SKOPJE – The final panel of the Civil Society Forum in Skopje, featuring Prime Minister of Macedonia Zoran Zaev, as well as Ioannis Armakolas, Assistant Professor in the University of Macedonia and Head of the South-East Europe Programme at ELIAMEP, concluded the event with discussion on cooperation and inter-ethnic relations in the region of Western Balkans.
Addressing the elephant in the room, Prime Minister Zaev reminded the audience that his country is proceeding with the implementation of Prespa agreement with Greece and that his government has sent the initiative for constitutional changes to the parliament on Monday.
“Now that the only chance for EU and NATO membership in 27 years is here, we, as a society, have to show responsibility. Our rating and whether we will loose the next elections is of second-rate importance”, he stressed.
Commenting on the panel’s title, “Bridges or Walls? Macedonia and the Western Balkans in Europe”, Zaev stated that most of the regions politicians, citizens and CSOs are focused on building bridges. In the past year and a half, he added, his country has built bridges within itself, with Bulgaria and Greece. The trade with the latter country has risen by 12% even though the Agreement is not yet implemented.
“No country in the Balkans, not even Greece, can achieve progress on its own. Macedonia is a small country and will improve itself only through integration with others”, Zaev emphasised.
Prime Minister identified two main reasons for the instability of the region – lack of motivation for EU integrations and tense inter-ethnic relations. He stated that the recently launched processes of screening and monitoring are a significant motivating factor for Macedonia and expressed his belief that all countries of the region will eventually become EU members.
“If we deliver, EU will deliver”, said Zaev, adding that he wants to participate in regional leadership towards EU. He also stressed that Macedonia is a positive example of a multi-ethnic country in the region. It can serve as an example to the countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina that citizenship should come before ethnic identity.
Professor Armakolas remarked that the Prespa agreement is not popular in both Macedonia in Greece. However, in his view, it is also very important for the region because it reminds of the 1990s conflicts and the need for overcoming them.
He also emphasised that the enthusiasm for EU integration is lost, and that a combination of regional political leadership and positive messaging from EU is needed for it to return.
“We all have a picture of what kind of society we want to live in – a European-style one. And that is already a unifying factor”, Armakolas stated.
This panel officially closed Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Series, the second one in Macedonian capital. The closing remarks on behalf of organisers were delivered by Felix Henkel of Friderich-Ebert-Stieftung, who thanked the participants and partners and underlined the importance of civil society in the Berlin Process.