Since it is available only in print and in Macedonian language, here is an English translation of the interview given to Republika, which was published on 9 August.
Is there any future for the Greek-Macedonian relations since Samaras refused to meet with Gruevski? What can get Greece back to the negotiation table?
One look at the border crossings with Greece shows that there are relations and that there is need to normalize these relations. I don’t know if Gruevski and Samaras are the ones who will solve this issue, but I doubt it. Courage is certainly not going to be the reason for both of them to go down in the history of their countries.
Greece doesn’t have great interest in negotiating about this problem and I am convinced that this interest can be stimulated only by pressure from the EU and the USA. However, the bigger question here is whether the Macedonian government is ready for a serious step forward. It is illusory to think that time works in favour of Macedonia, having in mind the regional context and especially Macedonia’s internal economic and financial situation. The latest statements of Gruevski and especially Ivanov are very worrying in this respect.
According to you, where does the problem lie? Why have the negotiations in the UN not brought about results even after 18 years?
The problem was created artificially and is based upon a hysterical reaction of one government of Greece. That government was faced with a possible implosion of parts of the national mythology, upon which the modern Greek state was created.
The problem is that now a rational solution has to be found for an utterly irrational problem. While the solution was not imperative during the nineties, the situation requires it now. The EU will not allow entry to a country that has an unsolved problem with another member state. Whether this approach is fair or not, that can still be discussed for decades. That is the reality and that is that.
A simultaneous problem is that a national mythology based on exclusivity is ruling in both countries. The academic and politico-social mainstream in both countries accept only one reality, while at the same time vehemently contesting the others’.
All that could be solved if in both countries there were elites, which were really interested in furthering their country. Had there been political elites in both countries, for which the public interest is larger than the personal one, this artificial problem would have been solved a long time ago. But obviously responsibility and courage are outdated categories, as are moral and ethical behaviour.
Is there any space for bulldozer-diplomacy as we have seen it in the nineties?
Diplomatic efforts in the nineties were aiming at the stabilisation of a very fragile structure, of a new state. Today, Macedonia is fully capable to make its own decisions. This includes the right to make mistakes.
Macedonia is not in an acute crisis, for the solution of which international efforts would be needed. The permanent crisis is a home-made problem, which can be solved in a democratic way. So, the answer is no.
As an independent analyst, which are your suggestions for overcoming the dispute? What are you proposing concretely?
Far from me to have concrete suggestions. I think this is your government’s job. And its responsibility, too. It is clear that such a dispute has to end with a compromise, or it won’t end. It is clear that postponing this solution is holding Macedonia back and that the damage is enormous.
Now, whether the Macedonian society is ready to endure another twenty years of inactivity and manipulation by its representatives, who were elected to lead, that is an entirely different question.
Can the USA and EU play a bigger role in the negotiations with Greece?
Yes. But the question is if they are going to do so. To be honest, for that to happen there is need for clear signals from the Macedonian side that there is readiness for a compromise solution. The confrontational anti-Western and anti-European course of the Macedonian government bodies and the nationalist rhetoric do not help. Also the decline of democratic values, which is happening in the country at the moment doesn’t help. About the infantile logic behind the project “Skopje 2014” I don’t even want to talk.
For someone to help, you must show that the help is really welcome. Here Macedonia has lost a lot of support among European countries and individuals in the last few years. A lot of effort will be needed to return that support.
Is there truth in Samaras’ thesis that it is not Greece, but the EU that slows down Macedonia?
I think that his statement referred to the fact that the reforms have slowed down. And yes, there is truth in that. European integration can only happen by the way of reforms and the democratisation of society. The general assessment on Macedonia can be found in the EU reports. If you remove the governmental filter laid over the Macedonian media and read the reports in their entirety, you will see that this is the reality.
Now, if Samaras is really a reference point for successful governance, that is a different issue. It is difficult to expect a productive approach from a person who built his political career exploiting this invented conflict.
What is your general assessment of the inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia?
Inter-ethnic relations are an empty phrase behind which clear political and business interests are hidden. Whenever some political, economic or criminal group ( and here the borders between them is pretty fluid) sees profit in this – as it regularly happens before elections , they push the button “worsened inter-ethnic relations” in sync with the button “conflict situations” and the machinery is left to do its work.
Phony political rhetoric and bribing people as well as pressure for group loyalty and obedience – those are the ingredients of this cocktail.
As long as the political parties in Macedonia continue to function only according to the principles of clientelism and patronage, the “inter-ethnic relations” will continue to be an instrument in the hands of irresponsible politicians.
That aside, in Macedonia rapprochement and growth of ethnic distance are happening simultaneously, depending on local situations and personal interests. But what is missing, or rather what the political elites are evading consciously and irresponsibly, that is a huge package of measures and policies for the integration of society in all areas. But that would mean not only declarative, but real overcoming of concepts based on relations between an ethnic nation and national minorities and focussing on the real socio-economic and cultural needs of this country’s citizens.
The problem is that an integrated society, in which the individual is first a conscious citizen and only then a member of other groups, regardless of whether they are of ethnic, religious, professional or sexual nature, would put an end to the exploitation of the “ethnic” as a main source of power and means for the clientelist groups that dominate society.
Is real, integrated education the remedy?
No. Integrated education can be one, albeit important, measure, one part of a larger package, as I already mentioned before.
However, in the current political constellation there is not enough vision, knowledge of understanding, not to talk about courage, to implement even that measure. On the contrary, there is an open push for segregation of the education system, knowing that this is the only way to ensure a docile clientele.
The price will be very high, and no one will be able to say they hadn’t been warned. I don’t know how you expect a society to show any kind of cohesion, when you prevent the production of the glue that is needed to keep it all together. But hey, also that is a question of civic consciousness. As long as people allow themselves to be manipulated and tolerate such political decisions, as long will that centrifugal spiralling continue.
How do you comment the fact that Albanian first graders don’t have a problem learning English but reject learning Macedonian?
Students don’t reject anything; that comes from their parents, teachers and politicians.
There are several issues here. First, on a personal level. I grew up almost trilingual, and from the age of eight I started learning two additional languages. Not only do I not feel very damaged, but I actually feel privileged and will always be thankful to my parents for that support and their vision.
The problem about this rejection lies exactly in the fact that the real conflict in the background is about territorial domination, or rather ownership, or rather about the pre-modern understanding of a country as land ownership.
And I’d like to mention another problem, too: there is very good political capital one can draw from the role of saviour of the nation, of the identity. As long as the people accept this type of politician to dominate, integrated society will remain an illusion.
Still very few Macedonians are ready to learn Albanian.
Still very few Macedonians know that there is the theoretical opportunity to ask for facultative courses in Albanian language in any school in Macedonia. Why don’t they know that? Because the school headmasters forbid the teachers to inform parents and students.
The number of Macedonians who learn Albanian upon their own initiative is growing. But in the absence of information about opportunities it is not surprising that the number is still small. I would not like to inspire yet another unnecessary government campaign, but public media and the government bodies have the duty to inform the public on any activities financed with public funds. Teaching is such an activity.
Is there a mechanism to implement the Badinter principle (of qualified majority) on local level without it creating tensions?
Tensions are not created by mechanisms, but by people. Any mechanism, as perfect as it may be, can be sabotaged. In the current circumstances, in which the government policies promote divisions and polarisation and in which local actors are required to be nothing more than docile party soldiers who implement decisions made by their patrons, no mechanism could function.
The democratic system, especially on local level ´, requires permanent negotiation, permanent adaptation. But for it to function, there is need for political actors who have in mind the good of their citizens, first as individuals and only after that as part of various communities.
A small digression as a conclusion that I drew from my work with party youth: I think that the road of political parties in Macedonia to an acceptable level of internal democracy is a very long one and that in the last few years there is even regression in this field.
Are new tensions in the region possible or has the Belgrade-Pristina agreement done away with possibilities for conflict?
The Belgrade-Pristina agreement is still far from being functional, but it is a big leap forward for both countries. As for tensions – as long as the implementation of the geopolitical and security architecture of the Balkans is not finalised, meaning as long as not all countries in the region are full part of the Euro-Atlantic structures, as long there remains a risk.
Uninspired moves like the ones made by Macedonian government bodies for example with the unnecessary support for Erdogan and the flirt with Putin only increase the risk. It is an illusion to think that a country with the political and economic power of Macedonia is in a situation of choosing its friends. The Euro-Atlantic hand remains extended despite Greece’s hysterical behaviour. But not at any price. This has to be clear.
How do you assess the Macedonian government’s joint meetings with their colleagues in Belgrade and Kjustendil? Can this proactive approach ameliorate the tensions in the region?
Those meetings have cosmetic value, nothing else. Only the bilateral agreement with Bulgaria and the solution of the conflict around the [recognition of the] Macedonian Orthodox Church can lower the tensions.
What else can Macedonia do to improve the relations with Sofia and Athens?
In what sense “else”? I don’t see any serious attempts that were undertaken recently, if you leave cosmetics aside.
I have been trying to propose a courageous step for some time now: the creation of a joint commission or commissions with the neighbouring countries, which will try and find scientific answers to the historic dilemmas, as a first step towards appeasement. A second step would be an agreement on curricula contents in history and related subjects, aiming at creating a joint view on the joint history.
I am not surprised that this government would regard that approach as treason, for among many other things it would unmask the project “Skopje 2014” and show what it really is: very expensive madness. So, this is why the relations stagnate and even worsen in the case of Greece.
Can the opposition ask and receive help from abroad in its fight to bring Gruevski down, because it is obvious that it is having a hard time even after seven years of governing of VMRO-DPMNE?
Who could keep it from doing so? Every political party has sister parties and organisations around the world and has the right to act as it wishes. And it is absolutely normal for the opposition to want to bring down the government. Although I am very tempted to ask: which opposition?
Does Macedonia have a long term alternative to the EU and NATO? Everybody swears there isn’t, but still, if the EU stays closed on the long term, a way has to be found for the economy to survive.
It would be naïve and dangerous to think in that direction. EU and NATO are the only structures that can safeguard and have an interest in guaranteeing the survival of Macedonia as a state. Any alternative would be suicidal. But in the end this is the choice of the Macedonian society.
As for the economy – the moment there is enough political stability and maturity as well as an acceptable legal framework and trust in the everyday work of the judiciary, the economy will do better. But not before that.