prevent further Bulgarian EU blockades, North Macedonia has denounced Bulgaria's request for involvement in the process as "scandalous."

While in Brussels, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov informed the media that Sofia sought to be "included" and "consulted" in the process of incorporating Bulgarians into North Macedonia's constitution. Milkov mentioned that he had notified his counterpart from Skopje, Bujar Osmani, of the request during their most recent meeting earlier in the week and was awaiting a response.

President Stevo Pendarovski of North Macedonia condemned Sofia's request as "scandalous," stating that even occupiers do not make such demands of other nations or occupied territories. He described the request to meddle in another country's internal political, constitutional, or legal processes in the 21st century as "absurd and unprecedented." The Foreign Ministry of North Macedonia agreed, emphasizing that constitutional change is an internal issue and that there is neither the possibility nor the political will to involve foreign citizens or institutions, including those from Bulgaria.

In the previous year, North Macedonia consented to include Bulgarians in the preamble of its constitution, identifying them as one of the nation's constituent peoples and potentially ending a two-year Bulgarian blockade of North Macedonia's EU integration process. The agreement was reached under the supervision of the then-French EU presidency, which granted Skopje a deadline of approximately mid-year to enact the change or risk another Bulgarian blockade.

Since 2020, Bulgaria, led by then-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, has hindered the initiation of EU accession talks for North Macedonia due to historical disputes between the two countries. Bulgaria maintains that the Macedonian identity and language have Bulgarian roots, a claim that most Macedonians reject. Bulgaria also denies the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority within its borders but asserts the presence of a significant Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia, which it claims is being oppressed. However, the 2021 census in North Macedonia recorded just over 3,000 Bulgarians.

This renewed tension between Sofia and Skopje arises as the latter begins preparations for the challenging and unpopular task of amending its constitution to appease Bulgaria. North Macedonia's government recently announced the establishment of a special commission of constitutional experts to work on the draft. However, securing a majority in parliament to advance the vote remains a challenge.

To pass the change, the current Social Democrat-led government requires a two-thirds majority in the 120-seat parliament. However, it is believed to be at least eight MPs short of achieving this target. The main opposition VMRO DPMNE party is staunchly against the move, which it considers detrimental to the nation's interests.

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