North Macedonia, Bulgaria re-establish air link

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North Macedonia and Bulgaria reestablished a commercial air link Saturday after 13 years of interruption, as a symbolic trust-building move.

Ties between the two Balkan neighbours have long been weakened as the Bulgarians do not recognise a separate Macedonian ethnicity and language, saying the language is actually a Bulgarian dialect. Sofia has vetoed its smaller neighbour´s plan to start membership talks with the European Union.

A plane belonging to Bulgarian airline GullivAir was the first to land at Skopje international airport on Saturday morning. GullivAir will operate twice a week with a 70-seater ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft.

In 2020, Bulgaria vetoed the start of formal EU accession talks for North Macedonia, arguing that Skopje had failed to honour parts of a 2017 friendship deal, particularly regarding shared history and language.

This was resented in Skopje, which had recently settled a similar, decades-old dispute with neighbouring EU member Greece that had apparently cleared the way for North Macedonia to seek membership. Under that deal, the country changed its name from the previous “Macedonia,” which Greece had said implied claims on its own territory and history.

Under the Prespa Agreement meant Skopje had to acknowledge that the Ancient Macedonians, their history and legacy are Greek, Athens in return recognised a Macedonian language and identity.

Under the Agreement The Skopje government also renamed the airport and the country’s main highway, which was also previously named after Alexander the Great.