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Interview with Italian
newspaper "Left Avvenimenti" in May 2008



Biljana Vankovska

May 15, 2008

Q: Macedonia settlement is considered "a successful story" for EU, what does it means and why this statement is in doubt?

BV: Let me remind you that Macedonia was considered a “success story” even twice during the last 17 years: first, it was largely seen as an “oasis of peace” during the violent dissolution of former Yugoslavia, and then after the signing of the Framework (Ohrid) Agreement that concluded the brief military crisis in 2001. In both cases, unfortunately, the evaluation was more a result of a wishful thinking of the international and national elites rather than a well-grounded fact. It always depends on how one looks at the glass: as a half-full or half-empty. Do we compare the Macedonia’s success with the developed democracies or with the state of affairs in Bosnia, Serbia or Kosovo?
The Framework agreement, and the consequent constitutional amendments of 2001, introduced a complex political system based on the concept of consociation (power-sharing). Instead of building bridges between the divided communities, in the form of integrative power-sharing, in the last seven years the gap between them has deepened. The Framework Agreement focuses on a special form of state-building but lacks components of societal peace-building. The model did not strengthen the institutions, because the most important political issues are being decided on informal forums of the leaders of the political and ethnic communities through a direct interference of the international community (mostly the EU and the US Ambassadors in Macedonia).
There is no space for citizens’ participation or influence on the political elites. Furthermore, the Ohrid agreement is far from being a static document; on the contrary, it has been “creatively” interpreted by each side in accordance with its own interests, the rule of law and the constitution are often put aside, and there are even an annex to the original document in a form of so-called May Agreement (of 2007).
Interestingly, the May Agreement has been officially acknowledged as an important benchmark for Macedonia by the European Parliament, while its contents were never discussed in the Macedonian Parliament. Finally, in order for such a model to function in a democratic manner, some preconditions must be achieved: first, this model calls for a solid economic basis (i.e. it is expensive), and second - it is necessary to have at least three segments (communities) in the society, otherwise it transforms into a bi-national state. Obviously, Macedonia lacks both conditions.


Q: The Kosovo independence declaration could have some influence on Macedonian politics, which one? Is it a danger for relationship between different ethnic communities?

BV: Declaration of the Kosovo independence was overwhelmingly celebrated by the Albanians in Macedonia (even by public shooting and use of Kalashnikovs) and there is unanimous feeling of victory. This act somehow boasted up the self-confidence and triumphalism, which is perceived by mistrust and worry by the ethnic Macedonians. In principle, with regard to Kosovo the state leadership has made up its mind a long ago (under the strong pressure and lot of promises by the international community): Macedonia is surely going to recognize the new state.
However, it is not so easy to do that in practice. Macedonia is economically closely dependent on Serbia’s market, especially the energy supply infrastructure. All roads to Europe lead through Serbia, not Kosovo. Furthermore, it would be very unfortunate to turn Serbia into an enemy, especially now when Macedonia-Greece relationship is worsened (and Serbia and Greece are traditional allies).
In other words, Macedonia is sandwiched between the rock and a hard place. Furthermore, the Macedonian government tries to close the open issue in regard to the northern border with Kosovo (in accordance to the Ahtisaari plan), but there are some serious obstacles on the ground and even fear that some of the villagers could block the process of demarcation by weapons.


Q: Macedonia has still to solve the name dispute with Greece, how long will it take to find a solution? And which solution?

BV: The so-called dispute over the name has already lasted far too long but it has never looked as hopeless and explosive as now. It has also been simplified to that degree that the international public tends to see it as a “stupid question”. If it had been only a matter of a slight change of the name, there would have been a solution - Macedonia’s leadership has already accepted to discuss some of Mr. Niemitz proposals, such as the last one – “the Republic of Macedonia (Skopje)” for international use only.
But the Greek side, aware of its superior international position, asks for far more: first, it calls for a change of the constitutional name (i.e. the name for the domestic use) and challenges the existence of a separate nation, which would be recognized by all its identity markers (such as Macedonian nation, Macedonian language, etc.).
From the Macedonian point of view, this is a blackmail and an absurd international legal precedent and it violates even the UN Charter’s Article 4, but it is anyhow tolerated carelessly. Any Macedonian government or politician who would be exposed to such a dictate would actually commit political suicide and will lose internal legitimacy - which would release a new wave of domestic crisis.
Encouraged by the two recent victories of their (imagined) community (Albania’s membership to NATO and Kosovo’s independence), Albanians in Macedonia are getting impatient and more demanding at home. It is sad that Greece and other NATO allies do not see where this stalemate leads - to a new serious political and ethnic crisis in the region.
In my mind the compromise could be reached if Macedonia accepts a composite name for international use only (something like the Democratic Republic of Macedonia or Upper Macedonia) and if Greece acknowledges the existence of a separate Macedonian nation and respects the minority rights of the Macedonians who live in Greece (something that the Court in Strasbourg has repeatedly spelled out).


Q: If Macedonia finds an agreement with Greece, there is a chance it will be invited to become a member of NATO. If so, what is going to change in Balkan balance of power?

BV: Macedonia already behaves as if it were a NATO member state, given its unselfish participation and support for NATO operations – remember, it even supported the 1999 NATO intervention and welcomed 40,000 NATO troops on its territory, apart from 360,000 Kosovo refugees.
I don’t believe that NATO membership will help Macedonia resolve all its problems such as human insecurity, poverty, etc., but will calm down ethnic tensions and boast Macedonia’s self-confidence on its long road to the EU membership. Macedonia’s NATO membership will be a significant step towards reconfiguration of the map of the region, but merely from a global (American) point of view.
In my personal opinion, it would be much better for Macedonia to focus on its EU membership and the required reforms, rather than to join a military alliance, which is quite an expensive endeavour for a small and weak state.


Q: On the 1st of June Macedonians will go to the polls for early elections, which are the main issues at stake? Are there reliable forecasts on the outcomes?

BV: The early elections come at the worst possible moment and I think the ruling parties that decided to dissolve the Parliament made a great mistake. It is already clear that there will be two campaigns and electoral processes: one in the Albanian community, the other one in the rest of the country. A number of serious and even violent incidents have already taken place. That is just an overture to more serious challenges.
The Albanian political parties fight over very pragmatic issues such as getting into power which means better access to resources, tenders, jobs for their party soldiers, etc., while the Macedonian parties all have one single agenda: strengthening of the positions of the Albanian community in the country, establishment of the Albanian language as a second official language on the whole territory of the country and a special method of government-formation (the winner from the Albanian side to get into a coalition with the winner from the Macedonian side, which is just one more step closer to formal federalization of the state.
The ethnic Macedonians have already split into two blocks which fight each other allegedly over the name issue and NATO membership. Due to a very high popularity of the current Prime Minister it is not hard to predict that his party (VMRO) is going to gain most seats in the Parliament, but due to the proportional electoral system and fragmented party scene it is also certain that they cannot be a winner.
The problems will follow right after the elections during the process of making a coalition government. That is what worries me the most. In other words, consensual political culture is miles away from these political subjects.

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Q: The EU has put forward eight benchmarks which Macedonia must fulfil if it wants the European Commission (EC) to even consider the start of negotiations. Is it possible to meet those conditions by September 2008?

BV: Given the ongoing electoral process and the predictable painful process of government formation I am almost sure that the EU agenda is going to be set aside for quite some time. Also there is a clear pressure from the US and NATO in regard to the name issue, so that identity issue is going to have priority over all other substantial issues. On the other hand, it is quite discouraging for the people in Macedonia to see that even in the EU the “name issue” grows into a tacit and additional condition for later admission.



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