Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

Naumovski: The solution must not harm the identity

Vasko Naumovski is a University Professor in International Relations at the Skopje-based Faculty of Law "Iustinianus Primus" at the University of "Ss. Cyril and Methodius", where he obtained his bachelor, master and doctoral degrees. He also holds a master's degree in European Studies from the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Bonn, Germany. He has been teaching since 2005. From 2009 to 2011 he was a Vice Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs in Nikola Gruevski's Government. During his mandate, Macedonia has received a positive EU report for the first time in years, as well as a recommendation for beginning of EU accession negotiations and visa liberalization. He was appointed Macedonian Ambassador to Washington, USA last year, and as of recently he became the new Macedonian negotiator in the name dispute negotiations, led under the auspice of the United Nations

Special Envoy Nimetz noted in Skopje that Macedonia has demonstrated high degree of constructiveness and that he expects the same from his visit to Athens. To what extent are such expectations realistic at this moment, or in the future, knowing that Greece has been favoring uncompromising policy for decades?

Naumovski: Progress in the process of overcoming of differences regarding the name issue can only be expected after a genuine determination of both parties, thus supporting such determination with specific actions, not just declarative efforts. Considering all past developments, we are aware of our southern neighbor’s need to invest additional efforts, which might contribute to moving matters one step ahead. Existing differences in the name matter hinders mutual cooperation, which is in the interest of both countries. Looking at the big picture in terms of economy, security and politics, Macedonia’s membership in the European Union and NATO is also in the interest of Greece.

What does Macedonia’s constructiveness consists of? Naturally, you cannot discuss specific actions of the Macedonian party, but in what direction does our position advance?

Naumovski: Resolutions in the UN Security Council define the framework of our talks with neighboring country Greece – overcoming differences related to the name. We have not created this issue, it has been imposed by the southern neighbor. Macedonia continuously demonstrates its genuine determination of overcoming differences related to this issue and has not given up looking for a solution acceptable for both parties. Positions have been stated on several occasions and have been verified by citizens through their support of election programmes – amendments to the Constitution in terms of changing the constitutional name are unacceptable, any proposition that might harm the Macedonian nation, national identity, language or culture is unacceptable. And, of course, decision on referendum for citizens to have the last word on potential solution remains. Also, such potential solution should be based on the international law.

Although Greece and most of the EU member states to a certain point ignore the verdict of the International Court of Justice, it has still caused complications to Greece’s partners in NATO and EU. To what extent will you strategy as a negotiator be based on Hague’s verdict?

Naumovski: Certain countries only invoke the law when it is in their interest, while they ignore it in other cases. We are clearly determined to respect the international law and we urge our neighbors to do the same. The verdict is sound – Greece has breached the Interim Agreement and should abstain from similar actions in the future. What we have been pointing out for a long time, was also confirmed by the Hague’s Court, making it evident our arguments are justified and reasonable. That, among other argumentation, remains to be an important segment in the presentation of our positions.

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German Chancellor Merkel has admitted she also feels a burden of the unresolved name dispute. What is that burden mostly comprised of, the evident breach of international law, possibility for destabilization of the region due to unresolved bilateral relations between Skopje and Athens, or, perhaps, the fact that one EU and NATO member state leads aggressive nationalistic politics and blocks a country that has met all admission criteria, although it has no argumentation to back it?

Naumovski: In my opinion, Germany, as a driving force of the EU, feels certain responsibility for all that happens on EU territory, particularly in current or future EU member states. Redirection of the focus of American foreign policy to different regions in the world is a chance for the EU to demonstrate its capability of resolving problems in its own yard. We have met the criteria for start of accession negotiations back in 2009, demonstrating we do not ask for any tolerance in that regard. Besides all that, we have been asked for something which is not, nor has it ever been, part of the membership criteria, although there are certain efforts to create such perception. Germany is one of the states which has firmly supported the enlargement process in the past, and I do hope it will remain the same in the future.

Merkel admitted that, in some way, all possible alternatives for a compromise name have been exhausted and that there will not be any winners in the eventual solution. Can the German Chancellor have influence on Athens to become a more constructive party in the dispute from the position of highest authority, both as a leader and as a member state of the EU?

Naumovski: Greece is adept at using the internal issues for external purposes, but also external issues for internal purposes. It knows how to use its strong sides and rights arising from the membership, but also its weaknesses – with a view to alleviate the pressure from outside. The need for inclusion of large member states, especially Germany, will encourage Greece to pay more attention to solving the problem. Despite the solidarity prevailing in the EU, the unchanged situation of Macedonia is threatening the credibility of the Union itself, particularly the enlargement policy. It remains to be seen whether these efforts will turn into concrete steps.

The Greek Prime Minister, who has been building his whole career on anti-Macedonian moves, made it clear 20 years ago that the problem was not just the name, then later in 2009, he said he wished for the breakup of the country, and now directly, in Brussels, he said that the Macedonian language was an invention by the Communists and, indirectly, that the Macedonian nation was a similar product. To what extent should we hope for a positive developments, even with Nimitz’s statement that the identity is not the subject of the negotiations?

Naumovski: We can expect positive developments in the moment when both sides will sincerely commit themselves to resolving the differences. At this point, I think that the Republic of Macedonia is the party interested to resolve this dispute, while the other party is interested in it being postponed. The existence of the Macedonian people and their uniqueness does not depend on one’s wishes or intentions. The reality of our existence as a nation and as a country can not be ignored since a long time ago.

Can we hope for a change in the Greek policy with possible dramatic change in the political stage in Greece?

Naumovski: As in many other countries, their national positions over issues from the foreign policy are also based on a consensus between the political parties, something we are still not familiar with. Therefore, I do not think that the change of the Greek government can be expected to change their policy regarding this issue. What can help is a change in the acceptance of the reality, as well as the change of the perception of any threat to the Greek interests inspired by us. The danger for Greece does not come from Macedonia.

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As a yielding sign, Greece emphasizes the 2007 agreement between all parties to allow the term “Macedonia” to stand in possible mutually acceptable name, which somehow means that we would have to make a concession to them and allow them to use the term “Macedonia” for their internal purposes. To what extent do these symbolic diplomatic games pass as arguments in Brussels, or, ultimately, is it a matter of power derived from the status EU member state vs. candidate state? 

Naumovski: This is a matter of attempt to impose perception of some sort of yielding. Namely, the term “Macedonia” already exists as part of the provisional reference that we are addressed by the United Nations, which was accepted by Greece in 1993. On the other hand, Macedonia is the party that makes a lot of concessions in order to improve the atmosphere between the two countries. Also, in the Interim Accord, Macedonia is the party that makes concessions, and Greece agreed not to block our membership in international organizations like the EU and NATO. However, despite all concessions, despite all criteria met, NATO and the start of accession negotiations with the EU are still not available for our citizens.

One of the characteristics of this issue is the fact that it is between two countries with different status – Macedonia is outside the EU and NATO, while Greece is inside. The opportunities available are different, and Greece is maximally using them. They have the right to vote at the table that decides our status, and we do not. Despite that, the arguments that Macedonia has on its side, simply, can not be ignored. As much as they try to cover them up, they come to light.

You are soon leaving for Washington as the new Macedonian Ambassador to the United States. Although people always talk about the U.S. pressure, the wider public has not seen it yet. Does the fact that in terms of international law Macedonia is absolutely correct in the dispute with Greece (which was confirmed by the International Court of Justice) prevents the huge pressure by the United States and the other powerful state members of the EU and NATO?

Naumovski: The United States is an ally of Macedonia in regard to politics and security, a strategic partner, whose role in the region is always crucial. Their interest is stability in the region, which goes towards Macedonia’s membership in NATO. I think they are equally encouraging both sides to find a solution to this long-standing dispute, but we must bear in mind that even here the opportunities for influence are different on both sides. There are several aspects in the bilateral relations of the United States with both countries that determine the effectiveness of the diplomatic pressure, which even though is not visible to the public, it does not mean that it does not exist.

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By: Goran Momiroski
Photo: Aleksandar Ivanovski