After 15 years of frustration, Macedonia finally got a green light from the EU this year to begin membership talks — only to find another red light at the next junction, Politico writes.

Membership negotiations take years and focus on the nitty-gritty of questions about a country’s readiness to join the bloc. But Bulgaria is holding up the start of these talks with demands that raise a rather different question: What is a language? According to Sofia, the language spoken in Macedonia isn’t a separate language at all, but a regional variant of Bulgarian. Skopje dismisses this, and also rejects Sofia’s demand that it should submit to this view before talks can begin, reads the article.

According to Politico, Bulgaria’s block has irked diplomats from other EU countries as a bilateral dispute is holding up a move all members agreed upon and hurts what many see as a strategic priority — increasing the EU’s influence in its Balkan neighborhood, where rival powers such as Russia, Turkey, China and Gulf Arab states are all increasingly active. But that’s nothing compared to the outrage felt in Macedonia.

If any nation in Europe has to choose between their identity and joining the EU, then there is something wrong with that set of options,” Macedonia’s Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Dimitrov told Politico.

Like many, he sees the linguistic dispute as a matter of national identity.

“Who we are is our business. It’s a question for the Macedonian people. We think that this should by no means be a precondition for our European future,” Dimitrov said.

“There is also a stake here for the European Union,” he said. “The decision to start accession talks was unconditional. How Europe handles this will send a message to the whole region regarding the credibility of the process.”

For Macedonia, the Bulgarian block is a gut punch. The country, perhaps the most eager candidate for EU membership, had only recently overcome another challenge to its identity and accession to the bloc.

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