Contrary to the infamous inability of the Balkan states to resolve their differences, North Macedonia and Greece have managed to reach an important agreement that marks the end of a decades-long dispute over the name of the former leadership and the painstaking efforts of former prime ministers Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, according to an analysis by ANTEREC – Academic network for the support of EU policy towards the Western Balkans, published in the International scientific journal of perspectives.
The analysis says that it is time for powerful international actors like the US and the EU to fulfill their promises and support North Macedonia in its aspiration to join the EU.
– This analysis will not only serve geostrategic interests, but will also appropriately reward the rare expression of Balkan pacifism that deserves recognition, and part of this scientific paper is based on an interview with the former prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, a key player in resolving the long-term disagreement with Greece, says Professor Leonidas Markis.
The main goal of the ANETREC project is academic support for the implementation process of EU policies towards the Western Balkans with an emphasis on regional cooperation based on reconciliation as a prerequisite for peace, stability and general development in the region.
In the interview, Zaev clarifies that the EU wants to avoid importing bilateral problems, therefore with the normalization of relations with Greece, a significant obstacle that blocked the path to the integration of North Macedonia into the European Union has been removed, and the incorporation of European values in the country can only contributed to the democratic unification of the entire continent.
– The Prespa agreement is a real success because it gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our ability to resolve foreign policy issues peacefully, using soft power. We have demonstrated our strong commitment to the values of democracy, dialogue and compromise. Therefore, I think we can only add value to the European Union. Specifically, there is a condition according to which the accession of a country cannot be realized as long as there are bilateral problems with the member states, Zaev says in the interview.
He adds that economically speaking, European companies have already been established in North Macedonia, and this shows that we are a stable country.
– They are quite profitable, they benefit from our economic rules, and at the same time they bring us expertise. This cooperation can be deepened and expanded thanks to the future accession of North Macedonia to the EU, adds Zaev.
He says that despite the great benefits of the “Prespa Agreement” in making decisions, the most important thing was to protect the Macedonian identity, but also to think about a better future for the citizens, excluding the importance of the political career.
– Alexis Tsipras and I will never regret the compromises we made because the citizens of both sides know that not only the “decade long dispute” has found a final solution, but also opened the way for a strategic partnership between the two countries. The agreement provides a whole framework that enables future cooperation, says Zaev.
In the interview, he also refers to nationalism, which he defines as different from patriotism, and the latter, according to him, is a strong incentive for people to work towards a better future. Zaev adds that North Macedonia is proud of our history, but what is most important is the future.
– The future is something we have to guarantee and improve. I am very afraid of nationalism, maybe because I am from the Western Balkans. I am aware of what has happened in other parts of the world because of nationalism, and the politics of nationalism when radicalized, accompanied by populism, can definitely become destructive. There are many poisons in the world, but one of the worst is nationalism. Those who use it to satisfy political interests that serve themselves sometimes forget to clean their hands and poison everything by spreading hostility in societies, says Zaev.
He adds that temporarily, nationalism can bring certain benefits to politicians who produce this kind of sentiment, such as increasing popularity, maintaining power, shifting attention away from domestic politics, but ultimately it deeply harms societies.
– Nationalism can destroy my country from the inside, but it can also harm North Macedonia’s relations with Greece and Bulgaria because provocations and nationalist rhetoric can provide the prime ministers of Greece and Bulgaria with enough reasons to take measures against us to protect their dignity and pride. Therefore, nationalism does not contribute to building friendships, does not encourage relationships, does not ensure a prosperous future, concludes Zaev.
Zaev says that membership in NATO is particularly important for North Macedonia, but also for the entire Western Balkans, because it is multi-ethnic, full of conflicts that have been generated throughout history.
– My country experienced a conflict 18 years ago in which many people died, including young people, not to mention Kosovo and Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia, which is why there are very sensitive issues in this region. That is why more safety and security are required. Being a member of NATO not only ensures our country’s safety and security, but it also has a significant positive impact on the region. Furthermore, different religious groups exist in each of these countries, and religious radicalism persists. Furthermore, the Western Balkans are made up of developing countries with high levels of poverty. According to Zaev, all of these factors can easily lead to conflict.
Therefore, according to him, NATO means internal peace, stability, safety, security, conditions that immediately favor economic development.
– This is the basis for any investment, stability improves our financial credibility; enables new jobs, etc. So, North Macedonia’s membership in NATO certainly means stability for the entire region. For my country, it means that one of its biggest strategic goals has been achieved, says Zaev.
When asked if there is Russian influence in North Macedonia, the former prime minister says that this propaganda is present in the entire region, including in North Macedonia.
– They are against the expansion of NATO, they definitely maintain their political, economic and energy interests, but there is nothing new in that. A key question is where we decide to go, with whom to increase cooperation. We are a small country and it is good to cooperate with everyone. However, Russia, China and the Middle East should know that we have made our decision, based on our sovereign right, to be part of NATO and the European Union. Why? Because this will give us a better life. They will accept it completely – we hope – and it will give us the opportunity to cooperate with everyone, but of course without jeopardizing our participation in NATO and the European Union, adds Zaev.
The analysis emphasizes the importance of systematic integration of the countries of the Western Balkans into the EU as the most important, if not the only, tool for their social and economic progress and for improving the stability and security of this region and the EU as a whole.
– Unfortunately, the analysis says, the path of these countries towards European integration and the value system has turned out to be more burdensome and longer than many hoped for a few years ago. Since then, the EU has adopted many “strategic” and “operational” documents, “progressive reports” and the like in order to find a way forward.
In the conclusions of the analysis, it is said that the initiative of Germany and France within the Berlin process is interesting as a European initiative led by Germany, whose aim is to facilitate regional cooperation between the Western Balkans, the six countries in order to help them meet the criteria for accession to the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched this initiative in 2014.
Its most important component according to the analysis is the so-called “Connection Agenda”, which first aimed to connect the Western Balkans in the field of transport and energy, later expanded to youth exchanges and economic ties.
– The strategy also proposed challenges, such as unresolved disputes, various economic and social issues, difficulties in permanently establishing the rule of law, security issues and external influences that distract the region from its European vocation.
In addition to the overall analysis, in which the work of the defeated prime ministers, Zaev and Tsipras, is highlighted as a positive example, a curriculum was also implemented under the leadership of ANETREC (Academic network supporting the policy of the EU towards the Western Balkans), for the purpose of which it recorded 82 lectures of 45 professors from all participating universities.
These lectures are held in the ANETREC database hosted by the ISCOMET Institute in Maribor, and are available from the summer semester of the academic year 2021/22 onwards for use in online lectures at the participating universities. Courses are taught independently or as part of existing study programs. Universities also have the option of accrediting the curriculum as a whole.
The partners in the ANETREC project hope that the implementation of this program in education will have a long-term positive impact on spreading the spirit of reconciliation, tolerance, and cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans, Slovenia, and Croatia.
Moreover, after the completion of the ANETREC project, the collected study materials represent a good basis for future development.
SOURCES: CIVILMEDIA and International Scientific Journal on European Perspectives (A Pacifist Initiative Seeks Recognition: The Prespa Agreement)