Interview with Ambassador Milovanovic in Forum weekly magazine

Source: US Embassy in Macedonia

Transcript of the interview

Reporter: Your Excellency, I would like to start this interview with the recent visit of President Bush to this region. He did not visit the Republic of Macedonia, but can we say that at the meeting with Prime Minister Gruevski and of course with the prime ministers of Albania and Croatia, President Bush declared strong and clear support for the countries of the Adriatic Group?

Ambassador Milovanovic: I think that the fact that the President actually came to this region and visited one of the Adriatic Three members is a very clear sign that the US is very interested in seeing each member of the A3 group succeed in meeting the criteria for NATO and being eligible to get an invitation.  From what I understand, it was a very good meeting between the three prime ministers and the President.  I think they had an opportunity to talk a little bit, both about what has been achieved by each one and also about plans to continue to make progress, and I know that the President certainly expressed to them our support for their meeting the criteria and our willingness to help in these processes.  That certainly applies to Macedonia.
   
Reporter:  After President Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister Gruevski, we are witnessing promising signals for our aspirations for NATO. The latest one came last week from the summit of the ministers of defense of NATO member states. Next week Macedonia is hosting their NATO summit here on security issues. How much is the Republic of Macedonia really ready to join NATO? Can we be sure that the aspiration will be fulfilled, so that during 2008 this country will get an invitation for NATO membership?
 
Ambassador Milovanovic:  I can say that to a large extent whether your aspirations are fulfilled depends on what you achieve between now and the time that each of the NATO members looks to see whether you have met the criteria.  We have the feeling–as far as the United States is concerned–that you have certainly very good prospects so long as you are willing to do the work that is necessary between now and then.  The meeting that will take place here on June 28 and 29 in Ohrid will be another opportunity for Macedonia to show what it’s achieved. Practically speaking, you’ll be showing your capacity to organize.  The hospitality of Macedonia is known and I am sure it will make a very good impression on all of the delegations who are coming. Also, of course, your prime minister will have an opportunity to give his welcoming remarks.  Your president, I believe in conjunction with your prime minister, will be offering a cocktail to the delegates, and all these will be opportunities for people to see first hand who you are, what you look like, what you’ve achieved and what you’re still planning to do, and that should be very positive for you.

Reporter: Since 2004 when the United States recognized the constitutional name of our Republic of Macedonia, we have witnessed continual support from the United States regarding the name, regarding other issues of Macedonian politics in the region and reflected in NATO and EU membership. So how do you explain that in the Republic of Macedonia, there are still some political and media persons questioning or expressing doubts about the US policy towards Macedonia?

Ambassador Milovanovic: I wouldn’t attempt to explain whether people in Macedonia may or may not have doubts. What I can speak about is the truth of the matter regarding the US and its policy. First of all, as you pointed out, in November of 2004 we recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name. That is a policy which has not changed, and which is not going to change. This is, of course, a bilateral recognition. And at the same time, as we recognized you under your constitutional name, we said it is extremely important that the United Nations process, currently led by Matthew Nimetz, continue and–we very much hope–give fruit.  This is a problem that really needs to be concluded. There needs to be a mutually-agreed solution of the name issue.

I think that what’s now important is that, at this time, people really focus on what is possible between countries, think in positive and creative terms about finding solutions in the UN process, and–very importantly–that there be an effort to calm down the rhetoric. What we have seen recently is a number of statements, a lot of excitement, some harsh words, and I think that in no country does that make it easier to find solutions. So, what we hope is that the process will continue under the UN process and that people will approach this in a calm manner.

Reporter:  How do you assess the political situation in Macedonia with regard to the relation between ruling parties, the Government and the opposition?
 
Ambassador Milovanovic:  One of the things that’s extremely important for any NATO nation looking at Macedonia or any other country is whether the political process–the democratic political process–functions well. Because NATO is more than just a defense organization or a security organization–it is a community of values. It’s a situation in which everyone wants a potential member state to meet the standards, but they also want that potential member state to be one that feels like they are off to joining a club. It’s almost like joining a club. Are you someone with whom I want to share breakfast?  Are you someone with whom I want to go hiking in the mountains?

One of the elements–concrete elements–is a democratic system as well as a free market that functions, and I think that this is an area where it’s been important for Macedonia to show that this is in fact the case. Macedonia for a long time has been seen as a model nation in terms of a multi-ethnic unitary state.  This has been very important–it’s very important to the region–and it’s very important for receiving the assessment for NATO.

Recently of course there have been some difficulties, clear difficulties.

What I am pretty pleased about, and I know that my own country is pleased about, and I think other NATO and EU nations are happy about, is that the discussions between Prime Minister Gruevski and Ali Ahmeti, discussions also between people who work for them, were successful, that a verbal agreement was reached between the two.  It has allowed them to come to agreement on a couple of practical matters in which they can see their way forward.  That very agreement means that DUI of course was able to return to Parliament, which was always very important. Why? Because–you know, people have speculated about whether this entire agreement was some kind of a parallel effort that would somehow be separate from the parliamentary process.

But I can assure you, as a representative of a country which observed but did not write that agreement and did not tell people what to do–that was agreed to by DUI and DPMNE–but as a country that was present and saw what went on there–everything was consistent with your constitution.  It was verbally agreed between the two men essentially on their honor, as two honorable leaders.  It had to be consistent with your constitution, as well as consistent with the Framework agreement, which is so critical for those who’d expressed some concern about where Parliament sits in.  Everything is something that feeds right back into the parliamentary process. So that, things which were discussed, for example, between DUI and DPMNE, these are things that will find their way back to Parliament, back to the regular committee process, given the process as appropriate.  Everything will be building institutions and strengthening institutions.

Reporter: This was very important, to finalize the political development in a successful manner. But, can we believe that this Skopje agreement, as the opposition calls this document, this deal, will support the Ohrid Framework Agreement and not damage it or the process it came from?

Ambassador Milovanovic: Absolutely. The entire process was intended, as I say, to strengthen institutions, to bring everyone back into the institutions and to help those institutions function. There was never any intention of creating an Ohrid II. And there was not an intention, nor was it done, that there would be a parallel process of government or politics.

The Ohrid agreement is a great success for the international community and for the Republic of Macedonia.  It has helped this country grow, develop, prosper and create institutions that really work.  It has convinced the vast majority of your people that they have a future in your country as equal citizens respected by all.
 
Reporter: People in Macedonia are wondering why, when our political leaders of different political parties have fights that look like they are going to have a dead end, the international community is always here to support the process. What is your comment on that?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  When I came here almost two years, ago, I said that I felt very much that if Macedonia was a country that was arguably close to becoming eligible for NATO, arguably close to getting candidate status for the EU, it was also a country where all of those involved in the political process certainly were going to be able to work together.  I said that we would take a facilitative role where we were needed, and that is exactly the role to which we have held ourselves.  Sometimes in the public, and perhaps elsewhere, there is a belief that the role of the United States per se–I won’t speak for the EU, they speak for themselves–is a much more active one than it really is.

Let’s take, for example, the political dialogue which led to this verbal agreement between Gruevski and Ahmeti.  We are talking about a process in which those two groups, DUI and VMRO, came together, decided on agendas, talked with one another, and came to conclusions. What was the role of the United States and, indeed, of the EU representatives? We sat there, we listened, we were present to know what was going on. On occasions when one or another side felt they didn’t necessarily want to directly propose something but they wanted to see if it had a chance of being acceptable or if it was a good idea, then they might speak to one of us.  We might convey that idea to the other side, and the other side would then respond.

But at no time were we actively involved in the process. This is very important, because you have reached, by and large, a level where people can–if they have goodwill, if they have a commitment–work things out. But it is also true that sometimes getting to the point where people feel they can sit down comfortably with one another in the room and begin that process–that’s a difficult thing, getting to that point. And that’s where, I think, the international community still has a role–not to tell people what to do, not to tell people how to do it, but to be facilitators and maybe not even facilitators–simply be there, seeing what is going on. And I think that, over time, this is something which will become not so necessary.

The goals are very important. The goals of achieving this discussion, being able to talk to one another, being able to achieve some results–that’s really important, especially now, because you don’t have a whole lot of time, especially to prove yourselves for NATO membership.

And, in that context, we are more than happy to be the observers or the facilitators.

Reporter: Your Excellency, if I may say you have said these remarks many times during your interviews and other public appearances.  Do you have any feedback from our politicians or is this only something that the international community should repeat again and again…?

Ambassador Milovanovic: I think that it is not just up to the international community to repeat it.  The public also has a role in this.

Reporter: In the latest report on Macedonia’s progress regarding NATO and EU, it’s been written again that there are several major affairs that have to be finished with a court procedure so that the state will demonstrate a strong commitment to reform of the judicial system. Does Your Excellency also share these suggestions?
 
Ambassador Milovanovic: Absolutely. There is, of course, a list of areas in which Macedonia needs to do more work which has been repeated often.  I won’t pursue the whole thing, but certainly, the fight against corruption, the fight against trafficking in persons, and the reform and the implementation of the reform of the judicial processing is very important. Absolutely critical.

And I might add, this is not just because of NATO. If your economic prosperity is going to take place, if investors are going to want to come here, if your own businessmen are going to want to invest their money in this country, it’s going to require that these kinds of things are done.

So, on the corruption issue–I think that there have been a number of efforts made by the Ministry of Interior to pursue and build cases against individuals, and there have been a certain number of prosecutions.   Some of them have been successful, and a number more need to be brought on the basis of cases that have been prepared. We’d like to see that continue.  They should not be witch hunts against certain individuals because of partisan situations, but rather focus on people or institutions that have really had a major corrupting influence, not just a few small guys.

But I will say, there has been a real effort made, and your judiciary has shown itself capable of trying these cases and of listening to the evidence and finding the right kinds of judgment and making the right kinds of sentences.  I have every expectation that this can and will continue. 
 
Reporter: I have a question about the regional perspective, regional issues. There are still some who believe that an independent Kosovo status means an uncertain future for Macedonia. We have one of our opposition leaders again drawing maps of greater Albania, etc. There are still some concerns in the public that Kosovo’s independence will mean new borders in the Balkans. Can we be worried about this kind of agenda?
 
Ambassador Milovanovic: In the process of discussing Kosovo’s status, one of the absolute red lines for the United States and indeed everyone else in the contact group, as well as everyone else seriously involved in this process, is that there will be no change of borders. There will be no change of borders.

So, that’s the first thing. There’s an international consensus on this among anyone who has any serious role in this process.

But the other thing is–first we address Kosovo per se. We have realized, as have many others, that the status quo cannot continue indefinitely. The people in Kosovo, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or anything else, need to have a future which they can count on. It’s clear they know what it’s going to be, as will potential investors and others who are going to help to build that society into the kind of society that everyone wants.

This is all positive. This is not a reason for concern. And achieving a final status for Kosovo is precisely intended to do that. If that can be resolved, and you come up with an area in the middle of the Western Balkans that, instead of having a degree of uncertainty, now has clear certainty and is a place where people are going to be able to invest, to develop, etc., this can only be good.

This can only be a good thing for the region and certainly for Macedonia. Obviously, as Kosovo also increases in prosperity and develops, since Kosovo is a significant market for Macedonia, again this can only be a good thing. And, happily, you have developed very good relations with Kosovo over time – and not just with them, you have developed relations with others as well.

So, no, this is actually not a problem.

As to the recent remarks about changing borders or redesigning borders–this is really a throwback to the past.  And not only is it a throwback to the past, but I am quite convinced–and I am willing to say this as a foreigner and people can say, “Hey, you’re only a foreigner”–this is a throwback to a past that the people of Macedonia are not interested in. Local polls show that less than 10% in any ethnic community here say that ethnic issues are anything that they are interested in. It doesn’t matter.

In the most recent election, people in every ethnic group voted massively in favor of this being their country. And I emphatically include in that your ethnic Albanian minority. They want this to be their country, that’s why this issue about the Framework Agreement is so important. They want to share and be equal citizens; they don’t want to have some other place.

Reporter: How do you assess so far Macedonia’s position – the government position–with regard to the Kosovo issue?

Ambassador Milovanovic: We are extremely pleased with the fact that the Government, and the presidency obviously as well – that is, basically all across the political spectrum–have supported the Ahtisaari proposal and have looked to a final status for Kosovo in a favorable light. We are very pleased with that.

Reporter: There are some political centers that believe that the United States expects that Macedonia should be the first nation to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Ambassador Milovanovic: The United States has no position on who should be the first to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

For starters, what we are currently working on is that the UN resolution process be successful and that it be the process which ultimately results in being able to move on the Ahtisaari proposal and Kosovo status.

We are nowhere near discussions about who is going to recognize whom first. And what basically matters is good neighborly relations, that there be good, constructive relations between yourselves and Kosovo, between yourselves and Serbia, between yourselves and Bulgaria, between yourselves and Albania, between yourselves and Greece. And that’s what matters, not the question of who is going to recognize whom and in what order.

Reporter: OK. We spoke at the beginning of this interview some about relations with Greece. But Greece is still repeating threats that if the name dispute is not solved, it will block Macedonia’s membership in NATO. Do you believe this could happen?
   
Ambassador Milovanovic: What I know is that there is an agreement that was signed in 1995 between your country and Greece which lays out undertakings from both sides.  Greece undertook that it would not oppose the entry of your country under its transitional name to international organizations. We have no reason to believe that things are any different now.

I would point out also that your country undertook commitments and, specifically, those commitments are to maintain and indeed promote ties of friendship and good neighborly relations with Greece. It’s very important to focus on those shared and mutual undertakings, and to focus on what everyone, in a desire to build good relations, agreed to, what is still the agreement, and what needs to continue to be implemented on all sides.  Also, I mentioned earlier the need to reduce rhetoric and for everyone to be calm in the discussions.

Reporter: How do you see the role of Macedonia in the global war on terror? Our soldiers are part of the international forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how much does that help the country’s aspirations for becoming a NATO member?

Ambassador Milovanovic: I think, first of all, you have reason to be tremendously proud of your soldiers who have been and are now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in other places where they serve. Certainly those are very difficult places to serve, and they have done so with distinction.  As you know, they have won medals from the US military, which are not easy to win. And they have earned the respect of everyone who has worked with them, who has served with them, or whom they have served. So, first of all, you should be extremely proud of the reputation of excellence that Macedonia has acquired through the service of its soldiers.

That reputation for excellence, and successive Governments willingness and, again, support across the political spectrum–ethnic and political party spectrum–for contributing in that way to the war against terror, is a wonderful thing and is very much appreciated and very much esteemed by the United States. It really shows that you are not only willing to contribute to security, but you are contributing to security, in a very concrete way, and a very effective way. Not just nominally, but very effectively in reality. So, it’s a very positive thing.

Certainly it will be one of the positive elements in looking at your NATO candidacy.
 
Reporter: Thank you, your Excellency. My last question is, can you comment on the strong reaction coming from Russia regarding the defense missile shield deployment in some Eastern European countries? Are we witnessing a new Cold War era? Should we be afraid of this?
 
Ambassador Milovanovic: Absolutely not. The Cold War is over. The Cold War is not going to start up again. We have a strong and vibrant relation with Russia. Now, do we have disagreements? Are there areas in which we don’t see eye to eye? Of course. And that’s normal. What’s important is, we get together and we talk about it. At the G8 there were a number of areas in which we disagree, and there were also some areas in which we did agree. And in the end, Presidents Bush and Putin stood together and they talked together about the things that they usually do and where they might look into things together, including Putin’s proposals on the possibilities of a way forward on the missile shield issue. These are things that we will continue to explore with the Russians, that and a number of other areas.  We have a determination to continue to work with the Russians, and I believe they have a determination to continue to work with us, even if we don’t see eye to eye.  That’s precisely when you continue to work with one another, and we definitely have no Cold War issues.

We have a number of situations that we need to confront together, and we will figure out how we confront those together. Maybe not in the same way, but we will deal with them together.    
  
Reporter: Thank you very much. 

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