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Bulgaria, North Macedonia condemn ethnic assault

Originally published by AP News, on January 22, 2023

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, right, shakes hands with his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolay Milkov in front of the hospital where Hristian Pendikov, the secretary of the Bulgarian cultural club in Ohrid, is hospitalised, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, Sofia, Bulgaria. The foreign ministers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia condemned on Sunday the assault on a Macedonian citizen who identifies himself as Bulgarian. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — The foreign ministers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia paid a joint visit to a hospital Sunday where a North Macedonian citizen who identifies as Bulgarian is being treated after he was severely assaulted.

Hristiyan Pendikov, an employee of a Bulgarian cultural center in Ohrid, North Macedonia, was transported to Sofia on a Bulgarian government plane with a severe brain injury, after he was attacked and beaten on Thursday.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov told reporters his country will not give up the protection of the rights of its community in North Macedonia.

“Bulgaria firmly insists that the perpetrators of this act and other similar acts be punished with the severity of the law so that this atmosphere of impunity, which breeds new and renewed violence, comes to an end,” Milkov said.

North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said that his country “will do everything to make sure there is zero tolerance for violence as a response to any problems, especially the interethnic ones.”

He added that his government will not allow anyone to insult the Bulgarian community there and stressed that the cycle of provocations and violence on both sides must be broken. Responding to a question about the three perpetrators of the assault, Osmani said they have been identified, one of them has been detained for 30 days and will be brought to justice, while the other two are still at large. The incident comes just weeks after Bulgaria requested that the prosecution of hate crimes against ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia become part of its accession negotiations with the EU.

Sofia’s request followed the attacks on two Bulgarian cultural centers in North Macedonia including the one in Ohrid. Last month, the two Balkan neighbors agreed to avoid bilateral tensions, including hate speech and discrimination, which they believe are triggered by third countries.

Although Russia was not mentioned, the permanent instability in the region is widely assumed to play into the hands of the Kremlin.

Relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia are poor, largely due to disagreements over regional history and culture that led Bulgaria to block its neighbor’s bid to join the European Union for a long time.

Bulgaria lifted its veto last July, allowing North Macedonia to start EU accession negotiations, under EU-negotiated conditions that include adding the Bulgarians as a national ethnicity, along with Albanians, Turks and others, in the Macedonian constitution.



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