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Interviews 2007

Ambassador Milovanovic interview with ALSAT-M TV

January 26, 2007


Ambassador Milovanovic: Thank you very much, Mr. Zeqiri, it’s very nice to be here.  Thank you for inviting me.

ALSAT: How do you see the announcement of the Albanian opposition for boycotting the work of the Parliament?
Ambassador Milovanovic:  I think, first of all, that it’s an unfortunate decision, if it’s confirmed, because I understand that it has not yet been confirmed, at least not by DUI.  It’s unfortunate because, frankly, I think the people who voted for DUI and PDP voted to have their representatives in Parliament working for them, and I think that that is where they can do the most good by actually participating in political debate.  They’ve demonstrated their capacity to do so over the past four years and also in the past three and one-half.  It seems to me that that’s where they belong.

That said, it is of course legitimate in terms of democracy to decide not to present oneself in certain sessions of Parliament.  I hope that won’t be the case, however, because there’s a lot of work to be done in Macedonia, and DUI and PDP have a lot to contribute to that process.

ALSAT: The argument of DUI and PDP for boycotting the Parliament is disrespect of Badinter. Is this argument acceptable for you?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  The issue really is that the Framework Agreement is, of course, a critical element in Macedonia’s progress, and it is one that is very important to its future.  It is one that NATO countries are going to be looking at as they decide whether Macedonia has achieved the standards necessary for NATO membership, and I think the Framework Agreement and its implementation have proved over the last several years to be a positive factor in bringing the country forward and in knitting together the various ethnic and political communities.  I think it’s very important that that Framework Agreement go forward and be implemented fully. 

The place to discuss these issues—whether it be the Framework Agreement, where a “Badinter” majority is or is not necessary, whether it is being properly observed, etc.—is in the regular political institutions.  That’s where it would be good for these discussions to take place.  I should add that, from the United States’ point of view, as signatories to the Framework Agreement—and we’ve said this repeatedly—what we consider important is the letter of the Framework Agreement, obviously, but also the spirit of the Framework Agreement; that is important to watch in going ahead.

ALSAT: How do you see here, the role of the ruling parties, it seems there is not enough political will to take into consideration the requests of the opposition?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  To be honest, I think that all of the parties, whether the parties in Government or the parties in opposition or outside of Government, are finding it difficult, for whatever reason, to work together for the good of the country.  I don’t doubt that each one of them actually wants what is good for the country, but in practical terms they aren’t finding a way to address it.  They aren’t finding the will to go beyond simply declaring ‘let’s have a dialogue,’ and actually going forward and having a dialogue that leads to concrete results.  That is still absent.  And, I must say that it is a source of concern to us, because time is getting very short; time is getting very short for NATO consideration and, I would say, even though of course my country is not part of the EU, it is getting short in terms of the EU’s next consideration of possibly opening negotiations with Macedonia.  So, I think it is really important that all the parties—not just those outside of Government, not just those in Government—begin to realize that, in essence, politics is the art of the possible:  you can’t have everything, but you have to negotiate with one another in a transparent and open manner to reach some kind of a compromise, some kind of a deal, that allows you to get a little of what you want and give the other person a little of what he wants, and together move things forward. Because if everyone keeps insisting on 100%—and I think that, unfortunately, has been rather much the tendency here—then no one gets anything.  Instead, everybody gets 0%, and it’s not very good for the country.

ALSAT: It has constantly been requested from the political parties to start political dialogue. Are you optimistic that this can happen soon? 

Ambassador Milovanovic:  I am optimistic in the sense that I refuse to be a pessimist.  I think it’s useless to be a pessimist, and I do think that Macedonia has a remarkable history of managing to go forward and to work things out despite difficulties, which are sometimes caused by itself.  In that sense, I’m an optimist.  What I hope is that both the parties in opposition and those in Government—particularly the leaders of the key, largest parties, which is not to downgrade the smaller parties but the larger parties are really going to have to give the momentum—realize that the time has come now to make the decision, to get together, and to work seriously in order to work out their differences sufficiently that they can move the country ahead.

ALSAT: Why the political leaders in the country cannot sit on the table without the presence of the international factor (community)? Their last meeting took place at your and Ambassador Fouéré’s initiative.

Ambassador Milovanovic:  Well, I think they can sit together without the presence of the international community.  I think there have been various meetings at various levels, not all of them at the party leadership level, that certainly have been held without the presence of the international community.  In any case, though, I think too much has been made of this issue of the presence of the international community.  To be honest, when Ambassador Fouere and I sat in the two meetings in which we were present, we literally sat there and observed the discussions.  We tried to do a bit of a synopsis, a bit of a summary at the end, so that everyone would walk out of the meeting with an agreed-upon view of what had been discussed, but we were not active participants in the discussions because that is not the role that we should have.  So, I think that people are capable of getting together without us. 

What I also think, however, is that no conversations are going to be fruitful unless there is mutual trust, and at the moment finding a way to set up the discussion so the there will be trust and the ability to talk may in some cases require some involvement by the international community, perhaps not at the actual meetings but perhaps in having discussions with the parties in advance of them having meetings.  That remains to be seen. It’s up to the parties themselves to decide on that; neither Ambassador Fouere nor I has been the one to decide ‘we should go there and meet’; it’s really up to the Macedonians.

ALSAT: The problems started after the parliamentary elections when DUI, which was the winner in the Albanian political block, did not become part of the government. From this perspective, do you think that Gruevski made a mistake that left in opposition this party?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  I don’t think it’s a question of mistakes.  I think, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, that your constitution and your laws provide, as in many other European countries, that whichever is the largest party and receives the mandate to form a Government has the right to form a Government with whomever it finds is willing to join and meet their criteria.  So, I don’t see, in terms of either the Framework Agreement or your constitution, that there was any legal obligation to take DUI into Government. That said, it is very clear—and here we get to the spirit of how things work, not just the letter—the majority of ethnic Albanian citizens of Macedonia did vote for the DUI/PDP coalition.  However, just because the Government does not include DUI/PDP does not mean that those people have no voice and their views are irrelevant.  And I think that simple politics under normal circumstances should involve taking those views into account and finding an appropriate mechanism for incorporating those views, as well as, for that matter, those of SDSM and those of other smaller parties that are not in Government.

ALSAT: From Hague was announced that the four cases that the Tribunal did nоt show interest in might be returned to Macedonia. How much Macedonia is ready to process these cases and can this create new tensions in the country?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  To start with the end of your question, I’d say I do not foresee tensions as a result of the return of cases.  I think that the return of cases will take place once a lot of work has been done in the judiciary in order to be sure that you are ready to deal with these cases.  And I should state very clearly that, of course, these are not indicted cases; these are not cases that have been fully examined, and it is not known if for all of the cases, there will ultimately be trials—that is part of the process that will have to be dealt with once the cases are returned.  But I think that what’s important now is to proceed very seriously with the judicial reforms, and this is an area where the United States is very active in assisting, the OSCE is very active, the EU is involved, and a number of others on a bilateral basis are as well.  There’s a lot of work still to be done.  You’ve made a considerable amount of progress on judicial reform in terms of voting and legislation, but there is much to be implemented.  And, there is much specific preparation and training having to do with the kinds of cases that could be involved if you ever actually have to prosecute somebody whose case comes back from The Hague.  That still requires some work.

ALSAT: Apart from the problems between the ruling and opposition parties, we have cold relations between PM Gruevski and President Crvenkovski.
Ambassador Milovanovic: Well, I have to say that as an American I find it a bit baffling, a bit strange, because of course we find it normal to have what you call cohabitation—a president of one party and one or both parts of Congress of another party.  This of course is the case now.   At this moment, both our newly elected Senate and our House of Representatives have a Democratic majority, and our President is with the Republican Party.  But those differences in political party would not be a reason, for example, for not attending the State of the Union Address by the President; nor would the differences of views, very strong differences of views between the parties on policy, be a reason for not attending .  When he gives his address, he will find everyone present to listen.  So, I find it a bit strange that there is this issue of, in essence, one institution having a tough time living with the other institution.  I understand that on the political level there are divisions; in our country, too, the Republicans can be completely against Democratic policies and vice versa, but it wouldn’t extend to the institutions.  And I think that, particularly in a country with still relatively new institutions like Macedonia, it’s important to support and to respect the institutions.

ALSAT: Macedonia in the end of last year was shaken by several major affairs. The one with the arm smuggling, demolition of Proces discotheque, and the attack by armed persons at Nota Fest? How dо you see these developments? How much these cases and similar ones damage the image of the country in its in Euro-Atlantic integration? 

Ambassador Milovanovic:  First, I would like to point out that we don’t see that there is an arms smuggling issue.  What we do see is that there is a case of a number of weapons that were packed up into trucks, the documentation wasn’t right, and it’s not clear why the trucks were traveling.  But we don’t see this as a smuggling issue.  The case, otherwise, is before the courts, and I wouldn’t go into further detail.

What overall has struck me and is something of a source of concern—and I have mentioned this to the Minister of Interior who has been reassuring about her efforts and those of the police—is that, as Macedonia seeks to give itself a brand and an image internationally, to bring investors, and to prove itself for NATO and the EU, one of the things that it naturally has always had is that it is not a source of violent crime in the streets; it has been a place where people don’t have to worry about their young people going into town and having a nice life going out and enjoying the culture.  The fact that a number of incidents—Process, Univerzalna Sala, the beating up of people who were putting flowers at a memorial right on the quay—the fact that all this happened in the center of Skopje is not good.  It is something that really needs to be dealt with very quickly.  Rather than delaying, the perpetrators need to be found and have cases built against them for the prosecutions to move forward swiftly and for the courts to do their job, because that would serve to deter and prevent new people from doing this kind of thing.  We would see that there was punishment, and it would reassure those seeing this bad situation that it was an exception and that Skopje and Macedonia still are the peaceful places that we’ve known them to be.  And that’s very important for your image; it’s a selling point for the country that you don’t want to waste.

ALSAT: During a police action at the end of last year large quantity of cocaine was seized and a large drug trafficking network disrupted.  To what extent this action was carried out in cooperation with U.S. institutions? 

Ambassador Milovanovic:  What I understand is that the Drug Enforcement Agency was very pleased with what was done by the Ministry of Interior and perhaps your Customs—I’m not sure of the details of all who were involved.  We understand that there was a regional effort to some degree in this, but the main point for us is:  it was an excellent seizure, it was good work on the part of all the professionals involved, and we were very, very pleased to see it, and also the subsequent seizure of the marijuana that was taken in a separate seizure.

ALSAT: Which are the major challenges that Macedonia will have to face this year?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  Well, I think the biggest challenges are kind of the obvious ones, the ones that we’ve talked about quite a lot.  I look at this from a NATO perspective.  I think Macedonia has a genuine possibility of getting an invitation for NATO in 2008, but I also think that time is getting shorter and shorter to do the work that is necessary in order to reach NATO standards.  The United States is very firmly behind a Macedonian candidacy, but we also have to be able to see that the work has been done, and of course there are 26 members of NATO, all of which have to decide that the right work has been done.  So I think that’s the biggest challenge—doing all the work that’s necessary to prove readiness for NATO.  Part of that is what we’ve often talked about and are many of the same issues that you need to work on for the European Union—improvements to your economy, improvements to your judicial system, improvements on trafficking in persons, a religious law that allows for full religious freedom, strengthening your democratic system in a variety of ways are all critical, along with continued and complete defense reform.  But the other thing I think is terribly important is that, in connection with this partisan political environment in the country, the relationship between Government and those outside of Government be worked out.  It is important that every NATO member that is going to have to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on Macedonia sees not only that you declare yourselves to be part of the common values of the NATO countries, but that you’re living those values, that you’re making them a reality in your own country.  Those are the challenges.

ALSAT: From the NATO Summit in Riga clear signals were sent that Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania can expect an invitation to join NATO in 2008. How much are ready these countries to join NATO, and is it sure that the aspirations of these countries will be fulfilled, so that during 2008 they will get an invitation for NATO membership? 

Ambassador Milovanovic:  What was said at Riga was that there is a decision that NATO wants to actually offer invitations to whoever is ready, and that they would like to do that at a summit to be held in 2008.  Now, there have been some strong, supportive things said about Croatia, and there have been some supportive things said about Macedonia and about Albania.  In all cases, there still needs to be an assessment, both by NATO itself, and by each one of the individual member states as to whether they believe that each one of these countries—looked at individually, not as a group but individually—has met the criteria.  So, is there a guarantee that Macedonia will make it, or Croatia or Albania?  No, there’s no guarantee.  There’s no guarantee until the work has been done and it has been looked at by NATO and each individual member country and they say ‘yes, this country has met the criteria.’  This is why I say it’s so important to focus on these issues. 

One thing that I think is not entirely clear here yet, whether to those in Government or in opposition, is that time is short and there is a real need to focus on the essentials.  There are many, many things that both opposition and Government would like to see passed into law, many things they would like to see implemented.  But, between now and the end of the year, say, when NATO is going to be making up its mind and when the EU is going to be making decisions regarding opening of negotiations, is the time to focus exclusively on those things that are going to help those candidacies.  Leave the other things for later; there’s going to be plenty of time.

ALSAT: : How do you see the role of Macedonia in the global war on terror, our soldiers are part of the international forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how much this helps the country’s aspiration for becoming NATO member?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  First and foremost, I want to say how very grateful we are, as the United States, to have Macedonia participate—and participate so consistently and with such excellent soldiers—in the fight against terrorists.  Your participation in Afghanistan is now about 150 people and about 40 in Iraq, and now you have I think about 30 people in Bosnia.  The solidarity shown means an enormous amount, and it means an enormous amount that you realize, although these are conflicts far away from your home, that they’re conflicts that could actually affect you and have a bad effect on your future, and you want to prevent the problem from coming any further.  So, I think that it is very positive in a general sense, and it’s certainly a contribution that we appreciate very much.  In fact this week I presented a number of medals to some of the soldiers who have participated in your Iraq deployments.

ALSAT: Apart from NATO, Macedonia also wants to become member of the EU. Which is you assessment in this direction? When can we expect a date for starting negotiations for EU membership?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  You know, in all honesty I can’t answer that.  It’s really an EU issue; they have their own methodology, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss it.

ALSAT: EU has announced that until the end of this week they will reconfirm the black list of persons who are not allowed to enter EU countries. Similar list has the US Administration where are included politicians who are banned entry in the U.S.  In this list is the Deputy President of DPA Menduh Thaci. Can we expect a revision of this list during this year? 

Ambassador Milovanovic:  Well, first I’d like to clarify that, in fact, we don’t have a black list, although that’s a sort of common terminology.  We have a list of individuals whose visa privileges are not active.

That said, there’s a system in Washington to review these lists.  But it is not like the EU list, with a once-a-year review, so I have no idea when the next review is going to take place.  As far as I am aware, the list remains as it is for the time being.

ALSAT: How do you see the relations of Macedonia with the neighboring countries? After naming Skopje airport ‘Alexander the Great’ in surface again came the tension with official Athens?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  I think that what’s important is that Macedonia has had a record of very good relations with its neighbors, and that, despite the name issue with Greece, over the past few years I think there has been a determined effort to get to know the leaders of the countries around you—whether it was Albania, or Bulgaria, or Greece—and a real effort to show that everyone can get along with one another.  I think that’s something that is important to continue with.

Again, I think that focusing on the essentials is really the issue here.  With respect to the airport, I can’t speak for the Greeks; the Greeks speak for themselves.  What I would say is that there are a certain number of practical things that need to be attended to.  I’m not sure personally that renaming the airport was the highest priority, but it’s done and we move on.

ALSAT: Greece permanently is repeating threats that if the name dispute is not solved, it will block Macedonia’s membership in NATO and the EU. Do you believe this can happen?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  First of all, again, it is up to the Greeks to give the Greek position.  There is an interim agreement that was signed in 1995 regarding entry by Macedonia into international organizations under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and as far as I am aware and as far as anyone else is aware, that interim agreement is fully applicable.  That said—again—good neighborly relations are smart business and they’re good politics, and even though I fully expect that that agreement will be observed, it’s still a good idea to maintain good neighborly relations in addition to relying on an international agreement.

ALSAT: In Serbia recently parliamentary elections were conducted, where again the radical forces won. In the meantime, democratic forces are expected to form a government. How dо you see the election results in Serbia?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  What we saw was that, although it is true the radical party received the single largest number of votes, in fact it is the democratic parties that won the majority of the vote.  So what we see is actually a Serbia that voted pretty massively in favor of a European and democratic future for itself, and we take great heart in that. Certainly the domestic political scene in Serbia is again going to be a complicated one.  They’ll have to figure out how to form a Government, but what is positive is that so many people came out to vote, and so many of those people came out to vote to ensure that Serbia would have a future in Europe and a democratic future.  We’re looking at it that way.

ALSAT: In the meantime it is expected the proposal of Ahtisaari for the final status of Kosovo. Do you think that there will be political forces in Serbia who will be ready to accept the proposal of Ahtisari?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  We certainly hope that all sides involved in the negotiations that have been taking place under UN auspices with President Ahtisaari’s leadership will look at his proposals in good faith, will negotiate final details in good faith, and will come to something that everyone can live with.  That said, of course, we fully support Ahtisaari’s initiatives, and we will continue to be supportive of any proposal that comes out that meets the basic criteria of ensuring that there will be a democratic situation, that human rights would be respected, that cultural and religious sites will be respected, and that there will be a final status which respects the security and the sovereignty of neighboring states.  That is what is going to be most important.  As long as all that is achieved, and as long as whatever comes out is consistent with the will of the people of Kosovo, I believe that that is what we’re going to continue to support.

ALSAT: How do you assess the position of the Macedonian authorities over the Kosovo status?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  Well, I think what’s very positive is that from the beginning of my tenure here, and that means spanning two Governments, the position has been that this is not a partisan issue.  It has been that this is an issue that is important to your country and that it is important to be in solidarity with the United Nations, with the United States, and with the contact group and to move forward with Ahtisaari’s proposals and to be supportive of what comes out of the international effort.  And I think that’s very important.  The other thing that I think is and will continue to be very important in terms of Macedonia’s involvement with Kosovo’s status is that Macedonia continue to be able to play the role that it has played de facto as a model of a successful, multi-ethnic, unitary democratic state.  That’s no small achievement.  It has been a huge achievement in a short time, and I think that at a time when, with it’s final status, Kosovo will be looking for arrangements and how to work things out, it will be very important that it has next to it a neighbor whose systems are working, whose politics are working, and whose multi-ethnic state is functioning.  With respect to Kosovo, I should mention also that the U.S. position on boundary demarcation, which I know is of great interest to Macedonia, is that we do see this as a technical matter, and we do see it very much as something that should be part of the final status agreement.

ALSAT: What is your assessment; can we expect tensions in the region after the proposal of Ahtisaari?
Ambassador Milovanovic:  I frankly don’t see why there would be tensions.  I think that the entire reason why status talks began was because there was a realization that there was a need to move forward and to create a situation in this region where people would feel they have a future, that the entire region has a future, that they would become more interesting to investors, and that they would start to have more economic dynamism as a result.  All of those are the things that we expect to come ultimately from the resolution of Kosovo’s status, so I don’t see any reason why that should produce tensions—it should produce good feelings.

ALSAT: Which will be the position of the U.S. Administration over the final status of Kosovo?

Ambassador Milovanovic:  I’m not going to prejudge our position.  We’re going to wait to see what it is that Ambassador Ahtisaari comes up with, and we’ll look at it very carefully along with all the other members of the contact group.


Ambassador Milovanovic: Thank you again for inviting me; it’s been a real pleasure to talk with you today.