Interviews and Speeches

Geopolitics has returned to the Balkans

Interview for Die Presse, Nikola Dimitrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia
Published: 11.07.2017 
Jornalist: Christian Ultsch

Intervju za avstriski Di prese

Die Presse: Your government has set itself the goal for Macedonia to swiftly join NATO and the EU. Greece has been blocking this for years because it does not accept your country to be called Macedonia, like the Greek North Province. How will you overcome the blockade?

Nikola Dimitrov: My first official visit abroad took me to Athens. My message was: Our country has a second chance to build a European democracy. Think about whether you support these efforts or not. Because blocking our future in the EU and NATO doesn’t make Macedonia more constructive.

Die Presse: Did the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias understand the message?

Nikola Dimitrov: I will never give up trying to convince Greece of our friendliness. Kotzias will visit us in August. Macedonia is unprejudiced towards its neighbours. Last weekend I was in Bulgaria and negotiated with my colleague an agreement on good neighbourliness which is yet to be signed. We don’t want to provoke, but rather to send positive signals.

Die Presse: Was it a mistake to provoke Greece with a huge statue of Alexander the Great in the heart of Skopje?

Nikola Dimitrov: We won’t build any more statues. We have enough. We don’t need statues to be proud Macedonians. We’ve become more mature.

Die Presse: Is it possible for Macedonia to join NATO under a provisional name like FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)?

Nikola Dimitrov: It’s possible if Greece agrees, even if FYROM sounds a bit like Klingon from Star Trek. Such a compromise would be an investment in a future solution to the name dispute. We will do our best to convince the Greeks that this is also in their interest.

Die Presse: You want to hold a referendum on a possible solution to the name issue. Aren’t you risking new polarization in your country?

Nikola Dimitrov: All parties have agreed on this referendum. We need a national consensus among the large political parties in Macedonia. So far we haven’t had that with the current opposition because back when they were in power they have captured the state. We must move forward, but without dividing the country.

Die Presse: What is the role of the EU?

Nikola Dimitrov: Europe must recognize that something is at stake. The region is not a very safe and happy place. Europe can not continue to act as before, speaking of enlargement, and at the same time being afraid to talk about it with its own electorate. We must hurry and get the job done in the Balkans.

Die Presse: Why?

Nikola Dimitrov: The concept after the Yugoslav wars was to establish borders and to bring the countries closer to the EU. However, the accession process has dramatically slowed down and is now taking on the form of a stairway to nowhere. EU Member States have lost confidence that this process is actually making a difference in the Balkans: they see corruption, decline of democracy and suppression of the media. This increases the skepticism. At the same time, geopolitics has returned to the Balkans.

Die Presse: What do you mean by that? The return of Russia?

Nikola Dimitrov: There are forces that see an opportunity to question the post-Yugoslav post-war order. And if something does not go according to plan in the Balkans, people start talking about borders again. The problem with problems is that they spread. Europe needs to start solving problems.

Die Presse: Has Russia's meddling in the region given new urgency to Macedonia’s NATO ambitions?

Nikola Dimitrov: I do not like these either-or equations. The citizens of Macedonia have to decide for themselves whether they want to join NATO. We have been trying since 1993. 71 per cent of the population are in favor.

Die Presse: Has Europe been turning a blind eye for too long because it was preoccupied with its own crises?

Nikola Dimitrov: Europe is facing existential crises. But Europe mustn’t fall into the melancholy trap. Lord Robertson, former Secretary General, said: "If you can’t ride two horses at once, why are you in this circus? Europe needs to start thinking big again. If there is a region where it can make a difference, it’s the Balkans.

Die Presse: Are some governments in Europe too lenient with former Prime Minister Gruevski?

Nikola Dimitrov: Europe needs to point out things as they are, if it wants to have influence in the region. In case of a major failure of democracy, Europe must publicly shout "Foul"! I say this as a foreign minister: If we do make a mistake, they shout publicly point it out.

Die Presse: Austria's Foreign Minister participated in the election rally of Gruevski’s party.

Nikola Dimitrov: It’s not very wise for me as the Foreign Minister to give a completely open answer. I can only say that there is no dichotomy between stability and democracy. And Macedonia is the best example of this. If a state is not a democracy with independent institutions, it can never be stable.

Die Presse: Former Prime Minister Gruevski is not allowed to leave Macedonia. What can he expect?

Nikola Dimitrov: There is a great thirst for justice in Macedonia. We are dealing with an obvious misdeed: we all know about the conversations from the illegal wiretapping. Impunity is a terrible message to send. It implies that anyone can get away with anything as long as they are powerful enough. But this is not the government’s job. That's for the judges to decide.

Die Presse: If you do not agree on reconciliation, you will deepen Macedonia’s divide.

Nikola Dimitrov: Reconciliation must be based on principles and accountability. So many things in Macedonia have been swept under the carpet that a small mountain has emerged from under it. We need strong institutions, independent courts and free media to be a stable country. This is the great lesson for Macedonia from the preceding state crisis.


You can read the original version of the interview at the following link: