N. Macedonia bans use of names linked to fascism

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia’s parliament adopted a law Wednesday that prevents organizations and cultural clubs from using names considered linked to fascism, a response to Bulgarian clubs with names of controversial figures opening in the country and sparking protests.

The proposed law passed with 67 votes in the 120-member parliament. The law bans political parties and cultural clubs from using symbols and the names of individuals associated with fascism or considered to be directed against other religions or ethnic groups.

Last month, hundreds of left-wing supporters and nationalists protested in the southern town of Ohrid against an ethnic Bulgarian association naming itself after King Boris III, a Bulgarian monarch who is deeply resented in North Macedonia for his country’s role in World War II, when Bulgaria allied itself with Nazi Germany.

Protesters held banners reading “No negotiation with fascists,” and threw eggs and stones at the club’s premises, which were guarded by police. Earlier this year, another ethnic Bulgarian cultural club caused a stir in North Macedonia by adopting the name of another divisive WWII figure.

Boris III reigned from 1918 until his death in 1943 and oversaw Bulgaria’s alliance with Axis powers during World War II. That move enabled Bulgaria to occupy parts of neighboring Greece, Romania and what is now North Macedonia. Bulgarian forces accepted Nazi German demands to round up and deport to their deaths Jews in the occupied regions, but Boris successfully resisted pressure for Bulgarian Jews to face a similar fate.

Jewish community groups in North Macedonia expressed shock at the ethnic Bulgarian organization’s choice of name.

According to the new legislation, newly opened clubs of Bulgarians that feature controversial names must change the name within three months or face removal from the Central Register, where all clubs and companies must be registered.

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

Bulgaria accuses the government in Skopje of disrespecting shared cultural and historic ties. Among Sofia’s key demands were an acknowledgment that the language of North Macedonia is derived from Bulgarian, changes in history textbooks and the recognition of a Bulgarian minority.

The size of the Bulgarian community in North Macedonia is a matter of contention. Official data from the country’s 2021 census put it at 3,504 people, or about 0.2% of the population. Bulgaria has disputed the figure, noting that about 90,000 of North Macedonia’s roughly 2 million people received dual Bulgarian citizenship based on family roots in the last two decades.

While still named Macedonia, North Macedonia had a decades-long dispute over culture and history with Greece. That ended with the country changing its name to add “North”, and Athens dropping its objections to its neighbor joining NATO and the EU.

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