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PM Gruevski: Greece has two name positions – one official and one unofficial

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Greece has two positions on the name issue – the first one is official and the second one is unofficial. The official position is that the country is willing to solve the dispute, however there are certain conditions which they know cannot be accepted in the Republic of Macedonia and they are created in such a fashion so that they can’t be accepted. The informal stance is that Greece now is not in a position to settle the name row i.e. they have way too many political and financial issues to engage in efforts to solve this issue, and that right now they should not be required to do so, says Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in an exclusive interview with the weekly magazine “Republika”.

Yet, he adds, they don’t say they do not want to solve it or that they cannot, or that they are against solving the name issue. “No, their rhetoric is – we want to solve it, but only if the government accepts these conditions, which they know are not going to be accepted by any government in Macedonia.

Their informal stance, i.e. the position of the EU member countries and all those included in the dispute acting as facilitators, is that in fact now they are not in a position to resolve the issue. On the other hand, they are not even prepared to offer any kind of opportunity in order for Macedonia to make a breakthrough in the EU integration process,” Gruevski states.

The process of finding a solution is delayed, the Prime Minister says, and whether it’s due to lucrative goals or real internal challenges, that is irrelevant, at least in the short- or long-run, Gruevski says.

“However it is more problematic that they act like the spoiled child of the European Union, who has temper tantrums if the EU fails to offer help, thus harming the future of the family and the home”.

“We are tired of those games of mutual accusations, we are tired of dealing with lies such as the one that I allegedly met with Fidel Castro – which had been spread in some centres several years ago – when in fact on that same day I was at a meeting in Skopje with (ex-US ambassador) Philip Reeker.

These accusations don’t lead us anywhere, let alone toward finding a solution. We are prepared for a name solution, we have clearly defined principles and positions and we believe in them. And we are supported by the people of this country. We want the country to make progress and we will be making efforts to come to a resolution. However, other countries in the international community need to be more focused as well in an attempt to prevent the status quo from becoming a threat to the region,” PM Gruevski notes.

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Commenting whether the Ukrainian crisis was making any changes causing the issue to be treated differently by the major powers, he says that so far there are no announcements on any changes.

“They see the problem differently than we do. They think Greece is in way too much financial troubles which could potentially alter the fate of the Euro. This could directly affect their economic and monetary destiny. The issues with the Euro, settling the crisis and the reforms in Greece are their top priority first and foremost. They claim they are exerting huge pressure over Greece to push the reforms process and Greece to become a self-sustainable country, even saying that they cannot fully exert pressure, because if they put the full pressure on the fiscal issues, even without additional pressure about the name issue, the Greek government could fall. In the case the government falls, then the next one could be more risky from the point of view of economic reforms and Euro maintenance. The pressures they are exerting over Greece about the reforms come in doses, they are not strong enough as not to disturb the political relations in the country and to pave the way for the anarchists i.e. SYRIZA to assume power, because the main opposition party is unpredictable when it comes to the Euro and possible return of the Drahma,” says Gruevski.

In these circumstances, he adds, some of the international partners are saying – since we are not pressuring the Greeks enough about something that is of major importance for us, don’t expect us to exert pressure about your issue, because the name issue could also deteriorate the situation in Greece. “In other words, it is the main reason why Greece at the moment feels no serious pressure to settle this issue. It is clearly due to the interest of the EU states. They are motivated by their interest, which is only natural. And their number one interest is to keep the Euro, Greece to solve its economic problems and to become self-sustainable, to pay back its debts and the Euro to be stable. A stable Euro means stability in the monetary union, in Europe and in the EU. This is top priority. Once this issue is solved, then other outstanding disputes can be solved,” PM Gruevski tells ‘Republika’.

Asked about the request for establishing good neighbourly ties with Sofia, which has also been noted as an obstacle to open EU negotiations, Gruevski says Macedonia wants to have excellent relations with Bulgaria and the countries to continue fostering ‘a spirit of strong mutual cooperation and respect.’

“The President of Bulgaria, Mr Plevneliev said that Macedonia is not ready to sign an agreement with a text identical with the declaration that expired in 2009. It was signed in 1999 for a period of 10 years. President Ivanov has responded to this saying that Macedonia is in fact prepared to do that, and then signals came giving the green light to sign the document. Everything was delayed with the elections in Bulgaria. I expect that after their elections, the document agreed by the presidents Plevneliev and Ivanov –i.e. signing of the treaty with the same text of the declaration – can be concluded. I welcome the dialogue and the positive trends launched with Ivanov’s and Plevneliev’s gestures. It is a solid foundation for the resumption of a dynamic dialogue based on already established principles and practice, which will produce a mutual solution to continue the existing practices,” Gruevski states, adding that there is not a single reason for Bulgaria to doubt the friendship of Macedonia. “I’m convinced in this and time will tell,” underscores Gruevski.

Regarding the final declaration of the recent Berlin Summit on the Balkans, which called on the opposition parties in the region that they need to be able, and want to be part of the institutions, Prime Minister Gruevski says that the document includes one single sentence on that issue. Gruevski adds that it is a clear expectation of the opposition Social Democrat Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) to take back its activities to the Parliament.

“I think this is a very clear message about the EU position about the way some opposition parties in some of the countries are acting. It tells them how they need to continue their legitimate political battles, without pre-conditions. So, if anyone was uncertain over what the EU, and more broadly, the West’s position is regarding this issue, now it is clear. The opposition needs to work through Parliament, and not outside of it. The opposition can’t expect to gain some kind of international support by boycotting the Parliament or walking out of it, Gruevski says.

According to the Prime Minister, the Macedonian opposition has unrealistic expectations that it will gain sympathy from the public by leaving the Parliament, or get international support. Gruevski believes that the Macedonian citizens understand the situation in the country well, and this move won’t get the opposition party any sympathies because their actions are not based on the truth and the motives why the opposition walked out of Parliament are unrealistic.

“They said that the elections were not realistic, that the results of the elections were falsified and that there were unfair and undemocratic elections. This is their reason to leave the Parliament. In fact, anyone who has been following the Macedonian political situation understands that the walkout of the Parliament was an alibi for the leader of the SDSM to keep his position in the party. That is now done, he remains leader of the party, and now he is looking for a way to return to the Parliament, or is unable to find one, because there needs to be a transient stage until his party returns to the Parliament. It’s not my business to comment on how he will do that and if he will be able to do that. I can see that there is some kind of competition in the opposition bloc to show who is more rigid. The competition is between a group close to Zoran Zaev, and another group which we can say is close to Crvenkovski, even though both these factions have the same goal and similar mentorship. This fight over who will be more rigid and will act tougher, is taking them quickly headlong toward a wall. I can’t tell who will be the first to hit the wall, but it will be a significant impact, and it will be too late when they realize what they’ve done. Unfortunately, they will also inflict damage on Macedonia, Prime Minister Gruvski says.

Asked by Republika about a comment on a situation one year ago when Zaev was asking the SDSM members to return to the Parliament, and they were refusing to do so, Gruevski says that in 2013 Zaev was in favor of retuning to the Parliament, and against a boycott of the municipal elections.

“He wanted to take part in the elections, he was against the boycott, because at the time it suited him personally. He felt that he had a good chance to win the mayoral race in Strumica, and then had different arguments. Now, he needs an alibi that will help him remain a leader of the party, and now he says that the elections were irregular, and that was the reason he lost the elections. Then he slipped and in one occasion said that even if the elections were regular, his party would have lost, but by a smaller margin. We can see that he himself doesn’t believe that the elections were a fraud, he knows that we had regular elections, but because of his personal political fight for his career, he needs an alibi, and he found it in claiming that the elections were not fair. He pushed his party out of Parliament. He kicked out the elected representatives, even though it is my understanding that they would like to return, Gruevski points out.

According to him, the political fight led by Zaev is heavily influenced by several individuals that Gruevski says dominate over the leader of SDSM. He sees them in the editorial boards of several media outlets financed by the Soros-led Foundation Open Society Institute, and in the universities.

“It is easy sometimes to guess what Zaev will say, if you just follow the comments of 2-3 individuals that are long-term members of SDSM and who, sometimes officially, sometimes informally through their opinion pieces in the media, serve as a guiding light for Zoran Zaev. So, before going to a meeting with him in June, or July, the day before I only needed to read what they wrote and, knowing that he doesn’t have the strength or the ability to deal with them, I was able to know 90 percent of what I could expect at our meeting. He does not run the party and its policy individually; he is being led under pressure by several people who have their own interests, who follow these interests. It’s obvious that the leader of the party has a problem how to deal with these people and can’t answer.

them if he wants to go in a different direction. He doesn’t feel he has the strength, the creative or intellectual superiority and power to stand up to these people in any meaningful way, Gruevski says.

The Macedonian Prime Minister adds that by the time Zaev sees the real goals and final interests of the powers behind SDSM, it will be too late for him.

“He is in a way dependent on them, they have their own close associates who manage the funds that help finance journalists, media outlets, so-called intellectuals, have a network of activists with certain influence. This is one of his problems, but also a problem for the Social Democrats. Their problems, unfortunately, can also cause problems for the Republic of Macedonia, such as the absence of the opposition from the Parliament, or stimulating destructive moves, Gruevski adds.

Speaking about the inter-ethnic situation in the country, Gruevski says that Macedonia is a multiethnic country and, unfortunately, incidents sometimes happen among the different ethnic groups.

“Every multiethnic country has these occasional smaller or greater tensions between the communities. This time, the last situation, it involved a radicalized religious character, and was not an inter-ethnic event. But, organizers tried to make it a broader event subscribing an ethnic element. As I have said, we faced religious radicals who wanted to destabilize the country, and to persuade the Albanian population in Macedonia that a group of people received prison sentences only because of their ethnicity. Not because of the crimes they were charged with,  but because they were Albanians, which was far removed from the truth. Maybe at one point one part of the Albanians believed in this,  but I’m sure that, as time goes by, they will realise they were manipulated by a group of people who most certainly don’t have the interests of Macedonia at heart, or the interests of the Albanians and Macedonians living here, for that matter”.

Discussing the issues Macedonia faces in the inter-ethnic relations, Gruevski says these relations are not only up to the politicians, the parties, religious organizations and others, but also to the activities of individuals.

“Individual citizens in Macedonia must understand our co-existence in the right way, not as a process of giving or taking away something from someone, but as a process of having your own rights and obligations, with mutual respect and tolerance, with respect for our differences and with understanding for the traditions, culture and beliefs of others. This is the only way we can have progress, Gruevski adds.

The solution to the issues, he says, is in the conscience and the responsibility of the individuals.

“Absolutely, the parties, the people who help shape the public opinion, they have a hugely responsible role to play, but in the end, the individual is the one who needs to understand the real message and to know that all of us here share a common past, same fate and a joint future. Sometimes, as much as someone wants to incite, create tensions and problems, the individual, every single one of our citizens, can stand up and fight back by not allowing to be dragged into something that goes against the values I speak of, the values of co-existence, understanding, mutual respect, free practice of our rights and our obligations toward the community and the state. As a society, we can do that, and it is our obligation to give unequivocal messages in this regard, not just verbally, but in action. Just as the laws and the constitution oblige us to stand up anytime someone tries to manipulate these feelings, the Prime Minister says, adding that as a country, we’ve been through a lot since our declaration of independence.

“A lot has happened, both good and bad. I’m certain that we have a joint future and we will not allow the multi-ethnic character, which is our tradition and treasure, to be detected as potential danger and abused for someone else’s goals and interests,” Gruevski concludes.

Speaking about the changes to the criminal code that will sanction Macedonian citizens who join foreign paramilitary groups, passed in the Parliament this week, Gruevski says it’s good that these changes were passed. “Some of the other countries in the region also passed similar laws, and others intend to do so. The events of the past few years forced us to pass this law. It is a bad development that we have Macedonian citizens travelling away, fighting in foreign armies. They return as aggressive personalities, trained to kill, shoot, destroy and burn down, as people who have gotten used to being in danger and at risk. There is a grave danger that they will continue to act in this way in Macedonia as well, the Prime Minister says explaining his support for the law. “Time will only tell if we can solve this issue by passing a law. We will see how much effect the law will have on these people. And how easy it will be to monitor their departure, because they do not fly directly to Syria. They leave for one country, then go to another, third one – it is hard to keep track of their movements before they get to the battlefield. Time will tell. Maybe we will need to re-adjust the law, based on how the situation develops, and on the potential weaknesses in proving that someone in fact took part in a conflict. In order to take them to court and sentence them to five, seven, nine years in prison, we need to present evidence before the judges. We can’t just say that ‘we know’, or ‘we’ve heard’, or ‘someone informed us’ about it, Gruevski says in the interview with “Republika” magazine.

In the interview, the Prime Minister also speaks about the foreign investments in Macedonia, the progress the country has been enjoying in this regard, the actions of the government in attracting investments and their dispersion around the country, the activities to develop the gas network, the messages from the Berlin Summit…

READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW WITH THE MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER IN THE LAST EDITION OF REPUBLIKA MAGAZINE

By: Naum Stoilkovski
Photo: Gjorgi Licovski