Interview of U.S. Ambassador Philip Reeker with Nova Makedonija
February 23, 2010
An idea is promoted in Brussels that the US and the EU must help Macedonia and Greece to solve the name issue, because, as MEP Zoran Thaler said, otherwise we risk the UN-led process to last for two more decades. Should there be an advisor or a mediator, no matter the title, who will help the two countries to arrive to an agreement after which the solution will be signed in the United Nations?
Ambassador Reeker: The two countries that can solve this problem are Greece and Macedonia. The sooner both countries realize this, and have a real negotiation, the sooner we will see this issue resolved. Many countries, including the United States, want to see this happen so that Macedonia can take its seat in NATO and continue its course towards the European Union. As many others have said, this will not happen without compromise between Athens and Skopje. Both sides must truly negotiate and work to find a solution, and when they do, I think many people will be pleased to have the issue behind us.
What are your expectations from the visits of mediator Nimetz to Skopje and Athens?
Ambassador Reeker: I believe he expects to come and listen to both parties and continue to work to find common ground that Greece and Macedonia can use to find a solution. He will be able to do this only if the governments in Skopje and Athens actively engage in a negotiation and compromise. No solution exists that he can impose or come up with on his own without the input from both sides. That is why we have said for a long time that it is very important that both sides truly work hard to find a mutually acceptable solution instead of expecting an outside actor to solve this.
Do you believe that Macedonia can face destabilization if it stays outside the Euro-Atlantic structures? Or maybe such statements are aimed at motivating Skopje and Athens to find a solution to the name dispute?
Ambassador Reeker: Macedonia’s best future is inside the Euro-Atlantic structures. Period. The polls show that the citizens of this country overwhelmingly want to join EU and NATO and there is no doubt that the Balkans will be more stable and more prosperous with membership in these Euro-Atlantic institutions. Rather than focusing on what might happen without membership, I think the leadership and the people of this country would do best to focus on achieving this shared goal.
The Education Ministry remains on the position that first grade ethnic Albanian students must study Macedonian, but schools are boycotting the decision. What is the solution?
Ambassador Reeker: The goal is for all young people in Macedonia to complete their education with the ability to speak Macedonian, and that they have an opportunity to became familiar with the language from an early age. The International Community bases its recommendations on data and expertise from OSCE and other international experience. This will help all citizens be competitive for jobs and opportunities in a 21st Century economy, and to communicate better in a diverse, more prosperous civil society. As in many other countries where multiple languages are spoken, implementing a plan to achieve this requires consultation with education experts, teachers, parents and school administrators so that the appropriate materials and training are provided. It would also be good for Macedonian students to learn the Albanian language to promote even better communication and we would welcome steps towards that end as well.
Ambassador, do you believe that the interethnic disagreement over the Macedonian language issue for ethnic Albanian first graders would have been reduced should PM Gruevski had discussed the issue and agreed on it earlier with the coalition partner, DUI?
Ambassador Reeker: Decisions that affect wider communities are best made after discussion and consultation with all interested parties. There is no question that doing this takes more time but it also provides wider support for moving forward. I think everyone realizes that now, and that adjustments are being made to achieve the goal of having all young people complete their education with the ability to speak Macedonian, and the opportunity to get an early start in that effort. Countries throughout Europe and around the world deal with this, without crisis and recrimination, we believe Macedonia can too.
Once you said that membership in NATO and the EU would guarantee the Macedonian history and the Macedonian identity. How do you think you will convince the Macedonian citizens in this when in the latest joint letter of OSCE, EU, NATO and the US you name the Macedonian language as “state language”?
Ambassador Reeker: I think it is really unfortunate that you directed so much (often erroneous) media attention towards the use of “state language,” instead of the contents and substance of the letter to which you refer. The letter clearly called for all students in Macedonia to learn Macedonian, the most widely spoken language in the state. Instead of focusing on that, a few have chosen to note that the verbiage in the letter was not to their liking. We responded to an inquiry from this newspaper saying that the United States regularly refers to Macedonia and the Macedonian language but some of the other signatories to the letter do not. This is not new news and should not have been treated as such.