Interviews and Speeches

,,Conditions are overripe, but....“

Interview by Stavros Tzimas “Kathimerini”
Date: 13.12.2015

On the occasion of his official visit to Athens next Thursday the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia Nikola Poposki, in his interview for “Kathimerini” states “do not ask for our soul” in relation to the name dispute. He says “we are both proud nations”…”we are first cousins” and while discussing the name issue he claims that “conditions are overripe” for a positive outcome in finding a solution. Mister Popovski reciprocated the visit by his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias paid to Skopje last June and this is the first visit paid by a Minister of Foreign Affairs or any other high-official representative from the neighbouring country since 2000, when Aleksandar Dimitrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time visited Athens. “We have no intention of causing surprises, especially not negative ones, and we would rather demonstrate our honest intentions and friendship towards Greece” said Poposki about his visit, adding that “we are on the right path” in terms of building mutual confidence.

Poposki also tackled the joint approach to the refugee problem at the borders, but also his nationals, jihadists. He said that ,,The fact that we have citizens who incite, spread propaganda and even go to Syria to fight for Daesh [ISIS] is a cause for concern“.

Judging by Mr. Poposki’s statements nothing spectacular should be expected from the talks with Greece. But a diplomatic source in Athens, interviewed by Kathimerini sees this visit as significant, emphasising that it will contribute to further improve the relation climate between the two countries. “For us to continue we need to strengthen our mutual trust”.

katimerini

What can we expect from your visit to Athens? Is it a routine diplomatic obligation to reciprocate the visit made to Skopje by Kotzias, or are the two sides perhaps preparing, shall we say, any surprises?

Poposki: It is certainly not a routine, since this has not happened in over a decade. There were no visits at an official bilateral level, as it would befit neighbours. Furthermore, on our part at least, we have no intention of causing surprises, especially not negative ones, and we would rather demonstrate our honest intentions and friendship towards Greece. We will do our utmost to convey this message to our hosts. There should be no bad blood between us. On the contrary, in these past 20 years it has become apparent that the two peoples are quite similar. Especially in terms of way of thinking and behaviour, it could be said we are first cousins. This is perhaps why we are doing so well in tourism, economy and many other areas despite the crisis.

In your opinion, is the time ripe for real progress over the name dispute? Are you willing on your part to take a step back from its “red line” if Athens does the same in order to solve this problem?

Poposki: I think the conditions are overripe, given that we’ve been waiting for more than two decades. As far as the dispute is concerned, it is our firm belief that we have made a ton of compromises, from changing the constitution and the flag, to accepting the disrespectful temporary name reference within the UN, etc. On the other hand, the list of concessions being requested seems endless, while previous commitments, like the one to stop blocking our bids for NATO and EU entry, are forgotten. The explanation we usually get is this: We are in the club, while you want to join – you have to pay the price, and as far as the price goes – the sky is the limit. We honestly do not want to have such irrational dispute with a neighbour which shares our strategic interests. This is why we are participating in the process. However, for a successful outcome we need assurance that you are not asking for our soul. We are both proud nations. The happiness of the stronger one (who is a club member) should not be achieved at the expense of his neighbour. What is encouraging, though, is that we agree on the benefits of a rapprochement in all the practical areas.

The confidence building measures are considered the most important outcome of your meeting with Kotzias in Skopje. The prevailing view, however, is that nothing has happened since. Or has it?

Poposki: There are ongoing talks between the teams of the two foreign ministries, mixed meetings with journalists, joint initiatives by the academic communities and better cooperation between the police forces of the two countries. Perhaps this has not resonated greatly with the public. This is not our objective, if in reality it does actually contribute to increasing contacts and joint projects. I personally believe we can do more and faster. However, building trust is essential. It seems that we are on the right path. We shall see.

On the refugee crisis

How do you estimate the cooperation between the two countries in relation to the refugee crisis? Could this issue form a basis for common approach and further improvement in relations?

Poposki: Strategically speaking, we share a common goal in this issue and communication has improved. In the short run, though, Greece’s goal is to transfer all the migrants to Northern Europe as fast as possible and that means through Macedonia. The logic behind this is that Greece does not have unlimited resources and the influx at the islands is constant. We understand that. Our obligation, however, is to avoid taking in more than we can register and to ensure humane and safe transport through the European corridor. For this to work, we need Greece to put greater effort in the registration process and we need a European response, which can be implemented for long-term trends.

You have suggested in your statements that Greece is not only doing nothing to prevent the inflow from Turkey, but is also (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) allowing migrants to attack your border police. What else would you do, for example, to protect the entrance to the Aegean?

Poposki: It is fact that the Greek islands are in a vulnerable position. The inflow is very big and the question is to what extent can Greece manage this using only its own resources. I am convinced that Greece needs assistance and cooperation from Turkey. However, Turkey’s argument that it has accommodated over 2 million migrants over these past few years is also valid. This causes huge expenses and certainly creates tension. However, in their effort to force their way into Macedonia the economic migrants are allowed to pelt our border police with rocks from the Greek territory without any measures being taken by Greece to stop them. This is incomprehensible and should not be allowed to happen.

Is your country facing a problem of Islamist extremism, as President Gjorge Ivanov suggested in recent statements? What is the situation in regard to this issue?

Poposki: This is, without doubt, a global threat. Macedonia is not immune from the dangers of religious extremism. This problem is surely present as it is in most European countries. The fact that we have citizens who incite, spread propaganda and even go to Syria to fight for Daesh [ISIS] is a cause for concern. These are young people who have grown up in our environment and reject the culture that we believe is widely accepted in Europe. Their views vary on whether they agree or not with the broadcasting of the beheadings or the terrorist attacks. We must not be indifferent. And we must not put everyone in the same basket on the basis of their religion alone. The majority of those suffering at the hands of the Muslim extremists – who are, as we speak, implementing their plan to form a state in Syria and Iraq – are probably Muslims themselves. We should all be united against this threat.