site.btaUPDATED Foreign Ministry Expresses Growing Concern over Attempts in North Macedonia to Curtail Bulgarians' Right to Freedom of Association
The Foreign Ministry in Sofia is following with growing concern developments in the Republic of North Macedonia relating to attempts to restrict the right to freedom of association of Bulgarians in that country, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said on Friday.
On March 16, the commission on the use of names of historical figures in North Macedonia issued a negative opinion on the use of the name of Ivan Mihailov by the Ivan Mihailov Bulgarian Cultural Centre in Bitola. Based on this decision, Justice Minister Krenar Lloga rejected an application for approval of the use of the name of Ivan Mihailov, citing the commission's reasoning.
Meanwhile, the Central Registry of the Republic of North Macedonia announced it was rejecting an application for agreement on the name from the King Boris III Civil Society Association in Ohrid.
The decisions made by the authorities in Skopje have a direct bearing on the country's degree of democratization. They run counter to Skopje's commitments concerning human rights and the obligation to ensure equal rights to all citizens, including those who identify themselves as Bulgarians.
The Foreign Ministry recalled that in 2009, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment holding that there had been a violation of Article 11 (right to freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court found that the name of the Association of Citizens "Radko" (Ivan Mihailov's nickname) could not in itself be considered to pose a threat to public order.
According to the available public information, the Central Registry of the Republic of North Macedonia submitted for review to the Justice Ministry some 17,000 NGOs. Within the legal timeframe, only the Ivan Mihailov Cultural Centre-Bitola and King Boris III associations got negative decisions about the names chosen by their founders. This fact shows that the revisions to the Associations and Foundations Act, which were adopted hastily and without public discussion, with the option of retroactive application, were made with the sole purpose to expunge two organizations of Bulgarians in North Macedonia from the Central Registry.
The March 16 developments once again underlined the need to achieve an objective interpretation of historical events and figures of the common history of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia. The Joint Multidisciplinary Commission of Experts on Historical and Educational Issues was set up with precisely that purpose in mind. "Now we are witnessing how one-sided, tendentious interpretations of historical events can be used as an argument, based on which the authorities take decisions to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms," the Foreign Ministry said.
Under a Protocol signed at a July 17, 2022 meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission set up under Art. 12 of the 2017 Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation, the Republic of North Macedonia committed to take steps towards ensuring effective access to equal rights, protection against discrimination and preservation of the culture and identity of the Bulgarian community in that country. Bulgaria will monitor the implementation of those commitments, the statement said.