Q: Minister Poposki, how would you assess today's Macedonian-Serbian relations?

Minister Poposki: The Macedonian-Serbian relations have been continually good. In fact, there are no issues that would burden the relations between the two countries. Our relations are featured with high degree of mutual understanding and respect. The two countries share European aspirations and values, which on its part is a significant factor contributing to the advancement of the overall relations and cooperation. The two countries' Governments are seeking potentials for furthering the cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, as identified at the first joint session of the Governments of the two countries, while focusing on the promotion of the economic cooperation.

Q: To what extend do the Macedonian community in Serbia and the Serbian community in Macedonia contribute to and have an impact on the development of the Macedonian-Serbian relations?

Minister Poposki: The fostering of the national identity and the enjoyment of rights by persons belonging to the Macedonian community in the Republic of Serbia and by persons belonging to the Serbian community in the Republic of Macedonia undoubtedly represent solid basis for the further development of the relations between the two friendly countries. In this regard, I would like to point out the implementation of the bilateral Agreement on the protection of minorities, i.e. of Macedonians in Serbia and of Serbs in Macedonia, which sets good foundations for the exercise of rights by persons belonging to the Macedonian community in the Republic of Serbia and by persons belonging to the Serbian community in the Republic of Macedonia.

We expect that the Joint Commission for the implementing of the Agreement will have a meeting in the forthcoming period in order to determine the priority requests of the target groups of importance in the context of consistent human and minority rights exercise, and then state institutions will respond to such determined priorities and requests with appropriate affirmative measures.

Q: With the assistance of state entities (the National Council), NGO’s (SAMS-MAKOS) and political entities (DPM), the Macedonian community in Serbia is making great progress in uniting Macedonians in Serbia, in the exercise of their rights and in fostering the sense of belonging among the Diaspora. What do you think of their activities?

Minister Poposki: The Macedonian community in the Republic of Serbia sets a positive example as to how a community should be represented, especially if we take into consideration the activities unifying the Macedonian organizations into the Macedonian United Forces, an organization composed of representatives of the National Council, of associations and of the Democratic Party and if we take into consideration the election of the first Macedonian, Mr. Mile Spirkoski, for a member of the Serbian Parliament. Another important step in advancing the rights is the adoption of the ten-year strategy for activities of Macedonians in the Republic of Serbia, setting the priorities for their further work in the Republic of Serbia. We should also welcome the example of introducing the Macedonian language in official use in the Municipality of Plandiste, then the introduction of the subject of Macedonian language with elements of national culture for pupils of the Goce Delcev Primary School in Jabuka and the expansion of the Macedonian language instruction. This undoubtedly ensures greater establishment and visibility of Macedonians in the Republic of Serbia.

Q: Minister Poposki, recently you met the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Evangelos Vanizelos, who visited Skopje as part of his tour of the capitals of Western Balkan countries. Is there something new or positive in their positions on the name issue?

Minister Poposki: Yes, we met in Skopje. I met and had general talks with Mr. Venizelos, who as part of his tour of the countries in the Region as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country holding the EU Presidency, also visited the Republic of Macedonia. The talks were open and constructive. We covered the main issues of importance for the European agenda of the Republic of Macedonia, and we considered possibilities for making a step forward in this respect.

The name difference continues to burden the bilateral relations and contrary to the Interim Accord we have with Greece, it remains the reason why despite five consecutive favourable reports and recommendations by the European Commission we have still not started EU accession talks, and why we still have not become a NATO member. It is therefore with regret that I have to say that thus far Greece has not undertaken any steps to abide by the judgment of the International Court of Justice of 5 December 2011, which established that the Greek opposition to the Macedonian NATO membership was contrary to international law and assumed obligations.

We still expect that reason will prevail, despite the fact that at this point we cannot see any change in the Greek positions, nor can we see any greater readiness to settle the imposed difference. This of course is also a result of the current internal political situation in Greece. Nonetheless, the Republic of Macedonia will continue to constructively participate in the dialogue for overcoming this bilateral issue with Greece under the auspices of the United Nations.

Q: The Macedonian community in Serbia is very much interested in the dispute between the two Orthodox Churches, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The leaders of the Republic of Serbia have openly expressed their desire to help in settling the problem. Have you discussed this issue?

Minister Poposki: In light of the fact that both the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Serbia are secular states, the two countries’ Governments are not able to directly settle the dispute between the Macedonian and the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is a matter of a dispute which evidently will have to be settled through church channels. Yet, it is also evident that this issue does not serve the interests of the citizens of the two countries, who rightfully so expect that churches bring people closer together. The Governments of the two countries continually discuss possibilities that the dialogue between the two Churches progresses favourably and there is readiness for making further contribution to that end.

Q: What would be your message for the Macedonians in Serbia?

Minister Poposki: My message is that they continue fostering the Macedonian national identity with the same intensity. In addition, considering the importance of the mother tongue in expressing and preserving one’s national identity, I think special efforts need to be made to diversify the forms and modalities for Macedonian language study, especially by the youngest generations. They should continue promoting the Republic of Macedonia, supporting thus the accomplishment of the Macedonian foreign-policy and economic priorities, focusing on presenting the Republic of Macedonia as a successful destination for foreign investments.

I would like to underline that each year all Macedonian organizations can apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funds for project activities aimed at Macedonian language studies, fostering the Macedonian identity by promoting the Macedonian culture or folklore or opening cultural clubs. It is especially important to point out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue organizing the summer camp for the youngest persons belonging to the Macedonian communities in neighbouring countries, which is dedicated to learning and advancing the knowledge of the standard Macedonian language.

Furthermore, each year the Government of the Republic of Macedonia awards scholarships for studies at universities in Macedonia to Macedonians living in neighbouring countries. Thus, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all interested to apply at the scholarship competition, which Macedonian Embassies forward to the Macedonian associations.

Moreover, on the basis of their ethnic origin, Macedonians in Serbia have the right to apply for Macedonian citizenship, in line with the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Macedonia. In addition to embodying the emotional ties, citizenship represents an important legal tie between the individual and the state. Therefore, I believe that possessing a Macedonian citizenship will additionally strengthen the ties with Macedonians who live outside their motherland.