And we are joined by Radmila Shekerinska, Macedonian defense minister. Thank you very much for being with us on our program Ms. Shekerinska.
J: Now, I want to ask you about this dispute over your country’s name. This is a dispute that has been going on for decades. What is that gives your prime minister confidence that it could now be ended so quickly in July.
S: As they say, “Nothing great was achieved without a bit of optimism”, so in a way we have jump started. Jump started the reform agenda in the country. We have ended the dispute that we have had with Bulgaria, and concluded an agreement, just two months after we were elected as a new government. So, we have shown a different kind of policy making, a different kind of behavior, a European behavior in the Balkans, and we do believe that this can work also in case with the issue with our dispute with Greece.
Of course, it takes two to tango, and the success will depend on both governments and on both sides wishing to end this dispute. But, the discussions between the two prime ministers, gave us hope that both of the countries will seize the opportunity because it will help both Macedonia and Greece.
J: So it is not just the governments thought. The Macedonian people seam optimistic about resolving this dispute, not so much the Greek people. We have seen demonstrations there. Does that present another challenge?
S: I believe every compromise, especially between two countries, will leave a certain part of our population dissatisfied. We won’t get applause just for solving the issue. Probably both governments will get criticism. But the role of governments is to solve problems and lead and not surrender under pressure of groups, individuals, parties that might actually prefer a divided Europe, divided Balkans. So this is why, of course governments are there to be criticized, but governments are also there to solve issues.
J: Now I want to ask you: You have been a big advocate of becoming a member of NATO and EU. You said in an interview at the end of last year that your ‘country’s been stuck for ten years’. This is important. And you also said this is important for your country to stave off nationalism. We also saw some of those pictures of your parliament last April, where extremist stormed the building. Why do you think that the membership in the EU and also in NATO will be a force against nationalism? After all we have seen nationalism within the EU itself.
S: We have strived for becoming a member of NATO and EU, practically since our independence. And this is one of the goals that unite the country. Macedonia is a very diverse country in terms of ethnic groups, religious groups, languages, and if there is really a point where everyone meets, including different political parties, this is the strategic objective to join in a way the West, join the NATO alliance, join the EU. And it has been an excellent anchor and motor for our reform. When we got the Greek veto in 2008 for our NATO membership it made the country more frustrated, more isolated and in politics vacuum does not exists, so it gets filled in with plenty things including nationalism. I don’t believe that NATO and EU can by definition win over nationalism. They won’t. But giving hope to the people, giving the prospect of stable more integrated region and continent, giving them the perspective for economic growth which usually comes with NATO membership and EU is the only antidote that we can offer to this continent when fighting nationalism. We have seen this for example in 2005 and 2006 when Macedonia made an excellent fast step towards the EU and the country looked as a positive example in the Balkans. This is what worked.
J: Now ‘fast’ is the key word there because Counselor Merkel today said she does see that your country is on course to join the EU. How quickly do you think will actually happen, how hopeful are you?
S: Well on NATO, the reforms we have done in the past and now actually allow us to hope to expect that in July to get the invitation and EU of course is a slower process, a more demanding one and it is more diverse it covers many aspects. We are not governed by date game. We don’t set dates, we set goals. And our goal is really to transform the country and improve some of the weaknesses. So for us it is very important to return to the track, which is EU and NATO, and then the dates will follow depending on how quickly we transform the country and we deliver the results.
J: You are the defense minister; I want to ask you about NATO, because there is a lot pressure on NATO members to spend more, at least two percent of their national budget. Is Macedonia ready for that?
S: Yes, we have come up with a plan how to increase our budget, our defense budget. When we were close to NATO membership in 2008, our actually defense spending was 2.17 % so we actually made the target even without this being the target. But right now, after 10 years of decreases, the situation was not great, so this is the year when we have increased the defense budget for 15 %, and then we have made a pledge to increase it 0.2% every year making the target on time. We have also increased our participation in NATO led missions, such as the one in Afghanistan, by 20%, and we are continuing our support for the KFOR mission in Kosovo.
J: So the perspective for Macedonia is good. Radmila Shekerinska, the Macedonian defense minister. Thank you again for joining us today on our program.
S: Thank you for the invitation.