The prime ministers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia met on January 25 in the Bulgarian capital in a new attempt to defuse tensions between the two neighbors that have threatened to stall Skopje’s bid for European integration.
"We are here because we are not afraid of crises and because we believe that we can solve them," Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said after the Sofia talks, which came after he met with his counterpart form North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovacevski, last week in Skopje to discuss historical differences.
Petkov said that both leaders sensed "a new level of enthusiasm" in the talks.
Kovacevski said he hoped the talks would "restore political dialogue" toward North Macedonia's membership in the EU.
Petkov lauded the creation of joint working groups that will meet monthly to discuss joint projects on economics, infrastructure, European Union cooperation, culture, and history. There are currently no air or rail links connecting the two Balkan neighbors.
"Issues that were sidelined in the last years will be approached," the Bulgarian prime minister said. "We have to catch up a lot, but I hope that this will happen fast."
The two countries have sparred for decades over language and historical issues. The row peaked in 2020 when EU member Bulgaria vetoed the start of membership talks with North Macedonia. Sofia argues that North Macedonia has failed to honor agreements it made in a 2017 bilateral friendship treaty.
Bulgaria has also called on North Macedonia to end purported "discrimination" against its ethnic-Bulgarian minority, to eradicate "hate speech" in the media, and to make changes to the country's history textbooks.
Skopje previously had to settle another long-running historical dispute over the use of the name "Macedonia" with its southern neighbor, Greece. Under that settlement, Skopje agreed to change the name of the country from Macedonia to North Macedonia.