SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Parliament, turning up the heat in a dispute with Yugoslavia, accused Belgrade Tuesday of trying to whip up anti-Bulgarian sentiment with tales of alleged persecution of ethnic Macedonians.
A declaration adopted by the legislators denied the existence of a Macedonian community in Bulgaria and warned Yugoslavia to stop meddling in its affairs.
Yugoslav Communist Party leader Milan Pancevski shot back by calling on Sofia to recognize 'the existing reality' and renounce '19th century chauvinist theses,' the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said.
The exchanges were the latest salvos in a dispute that began in the closing months of World War II, when Yugoslav leaders proposed the annexation of the Pirin region of southwestern Bulgaria, which they claimed was part of the 'Macedonian nation.'
Ethnic Macedonians are concentrated in the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, with small communities in Greece and Albania. Bulgaria maintains there are virtually no Macedonians within its borders.
The Yugoslav Parliament reopened the controversy Feb. 14 when it passed a resolution denouncing what it described as a campaign of forced assimilation of ethnic Macedonians in Bulgaria. Six days later, 150,000 demonstrators staged a rally in Skopje, capital of the Macedonian republic, calling for an end to 'ethnocide' by the Sofia government.
In its declaration Tuesday, the Bulgarian Parliament accused Yugoslavia of fabricating stories about persecution of ethnic Macedonians in an attempt to divert attention from nationalist unrest within its own borders.
'The attempts at forming and endorsing an anti-Bulgarian campaign within the socialist republic of Macedonia and the unfounded claims in connection with the non-existent Macedonian community in Bulgaria are doomed to failure,' the resolution said.
It said Sofia would view further 'anti-Bulgarian propaganda' by Belgrade as 'interference in Bulgaria's internal affairs and an encroachment upon its national sovereignty.'
Pancevski said he expected better of Bulgaria's new communist leaders, who in January reversed a policy of forced assimiliation of ethnic Turks.
'We expected that the new policy of Bulgaria and its Communist Party, as well as the undoubtedly significant democratic climate, would lead to a change of attitude toward the Macedonian minority in Pirin Macedonia,' Tanjug quoted Pancevski as saying.
He said denying the existence of ethnic Macedonians was 'contrary to (Bulgaria's) proclaimed democratic policy,' Tanjug reported.