Tuesday, May 28, 2024

INTERVIEW, BUJAR OSMANI: THE BALL IS HERE, NOT IN PARIS – WE ARE CLOSE TO SOLVING THE DISPUTE WITH BULGARIA

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Northern Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, says that he is not impressed by the ethnic prejudices he faces as the head of state diplomacy. As an ethnic Albanian trying to resolve the problem with Bulgaria, he has often been criticized in public for not having the right to negotiate for Macedonian identity. In an interview with KDP, Osmani says that these doubts are normal for a society that is moving to a modern framework of the state of Northern Macedonia, where everyone is equal before the law and obligations.

As a NATO member, Osmani says northern Macedonia has no dilemmas in relation to Ukraine: it strongly supports its territorial integrity and sovereign right to set its own strategic foreign policy orientations.

On the problem with Bulgaria, Osmani says the two countries are closer than ever to finding a solution.

The interview also talks about the dilemmas of recent days about the appointment of consuls in the US, or even about the vacancies of embassies in some important states.

 

Interviewer: Seladin Xhezairi

 

KDP: Since 2020, Bulgaria has been blocking the opening of Northern Macedonia’s membership negotiations with the European Union (EU). Now that we have new governments in Sofia and Skopje, are you still optimistic that a solution will finally be found?

Bujar Osmani: I am one of the few politicians from both sides who has been engaged in solving this problem from the beginning. So, I have been involved since August 2, when the Good Neighbor Agreement was signed, then in the Prespa Agreement, in the ups and downs of relations … So I have to be more careful when it comes to optimism as I am aware of the context in which I operate. What are the difficulties we will face, despite the goodwill and enthusiasm of both governments, we are clear that we have no choice but to continue the efforts to find solutions. Of course we are optimistic as our task is to realize the aspirations of the citizens who have committed us to work in their interest. I think there is a new dynamic. With the formation of new governments, after almost two years, we have better preconditions for action. I say this because even the last political government in Bulgaria was under a lot of pressure. You have in mind that at that time there were street protests, it was a pre-election period, then there were technical governments, three consecutive election cycles … This made it difficult for the space to overcome these differences. Now, for the first time, we have two governments, which are at the beginning of the mandate as an important precondition towards a solution, and which have the political will to close this open issue, which holds hostage the relations between the two countries, but also each country separately.

 

KDP: How will this issue be closed when the positions of both parties remain as they were?

Bujar Osmani: That is why there are talks. These talks did not start a month ago, but have been going on for more than a year. We went through different stages of those negotiations, with different approaches, with different perspectives, in which case there was a lot of work but also mistrust between the parties. However, as the talks unfolded some issues have been clarified, some positions have been approximated, some perspectives have changed and now we have a situation where everything is written on paper. It is said that if you can write a problem on paper, you have half of it solved. This means that if you can define the problem correctly, you are halfway there. I think that the success of the talks so far has been the definition of the dispute, the clear definition of the positions of both parties. This is a very important precondition because, when you do not have defined positions, you can neither meet nor talk about differences. I think we have now defined the problem. It will take goodwill, wisdom, less emotion and, of course, diplomatic creativity for this already defined problem to be resolved in the interest of both parties.

 

KDP: You said that from the beginning you are involved in resolving disputes with neighbors. How do you see the criticism coming from Macedonian political circles, who say who is Bujar Osmani to solve this issue that is related to the ethno-cultural identity of Macedonians? There are also voices from former diplomats who say that Northern Macedonia should cancel the Good Neighbor Agreement with official Sofia and the whole process should start from the beginning?

Bujar Osmani: These are two aspects, two assessments. As for the first aspect, I think it is classic prejudice. I do not take this prejudice very seriously because it will take time for people to understand a new Northern Macedonia. This prejudice was much greater before the Ohrid Agreement – first it was why Albanians are here, why they are in institutions, then why they lead those institutions, who are the Albanians to deal with state issues…. These are stages through which passes a society that has grown up in a different framework and now moves to another framework. This does not happen only here, but to every people that passes from the old framework to the new framework of the state. I am convinced that at the very end, when all this is over, the important role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be understood, my role and ours as a political entity to unify the position of different ethnicities in a state position. This result can now be underestimated as often the mountain is not visible from the trees, but in the end it will be seen how important it was for the state to speak with one voice, without divisions between ethnic communities. When all this is successfully completed then even a great prejudice will be broken, as many prejudices have been broken from 2001, 2002 until now. As for the second aspect, namely the demand for reconsideration of the agreement, I think these are extreme nationalisms that exist in every society. What is more important than that they do not represent the majority of the people because the majority of each community wants a Northern Macedonia that is stable, in a developmental form, towards integration into the European Union, that wants a good standard of living… We are working in this direction.

 

KDP: We must accept the fact that, however, that consensus is important within the Macedonian political camp, at a time when we have two diametrically opposed positions between SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE.

Bujar Osmani: Consensus yes, but not unification of the attitudes of all people. It is impossible, but also unnecessary. You know that when the Ohrid Agreement was signed, 80 percent of the public opinion of ethnic Macedonians was against, while today 70 percent are in favor. The same report was made for the Prespa Agreement – the Macedonian community was against, and now they are for. This means that politicians should lead, not follow. Even in this case, when we are convinced that we do it in the interest of the citizens, they will support us.

 

KDP: There was talk of different approaches of our side and the Bulgarian one. For the first time, the ethnic Bulgarians of Northern Macedonia were asked to be included in the Constitution. This has caused different opinions in the Macedonian political camp, but also between the party you represent and the Macedonian parties in government?

Bujar Osmani: There are some points that are discussed in at least the open issues with Bulgaria.

 

KDP: Can you name those points?

Bujar Osmani: We have negotiations that are underway, both at the political level and at the level of experts. I can not elaborate on those issues while the talks are ongoing. Last week we had a meeting in Sofia, next week in Skopje we will meet at the political level to give direction to the diplomatic talks. However, we also talked about the need to include the Bulgarian community in the country’s Constitution. This is not just a matter of the dispute with Bulgaria, but a matter of the state’s new relationship with communities and citizens, opened by the Ohrid Agreement. If a community expresses a desire to be part of those mechanisms enabled by the Ohrid Agreement, then we think that agreement should not be exclusive to any community. Therefore, the request for the inclusion of the Bulgarian community in the Constitution is a request of our citizens. This topic is now part of the talks with Sofia, but as a request comes from citizens of Northern Macedonia. Therefore, I think that in this regard we are known for the success we have achieved with the Ohrid Agreement that brought unparalleled functioning multiethnic democracy in the region and beyond. We should absolutely not be afraid of something for which we are best.

 

KDP: There are assessments according to which the international community – the European Union, the United States of America – said conditionally ‘burned’ a prime minister of a country, a reformist prime minister, as former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was called. Do you expect that France, as the next chair of the EU, by the end of the mandate will impose moves forward in the sense of unblocking the process or…?

Bujar Osmani: Firstly, I do not agree that the international community “burned” any politician here. The international community, especially the US and the European Union are our closest partners without whom we here could not make any great political success. We are grateful to them and remain in the cultivation of this partnership in the future. As for the Presidency of France, a few days ago I had a visit to Paris to explain there the new dynamics that has been created between us and Bulgaria and to see if this is in line with the dynamics of the French presidency, seeing that they too after two months have presidential and parliamentary elections. In this regard, I can say that these dynamics coincide, but first of all, our dynamics will be decisive. Ours with Bulgaria. France will certainly then support it and not hinder a result that could be achieved between us and Bulgaria, but now the ball is here – not in Paris!

 

KDP: Do you think that by June we will see that ‘white smoke’?

Bujar Osmani: Now I can not talk about concrete dates. It is important that, as I said, we have managed to define the problem, now we have to close it. If we close this will be a historical turning point for the country because for the first time in the history of this country we will have a situation when there will be no more open political topics, whether interethnic or inter-neighbor state. With NATO membership, with the start of talks with the EU, Northern Macedonia enters a completely different chapter, both of the political process and of social development. Therefore I think it will be very important to open this new chapter, whether it will be a month earlier or later.

 

KDP: Let’s move on to issues that at first glance are internal, but it is not that they are not reflected externally. There have been debates over the appointment or non-appointment of ambassadors in some countries. Why is this happening? Do you have disagreements inside with the president of the state, or…?

Bujar Osmani: This is an old topic. The appointment of ambassadors requires coordination between three institutions: the foreign minister, the prime minister and the president. The issue of coordination is always attractive to the public. The report of political-appointed and career diplomats should also be mentioned here. Under the current Foreign Affairs Law, at least 25 percent of ambassadors must be from home, conditionally speaking. So career diplomats. In the bill I sent to the government, I demand that 75 percent of the ambassadors be career diplomats, while 25 percent be people affirmed by various sectors of society. But this is still a proposal. 15 ambassadors have been appointed since I became minister. Except for the one in Rome, everyone else is a career diplomat. This means that out of 15 ambassadors appointed last year and this year, 14 are career diplomats. Of course, this does not exclude the debate on names in the future because, realistically, ambassadors are the image of the state abroad.

 

KDP: How did it happen that in the two world capitals, Brussels and Washington, our country does not have ambassadors for a long time?

Bujar Osmani: We have an ambassador in Brussels. There are only seven vacancies left out of a total of 58. It is the first time we have such a large percentage of vacancies. Two critical countries have been Washington and Sofia – Washington because of Washington, and Sofia because of the dispute we have. But we have a decision for Sofia, which was taken only seven days after the formation of the new government. This is a reflection of this new structure, ie mine as a minister, of the prime minister and the president to make quick decisions. In Sofia we have again assigned career diplomas. Very soon we will come up with a name for Washington. We will also fill the vacancy that will be vacated in Brussels within the year.

 

KDP: We are conducting this interview a day after speculation about the appointment of consuls in the US. There have been various interpretations. The curved names have echoed as they speak of possible political-party implications. What is the truth?

Bujar Osmani: Ambassadors and consuls are proposed by the Government. Until confirmed by the host country it is considered confidential information. Therefore I can not confirm any information or any name at this stage, when confidentiality is required by law. What I can say is that in New York we have a consul general, who is a career diplomat. His term has not yet ended. Therefore, I do not want to comment on all the speculations that circulated in the public these days.

 

KDP: Yesterday was that D day, when Russia was expected to attack Ukraine, but thankfully it did not happen. How do you see the latest developments in and around Ukraine? What is your assessment of these developments taking place between East and West?

Bujar Osmani: Like the whole world, we are also concerned because it is a great threat to security. It is not only a threat to the security of Europe, but also a threat to the world order, to the sovereignty of states, to the basic principles of the UN, the OSCE… Of course, this makes us all attentive and careful about what we can do. It makes us more active in preventing a possible escalation. What puts us in another position is the fact that we are a member of NATO. This gives us access to information we could not have imagined two years ago when we were not a member of NATO. We as a state now have access to all information related to developments in and around Ukraine. In the first place, this allows us to make decisions based on reliable information. And second, it enables us to contribute and be part of the Alliance in ensuring collective defense. NATO is not an Alliance that threatens Russia or any other country, but is an Alliance for the collective defense of member countries. There are two approaches to resolving the problem: the first is to use diplomatic means with Russia, and the second is to protect each member state from any threat that may come to the region. We hope that Russia will reflect and de-escalate the situation. Northern Macedonia has a principled position in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but also in support of the right of Ukraine, like any other sovereign country, to determine its own strategic orientations in foreign policy. In this regard, we will continue to be active in sending these messages. We are unique within NATO and we will do our best to give a chance to de-escalate the situation through diplomatic instruments, but of course we will be ready to defend ourselves.

 

KDP: These days you will attend the international security conference in Munich, Germany. What impact can developments in and around Ukraine have on the Western Balkans region?

Bujar Osmani: Of course, it has. The Western Balkans is not that far from that area of ​​conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Of course, there are other forms of influence, be it hybrid, political or attempting to defocus. NATO and we as members from this region are in focus on the implication of that crisis in this part of Europe. All countries within NATO make possible preparations, be they economic, cyber or even other consequences that may result from a possible escalation there.

 

Të fundit