Interview of President Pendarovski for the Greek weekly newspaper “Ethnos”

10 July 2022 | Interviews

Stevo Pentarovski on ethnos.gr: Greek-Turkish relations are a barometer for the Balkans as well – What does he say about the delays in the Prespa Agreement

  1. Last week you participated in the NATO Summit in Madrid. How do you see the balance shaping up at the international level, taking into account the war in Ukraine?

The war in Ukraine fully dictated the Summit’s agenda. In essence, two key decisions of the Summit were provoked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine: first, the new strategic concept of NATO where Russia was defined as the biggest security threat to the Alliance and second, an invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the organization. In short: Russian war in Ukraine had completely changed the geopolitical landscape of the continent.

  1. Do you fear further Russian incursions into the Balkans? And what would this mean for the entire Balkan region?

Russia is producing the most serious hybrid threats to the Balkan region, including political propaganda and disinformation campaigns. Specifically, in North Macedonia, the complexity and intensity of the hybrid threats is similar to the ones seen in 2018 during our referendum on the name issue. I do not have information about other Western Balkan countries, but, few fragile spots in the region are well known and Moscow will certainly try to penetrate deeper into them.

  1. Three years have passed since the signing of the Prespa Agreement, yet a number of issues have not progressed; for example, changes have not been made in schoolbooks, the meeting of the Supreme Council between the two countries has not been held, and no concrete solution has been reached regarding commercial trademarks. What do you think is the reason for this delay? Does anyone benefit from the delay?

As a matter of fact, the crucial part of the Prespa agreement is already implemented, but I agree that serious states and responsible politicians from each side should stick to all the obligations stipulated in the document. On behalf of my country, I can tell you that members of two commissions established by Prespa are ready to participate and they have already participated on all the meetings mutually agreed by both sides.

I agree that the tempo of the commissions’ activity should be intensified, but, speaking on the motifs of the other side, my guessing is that they are connected to the internal political dynamic in Greece.

  1. Which points would you like the Greek side to move on more quickly? Are you worried that Kyriakos Mitsotakis has not brought the three memoranda to Parliament for a vote?

I do hope that quite soon the three memoranda will be ratified by the Greek parliament that will pave the way for many more bilateral agreements to be put into force. All of these documents are important in order to strengthen the legal basis of our cooperation, apart from the political one, which has been much improved in the past few years.

  1. Apart from delays, however, a number of issues have progressed within the framework of the Agreement. What is your view about the positive agenda?

Our biggest achievement is membership in NATO as direct effect from the Prespa Agreement. On a positive note, it should also be notified that in my country many people have come to realize that change of the name has not undermined our national identity, which was our biggest concern during the years-long negotiations. Additionally, the agreement opened new possibilities for economic and trade exchanges and foreign direct investments in both directions. The gas connector at Alexandroupoli is only the latest example of joint venture that is expected to bring mutual benefits for the two countries.

  1. How do you see relations between the two societies today? Is there still opposition within North Macedonia regarding the Agreement?

Opposition is still there, but not with the scope and magnitude compared to the period of the constitutional changes. I do expect, as the time passes by, that many more people will realize that the agreement in essence marked a strategic opening for both countries. I suppose that concerning the opposition to the Agreement, the situation is quite similar in your country.

7.The road to the European dream has proven to be long for North Macedonia. What is your opinion on France’s compromise proposal in the conflict with Bulgaria?

I have already named it as a kind of a transitional compromise with one inborn blockade down the road. Namely, we will open the negotiations, and that is the biggest benefit of the modified French proposal, starting the negotiations after 17 years in waiting. However, after the screening process, there is one precondition to continue the negotiations, which is amendment to the Constitution to put Bulgarians into it. Having in mind our deep political polarization, there are slight chances that any political subject will be able to assemble two third of the parliamentary majority in order to support the changes.

8.What is your view on Greek-Turkish relations?

Both countries are our close allies within NATO, and we have close historical connections with both of them. Balanced and predictable relationships within Greece and Turkey are crucial for the stability of the Balkans, Mediterranean and the Middle East, but for the overall posture of the Alliance as well. As a member of NATO, North Macedonia is contributing towards better understanding within all the allies, including between Greece and Turkey.

9.Are you optimistic about a second term as the president of North Macedonia?

Since day one, my focus has always been managing through the troubled waters of the domestic and international politics, on behalf of my country, the best I can. And along the way, there is only one thing that really matters to me – the views and support of my fellow citizens. During my entire carrier, I have never considered any future moves without the backing of my people.

10.And something more personal. What is your relationship with Greece? Do you travel to Greece? Do you have friends here? Who has been your most frequent contact person in Greece over the years?

I have visited Greece for the first time in 1976, with my parents for a vacation. Since, I have been many times there as a tourist, as part of state delegations and as an expert on the international conferences. But, the place dearest to my heart is the island of Thassos, where I have met many friendly people. Having in mind my current obligations it would be nice if I can manage to go there again in the near future.

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