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    Bulgaria’s decision to join Greece and block Macedonia’s EU accession talks has sparked anger in Macedonia – further chilling relations between Sofia and Skopje.

    The cover illustration of the Macedonian daily, Vest, with the headline, “Shoot cousin, shoot!”, well displays the resentment felt among many Macedonians after Bulgaria recently joined Greece in blocking the start of Macedonia’s accession talks with the EU.

    The line from the cover borrows from a well-known Oscar-nominated Macedonian movie, Before the Rain.

    As in the film, the main character utters these words with a calm smile, confronted by a gun pointed by a dimwitted cousin.

    The headline on Vest about the Macedonians’ Bulgarian “cousins” is reflected in internet discussions too.

    Posts reading “Thanks Bulgaria, thanks for nothing!”, or “God help us with these backstabbing neighbours”, overwhelmed networking sites following the December 11 EU meeting in Brussels.

    At the meeting, where Macedonia had hoped to obtain a start date for membership talks, Greece again justified a blockade citing the bilateral dispute over Macedonia's name.

    While the Greek blockade is old news, and had to some extent been expected again, Bulgaria’s move was more of a surprise.

    Bulgaria only emerged this year as a potential obstacle to Macedonia’s EU aspirations, saying on December 11 that it could not support a country that had failed to nurture good relations.

    Dimitar Bechev, head of the Sofia office of the think-tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations, describes the growing dispute with Bulgaria as ominous.

    “The danger is that we enter an enchanted circle of nationalism from both sides, which will only complicate things,” he said.

    “The Bulgarian move might spark nationalistic reactions from Macedonia with more hardline statements coming from there,” Bechev added.

    Thus far, Macedonian officials have refrained from commenting directly on Bulgaria’s move in Brussels.

    In an address, the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, expressed disappointment about the decision in Brussels, but trained criticism solely on Greece.

    Bechev says this may be because the Skopje government is less interested in EU membership than it claims to be.


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