Bujar Osmani, Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Road to Prespa is conceived as a driving force and impetus for positive thinking in the development of honest and comprehensive dialogue between countries and peoples in the region. The past is important to teach us not to repeat mistakes, but not to blind us. We need a new strategic culture that, between the burdens of the past which divide us, would give priority to the future that unites us. I admit, the times we live in are as difficult and unpredictable as those of our ancestors, but today we are more mature. We know the path we are determined to follow, while the goal we are striving for is clear. Today we have models of success that can manage mistrust, diversity, and historical trauma, which often created unpredictability, through complementary unity that develops strong synergies, materialized in economic development, peace, harmony, and prosperity. That example is a united Europe, better known as the European Union.
That path is proven and safe, but as much as we need good examples, we should not just copy them - we need our own path that takes into account our own regional, geopolitical, cultural, and religious specifics to build our own authentic model.
The region needs fresh ideas like never before, a new narrative of regional cooperation, security and stability, in order to more easily face the challenges called the road to the EU.
The main goal of the Prespa Forum Dialogue is to promote the model adopted by North Macedonia - a model of building bridges, good neighborly relations, fostering a culture of friendship, trust and mutual understanding. The forum is intended as a place for open talks and solutions, for the countries of our region to have the opportunity to show their capabilities and commitment to regional cooperation, stability, and security.
The idea of establishing the Prespa Forum is neither without basis nor without empirical support. It is based on a platform and strategy built on three pillars, reflected in the three agreements that make North Macedonia a unique example in the region and beyond: the Ohrid Framework Agreement, the Treaty of Friendship, Good-neighborliness and Cooperation signed with Bulgaria in 2017, and the Prespa Agreement signed with the Hellenic Republic in 2018. The three agreements enjoy strong domestic and international legitimacy and are widely accepted and supported, establishing a model for other countries and societies and providing an example with important lessons and conclusions that could be useful.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement, signed in 2001, not only calmed tensions and passions between communities, but also opened space for a more harmonious, multiethnic and inclusive society and contributed to the political and social integration of all communities in the country. We will soon mark 20 years since its conclusion and we can say with confidence that we have matured, that the old animosities that separated us have been overcome and all of us, united around the European perspective, are building a country with democratic values and participatory political culture. The adoption of the model of internal political and social order established by the Ohrid Framework Agreement has made the country open, stronger and more stable. Today we can be proud of the state of interethnic relations and the future of the country. This model is a sign of recognition of our country and the best political product for export.
The treaty with Bulgaria, signed in 2017, raised bilateral relations with our eastern neighbor to a different level, expressing mutual aspirations to deepen relations and expand cooperation. The commitment of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation expressed through the treaty was embodied very clearly, and the results could be seen and felt quite quickly. We intensified the political dialogue and entered a phase of open and frequent communication. Economic cooperation continues to grow, we are partners on a number of issues, from cooperation in the field of defense and home affairs, education, science, culture, media, health, to infrastructure and regional connectivity. Establishment of the Joint Multidisciplinary Expert Commission for Historical and Educational Issues was an important step towards creating a platform for debate, exchange of views, and institutionalizing dialogue between academic communities. In practice, the treaty places the debate on historical issues where it belongs - in scientific and academic institutions to free politics from long debates over the meaning of certain personalities and events. Despite the historical issues left to experts to discuss, the two countries agreed to share the future as members of the European and Euro-Atlantic community. We are confident that through goodwill, open dialogue and a constructive approach on both sides, we will overcome the challenges ahead. We believe that dividing the process into two parts, history to historians and politics to politicians, will be a good balance of a new strategic culture where the result obtained from the past and the future will guarantee a sure step without losing the vision for the future.
The Prespa Agreement, signed three years ago, marked a new perspective under the sun in the Balkans. Two neighboring countries, entrenched on opposite sides of a dispute that is almost 30 years old, have managed to expand the boundaries of what is possible, show a new way of looking at each other and prove that they deserve their place in the great family of European democracies. Prespa has become a symbol of open dialogue, of resolving disputes and of overcoming oneself and one's own narrow-minded, short-term interests. Prespa has shown that there is another path - a path that is open to all who have good will, maturity, and the ability to make difficult decisions in the interest of all.
In Prespa we showed our readiness to understand each other, to compromise and to find a solution that is acceptable for all sides and that is sustainable on the long run. In Prespa both countries won, yet no one lost. North Macedonia gained a friend and a partner, while our future in NATO and EU was open. The Hellenic Republic gained a friend and partner in context of its neighbor, reaffirming its role as a committed driving force and supporter of the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. We closed an important chapter that was draining our capacities and our diplomatic capital for decades. All of a sudden, we were relieved, were free to focus on building concrete projects with our new partner and to use our energy in a more positive and constructive way, to the benefit of our citizens.
Today our state is a stable country, we have improved its international image and opened the doors for the Euro-Atlantic future of the country and the region. The progress we achieved was the fruit of extreme dedication, good will, and honest intentions. Yet, it was not easy. There were strong pressures and there were moments when difficult decisions were to be made. We were aware of the historical significance of the present moment, convinced that we are creating a future and opening opportunities for our citizens, and that was the essential moment that enabled progress.
The very essence of the three agreements is embedded in the deep conviction that peace is better than war, that the next generations are more important than the next elections, and that the real compromise that moves us is better than the false victory that pulls us back. The conclusion and the implementation of the agreement rest on the goodwill, dedicated efforts, perseverance and the strong confidence in our shared future in Europe, united in freedom and peace.
The European and Euro-Atlantic perspectives of the Western Balkan countries and the internal political order and stability, overcoming bilateral disputes and regional cooperation, are closely linked and interdependent. Both processes complement each other and are mutually reinforcing. Progress on the path to integration gives a strong momentum to much-needed internal reforms and a strong impetus to overcome bilateral disputes, but no less means open opportunities for intensifying regional cooperation.
At a time when ideas for alternative scenarios for the future of the Balkans are circulating once again, it is becoming clear that the potential weakening of the European perspective means re-actualizing old, retrograde ideas that promise nothing good to anyone. In this context as well, the significance of the three agreements and the unique concept of the model that the Prespa Forum Dialogue aims to promote, are gaining in importance and relevance. Hence the initiative to promote our model, as a way to overcome disputes and thus contribute to regional peace, stability and security, and to accelerate the process of European integration of the entire region. I am optimistic, but not naive when I believe that one day right here in North Macedonia, this forum will rise into an academic and practical center for finding solutions to conflicts, but also finding models for the functioning of fragmented, multiethnic and multiconfessional countries, and societies.
NATO: So that our children could live in peace
Bujar Osmani, Minister of Foreign Affairs
On 27 March 2020, the Republic of North Macedonia became the 30th NATO Member-State. In the coming days we will be marking the one year anniversary of our fully-fledged NATO membership. Despite the fact that 2020 will be remembered by the global COVID-19 pandemic, becoming a NATO Member-State will be remembered as one the best things that could have happened to our country in 2020. By becoming part of the Alliance, we achieved one of our overarching strategic goals, set forth under the unanimous decision our Parliament adopted as early as 1993.
Our NATO membership is the embodiment of our sovereign choice to be part of the Euro-Atlantic family of democracies. This common goal has always enjoyed strong public support and a wide-encompassing all party and inter-ethnic consensus. Various generations of politicians, public servants and Army officers and troops invested years of dedicated work in the accomplishment of our shared strategic goal. Finally, in March last year, all of us working together succeeded in attaining that goal.
NATO membership represents the greatest contribution to our security and stability. This is the strongest guarantee for the protection of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of North Macedonia. In course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we could witness first hand the significance and benefits of the solidarity among Allies. A number of Allies unselfishly offered their help with donations of medical and protective equipment, as well as disinfectants and other materials. NATO donated 60 mechanical ventilators to help alleviate the consequences of the pandemic. Our capacities and resources are stronger owing to the solidarity and support by the Allies, this directly ensuing from our Alliance membership.
Our NATO membership has significantly advanced the security and stability in our Region. Now, we more closely cooperate with all our neighbours - NATO Allies. The Prespa Agreement helped overcome the difference with Greece, facilitating thus our becoming a NATO member, while the Treaty of Friendship with Bulgaria is our investment in the good-neighbourly relations and cooperation we are fostering with our neighbour and NATO Ally - Bulgaria. In addition, we also cooperate with other Allies in our Region. We have traditionally good relations with each of them that following our NATO integration have acquired new improved quality, with our cooperation becoming even closer.
We deem our NATO membership as an opportunity to actively contribute to the functioning of the Alliance and to its further development. We are seated shoulder to shoulder at the same table with some of the most powerful and most developed countries in the world. Out of the 30 NATO Members, 21 are also EU Member-States. We make an equal-footing part of this grand family of developed democracies. Working together with them, we make our contribution to the world peace and security. We are no longer the object of geo-political discussions, being instead an active subject that contributes to the discussions and to the decision-making processes on all issues.
This also means that we share the responsibility and duty of contributing to the maintenance of the peace, security and stability. In this context, prevention is always better solution than intervention. Therefore, we actively participate in NATO missions focused on preserving the peace and stability, and in missions focused on development of capacities of local institutions for maintaining the peace, security and stable democratic development. As of last year, we have been participating in the KFOR Mission in Kosovo, and this year we will increase our participation. We attach the highest importance to having a peaceful and stable neighbourhood. We also participate in NATO missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We have all witnessed that Middle East conflicts caused a large wave of refugees and migrants that passed through our country, and through the Western Balkans. In addition, the terrorism and violent extremism threats have increased. By participating in NATO missions and supporting other activities of the Alliance, we contribute to reducing the threats and risks that could potentially bring instability in our Region or in North Macedonia.
We are a small country with limited resources. Fortunately or unfortunately for us, depending on the issue and vantage point, in the XXI century the world is becoming smaller and smaller. There is intricate interconnectivity and interdependence among actors and activities at the international stage. We can see the emergence of new challenges and threats (cyber and hybrid threats), we also stand witness of the strong ambition and word-wide growth of other global powers, as well as of the rise of new forms of regional cooperation and developments that are changing the geo-political reality, which each country worldwide has to face. This is becomes much more difficult if a small country is left alone, while facing and remaining resilient to new geo-political challenges is indeed much facilitated if small countries work in an alliance with other countries.
We are fully cognizant of the fact that as a small country, individually, we will always face a disparity of recourses and power, compared to most countries worldwide. Yet, being part of NATO, places us in a markedly different situation. NATO is the most successful military-political Alliance in the history of human civilization. The Alliance is military superior, politically strong and relevant and economically dominant organization that unites close to a billion people and more than 50% of the world’s GDP.
In the case of North Macedonia, it is of the paramount importance that NATO is an organization built upon shared democratic values. Hence, we do share democratic values with our Allies and our NATO membership helps us preserve, develop and promote such values. It is evident that our democratic development has been facilitated by the consensus and ambition on the domestic front, but also by the significant international support to our Euro-Atlantic orientation. The NATO membership of our country is an additional impetus to the social cohesion in North Macedonia, helping advance as well the resilience of our democracy.
With hindsight, the above arguments might seem simple and sometimes we do take them for granted. However, the road we have treaded was very difficult and uncertain. We survived the break-down of former Yugoslavia, the wars and conflicts in the neighbourhood, which to our great fortune we managed to avoid. We went through the 1999 Kosovo refugee crisis and the 2001 armed conflict. We reached and we are successfully implementing the Ohrid Framework Agreement. We had NATO missions in our country even at times when we started participating in NATO missions in other crisis areas. We succeeded in overcoming the political and inter-ethnic divisions and we stood stronger and more united by the wish for a better tomorrow and the ambition to work to that end. Our NATO membership is a symbol of our efforts and the best proof of our overall achievements.
I belong to a generation that was very young when former Yugoslavia was breaking up; we were children at that time. My generation’s youth was marked by the uncertainty and instability in our Region and in our country. Our families were facing existential dilemmas and issues of security and stability of the country, and great uncertainty as to the future that awaited us all. Yet, this is all behind us. These are issues that will never be opened again. Our NATO membership guarantees that. Today, we know that our children will grow and thrive in a country that is more stable and more secure, founded on democratic principles and values. That is the foundation for economic development and social progress. That is the foundation for our brighter future. That is NATO.