Rector's contract furore

November 14, 1997

A contract of cooperation signed between a Bulgarian and a Macedonian university has caused a furore because it implicitly recognises the two "languages" of the once-united country.

The rector of the University of Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria, who signed the contract, has come under attack not only from his students but from people throughout the country for his effective acceptance of Macedonia's separation from Bulgaria.

To recognise Macedonian as a language in its own right goes against Bulgaria's historical and political claims. Macedonia was once part of the former Yugoslavia but earlier was part of greater Bulgaria.

The controversy has opened old wounds about the loss of the territory at the hands of western powers. The Congress of Berlin handed Macedonia back to its former Turkish occupiers after being "liberated" by the Russians in 1878, but it might as well have been yesterday for some Bulgarians who cannot forgive Britain and Turkey for moving around parts of their country as if in a game of chess. The territory became part of Yugoslavia but gained independence in 1992. With that came the claim that the Macedonian language is not a Bulgarian dialect.

Students of history and Bulgarian language have called for the rector's resignation. The most active students are often key members of the pro-Macedonia movement, the VMRO, which operates in Bulgaria to get the territory returned. The VMRO also receives financial assistance from overseas Bulgarians, particularly in Canada and the United States.

The dream of restoring "Greater Bulgaria" may be just that, but it is one which will not go away. Students and other young people with nationalist leanings who want a stronger country to be proud of, rather than accept the borders imposed by other nations in the last century, are incensed by the unrepentant rector who says he would do it again. He has ignored "obituary" notices in his name that have been posted around the university.

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