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Bulgaria/Macedonia: Negotiators Solve Language Dispute

Sofia, 10 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgarian and Macedonian negotiators have worked out a subtle diplomatic formula to solve a long-standing language dispute that has blocked several bilateral accords.

The Macedonian language is so close to the Bulgarian that citizens of the two countries understand each other without translation, much as Serbs and Croats do. Bulgarians regard Macedonian as a strain of their language, but Macedonians insist it is a separate language.

The dispute has stalled 20 bilateral accords since 1992, when Bulgaria became the first country to recognize Macedonia after it seceded from Yugoslavia.

Bulgarian Prime minister Ivan Kostov told an applauding parliament today that the two nations will issue a joint declaration on Feb. 22 signed "in the official languages" of both countries. This phrase satisfies Macedonia's demand that its possession of an official language be recognized, and it meet Bulgaria's insistence that it not recognize Macedonian as a separate language.

The declaration also will pledge that neither country has territorial claims on the other. Bulgarian president Petar Stoyanov hailed the accord, saying it would keep the dignity of both states and open the way to broad cooperation.