In an interview with the Macedonian media Press24, the MEP expressed his point of view on the situation in Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia.
Press24: The cancellation of the first intergovernmental conference, scheduled for December and would open the Republic of North Macedonia’s negotiation process with the EU, was seen as a major failure for Brussels, but also a serious disappointment in North Macedonia as the blockade came from Sofia. What are the chances Macedonia to start talks with the EU this year?
Kyuchyuk: I’m working hard to make it happen as soon as possible, but I can’t commit to specific deadlines. The decision of the European Council by the end of last year was not good for the Western Balkans and undermine not only the credibility of the EU, but also has direct negative impact on the countries themselves.
Press24: You are the EU rapporteur for North Macedonia and you see the situation up close. Are there other, more serious obstacles to starting negotiations with the EU at the moment?
Kyuchyuk: Good neighborly relations are at the heart of European integration and they lead to many other circumstances. The issue that Bulgaria and North Macedonia must resolve is quite different from the one resolved by the Prespa Agreement. Despite the current difficult situation, the country should not stop the reforms. On the contrary – to be accelerated. More change and rapid progress are needed in some areas, but the government has the full potential to continue on the path to European integration. And most importantly – to have a broad political consensus.
Press24: How do you see the reform process in North Macedonia in terms of European integration. And how Bulgarian experience can serve as an example in this process?
Kyuchyuk: Bulgaria has had a successful negotiation process and its experience can be invaluable to North Macedonia, especially with regard to some key reforms. Our relationship must take a different level. In recent years, North Macedonia has come a long way and deservedly reached the stage of starting formal EU accession negotiations. Zaev’s government has demonstrated continuity in its commitment to the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic path by implementing stable and inclusive democratic reforms, as well as by taking important steps to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.
Press24: Many European analysts believe that blocking Macedonia’s European integration is a bad signal for the Balkans, which could lead to more serious destabilization and, in the long run, activate nationalist structures. How Brussels understands this problem?
Kyuchyuk: In Brussels, we take very precise account of the risks of such a decision. The rise of nationalistic tendencies is a phenomenon inherent not only in the Balkans but in the whole EU. Together we must oppose this trend, because the biggest enemy between Bulgaria and North Macedonia is the nationalism race. And one nationalism in itself gives rise to another nationalism.
Press24: The United States, like Germany, supports the idea that the bilateral dispute between Skopje and Sofia should be resolved separately from the negotiation process, in parallel, which will give us more time to reach a compromise. Do you think this is an appropriate solution?
Kyuchyuk: German Presidency really worked hard to facilitate dialogue between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. I share the thesis that the open bilateral issues must be resolved in parallel with the negotiation process, but in order to be successful, Sofia and Skopje must return to the negotiating table and to the foundations of the neighborhood agreement. It needs both sides to reach a compromise on a roadmap with concrete measures whose implementation can be assessed throughout the accession process.
Press24: It seems that in recent months between Skopje and Sofia happens something that complicates the relationship. How do you see the current relationship between the two countries?
Kyuchyuk: I believe that both sides will resume constructive talks, because otherwise we will see the alarming development of the situation, namely the growing nationalism and hate speech. Understanding and mutual respect between our citizens will be crucial, and building joint infrastructure, educational and cultural as well as media projects is the key to successful good neighborly relations. And the positive example is there. We have seen that the two countries can work together successfully by jointly holding a successful presidency of the Berlin Process for the Western Balkans and taking important decisions, such as the creation of a common regional market as a step towards the EU single market.
Press24: Is it possible to take a step forward in the negotiations in the coming months or should we first wait for the elections in Bulgaria to pass?
Kyuchyuk: We know that it is difficult to decide important issues before elections. But at the same time we should not rely on the situation after the elections because elections come and go. The same goes for governments. We must build friendship between the peoples of the two countries. For a better tomorrow, we must work today. We owe it to future generations.
Press24: Although officially Sofia says that does not mind the statements of some government politicians, but many historians are focused on denial of Macedonian identity and language. How do you see the position of Sofia on this issue?
Kyuchyuk: Talking about history is never easy. The biggest success of the 2017 contract is the introduction of the concept of “common history”. This provides tremendous opportunities for opening the conversation about the future.
Press24: In the Republic of North Macedonia there is a perception that the topic of North Macedonia in Bulgarian society is sensitive and there is a general consensus around it. The circle of people who have a critical attitude to the official Bulgarian policy is very small. Why?
Kyuchyuk: Historically, the topic of Macedonia has always occupied a significant place in Bulgarian politics. In modern too! Both sides have an interest in northern Macedonia to be part of the EU. And with that the walls fall. When the walls are torn down, prejudices will fall.
Press24: In any case, it is clear that there is great mistrust between the two countries, both politically and, unfortunately, socially and economically. Is there a way to build that trust?
Kyuchyuk: This is largely due to the lack of communication and exchange of credible information between the two countries. Being the closest, we know very little about the other. Very often we argue about things that are in the past, but at the same time are the subject of various media speculations. Therefore, the creation of joint media projects to inform us and bring us closer to each other is essential. Thanks to the active work of Mr. Buckovski, we see the first results. BNT 4 will broadcast on the territory of North Macedonia. BTA intends to open an office in Skopje. MIA already has a correspondent in Sofia.
Press24: You are MEP from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and are representative of the Turkish ethnic community. Bulgaria is a country that is very sensitive to minority issues, and in this context particularly sensitive to the issue of the Macedonian minority. Why ?
Kyuchyuk: This issue is different in Bulgaria. The country managed to make a peaceful transition from totalitarianism to democracy thanks to the unique Bulgarian ethnic model, whose architect is the honorary president of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms Dr. Ahmed Dogan. We were later united by the common, consensual cause for European development, expressed in NATO and EU membership, and managed to implement it. Today, we are convinced that this ethnic model based on togetherness can serve as an example to the countries of the Western Balkans. To overcome the differences accumulated by long historical layering and smouldering ethnic conflicts, which will open the doors of countries on their way to the EU.
Тази публикация е достъпна и на следните езици: Bulgarian