Press Releases

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Dimitrov today, at a press conference, again explained the Agreement signed by the Republic of Macedonia and Greece on 17 June.

 

In his address before the media representatives, among other things, he said:

Distinguished media,

Distinguished citizens,

Good morning.

The experiences we had during the campaign and meetings with citizens in several cities and villages left us with a feeling that there are still some key elements from the Agreement with Greece that require further explaining, because there is a great deal of misinformation and some of the citizens still have some dilemmas. The crossroads we are facing is historic, we should decide together whether we will make the step forward or stand still, that is, go back in the pit. That is why, when making the decision, it is very important for each of us to fully understand all essential elements of the Agreement.

Here we have large prints of the key paragraphs that I had dilemmas whether to read or not. I will probably not read them; just explain what they are and what they mean.

First of all, let us start with Article 1 – regarding the geographical qualifier. The geographical qualifier "North" is attached to the name "Macedonia". There are people who still think… an elderly person in Novo Selo, Shtip asked me – This all sounds good, but we have to be sure that the name will not be North of Macedonia. That is not the case, the name will be "Република Северна Македонија", or the English translation will be Republic of North Macedonia.

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Moving further – there are still debates regarding the term "nationality". The term "nationality" is equivalent to the Macedonian "државјанство", this is also stated in the Council of Europe Convention on Nationality, which in English is referred to as "nationality", and states in Article 1 that the nationality means the legal bond between an individual and a state. This is nationality (државјанство). In English the ethnic origin of a person is translated as "ethnicity", as is the case in our translation, and the Greek translation, taking into account that the official text is the English one. There is a case before the International Court of Justice from 1955, which also determines that the "nationality" is the legal bond between a citizen and his country. This is the nationality, which will be Macedonian/citizen of…

Regarding the Macedonian language: the official language will be the Macedonian language. It already is the official language in the United Nations, but because of this problem within the EU we have not signed an agreement or even mentioned the Macedonian language. This is very important and affirms the Macedonian language.

Article 1 is related to Article 7, which we will also discuss. The terms "Macedonia" and "Macedonian" have the meaning given under Article 7, the connection between 1 and 7. Article 7 refers to ethnicity, identity qualifiers, Macedonian people etc., but we will get to that.

Next we have the international codes which will remain MK and MKD, with the exception of licence plates. Let us move on.

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There have been numerous questions – what are the guarantees? What will happen and how can we believe it, given that with the Interim Accord of 1995, Greece was obliged not to object to our membership in international organisations under the reference FYROM – that was the temporary legal regime of the Interim Accord of 1995.

The entry into force of the Agreement with Greece is connected to the ratification of the Accession Protocol, of our NATO Membership in the Greek Parliament. They are completely bound to one another. The Agreement will enter into force when the Greek Parliament ratifies both the Agreement and our NATO Accession Protocol.

The beginning of Article 7 is one of the essential concepts of the Agreement, where the two countries understand and accept that their understanding of the terms "Macedonia" and "Macedonian" refers to a different historical concept and cultural heritage. For us, the terms "Macedonia" and "Macedonian" denote our territory, our language – the Macedonian language, our people – Macedonian people, with all their attributes, our history, our culture, our cultural heritage. This covers identity issues and this connection, as we saw before, is given with Article 1.

Thus, our right to self-determination and self-identification – it is a fact that we have made a country on this piece of land, it is a fact that this piece of land is a part of the historically and geographically broader region of Macedonia, of which there is a part in Greece, and a part in Bulgaria. And this clearly states that Macedonia refers to our territory, the language is Macedonian, the people is Macedonian with all attributes.

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Furthermore, there is an provision that states that nothing in the Agreement is intended to denigrate the udage of the citizens of Macedonia and Greece in any way. It cannot affect the use of the name, of any adjectives for our citizens, Macedonian citizens and Greek citizens.

This is the last one – I will also say something that is also current. I have repeated this several times in my appearances, on traditional media and on social media, regarding constitutional amendments. They have not been written or negotiated. The constitutional amendments will be formulated by the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia, with a qualified majority, a two-thirds majority, with public debate, with committee debate; this is a process with firmly established deadlines determined in the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia. The point of the four constitutional amendments is the following: one of them refers to the geographical qualifier "North" to the name "Macedonia". The second one refers to the inviolability of our borders – even stronger guarantee that our borders are here to stay, which is an even greater step than having no territorial pretensions which was a part of the Interim Accord. Greece does not have territorial pretensions towards us and Macedonia does not have territorial pretensions towards Greece. The care for members of Macedonian national minority in neighbouring countries will widen into care for the whole diaspora of the Republic of Macedonia in the whole world. And finally, in the Preamble, there will be no changes in the state and legal narrative that starts with the Ilinden Uprising, through ASNOM, to the independence referendum of 8 September 1991, but only concretisation, that is, listing of the ASNOM constitutive decisions – those are the points, there are no formulations nor have they been negotiated, because that is our task, and the competent body is the core of our democracy – the Assembly.

Journalist question: Regarding the final thing you said. You said that the care for national minorities will widen into protection of the diaspora. Does this mean identification of national minorities with the diaspora? Diaspora has a different meaning if I'm not mistaken. And secondly, do you think that the Agreement should have been explained in this way earlier? Is it possible that five days before the referendum it is too late?

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: I will start with the second question. We are constantly speaking about the Agreement and the benefits of the Agreement, both directly with citizens and through you as media and immediately through social media. I am not sure if I can say anything more than what I have already said. And I believe that until the campaign silence which starts on midnight on Thursday, 27 September, it is my duty and the duty of all of us as Government to keep repeating and explaining. We live in a time when citizens are bombarded with information and with misinformation as well, from all sides. That is why I keep asking, although the text of the key provisions is not long, the Agreement itself is nineteen or twenty pages long and that is why we are making this effort to constantly repeat the key provisions.

As regards the first question, this is a step that will bring our Constitution closer to the European constitutional comparative law. Regarding this issue we had constitutional amendments in 1992, before we became a member of the United Nations. The second constitutional amendment of 1992 reaffirmed that this care does not entail interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries.

Furthermore, there is a provision in the Agreement which states that this Agreement does not release the Parties, neither us nor our neighbours, from respecting previously undertaken obligations under international conventions, including conventions on the protection of human rights. And this is the key protection, in terms of human and minority rights. This Agreement does not interfere in that. Thank you.

Journalist question: Regarding nationality and ethnicity. Where does the need arise for the nationality to be Macedonian/citizen of North Macedonia? For example, I am Serbian and until now my nationality was Macedonian, which now becomes Macedonian/North Macedonia – that means that I am not Serbian but I am something that I am not.

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: The nationality is the relation of a citizen with their country. If you open your current passport, under nationality it states Macedonian. We are a multi-ethnic society, we have the Macedonian people and we have parts of other peoples, Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Vlachs, Romani, Bosniaks and in that sense this does not determine ethnicity. Article 7 talks of people, talks of cultural heritage, identity qualifiers are given there.

This provision of Article 1 considers nationality, and nationality, because we live in Macedonia is Macedonian/citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia.

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Journalist question: The question regarding the slash (/), citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia, in that case, there is either no need for the first or no need for the second. One of them denotes ethnicity, the other…

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: It does not denote ethnicity. That is a term which in the legal tradition of former Yugoslavia referred to ethnical groups, to the peoples that lived in one of the six republics. So we had peoples and we had nationalities. Nationalities referred to the ethnicity of those who lived in one of the two Provinces. This refers only to nationality.

Journalist question: You said that the Constitution will state that Macedonia of the Ilinden Uprising until today remains, but whose public holiday is Ilinden?

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: I’m guessing you are alluding to the other Treaty with this question. Our region, the Balkans, has a very rich history; very intertwined history. The aim of the committees we established with Bulgaria and Greece (in the case of Bulgaria, the Committee had the first meeting, in the case of Greece, not yet, but they have been established) is to find a way for our Macedonian historical narratives and those of our neighbours to be not opposed to one another but more complementary. For us, the Ilinden Uprising is one of the pillars upon which the Macedonian state is founded - the second of August, 1903. Bulgaria has a different view. And it is the task of historians, not politicians, to find a common language and make it compatible. We do not lose anything if that great event is important for another country and another historical tradition.

Journalist question: My final question is regarding the guarantees, for the Agreement. Who can guarantee that the Agreement will be respected, if it is taken into account that Greece did not respect or ratify the previous Agreement? Who can guarantee that it will ratify this one? None of the EU, NATO and Greece respected the Court in The Hague, which decided in our favour. And the third question in this context is – is this the only obstacle to Macedonia’s membership in the EU and NATO?

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: I believe that we have matured enough as a society to face reality. The path to the EU and NATO, where Greece is a member, in both families, leads through the overcoming of this problem. This may not be pleasant, but it is reality. All leaders, starting from NATO Secretary General, Stoltenberg, to the leader of Germany, Chancellor Merkel, who visited us on our 27th birthday, pointed out that there is no Plan B.

To get a seat at that table, everyone who is already sitting there has to want us to be there. And the path goes through overcoming problems, increasing trust, making friends, because tomorrow we will have to be allies. Here the guarantee is very strong, because the Agreement cannot enter into force unless Greece ratifies the Accession Protocol for our membership in NATO at the same session. If this does not happen, the Agreement does not enter into force.

 Journalist question: Minister, I am interested in the 4 amendment. The public and all debates are divided, some say that ASNOM will be removed, the decisions, or the Krushevo Republic. You were clear. If I understand well, there will be no changes regarding Ilinden, but the ASNOM decisions will be reviewed, because they contain a provision on the unification of Macedonia, etc.

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: That is not a decision. The decisions will be stated. The constitutional decisions of ASNOM.

Journalist question: President Ivanov said he will not vote. Are you surprised by this attitude of the head of state?

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: I cannot say that I am surprised. If we are keeping track – and this was not ancient history. The response to the uncovered indications for serious corruption, crime and abuse of power in 2015, his attempt for an answer was abolition. That is, impunity. We heard what was going on. The response from that office was impunity. Afterwards we had a deep moral, political crisis of impunity, parliamentary elections in 2016. A parliamentary majority was formed. The Constitution states that the President of the Republic of Macedonia is obliged to give the mandate to the party or parties, coalition of parties that have the parliamentary majority. The whole process was so stretched out that it lead to 27 April 2017, the darkest day for our democracy since 1991. He often says that he is here to defend the Constitution. But the Constitution cannot be defended by violating it. The President is obliged to give the mandate to the established parliamentary majority. We are not a presidential system. We are a parliamentary democracy. The President does not have an absolute veto. He cannot say to Parliament that he has the right to postpone it after the first round of voting and say that he has remarks and return it for reconsideration.

The Constitution says that the President was obliged to sign the Law on Ratification of the Agreement with Greece after it was adopted for the second time. Therefore, he cannot defend the Constitution by violating it. The President cannot also function as the Constitutional Court and the Assembly. We are a democracy, we have our flaws, but we are a democracy. What does democracy mean? Democracy means voting. Citizens choose who will serve them by voting. We have local elections, we have parliamentary elections. The most democratic tool is when citizens are asked about a certain topic, to directly express their opinion. The most democratic tool of any democracy is the referendum. To say regarding this issue, an issue which has cost us 27 years and many generations, and after it was announced during the campaign, that there will be a referendum – whenever a mutually acceptable solution with Greece is reached, we will ask the citizens, we will hold a referendum – and then say that you will not vote is a shameful escape from responsibility, and this was not even said here, in Macedonia, but across the ocean.

I, foremost as a citizen, have a great problem with this, because only those who will vote will take part in the decision on our future.

You cannot stay at home and influence the decision. If there is even a single vote "against" than "for", a vote that opposes NATO and EU membership by accepting the Agreement with Greece, we will accept it and say that this cannot be done. However, only those that vote can influence that decision. If a great majority of the citizens say "yes", even without a census, it will be taken into account; however the procedure will be returned to the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia. Therefore, not to participate with your own voice in such a major decision is an escape from responsibility.

I would also like to clarify a further dilemma. We all want to find a way to become a member of NATO and the EU without resolving this issue. This is the reality. Just as it is reality that the night follows the day, and the day follows the night. And you cannot say – I am for the EU and for NATO – but tell us how?

In terms of protocol and the Constitution, this is the primary most responsible function in our country, our nation. It is the duty to lead the way. What does this mean? It means that if tomorrow there is a government in Athens that has a problem with the Macedonian language, with the clear identity qualifiers that we are a Macedonian people who speak a Macedonian language, who will take the responsibility for the missed opportunity?

Journalist question: Minister, are the changes in the constitution, the constitutional amendments, already being prepared?

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: That is the task of the Assembly. The Assembly initiates the process with a minimum of 80 MPs, the text can be adopted with a smaller majority, there are committee debates, public debates; it is a task of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia.

Journalist question: Do you think that, taking into account that MPs from VMRO-DPMNE have started to express their opinions on the voting individually, you could secure a two-thirds majority, and what is the deadline, which has been prolonged? When could this be completed on our part without the delay threatening the other party, the process in Greece – since it is dependent on our adoption, followed by Greece? What is the deadline, when could we complete it?

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: Everyone says that the citizens hold the key. We have been in this waiting room for years. We have been for NATO particularly since 1998, although we have been walking on that path since 1993. It has been 25 years. We have been a candidate country for the EU since 2005, for 13 years. This is the door and this is the key. On 30 September, in 6 days, we have to say it together, not as parties, not as Government, not as opposition, but all of us together – the citizens, the Macedonian people, the parts of other peoples that live with us, our fellow citizens, whether we will use this key or not. The greater the number of the people that will say yes, we want to move forward, we want to join NATO, it will bring us stability, it will affirm our statehood, it will create better conditions for successful Macedonia, the easier the political process in the Assembly will go, where the majority of 80 MPs will have to be established. We will try to complete this process, with this majority, by the end of this calendar year. We will work with this goal in mind – for the whole process regarding these 4 constitutional amendments to be completed by December this year.

Journalist question: I will start with what you just said – that if the majority of the citizens that will vote in the referendum are in favour, regardless of whether the census is met or not, the Government will continue with the implementation of the Agreement in the institutions of the system. I would like to know what the starting number is, what is the number of citizens that will need to vote in favour at the referendum, for the institutional implementation to be continued? And one more question, you said that for us this is a basic concept of the ethnicity of Macedonians. I would like to know whether this – this applies to us, Macedonians – whether this will apply to the international factor as well, to call us Macedonians and not North Macedonians – this is the first part, and the second part is whether this refers to "divided identity", a term used by Prime Minister Zaev in an interview following the Summit of the Council of the EU in Sofia, and if it is a case of "divided identity" which identity is this? Is it ethnical or…? It was published from the Sofia Summit on MKD.MK. But the Prime Minister said that this was a basic concept and divided identity.

MFA Nikola Dimitrov: I am not familiar with that statement. First of all, I cannot comment on this because I have not seen the statement and I am not sure what it refers to. This is a simple thing. When you say in Greece, in the sense of regional affiliation and in the sense of cultural heritage, when a Greek man in Thessaloniki says "I am Macedonian, we are Macedonians as well", he is referring to a different concept. This is stated in Article 7. When we say "I am Macedonian", we refer to our state and legal historical narrative. This is a narrative founded on two pillars. It is the result of a whole historical process. The most important years in our process are 1903, 1944 and 1991. Certainly, this is a process that started much earlier. This is the context. No one can deny us the right of self-determination and self-identification in the 21 century. The Agreement does not contain even one use of the adjective North-Macedonian. It uses only Macedonian. The name of the country, the distinction between our Macedonia which is not a part of the whole, and their Macedonia, is established by the geographical qualifier "North". This geographical qualifier cannot change who we are. That is what Article 7 is about. We will have to work on this, because the Agreement is a text, we will have to react, there will be mistakes in international media, as there have been until now – when in certain cases we were referred to as "Fyromians" or "Slavo-Macedonians", etc. It is a fact that we are growing with this, it is a fact that Greece is growing too. It is a fact that with the Treaty on Friendship with Bulgaria we succeeded in absorbing a little of history between our three countries in order to create a future between our three Balkan countries. We live in a region that has been submerged in history for too long, without creating enough future.

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MFA Nikola Dimitrov: The referendum is not a legal condition in the Agreement. The Agreement mentions a referendum. The referendum is a political commitment and promise – both of SDSM, in the election platform, and of VMRO-DPMNE, practically since 2005. In the last platform of VMRO-DPMNE, that is of the opposition, which they presented at the elections in December 2016, there is no mention of a census. It states that if an agreement is proposed, we will ask the citizens and if the majority of them vote in favour, we will affirm that agreement.

In the opposition platform there is no Agreement in 27 years. For the first time, we have before us an opportunity to protect the most important thing – who we are. They have been mentioning the referendum since 2005, and now that it is finally here – it will happen in only 6 days – look at where we stand.

It is time for us to unite behind this issue, all the leaders (who visited us) are saying that this could be the last chance for our generation, and some are certain that this is the last chance for our generation.

It is time to make the step forward, to stop dealing with uncertainties and challenges regarding who we are – because our identity is who we are. And while we are in the pit, afraid and waiting for someone else to show us the way, our young talents are leaving, with passports of other countries. This is the responsibility that we are facing.

And finally – for all countries, particularly for those that do not have great influence in international relations, the responsibility for missed chances is great. The easiest thing would be to not touch this issue. But what would happen if a new chance does not come, what would happen if we have to deal with people, who even in the 21 century, such as the leader of the Greek opposition, Mitsotakis, wants to reopen the discussions, because he was bothered that Greece accepted a Macedonian language, which is an elementary right to self-determination, which everybody has to accept. And for this, he blames the Athens Government.

What will happen if this chance is missed ... Or if Europe loses patience and we miss the last train? Do we have an idea, a path, an alternative? The responsibility is incredible, even more in the case of not voting. For every citizen, not to mention the one who is supposed to be the head of state, who we colloquially call the "father of the nation".

This has legality, it has legitimacy. The legitimation, the legitimacy is the great majority and here the majorities at the previous expressions the will of the citizens will serve as indicators, perhaps those from Parliamentary elections, but this is nothing concrete because this number is not simple maths.