World Bulletin / News Desk
Macedonia on Tuesday signed a deal to mend relations with neighbouring Bulgaria in a bid to speed up its NATO and European Union accession after a decade of setbacks.
The agreement signed on Tuesday by Macedonian and Bulgarian leaders represents a milestone in Skopje's foreign policy after its conservative VMRO-DPMNE party left office in December after 10 years in power.
According to the text, the deal means Bulgaria "will share its experience in order to help the Republic of Macedonia to meet all necessary criteria of EU membership and will support it for NATO membership."
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev praised the "historic" deal and Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov said it "shows to EU that turbulent Balkans, which has passed through a lot of troubles, could solve problems by agreements without mediators."
The accord was approved unanimously by Bulgarian lawmakers, supported even by nationalists who consider Macedonia part of the Bulgarian nation.
Relations between Skopje and Sofia have been strained for years.
Bulgaria considers the Macedonian language as a dialect of Bulgarian and speeches made by visiting Macedonian officials were routinely not translated.
However, since Zaev's first visit in June, Bulgaria is providing translation of his remarks as a sign of a good will.
It also refuses to recognise its own Macedonian ethnic minority and Macedonian schoolchildren are still taught that their country was occupied by Nazi-ally Bulgarians during World War II.
As part of the deal, a research team from both countries have agreed to examine the content of school textbooks.
The two countries have also agreed to open a train line from Sofia to Skopje.
Macedonia's bid to join the EU and NATO has been blocked for some time by Greece.
Athens says the country should not call itself Macedonia because Greece's northern province bears the same name, and in 2008 vetoed Skopje's attempts to join NATO.
Greece claims a historical right to the term Macedonia because the heart of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom lies in its northern province of Macedonia.
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