Diversity Is Macedonia’s Strength
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip T. Reeker
Interview with Alfa TV
August 23, 2012
U.S. Embassy Skopje, Macedonia
Alfa TV: Ambassador Reeker, first of all, thank you for this opportunity for an interview.
Your visit to Macedonia comes in a period of, let’s say hectic relations within the ruling coalition. I think some see you as a bridge between their actions that risk dividing them, and helping with their communication that, judging by the statements from both sides, is more than just technical communications between the two leaders.
DAS Reeker: First, Vladimir, let me thank you for this opportunity to speak with you. It is always a pleasure for me to be back in Macedonia to see friends, to have this opportunity to talk to leaders across the political spectrum, to meet with Ambassador Wohlers and our embassy team, to talk about the region, and to get an update on what is happening in Macedonia.
I am extremely grateful to President Ivanov for his invitation to come to Macedonia at this time. I was able to participate in the opening conference of his Young Leaders Forum, the leadership school that is based in Ohrid. It was a pleasure to meet a new group of young leaders, and to meet the alumni of the Young Leaders Program who I knew before, when I was ambassador here. So indeed, this is a good time to catch up with what has been going on in Macedonia as part of my regional responsibilities and my regional travel.
I don’t think Macedonian politicians need me or anyone in order to communicate. There seems to be plenty of back and forth communication here in Macedonia. As is the case in my focus around the region, it is the reform process, and Euro-Atlantic integration that are the priorities.
As I mentioned to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and others with whom I’ve met, I am very pleased to see the high level accession dialogue with the European Union. As you know, we support EU membership for Macedonia and all the countries of the region. We think that is the direction in which to go. It is clearly the solution that other countries in Europe found over the past half century; to put aside their problems, to find a way to reconcile, and indeed to move forward to greater prosperity.
It is a challenge. There is a lot of work ahead. But I think that is the direction in which things should move.
Alfa TV: Macedonia like every country needs a functional government. Now the Prime Minister speaks about the possibility of early elections. You met him. You also had a meeting with Ali Ahmeti. Did you sense that their political marriage, so to say, is really coming to an end?
DAS Reeker: We didn’t talk about elections, neither in my meeting with the Prime Minister, nor with Mr. Ahmeti. We talked about American elections, and indeed as you know, we will have presidential elections in the United States in November. We do this every four years on a very set schedule. As I shared with them, as President Obama has made very clear, and as you know from our media and from following the discussion in the United States, our elections are primarily focused on the economy. The economy. The economy. The economy. That is also the main point of discussion when President Obama speaks with world leaders, whether it’s Chancellor Merkel, or counterparts all around the world. The focus is the importance of taking active, decisive steps on the economy which is in a difficult period. But by working together, by coordinating, we believe that we can bring back economic growth, and focus on prosperity. I think that is what is most important, and that is what is on the minds of voters in the United States.
Alfa TV: If you put aside the situation in the United States and the global situation, how do you see the situation here in Macedonia? And the current situation, do you think that this political - let’s say turmoil - is part of too much populism in the policies of Gruevski and Ahmeti?
DAS Reeker: Really, those are judgments for the Macedonian citizens and electorate to make. I don’t see any particular reason for there to be a feeling of chaos and hysteria. This is about focusing on the issues at hand.
There has been some discussion in the last few days, even since I have been here, about reconciliation. And as I said yesterday, reconciliation is an important theme in the United States, in our own domestic discourse. It has been part of our history. And it is certainly part of our foreign policy to promote reconciliation, as difficult as that may be in every different set of circumstances around the world. It is certainly the basis of the European Union, and of NATO, a successful alliance that has preserved peace in Europe since its foundation. It was about reconciling. And as I mentioned, we have seen countries and peoples and nations who fought for centuries and have difficult memories, and difficult histories to contend with, to reconcile. The British and the French; the French and the Germans; the Greeks and Turks; they are able to work successfully together through the NATO alliance. That is what Euro-Atlantic integration is really all about; finding a way to reconcile, a way to focus on the future.
I am reminded of what President Ivanov said on Monday, and I think it is a very wise and notable statement; he was talking about driving forward and how a car has a windshield - a giant windshield - that looks forward, and only a small rear view mirror. It is important to keep that metaphor as perhaps a point of perspective. It is important to look forward in terms of the challenges we have, the bumps in the road, and how we navigate them, and only use that small rear view mirror as a point of context to deal with what’s behind us. Because what is much more important is what is ahead.
Alfa TV: When you speak about reconciliation, do you think that the main point of the Ohrid Framework Agreement is fulfilled? A functional, multi-ethnic society here in Macedonia? Because we have a possibility of the dissolution of one government coalition, or one monument tribute, and one law that is talking about things that happened 11 years ago. So do you think that Macedonia is really, after 11 years, a functional, multi-ethnic society?
DAS Reeker: You know, 11 years is a period in time. Macedonia has functioned multi-ethnically for centuries. That’s the essence of Macedonia, and I think the strength of Macedonia is very much its diversity. That has been shown throughout history.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement, as I have said so many times, is a remarkable document and I think Macedonia is fortunate to have it. It helped prevent a civil war. As a country that has gone through - 150 years ago - a horrible civil war that still resonates in our American discourse, I think people here should be pleased that you have that additional document that sets forth a set of ideas, a framework, as part of your constitution on how you can better work together to deal with these challenges as part of reconciliation.
As I said, it is not easy, it is not perfect, and it never will be. I said many times when I was Ambassador here, about our Constitution - the United States Constitution - that was fully ratified back in 1789 and has allowed our country to move forward to great heights of prosperity and unity, despite a turbulent history. That constitution talks about how we the people, in order to form a more perfect union, do ordain and establish this constitution, this set of principles and ideas. We have never said that the union was perfect. We have never stopped working to find better ways to work together for prosperity, for stability, for peace. We are not perfect in the United States. We try to share our lessons and experiences. We do that through our foreign policy and our engagement, and we certainly wish that for all the people of this region including here in Macedonia.
Alfa TV: According to your analysis, what is needed for Macedonia to go forward? If you are not talking about political disputes, about the coalition things that are going on now here in Macedonia, about the real essence that is needed for the country to go forward.
DAS Reeker: As I said, our policy, as I think you know very well, is to focus on Euro-Atlantic integration and the opportunities that brings. We believe that is the best future and forward movement for Macedonia and the other countries of the region.
The European Union has set forth a series of reforms and steps that need to be taken to move towards EU integration and EU membership. That gives you, in a sense, a road map for forward movement. This high level accession dialogue has been, I think, an important step and I congratulated both the European Union and Macedonia on moving in that direction, because it also gives you some clear guidelines on what needs to be done, and what needs to be accomplished. And of course so much of that involves economic reforms. As I said and it bears repeating - economy, economy, economy. This is what is crucial to all of us in the United States, throughout Europe, and really all around the world at this time. As rule of law is also. That is a critical part of consolidating economic order, a way of making your country attractive to investors, and creating opportunities for businesses to function more smoothly. Rule of law, we have found in our experience - and I think this is true throughout Europe - is the cornerstone, the basis for all growth and development.
Alfa TV: When you talk about rule of law, how do you see the democratic capacity of Macedonia? We have problems. Every year the report of European Commission says with the rule of law, with public administration, with freedom of the media. How do you see Macedonia now, one year after you left your post as U.S. Ambassador here in Skopje?
DAS Reeker: These reports, whether it is the European Commission’s Progress Report, whether it is our Human Rights Report, whether it is the reports put out annually by a number of international organizations that evaluate developments, evaluate progress. They are important because they give you benchmarks. They are designed not to criticize but to offer suggestions on how you can make changes, and what you might want to focus on if you desire to move forward.
I think Macedonia and its citizens and its institutions are perfectly capable of doing that. It takes political will, and as I have said many times before, I think it is often too easy to be distracted by the little political whirlwinds from one day to the next that really, when you look at them in the rear view mirror, don’t matter at all. What is out there in front of you through that windshield is what you should be focused on, and I think that is where the majority of people want to look; how they can work together; where they express their differences, where they are proud of those differences, but also proud of their country overall as it moves forward to join something bigger, to join Europe, to join NATO. These are the goals which I think are still very attainable if you all work together.
Alfa TV: Regarding Euro-Atlantic integration, there is one obstacle to fulfilling this goal, one big obstacle, and that’s the name issue. Do you see any changes in this process? And how honest аре the Macedonian and Greek leaders when they say publicly they want this issue to be solved finally? Are there any movements?
DAS Reeker: I don’t see anything particularly new. It was not a major topic of discussion in the meetings that I’ve had here in Macedonia this week. It is something we continue to urge both Greece and Macedonia to address. Over a number of years now, we have laid out ideas, paths where we felt that both countries could find a compromise that sacrifices nothing in terms of the interests of their peoples, and allows both countries and the region to move forward with their goals. That remains our goal and remains our hope, and again, it will take some political will and courage, but it is certainly doable.
Alfa TV: Thank you.
Ambassador Reeker: Thank you.