BREAKING NEWS

Now Reading:

"We need EU membership" - FYR Macedonia's president


interview

"We need EU membership" - FYR Macedonia's president

The “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” wants to become a member of the European Union.

But Greece is blocking accession talks because of a dispute over the official name.

The “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” has been independent since 1991. Ten years later, the country came close to civil war. Tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians were defused with NATO and EU help.

But this year, tensions between communities have been rumbling again.

euronews met the Macedonian president in the capital Skopje.

Hans von der Brelie, euronews:
Mr President, we have the rise of ethnic tensions and violent clashes since the beginning of this year. Explain to us why.

President Gjorge Ivanov, FYR Macedonia:
All societies in the Balkans are multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious, because of the old empires. In terms of democracy, Macedonia is a model of inclusion of all differences and diversities in society. Macedonia, compared to other countries in the region, has managed to implement a real level of integration.

euronews:
But we see clashes…

Ivanov:
There is a problem when politics concentrate on ethnicity, because some individuals try to mobilize voters by abusing the public arena. But Macedonia managed to survive all the problems linked to the ethnicity in politics. Those isolated, individual cases of tensions can not be generalized.

euronews:
Nevertheless there seems to be a rise in tensions since the beginning of this year. What is your explanation for this?

Ivanov:
There were various images of Macedonia before the NATO summit in Chicago. It’s something that happens regularly before the convening of a NATO or EU summit, because some don’t want a stabilised Balkans. There are still politicians in the Balkans who are slaves to the perceptions of the past.

euronews:
Is the future of being a multi-ethnic State in danger, given the fact that many Albanians living here say: “we don’t have equal chances, we don’t have equal opportunities in this country.”

Ivanov:
In future, most countries will be multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic. It is a challenge most countries will be faced with in the future. Macedonia, with its political model and with the “Ohrid framework agreement” which is part of our constitution, is trying to respect and implement all those standards. The social ties between citizens are mainly cultural, religious or historical and not so much ethnic or political.

euronews:
To bring forward my question again: Albanians are saying, to me that there is still discrimination, that there are no equal chances for them in this state.

Ivanov:
That is something they must address themselves, to the Albanian parties that have won their trust and votes. Because Albanian parties are coalition partners in the government, and there are Albanian ministers and ambassadors. The Albanians should not address themselves to the state, but to those parties they have elected and they trust. They have full citizens’ rights and they can take advantage of that.

euronews:
To move on to the next topic: There is a problem with this dispute over the official name of “Macedonia”. This dispute is with Greece. What is your message for Athens to solve and to break this deadlock?

Ivanov:
Greece needs to accept this new reality called “The Republic of Macedonia”, where Macedonians live, speaking the Macedonian language.
The Greeks are still living with a view from the 19th century: they have created this myth of their existence, from a time when you couldn’t check the facts, when there was no internet, and they are still trapped by this perception that they have created themselves.

euronews:
Nevertheless, there is the problem that actually the EU accession is completly blocked because of this name dispute. You are in a deadlock. So, how to break it?

Ivanov:
Recently we’ve heard EU leaders ask Greece urgently to respect the obligations it has undertaken. There are politicians in Greece acting irresponsibly towards us, towards the European Union and towards the international community, and because of this irresponsible behaviour, our integration towards the European Union and Nato membership is blocked, even though Greece has made an obligation not to block our accession processes.

euronews:
What is your hope for this new Greek government?

Ivanov:
There is co-operation in business, culture, and arts. Artists, musicians and students exchange ideas. But there has been no meeting between political parties nor between the presidents over the last 20 years, even though I’ve sent four invitations to the President. We expect that with the elections in Greece leaders will emerge who will respect the new reality, both in terms of Macedonia and also in terms of other neighbours. And finally we expect that Greece will take its leading position in the region again.

euronews:
All over Skopje we see the construction of huge statues of ancient heroes and warriors. Greece-Athens is interpreting this constructions as a, quote, “unfriendly act”. What is your reaction to this?

Ivanov:
We are a UNESCO member state and that obliges us to preserve, nurture and cherish the entire cultural heritage found on our territory. It’s not our fault that there is so much history in our region.

euronews:
Albanians say they feel excluded by the construction of this “ancient Macedonian identity” by constructing those huge statues all over Skopje. What is your reaction on that, being the president of all communities in this State?

Ivanov:
Those are isolated, individual comments which do not reflect the official position of the Albanian community.

euronews:
Let’s move on to the European Union and the high level talks with the European Union: during those high level talks with the European Commission, there was concern expressed because several critical media were closed. Is the freedom of expression under threat?

Ivanov:
As you know, here in Macedonia we have, on the one hand, “factual reality” and on the other, “media reality”, Often the “media reality” has no connection with the “factual reality” and with the real events going on in the public arena.
But in terms of democracy, pluralisation and liberty: everything is present on the public stage.
But what’s happening in all of the ex-socialist countries – a connection between the business elite and the media – is happening here in Macedonia too. The media in Macedonia are too often used to protect the private interests of certain individuals.

euronews:
The European Commission also seems to be concerned about the independence of the system of justice. There seem to be concerns that the justice system serves the interest of the major ruling party here. Is the independence of judges being guaranteed?

Ivanov:
That’s why we need European Union membership. Because through reforms and the negotiation process we will be able to attain European standards. What they have in European states will also be present in Macedonia, like a reformed judiciary.

euronews:
Maybe a positive message for this last point. In 2001, this country was very close to a civil war. Could this situation repeat? Can you exclude, yes or no, that this “frozen conflict” will become a “hot conflict” again?

Ivanov:
There is a description of the Balkans as a powder-keg. But, this keg has never been lit here in our southern part of the Balkans.

Next Article

interview

António Guterres: "we're witnessing human suffering on an epic scale"