This is the first interview of the most powerful political leader in Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, given to an Albanian medium in the last 10 years, writes Berat Buzhala, editor of Gazeta Express and one of the most prominent Kosovar journalists, in the announcement of Gruevski’s extensive interview with the most read news site in Albanian in the Balkans.
A month after the elections in Macedonia, still there is no agreement on forming a government. The largest party in the country, VMRO-DPMNE won the elections. The party’s leader, Nikola Gruevski, on January 9 received the mandate from President Gjorge Ivanov to begin negotiations with other parties to form a government. He has 12 more days to find a partner.
According to previous practice, government is formed between the largest Macedonian coalition and the largest Albanian party. In this case, VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration, led by Ali Ahmeti. Talks between the two leaders are ongoing, it is said in the introduction of the big interview, in which, except for the Macedonian-Albanian relations, Gruevski talks about Soros as well.
Express: In the last two years you were attacked from all sides, but you obtained enough votes as in the last election. Did you expect this result?
Gruevski: Although I am a middle-aged man, I have been on the political scene pretty long time and many people have had the opportunity to meet me. Like all people, I might have made mistakes, errors and showed weakness.
After leaving the banking sector I decided to get into politics. In the past 20 years people had enough time and opportunities to meet me, to see my good and bad sides. They also know that many things have changed in Macedonia. Progress was made at the time when I was Minister of Trade, Minister of Finance, Head of the Insurance Committee, and four years I was in opposition and at the same time adviser, at a time when I was engaged in a USAID project and, of course, during my term as Prime Minister and president of VMRO-DPMNE. A man who has done so much for his country, who has made many personal sacrifices, without rest, sacrificing the best years of my life, knowing that I could have a better life with less work. A man whose strengths and weaknesses have been analyzed over the past 20 years. The operation we have in Macedonia can cause less damage for a very short period of time.
I have invested a lot in this country, I have done many things for these people, while some powerful centers are using dirty tricks to present me before the people as something I am not. And that was the purpose of this operation – to present me as a bad person, dishonest, corrupt, a traitor, inhuman, a man who, as Zaev said, has to change his opinion within three days. I do not want to analyze whether they underestimated me or not, I do not know, but I know that they underestimated the citizens of this country, at least most of them.
After the initial confusion and curiosity over the created materials, most people immediately understood that it was a wicked plan with a single goal: to politically eliminate me and my party for the fulfillment of certain goals. A mission that can harm the people and the state. My party and I obviously were an obstacle to someone’s plans and I believe that still we are that because we put the interests of the citizens living in Macedonia and of the state first, and not someone else’s interests. I believe that since we are a small country, a developing country, established 25 years ago, some foreign forces and centers were accustomed to some other politicians who were always in their service, even if it means damage to the interests of the citizens who voted them and somehow they hoped that politicians will fight for common interests, improve their lives and solve many problems.
As a person who has gained the trust of the citizens, I have no problem to make a compromise in international politics, I’m not from Mars and I know that every politician who holds a position like mine makes certain compromises. However, there are problems which, if compromised, would harm the interests of the state and of the citizens. And in such situations one needs to decide whether to continue or to get off the road. My politics and ideology have been and will continue to be a thorn in the eye of many who have other plans for Macedonia, which are unacceptable to most of the citizens.
This provides a partial answer to the causes, but also it is the result of the developments in Macedonia. There is almost no difference in the number of citizens who support the party I lead. Compared with the record number of votes that the party won in 2014 and now without two coalition partners, where we actually lost 20,000 votes to them, we have almost the same support as in 2014.
First, the votes obtained in 2016 show that we had a crystal clear victory, and no irregularities were registered as in 2014. Second, after the campaign, the results become a reality. After all these efforts, money spent, paid demonstrations, efforts by foreign governments, demonstrations in the streets across the country, the political crisis which caused serious pressures on the economy, after millions of euros invested in the media to discredit me … Did I expect this result?
Yes, I expected to win, I believed in the citizens that I fought for in this period. My greatest motivation in this struggle was the trust and support of the majority of citizens. I regret that a small proportion of the population believed in the propaganda, especially the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, but that’s another story.
Express: You received the mandate to form a government from President Gjorge Ivanov, and you have 20 days to do that. Have you started talks with political parties over the government formation?
Gruevski: Talks on forming a new government have started these days. Last week, I and my party saw that some parties, given the complicated situation, are focused on discussions and analysis.
Express: What are your favorites for coalition?
Gruevski: I lead the party which is in coalition with 25 smaller parties in Macedonia, a multi-ethnic coalition which will continue to exist. It would not be possible if we were unfair, incorrect, if we lied or used them only during the election period. Instead, most of them were earlier in coalition with SDSM and they say the difference is huge – everything they asked from SDSM was promised to them, but the promises had not been fulfilled at all. In our party is the opposite. We had lengthy discussions with all of them, the fulfillment of our promises is our obligation, not our partners’. We have fair and correct relations with everyone. This is our investment in the coalition, which even in the most difficult days managed to survive, despite the many attempts to destroy it. With the exception of the two parties that we long thought of as unstable, we suspected indoctrination of some ambassadors. That’s what had to be somehow deserved. We deserved it because of the hard work we have done, by keeping our word, with principled behavior, fair treatment in good and bad times, with the values and principles we present. However, once these two small parties left the coalition, 4-5 other parties joined us. Election is followed by a post-election coalition, which is always made between a Macedonian and an Albanian party. The approach we had towards these 25 parties in the pre- election coalition is the same approach we always have towards the Albanian parties, when we were in coalition with DPA and when we entered into coalition with DUI.
I do not know if they have the courage to admit it publicly, given the dirty campaign of the Albanian media funded by Soros, representing us as demons before the Albanians in Macedonia, but I know that in many private conversations, most of them, including officials, have admit it. Everything I have told you was confirmed by them.
At the insistence of some of the Albanian parties in Macedonia, in the last decade a practice has been set according to which the majority in Parliament is consisted of the Macedonian and the Albanian party that won the election. We’ve practiced a post-election coalition with Albanian parties when we needed to secure a majority in Parliament, but also when we did not need, because we had a majority to form a government. And we do that because we think that Albanians in Macedonia are more in number and should be represented in the government and to be represented by the party for which they voted. So, our position is to try to make a coalition with DUI, if there are conditions for such a thing. This time, given that I do not have 51% in Parliament, the coalition will be important to create a majority in Parliament.
Express: You kept the votes, but that was not the case with your previous partner DUI. Albanians think that it was damaged in the elections, because it was your coalition partner. Were you inattentive to him?
Gruevski: As to why DUI won fewer votes can be answered in a broader analysis, which they will surely make. I do not have such a detailed analysis, but I will tell you my opinion, with all the risk that maybe I’m wrong. First, as we both were in power for long time, no matter how much you work and try to have good results, in a democratic society long reign has consequences in some of the voters. Second, certain propaganda from the media and the NGOs supported by Soros, which was led against us, in part was directed at them because our weakening and putting them in a position to violate their principles contrary to their opinion made them to turn to us. That is also happening now. Third, I don not say that there was no such weaknesses among us, but I think among them there was still more room for improvement in personnel policy, which I repeatedly pointed out in our meetings. Some people with their attitude and work have contributed insufficiently, and I’m sure they could attract and offer better staff at all levels of government, although they had officials who did their work solidly. And fourth, I think the party and their officials were too focused on collective national issues rather than on the individual problems of citizens. I recognize that weakness practically in all Albanian parties in Macedonia. Even after 25 years of independence the race between the Albanian parties is who has acted more radically or requested, or set conditions with respect to the flag, language, etc., and much less about how many investors the party’s officials have attracted and how many jobs they have opened for all citizens, for the Albanians in particular. How much that contributed to decreasing the number of unemployed people, which in certain places has put pressure on increasing the wages of the already employed. How many quality teachers they have attracted and how many quality students have come out from the Albanian universities. How many Albanian quality doctors have come out, and how to help them become even better and provide better service to the people, including the Albanians. To how many farmers, including the Albanians they have solved specific problems and corrected injustices from the administration etc. Somehow the Albanian parties are mostly concentrated around national collective issues, and and to the detriment of the people and their everyday problems, needs and challenges. One cannot live on just high politics. That is okay, but people want specific things, and their parties, I think, have another focus. And what happens later? When there is dissatisfaction among the Albanian citizens for unsolved life problems, many Albanian politicians in Macedonia blame VMRO-DPMNE for that. I’m not guessing, I’ve heard it from some of them in a private conversations. They do not correct themselves, but find someone to blame. This is not only DUI’s weakness, but of all Albanian parties.
Here for example, when in 2006 we entered in government, we did not have enough high-quality staff as a party, especially after internal turmoil and divisions, but I wasn’t hard for me to offer 6 of 11 VMRO-DPMNE proposals for people in the government who at the time were not our members, but who were very skilled and have helped Macedonia and indirectly VMRO-DPMNE. Some of them later on at their own initiative joined the party. Also we assessed that for some positions we needed people with more international experience in multinational companies. And here is what we did. We invited many of our successful expatriates to come and take over key positions. At one point one third of the ministers were brought back from America, Germany, England, Belgium, Serbia, … mostly from America, from top companies or international institutions. We did not ask them to join VMRO, although some of them requested that on their own, but they brought great political benefit to VMRO. We were looking for personal quality, expertise, experience, knowledge, willingness to make Macedonia better in a certain area. And it was not easy to convince someone to leave everything in America, everything they have built in a decade or more to come hard and help the country. But I was persistent, I worked on that, I committed myself to that … One day I believe that the Albanian parties will follow these principles, which will be good for them as parties and for the Albanians in Macedonia, and for all our citizens.
There, that is my analysis that maybe in some parts is not the most accurate, but it is my independent opinion.
Express: What kind of relations do you have with Ahmeti?
Gruevski: My relations with Ahmeti are mainly official. As presidents of two major parties, we are directed to cooperation and dialogue. In the beginning there was a huge lack of trust, but with time things came to a certain normal. Together we made decisions on many problems and made many important deeds for all citizens. The fact is that in our mandate we opened almost 170 thousand new jobs in Macedonia, and the number of employees which was over 560 thousand is now reaching 730 thousand employees in the country, and this fight is for every citizen regardless of their ethnicity. Together we made Macedonia 5th country in Europe and 10th in the world for doing business, together we managed to obtain a visa liberalization and to largely harmonize the legislation with the EU’s. The country seriously advanced in all areas. Notwithstanding the widespread opinion, largely created by the media and NGOs funded by Soros, we as two parties seriously improved the rights of ethnic communities in Macedonia, regarding the use of languages, symbols, education, decentralization, equal representation in the public sector and administration, and many issues related to strengthening of the relations with Albania and Kosovo, which for the Macedonian Albanians is particularly important. Unfortunately, we made a serious omission, and that’s allowing Soros media and NGOs to destroy all of our work and results, particularly in ethnic plan, to present it in dark light, to portray me as an enemy of the Albanians, and Ahmeti as too tolerant of it. That is an untruth, but in politics, not only truth is important, but also perception. Therefore we should learn our lesson and not to allow to be repeated so easily. I most responsibly claim that during the term of VMRO-DPMNE were made the most developments on issues related to advancing the rights of different ethnic communities. But someone created another perception, and we did not intercepted it accordingly. Many challenges remain for the future in all areas, including European and Euro Atlantic integration.
Express: DUI’s position on future coalition with you is already known: bilingualism throughout the whole country and extension of the mandate of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Would you negotiate with these conditions?
Gruevski: There is no country in the wider region and probably in Europe, which has created greater rights for the ethnic communities than Macedonia. It does not mean that we should stop here, but shouldn’t work towards illogical solutions, which no one would benefit from. Regarding the use of languages, we believe that we should respect the Ohrid Framework Agreement and the Constitution, and any change of the Constitution can cause problems. We are supporters of the promotion of the use of languages of minority communities, and we have proved that with various enacted laws, law changes, although there were many in the country who opposed it. These are very difficult questions of political management. We as a party have repeatedly taken the risk of being poorly understood by the Macedonians, or even punished in the next election because such steps. And Soros media and NGOs used that against us, making the Albanians against us. They never made comparison between those rights and the rights in other countries, because they know they are wrong. I do not want to be misunderstood by anyone, but there are smaller communities in our neighboring countries and we are incomparably ahead of them in that regard. But these are sensitive topics, and I will stop doing comparisons so that my statements are not distorted. The request for bilingualism throughout the whole territory is a requirement that first requires amendments to the Constitution, and secondly it is not realistic and fair request, because Albanians are concentrated mainly in the northwest of the country, and in many municipalities there are not Albanians, and they make 25 percent of the population, while Macedonians 65 percent. That is the reality and the laws should to be adapted to the reality, not to the wishes of individuals or attempts to score political points on this issue. In all the municipality where Albanians make at least 20 percent, there is bilingualism. All citizens of these municipalities can use the Albanian language in central government institutions, and it is obliged to respond in Macedonian and Albanian. What use do Albanians have if they get bilingualism in Gevgelija, Delcevo, Strumica, Bosilovo, Stip and many other cities and towns without Albanian population, or with very little. Among other things, it is a huge expense, and unfair treatment of other smaller ethnic communities, Turks, Vlachs, Bosniaks, Serbs and Roma. And finally, it has many other effects directly on the Macedonians who live in municipalities where there are no Albanians, and we won’t be able to explain it. Moreover, in the region and in Macedonia, there are some radical structures that don’t see this project through the prism of people’s rights, but through the prism of re-compositions of state and national boundaries, and we have to pay attention to that. We want to give the maximum to human rights, but we want to preserve the unity of the state and we do not want to leave room for some radical structures, which although they have little support at the moment, they exist and are potentially dangerous.
In terms of the Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO), I would say that we made an agreement that we are completely fulfilling. Someone wants to change that agreement. We do not want a change, but we want to fulfill the agreement. Our party’s position is that SPO should work under the June July 2015 Agreement that some people call the Przino Agreement and within the law which is jointly voted by all parties. We have an agreement and it should be respected and not changed. We don’t support the changes to the agreement which we have all have agreed to, publicly and by consensus, thus showing that we want to investigate the reasons for its formation, and for that purpose we provided complete logistics to the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Especially because the reasons that were given to us, are totally unsubstantiated, and it is clear that the background is someone’s interest unrelated to law and legal state, but to politically inspired goals for many larger issues. Extending the mandate of the SPO means continuation of the crisis, which suits to someone, but not to Macedonia. Therefore, these are issues that are so clear to us and to the majority of citizens in the country, and we believe that there is no room for negotiation on them.
Do you think that in the future one of the three main positions could be run by an Albanian?
Gruevski: It depends on multiple things, mostly from personal authority, expertise, charisma, capacity, past and vision of the candidate, but also of the party behind them unless it is a nonpartisan candidate, and in some cases from party agreements. The Constitution and the law have no restrictions on ethnic or religious grounds. Seven years ago an Albanian politician from a part that was new at the time ran for president, and he lost, but obtained a great number of votes, I think about 150 thousand votes in the first round. According to the analysis that we made, he had obtained more Macedonian votes than Albanian. I am sorry that later after failing in the elections, believing that that is the only way to attract Albanian votes in the parliamentary elections, he started using penetrated radical rhetoric and fueled hatred and negative energy. But both the Macedonians and Albanians turned their backs on him and his political carrier was over. At the beginning of that turn, I met him by chance, congratulated him for the previous success, and friendly advised him that it if he continued with was he had started, with the extremely radical rhetoric, no good would come of that. He decided differently, and tried to be more radical than the most radical Albanian politicians. The main problem is not that he destroyed his political career, but by disappointing 80 thousand Macedonians who voted for him, and probably at least that much who hesitated and thought of supporting him, he closed the road for himself and perhaps for other Albanian politicians to gain the trust of the Macedonians. Too bad. Then I heard the Macedonians speaking that they can not forgive themselves for trusting him. When he needed Macedonian votes to become president he wooed the Macedonians, and when he needed more Albanian votes in the parliamentary elections he began to use radical rhetoric courting the Albanians. It is also too bad that the Albanian politicians in Macedonia still compete and gain or lose elections with radicalism, not with moderation and vision for a better quality of life, higher wages, pensions, subsidies, investments, jobs, infrastructure … In the Macedonian block radicalism has long been retro. We have won four election cycles of parliamentary elections exclusively with offers in the area of economy, jobs, investment, agriculture, health, education, culture … The last elections were the first since I am leader of the party to accept part of the campaign to be on ethnic issues, because it was imposed on us by our opponent Zaev, who came up with an offer to the Albanian electorate that shocked everyone who is not much engaged in politics and who do not know him, and if it succeeded, it would have been damaging for the Macedonians and the Albanians and all citizens of Macedonia. Knowing that he was losing the elections, and unable to think of a better economic offer and vision of all citizens in the country, he began offering things that no one asked for, such as cantonal division of the country for example. We could not but address those questions, our duty as politicians is to promptly alert of the dangers of wrong political decisions. That’s why instead of an economic campaign, as we already prepared and printed program, we had half economic campaign and everything leading to a better quality of life and development, gender, and half with political and ethnic issues. What good it would do introducing bilingualism in Gevgelija, but 70 thousand or so Albanians believed in that story. Otherwise, if it won, and knowing its serious weaknesses,the Albanians quickly would have been disappointed by SDSM, which would led to not believing in even the most sincere and honest Macedonian politician in the next 20 years.
Express: You are being criticized that you did nothing to improve the lives of the Albanians.
Gruevski: Albanians, and all other minor ethnic groups have never been discriminated in terms of investments. On the contrary, much has been invested and it is still being invest in those regions where they live. But what can an opposition party do but to criticize in that regard. In Macedonia there is a tradition, Albanian parties in the opposition criticize the government for discriminating the ethnic Albanians in terms of investment, while the Albanian party in power denies it. When they switch roles, the party in power that went in opposition begins to criticize, and the party in power begins to deny it. And perhaps it is somewhat legitimate political struggle, but there are many people who do not see like that, but they always trust those who criticize, and then the legitimate political struggle becomes an inter-ethnic issue. It is dangerous when the parties of the smaller ethnic communities are trying to come to power by playing only on the ethnic emotions of the citizens. Then the consequences can be huge, ethnic polarization, tension, intolerance and hatred.
Express: You say that the Albanians need more factories than to write in Albanian language in Macedonian villages. Why those factories were not built in the past 10 years?
Gruevski: As I said many such factories have already been opened in Macedonia. And it wasn’t by accident. We have worked very hard to create a good business climate, 5th in Europe, 10th in the world, according to the ranking of the World Bank. And we were 94th in the world. We have the lowest effective tax rate in the world of 7.4 and effective tax administration. In the world. The best Central Registry in Europe, according to the World Bank, whose creation was when I was Minister of Finance we changed thousands of laws to reduce red tape for businesses and citizens, we invested heavily in education and health care… We still have a lot of work to do, but we achieved an amazing progress. We have significantly improved the fight against corruption and crime, and we made a jump of 40 places on Transparency International list. I was too focused on that, and unfortunately I disregarded some things in the political part where with the help of Soros money, his media, NGOs, the opposition did a lot of damage, and distorted the perception about me personally, about my party, but also about Macedonia. They weren’t building, creating, reforming etc., they were spending money to make me look bad. While I was working 15 hours a day to improve the lives of all citizens. If I had not done that, the success probably would have been smaller, and from that aspect I do not regret the effort.
Let’s get back to the question, factories are already being built in bulk, even during the political crisis. As a result of that, unemployment rate in the country dropped from 38.7 percent to 23, 4 percent. Huge drop in unemployment in times of global recession, European debt crisis and now a political crisis. Many people from home and abroad hate me because of that, because the results of my party and my government are the best mirror for their failures. In Macedonia, when I came to the government there were 560 thousand employees, today we have close to 730 thousand employees. That did not fall from the sky. And you should know that it is the investors that choose locations and municipalities. In rare cases we can influence, and when we are able do that, we are primarily suggesting them to invest outside of Skopje. In the last 3-4 years, 30 to 35 major foreign companies have decided to open plants in Macedonia. Therefore, 100 new factories for the next 4 years is not only real, but also a conservative estimate. Of course, if we have no external shocks and if we have a stable political situation. Two years in a row we are a country with the most foreign investments per capita in the world. We have become a country that could set an example in this regard, and we have put a lot of effort to get there. At the moment we have more than 10 foreign companies that are close adopting a decision to invest in Macedonia, and we are negotiating with another 100. Of course not all talks will succeed, but some of them will. We have created strong capacity for this work.
Express: The unemployment rate of the Albanians is significantly higher than the unemployment rate of the Macedonians. Is it due to discrimination, lack of appropriate qualifications or negative trend of the past?
Gruevski: I have no information that the Albanians in Macedonia have higher unemployment rate than the Macedonians, but I know that the educational structure of the Albanian population is still lower, which is directly related to employment. Every employer wants workers with higher skills and knowledge, and that’s why my great commitment was, and largely with success, to help as many people to obtain higher education. We made high school education compulsory and free as primary school. Few countries in the world have that. We opened many new faculties, universities, dispersed studies, and to every citizen who will be admitted to any of the top 100 top-ranked universities in the world will offer coverage of all the costs of studying there, but with the condition and obligation to return to Macedonia to live and work at least 6 years in the state or private sector of their choice. And this applies to all citizens, Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosniaks, Vlachs, we do not have discriminatory laws.
Precondition for finding a job more easily is education, but also its quality. Universities in Macedonia, especially some of them have a lot of work to do to be labeled as quality. Of the two major Albanian universities, the SEE University, has higher quality, and I invested many efforts to help the State University in Tetovo to become as the SEE . I need more support from the Albanian parties in those goals, and greater political courage, because we have a common goal, and that is the Albanians in Macedonia besides diplomas to boast with higher knowledge, at least as the students from the top Macedonian university. I say ‘at least’ because at European or global level it is far from the required level in international rankings.
In the regions mainly populated by Albanians there is still a tradition large percentage of Muslim women not to go to work. Of course it’s their decision, and I respect it and I not interfere in personal or family decisions and tradition, but often investors are discouraged to invest in some regions fearing that there will be not sufficient workforce, despite having received information about the number of unemployed in a municipality or a region where the majority are ethnic Albanians. But that reality often shows higher unemployment rate but with a larger number of passive job seekers rather than active, and creates the wrong perception, because of the high number of unemployed who are not seeking a job. Finally, after some investor decides to invest in Macedonia, then he needs to decide in which municipality to build the factory, and mayors have a major role here. For example, we have some mayors who followed our call to build an industrial zone with complete infrastructure, roads, sewage system, water supply system, electricity and the like. And of course they are more likely to attract investors. That was the case with Vinica, Vasilevo, Gevgelija, Prilep, Bitola, Petrovec, and many others, and the result is that they very quickly managed to sell the sites, and there have been already built or are being built factories and other commercial facilities. Besides the industrial zone, the attitude of the mayor towards potential investors is very important, as well as the will to help them and attract them.
There are other factors, but I want to summarize and say that very often in the past many mayors and politicians tried to blame me and the government for personal not working and failure. While we have the same approach to everyone, because all citizens are our citizens, and we are trying to help everywhere. But how to help if someone is not interested and acts ignorantly?
During our term, numerous projects havde been realized in northwestern Macedonia, where Albanians are mainly concentrated. We reconstructed and equipped hospitals in Tetovo, Gostivar and Struga with modern medical devises, the Emergency Center in Kumanovo and a new hospital in Kicevo are being built, the construction of the Kicevo- Ohrid highway is ongoing, reconstruction of the old road Tetovo-Gostivar, which is very important for the villages, 7 or 8 new gyms in Tetovo and do not know how many in other cities, full reconstruction of the Albanian Theatre in Skopje, construction of a theater and a library in Tetovo, hundreds of new or reconstructed local roads, thorough reconstruction of regional roads, many new water supply and sewage networks, water treatment plants, sports hall at the University of Tetovo, reconstruction of many schools attended fully or mostly Albanian children, etc. But more importantly we brought major multinational companies that built factories and provide jobs for people in those regions, like Lear Corporation in Tetovo, which creates 2,500 new jobs, Key Safety Systems in Kicevo with at least 1,000 new jobs in the first phase, and at least 600 are planed in the second phase, German ODW Electric and Kostal, both in Struga and Ohrid region, where both open 1,000 jobs, and there are more such in Skopje like the Belgian bus manufacturer Van Hool with over 800 jobs, Johnson Matthey , Johnson Controls and many others.
We cannot divide ourselves by ethnicity. We live in a small country, and all investments might be beneficial to everyone. Isn’t the reconstruction of Veles-Skopje highway for Albanians, or the construction of the medical center Mother Teresa in Skopje which is to start in a month.
Express: How did your rival SDSM manage to obtain the votes of the Albanians?
Gruevski: With the help of Soros NGOs, activists and media.
Express: Do you believe in multi-ethnic parties?
Gruevski: Yes, I believe in multi-ethnic parties, because my party is multi-ethnic. We have members and voters and officials from virtually all ethnic communities. But for now, multiethnicity is insufficient, small. But, it will gradually improve, and it will especially strengthen after Macedonia joins the EU and NATO.
Express: Some Albanians believe that you are against membership in NATO and the EU. Can you provide a clear answer to these two matters?
Gruevski: It is a wrong perception. Me and my party are clearly committed and have worked very hard in that direction. It was my party that in two years 2006-2008 managed to complete all obligations for the country in 2008 to receive an invitation for NATO together with Croatia and Albania, and a year later the European Commission to assess that the country is ready to begin EU accession negotiations, but in both cases it did not come to that, because of the blockade of the Greeks, related to their request to change the country’s name, language and the name of the Macedonian nation. Extremely difficult matter. Here imagine how would your people and politicians react if they had to sign that they are not Albanians, and they find you a new name, from a narrow choice of several offered by your neighbor, and that the language you speak is longer Albanian but a different one, plus the name of your country to change. And imagine if it was in an atmosphere where your neighbor tells you that you are not Albanians, and that you are falsely presenting yourselves and publicly blackmails you that until you change your own name and identity, it will not allow any progress on your ambitions to join NATO and the EU. Moreover, if the majority of the people were opposing it, holding talks to address the situation, and the majority of the people and the politicians in power to be accused that they are nationalists and chauvinists, all designed to put pressure on politicians to prove that they are not that and to sign what is required of them from outside. It is a very difficult situation that I don’t wish to anyone. Crazy situation. They insult and blackmail you and blame you for not accepting the blackmail for which almost three quarters of the people concerned, as in the case of the Macedonians, are against. Then comes Soros, activates his political influence and power in the most powerful countries, opens 70 NGOs in your country, bribes most of the media and makes it clear that if you don’t accept what is required of you, he will create a perception that you are a chauvinist, nationalist, criminal, corrupt, bad guy, incompetent and worse. You know, if he pulls it off in Macedonia, he will do the same in other countries and to other people, especially the smaller and economically poorer as ours. He is indoctrinating many young people through lectures and various types of financing, making an army of paid protesters and trying to destroy governments and states.
But to get back to the basic question, our goal is Macedonia to join NATO and the EU.
And we will make every effort to overcome these challenges that I spoke about and to realize our strategic priorities.
Express: Why George Soros is so important in Macedonia and what risk he presents?
Gruevski: Soros is a businessman whose ideology is linked to the Open Society Institute. The media speculates that he causes rapid change of state shares and currencies. Outside the sphere of business, his activities are well known, and there are activities related to politics. He is active in many countries, especially in Eastern Europe and in the US, where he is trying to implement his ideology. Usually these ideologies are associated with leftist parties. Our party is center-right, conservative party and our ideology does not coincide with the ideology of Soros. Ten percent of the money he invests in Europe are spent in Macedonia. He is present in Macedonia for 25 years, but in recent years he has been much more active in the financing of the Open Society Institute, which is linked to more than 70 NGOs in Macedonia, which are 90 or 100 percent financed by Soros. When VMRO-DPMNE is in power, Soros army, media, NGOs and civil society are against us over everything. And when VMRO-DPMNE is in opposition, Soros again is against us, regardless if we are in power or in opposition. No matter in which way, whether through non-governmental organizations, the media or the Open Society Institute, they are always against us and in support of the Social Democrats. Sometimes I wonder whether it is possible after so many years of work and effort that VMRO-DPMNE did not make a good step, while the Social Democrats did not to make any wrong step. Probably something like that is not possible, but we have a situation where the billionaire has a clear idea what to do in our country. As I said, he has spent a lot of money, but in recent years he has increased his activities in our country.
Express: In your estimation, how much money he is spending in Macedonia?
Gruevski: From the perspective of the West, it’s not a lot of money, but in a country like ours with two million people and five thousand dollars GDP per capita, is a lot of money. Six or seven million dollars a year.
Express: Have you tried to get in touch and talk with him to clarify things?
Gruevski: In fact, I met Soros about six years ago in Prague, at the Conference for the Decade of Roma, when Macedonia was taking over the presidency. He is one of the donors for the Roma community and he met with all the heads of delegations. We had a 15-20 minute meeting, at which the main topic was our activities for the Roma community and what can be done in Europe in the future. In the end of the discussion he asked me about the process of finding a solution to the name issue. He pointed out that that the issue should be resolved as soon as possible and that Papandreou would be Prime Minister for a short period of time and after which it would be difficult to settle the name issue with other officials, something we already knew, but, unfortunately, regarding the key aspects of the issue, Papandreou had the same well-known red lines of Greece, which are unacceptable for Macedonia. He also shared some other details about the process, so I concluded that he is well acquainted with the issue and that he had more information.
Express: Do you think that he is present in Albania as in Macedonia?
Gruevski: As far as I know, he has a strong influence in Albania. I have nothing against Fatos Nano. I have a positive opinion of him, but he allowed Soros to influence his party, and I would not like to see my party under the influence of Soros.
Express: Question about Kosovo. Your party was the one that recognized the independence of Kosovo in 2008. How hard it was for you to make such a decision?
Gruevski: It was hard keeping in mind that the majority of citizens in Macedonia have good relations with our neighbor Serbia, and also knowing that we shared the same state in the past, we have had a close relationship between the citizens of both countries. Similarities in language helps us understand each other. Also, we have the same religion, and in that period we had good relations with Serbia. We had to bring a decision. It was a difficult and very dangerous step from us to recognize Kosovo. We made a long and deep preparation for this and finally reached a decision. The Serbs were angry, and they have made several moves that show that they are still angry with us. Recently Serbia’s Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic said that Serbia made a mistake to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name, because we recognized Kosovo and because we voted in favor of Kosovo’s accession to UNESCO. I quote Dacic, who said: “Serbia made a big mistake.” I think some politicians in Serbia cannot understand why we took this step and why we decided to recognize Kosovo, taking into account everything I mentioned earlier, close relations, good cooperation, language, religion and relations among citizens. We took a risky step at that time.
Express: What do you think about the relationship between our two countries, is it good or not. Why haven’t you paid a visit to Kosovo, and vice versa, why our politicians do not visit your country? What is wrong between our two countries?
Gruevski: I was once in Kosovo, I can’t remember if it was an official visit, I think it was not. I attended an event in Pristina about five or six years ago, I’m not sure exactly when. And Hashim Thaci visited me several times before he was elected prime minister and once after he was elected prime minister. I have met with the current Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa at several summits we were attending.
Express: In which area can we work better? In which area do you think that Kosovo and Macedonia can have better cooperation?
Gruevski: We can have a very good cooperation, but the main problem lies in two things. One is that some media influence on people having negative opinion for me personally, my party and my government. There is no serious argument that I am negatively inclined towards the Albanians. If we sit down and talk normally, you’ll see that it is the opposite.
Express: How many Albanians have been employed during your term?
Gruevski: I have no specific data on how many Albanians have been employed. We are working to provide employment to people, but I don’t know t who are the people that are employed because it is the private companies that hire, we only help them and encourage them to invest in our country, but we cannot influence their hiring criteria. We cannot say them hire Macedonians and not Albanians, or vice versa. But of course, if a plant in Kicevo is opened, Albanians will benefit from it, if a plant is opened in Tetovo, the majority of employees will be Albanians. Such plants are located in the Ohrid, Struga, Kicevo region. Also in Tetovo, there’s a very large plant with 2,500 employees. In Skopje and in many other cities, especially in TIDZ. We expect an investment from a world-renowned company that soon will invest in Kumanovo and employ at least a thousand people. Therefore, in cities where Albanians live, we try to find work for everyone, because it is impossible to choose people. Second, even if someone wants to hire only Macedonians or only Albanians, this will be a problem for us because I’m everyone’s prime minister, and those people are my people. They come from different ethnic and religious communities, but they live in the same state and expect something from me. Whether they voted or not for me, in the end I’m everyone’s prime minister. I’m obliged to help them all.
Express: The construction of Arben Xhaferi highway is in progress. Do you have plans to connect with this highway?
Gruevski: Yes, it is in our plans and we are making preparations. In our new program, we plan to build a highway. We have already contacted international financial organizations, if we decide to take a loan, but also companies interested in public-private partnership, and after forming the government, we will start discussions on the details and choose one of the modules with loans or public-private partnership if there is interest for that.
Express: Do you like the name of the highway ‘Arben Xhaferi’ and what do you think of Xhaferi?
Gruevski: It is your country’s decision. I see nothing wrong with that. I knew Xhaferi personally and he was part of the government of former President of VMRO-DPMNE and former Prime Minister Georgievski when we were in coalition with DPA, and Arben was its leader. We met occasionally and after I became leader of the party, I had a personal meeting with him. We had lunch at a restaurant in Skopje and talked, and Menduh Thaci was also present. He was a very wise and enlightened man, and he had a very distinctive vocabulary with much philosophy. Not many politicians that I have met have such a feature.
Express: Do you have something unfinished from the previous term which you would set as a priority in the new term?
Gruevski: One thing I want to do is to allocate more budget money for NGOs, independent NGOs and not for NGOs with false ideology. It was a big mistake that until now symbolic funds were awarded to NGOs. Many said it was wrong, but we did not take it. After everything we went through we realized that our NGOs are monopolized by one institution, one person. We must demonopolize this sector. Of course, there are many things that are related to specific projects, such as the highway and other projects. And the second thing is that I have to be present among the Albanians, especially through the media, not just directly. When I go to the Albanians, they welcome me positively. In many cases, I have been in many different towns and villages where they live, in good and in difficult times for the Albanians, as during the floods in Shipkovica. I was the first politician who went to Shipkovica to help people and to directly participate on the site where citizens faced problems and to directly make sure our institutions were doing a good work. People were not satisfied, so I immediately called everyone, all officials were involved in additional relief activities and then the citizens were very, very pleased.
Express: So you will take a new approach in the next term and you will get closer to the Albanians?
Gruevski: I want to say that I have no problems when I meet with Albanians, but of course, the main problem are the media that are making up stories. Today I go to one village, two weeks later in another, then third. Let’s say I visit 20 or 30 places, it does not matter. But the media write negatively about us every day. I have to be present in the media present as much as possible, to convey my messages and to clarify things, because people are not stupid and they understand.