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February 21, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 126
Interview: Kiro Gligorov

Who Minds Macedonia's Independence

Memoir notes by those who a few years ago negotiated the fate of exYugoslavia in the name of Europe, all agree in one point: Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov was the only reasonable and tolerant negotiator of all former Yugoslav leaders.

At home, Gligorov was criticized for pursuing a mild and "not patriotic enough'' policy, because of his obstinate conviction that Macedonia should respect the interests of the others. His Balkan neighbors as well don't like quite a few thinks. Several days ago, official Athens said "he (Gligorov) doesn't live in reality,'' and some other neighbors warned that "nothing is final and certain'' in the Macedonia case. Parts of Macedonia have been measured more or less openly and a scientific gathering called to "definitively settle the Macedonian issue.''

It's therefore logical to begin the interview with President Gligorov's comment on the US. recognition of Macedonia.

GLIGOROV: This recognition is undoubtedly very important for us, since the US. is now the world's only super power and the main member of the U.N. Security Council and other international organizations both military and civilian. The recognition of Macedonia by all other factors from the EU to the U.N. to China was believed not to have had the real weight without the US. recognition, meaning that some other scenarios could have been used to resolve the developments in the Balkan. The US. recognition is a precondition for our participation in all future talks as a separate and internationally recognized entity. You'll understand the meaning of this if you go back in history, to the Balkan warns and the two world wars, when we were unable to influence the outcome of talks on Macedonia's status. The practice of letting others decide our fate is now over.

VREME: Does this mean that the only remaining thing to do is to complete a technical part of the recognition of Macedonia's new position.

GLIGOROV: It's very important now that Macedonia be admitted to the CSCE. There are no obstacles to this in the sense that we don't meet the CSCE standards. All reports by relevant factors, including the CSCE itself, show that Macedonia fulfills all conditions to become a full CSCE member. At one point, Albania objected to this, but Greece is not the only country opposing our admission to the CSCE. Joining the CSCE would be of crucial importance for us, it would make us part of the collective security system mainly political in character and eventually a part of the project "Partnership for Peace."

VREME: How much does the presence of foreign troops mean to Macedonia and the region as a whole? Milovan Djilas said in an interview lately that the Macedonians had retained Macedonia thanks to the presence of foreign troops there.

GLIGOROV: The chronology of that is as follows: first, UNPROFOR troops came to Macedonia at our initiative. Our assessment was that it will be good bearing in mind the overall situation in the Balkans to initiate a preventive, not classical peacekeeping operation here. Never before have peace keepers been engaged to prevent a war or have they helped prevent one. Moreover, US. troops have never taken part in such operations. The U.N. secretary general found the idea interesting and a 1,000men contingent no Americans among them was formed later. We welcomed the Scandinavian battalion and we were very satisfied with the selection of troops. US. troops came in later, which means that they are not the only or an independent force here, but part of the U.N. mandate. I repeat, it's only that the US. has never taken part in a preventive operation nor has it ever put its troops under someone else's control. The US. Congress seriously divided over the issue, but in the end agreed to contribute 300 soldiers to UNPROFOR in Macedonia and put them under the command of U.N. officers.

I'm elaborating on this because of frequent comments that US. troops have been sent here independently and under a special agreement. Their presence here further shows America's wish not to have the conflict spread to the south. From their point of view, Macedonia's involvement in the was would mean a war on the border of a NATO member Greece.

Such a conflict could further drag all Macedonia's neighbors, and possibly Turkey another NATO member. All this would have far-ranging consequences to America's strategic interests and might even turn out to be more dangerous that the conflict in Bosnia which is, despite its effects of international developments, a limited war. For the time being, the war in Bosnia has no repercussions that could cause a conflict on NATO's southern wing.

The second reason for such US. engagement lies, I believe, in the fact that Macedonia is a proof that ethnic problems can be solved without the use of arms. I do not idealize things, but we are really an example of ethnic tolerance and cooperation. In short, the presence of these troops although in a small number send a clear message to anyone who might come their way, if the conflict spills out to Macedonia. This is rather a political than a military warning.

VREME: The original idea of a demilitarized Macedonia has been abandoned. Why?

GLIGOROV: Yes, the idea existed, but in the meantime, we had to set priorities and deploy our army along the borders. Afterwards, it was logical to ask for international assistance, all the more so tat at that point Macedonia was not recognized by such a large number of countries.

VREME: International observers monitor your northern and western borders. You said recently that Belgrade's intentions towards Macedonia should be judged by whether its recognizes you or not. What is Your view of current scenarios for Macedonia?

GLIGOROV: The fact is that a war is going on northwest of Macedonia and that it threatens to spread. And there is the problem of Kosovo. I don't think that Macedonia is directly threatened from Serbia. Nevertheless, a potential threat exists as long as the war continues and no adequate solutions are found for Kosovo. I am confident that such threats would recede or even disappear with the mutual recognition of the FR Yugoslavia and Macedonia.

VREME: Have You ever made such an initiative?

GLIGOROV: I have presented the idea in an interview and the matter was discussed with Mr. Milosevic during our meeting in Ohrid last year. I said that the mutual recognition was necessary for a number of reasons and that it would be easy to carry out between the two parties that are not in conflict and have to territorial aspirations on each otheras officially declared, and apart from ideas and forces that might think otherwise. It's also the fact that the army had left Macedonia peacefully and without any incidents.

Considering all this, and the general mood in Macedonia and I believe in Serbia as well, I think that our mutual recognition would be received with cheers. Two moments are very important for Macedonia-Serbia relations: Serbia's recognition of Macedonia and the Macedonian nation in 1944, and an agreed evacuation of the army from Macedonia. Both imply a mutual recognition as a logical move that would open more space for cooperation in all fields. On the other hand, FR Yugoslavia would score an important point by eliminating all fears that the war could spread, and that Belgrade might have certain hidden ambitions which are at this point mere speculations about future developments in the Balkans. The recognition would also cast a different light on the Kosovo issue, showing it as a problem related to the FR Yugoslavia. Because, fears that the war could spread to the south is only encouraging hopes for an all-Albanian solution in these areas. They are encouraging the forces also in other former Yugoslav republics, which advocate the creation of great nationalist states. Macedonia is an exception since we maintain that the Macedonian state is possible only within its present borders. Anything else would be an adventure with a disastrous outcome.

VREME: Greek Prime Minister Papandreou commented the US. recognition of Macedonia as Your inability to comprehend all possible effects of that move. What is Your opinion of Macedonia's future relations with Greece?

GLIGOROV: Only through negotiations on both the general relations and particular moves that have been made these days and that could indicate a possible outcome of that other way. Not choosing this path was the initial mistake, but we are really willing and ready to discuss all issues. There is no other way of showing that what appears to be disputable is actually easy to resolve. It's ridiculous to talk about Macedonia's territorial aspirations on Greece. Greece keeps on demanding our guarantees of the inviolability of borders, which we've been parroting since the very beginning. We even proposed a bilateral agreement on this matter, and we are ready to sign it any time even with the EU of U.N. guarantees, if need be.

Greek links with Europe lead through Macedonia and our links with the rest of the world go through Greece, let alone other mutual interests. Why shall we work against our mutual interests and continue the current conflict which is in many aspects imaginary, emotional and burdened with certain historical legacies on both sides.

This approach demonstrates the sense for reality of our policy. The quality of our policy is also that we never sowed hate against anyone. We always wanted good relations with all our neighbors, and the promotion not suspension of cooperation in all fields. As for Greece, I shall remind you that Macedonia was not the one imposing this latest embargo and closing the border.

VREME: Macedonia was underdeveloped and stood a poor chance to survive as independent, but it recently repaid its foreign debts and is likely to get new credits. What part of this is Macedonia's current policy and what its strategic goals?

GLIGOROV: I believe that Macedonia must base its position within our final commitment to a market economy. All small countries, including Macedonia and other Balkan states, must embrace an open national economy it they want to prosper.

It's difficult to stay on that track without foreign aid, and that's why we first focused on the efforts to obtain the international recognition. We even have missions of many international financial institutions come here before our status in them was renewed. We have prepared and discussed a number of projects and we found their understanding for our inability to repay some 100 million dollars of the inherited debt which would in fact delay some other economic moves. We first received help from the governments of particular countries, and from the International Development Agency. The remaining 25 million dollars were covered by a short-term loan of the Soros foundation.

VREME: We Presume that You had advocated the same stands in the ``talks between the Six'' in ex-Yugoslavia. Why did the talks fail?

GLIGOROV: The outcome of the talks depended on the will of all participants and nothing could have been imposed. We all missed a very favorable opportunity, some of us underestimated it, the others viewed it as a trap. I'm referring to the EC offer to admit Yugoslavia as its associate member if a peaceful solution was found to the crisis for which even some 4.5 million dollars were set aside. But, not all of us were ready to accept the offer, some did not trust it and the others had already chose the option that later led to the conflict. I believe today that we had missed a very important chance to avoid what later happened in Yugoslavia.

VREME: A US military and a Russian diplomatic delegation visited Skopje yesterday. Are you under pressure from both sides?

GLIGOROV:None of the visits was made with such intentions. Talks with Mr. Churkin, the envoy of President Yeltsin, focused on further diplomatic and other relations, especially economic cooperation which is of a major interest for us. Moscow has been engaged in finding a solution for Bosnia and this was an opportunity to get information about their direct activities. We wanted to learn more elements of Russia's policy, its main stands and what could be effects of these stands. So, it was a meeting between the representatives of two friendly countries and an opportunity to get more information about each other and to agree a closer cooperation.

The US. delegation came here to visit its troops, above all. There were no pressures, no demands to increase their number here as it was speculated in the public. People often forget that they are only part of UNPROFOR and that their deployment in Macedonia was never requested on the bilateral basis. Stories about Macedonia as an aircraft carrier on the ground are unrealistic for very serious reasons, and for trivial ones as well. Our airport can hardly manage the civilian air traffic. But in the current circumstances, I can understand all sorts of exaggeration and calculations, none of which is based on reality. I can understand all those who keep on finding out the hidden meaning of this or that.

VREME: Such calculations are based, among other things, on the fact that the political map of the Balkans is being rearranged.

GLIGOROV: Macedonia has chosen the European option, which doesn't affect the legitimacy of Russian's presence on these territories. That is reality and it includes Russia's growing interest in cooperation with Europe, America and the rest of the world. The Balkan is certainly the place where such partnership should be present, since the old formula of Russia's or America's exclusive domination can no longer be justified. Everyone can find some interests in being present here and Japan has lately found its interest not only to confirm its economic supremacy in the field of diplomacy, but it is also aware of the declining number of attractive markets. The Balkans is very interesting in this respect now that the cold-war era of polarized interests is over. Not everyone can see that clearly at this point, but the sooner we realize it, the lesser our traumas will be.

Macedonian crossroads

VREME: War and international blockade of the FR Yugoslavia have nearly cut traffic on roads along the Morava and Vardar rivers. Meanwhile, Macedonia is taking part in the opening of a road and railway route Sofia-Skopje Tirana-Duress. On which stage is this project and what do you think will be its effect on the old routes?

GLIGOROV: The project of the east-west route is not replacing and is not supposed to lessen the importance of the north-south route which is the shortest way to Europe for both Macedonia and Greece, or to the south for Serbia. This route will be fully restored once the war is over, But in the meantime, why not open and east-west route? Albania had been isolated for long and Macedonia now has real economic reasons to open links with it. out trade and communications with Bulgaria had been very limited. Macedonia is located in the centre of the southern Balkan peninsula, it has no direct access to the sea and it is where the two axes cross. The international community, especially the EU, is interested in developing the both communication routes.

Talks not Bombs

VREME: What is Your opinion of widespread fears that NATO's ultimatum to Bosnian Serbs could plunge Macedonia into trouble?

GLIGOROV: That is certainly an overreaction, but every escalation of the conflict will fan up fears in Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans. We have heard reactions from Albania, Bulgaria and other countries. This must be taken into consideration, but let's hope that common sense will prevail and that talks will be held without the use of heavy guns.

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