Historian Dragi Georgiev, who leads the Macedonian side in the joint historic committee with Bulgaria, caused a new problem for Zoran Zaev in the run up to the European Council, as Zaev holds secret talks with Bulgaria. Georgiev spoke candidly about the collapse of the latest round of talks between the two teams and revealed some of the Bulgarian demands, which are unacceptable for the Macedonian historians – but could be acceptable to Zaev, in his desperate state.

The debate was about the medieval period, mainly the representation of Tsar Samoil in the history books. We agreed that he should be honored jointly, by both sides. But, we can’t accept that Bulgaria is the only direct heir to Samoil’s kingdom, Georgiev said in one of the several interviews he gave after the talks collapsed on Friday.

The Bulgarian side said that they presented their Macedonian counterparts with prepared texts that they want included in the Macedonian history books, indicating the way Samoil will be taught and presented to Macedonian children. This was promptly rejected. Bulgaria wants Macedonia to rewrite its historic narrative and to adopt Bulgarian positions, as well as to redefine its national identity and the origin of its language. Failure to do so means that Bulgaria will continue to block Macedonia from opening its long delayed EU accession talks.

Georgiev said that the positions of the Bulgarian historians changed after that country’s Parliament adopted a position to demand concessions from Macedonia. “It is absolutely unacceptable that the politicians, in Bulgaria or here, determine our positions on Goce Delcev, on Tsar Samoil.. on any historic event. That would be a precedent that would make matters even worse”, Georgiev said.

But Zaev is visibly desperate to reach a deal with Bulgaria and has a private envoy, former Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, tasked with conducting secret negotiations with Sofia, even though there is currently only a placeholder Government there. The Prime Minister was likely hoping that the historians in the committee will make the concessions for him and accept Bulgaria’s positions, giving him the excuse that he is just following the opinion of the scientists. But with Georgiev’s open rejection of the Bulgarian demands, Zaev will now have to approve ‘any concessions himself.

Meanwhile, the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party is conducting protests in the capital Skopje and in a dozen other cities, demanding that Zaev reveals the content of the negotiations with Bulgaria.

Zaev insisted that his 2017 treaty with Bulgaria resolved all open issues between the countries. Now we see that it is not the case. Zaev now owes it to the citizens to tell the truth, said VMRO-DPMNE official Antonio Milososki.

In light of the blockade, the United States is making a push to get Bulgaria to moderate its position, after Germany tried and failed to do so. France also officially came out in support of opening accession talks with Macedonia.