"NATO membership does not mean being forever against Russia"

"NATO membership does not mean being forever against Russia"

WORLD: Mr Minister, Macedonia wants to become a member of the EU and NATO as soon as possible, but first has to solve the name dispute with Greece, which has been smoldering for almost 30 years. You have negotiated for years, now your country should be called in future North Macedonia. There is still great resistance in your country and in Greece, but now two-thirds of Macedonian MPs voted to start the process of necessary constitutional change. The breakthrough?

Nikola Dimitrov: That was the biggest hurdle, but there are still big challenges ahead of us. In about two months, when the text is debated and decided, we need again a two-thirds majority to ratify the changes. There is still a lot to happen.

WORLD: Their governing coalition needed eight votes from the nationalist opposition camp to launch the constitutional amendment. In Skopje there were rumors before, one must "buy" these deputies.

Dimitrov: We debated a lot behind the scenes and did some convincing. But MEPs have also set conditions to get them back on board in the crucial vote in two months.

WORLD: Which?

Dimitrov: They want to change the text of the naming agreement regarding the protection of the identity of the Macedonians. And they have called for the creation of a political reconciliation body in which all parties are represented.

Source: Infographic WORLD

WORLD: Many members of the opposition party are being investigated because they were involved in the violent riots in parliament in April 2017 and the wiretap scandal of the previous government. Allegedly, it is now in the body to a political deal that would lead to the termination of criminal proceedings in some deputies. Do you think that is possible?

Dimitrov: Let's wait, the panel is only since Tuesday last week. But we must be very careful not to violate the democratic accountability and foundations of the rule of law, these are key promises of this government, and they are a prerequisite for the start of the EU accession process.

WORLD: That does not sound very like the rule of law, a body politically agreed to sanction.

Dimitrov: Political reconciliation is important, we need to bring our polarized country to a normal state. On the other hand, we must not create any further obstacles on our way to the EU.

WORLD: Sounds risky.

Dimitrov: It is a historic process with many obstacles, and it is my generation's last chance to move the country forward.

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Hero cult Statue of Alexander the Great on the central square in Skopje

WORLD: Many Macedonians feel they are taking their name from the name change. The right-wing conservative former ruling party VMRO still finds much resonance with its nationalism, which is based on the myth of Alexander the Great.

Dimitrov: The myth of Alexander, which has led to the construction of hundreds of statues in the city center, is an expression of uncertainty and self-doubt, not of a strong identity. We need to address the fear that the name change will take our identity, but different. We need a visionary patriotism that looks into the future and not into the past, wondering who the older nation is. What are we capable of? That's also identity. We have to show the world that we can solve our problems in the Balkans, we can not change history, but our future.

WORLD: The fact that Greece is ratifying the name change is not certain: Foreign Minister Kotzias has just resigned and negotiated the agreement. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is more than ever dependent on the votes of the Greek nationalists in his governing coalition.

Dimitrov: Now the ball is with us. We trust the Greeks to do what they promised. It's the best compromise we can get, looking at how angry people are in each other's countries.

WORLD: Russia in Macedonia is strongly against the country's nato and EU accession. What is your relationship with Moscow?

Dimitrov: Being part of NATO does not necessarily mean having a bad relationship with Moscow.

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WORLD: What do you mean by that?

Dimitrov: In the long term, we must overcome the tensions between Russia and the West and work more closely with Russia. Of course, the prerequisite is that territorial integrity be respected and that there be peace in Ukraine. We Europeans need a better long-term relationship with Russia. It's not about either or. NATO membership does not mean being against Russia forever.

WORLD: What are your expectations for the EU and Germany?

Dimitrov: We all want peace and stability in the Balkans, for this we need the accession talks with the EU. The self-confidence of the EU is shaken. Enlargement is not an issue to win elections there. But not engaging in our region will always be more expensive than doing so. We are an island in the middle of the EU. The migration crisis has shown how important the region is to Europe's security. However, the accession process only works if it is not politicized.

WORLD: Is this a reminder to the EU governments?

Dimitrov: We wish that we will be treated according to our services. If the process is only slowed down or accelerated for political reasons, then it fails, partly because European voters lose confidence that EU accession can transform countries into functioning democracies. We have to be more honest with each other. If there is progress, it should go first, if not, then not.

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WORLD: Do you feel treated correctly?

Dimitrov: Two years ago, Macedonia was ruled by a regime with autocratic tendencies. We've gotten the U-turn, with many imperfections, but we're determined to become a strong liberal democracy. If we finalize the name change, we will no longer have bilateral disputes in the region. We now want our fair chance from the EU.

WORLD: In 2015, millions of migrants came to Western Europe via Macedonia via the Balkan route. What is the situation on the Greek border today?

Dimitrov: Very stable. Our police forces as well as the military control the border region. We cooperate with Frontex, as well as police forces from Austria, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Currently, there are hardly any migrants, the situation is again very normal, similar to before 2015.

WORLD: Do you expect the numbers to rise again?

Dimitrov: I do not see an immediate threat, but we have to be vigilant.

WORLD: The EU would like to create asylum centers outside the EU, including in Macedonia. Premier Zoran Zaev has denied this in spring. Now that there may be movement in your country's EU accession process, do you see an opportunity?

Dimitrov: During the migration crisis, Macedonia defended the EU borders, we still do. But you can not ask a country to share the burden, but not the benefits. Once we become a member of the club and enjoy the rights of EU membership, we also like to share the burden. Then we will be fully able to implement the common EU policy in this area.

Macedonia does not want to submit

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Macedonia rejects the establishment of EU asylum centers on its territory. The Balkans can not be asked to "shoulder such a burden if they are not part of the EU," said Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.

Source: WORLD / Christin Brauer

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