Monday, 18 December 2017 | News today: 14

Schenker: Only EU and USA can make Greece negotiate on the name issue

If the resolution was not necessary in the 90s, now the situation demands it. EU will not agree to admit a country that has unresolved issues with another member country. Whether it is fair or not, we could go on for decades. It is a simultaneous problem that a national myth based on exclusivity governs with these two countries.

Harald Schenker is exclusively good expert on the issues related to the region, especially Macedonia. He has often been  present in our country since 1999, and until one week ago, in various ways he was comprised in many issues that Macedonia is facing. He has been collaborating with three OSCE High Commissioners on National Minorities and with non-governmental organizations whose focus was democratization of the Macedonian society. Schenker speaks a couple of languages, one of which is the Albanian, whereas the Macedonian is one of the languages he speaks very well.

Is there a future for the Greek-Macedonian relations since Samaras denied to meet with Gruevski? What is the thing that could bring Greece back on the negotiating table?

Schenker: The aspect of the border crossings with Greece shows that there are relations and there is a need of normal relations. I do not know whether Gruevski and Samaras are the characters that will resolve the dispute, and I doubt. Courage will not be the reason for which the two of them will enter the history of their countries for sure. Greece is not very interested in negotiating on this issue and I am highly convinced that only EU and USA can stimulate that interest. Although, the bigger question here is whether the Macedonian government is ready for this serious step ahead. It is illusory to think that time works for Macedonia regarding the regional context, especially the internal financial and economic situation of Macedonia. Gruevski and Ivanov’s last statements are rather concerning in that sense.

According to you, what is the problem, why the negotiations in the UN did not bring up any results even after 18 years?

Schenker: The issue has arisen unnaturally as a result of the hysterical reaction of a Greek authority. That authority faced the possibility of implosion on part of the national myth on which the modern Greek country is founded. The main problem now is that you are looking for a rational solution to a totally irrational issue. If the resolution was not necessary in the 90s, now the situation demands it. EU will not agree to admit a country that has unresolved issues with another member country. Whether it is fair or not, we could go on for decades. That is the reality and that is it.

It is a simultaneous problem that a national myth based on exclusivity governs with these two countries. The academic, political and social regular courses in both countries recognize only one reality, at the same time bluntly denying the other one’s. All of this could be resolved if in both countries there was a political elite which is really interested in advancement of their country. If in both countries there were political elites for which the social interest is bigger than the personal, that unnatural issue would have been resolved a long time ago. However, responsibility and courage as well as moral and ethical behavior are obviously old categories.

Is there a space for bulldozer-diplomacy as we have seen in the 90s?

Schenker: The diplomatic efforts in the 90s had the intention to stabilize a very frugal structure of a new country. Today, Macedonia has the whole possibility to make its own decisions. That includes the right to make a mistake. Macedonia is not in acute crisis that demands international efforts for the solution. The continuous crisis is an internal issue which can be resolved in a democratic manner. So, the answer is: no.

As an independent expert, what are your suggestions to over come the dispute? What do you suggest?

Schenker: I do not have any particular suggestions. I think this is your government’s job. The responsibility as well. It is clear that such a dispute has to end with a compromise or it will not end at all. It is also clear that postponing  the resolution degrades Macedonia and the damage is huge. Now, whether the Macedonian society is ready to tolerate another 20 years of inactivity and manipulations on their representatives which were chosen to run the issue, that is an entirely different question.

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Can USA and EU have a bigger role in the negotiations with Greece?

Schenker: Yes. But the problem is will they do that. Honestly, for that to happen there have to be clear signals from Macedonia’s side that they are ready to compromise. The confronting Anti-Western and Anti-European policy of the authorities of Macedonia and the nationalistic rhetoric do not help. The degrading of the democratic values, which is happening at the moment, does not help either. I do not even want to talk about the puerile logic behind the project “Skopje 2014″. If you want somebody’s help you have to show that the help is truly welcomed. Here Macedonia lost a great deal of support from the European countries and individuals in the last few years. A lot of efforts will be needed in order to bring back this support.

Is there any truth in Samaras’ thesis that “not Greece, but EU” is the one that constrains Macedonia?

Schenker: I believe that his statement was referring to the fact that the reforms are slowed down. And yes, there is some truth in that. There can be European integration only through reforms and democratization of the society. The general rating of Macedonia can be seen in EU’s reports. If you put aside the government’s filter placed in the Macedonian media and read the reports entirely, you will see that this is the reality. Now, whether Samaras is a reference point for successful organization, that is another question. It is hard to expect a productive approach from a man that has been building his political career on this fictional conflict.

What is your general evaluation on the inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia?

Schenker: The inter-ethic relations are just an empty phrase behind which clear political and business interests are hidden. When some political, economical or criminal group (their limit here is also very fluid) sees some profit in that, as it is regularly done before elections, you push the button “aggravated inter-ethic relations” along with the button “conflict situations” and you let the machine work. False political rhetoric and bribing people together with the pressure for group loyalty and obedience – these are the ingredients for that cocktail.

If the political parties in Macedonia will continue to function according to the principles of the clients and patronage, the “inter-ethic relations” will be an instrument of the irresponsible politicians. Nevertheless, in Macedonia there is rapprochement and increased ethic distance at the same time, depending on the local situation and personal interest. But, what is missing and what the political elites consciously and irresponsibly avoid is a huge package of measures and politics for integration of the society on all spheres. And that is not just declarative, but a real exceeding of concepts based on the relations between the ethical nation and the national minorities and focusing on the real social, economical and the cultural needs of the citizens of this country. The problem is that one integrated society where an individual is firstly a conscious citizen, and then subject to other groups, whether they are ethical, religious, professional or sexual, would put an end to the exploiting ethnics as the main source of power and the means of the clientele groups that dominate in the society.

Is real integrated education the cure?

Schenker: No. Integrated education can be one significant measure, but just one part of the bigger package, as I already mentioned. Still, in the current political constellation there is not enough vision, knowledge, understanding or courage to convey that measure. On contrary, they openly go towards segregation of the educational system, knowing that that is the only way to secure an obedient clientele. The price will be very high and nobody will be able to say that there was not warning. I do not know how do you expect a society to show any kind of cohesion when you impede the creating of the glue which should keep it complete. So here, that is also a question about civil conscience. If people allow to be manipulated and to tolerate such political decisions, the centrifugal spiral will proceed.

What is your comment on the fact that Albanian students do not have problems studying English from the first grade, but resent the Macedonian?

Schenker: Students do not have any kind of resentment, that comes from their parents, teachers and politicians. There are many things here. Firstly on personal level. I grew up almost trilingual, and additionally started studying two more foreign languages from the age of eight. I do not feel damaged, but I see myself as privileged and I will be forever grateful to my parents for their support and vision. The problem with the resentment is that behind the real conflict a territorial domination is hidden, the premodern perception of the country as their land property, respectively. I want to mention one more issue: a very good political capital can come out from the role of the savior of the nation and the identity. If the citizens accept the domination of such politician, the integrated society will remain an illusion.

Very few Macedonians are ready to study Albanian.

Schenker: Very few Macedonians know that there is theoretical possibility that in every school in Macedonia, an optional Albanian education will be demanded. Why they do not know that? Because the principals forbid the teachers to inform the students and their parents.

The number of Macedonians who independently study Albanian is growing. Although, in regard to the lack of information about the possibilities, it is not strange that the number is still small. I would not want to inspire another unnecessary government campaign, but the public media as well as the authorities have the obligation to inform the public about all activities financed with public money. Education is one of those activities.

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 Is there any mechanism to conduct the Badinter principle on local level, which will not cause tensions?

Schenker: Mechanisms do not cause tensions, but people do. Every mechanism, no matter how perfect it is, can be sabotaged. In today’s situation, where the government politics promotes divisions and polarization and where the local police actors are asked to be nothing but party’s obedient soldiers that carry out the decisions of their patrons, there is no mechanism that will work.The democratic system, especially on local level, demands regular negotiation and regular adjustment. Although, in order for that to work, it is necessary to have political actors that have in mind the good for their people, firstly as individuals, and then as part of different communities. As a little digression, and as a conclusion from my work with party’s young staff, I believe that the road of the political parties in Macedonia to an acceptable level inside the parties’ democracy is very long and that in the last few years there is regression on that level too.

Are there any new tensions to be expected in the Region or the possibilities for a conflict are closed with the Belgrade-Pristina Agreement?

Schenker: Belgrade-Pristina Agreement is still far from functional, but it is a step ahead for both countries. In regard to tensions – unless the implementation of geopolitical and security architecture is over and unless all the countries of the Region enter in the euro-atlantic structures, the risk will remain.

Uninspired steps like the Macedonian authorities made, for instance, the unnecessary Erdogan’s support and the flirting with Putin, only increased the risk. It is an illusion that a country with a political and economic power like that of Macedonia is in a situation to choose its friends. The euro-atlantic hand stays open despite the hysteric behavior of Greece. But not at all costs. This has to stay clear.

How do you evaluate the meetings of the Macedonian government with its colleagues in Belgrade and in Kyustendil. Can this pro-activity reduce the tensions in the Region?

Schenker: These meetings have a cosmetic value, and nothing more. Only by resolving the issue with the Macedonian Orthodox Church and a bilateral agreement with Bulgary, can the tensions be reduced.

What else can Macedonia do in order to settle the relations with Sofia and Athens?

Schenker: In what sense else? I do not see any serious steps being made lately, if we put a side the cosmetics. It has been a long since I am trying to suggest one courageous step: as a first and significant step for reconciliation would be the forming of a common commission or commissions on academic level with the neighboring countries, through which a scholarly way for resolving the historical issues will be needed. Another step would be the agreeing on the content of the history syllabus and similar subjects in order to create a common view on the shared history. I am not surprised by the opinion of this authority that that would be betrayal, if nothing else, because it would unmask the project “Skopje 2014″ as it is: one very expensive craziness. That is why the relations are stagnating or worsening as it is in the case with Greece.

Can the opposition ask and get help from the foreign countries in their battle to take down Gruevski because it is obvious that he is managing with difficulties even after seven years of ruling?

Schenker: Who can forbid that? Every political party has its sister parties and organizations all around the world and has the right to act as it likes. And it is totally normal that the opposition wants to take down the government. I am in temptation: which opposition?

Has Macedonia a long term alternative for EU and NATO? Everybody swears that it does not have, and still, if EU stays closed for long, we will have to find a way to survive the economy?

Schenker: It is ingenuous and dangerous to think this way. EU and NATO  are the only structures that can and have interest to assure the surviving of Macedonia as a country. Every alternative would be a suicide. Ultimately, this a characteristic of the Macedonian society. And about the economy – in the moment when there is enough political stability and maturity as well as an acceptable legal framework and trustworthiness in the everyday work of the legal system, then also the economy will strengthen. But, not before that.

By: Goran Momiroski

Photography: Aleksandar Ivanovski

(The interview with Harald Schenker was published in 49th edition of the weekly magazine Republika)