Greek Kathimerini paper published a report from Stavros Tzimas criticizing Bulgaria for its blockade of Macedonia, and accusing it of causing a rift within NATO at a time when Greece and Turkey are also at odds.
Bulgaria’s insistence on blocking European Union accession talks with (North) Macedonia risks creating another fissure in NATO’s southeastern flank. Two of its member-states – Greece and Turkey – are already deeply divided and now two more appear headed for a collision, over a two-century-old controversy on ethnic grounds. Both Bulgaria and North Macedonia are key regional members of the Alliance. Bulgaria for its role as supervisor over the Black Sea and southern Russia, and (North) Macedonia as a buffer against further Russian expansion in the heart of the Balkans. Both also feel the impact of the American-Russian conflict of influence very strongly. NATO, however, appears unruffled by the Sofia-Skopje rivalry, regarding it as a European matter that needs to be settled by the EU’s member-states, Tzimas writes.
Even though Greece blocked Macedonia from joining NATO and opening EU accession talks for decades, the paper criticizes Bulgaria reporting that “Bulgaria’s objections to (North) Macedonia joining the EU do not stem from the accession criteria, such as the need to bolster democracy and crack down on corruption; instead, they are fueled by historical claims that are stoking nationalism on both sides and will at some point soon have an impact on NATO unless these differences are resolved”.
Bulgaria, meanwhile, is gearing up for elections in the spring and the political class is banking heavily on nationalist sentiment by trying to shape a new Balkan agenda inspired by the Ottoman Empire and grand 19th century aspirations, accusing its Balkan brethren of straying from the proper path, Tzimas adds.
Kathimerini notes that as a result, anger is growing in Macedonia and the country backed off from participating in the Bulgarian Belene nuclear plant project and will invest in a Greek gas plant instead.