The relationship between Bulgaria and North Macedonia is extremely complicated, to say the least. There are disputes about history, language, culture, and identity. For more than two years, Bulgaria has been blocking Macedonia’s accession to the EU due to these issues, and there is no clear end in sight. Recently, however, the relations between these brotherly, yet bitterly divided countries, have started to slowly improve once again.
Although only 200 kilometers separate the capitals of North Macedonia and Bulgaria, getting from Skopje to Sofia takes over four hours on uneven roads and a lot of patience. There is currently no train or frequent airline link between the two Balkan neighbors.
However, on his first visit to Skopje last week, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov stated that what had not been accomplished in the previous 60 years would be accomplished in the next 60 days. He expressed hope that a commercial airplane will connect the two cities within two months. A train link will most likely not be finished until the end of the decade.
Instead of trying to solve the currently unsolvable conflicts, both newly elected governments have decided to focus on cooperation between the brotherly nations. Following a cordial hug outside the government building in Skopje and a long day of political negotiations, the two leaders expressed hope for a new chapter in their nations' difficult ties. "I'm really hopeful about the new dynamics [in relations] and can tell you that results will be apparent every week," Bulgaria's Petkov said at a joint news conference with North Macedonia's Prime Minister Kovacevski on January 17.
Rather of focusing solely on outstanding historical concerns, the two governments decided to have a joint summit in Sofia and create working groups to strengthen collaboration on economic issues, trade, education, European integration, culture, and history.
Sofia also asks that North Macedonia's ethnic Bulgarian minority, like the country's other minorities, be constitutionally acknowledged.
Already under great pressure from the right-wing opposition party and a smaller pro-Russian leftist movement, the administration in Skopje presently lacks the required two-thirds majority in parliament to meet Bulgaria's request.
Bulgarians are also opposed to Prime Minister Petkov's political effort for an agreement with North Macedonia. Petkov is opposed not just by at least two of the coalition government's four major parties, but also by President Rumen Radev.
If Petkov lowers Bulgaria's attitude, the incoming government's stability may be jeopardized.