Macedonia and the status of Kosovo
by Nikola Gruevski - interview
Nikola Gruevski, prime minister of the Republic of Macedonia and leader of the centre-right VMRO, which governs in coalition with the country’s second largest ethnic Albanian party DPA led by Arben Shaferi, is interviewed by Ruža Ćirković for the Belgrade weekly NIN.
NIN: You say that you have your own national interests, and we have ours. People in Serbia think that Serbia and Macedonia have some common regional and political interests. Do you think so?
Gruevski: Certainly they have. Both states, for instance, have the strategic aim of joining the EU and NATO. That’s a big task. Entry into NATO and the EU is often viewed on their part in a regional perspective, and cooperation in that respect is very important. For instance, for the purposes of NATO entry we’re part of the so-called Adriatic group, together with Albania and Croatia. This grouping has embarked upon close collaboration and frequent contacts. Serbia is unfortunately not included. Perhaps in the future it will be.
You mean that even at government level you have more intensive contacts with Albania and Croatia than with Serbia?
Yes, that is the case. The Balkan states are small, and NATO does not usually go in for individual entry but prefers packages. That’s why the Adriatic group was set up. It’s not just our own invention, but a joint agreement between NATO and those three states. But there is more space for collaboration with Serbia too, and it should be exploited.
Yesterday you met Mr Agim Çeku at prime-ministerial level in Prishtina, and your ministers had before that on several occasions more or less explicitly stated that Macedonia would recognize the status of Kosovo based on the Ahtisaari Plan. You are well aware that you make many people in Serbia angry by this, while our answer is to alarm you: if Kosovo acquires a status unacceptable to Serbia, Macedonia will not survive for longer than six months, some of our analysts and politicians maintain. Well, what do you say: are we right to be angry, and you to be alarmed?
Well, what I should like to say is that neither do we want to make you angry, nor are there any grounds for alarming us. Macedonia is not a factor that will decide what happens in Kosovo. We are not a great power, and it does not depend on us whether Kosovo in future will be an independent state or something else. It’s obviously the big powers who will decide that. In this context, we look to the interests of the Republic of Macedonia. For instance, the Ahtisaari Plan among other things contains an element that is important for the Republic of Macedonia, and that is demarcation of the frontier. Such a demarcation has still not been carried out, although it has been dragging on for years. Though we treat it as a technical question, we are nevertheless concerned that for someone it might cease to be a technical question, might become a potential source for problems, for a crisis. The Ahtisaari Plan contains a precise temporal framework: in which period, through which mechanism and with which methodology the demarcation of our border with Kosovo should be carried out. For we have a number of questions that have remained open for so many years and which create uncertainty. Apart from the failure to define our frontier with Kosovo, there’s the problem with the Greeks about our name, and to some extent also the problem with the church. One uncertainty, a second uncertainty, and a third uncertainty...
Has the Serbian side avoided demarcation of the border?
There are a great many uncertainties and we wish to reduce their number. That is one of the reasons why the Republic of Macedonia thinks that this plan is a good basis for a final solution. And to date we haven’t seen any other well thought-out proposal better than that of Ahtisaari. The only proposal to have been seriously prepared and seriously presented is that of Mr Ahtisaari.
Do you personally, and does your government, envisage a scenario for Macedonia for the eventuality that the Security Council resolves the status of Kosovo, and for the other eventuality that Prishtina makes a declaration of independence that would be followed by individual acts of recognition? Do you have a scenario for how you would act, or do you think that for Macedonia there will be no consequences in either eventuality?
We follow developments carefully and analyse every move in depth, because our direct neighbourhood is involved. We endeavour to maintain good relations with all our neighbours. We should not like to damage our relations with Serbia, nor to complicate them with Kosovo. On the other hand, we have 25 per cent of Albanian population in the Republic of Macedonia, and we have to respect that. They are part of this state, they are our coalition partners, our colleagues in parliament, they have close links with Kosovo. That is something to which we cannot close our eyes. So we’re in a situation where we have to - and wish to - build good relations on both sides. It’s not possible to achieve the maximum in this respect, but however much is possible we wish to achieve. During the past three months I have met three times with Çeku, and I hope that I shall soon meet with politicians from Serbia too.
So if it comes to individual decisions to recognize Kosovo, what will your first steps be? You’ll wait for - whom?
We shall not decide that for the moment.
Who will you wait for - America or the EU?
I cannot answer.
Don’t you know yet?
No, I can’t answer such questions. They are hypothetical, and this is too weighty a matter for me to give any hypothetical reply.
You say that Macedonia cannot influence the status of Kosovo, but can Kosovo influence the situation in Macedonia?
In the situation currently prevailing in Kosovo, I think that the authorities there are aware that, if Kosovo were in any sense to become a generator of crisis, it would be against them themselves. That is the first thing. Secondly, Kosovo is too preoccupied with itself to concern itself with Macedonia. And for many years to come it will be preoccupied with itself, if it wishes to build strong institutions whatever its status may be. Thirdly, it seems that radical structures in Kosova do not have the support of the authorities, and will find it hard to make any moves. Radical structures do not have any serious support among Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia either, and without that they will find it hard to do anything. And finally, the international community is very focussed upon this region, and it is too important for this last open question in the Balkans to be resolved and for the region to move towards the EU and NATO.
At your meeting yesterday Mr Agim Çeku repeated that his next aim is not the independence of the Albanians in Macedonia but membership for Kosovo in the EU and NATO. Mr Ali Ahmeti regularly repeats this too. Do you believe them?
It is clearly written down in the Ahtisaari Plan that, if the Plan is accepted, Kosovo will not have the right to change its frontiers with other territories, especially ones with an ethnic Albanian population.
I know, but I’m asking you, do you believe Mr Çeku and Mr Ahmeti?
Do I believe them? Çeku and Ahmeti? You know, I listen to what they say and I analyse the overall situation and, in such a context, I believe that the Republic of Macedonia has good chances to become a member of NATO next year, and to begin negotiations about full membership in the EU, and between 2011 and 2013 to become a full member of the EU. At the latest in 2014. The precise year cannot be predicted, but starting from 2011, which is four years from now.
You mean the Republic of Macedonia in its present borders?
You’ve already mentioned our problem in relation to the church. The first thing I’d like to ask is whether you’re a believer.
Well, our premier is too. Fine. Do you think that as a government you should become more involved in solving the problem related to the church, instead of both sides misusing it as you do?
First, I don’t think that we misuse it.
Don’t you think that arresting a priest was misuse for political ends?
In Macedonia the courts are independent, you know.
I do know, and ours too...
The court thinks that he committed a criminal act according to Macedonian law, a criminal act of a financial nature, and that’s all there is to it. The government does not meddle in the work of the court.
Do you think that the two governments could do more to settle this disagreement, and how much influence do you have over the Macedonian Orthodox Church?
Well, any political will may be useful. And we have good relations with the Macedonian Orthodox Church. As a party and as a government we back the autocephaly of the Church.
Do you think that the question of the Church’s autocephaly is part of the question of your statehood?
Yes, we do think that. The Macedonian Orthodox Church has for centuries been a bastion of our statehood, including in periods when we were under various forms of occupation, so we think that the problem of the Church is not just a church matter, but has a political dimension too. There are states interested in escalating this church problem, but I won’t mention which they are at present.
Translated from a longer interview in NIN (Belgrade), 24 May 2007.