By Biljana Vankovska
Interview with Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo
• Do you support the idea of having the accord with Greece over the disputes on the country’s name? If yes/no, please tell us the reason.
It is hard to support an irrational dispute, only because one has a nationalistic idea that the name Macedonia implies irredentism. Apart from that, it is highly asymmetric dispute because Greece has nothing to gain or lose in substantial terms, while the Republic of Macedonia may lose not only its right on self-identification, identity but also to open a Pandora’s box of internal political and ethnic strife.
The dispute has never been only over the name of the state (although a state’s name is a part of its international legal identity). All proposals of Matthew Nimetz has been so-called “ a set of ideas”, containing a range of aspects that directly affect the name of the constituent nation, language, international codes, including the internet domain!
I do not support any change of the constitutional name, because the word “Republic” before “Macedonia” makes the whole difference in the world from the Greek administrative provinces as well as from Alexander’s Empire.
• What do you think is the main drive of the current Macedonian government to ease the tension with Greece?
All Macedonian governments have been aware that they are unable/incapable of delivering what the citizens need the most (wellbeing, development, progress, good quality of life, education, public health, etc.) – so the only thing that they could eventually achieve was NATO (and EU) membership on a false pretext that this is going to produce economic growth, foreign investments, and wellbeing.
The current government, in my opinion, owes to the international power-centers its gaining power, so they need to be cooperative even if it goes against the country’s national interests. Unfortunately, the name dispute has now grown into a geopolitical issue, and as such it is of high interest for the US to embrace Macedonia in NATO, at any cost, in order to complete its geopolitical map.
• If the two countries reached an accord, what should be done with all the monuments built during the Skopje 2014 project, especially the Warrior on Horse at Macedonian Square? Do you think people would support the removal of the monuments?
The removal of some monuments is a matter of legal, political but also financial estimation. In any case it is not a matter to be resolved on the international or bilateral ground. The whole project has been paid by the tax payers’ money, and it is up to them to decide which part of Skopje 2014 should stay or would be removed.
It is a bit naïve to believe that the though Greek foreign policy stand will soften because of the removal of the Warrior. It could be only a symbolical gesture made by the Macedonian government (at high cost, of course) but it won’t make any decisive influence on the dispute. The warrior and the rest of the Skopje 2014 project is a consequence and not a reason of the dispute.
As for the people, strangely enough, but the Warrior/Alexander as well as the monuments of his father and mother are one of the rare things that bring together Macedonian and Albanian people (they do not argue over Alexander because both sides believe that they may share a bit of the history by his father’s or mother’s side – Olympia was from today’s Epirus, a Greek region populated by Albanians).
• If the two countries reach an accord, I understand there would eventually be a referendum held. Do you think people of Macedonia will support the idea of changing the country’s name for the sake of a better relation with a neighboring country?
There has been high level of consensus among the Macedonians not to accept indecent proposal and to exchange their identity for money and/or security promised by NATO.
On the Albanian side, in opposite, the name is something that they would easily give up – because it has no real impact on their identity and ethnic/national interests. A possible referendum would not be constitutional, because there is no constitutional/legal ground for such a move.
Personally, I am against referendum on the name issue, because it will polarize the country, and may even destabilize it due to the lack of confidence in the institutions, electoral administration and the media propaganda.
• Do you see any alternative measures other than negotiating with the current Greek government to resolve the country name issue?
Paradoxically enough, the economic exchange, tourism, and other relations between the two states are quite good. It is pity that so much time has been wasted with no substantial confidence-building measures, and second-track diplomacy. The civil society, academia, sportsmen, journalists, intellectuals could have done much good if they were more engaged in building bridges.
Unfortunately, the dispute was given to nationalistic governments on both sides, and they mostly have profited from its existence.
• Could you describe what Macedonia has lost by having the trouble with Greece in this 25 years?
In addition to its economic losses during the unilateral embargo imposed by Greece, and the frustrating awaiting at NATO’s door, blockade on its way to EU negotiation process, Macedonia’s progress and democratic transition have suffered a lot.
This problem has become an apple of discord internally, and has served as a fertile ground for nationalism and inter-ethnic divisions. That is, the Albanians get impatient and blame the Macedonians that because of their stubbornness they are unable to join their Albanian brethren in NATO; and also this denial of Macedonian identity not only by Greece but also by Bulgaria gives ‘ammunition’ for Albanian nationalists’ claims that “you, Macedonians are artificial nation, invented by Tito, while we have deep historical roots from the antique Illyrians.”
• Considering the country’s path towards the NATO and EU membership, how do you see the U.S. involvement on the issue? How do you analyze on the intention of the regional players, including Russia?
The Republic of Macedonia’s path towards the NATO and EU is a paradoxical one. It reminds one of the plot in the famous Fitzgerald’s novel “The curious case of Benjamin Button”: the closer it gets, the more pressure it suffers on this painful issue!
Instead of bringing stability and progress, the NATO and EU integration process has transformed this issue into a European security problem. The Second Cold War is now about to turn it into a geopolitical issue, while the Republic of Macedonia and its people may become a collateral damage of greater powers’ games.