European Western Balkans

Macedonian and Bulgarian scholars: Current disputes based on anachronistic views on national identity


Open Letter by Bulgarian and Macedonian Scholars: Katerina Kolozova (Skopje), Aleksandar Vezenkov (Sofia), Ljupcho Petkovski (Skopje), Stefan Detchev (Sofia), Zdravko Saveski (Skopje), Tchavdar Marinov (Sofia) and Dimitar Bechev (Oxford)

To: Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Republic of North Macedonia, Ekaterina Zaharieva, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, Bujar Osmani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia.

Respected ladies and gentlemen,

We, representatives of the humanities and social sciences, in both countries, are addressing you in this important moment, when the friendship and good neighbourly relations between our two countries and people, are at stake. We fear that focusing on the past in the process of the negotiations engenders unrealistic expectations and contains huge risks.

The problem lies in the fact that the entire current dispute around historical questions ensues from anachronistic and very narrow-minded understandings of the notion of national identity, as being something eternal and unchangeable, and that treats national history as something sacred.

Considering the composition of the Joint Historical Commission, a certain model of the past is presented: the representatives of the two national historiographies will defend and try to impose the ossified interpretations of their own respective countries.

However, the contemporary humanities and social sciences consider all nations to be constructed, and literally ‘artificial’, and the interpretation of national histories as intellectual constructs to be one among many possible ways of conceptualizing the past.

It is also worrying that one would seek unanimity about a single historical truth through negotiations between two states. Since a long time ago, contemporary historiography has accepted the existence of different interpretations as the result of different perspectives.

We live in pluralist societies and work in academic environments that accept the pluralism of interpretations (including the interpretation of the past) as something normal.

For all of the above reasons, we address you with an appeal for cooperation regarding current problems. As far as the disputes and differences around historical questions are concerned, a spirit of cooperation would suffice for creating an atmosphere more open to dialogue.

The work of the Commission, thus far, has demonstrated that it is possible to reach an agreement even about the most difficult questions concerning our two countries, but this is a long process and it is not advisable to impose unrealistically short deadlines.

Moreover, such a process should not be carried out under pressure, which would discredit the compromises and agreements reached so far. Each narrative of a national past is subject to reconsideration and re-estimation, but that should be happening in the context of free academic and social discussions.

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