Philip T. Reeker, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia
ALSAT-M TV | May 19, 2011
ALSAT-M TV: In the studio with us tonight is the U.S. Ambassador Philip Reeker. Mr. Ambassador, we postponed last week’s interview due to your health problems. I hope you are feeling better now.
Ambassador Reeker: Thank you, Mohammed, and I do apologize that last week I had a cold, but now I’m definitely feeling better, almost 100 percent.
ALSAT-M TV: Mr. Ambassador, before we discuss the current political situation in the country, let me ask about your successor. When it was announced that Mr. Paul Wohlers will be your successor, media commented that “a tougher diplomat is coming to the country, a diplomat who may perhaps exercise greater pressure on Macedonian authorities.” Do you consider yourself to be a “soft” diplomat?
Ambassador Reeker: I am delighted that the President had the wisdom, with Secretary of State Clinton’s support, to nominate Paul Wohlers to be the next Ambassador. It’s been a great honor for me to be the fifth United States Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia, and as many people know, Paul Wohlers, who is a good friend of mine, has great experience here as well. I’m delighted that he was willing to come back. He of course needs to be confirmed by the United States Senate and in due course we’ll see how that process goes.
As you noted, Mohammed, it is election season. I arrived here in September of 2008 and we were just finishing an election season then. There was still formation of the government going on; Ministries and staff were still coming on-line. And now of course, as I prepare to depart, to go home to Washington in July, it will be following yet another election season. So many of my memories of Macedonia will be based around elections.
ALSAT-M TV: How do you assess the political situation in the country in this pre-election period? Is it any different from previous pre-elections in Macedonia? As I noted, you worked in Macedonia previously in 1998.
Ambassador Reeker: I think it is very much all elections all the time right now. I suppose that’s natural. That is what is occupying people. Certainly as I talk to people they look forward to the elections being over and to moving on with their lives. As I’ve said many times, elections do not make a democracy, they are just a beginning. It is a part of a democracy to select leaders who then serve their people, to move the country, and indeed the full society forward for greater stability and prosperity.
I think one thing that has not changed is the position of the United States and others in the international community, and that is that we do not care who wins. We just want to see free, fair elections, because that is what is in the best interest of all the people of Macedonia. That is what is in the best interest of the region and our interest in terms of looking for Macedonia to be a part of the broader Euro-Atlantic community. So that’s very much the same.
We continue to push for free, fair, non-violent elections, a democratic process in which all Macedonians can feel their voice and vote was heard, and we would hope that all the citizens take advantage of that opportunity and get out on election day and cast their ballot.
ALSAT-M TV: In comparison to other pre-elections, when the main focus was on the Albanian political bloc, this time, there is a general impression that tensions are more evident in the Macedonian political bloc. Election incidents are being discussed, disputes related to election results being predicted, etc. Do you expect problems and do you share the opinion that this time tensions are greater in the Macedonian political bloc?
Ambassador Reeker: My expectations are not what is important here, it is what the people of Macedonia expect, all of them. I think they expect accountability from all their leaders to conduct elections in a free, fair, democratic way, and to make the country proud of the process that is so important for Macedonia’s future. That’s what we encourage. We have supported the effort to put in place a code of conduct, and to observe elections. NDI, the National Democratic Institute promoted this code of conduct last week with the signing by representatives of 30 political parties. And this is important that everybody is promoting that idea. I think that’s what the people want. They’re ready for that. This is the 21st Century, and I believe very firmly that the people of Macedonia are just as capable as the people of any other democratic country in carrying out good, free, fair elections of which they can be proud.
ALSAT-M TV: You mentioned the signing of Code of Conduct. Discussing this in my previous show, analysts said this proves there is not enough democracy in this country, and leaders prove they do not possess the necessary capacity since, after 20 years of independence they need the mediation of foreign ambassadors and organizations to make them sit at one table for something that should be normal.
Ambassador Reeker: Look, I think the United States, the European Union and others in the international community have a great interest in helping Macedonia because we’re friends. We want to see you fully a part of the Euro-Atlantic family, within the institutions that are creating 21st Century Europe, and making the Trans-Atlantic connection stronger, more stable, and more prosperous. And as friends, we help with these things. That is why we have funded NDI’s efforts to promote the code of conduct that has become part of a tradition in Macedonian elections. I think that’s great.
I think you are capable of coming together, you see it on the streets among people of all sectors of Macedonia, who get together and discuss these issues in a civilized manner. So we want to encourage that. That is what friends do. We offer a helping hand and when someone wants to take the hand of help we are happy to continue being involved in that way.
ALSAT-M TV: Speaking of pressure and tensions, we cannot avoid mentioning the issue of the affair of pressure over the public administration employees by the biggest governing party, an affair that was revealed by A1 TV. How do you assess this situation?
Ambassador Reeker: Once again, I’m not going to get involved in your elections. As I’ve said already, I think that you, as a country, are perfectly capable of dealing with these issues, and citizens do take an interest. You have institutions that should be able to deal with these issues and look into them.
I will stand by what we have said before, what my colleagues in the international community have said before. We hope there will be free and fair elections, without intimidation, that all of the parties, the participants, the candidates and all the citizens will abide by that and take this opportunity to cast their ballot and to hold the leadership of the country, the politicians and the candidates, accountable to the people. Not to the parties, but to the people who they represent.
ALSAT-M TV: Before the signing of Code of Conduct leaders of the two biggest Albanian parties signed an agreement for fair and democratic elections in the presence of Ambassadors Reeker, Sorensen and Cejku. How do you see this act, why was the agreement signed solely by the two Albanian leaders?
Ambassador Reeker: I think it was a great initiative undertaken primarily by Ambassador Cejku, Arben Cejku, a terrific diplomat who worked with those two leaders because they both showed a desire to do this. They were showing leadership in that they wanted to present to their parties, to their electorates and to the people across the country as well as observers from around the world that they could sit down as leaders who obviously have differences, but who have a history in terms of their two parties, having had conflict.
Let’s remember that in 2008 the elections were not positive. There was violence in the election. There was death. And when Ambassador Cejku asked if I would participate, and I called Ambassador Sorensen, and we both agreed to come and observe this, we felt it was a very positive thing, based on the history and as a means of setting a good example. The agreement that they signed, the two leaders, Mr. Ahmeti and Mr. Thaci, in paragraph six, said this agreement is open to any party that wants to join in. Of course a few days later all 30 parties signed the code of conduct that NDI presented. So I think we have the leadership of political parties all signed up to the same idea of free, fair elections which are vitally important to the country’s future.
ALSAT-M TV: Given the fact that tensions are more evident in the Macedonian political block, don’t you think it would have been good to do the same with the leaders of the two biggest Macedonian parties, Mr. Crvenkovski and Mr. Gruevski?
Ambassador Reeker: I think again they all came together. You’ve seen footage on TV. There was certainly plenty of media there covering that event at the Club of Parliamentarians when they signed the codex. So I think we have a broad agreement to stand by these ideals and I think that’s a good start. From what I have heard from Macedonians across the country who have commented, who have sent messages to me, they were very pleased about that.
The trick is to stick to that. And the leaders have to be the first to show a good model to maintain their campaigns in the spirit of this codex and the parties should all follow that, remembering that this is about the people, the citizens. This should not be about political parties.
ALSAT-M TV: How do you assess the rhetoric that is being used in this pre-election campaign? Is it any different from other campaigns that you have observed in Macedonia?
Ambassador Reeker: There’s been a lot of low-level sniping back and forth. I don’t think anybody has shown themselves to be above the fray, but this is politics as it is. I’m here to observe. I’m not a part of these elections. But I think people watch this and people want to hear about issues. They want to hear about how the country is going to move forward. They don’t want these personal attacks that have come to characterize so much of the political dialogue here. So I hope, as the election period continues, that the level will rise to such that voters can hear what different candidates are offering and cast their ballots thinking about their future and what kind of a country they want to have.
ALSAT-M TV: How do you see the fact that in Macedonia there is not a public debate between political leaders?
Ambassador Reeker: These are decisions obviously for Macedonians, the population here to decide, and the leaders have to make their own decisions. All I can talk about is the U.S. experience. In the United States we’ve found that debate is a very valuable tool. Since 1960, the first televised debates when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off, that has become a staple of our presidential elections every four years. The public has found it useful in our context, but these are decisions you’ll have to make on your own, and obviously the candidates will have to make their own decision.
ALSAT-M TV: What are the key challenges in the political scene related to elections?
Ambassador Reeker: Again, I have to go back to the basics and what we have promoted. That is that the elections be conducted in a free, fair manner. There are standards, of course, there are international observers here. The ODEO Team from the OSCE is here on the ground. There will be many observers from other international organizations, and of course domestic observers as well. The importance is that people feel free to go and cast their ballot, that there not be intimidation, that the balloting be done, obviously, in a secret way so that everybody can cast their ballot privately and know that their vote is their vote and secret. That’s the fundamental aspect of that. Of course there should be absolutely no violence of any sort connected to these elections.
ALSAT-M TV: My next question is related to something no one wishes to happen, but what if elections do not meet the standards?
Ambassador Reeker: It’s really a question for your people. Let’s not talk about hypotheticals. Let’s talk about meeting the standards of free, fair elections because we know that Macedonia is capable of that and that the people of Macedonia are capable of that. And you, all of you, the citizens of this country, are the ones that need to live with the outcome of these elections. There are consequences to all actions. So it’s something that you should be thinking about. It’s not for me to tell you what will or will not be. We can’t predict the future. But I think it’s very important that these elections clearly set the stage for the coming years and it’s an important time in Macedonia’s future.
ALSAT-M TV: In every pre-election, tensions and partitions in society increase. In this context, how do you assess the inter-ethnic relations?
Ambassador Reeker: I think inter-ethnic relations are a critical part of Macedonia’s society. That’s not a surprise to anybody. That’s always been a situation when you live in a multi-ethnic country. Just like my country, the United States, 300 million people of extraordinary diversity who have managed over 235 years to use that diversity as a strength. The way to do that is to have constant communication between and among different communities, different groups, so that people try to understand and respect each other – understanding that we all share the same country, and that’s the same here in Macedonia. You’re all part of the same country. You have a constitution on which to move forward, and that is, of course, what government should be about, representing all of the people and moving them forward with ways and policies that help all of the people to achieve the goals of the country.
So it can be done here, you’ve done it for years, for centuries, but it’s about communication, mutual respect, and taking advantage of the great strength and benefits of being a diverse country.
ALSAT-M TV: Why does the issue of inter-ethnic relations still, even after 20 years, dominate in the country? Do you think it is easy for parties to manipulate with such issues, or the problem lies somewhere else?
Ambassador Reeker: I think those are conclusions that each individual needs to draw for him or herself. But again, I would take you back to our model, the United States, because I represent the United States and I’m here as the President’s representative to tell you about the United States, our experiences, our policies, and to observe the situation in Macedonia and to offer the hand of help and friendship.
We are an incredibly diverse country in the United States and we have to work at this every day, whether it’s across religious lines, racial lines, ethnic lines, class lines. It is tough for societies to function and to function peacefully and prosperously. It takes work, it takes effort, it takes strong institutions, it takes belief in democracy, and it takes the participation of everyone. It takes leaders who are seriously working on behalf of the electorate, on behalf of the people.
ALSAT-M TV: To what extent are politicians in Macedonia part of the problem related to inter-ethnic relations?
Ambassador Reeker: That’s a perfect question to ask people here. What do they think of the role of leaders? Elections are a perfect time in which to let that opinion be known. That’s why in a democracy you have a vote, and I hope everyone will take advantage, get out and cast their vote based on their views of the leaders, the candidates, and what they are offering for the future.
ALSAT-M TV: Some say Albanian MPs in the next parliament will exercise stronger pressure for solving the name issue. Could that affect inter-ethnic relations?
Ambassador Reeker: From what I read in polls, from what I hear from people across the spectrum in this country, regardless of ethnicity or even geography in the country, there is extremely strong support for the Euro-Atlantic path, for integration into NATO and the European Union and what that represents in terms of the future for stability, security and prosperity. And we have supported that because that’s what Macedonia as a country has wanted.
So I think that goes across ethnic lines. Again, it’s an issue that you, all of you as citizens in your country, need to communicate to your leadership and determine how you are going to move ahead. Nobody else can do that for you. That’s Macedonia’s job just as it’s been the job of every other country that has transitioned and transformed, joined and integrated into these structures in the past 20 years. And before that as well.
Your destiny is in your hands.
ALSAT-M TV: What do you expect from the new government regarding the name issue?
Ambassador Reeker: I have no expectations. You know the United States position, we are here to try to help Macedonia. Macedonia is our friend, our partner. We want to see you resolve the issues that you face so that you can meet the goals that you have set for yourselves. We can’t tell you what to do any more than we can tell anybody else what to do, but as I’ve said before, we can offer the hand of friendship and support. We can offer ideas. We can offer suggestions for road maps, how to look at problems, how to approach problems so that you can resolve them and still meet all of the needs that are important to you.
We believe that can be done but it’s going to be up to you, your decisions, and obviously the next government representing hopefully the will of the people will do what it thinks is best.
ALSAT-M TV: Since you were appointed Ambassador to Macedonia you have been repeating these points, and I think it is normal to say that it is not up to you to solve this issue, that it is up to the leaders of the country to undertake such steps. But the public opinion is that the United States can exercise pressure and force for solution. Is this realistic; is this just a pretext that we use - waiting for someone else to take the responsibility?
Ambassador Reeker: Again, it’s about responsibility. Individuals need to take responsibility for themselves, communities need to take responsibility for their futures, and leaders, countries and their leaders need to take responsibility for where they position themselves in this ever-complicated 21st Century world.
We have offered, we have tried. As United States Ambassador here, I have tried to offer suggestions and ideas on how to approach problems. We’ve offered the hand of support and friendship. But you’re absolutely right, Mohammed, we can’t make these decisions for you, we can’t make you do anything, we can’t make others do anything. We simply offer those ideas. I’ve tried to do that over the past three years, whether anyone has listened to me or not, is up to others to decide. What I’ve said in my public remarks and interviews like this one is all available on our website if people want to read the ideas we’ve put forth. But it’s up to the people here, the people of this country to educate themselves, to think about the challenges they face, and then to decide how they want to move forward.
The United States wants to help. We want to be a partner with Macedonia. So again, we extend that hand and when you’re ready to take it or when you want to use our help, it’s there for you.
ALSAT-M TV: How do you interpret the decision of SDSM to include the issue of a referendum on the name in their election program?
Ambassador Reeker: That’s perfectly their choice to do. Every party, every leader has to take their own position and it’s up to individuals and citizens to educate themselves on the facts and to make their decisions accordingly.
Again, we cannot dictate solutions to the problems you face. We can offer ideas, suggestions, ways to look at challenges and try to overcome them, but ultimately it’s up to you as a country. That’s an important challenge that any country faces in moving forward, particularly in the 21st Century when the world is a very different place and the challenges and the priorities are very different from what they were even just a couple of decades ago.
ALSAT-M TV: There is concern in intellectual and political circles that the lack of a solution to the name issue opens retrograde processes in other fields?
Ambassador Reeker: Again, I think you’ve got to come to these conclusions on your own. We have said many times that we had hoped you would have an opportunity to resolve these issues quickly. That was certainly the expectation when I came here in 2008, but these are decisions that Macedonia as a country needs to take and the leaders need to respond to the hopes and aspirations of the people.
ALSAT-M TV: Where do you see Macedonia in the future if the name issue is not resolved for a longer time and it does not become part of NATO and EU?
Ambassador Reeker: We’ve made very clear that we want to see Macedonia in NATO and in the European Union. We are not of course a member of the European Union ourselves, but we have worked very closely with the European Union and with successive governments of Macedonia to help Macedonia meet the criteria to move forward in the very complex process to join the European Union. So our aid and assistance, the billion dollars that we have invested from the U.S. taxpayer to help Macedonia in this step over almost 20 years have been directed in that regard and we will continue to hold that as our goals as long as they’re your goals. And we’ll do what we can to help you meet the necessary challenges and achieve those goals.
ALSAT-M TV: Except for the name issue, what are our authentic problems? Where do we need to focus?
Ambassador Reeker: I think we’ve long talked about some of the challenges. They’re the challenges that you talk about. These are not issues for the international community. We look at the issues that are discussed here. That includes the rule of law and the equal justice under the rule of law which is a difficult area. It takes a lot of work, a lot of challenge, and that’s an area that is widely discussed here. Independent media is another area that’s come up. Inter-ethnic relations you’ve already talked about. And just as in my country, it’s something you have to work on all the time.
So these are important challenges along with a variety of economic reforms that are going to be necessary. The European Union integration process is long and tough. All you have to do is ask neighboring countries and friends who have gone through it and they’ll understand that. As NATO has repeated, the North Atlantic Council has said when you resolve the name issue then you’ll receive an invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
ALSAT-M TV: How do you assess the perspectives of the region? I am asking you in the capacity of your next post.
Ambassador Reeker: I think the region is still very dynamic. It’s an important corner of Europe. As we’ve said many times, U.S. foreign policy since the 1940s has been focused on promoting and helping to achieve a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. When you think of where we’ve come in a relatively short time in the history of man and the history of Europe, it’s really quite remarkable. We want to see this region, the Western Balkans, included in that. They are a part of Europe. This is a European country, and it should have a European perspective. That’s what the people here have made abundantly clear they want. So that’s what we would like to see.
The hard work is up to you as a country to achieve the goals that you set for yourselves.
ALSAT-M TV: Speaking about the region, there are still open issues and so-called hotspots. The issue of talks between Serbia and Kosovo is quite discussed these days. A division of Kosovo is being mentioned, what would that mean for the region if something like that occurred?
Ambassador Reeker: There is no dividing, there is no changing borders. What the United States supports very much is the European Union’s effort to foster a dialogue which has been going on for some months now between Kosovo and Serbia. Robert Cooper, the Special Representative of Catherine Ashton from the European Union, is leading that and we support that fully. That’s an opportunity for those two sides to work together to resolve issues that really mean something to individuals in their daily lives. So the United States supports that effort very much.
You’re absolutely right, there are challenges all around us, but there are challenges outside the Balkans too. I think it’s important sometimes to step back and realize what is going on in the world today. Things have changed even since the 1990s. The world moves on, and some of the challenges that we face, some of the developments in North Africa, in the Middle East, these are critically important to all of us.
Obviously these require greater attention from the leaders of U.S. foreign policy - from the State Department, from the Secretary of State, from President Obama himself - than 20 years ago or even 15 or 10 years ago when we were more focused here in the Balkans. So I think people need to think about the greater context in the world and what happens in North Africa, in the Middle East, in South Asia. These have consequences for all of us. These have economic consequences in this era of globalization. These have security consequences. I think we need to think about that too, and work on the problems that you have at home or in the region, but also think about how we can all work together to promote a more stable, more secure and prosperous world that will benefit all of us.
ALSAT-M TV: The U.S. Embassy is dedicated to improving media development in Macedonia. How do you see the current situation in that field?
Ambassador Reeker: It’s a topic that is widely discussed here in Macedonia, so it’s not our issue, it’s an issue that is very much on the minds of many people here. An independent media is an important part of any democracy, and it’s part of our effort to support Macedonia’s transition and support Macedonia’s goals. We have over the years tried to help in terms of training and opportunities for journalists and others. But I think this is something people here are going to need to think about. Does the media meet their needs? Is it providing them the information that they feel they need and certainly deserve in an open society?
Look, this is the age of the internet. This is an age of Facebook and websites and opportunities for information that can overload you on any given day. If the people in Egypt or Tunisia or around the world are able to find ways of communicating information and understanding of the facts and situations in their country, then I think you’re perfectly capable of doing that here. We will continue to try to offer assistance and training, exchange programs so that journalists can have experiences in the United States to see how we have dealt with the important concept of independent media over the years and how we are dealing with this new era of social media.
We held a conference here, a regional conference that the State Department funded to talk about these issues, and I think that is an important topic for the future and one that all of you need to discuss among yourselves.
ALSAT-M TV: There is a general impression among journalists and among people that today media are segregated as never before …
Ambassador Reeker: Again, I think those are impressions and decisions that you’re going to have to take on your own. We’ll draw our own conclusions in terms of how we observe the situation and we report them. Media is a component of our Human Rights Report every year. It’s a public document that is produced by Washington that provides an assessment. There are lots of independent assessments as well. Reporters Without Borders and a variety of other organizations that try to look at media and measure its independence or its effectiveness. But most importantly, what do the people think? How do the people feel about the situation and media here? And draw their own conclusions and respond accordingly.
ALSAT-M TV: Tendencies to decrease freedom of speech are difficult to measure. The Prime Minister urged European politicians to come to Macedonia and see whether media enjoy freedom. How do you assess freedom of media?
Ambassador Reeker: I read six newspapers every day. I don’t watch a lot of television because I don’t have time, but I check on the internet often late at night. So I keep up with the media here, but I also try to get out and talk to people, explore facts, learn firsthand things that I have questions about, I ask people questions, either their leaders or people I meet on the street or in small towns. And that’s how I try to get my information.
I think, Mohammed, it’s important, and if you’ll allow me to highlight for you what U.S. foreign policy is all about in terms of what Secretary Clinton has set out for us. If you’ll let me just for a moment point out Secretary Clinton’s foreign policy vision. I brought along this email that highlights that. There are several pillars to it, but I think it’s important for everyone to understand that first and foremost the top goal that we have - and the instruction I get from Washington is to deepen relationships with our closest allies who share common values and interests and seek to solve collective challenges with us. Second, we assist development countries to build their own capacities, including in media, to address their own problems and to move their people out of poverty and towards sustainable development. Those are pillars of American foreign policy anywhere in the world.
Finally, as the Secretary summed it up, we try to lead through example. As I’ve said before, the United States doesn’t have all the answers. We don’t always get it right. But we have a couple of hundred years of experience, we have goodwill, and we want to try to help our friends. So we lead through example and try to engage directly with people, including in opportunities like this in the media. Public opinion, passions, it matters to us, so we try to assess it. And technology. This is an important point. Technology has empowered people to speak up and demand a say in their own futures. That’s critical in the world today. This is what has changed.
So in every country in which we work we try to work with the public and make space for their contributions but also to send a message to their leaders about the accountability of states to their citizens.
I think that’s a good point when it comes to this. My views on the role of the media here are not particularly important. What’s important is that we promote the ideals that we share with you and that is that your citizens should stand up, take advantage of the technology to let their voice be heard and seek the information that they want. And of course in an election time, this is the perfect opportunity for them to then cast their ballot in free and fair elections to direct the country where they want to go. That’s the essence of democracy. As I said, the United States stands ready to help its friends and those who share our values.
ALSAT-M TV: From here you go to a higher position. You are not the first diplomat who has advanced in their career after the mandate in Macedonia. Are we really that difficult, so you are later nominated for higher and tougher challenges?
Ambassador Reeker: Look, I like to hope it’s not about Macedonia, but maybe it’s about me. I’ve been absolutely honored and delighted to be the fifth United States Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia. It’s been three years that I and my wife will always remember and treasure. We’ve worked very hard and we’ve tried to fulfill the Secretary’s foreign policy ideals and on behalf of the President to represent the United States. I’ve been able to do that on behalf of two Presidents -- first under President Bush and then under President Obama. So it’s time to go home, back to Washington.
We’ve been living overseas for eight years and we’re happy to get back perhaps closer to family. But we’ll always feel a strong bond here, just as my predecessors I think have. I’ve been fortunate to know all of my predecessors and they’ve all gone on to interesting things, both inside and outside the Foreign Service, in different parts of the world.
I’m very honored that the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon have asked me to continue to work in European Affairs with this portfolio for the Balkan region, so that I’ll continue to follow developments in Macedonia, work closely with our embassy team here which I’m sure will continue to offer robust engagement where we’re wanted and where we can try to make a difference. Again, that’s what U.S. foreign policy is all about. And ultimately being an Ambassador is about service, about serving my country and hopefully making a difference to another country, in this case Macedonia.
ALSAT-M TV: What is your message for the citizens and political leaders?
Ambassador Reeker: Don’t be afraid. Have confidence in yourself and in your country because the United States has had confidence in you all these years. We believe very strongly that we can, together, see these goals achieved. So don’t be afraid. Express your views, be informed. And I wish everybody in this country a very positive future.
ALSAT-M TV: Ambassador, thank you for being with us in the studio. I wish you success in your future career.
Ambassador Reeker: Thank you.
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