BULGARIAN ‘MACEDONIAN’ NATIONALISM IN THE POST 1989 DECADE
image of ‘freezing’ applies also to the overall geopolitical situation
around the ‘Macedonian question’ in the Cold war period. On the one hand,
for the first time since the emergence of the Macedonian question a geopolitical
stability was established on the Balkans, since to challenge the European
territorial status quo could start a new world war. On the other hand,
the problems though not solved, had been transformed by important economic,
political, cultural and demographic changes have taken place during that
period. The development of Bulgarian transition position on the ‘Macedonian
issue’ has been both a consequence and a part of those transformations.
Against the above historical background, the analysis of transition developments
seeks to track and explain the direction/s and extend of the reformulation
of Bulgarian positions - official and public - towards Macedonia and the
This concise-though-long historical tour attempted at pointing the historically established intricacy of Bulgarian attitude and position towards Macedonia. Macedonian question forms an intrinsic part of Bulgarian history and is an important factor in shaping Bulgarian national psychology. Though history provided a fertile soil for the appearance or continuity of various forms of confrontational nationalism regarding Macedonian question, the development of the Bulgarian position in the post-1989 period has rather followed the non-confrontational line. At the same time, however, historical complexity oftentimes leads to blurring the distinction between ‘confrontational’ and ‘non-confrontational.’
At the very onset of transition processes in Bulgaria, the preoccupation with the “Turkish issue” kept the attention away from the “Macedonian question.” Indeed, in the dynamics of those turbulent times, the return of “Macedonian question” on the Bulgarian political scene was far from dramatic or spectacular. It happened along two major lines, defined here as “internal” and “external.”
Internally, the regime liberalization and rapidly growing freedom of expression led to a revival in the activities of Macedonian emigrant cultural associations; there appeared periodicals openly defending various versions of ‘the Macedonian cause’ (Ilchev, 1992: 81). Activities of a number of cultural organizations quickly acquired political overtones. Since its foundation in December 1990 IMRO-UMS, a descendant - in name, ideological-nationalist views, and not least, in property - of the controversial IMRO, has gained an increasingly important place in Bulgarian transition politics. Its influence on developments and understandings on the “Macedonian question” in transition has been rather ambiguous. There is a discrepancy between its public or extra-political performances both exhibiting and counting on passionate Bulgarian nationalism and patriotism on the one side and it moderate, rather pragmatic and as a whole non-confrontational performance on the political scene, on the other.
Another organization, UMO-Ilinden, established end 1989, expresses the extreme opposite of the views on the Macedonian question. No less nationalistic though far less influential in terms of membership and followers, it claims to represent a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, which speaks Macedonian language and has a distinct Macedonian culture. In its more moderate appearances, it claims recognition and protection of minority rights; there is also an extreme separatist current calling for liberation of Pirin Macedonia from Bulgarian occupational armies and its unification with Macedonia. While IMRO is an important player on the Macedonian question, the importance of UMO-Ilinden is more that of a ‘provocateur’ for it nurtures the nationalistic undercurrent in Bulgarian politics and public opinion and renders Bulgarian position with ambiguity.
Externally, the end of the Cold war status quo brought back security concerns which on the Balkans entangled with nationalizing, homeland, and minority nationalisms. Similarly to Bulgaria, throughout 80s Yugoslavian leadership had increasingly resorted to nationalist rhetoric and policies as a means to change the agenda and the course of the upcoming changes. In that context the anti-Bulgarian campaign from the beginning of 90s was only a segment of the unleashed ‘anti’-politics. Skopje became the center of the campaign. Historically a product of deliberate Yugoslav policies, in the transition onset anti-Bulgarian nationalism in Macedonia, intensified.
In mid-February 1990 the Yugoslav Skupshtina (the Yugoslav Federal Parliament) sent the Bulgarian National Assembly an official declaration, demanding the recognition of Macedonian national minority in the Bulgaria and the protection of its rights in view of the democratization processes in Bulgaria. At rallies in Skopje, calls for unification of all Macedonians within the borders of "United Macedonia" were raised, implying annexation of Pirin Macedonia (Blagoevgrad region). The act raised concerns among Bulgarian politicians and reified the historically established position that “there are no ‘Macedonians’” and “Macedonia nation is a creation of Commintern and the Great Serb chauvinism.” At a special session in March 1990, the Bulgarian Parliament voted a Declaration in answer to the Yugoslav one. The Bulgarian Declaration renounced Yugoslav claims as groundless and unsound, and retaliated with claims that the population of Macedonia had been deprived of the right to national (presumably Bulgaian) self-determination for decades. 
Yugoslav policies, thus, provided the other route for the political reification of the Macedonian question in Bulgaria. On the one hand, there has been an attempt to assist Macedonia’s separation, both territorial and ideological from Serbia. On the other hand, following the independence of Macedonia, what used to be seen as emanation of the Great Serbian/Yugoslavian nationalism, turned into a fervent and in its extremes strongly anti-Bulgaria oriented Macedonian nationalism. No matter whether it was a long-term consequence of decades of anti-Bulgarian Yugoslav propaganda or there were other reasons for its existence in the newly independent Macedonian state, throughout 90s Macedonian nationalism regarding Bulgaria has undoubtedly been crucial interdependence with Bulgarian nationalism and politics on the Macedonian question.
A brief outline of the post-Cold War period leads to the following concise picture: In 1991 the explosive disintegration of SFRY began. In a strive to break up from the Federation, parallel to that of the Northern Republics, in the fall of 1991 SR of Macedonia held a referendum. The newly adopted Constitution proclaimed the Republic of Macedonia a sovereign and independent state. Early January 1992, the criteria of the EU Arbitrary (Badintaire) commission for recognition of newly independent states became known. Among the splitting Yugoslav Republics, Macedonia and Slovenia were considered to meet the criteria. In January 1992, the EU recognized Slovenia and Croatia, but not Macedonia and Bosina and Herzegovina. On January 15, the Bulgarian government recognized the four Yugoslav republics en bloc thus becoming the first (and for a time the only) country to recognize the independent and sovereign Republic of Macedonia. In an address to the Bulgarian nation President Zhelev officially supported the government’s decision. The recognition, though, was qualified: Bulgaria recognized the state not the nation. It was President Zhelev who voiced the qualification.
In the years to follow, controversies and stagnation marked bilateral relations. Bulgaria attempted to act as Macedonia’s advocate within the international community. During the Greek “name” embargo (February, 1994 - October, 1995), Bulgaria granted Macedonia the possibility to use Bulgarian Black Sea ports; several attempts were made for invigorating the relations. Despite of that the relations - political and hence also cultural and economic - were in a deadlock. The Bulgarian part blamed the anti-Bulgarian policy of former Communist and then Socialists party in Macedonia (SDUM - Social Democratic Union of Macedonia), in power from 1991 to 1998. Macedonian part was apprehensive and suspicious because of what it perceived as ambiguity in Bulgarian position. Macedonia wanted Bulgaria to denounce all claims towards Macedonia - not formally, as already done by the act of recognition, but symbolically through explicit recognition of current historical and cultural separateness of Macedonian nation and language. What became to be known as the ‘language problem’ embodied the core of the controversy and was said to be the ‘stumbling block’ to the signing of some 25 bilateral agreements in different spheres.
Political change in Macedonia after the 1998 fall elections when the Macedonian party VMRO-DPMNE came to power led to a quick and noticeable thaw in the bilateral relation. In February 1999, the Prime ministers of the two countries signed a joint declaration, followed by a number of bilateral agreements, thus opening the door to extensive contacts and cooperation. During the NATO bombing on Yugoslavia in 1999, when Macedonia suffered under a huge refugee wave, Bulgaria provided Macedonia with help. Given the economic hardships Bulgarian itself has been undergoing, the act was far beyond a mere gesture of good will.
Bulgaria, however, has had its share in the controversies and ambiguity of the bilateral relations. Nationalism of various forms and shades has informed the attitudes towards ‘the other’ in both countries and hence influencing policies and bilateral relations. In Bulgaria, after the introduction of the ‘state-yes, nation-no’ formula, the case of UMO-"Ilinden"-Pirin (elaborated in more details below) makes another eloquent example for complicated Bulgarian position. In February 1999 the Sofia City Court finally registered as a political party a branch of UMO, UMO-Ilinden-Pirin, considered moderate and non-separatist. Despite the marginal political importance of the new party, its registration was widely and vehemently rejected - both politically and publicly - mostly on the grounds of nationalist principles and fears. The opposition climaxed in sixty-one MPs’ petitioning the Constitutional Court (CC) on the matter. In February 2000, CC banned the party as unconstitutional, thus making a concession to Bulgarian nationalist views and positions and feeding the anti-Bulgarian nationalism in Macedonia.  clearly rejected any political claims to Macedonia in terms of territory or statehood. Despite the otherwise controversial and ambiguous character of Bulgarian position towards Macedonia, there has been a stable renouncement of Bulgarian territorial claims towards Macedonia shared and upheld across the political spectrum in Bulgaria. It should be emphasized that Bulgaria upheld that position towards Macedonia’s integrity already in the initial phase of Yugoslav disintegration.