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North Macedonia accession talks face new hurdles from Bulgaria

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By Borjan Jovanovski
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European Council President Charles Michel, left, shakes hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, in Skopje,North Macedonia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.
European Council President Charles Michel, left, shakes hands with North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski, right, in Skopje,North Macedonia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.   -   Copyright  Boris Grdanoski/AP
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A row over Goce Delchev, a national hero in both Bulgaria and North Macedonia, typifies a range of disputes threatening to stall Skopje's accession talks with the EU, due to begin on Tuesday.

Sofia is demanding that the revolutionary leader be recognised solely as a Bulgarian historical figure. Unless North Macedonia's agrees, Bulgaria says membership talks can't advance.

A joint academic commission to resolve the standoff has so far failed to reach a joint conclusion due to different interpretation of history.

Petar Todorov is a member of the North Macedonia-Bulgaria Joint Commission:

"The approach of establishing historical truth is a path that leads to a catastrophe, in our work. Therefore, the approach is to understand the history, that we have different understanding, and to make a way in order not to create antagonisms and divisions between the societies. So, this is the way how we need to approach and how we need to work in order to overcome the current issue."

At a Council of Ambassadors meeting held last week in Brussels, Bulgarian diplomats laid down a number of conditions that would have to be met for them to green light North Macedonia's EU accession talks. One of them is the recognition of what officials in Sofia call the historical truth about the Bulgarian roots of North Macedonian history

"Bulgaria has raised some issues on the text of the negotiation framework with regard to the short name and the language," North Macedonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani, told Euronews. "We are ready to make some explanations that will ease some of the concerns in terms of interpretations made in relation to these segments of the negotiation framework. But, we cannot discuss identity attributes that stem from the right of self-determination and self-expression of people."