Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

Sašo Klekovski: Macedonia will not become Ukrainian, nor Ottoman

Sašo Klekovski, medical graduate, is a synonym for one of the oldest Macedonian non-governmental organizations, or the Macedonian non-governmental sector in general. He is one of the loudest activists in the country, who over the past 20 years  managed to directly or indirectly impose his ideas to all Macedonian governments, which were later on realized into legal solutions. Once student’s leader from the time of socialism refuses to accept the compliments that he is one of the founders of the civil activism in independent Macedonia.

Although you are not at the head of the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC), one of the oldest civil organizations in the country anymore, how do you evaluate your activity of two decades in the civil sector and the activity of MCIC in general?

Klekovski: Things do not start and end with us. MCIC is not one of the oldest civil organizations because the civil society in Macedonia does not start with its independence, but that is deepely rooted in the Macedonian history, in the revolution period and beyond, even in the state socialism. Of course, with the independence of the civil society, another new cycle of development has began and MCIC is a significant part of the contemporary civil society.

The civil sector in Macedonia has significant achievements. The best attestation for that is that in 2013, the trust in civil organizations is at highest level, with 59,3%, and has been gradually growing since 2006, when was 33,1%. One half of the citizens can list number of examples for successful organizations such as “MOST”, “Megjasi”, “El Hilal”, “SOS Children’s Villages”, Habitat”, “Polio Plus”, ADI, Helsinki Committee, NCDOM, SZPM, NCGE. Of course, we could criticize the situation, but we must be realistic and make comparisons with the region. With every fourth citizen included in civil organization, Macedonia has solid results in comparison to whichever Balkan country, but, sure has less achievements than North Europe countries, where, nine of ten citizens take part in civil organizations.

When did you realize that the non-governmental sector can be a strong corrector of the government?

Klekovski: My experience with the civil sector began before the independence, in 1988, with the Macedonian Medical Students Association, then the Student Union of the “Ss. Cyril and Methodious” University, continuing with the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation, which last month marked its 20. anniversary, and simultaneously with MCIC I took part in the foundation of the  Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation (MEDF), which in 2013 marked its 15. anniversary, Balkan Civil Society Development Network etc. This list is not to enumerate functions, but organizations that had, have and will have great achievements. The biggest success is when the next generation manages to outdo the previous one. That is why I am happy that MCIC, MEDF and other organizations are successful even after my retreat.

Many would swear that there is no activism in Macedonia that is not directed or instructed by the government or the opposition.

Klekovski: Such image that civil organizations are doing something that has already been decided in some party center comes from the political parties themselves, showing that there must be a political center behind every attitude. Macedonia has over 30 political parties from the whole spectrum. Whatever a man, an activist thinks or states, it might correspond to the attitudes of one of the thirty political parties. Political parties, on the other hand, stress the attitudes that are acceptable for them, but criticize those that are not, considering them as initiated by the opposition. Thus, political parties create strong perception that civil organizations are on one side, or the other side, or third side.

At the time, you were personally considered as close to Buckovski’s government, while now you are being labeled as close to the current one. How do you explain the phenomenon of “spiel criteria” for assessing certain intellectuals. Only you have so far ‘been’ to Embassies, ‘become’ Minister, ‘opened’ private university and a range of other speculations that have been proven wrong. How do you work in such circumstances as an intellectual?

Klekovski: I look for my personal approach towards success through cooperation with institutions, dialogue, and a search for a solution acceptable for both sides – a ‘win-win’. To some it can seem like closeness to one or other side, but to me it is a method of work. I can tell a story. When MCIC started organizing the HBO Fair- Civil Society Forum, it decided to invite the President of the Republic of Macedonia. President Trajkovski was at  the first forums, and then President Crvenkovski. I think it was in 2007, when the HBO Fair opened the same day as ZELS Expo – Municipalities Fair. HBO Fair, where I was the host (one of them), was opened by President Crvenkovski, while ZELS Expo, hosted by Andrej Petrov, was opened by Prime Minister Gruevski. Many criticized my closeness with President Crvenkovski, whereas nobody remarked Andrej Petrov, and we both acted in the spirit of institutional cooperation.

How do I face the speculations? What I constantly remind myself what I want to achieve is my goals and values, without expectations for recognition by the surroundings. While I was young student leader, Blaze Ristovski, Vice President of the Government at the time, once taught that as public person, some people will approve my actions, while some will criticize them and I should accept that, if not, I have the choice not to be a public person. As young director of MCIC, I learned from my Dutch supporters Gert Jan Van Apeldron and Jacques Wilemse that it is the hardest thing to receive a recognition in one’s time and community. I also learned how to persist without support and domestic recognition. On the other hand, from abroad, in 1998 MCIC received a recognition for contribution in democracy and civil society from USA and EU, signed by Bill Clinton, Jacques Santer and Tony Blair.

I refute the media speculations because I think that is their job, to check my comments and motives. Citizens can conclude themselves if I am (not) pro-governmental, pro-Albanian, pro-American etc.

Saso Klekovski (3)

One of the latest polls by MCIC and the Democracy Institute, measuring the perception of the Macedonian citizens towards their neighbors, showed that Macedonians consider the Serbs as closest, while the ethnic Albanians – the Albanians from the region. But what is interesting is the data that huge percent of the Macedonians and Albanians consider the Greek as the most unfriendly neighbor.

Klekovski: It is not matter of friendship with nations, but states. And yes, Serbia has been considered as the closest among the ethnic Macedonians, whereas Albania among ethnic Albanians. It is based on best personal experiences, as knowing the history and the culture, and, of course, the skill for maintaining interstate relations. Serbian authorities, apart from Šešelj or Vuk Drašković, do not enforce open issues like the church, and relativize them. Unlike Bulgaria, which connected the relations with the good neighborly relations agreement, and demonstrates closeness with Athens, so five time less people that have best personal experiences with Bulgaria, consider it friendly. Four of five citizens consider Greece as the most unfriendly neighbor, which exceptionally high similarity in attitudes. As similarity is good for persistence, so it is bad because it complicates the agreement with Greece.

According to your research, what is the tendency of the intra-ethnic coexistence in the country like?

Klekovski: This question can be answered same as to the one for evaluation of the civil society. Black images dominate in public, people talk about divided society. Macedonia has been a divided society, it did not become like that after 2001, it is just that now we probably get more information and we are aware of that. On the positive side, I would like to separate the bigger contact in business and the work place among citizens from different ethnic groups, regardless whether in the private or the public sector (result of the initial representation), which reflects on the multi-culture and the decentralization. I usually take for example the use of the flags – in 1997 people died for that, and now it is acceptable for many ethnic Macedonians. I put on the negative side the divisions in education and the media, two sectors which have significant influence on the formation of the perception about the other.

MCIC has also been intensively working and is still active in intra-religious dialogue. Do you think that the differences between the radical Christian and Muslim activists can push Macedonia into serious crisis?

Klekovski: Religion has been suppressed and marginalized with decades and some experience its return in the social trends rather dramatically. There is nothing more radical in the public practice of religion. Foreign understanding of religion also fills certain space, regardless of whether they are conservative Orthodox circles from Sveta Gora, or radical Sunnite moves from the Arab world. Whether those moves can push Macedonia in serious crises does not depend from those radical activists, but from us. Religious institutions should integrate in society better in order to reduce foreign influence. It is of public interest to integrate the domestic Christian and Muslim religious education into the public education, or in other words to provide public financing under equal conditions to religious schools and faculties in order to prevent foreign influence, that come along with foreign finances.

Is there hope that future generations will live with less prejudices?

Klekovski: There is always hope, but hope is not enough. There will be less prejudices if there are policies and activities in education and the media and other fields, which will enable meeting the other. Key enemy to that is the ethnocentrism of the political parties for their party interests.

Ahead of the upcoming spring election, polls about the political parties’ ratings grow in popularity. The difference in the results can not stay unnoticed? To what do we owe that?

Klekovski: Political researches should be professional, as the media. There will be differences within the framework of the professional expectations, if the ratings and the media are professional. There are differences in rating in other countries as well. What we, here in Macedonia, as public, so as media, should learn is that the adequacy of the houses for rating, and that can only be learned by experience, which houses published more accurate ratings. For instance, before the 2011 election, most of the houses for measuring ratings published ratings, whose mistake was within the frames of the allowed. Three houses were an exception.

SDSM new management changed its strategy for ratings, so now tries to regain the trust of the people by populist programme. Do you think that it has been doing it successfully and will manage to gain positive results at the elections judging by the polls’ results that we have seen thus far?

Klekovski: Ratings since 2011 show very little changes in the citizens’ attitude, reduction of trust in VMRO-DPMNE or growth of trust in SDSM. That partially is owned to the not equal coverage on both sides by the media, as well as SDSM failure to change something. Citizens did not support SDSM “resistance” policy at the local 2013 elections. Now SDSM has two perspectives: more populism or more ideology. Refuting that some consider me as pro-governmental, my opinion is that SDSM need more ideology. Only then will it stop competing with VMRO-DPMNE on domestic ground, thus making clear difference from VMRO-DPMNE. And with more ideology, SDSM will be ready to expect success on middle paths.

Both VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM are preparing for early elections. Still there is no confirmation that something like that is to happen in spring, but if so, what are your evaluations? According to the current situation, who would win and who would lose?

Klekovski: As I said, ratings do not show big change of attitude and that is why both VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM are preparing for elections, but are not determined in bringing decision. Both parties can expect gains and loses, so now they are carefully measuring the effects of early elections. It appears to me that with direct presidential, parliamentary and local elections in different years, plus early elections, we have elections too much often.

The title of the last poll you are working on mentions Bulgaria as well. What are the odds to close the issue with this country as it suits to civilized states and people, having more similarities than differences?

Klekovski: Correct, the research also includes the citizens’ attitudes about the relations with Bulgaria, and is to be published soon. Of course, we could reach an agreement. Macedonia and Bulgaria signed a Declaration on good neighborly relations in 1999, confirmed by mutual memorandum in 2008, which are a preparation and a good basis for the agreement. One of the solutions of the Resolution which was much criticized by the opposition, was the signing of the official languages, Macedonian in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, and Bulgarian in accordance with the Constitution of Bulgaria, respectively. That solution allowed the signing of over ten bilateral agreements for cooperation, and did not damage the Macedonian language in the last decade.

What kind of scenarios are circulating if we are to be blocked by Greece in the long term?

Klekovski: Macedonia has very deep economical, political and cultural relation with the member states of the EU. Macedonia has social agreement for its strategic Euro-Atlantic orientation. The desire of the ethnic Macedonians and other citizens of Macedonia to keep their name and identity, is not against NATO and EU. Nobody should frighten us, Macedonia will not become Ukrainian, nor Ottoman. Macedonia has been corrected before dilemmas previously as well. A state can not be gained without fighting for it. When EU with the Lisbon Declaration from 1992 offered Macedonia a recognition under a name not containing the word Macedonia, it was rejected and within a couple of year, the reference containing the word Macedonia became acceptable.

Now, on the basis of the available information, political leaders should reach an understanding for the accession where we will defend our interests for the name, but simultaneously do everything to avoid standing behind in the EU integration, and be placed in the same group as Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Faced with the medium-term political instability in Greece, where no party has clear majority, where the third and the fifth party are against solution containing the name Macedonia, we should do everything we can in order to progress in all other issues. By signing an agreement for good neighborly relations with Bulgaria we should demonstrate our capacity for good neighborly dialogue.

 

By: Goran Momiroski

Photo: Aleksandar Ivanovski