POPOSKI: GREECE FORCED THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE UPON US!

 

Interview by: Katerina Sinadinovska ([email protected] )

Photographs: Ivana Kuzmanovska ([email protected])

 

In an exclusive interview for Kapital, immediately after the New York talks between Mediator Mathew Nimetz and Macedonian and Greek negotiators, Zoran Jolevski and Adamantios Vassilakis, the chief of Macedonian diplomacy, Nikola Poposki, sends a message according to which “throughout the two-decade long practice of the New York talks it has become quite evident that Greece either does nothing concrete or presents bizarre ideas having no footing in international law, simply to present an alibi that it is indeed involved in some kind of activity while what it is in fact doing is rejecting all initiatives for open dialogue at either the Prime Ministerial or Presidential level that our side has constantly been putting forward.”

The visit by the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Evangelos Vanizelos, to Skopje, when he openly said that he was coming not only as the representative of the country holding the EU Presidency, but also as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a neighbouring country, raised the interesting issue of eventual intensification of contacts with Greece. How do you see that meeting, from this perspective, and what is your opinion of the talks you had with Minister Venizelos?

- First of all, I would say that the visit by Venizelos was necessary considering that he was representing a country holding the EU Presidency, which has benefited most from European solidarity and which presents an image of being a regional factor. Second, the visit was beneficial for us to hear the Greek arguments for the unlawful blocking and what would be the way out for Greece from the political trap that our southern neighbour has set itself.

It is interesting that after the meeting Venizelos said that his optimism for finding a solution to the name difference was greater. What about your optimism? Do you share Minister Venizelos’ optimism, especially if considering that, as you are giving this interview, there is a new round of talks with Mediator Nimetz, taking place in New York?

- I think his statement serves the purpose of convincing everybody that the process is progressing and that there is no need for a greater engagement from the outside. The ultimate goal is perpetual procrastination. Openly speaking, I am an optimist, but along different lines. I am convinced that regardless of the unlawful blockade by Greece of our way to NATO and the EU, Greece cannot prevent us from changing for the better and from applying ever more intensively European standards. And indeed we are doing this. Therefore, we do not need any excuses, and we openly cooperate with all our neighbours.

Are you going to attend the Thessaloniki Summit next month to which you were invited by Venizelos personally?

- Yes.

What about the invitation or the gauntlet thrown at you for a bilateral meeting? Have there been any announcements since then or perhaps contacts with the Greek leadership?

- We get invited, but on the other hand all those efforts are being sabotaged. Their goal is to keep other factors away from the communication. Brussels proposed introducing new dynamics in the relations and intensification of meetings. Our southern neighbour refused this and insisted on the talks in New York, as we have them today. The two decade long practice of the New York talks evidently shows that Greece either does nothing concrete or presents weird ideas having no base in international law, just to create the alibi that there are some activities. After all, initiatives for an open dialogue at the Prime Ministerial or Presidential level were met with the same refusal.

We are a good neighbour – we mean no harm and do no harm!

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How would you evaluate the current position of Macedonia at the international stage?

- The international position of each and every country throughout the world is a mere reflection of the ongoing developments, activities and challenges it is facing at its domestic stage. When it comes to developments, the further you push ahead with reforms, developing infrastructure and maintaining predictability, the better your position becomes abroad. Indeed, we have genuinely succeeded in staying on that course even in spite of the fact that the EU market which we are heavily dependant on has been finding itself in a situation of crisis for quite some time. More to the point, with regards to activities, Macedonia has remained proactive towards its surrounding region, being a good neighbour in very practical terms, no matter what the perception that someone has been trying to create about us actually is. We wish only the best for both ourselves, as well as our neighbours, seeing as we are all closely connected. We mean no harm and do no harm to anybody. That is precisely why we have been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council or have been called upon to provide development guidelines to the entire region at various Southeast European ministerials or why we have indeed been successful in persuading a series of different companies from across the world to bring their investments in our country and, in that context, sign a plethora of bilateral agreements and treaties with numerous countries and organizations alike. In respect of the ongoing challenges that our country has been facing, they are, of course, there for all to see. However, even with regard to them, the legal arguments are on our side. As much as anyone would want to close their eyes before that, it is still a solid foundation. The matter at hand is that we have been forced to deal with a type of politics whereby someone is trying to force themselves upon us when the issue standing before us is clearly an issue of principles. Thereupon lies the greatest challenge for us. All other challenges can easily be prevailed if that one is resolved first. According to the laws of the jungle that have in reality been forced upon us when it is already clear that it is you who is much smaller, you have to be that much faster to get any kind of result. Having a clear vision and, indeed, investing genuine efforts at the domestic front into all those things I have mentioned that actually depend on ourselves provides the key to what our position on the international stage will look like in the future.

Yes, but Macedonia is obviously moving neither fast nor, for that matter, any faster to, at least, the other countries in the region. Are you disappointed by the fact that, in that jungle-like setting, as you have defined it, the rest of the region countries (apart from only Bosnia and Herzegovina perhaps) have been much more successful in dealing with their problems and obstacles standing along their way to Euro-Atlantic integration?

-No, not at all. The issue of how successful anyone can be considered relies heavily on subjective perceptions. Everyone feels that the cross they are bearing is the heaviest, but, in reality, it is very difficult to discern. When it comes to ourselves, all obstacles we have been facing are coming directly from one source only. However, in the mean time, we have not been standing still, but we have certainly been working on all other fronts. Ultimately, we too benefit the entire region progressing, having in mind that we are not isolated from our neighbours. Climate knows no borders, regardless of it being positive or uninviting.

If success can be measured through how much everyone has been successful in meeting the targets they have set out to fulfil, then is it not true that the current status quo only speaks of the true capacity of our institutions and the government in general, notwithstanding the very real and genuine obstacles that have been forced upon Macedonia that you have been so keen to underline thus far?

The factory producing various equipment for the professionals working in the ballet arts which was open in the town of Demir Hisar, the organized tourist groups from the North European countries visiting Macedonia, the extensive promotion of Macedonian wine and wine industry abroad have all been listed as the recent successes of the Macedonian diplomacy.

How satisfied would you say you are with the way in which Macedonian economic diplomacy has been operating to date and can you provide some specific examples of its successes abroad?

- Taking into consideration that it has most likely been the most important component of our country’s overall diplomatic endeavour, I would say that there is still much room left for improvements. Our diplomats have indeed delivered tangible results from their engagement abroad in the shape of either bringing investments to the country, ensuring a steady influx of foreign tourists into the country or exporting Macedonian produce to new and previously unexplored markets. Some of the fresh examples of our embassies abroad launching economy-related projects would include the fact that a manufacturer of equipment used in the ballet-related performing arts from Russia has decided to open its factory in the town of Demir Hisar, the groups of tourists from Northern Europe that have been visiting Macedonia in huge numbers as of late or Macedonian wine recently breaking into the Asian market and many more.

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- It would be quite superficial if the process under which we reach our conclusions follows such a line of thought. At the legal and institutional front, the balance unquestionably shifts to Macedonia’s favour and it is not me who has been saying that, but the European Commission, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, as well as the World Bank country ranking and a multitude of other reporting instruments that use strict criteria for evaluation. We, nevertheless, need to make a lot more improvements. That truly is a fact. However, one must not forget that the core of the issue lies outside of the institutions, i.e. in that jungle that our southern neighbour wishes to force upon us that I was speaking about.

We have recently been appointing ambassadors to foreign countries who are not diplomatic staff simply because what we have been focusing on over this last period is promoting Macedonia abroad as a favourable business destination.

In reply to one of the major criticisms aimed in his direction over the alleged political party membership-based appointments at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the speculations as to both ambassadors and other diplomatic staff being reportedly posted abroad without having any prior diplomatic experience nor adequate education, Poposki states that the appointments in question have been made due to Macedonian foreign policy currently prioritizing the promotion of the country abroad as a favourable business destination. Moreover, Poposki reveals that the Ministry under his charge currently employs as many as a staggering 504 in personnel, but, as he further explains, even in spite of having at his disposal more staff than most Macedonian private companies currently employ, he had still been putting out open job competitions for identifying potential new recruits coming from outside the Ministry due to the fact that, as he himself points out: “By putting out open job competitions we have, for example, been able to successfully identify potential candidates coming from outside of our country’s diplomatic service who possess exceptional individual skill sets for working in specific countries and environments across the world”.

There has been heavy criticism coming your way against the political party-based appointments across Macedonian diplomacy and, particularly, in opposition to the most recent appointments of diplomatic staff at the country’s various missions abroad and even ambassadors who have allegedly been posted abroad without having any kind of prior knowledge or experience, for that matter, in diplomacy. Can you explain as to why, when already having such a large number of staff employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you have all of the sudden decided to launch open job competitions for diplomatic posts?

- I would not care to agree that anyone has been posted abroad without having prior expertise in diplomacy. What we can see in practice is that the issue of whether someone has previously been employed at the Ministry and how successful they have been as ambassadors in the destination they have been posted to do not correlate at all. By putting out open job competitions we have, for example, been able to successfully identify potential candidates coming from outside of our country’s diplomatic service who possess exceptional individual skill sets for working in specific countries and environments across the world.

What about the staff at the Ministry, especially the staff you already have at the Ministry, the staff you train, you prepare? Why are you not downsizing the staff, if you are already appointing people at diplomatic missions who are not diplomats?

- We also have excellent diplomats at the Ministry, who are ranked among the most successful. We take due care to choose the most appropriate staff for each diplomatic mission. In principle, at an increasing number of diplomatic missions, the economic diplomacy capacities are of the outmost importance. It is this type of staff that we are profiling now and intend to keep profiling in the future. Considering that, at this juncture, Macedonia is still outside NATO and the EU, economic development is and will be of paramount importance to our country, both prior and after we become part of NATO and the EU, where major political and economic goals can be pursued. Therefore, we will have to commit all our resources onto the promotion of Macedonia as a business destination. In this context, we do indeed work in a very competitive global setting. Our diplomats will have to possess the necessary capabilities for this type of promotion. Nowadays, you have to be specialized in a given field. You cannot have influence over everything. You have to focus your efforts. You choose what is of the greatest importance for you and you focus on that. This is of even greater significance for a small country such as ours. I believe that our diplomacy needs to specialize in the field of economic promotion. This does not mean that we are not pursuing diplomatic efforts in other fields. We have to adopt the concept that almost all of our diplomats will have to work on several fronts, with the business component being the most important at many diplomatic missions. This is how you can directly fulfil tax payers’ expectations.

What is the exact number of staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

- The Ministry currently employs 504 diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff in total.

We will not close down embassies

What are the key problems facing Macedonian diplomacy at present?

- The key problems are probably related to factors which are the least in our control: the frustrations that we all feel because of the illogical and unlawful obstruction of our Euro-Atlantic integration by a neighbouring country.

The embassies say that they are understaffed, that there are insufficient assets, that there are no conditions. Have you considered closing some embassies, following the example of some other countries during the financial crisis?

- No, that would be the most radical approach. In fact, in the short run, closing embassies does not cut costs; on the contrary, it increases costs owing to relocations, penalties, transport, fixed disbursements that have been undertaken etc. You can hope for some savings at least a year later. We need to ensure our strategic presence and not close missions with every economic cycle.

On Dimitrov’s resignation: “Some staff leaving and other staff coming in is a natural process”.

What do you make of the resignation by Nikola Dimitrov? The prevailing opinion is that the Ministry and the state have lost a quality diplomat. There are many speculations amongst the general public as regards the reasons for his move.

- Yes, we have had excellent cooperation. In the West, it is only natural that some staff leave and new staff come in at any organization.

Where have your ideas for introducing “religious” or “healthcare” diplomacy come from? What does it mean exactly?

- Frankly, I do not recall having used those terms. It appears that a trend has developed to place all kinds of adjectives before the term “diplomacy”. However, I think it is more important to note that we have informed the embassies of the need to identify established institutions for cooperation in the healthcare area. It is beneficial that they work on opening new fields of cooperation. Our goal is to find venues for quality training of our medical staff. In this context, we also promote tourism with a healthcare element in Macedonia.