Bulgaria may suspend joint projects with North Macedonia over the beating of a Macedonian citizen who identifies as Bulgarian, Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov said on Thursday. Bulgaria also recalled its ambassador to North Macedonia for consultations.
Relations between the Balkan neighbors have severely deteriorated following last week’s assault on an employee at a Bulgarian cultural center in Ohrid, North Macedonia.
Bulgaria’s Milkov said his country will not give up the protection of the rights of its community in North Macedonia and will alert its European Union partners about the case.
“Things cannot continue as they were, this is not a productive approach. It must be clearly understood that things have changed. We will review several components and elements of our bilateral cooperation with this neighboring country,” Milkov said in an interview with national BNT TV on Thursday. He did not specify what joint projects could be suspended.
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He added that Sofia would not stop its neighbor’s EU integration because North Macedonia had never formally started negotiations.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria recalled its ambassador to Skopje for consultations amid what a foreign ministry statement called a growing number of hate crimes against Bulgarians there.
“The goal of consultations is to discuss possible measures to prevent a dangerous trend of an increasing pressure on North Macedonian citizens with Bulgarian identity, as well as prospects of further development of bilateral relations,” the statement said.
The recent incident comes just weeks after Bulgaria requested that the prosecution of hate crimes against ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia become part of its accession negotiations with the EU.
Sofia’s request followed attacks on two Bulgarian cultural centers in North Macedonia, including the one in Ohrid.
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Complications between the two nations have been standing in the way of their political cooperation. After blocking for two years the official start of negotiations on Skopje’s EU accession, Sofia lifted its veto in June 2022 on condition that Skopje guarantees the rights of Bulgarians in the country through constitutional changes and commits to maintaining good relations with Bulgaria.