NEW BULGARIANS

by Milen Radev

Macedonians have found an unusual way of becoming EU nationals. They apply for Bulgarian citizenship - and get it

What happened to the Polish plumber?

He now stands forgotten in the EU because of the scarecrow of the new kids on the bloc, the Bulgarians and Romanians. At this delicate moment, the old EU members are receiving disturbing news. Both Bulgaria and Romania are being targeted by their non-EU neighbours in pursuit of more convenient citizenship. Applicants in Romania are mainly from Moldova, while Bulgaria is welcoming its Macedonian brethren.

The official position of the German Administration for Immigration Control and the Foreign Ministry in Berlin shows no concern regarding the possibility of non-EU citizens circumventing the strict labour market restrictions. But there is evidence that this is what is happening.

If you are a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia, the area of Caribrod or Bosilegrad in Serbia, or Bessarabia in Ukraine - all of these are inhabited by Bulgarian minorities - all you need to do is provide a document proving your Bulgarian origins. Your application will be considered within six months.

Former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski, who recently changed his first name to the Bulgarian Lyubcho, and his wife did not have to wait that long. The general public in Macedonia took more umbrage when it emerged that they were not the only members of the Skopje political establishment who had acquired new passports.

The economic reasons for doing so are obvious, but even the experts are not quite clear about the historical and legal arguments for a Macedonian to want to choose the passport of a country which has traditionally been viewed as an unpleasant neighbour at best, if not a historical foe.

There are hardly any other two countries in Europe whose histories are so closely related that they reach the point of virtual identity.

Both Bulgaria and Macedonia venerate the same national heroes, like King Samuil, the revolutionaries from the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, Cyril and Methodius, and Revival Period figures like the Miladinov Brothers. The Bulgarians and the Macedonians weep to the same emotional songs, such as "Bolen mi lezhi Mile Popyordano", "More sokol pie" and "Makedonsko devoyche". They tell their children the same fairy tales and use the same expressions to show their happiness or anger. Their dances are similar and the food is almost identical, except that Macedonian rakiya is sometimes better. The only Bulgarian-Macedonian dictionary, which was published in Belgrade in 1968, is a unique case in world lexicography: about 85 percent of its entries are like two peas in a pod. There are only a few notable differences in Bulgarian and Macedonian grammar and for this reason some philologists consider Macedonian to be a codified dialect of Bulgarian.

Everything is so similar that it can't be divided between the two countries, yet they do like to show off their exclusiveness as a national sport.

For this reason, the relations between the two have been marked for years by suspicion and ill-disguised enmity. Macedonia has accused its neighbour of pan-Bulgarian chauvinism and an attempt to usurp what it calls Macedonia's historical past. The Bulgarians wonder why their compatriots, living in what used to be the most cherished Bulgarian area, fought for in wars and revolutions (almost everybody has a relative who is a refugee from Macedonia), deny their roots.

The confusion began when the Balkans fell under Ottoman rule. As part of the Ottoman Empire, Macedonia was an area inhabited by many diverse ethnic groups and the term Macedonian had a geographical meaning, denoting anybody, including Turks, Greeks, Albanians, Jews and Bulgarians, who lived between the rivers Aliakmon, Vardar and Struma. According to the population counts in the 19th Century and at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Bulgarians were the largest ethnic group in this area.

The situation started to change after the establishment of an independent Bulgarian state in 1878, when large areas inhabited by Bulgarians remained in the Ottoman Empire. These included Macedonia, Dobrudzha and even the Upper Thracian Valley together with the Rhodope and the Strandzha mountains, which became the autonomous district of Eastern Rumelia.

National unity became the country's main foreign policy objective. While unification with Eastern Rumelia in 1885 was successful, participation in the two Balkan Wars and the First World War with the aim of regaining Macedonia went down in history as a "national catastrophe". Apart from the Pirin area, the larger part of the region remained outside Bulgarian proper, and the Bulgarian army entered it on three occasions: when Turkish rule was brought to an end in 1912-1913 and during the two World Wars.

As Germany's ally in the Second World War, Bulgaria was given the right of administrative and military control over Macedonia and the Aegean coast. The Bulgarians who lived there welcomed the Bulgarian troops as liberators. For Greece and Serbia, which also had claims over the area, this was an occupation with all its negative consequences, including famine and guerrilla persecution.

After the First World War most of Macedonia became part of the Kingdom of Serbia, which began an assimilation policy. The Bulgarians in Macedonia, who gradually began to feel betrayed by "Mother Bulgaria," were indoctrinated into believing that they were Serbs. The Federal Republic of Macedonia was founded in 1944 and a separate nationality was created for its citizens, Macedonian.

Ironically, this happened with the support of Communist Bulgaria and its dictator Georgi Dimitrov, who substituted the ideals of national unification for submission to Stalin. It was at this time that the present-day standard Macedonian language was created.

Communist Bulgaria's policy on Macedonia was at best inconsistent. Immediately after the war Sofia encouraged the development of a Macedonian nationality as being distinct from Bulgarian.

This changed, however, in the 1960s. In an attempt to stress the homogeneity of the Bulgarian nation, the Bulgarian authorities refused to issue IDs to those in the Pirin part of Macedonia who declared they had a nationality other than Bulgarian.

In the 1990s Bulgaria was the first country to recognise the independence of the Republic of Macedonia. But Sofia refuses to acknowledge the existence of a Macedonian nation and Macedonian language to this very day. Ridiculously, the electronic media in Bulgaria do not translate speeches in "Macedonian", claiming these are in fact in a Bulgarian dialect - a "dialect" that the people in central and eastern Bulgaria barely understand. The authorities obstinately refuse to register a small, albeit vociferous political party in southwestern Bulgaria which calls itself OMO-Ilinden, the Political Party of the Macedonian Minority in Bulgaria.

Today, the population of the Republic of Macedonia comprises about 60 percent Macedonians and 40 percent Albanians, who are Muslim.

The Macedonians who can prove that they are ethnic Bulgarians are eligible for a Bulgarian and, thereby, EU passport. Applicants are on the increase every year: 11,000 of the 25,000 foreigners who have been granted Bulgarian citizenship in the past five years come from Macedonia. At an international conference in Sofia last autumn, the intelligence department of the Army General Staff forecast that about 100,000 Macedonian citizens would apply for Bulgarian passports in the next few years.

If this happens, the population of the EU will suddenly increase by 100,000 people.

Is this something to worry about?

Hardly. After the Second World War, West Germany "imported" ethnic Germans from countries ranging from Poland to Kazakhstan. The only condition for obtaining a German passport was to be able produce a birth certificate stating that your grandmother's name was Hildegard. The federal government continued this policy after the unification of Germany and at the beginning of the 1990s neighbouring Poland became the centre of a thriving business: the sale of "authentic" 19th Century German birth certificates.

The EU hardly felt the influx of ethnic Germans on its territory, just like it did not feel the influx of thousands of East Germans fleeing from the former GDR years earlier.

Meanwhile, in Bulgaria joy over the news that "our Macedonian brethren are coming back to us" has given way to arguments over the reasons: a reawakened national awareness or the opportunities a Bulgarian passport now affords.

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