A statue depicting the deportation of Jews in front of the Holocaust Museum in Skopje, North Macedonia. Photo: BIRN
North Macedonia’s small Jewish community on Tuesday condemned the decision by an association of Bulgarians in Ohrid, North Macedonia, to take their name from King or Tsar Boris III. of Bulgaria – the wartime monarch under whom Bulgaria joined the Nazi-led Axis during World War II and occupied much of what is now North Macedonia.
“It is obvious that the registration of clubs with Bulgarian self-confidence, bearing the names of proven collaborators of Nazi Germany, is becoming more common. This constitutes a deliberate provocation and insult to the Jewish community and an insult to the Macedonian state and its citizens,” the community wrote.
“Or maybe someone else thinks that by promoting and glorifying fascism and Nazism, it will help strengthen good-neighborly relations,” it added cynically.
The Jewish community recalled that in April, when another Bulgarian cultural association named after another Nazi collaborator, Ivan Mihailov, was registered in the city of Bitola, they also reacted and called on institutions in the country to check whether it is legal to name clubs and associations after such people.
“Our country can and must confront the more frequent cases of registration of this type of association, which, through its provocations, spreads hate speech and is not sanctioned [hiding] under the veil of freedom of expression and good neighborliness,” demanded the community.
The two associations were recently opened amid a bitter dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria over history and identity. According to the data in the Central Registry, the Tzar Boriz Association was registered in November last year. However, the general public in North Macedonia found out about it this week.
Bulgaria insists that Macedonian identity and language are of Bulgarian origin. Among other things, Bulgaria objects to the fact that the textbooks of North Macedonia refer to the three-year Bulgarian occupation of most of today’s North Macedonia during the war as “occupation”. They insist that the correct term is ‘Bulgarian administration’.
Because of this dispute, Bulgaria has blocked North Macedonia’s EU accession for almost three years. A new French proposal is trying to settle the dispute and end the blockade.
Nazi-allied Bulgaria refused to deport its Jews to Germany during World War II and is widely praised for it — but that was not the case with the territories it occupied.
Under Bulgarian rule, 7,144 Macedonian Jews were deported to the Nazi death camp in Treblinka, Poland in 1943. Only a handful survived. The Macedonian Jewish community was virtually wiped out. On the grounds of the Jewish Quarter in Skopje is a Holocaust Museum run by the Jewish community.
The Ohrid Association did not answer BIRN’s question by the time of publication.
King Boris died of heart failure in August 1943 at the age of 49, shortly after returning from a tumultuous meeting with Hitler where he had refused to join the war against the Soviet Union. The belief that his sudden death was the result of poisoning remains widespread.