Press Releases

Journalist: Flora Wisdorff
Link: https://bit.ly/2SZHeJP

 

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov speaks during a news conference with

WELT: Mr Dimitrov, Macedonia wants to become a member of the EU and NATO as soon as possible. But, in order for this to happen, it has to resolve the name dispute with Greece, which has existed for almost 30 years. You have been negotiating for years, and in the future, your country should be called "North Macedonia". But there is still significant opposition both in your country and in Greece. The first obstacle has been overcome: a two-thirds majority in the Parliament in Skopje agreed to start the process of the necessary constitutional changes. A breakthrough?

MFA Dimitrov: That was the greatest obstacle, but there are still challenges ahead of us. In about two months, when the text will be debated and agreed upon, a two-thirds majority well be needed again to ratify the amendments. A lot of things can happen.

WELT: Your governing coalition needed eight votes from the nationalist opposition camp to initiate constitutional amendments. There were rumours in Skopje that these MPs need to be "bought".

MFA Dimitrov: We debated extensively behind the scenes and tried to convince them. However, the MPs set some conditions as well in order to support the key vote in two months.

WELT: What conditions?

MFA Dimitrov: They want to intervene in the amendments regarding the protection of Macedonian identity, and called for the establishment of a body for political reconciliation, which would include all parties.

WELT: Many of the opposition MPs are under investigation for being involved in the violent riots in the Parliament in April 2017, and were involved in the wiretapping scandal of the previous government. It is alleged that this body would represent a political agreement which would lead to the termination of criminal proceedings for some MPs. Do you think that this is possible?

MFA Dimitrov: We should give it some time; the political body was established last Tuesday. But we have to be careful not to violate democratic accountability and the foundations of the rule of law – these are the key promises of this government, and they are a prerequisite for the start of the EU accession process.

WELT: That does not sound much like the rule of law – one body that would reach a political consensus for escaping punishment.

MFA Dimitrov: Political reconciliation is important; we have to normalise our polarised nation. On the other hand, we must not create new obstacles on our path to the EU.

WELT: That sounds risky.

MFA Dimitrov: It is a historic process with many obstacles and this is the last opportunity of my generation to move the country forward.

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WELT: Many Macedonians think that by changing the name of the country, their identity is taken from them. The right-wing conservative and former ruling party VMRO still resonates with their nationalism founded upon the myth of Alexander the Great.

MFA Dimitrov: The myth of Alexander, which led to the erection of hundreds of statues in the city centre, is an expression of insecurity and low self-confidence, not of a strong identity. But the fear that the identity will be taken away along with the name should be considered carefully but in a different manner. We need a visionary patriotism that looks to the future, and not to the past, wondering which nation is older. What are we capable of? That is also a part of the identity. We have to show the world that we can solve our problems in the Balkans; we cannot change history, but we can change our future.

WELT: It is not certain that Greece will ratify the name change. The Minister of Foreign Affairs who negotiated the agreement, Kotzias, has just resigned. Now more than ever, Alexis Tsipras depends on the votes of Greek nationalists in his ruling coalition.

MFA Dimitrov: So far, the ball is in our court. We believe that the Greeks will keep their promise. This is the best compromise that can be made, taking into account how angry people in the two countries are at each other.

WELT: Russia is spreading strong anti-NATO and anti-EU feeling in Macedonia. What is your relationship with Moscow?

MFA Dimitrov: Being a part of NATO does not entail a bad relationship with Moscow.

WELT: What do you mean by it?

MFA Dimitrov: In the long term, we have to overcome the tensions between Russia and the West and work more closely with Russia again. A precondition, of course, is to respect the territorial integrity and achieve peace in Ukraine. This is not an either/or situation. NATO membership does not mean being against Russia forever.

WELT: What are your expectations from the EU and Germany?

MFA Dimitrov: We all want peace and stability in the Balkans, and for this we need accession negotiations with the EU. The self-confidence of the EU is shaken. Enlargement is not something which wins elections in the EU. But not engaging in our region will always cost more than engaging. We are an island in the middle of the EU. The migration crisis showed the importance of the region for European security. However, the accession process works not if it is not politicised.

WELT: Is this a warning to EU governments?

MFA Dimitrov: We want to be treated according to our merits. If the process is slowed down or sped up only for political reasons, then it would not be successful because European voters lose confidence that EU accession can transform countries into functioning democracies. We have to be honest with each other. Only progress should mean moving forward.

WELT: Do you feel you are treated fairly?

MFA Dimitrov: Two years ago Macedonia was ruled by a regime with autocratic tendencies. There was a U-turn, with many imperfections, but we are intent on becoming a strong liberal democracy. After the name change is completed, we will not have any standing bilateral issues in the region. Now we want our fair chance from the EU.

WELT: In 2015, millions of migrants came into Western Europe via the Balkan route and Macedonia. What is the situation on the Greek border today?

MFA Dimitrov: Very stable. Our police forces, as well as the army, control the border region. We have cooperation with FRONTEX, and with the police forces of Austria, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Currently, there are hardly any migrants, the situation is normal again, as it was prior to 2015.

WELT: Do you expect the numbers to rise again?

MFA Dimitrov: I do not see an immediate threat, but we have to be alert.

WELT: The EU would like to open asylum centres outside of the EU, including in Macedonia. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev rejected this last spring. Now, when there may be movements in your country's EU accession process, do you see a possibility of this happening?

MFA Dimitrov: During the refugee crisis, Macedonia defended the EU borders, and still does. But you cannot ask of a country to share the burden, but not the benefits. As soon as we become a member of the club and enjoy the privileges of EU membership, we will gladly share the burden. Then we will be fully capable to implement the common policy of the EU in this field.