Balkans 'could return to wars of the past': Bulgaria's Foreign Minister tells Steve Crawshaw of his concern about a widening of the Yugoslav conflict - with even greater danger if Kosovo and Macedonia are drawn in

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The Independent Online
THE Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Stoyan Ganev, warned yesterday that the conflict in neighbouring Yugoslavia could turn into a wider Balkan war. 'It will be even worse, if Kosovo and Macedonia are involved,' he said.

Bulgaria, which has traditionally refused to recognise Macedonia, is now one of the keenest backers of the republic - which meets EC requirements for recognition, but whose recognition has been blocked by Greece.

Mr Ganev told the Independent: 'The Greek failure to recognise Macedonia is a really serious problem. Those who don't recognise create the possibility of its being territorially divided.' This, he suggested, paved the way for a possible return to the Balkan wars of the past. (Greece insists that Macedonia should be called after the name of the capital, Skopje, and argues, in effect, that Greece has a copyright on the name Macedonia.)

Bulgaria pressed for the question of Macedonia to be higher on the agenda at last month's London conference on Yugoslavia - but without success.

The instability of the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo, too, is growing all the time.

Mr Ganev held talks with Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and Jacques Attali, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which he said had been 'encouraging'. The Bulgarians have been especially eager to gain association agreements with the European Community: until now, they have been at a disadvantage in their trade with EC countries, compared with the privileged Central European triangle - Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

Mr Ganev referred particularly to problems with textiles, steel and agricultural products - though, in reality, the association agreement is framed in such a way that Eastern European countries continue to be at a disadvantage in all these crucial areas.

As Mr Attali noted this week: 'The attitude of the European Community towards the nations of Central and Eastern Europe sometimes appears designed to restrict their access to key Western markets rather than to integrate them . . . It sometimes seems to deal with them as potential rivals to rich Western Europe rather than as potential new member-states.' Bulgaria's moves away from Communism have only been gradual.

It was formerly the Soviet Union's closest ally in Eastern Europe, and the Communists retained their grip on power much longer in Bulgaria than elsewhere. Renamed as the Socialist Party, they gained a majority in elections in 1990. Only in October 1991 did they finally lose power. Last week, the former Communist Party leader, Todor Zhivkov, was jailed, in what was seen by some as a show trial.

Now, there have been sharp moves towards the market economy, which have begun to bear some fruit. Equally, however - in Bulgaria, as in the rest of Eastern Europe - the pain has been considerable, and has caused widespread resentment. One recent opinion poll suggested that electoral support for the former Communists was greater than for the ruling UDF, the United Democratic Front.

The Bulgarian President, Zhelyu Zhelev, complained recently that the government 'has declared a war against everyone'. Mr Ganev insists, however, that popular discontent is to be expected. 'It would be a miracle - and miracles don't happen, in politics - if people were happy.'