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News 06 May 13

Macedonian, Bulgarian Academies Boost Ties

The Macedonian and Bulgarian academies of sciences are mulling ways to end decades of non-cooperation at a time when the two countries' political ties remain strained.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

 Head of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Stefan Vodenicarov

After paying each other a visit, the two neighbouring academies have set up a joint working group with an end-of-June deadline to determine areas of cooperation.

“We can help each other on issues of mutual interest,” said Stefan Vodenicarov, the head of the Bulgarian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“We as an academy maintain cooperation with 40 academies worldwide and it is a shame that our two neighboring countries have no scientific cooperation,” he added.

Vodenicarov, who recently visited his Macedonian colleagues in Skopje, said the reception was warm, and hopes for a return visit of Macedonian academics to Sofia.

The academic initiative is welcomed - but not officially part of the political drive to improve ties with Sofia, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said.

In December, in Brussels, Bulgaria joined Greece in preventing Macedonia from obtaining a start date for EU accession talks.

While Greece justified its blockade on the grounds of the bilateral dispute over Macedonia's name, Bulgaria said it could not support a country that had failed to nurture neighbourly relations.

Bulgaria said it objected to what it saw as discriminatory attitudes towards ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia, accusing Skopje of fomenting an anti-Bulgarian atmosphere.

As a result, Brussels said it would closely monitor the effort to improve bilateral ties as a precondition for the country’s accession talks.

In January, both sides set up political work groups and launched negotiations, expected to result in the signing of a friendship treaty. Both countries also pledged to boost economic ties.

A European Commission special report on Macedonia, issued in mid April, noted progress.

In contrast to Macedonia’s strained ties to Greece, marred by the longstanding dispute over Macedonia’s name, Bulgaria and Macedonia had relatively friendly relations in the past.

Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonia when it proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Moreover, Sofia, unlike Athens, recognises its neighbour under its constitutional name, that is “Republic of Macedonia”.

On the other hand, Sofia is reluctant to recognise the existence of a Macedonian language, separate from Bulgarian, and many Bulgarian historians still maintain that Macedonians are ethnic Bulgarians.

Bulgaria also does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority in southwest Bulgaria, though Macedonia reluctantly admits that there are people with a Bulgarian identity in Macedonia.


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