The project seeks to engage in an analysis and advocacy initiative aiming at depolarizing the intercultural relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria in order to prevent the pending possibility of another stalemate of the EU enlargement process.
Context: This project will build upon the work done in our previous IVF supported project that proposed policy solutions to the Bulgaria-Macedonia dispute combined with committed advocacy. Between the time of that project and now there has been a steep rise in polarization between the two countries, especially following the EU solution to the Bulgarian veto and the conditioned opening of negotiations with North Macedonia. This increase in polarization has led to an atmosphere where even the most prominent actors in CS, despite the fact that they were perceived or self-proclaimed as pro-EU, started talking about alternatives to the EU. It has also created a situation in which hate speech from both sides has become increasingly normalized, and is even present not only on the fringes but in the mainstream as well. ISSHS itself was alone in defending the EU Council’s decision, and this project is an extension of our unwavering commitment to advocating for cultural conflict resolution with Bulgaria and a relaxation of the general discourse in North Macedonia toward the Bulgarian minority here. This depolarization and conflict resolution is both urgent and crucial, as the Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia ought to be recognized by next year
The Rationale: In order to move beyond this increased level of polarization and move towards a mutual and shared understanding between the two nations, with the eventual goal of preventing another stalemate in North Macedonia’s EU negotiations, it is important to introduce a platform of continuous cultural exchange between the two countries, thus enabling an essentially performative exchange on sensitive subjects concerning matters of cultural and national identity. By “performative”, we mean – performing gestures of goodwill, a self-critical stance demonstrated by each of the parties with regard to the purported “absolute” truth on matters of national identity, thus creating a dialogue of trust and tolerance of unpopular opinions to either of the two sides of the dispute at issue. We argue that precisely such performative dialogues and gestures are key to resolving the issues at hand. In this sense we also take direct inspiration from the way Visegrad countries have treated their misunderstandings about history and cultural heritage in the past. Furthermore, it is critical that we move beyond disputes that are simply about the past or simply about identitarian concerns, and instead focus on shared futures including the possibility of EU enlargement. This issue of depolarization and its relations to cultural conflicts and EU enlargement has also become more evidently pressing given the war in Ukraine, which makes this project all the more important.