Interviews and Speeches

Interview of FM Dimitrov for La Croix

Published: 17.4.2018
Journalist: Marie Verdier


On Tuesday, 17 April, the European Commission proposed to its member states to open accession negotiations with Macedonia and Albania.

Macedonian Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, points to a new perspective for his country.

After ten years of nationalist rule and a long political crisis, the ruling coalition of Social Democrat Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is pulling Macedonia out of the shadows.

Less than a year after the difficult formation of Government in May 2017, negotiations have resumed with neighbouring Greece to resolve the quarter-century-old dispute for the name of the country which is still provisionally referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The representative of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, proposed on Tuesday, 17 April, that the European Commission opens accession negotiations with FYROM. Federica Mogherini suggested a dynamics of openness towards the Balkans that could benefit neighbouring Albania as well. It is up to the European Council, composed of Heads of states and of governments of member states, to decide on this proposal. Macedonian Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, gives an overview of his country regarding these perspectives.

Your country is still provisionally referred to as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Is it possible to find a way out of this dispute, which is a quarter of a century old?

Nikola Dimitrov: We are trying to get out of the pit we have been in for more than twenty years. Two countries which share a geographic area should be able to find a dignified way of distinguishing between our country and the region of Macedonia situated in Greece, without compromising the identity and the dignity of the Macedonian people.

In an ideal scenario, we could achieve this in the following two or three months. The urgency of the solution is dictated by the European train, the Summit on the Balkans which will be held in May in Sofia, fifteen years after the Thessaloniki Summit. The elections dates also need to be taken into consideration: in 2019 presidential elections will be held in Macedonia, and parliamentary elections in Greece.

We have to be very careful with the public opinion in Macedonia and Greece. Although our two countries have different positions, sometimes we find ourselves on the same side with political forces determined to find a compromise, forces which are looking to the future, opposed to the forces of the past and to nationalism.

What do you intend to do with the numerous nationalist statues erected in Skopje?

Nikola Dimitrov: This never-ending name dispute led us in the wrong direction. Obsessive turning to ancient times is not healthy. By clinging to myths we are losing young generations. It is up to the Ministry of Culture to decide what will happen with "Skopje 2014" [a grand architectural project of antiquisation implemented by the previous nationalist majority]. Personally, I would suggest organising a great worldwide art competition to give meaning to the chaos in the city. Following a public debate, the airport in Skopje [named Alexander the Great despite Greece's disapproval] was recently renamed.

What is the perspective for EU integration?

Nikola Dimitrov: The Bulgarian presidency is an excellent opportunity for the European Union to turn to the Balkans. It is a long road ahead to complete integration. If we cannot bring Europe in Macedonia, if we cannot establish rules, justice, order, younger generations will continue to leave the country and the Balkan region, losing hope. Fortunately, some are coming back.

Like yourself?

Nikola Dimitrov: I came back from the Netherlands in September 2016. During the political crisis [2014-2017], I was one of the voices of the "Colourful revolution" fighting for changes. I entered the Government from the civil movement. This movement is still active. The tolerance threshold for abuse is at a very low level. Members of the State Election Commission who abused their position were forced to resign last year. We are trying to change the old policy; this is a crucial issue for this Government, formed precisely during a major crisis regarding responsibility.

Are your partner countries from former Yugoslavia united?

Nikola Dimitrov: The time has come for us in the Balkan region to leave our quarrels aside – what people is the oldest, who has sacrificed the most? – and to pull up our sleeves and invest in economy, education and health-care.

Last year in August we signed a Treaty on friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation with Bulgaria, which has already borne fruit in the fields of tourism, trade and investments. Last December we held a joint session of the Government with neighbouring Albania, the first one since 1991! I do not wish to sound presumptuous, but a new energy is emerging in the region and this new dynamics is partly driven by Macedonia.