After an exceptionally bad news day for Zoran Zaev yesterday, when two major corruption scandals hit his Governmemt – one including his failed attempts to procure vaccines, Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasimir Karakacanov lept to his defense. The nationalist Bulgarian politician today published a Facebook comment in which he alleges that a number of top VMRO-DPMNE officials have acquired Bulgarian passports.

This is a frequent allegation SDSM makes to distract from its failed domestic and international policies – one of which is making major concessions to Bulgaria and still failing to get it to allow Macedonia to open EU accession talks. As VMRO-DPMNE condemns Zaev’s appeasement of Bulgaria, SDSM PR people have estimated that accusing VMRO officials of dual citizenship will be an effective tactic. And Bulgaria has invested heavily in Zaev, expecting that he will deliver on its requested concessions, and Bulgarian politicians have openly campaigned in his favor in the past.

The latest push from Bulgaria comes in the form of a claim that VMRO officials Antonio Milososki, Nikola Micevski, Marija Andonovska, Stefan Andonovski, Aleksandar Pandov and others have passports given under the Bulgarian scheme that requires the applicant to state that he has Bulgarian origin. Bulgaria has issued estimated 100,000 such passports to Macedonian citizens, who overwhelmingly use them to move to Germany or other EU member states – given that Bulgaria is an EU member state and has full access to the EU labour market, while Macedonia has only limited access. Bulgaria has hoped that the practice will create a Bulgarian minority in Macedonia. The plan failed – only several hundred people registered to vote in the coming Bulgaria elections through the embassy in Skopje, proving that the holders of such passports care little about Bulgaria and are primarily interested in using the passports to leave both Macedonia and Bulgaria behind. But the scheme has some usefulness in helping falsely malign politicians in Macedonia. Even Karakacanov acknowledges that his claim is likely false – he states that these are sample names of dual citizenship holders and that this may or may not be the actual VMRO officials he is clearly implying to. Karakacanov is facing complete voter rejection as his party struggles to meet the 4 percent threshold for entering the Parliament. In his social media post he called on dual citizenship holders from Macedonia to support him – but given past interest in Bulgarian elections among them it is unlikely to help him enter the Parliament.

Either way, SDSM social media activists have jumped on the story, desperate to distract the public from the two corruption scandals to hit Zaev yesterday. Zaev is facing pressure even from friendly media outlets to remove his massively corrupt advisor Dragi Raskovski, who was revealed yesterday to have sold a software he developed to the Interior Ministry in the first days after the creation of the Zaev Government in 2017 for over 80,000 EUR. The software remains unused to this day. And more damagingly, leaked documents showed that Zaev and his Healthcare Minister Venko Filipce were using a shell company in Hong Kong in the purchase of vaccines from Sinopharma. The Chinese manufacturer got suspicious from the attempt to include an obviously fake company and withdrew from the deal, leaving Macedonia without its main expected near-term source of vaccines at a time when infection rates are skyrocketing.