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Avenues of Cooperation Project


The project seeks to a) offer a model of resolving identity disputes (with focus on MK-BG dispute), overcoming nationalism, promoting cooperation via civic networking, advocacy, events b) involve CSOs/expert organizations to help pave the ground for a constructive discussion and creation of a wider European dialogue, foregrounding the angle that can be proffered by the VG expert public (added value of the participation of the VG expert public and intelligentsia lies in the shared Slavic medieval past). This will be done via debate sensitizing the public and policy analyses prescribing solutions.

Context: Since December 2020, North Macedonia’s accession process has been blocked by Bulgaria’s opposition to it, which results from its dissatisfaction with the implementation of the bilateral agreement of good neighborly relations that the two countries signed in 2017. Considering the agreement does not entail any specific milestones it remains unclear what is it that North Macedonia fails to deliver. Bulgaria’s framework position adopted by virtually all parties in its parliament (Bulgarian national assembly declaration 10/10/2019https://tinyurl.com/249vx55m) indicates however where the issue lies: in the “shared history.” In the public discourse in both countries respectively there has been continuing confrontation between high-ranking officials on both sides about historical figures and periods as to whom they belong to and how they should be interpreted. Paradoxically, the Agreement that vouched for recognition of a shared history has become the source of division. It is safe to say, the conflict is comparable with that North Macedonia had with Greece, and, thus, the solution should be built on experiences and insight derived from said solution taken as a model. To this model, we shall add the model solutions that could be found in the Visegrad Group of countries and build a feasible discourse leading toward a solution. The fact that the Macedonian-Bulgarian dispute concerns a part of the wider Slavic medieval heritage should lead to a discourse acceptable not only to the two countries but the other concerned parts of Europe too.

The Rationale: We argue that cultural conflicts involving nation-building narratives, such as was the example of the Macedonian-Greek dispute, could be solved in terms of contemporary politics and its means of addressing issues of cultural conflicts. Disputes around history, the national identity defining narrative purported by official historiography, are matters of international relations as a subject area. The nature of the problem is such that it requires the means of cultural policies and solutions in terms of politics rather than mere historiography. Considering the implementation of the agreement is in a stalemate, according to the Bulgarian framework position, coming down to the lack of progress of the multidisciplinary bilateral commission on establishing facts of shared history, our project seeks to address the issue at hand that disables any progress of said commission. Namely, we argue that the stalemate is due to the pressure of the public in each of the respective countries issuing from highly exacerbated (nationalist) polarization. We seek to address this paralysis of bilateral communication by promulgating depolarization of the public discussion, involving intellectuals of third yet informed and concerned countries, by way of discussing possible solutions, breaking taboos regarding the history, and building a model narrative that might serve as a blueprint for the solution of the dispute itself. The way Visegrad countries treat their misunderstandings about history and cultural heritage can be instructive for future Balkan solutions.

The project is carried out with the support of the Visegrad Fund
“Avenues of Cooperation” is implemented with the partnership with Res Publica Foundation, Institute for Modern Development and Institute of Political History Nonprofit LLC