Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry has expressed “strong concern” over a recent North Macedonian law change that prevents organizations and cultural clubs from using names with fascist links.
Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov raised “serious concerns that they [the amendments] are aimed at discriminatory restriction of the right of association of Bulgarians in North Macedonia, for which the one-sided interpretation of historical facts is the reason”.
The new law also bars political parties and groups from using symbols or names of individuals directed against other religions or ethnic groups.
Existing organizations that fall afoul of the new rules must change their names within three months, or face removal from the country’s central register.
The amendments made to the Law on Associations and Foundations and the Law on Political Parties were passed late last week. The law change comes off the back of a series of incidents involving Bulgarian clubs in North Macedonia.
Opening in April in the town of Bitola, the first club was named after Ivan Mihailov. Mihailov is a controversial 20th century nationalist leader who become a Nazi collaborator during World War II.
The second club opened in October in the town of Ohrid, and was named after King Boris III, a former monarch deeply resented in North Macedonia for having aligned his country with Axis powers during World War II.
In 1941, Boris approved the anti-Semitic Law for Protection of the Nation, which denied citizenship to Bulgarian Jews and placed a number of restrictions on them. In March that year, Bulgaria joined the Axis in exchange for large portions of Macedonia and Thrace.
Boris III reigned from 1918 until his death in 1943, at a time when Bulgaria occupied parts of modern-day Greece, Romania and North Macedonia.
On both occasions, North Macedonian Jewish community groups condemned the naming of these clubs, and warned that they are a clear case of promoting fascism and Nazism.
The Bulgarian ministry, however, has shot back, insisting that “the legitimate aspiration to oppose all forms of extremism and hatred cannot be instrumentalised to deliberately restrict the rights of specific communities.”
Relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia have remained tense after the former vetoed the latter’s bid to join the European Union in 2020.
Among other conditions, the Bulgarian veto demanded that Skopje acknowledge Macedonian as a dialect of Bulgarian, rather than a distinct language. Bulgaria has also accused North Macedonian authorities of disrespecting shared cultural and historical ties, and failing to recognise a Bulgarian minority.
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