At loggerheads over their claims to Gotse Delchev (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotse_Delchev) will Bulgaria derail the start of negotiations over EU accession of Northern Macedonia? (
https://www.euractiv.com/section/all/short_news/bulgaria-could-block-north-macedonias-eu-path-over-common-history-interpretation/) But who is Delchev? A Bulgarian national, he had been campaigning for Macedonian independence when it was still under the Ottomans for which he was killed in 1903. The end of the Great War saw Macedonia part of Yugoslavia and Delchev was declared Macedonian. He changed his identity posthumously when, albeit briefly, Bulgaria regained possession. Not to be outdone, after World War Two, the new Yugoslavia declared Delchev – whose remains were in Sofia – a hundred percent Macedonian. Otherwise on friendly terms with present-day North Macedonia, Bulgaria thinks of North Macedonians as Bulgarians and of their language a Bulgarian dialect, so ‘naturally’ Delchev is Bulgarian. See here the legacy of importing European 19th-century nationalism.
In post-war Austria and fed on its own version of history – Gabriel Princip’s murder of the pretender to the Austrian-Hungarian throne instigating the Great War – the Balkans were a near, yet foreign neighbour. As a student, I had Balkan meals at a place probably in the informal economy behind shutters half-closed. Amongst Balkan migrants, Yugoslavs were prominent, but we did not distinguish between their ethnicities. Nor did we when vacationing in a Yugoslavia closer to – and cheaper – than Italy. I recall being amazed when hearing complaints at Ljubljana about internal migrants from the south. When Tito having held Yugoslavia together had passed away, a Croat volunteered that he did not mind Serbs using Cyrillic script. So what, I thought? About Kosovo, we did not know the first thing.
History is important, and on the Balkans even more so. Fulfilling past dreams, the Serbian King had turned the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes into Serb-dominated Yugoslavia in 1929. In 1941, it had met its end it seemed at the hands of invading Germans and Italians. A much enlarged vassal state Croatia, including amongst others Bosnia Herzegovina had viciously persecuted other ethnicities and non-Catholics. A – hesitant – German ally, Bulgaria had retaken Macedonia and the Thracian coast of Greece which had been its prizes already during one of the Balkan Wars heralding the Great War. (See figure)
Spurred by European nationalism, the Balkans have thus had their share of territorial conflicts. Not only has Europe exported nationalism to start with by supporting Greek independence from the Ottomans in the early-1800s, reactions to Tito’s parting reflected – and reflect – the same thinking in terms of, supposedly historic claims to territories. But now the successor states are – more or less – on the map, the EU is dangling before their noses the prospect of membership.
But this EU is itself under the spell of its inherited nationalism-cum-territorialism. Before joining, the Western Balkans must become alike, seems the thinking.
In the latter days of the Soviet Empire, for what was happening behind the ideological façade, scholars invoked the concept of ‘real socialism’. There is also a ‘real EU’ of partial and overlapping arrangements, exceptions and also joint policies and projects at infra-national level. Some, including myself have invoked the term new-medievalism for this. This ‘real EU’ stretches also across its outer borders, including to the Western Balkans. Enlargement would be more relaxed, leaving the many Delchevs to the historians, including amateurs like myself.
*The map going with this blog is from Wikimedia.
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