Interviews and Speeches

The first Macedonian Diplomat, Nikola Poposki, speaks with DW for the German initiative on the Balkan, for a solution to the name that must not threaten the Macedonian identity parameters, for the possible voting on the name in UN

DW: Minister, upon the Western Balkan Conference that was initiated in August by the Chancellor Merkel in Berlin, the region was discussed for the sixth time in the meeting organized by the Aspen Institute. What are your impressions of the conference and the discussions you had with the German MPs and representatives of the German government?
Poposki: There is a feeling that there are some movements in Berlin into a positive direction. Germany does not want to leave the region on its own, and wants to remain engaged. This also refers to Macedonia. It is obvious that Germany should help the overcoming of different disputes, including the one that keeps blocking us for the past six years. Another thing that was mentioned was that the feeling in Germany that sometimes the possibilities for influencing and overcoming the problems are being overrated. However, Germany has proven that it helps finding solutions in several delicate problems in Europe and its surroundings. The expectations here, in Berlin, but also in the region, and in Macedonia, in general, are that this engagement can be positive and can help stirring up this whole process, even if it should last for more than five years, as it was mentioned by Juncker. However, in the meantime, we should overcome the problems and bring the countries closer to the European Union.



DW: What are your expectations of the German initiative?
Poposki: Germany wants to be an active partner and to help the overcoming of bilateral problems and to keep the momentum of the reforms and approximation towards the European Union. We cannot hope that only one engagement will help us to overcome the obstacles and the opposition of the member-states inside the European Union. But, if included, I believe that the role of Germany can only be positive, because the alternative to lead the European integrations for the Balkan without Germany would certainly be unsuccessful!
Constructiveness and Concessions
DW: Due to the naming dispute with Greece, Macedonia still remains blocked. In what line does the diplomatic initiative move for finding a solution to the problem, and what is the real engagement of Germany, having in mind that after Merkel’s discussions with Nimetz, it is quite clear that Berlin is not just a passive observer?
Poposki: Passive observer is probably the best definition for the second actor in this dispute, in fact the one that imposed the naming dispute. We need to make Greece to show interest and to have a dialogue that will be transposed into the field of overcoming the imposed dispute with Greece. We have excellent co-operation with Greece in many areas – economy, tourism, cultural and human contacts etc. It is obvious that in this moment Greece is defocused, but I believe that there, as well as in Germany and Macedonia, it is clear that for final solution of the dispute, more than one interested party is needed.
DW: In the past few weeks there have been speculations that the solution for the name is protruding and it remains finding a place for the geographical qualifier. One option was Republic Upper Macedonia. What are the red lines of the Macedonian state official, what are the concessions, because it is obvious, and also confirmed by the Macedonian politicians, a compromise will be more than needed.
Poposki: Not only in the past few weeks, but in the past twenty years, there have been regular speculations that there is a certain solution. I do not think that we should rely on that. To us, it important that Macedonia has an honest and open interest into overcoming this single problem that prevents the EU and NATO membership, and we are paying both economic and political price for that; it prevents us in the possibilities for progress. We are interested and we will invest further efforts for a solution. At the same time, it is clear that not a single solution should threaten the Macedonian identity parameters. The constitution cannot be changed in order to change the constitutional name, as well as the key parameters that cannot be subject to blackmail and haggling, when these are not used for all the other countries in the world. I think that Macedonia has shown that it can be more than self-constructive by accepting a quite offensive naming within the United Nations and many other concessions that I would not like to mention now. In this moment we really need interlocutors in Athens, as well as climate in which we will not fall victim to an imposed blockade that prevents us to be part of the European Union and NATO.
DW: From time to time there are remarks that the international community should deal more with the naming dispute and should press both sides to adopt a solution. Isn’t this a dangerous option? Isn’t there a risk that the international community will impose a name that is not wished by Macedonia? Hypothetically: what would we do in such a situation?
Poposki: The pressure is always on the weaker party. It is much easier to pressure Macedonia that is not an EU member, than to pressure someone who is inside, like Greece, especially when it comes to someone who has not been flexible on many other issues. I believe that we must not allow pressure for anything that is beyond the international and legal framework and that does not correspond to those values that are promoted by the International Community, and these are the right to self-determination, respect for the fundamental human rights, and respect for the right of self-identification. If someone violates this, then they also violate the ideas of the Euro-Atlantic integration. I believe that this is in no one’s interest!

Voting in UN – not excluded?
DW: In this kind of a dead-end, is the Macedonian diplomacy considering the option of Gordian Knot for the name of the country to be cut where it is bundled: within the United Nations? Having in mind that 133 countries have acknowledged Macedonia under its constitutional name, how real and possible is the request for voting on the name of the country and its acceptance as Republic of Macedonia within the United Nations?
Poposki: Any solution within the frames of the United Nations that should go through the Security Council, where it has been discussed before, requires good will and constructiveness among the five permanent members of the Security Council: USA, Great Britain, France, Russia and China. On Macedonian side is the fact that the International Court of Justice, the highest legal body within the United Nations, has already ruled that the blockage of Macedonia within NATO in 2008, and thus the blockages within the European Union, present violation of the Interim agreement and the international law. It remains for us to see whether this is a factor for concern for those who promote the international law within the world, and Greece itself that uses this argument very often.
DW: Does this mean that the voting on the constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia can be open again before the United Nations?
Poposki: We should not exclude any of the options!
DW: Few days ago, the new European Commission led by Juncker started its term. In the following five years the Austrian Johannes Hahn will be responsible for the neighbourly relations and the enlargement discussions. What are your expectations on the new Commissioner regarding Macedonia?
Poposki: Johannes Hahn will be a commissioner in a Commission chaired by Juncker who clearly stated that the following five years will be without enlargement. However, not even in a single moment, did he state that these will be the five years during which the negotiations process and approximation of the countries towards the European Union will be frozen. To us it is not a problem that in following five years no decisions for membership will be adopted within EU. What is a problem to us is the fact that if in the beginning of the five years, the European Union does not start leading the legitimate dialogue for approximation to EU and the overcoming of the blockade that is very damaging for the European process. Everyone sees that even in 2009, with the first recommendation, the first serious mistake was made by entering a trap of not obeying the Commission’s recommendation. Each following year, this becomes more complicated. The assessment of the Commission for the sixth year, that if the negotiations are not commenced immediately, the credibility of the enlargement process will be threatened – I can say that when it comes to Macedonia it is already under a serious threat!

No Russian Ambitions in the Region
DW: Minister, in a given vacuum space for the Macedonian membership into EU, what are the influence and the strategic interest of Russia within the region? Can this bring benefits to the country and the enlargement?
Poposki: Russia has not expressed concrete ambitions for the Balkan region that could be interpreted as an alternative for the integrations into the European Union. Still, Russia is a very important and economic geo-strategic partner of Europe, even in conditions when there is a confrontation and misunderstanding on serious issues. If there was any alternative for the countries in the region, and for Macedonia, having learned from the previous failures, the European Union would immediately admitted the countries in its system. The very fact that this is not happening, it is obvious that these assessments are in fact, speculations and not reality.
DW: Finally, another question about the neighbourhood. How far is the Agreement for Good-Neighbourly relations with Bulgaria?
Poposki: We went through many rounds and there is a serious progress. We reached the level of consenting statements from both presidents: Ivanov and Plevnevliev. This process was stalled due to the elections in Bulgaria. However, upon the establishment of the Government in Sofia, it is our interest to continue the enhancement of the bilateral relations with Bulgaria, and in that line, to overcome the imposed issues.