Distinguished Citizens, Distinguished Speaker of the Assembly,
Distinguished Members of Parliament, Respected Ministers, Esteemed Guests,
Your Excellencies, Media Representatives,
In my first address to this Parliament, on 12 May this year, I publicly committed myself to responsible behaviour, as befits a president elected in direct and general elections, with the votes of all ethnic communities. It means to be accessible and equally close to the citizens, regardless of whether they voted you for me or not, and equally distant from the narrow-party interests of the political entities. Undisputed initial capital in that sense was the act of recognition of the election result at the presidential elections by the opposition for the first time since our independence, to date. The citizens will assess whether I have managed to remain neutral in the first seven months of my term in terms of the various centers of political and economic power, as my main political goal has been and remains to be independent, to be the president for all, not a party obedient or apologist of a transitional oligarch. In that sense, there is a great deal of work ahead of me, as well as ahead of us all, because divisions between citizens, that many have worked to recover over the years, are still deep. If it used to go along ethnic lines in the past and even today, the divisions between Macedonians have deepened dramatically in the last decade.
Here, I am not talking about the political differences that legitimately exist in every democracy, but about the unnecessary wasting of energy and the potential of the society which must be united around a few strategically important issues that I will insist on and propose models for achieving a broader state consensus. The civil reconciliation I talked about at my inauguration will not happen by itself unless someone offers specific platforms for dialogue among the concerned parties. Yesterday, on my initiative, we held a meeting with the leaders of the largest religious communities at which I urged everyone, within their competencies, to work towards a productive coexistence between believers and mutual respect in a multi-religious and multicultural society as ours.
The meeting of the leaders of the parliamentary parties held shortly after the unfavourable outcome of the last European summit, which was the first of its kind without the mediation of the international community, showed that we have sufficient domestic potential at crucial historical moments to unite on important issues. After all, in spite of all the political differences between the government and the opposition, when it mattered most, a few crucial two-thirds laws were passed with a broad consensus in the area of the judiciary, the anti-corruption legislation and the security system reform.
By the end of this year, for the first time in the Cabinet of the President, we will organise a series of meetings with sports fan groups in which young people of different ethnic backgrounds are active, which will also be attended, again at my invitation, by several actors and witnesses of the 2001 conflict, who were then on different sides. My aim is to show these young people, through direct examples, the price of violence on the one hand, and the value of dialogue and debate on the other hand, on the most difficult issues we face in our common country.
We have not overcome the old divisions along ethnic and party lines, and on a daily basis we already see new divisions, whether in relation to people with disabilities, whether in terms of different sexual orientation or gender identity of some of us.
Dear friends, as long as we are divided on different grounds and discriminated against, we cannot talk about progress and define ourselves as a progressive society. In doing so, no change for the better has happened because the public or the environment was prepared for it, but because someone was actively working to make that change happen. We should all fight against prejudice and stereotypes, but let us be truthful, the responsibility to be at the forefront of that fight lies, above all, on us, the elected politicians.
From the first days of my term, I have been trying to make a specific contribution in that direction. In the President’s Cabinet, 50% of the newly employed associates are women; there are also people with disabilities who are employed therein, as well as an adviser on gender issues. In terms of equitable representation, members of all ethnic communities work in the Cabinet. As for the representation of the largest non-majority community, for the first time in history, many responsible and managerial positions are held by ethnic Albanians: national security adviser, Intelligence Agency director, and the elite army unit “Wolves” for the first time since its formation has a multiethnic composition. I would like to emphasize in particular the fact that members of non-majority communities are not hired solely because of their ethnic origin, but primarily because they possess the highest professional references, according to the standards set by the member states of the Western Alliance.
You will allow me to briefly dwell on the much-commented Law on Languages in this section of my speech, in particular, in the opinion of the Venice Commission, which, unfortunately, based on our old, bad habits, was read exclusively through political and ethnic dioptrics. The Venice Commission does not say that the Law is contrary to our Constitution because that is not its competence at all. Moreover, the Commission does not say that the Albanians are given too many rights; on the contrary, it points us as an example of a state that goes even beyond the high European standards in this area. However, top European lawyers are right to note that our country, at this point, does not have capacity and resources to implement these standards in court and administrative proceedings. In other words, what good can a law bring if its provisions remain only on paper? To be even more precise about my personal position: two years ago, then as an MP, at a meeting of the Committee on European Affairs I argued that no state had fallen apart because it has given its citizens too many rights in the field of languages. The Law on Languages certainly has no potential to destabilize the country, but if we declare that laws are passed for the sake of the citizens, it is honest to make all necessary adjustments so that they can really be enforced.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In this legislative house, in 2017, we witnessed tragic events due to the so-called ‘captured state.’ Since then, in just 2.5 years, we have managed to restore the country back to normalcy and bring it to the doorstep of NATO membership and opening of negotiations with the EU, which is the fastest-ever restoration of state institutions in post-war Europe. Key democratic indicators – freedom of media, economic freedoms, removal of political control from the judiciary and administration, have moved in a positive direction, and this is demonstrated by all objective analyses done in our country and abroad.
However, general perception among our citizens is that this progress is not sufficient because their expectations after ten years of autocratic regime have, rightly, been higher. The widespread civil movement of resistance that was the generator of the democratic change acted under the motto “No Justice, No Peace”, but unfortunately, 3.5 years after our only post-communist democratic revolution, few are convinced that justice has arrived. In a series of court cases we saw no closure; we witnessed some of the largest legal cases became obsolete, and the creator of the regime escaped both from the justice and the state, and no institution publicly stated how such a thing was possible at all. The culmination of the critical situation in the judiciary system was the so-called “Racket” case in which one of the accused of serious crimes was the leading person of the institution that was established with the sole purpose – to prosecute criminals.
Ladies and Gentlemen, one fact does not speak well of our judicial system’s resilience to external influences – we have been an independent state for almost three decades, and no senior politician or ‘quick-buck’ businessman has ended up behind bars, although there should have been more than just one. There is a general perception among the citizens that only the poor, and the people on the margins, who have no relations to any government, are held liable even for petty offenses. Therefore, we should not be surprised that many young people are educated by the so-called reality shows, and their idols are not honest people, with credibility and personal integrity, but individuals from the criminal circles.
Here, without intending to interfere into someone’s political programs and ideas, from this perspective, I want to publicly urge the next government: immediately after the elections, implement the vetting procedure of both judges and prosecutors, but first of all start with politicians. And anyone who has no logical justification for becoming a millionaire with a state salary should immediately face not only a resignation, but a criminal procedure.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The new democratic government, since the beginning of its term in June 2017, has taken bold political steps to close political disputes of historic dimension with Bulgaria and Greece. Only politicians with a vision could do that, and here I refer to the most responsible people in all 3 countries at that time. Much is said and written about the treaties, so I will only try to position those two documents in historical perspective. Compromises were difficult, but without them it would have been even more difficult because our future would have been vague in the long run. NATO membership is a historic success for this generation of politicians, but also for all those who have been actively working for that cause since 1993, since the first Declaration adopted by no vote against, exactly in this Assembly. According to the same model of state unity, we will have to work together in the negotiations with the EU, because if we do not gather together the most intelligent heads in that process, then we will not be in a position to blame only the bureaucrats in Brussels for their length and eventually bad solutions.
Briefly, the value of both treaties is that we have made a compromise to open the door to the Euro-Atlantic integrations as a prerequisite for our progress, but, in doing so, we did not compromise the most precious thing for us – the identity that has international verification now. After their signing, their full implementation depends on the will of both parties in both cases. We have two obligations in this regard, first, to respect the treaties because it is one of the most important international obligations of any serious state, second, to insist on consistent implementation of the obligations by the other party, because the treaties do not contain only obligations for us and rights for them.
It is true that the implementation of the good neighborly agreement with the Republic of Bulgaria in recent months has seen an evident slowdown in the work of the joint commission comprised of historians. From the moment of its signing, 2.5 years ago, this political leadership was well aware that in the years ahead we will have to engage, openly and free of any complexes, in discussions about the so-called white stains or historical periods and figures that in Communism were deliberately forgotten or unilaterally presented and explained in the public in both countries. In that sense, we are absolutely ready to confront the arguments on certain historical controversies linked to different interpretations of the same event or person, as we are also ready to invest joint efforts aimed at de-ideologizing history, yet the right to identify ourselves as Macedonians who speak Macedonian language has been and will be out of any debate as it is a long-standing and finished historical process.
The strategic opening to third countries, now that we are a de facto NATO member, should happen soon. We have no reason to be reserved in our relations with the countries that are not part of the Euro-Atlantic space, and we should base our dialogue with them on the legitimate economic interests that each country has.
Our departure from international isolation in the last three years has also meant a departure from the regional isolation we were in under the will of the previous government. For small states like ours, good neighborly relations must be the first foreign-policy priority. I have paid official visits to Albania and Serbia, and I will visit the remaining three neighbors. In the context of the current regional initiatives, I would like to stress in particular that they should never be understood as a substitute for European integration, but only as an instrument for our faster integration into Europe. Therefore, if we want the so-called mini-Schengen to be effective, it must encompass all six Western Balkan countries, not just three. I had the same attitude about one past initiative, called the Balkan Benelux, which in turn intended to connect the countries in our region based on a different logic. I am convinced that in the 21st century the Balkans does not need 19th and 20th century state ideologies so that today we talk about rebuilding a new Yugoslavia or establishing Balkan alliances that will be directed against each other. If we really want a better life, then we have to unite under the model of Europe after World War II – we do not forget the past but we leave it in the archives and focus on the future.
Because time in the Balkans, unfortunately, passes slower than elsewhere in the world, in 2019, some world power centers discussed new adjustments to the borders in the Balkans, even exchange of people and territories. My view from the beginning was and remains that a new change in the Balkan borders will certainly bring us back to the early 1990s and cause tensions and possibly new conflicts. With due respect to all those who have a different opinion on the talks between Belgrade and Pristina, I have stated and explained this position to all foreign statesmen I have met so far, and of course I communicated it to the President of Serbia and to the President and Prime Minister of Kosovo. The solution to Kosovo’s international status should contribute to and strengthen regional stability and security. I cannot see logic in solving one problem and opening several others in the same region. The international community as the controller of this whole process must know better the Balkan historical specifics and know that the security of all Balkan countries is intertwined.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the problems with a more recent date, which unfortunately is still not treated as a serious threat to our present and future, is environmental pollution. As we watch footage of the devastating effects of global warming, we think it is happening to some other people far from us, but here, around us, our citizens are dying as a result of air pollution. Experts are unanimous that in recent years, except for Chapter 23 on the rule of law, negotiations with the European Union on Chapter 27, environmental protection, are the most difficult and costly for the candidate countries. Couple of days ago, the new European Commission presented the so-called Green Deal by which it committed itself to making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. If we want one day to be part of a united Europe truly, 2050 is not far.
It has long been clear to me that no central, or local government, can independently solve that problem in just one term. Therefore, I propose to take this issue out of daily politics and engage in adopting a state strategy to mitigate the negative effects of this phenomenon that seriously undermines the nation’s potential. I have publicly supported the civic sector’s demand for a larger state budget to protect the environment, and in view of changing the paradigms in this area that we need so much, I will schedule a Security Council meeting where we would discuss air pollution for the first time and I will invite the relevant ministry and NGOs active in the field to confront their views.
Let me propose today and publicly explain why I am deeply convinced that another topic should be left out of electoral debates and inter-party bickering. We all know why for 20 years we could not, or more precisely, we did not want to organize a census. Notorious fact is that a large number of our citizens, not just young people, have left the country forever. Migration is one of the greatest threats to the security and future of the country because it reduces the biological substrate of the nation on which our survival and prosperity in all vital sectors of society are directly dependent. I cannot see how people think they would win political scores if they say that 300,000 people left the country in “your time” and only 250,000 in “our time”?!
Magic formula and quick solutions to this problem, so far, have not been found even in the most developed parts of the world. At the same time, it is naive and dangerous if one believes that he can go against the logic of globalization and advocate closure within national borders. However, I urge the relevant political parties to sit together and adopt a beyond-party strategy at least to mitigate the consequences of this ‘Golgotha’ of our people. In a situation where we wait 15 years to start negotiations with the EU, in a situation where we join NATO after 20 years of received candidate status, when the standard per-capita is at 80% of the former Yugoslav average, with an average salary of EUR 400 or 500, migration can only mark new defeating records. Here, not as politicians, but as ordinary people, we must agree that if only one single young man leaves the country because of our policies, it is not just a tragedy for his family but for all of us objectively.
And my last, third proposal to create a consensus on state policies and priorities necessary for accelerated growth in the global era was initiated this month, and to its supposed end in the first half of next year, I will only share a few basic facts with the public. I recently set up a board and working committees for a project called MKD 2030, which is due to present by June next year the strategic framework for the country’s development in the next 10 years. Prominent individuals from the academic community, business community, civil society, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Art, competent ministries, Parliament, chambers of commerce, trade unions were invited to participate and be involved in the preparation of the final document. Independent experts from abroad and domestic joined us, as well as individuals from both the government and the opposition. According to the initial overview, digitalization will be identified as one of the priority areas for the development of the state, because my idea is that our fourth republic, if it wants to be successful, will have to be digitalized.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the context of European integration, the assessment from Brussels is that we have done, until now, all that was necessary to start the negotiations. Since the political decision will be made in the spring, it is however extremely important that we organize fair and democratic elections. The upcoming parliamentary elections simply cannot be below the presidential level in two essential respects: first, a democratic environment with free media and administration staff free of pressure, and second, political rhetoric and culture that respects the opponent and congratulates the victory at the end of the election day. Each of us has a duty and responsibility, not rhetorically but practically, to show to the citizens that the electoral battle is not a battle of life and death. We have all been in a electoral campaign and we know that the emotions at that period are at a higher level, that the words can come out of our mouths faster that we think if we are carried by the euphoric atmosphere, but it is most important not to forget that after the elections and after the term, we will have to look into our eyes again, so we need to keep our cheek clean and stay human till the end.
Distinguished citizens, Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Let me congratulate you on the upcoming holidays. For 2020 I will not wish you luck in the elections, but only health and happiness for you and your loved ones. I wish you all good health and long life! Long live our common state, the Republic of North Macedonia!