SKOPJE, North Macedonia — North Macedonia and Bulgaria reestablished a commercial air link Saturday after 13 years of interruption, as a symbolic trust-building move.
Relations between the two Balkan neighbors have long been strained as the Bulgarians do not recognize a separate Macedonian ethnicity and language, saying the language is actually a Bulgarian dialect. Sofia has vetoed its smaller neighbor’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.
“The Sofia-Skopje (route) now connects the two capitals in just 30 minutes. We believe this (route) has a huge potential, both for tourist and business trips,” Metin Batak, General Manager of Skopje’s airport “TAV Macedonia” said.
The reestablishment of the air link was agreed in January when Bulgarian Prime minister Kiril Petkov visited North Macedonia in a bid to thaw relations between the two countries by pledging deeper bilateral cooperation.
In 2020, Bulgaria vetoed the start of formal EU accession talks for North Macedonia, arguing that Skopje had failed to honor 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 neighboring 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.