Mickoski: Elections are the only option we have left
The deadline for changing the Constitution of North Macedonia is approaching, and whether the country's highest state act will be changed again depends to a large extent on the largest Macedonian opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, since without its vote the necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament cannot be achieved. If the constitutional changes are not approved, North Macedonia is threatened with international isolation and a padlock on the door of the EU.
The correspondent from Skopje, Zeljko Sain, specially discussed the current situation and prospects of this country, for Politika, with the president of the VMRO-DPMNE party, Hristijan Mickoski.
Considering that the EU has not fulfilled the promises made to the Republic of North Macedonia, do you think that the re-change of the Constitution will really introduce it into the European family, or is there a chance that the country will face new conditions?
I have said many times that Macedonia and the other countries of the Western Balkans do not have the same treatment as the countries that joined the EU before, for example, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. This is especially visible when it comes to the European integration of Macedonia, which, although it changed the name of the country, did not become a member, and did not even start negotiations. It is frustrating and at the same time a bad signal that is sent to the countries on the candidate list for some of the next enlargements. However, I would also like to point out the fault of Macedonian diplomacy in the last six years, because it did not fight for better positions and guarantees for Macedonia's European integration path. Our diplomacy, unlike other countries, did not produce any guarantees that there would be no new obstacles on the way. In doing so, I am not talking about reform demands and changes to the Constitution in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria, but about obstacles that are of a subjective and purely political nature, and are delivered by our neighbors. What is the guarantee that this change of the Constitution requested from Macedonia will be the last, that tomorrow they will not ask for a change of the Constitution that will redefine issues of an identity character or that they will not ask for a new humiliation or erasure of Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia as the foundation of Macedonian statehood?! Some signals are coming from Bulgaria that already openly deny the Ilinden Uprising and its character, to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not react, keeping silent on the statements of the highest Bulgarian statesmen that the Ilinden Uprising was Bulgarian, which left many questions and doubts that Bulgaria can set other conditions, especially in the protocol part.
Through the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, Borrell sent a message to Macedonian citizens that changing the Constitution was the only way to the prosperity of the Republic of North Macedonia within the framework of European perspectives. A message with a similar tone was brought from Washington by Prime Minister Kovacevski from Blinken. How do you evaluate this attitude of Europe and the USA?
Macedonia is not looking for a preferential path for negotiations but is looking for the same, fair chances, which are the Copenhagen criteria. I will repeat the position held by VMRO-DPMNE: If changing the Constitution is a condition for the EU, then Macedonia would be a member and champion of the EU because, in these thirty years, it has had as many constitutional changes as all the members combined. We say this clearly and loudly to our partners from the international community. Partnership is a two-way street, based primarily on respect. Institutional guarantees from the EU are a small step for them and a great encouragement that the European path is not a moving goal, but something that is achievable. We are not looking for an exact date when we will become a member, but concrete tasks based on the reform of health, judiciary, social policy, agriculture, education, etc. We heard promises about a European Macedonia even before the referendum on the Prespa Agreement, and now, after so many years, we have nothing. These guarantees should mean that the next government, and the government after it, will have a specific goal that needs to be fulfilled, and not depend on whether the textbook for the third, sixth, or eighth grade will write what the Ilinden Uprising is, who was Tsar Samuil, Gotse Delchev or any other narrative. We, as VMRO-DPMNE, extended our hand to the authorities to build a position together and ask for a fair chance for Macedonia, but, unfortunately, we were refused.
You spoke with Prime Minister Kovacevski about this issue. When he offered you to become a part of the Government, and Ministers from the Albanian party DUI submitted their resignations in order to reach an agreement on changing the highest state act, why didn’t you accept all these offers?
We don't need government for government's sake. Elections in Macedonia will be sooner or later. We are not interested in their offer to participate in the Government without incorporating essential requirements related to the European integration path. We offered two packages of requests in which the focus was on guarantees that Macedonia would not be blocked. Participation in the Government which the incriminated structures Social Democratic Union of Macedonia and DUI will not be a part of can help pull the country out of the sinking, which happens every day. This could only help the country move towards reforms more easily, but it is also pointless without clear positions in foreign relations. You can make great reforms, but Bulgaria can hold you back because of historical and retrograde narratives. Let me mention that the Government did not make a statement about our proposals, but instead tried in a perfidious way to misuse and twist them. Now elections are the only option left to us. Citizens are sovereigns of the state. It's time to ask them.
Your views that elections should be held first, and then the change of the Constitution should be discussed – many people comment as satisfying the party’s interests, not national interests. How do you comment on that? Does this mean that you are in favor of changing the Constitution, but under certain conditions? Under which ones?
Since when are elections closely related to a party's interests? Elections are a democratic way for the people to express themselves about the political processes of a country. In the end, the people will give a mandate to whether and under what conditions the Macedonian Constitution will be changed. The change of the Constitution should arise from the internal need to regulate the relations of a state or a society, or because of external dictates and conditions. It is the people who will express themselves, and the parties will present their visions and proposals in the elections. A large part of the Macedonian public believes that dictated constitutional changes should not take place. They said that even before the authorities accepted the French proposal, which they are now presenting to us as if we were brought to a fait accompli and it could not have been otherwise. The consensus sought by the public, which referred to historical and identity topics being left out of the negotiations, which referred to some kind of reciprocity and a positive signal and institutional guarantees from the EU and Bulgaria, is a good basis on which the future VMRO-DPMNE Government will fight for the European future.
It is known that without the votes of VMRO-DPMNE, the two-thirds majority in the Assembly, necessary for changing the Constitution, will not be achieved. Despite this, the Government is optimistic that the Constitution will be changed within the required period. Do you think that the MPs of your party will remain loyal to the party's views?
VMRO-DPMNE MPs, as well as our coalition partners from the parliamentary group, have shown that these dictated changes cannot happen. In essence, the citizens were also convinced of this at the session of the parliamentary commission. That's why citizens are calm because they know that VMRO-DPMNE stands behind its position.
After Kurti's visit, how do you see relations with Serbia at the national level?
I am sorry that in the Balkans we missed the chance to enter the EU unitedly thirty years ago and that a lot of blood and hatred was spilled. Many borders have been drawn, so we now realize that these borders are an obstacle for us and that we want to live in a united Europe and be a part of a unified market where everyone would respect and appreciate everyone. Schuman's European dream of the diversity of cultures and peoples working together and creating a better future must exist in order for the peace and prosperity of Europe and the Balkans to survive. Relations between Macedonia and Serbia are good, but there is still room for improvement, first of all, in the economic field. If you allow me to be an "economic nationalist", the new VMRO-DPMNE Government in Macedonia will successfully compete with Serbia in the future, so why not beat it in attracting investments and in economic development? I say this in a positive tone, considering that a successful neighbor can encourage a successful cross-neighborhood, and we believe that we have to shift the competition to the field of culture and economy.