By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Slovenian MEP Jelko Kacin accuses government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of manipulating the media, provoking Greece, reversing reforms and says ‘it’s an honour to be labeled an enemy of Macedonia these days’.
Jelko Kacin, member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, says the Gruevski government is better at making enemies than the friends who could help the country’s bids to join NATO and EU.
Kacin warned about a trend towards growing state control of media outlets and issues with human rights.
On September 20 Kacin chaired an acrimonious panel on Macedonian media freedom in the European Parliament in Brussels. Trouble started when three pro-government reporters from Macedonia started shouting insults, accusing the organizers and guests of denigrating Macedonia.
Q: How do you see Macedonia right now regarding its bid to join NATO and EU?
Unfortunately it seems that from 2005 [when Macedonia became an EU candidate] we have complete stagnation and even regression. Since then Macedonia has regressed far in the area of human rights, freedom of speech, the fight against organized crime and corruption.
Even if the country hypothetically solves the name issue [with Greece], right now it would take the country at least another year to eliminate the hate speech and the populist approach in order to be able to start the EU accession talks.
The regime of Gruevski [in power since 2006] has done everything to continue country’s isolation and prolong this status quo by creating and inventing enemies, foremost among neighbouring countries. Today you can hardly find any Macedonian neighbours that Macedonia recognizes as its friend.
Q: You have been particularly critical of the government for curbing media freedom. Are the media in Macedonia up to their task?
The deception of the public in Macedonia goes beyond all reason. And that is the core of the problem, bringing the entire nation into a state of illusion and euphoria, a kind of autistic life that has little to do with reality.
To illustrate my point I will take the incident that happened in the European Parliament in Brussels [on September 20]. At the panel discussion on media freedom in Macedonia, three Macedonian journalists who are not accredited in Brussels came from Skopje.
As moderator, I offered them a word right after the introductory speeches, but it was apparent that they came there to make an incident, to “break up” the panel as one of them openly stated in the media, afterwards.
It is interesting to note that the representative of the Macedonian embassy present at the panel did not distance himself from the incident.
The European Commission, the Council and the associations of electronic media have seen a live example of media freedom [in Macedonia] and of how they manipulate the public when they informed people afterwards about the incident back home. They presented themselves as victims who were not allowed to speak at the panel.
Q: Do you see a possible resolution of the Greek-Macedonian name dispute any time soon?
I think that [Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou] is doing a tremendous job tackling economic difficulties back in Greece. He is doing a great job for his country and for the whole Euro zone. He proves that the Greeks are far more down to earth than was estimated.
I have full confidence that he will endure and succeed in pulling Greece out of this difficult situation. Judging by this, I think that the ‘name’ is also a matter that he can solve together with Macedonia, of course.
Unfortunately, I see no potential in this moment that [Nikola] Gruevski could make a breakthrough for Macedonian part. I see that opportunity on the other side, in Greece.
Q: Are you referring to the statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje that Athens saw as a provocation?
This is a clear example of not acting as a good neighbour. In a situation where Macedonia has no friends, the regime [in Skopje] is sticking a finger in the eye of a neighbouring country by erecting monuments that have no names but when everybody know what their intention is.
Q: What are the regional implications of the stalled Macedonian Euro-Atlantic accession bid?
At this moment we have to ensure that someone else can pull the Western Balkans forward. Croatia and Macedonia received EU candidate status at approximately the same time. Croatia has done its work and solved its main problems with its neighbours. It started communicating with Serbia and delivered its people to The Hague. So it made tremendous progress.
We do not need new examples like Macedonia in the Western Balkans, countries that gain [EU] candidacy status and then cannot start accession talks. That is why it would be of utmost importance for Macedonia right now if Montenegro got a recommendation for accession talks and if Serbia obtained recommendation for candidate country status.
If Serbia, as the biggest country in the region, moves forward, the positive consequences will be felt across the region, including Macedonia and Kosovo. But if Serbia fails to do that, Macedonia will only fall into a worse situation, and the chances for breakthrough [in the name dispute] will be far slimmer.
Q: For your open criticism of the reforms in Macedonia you have been labeled an enemy of the country by some media in Skopje. What is your reaction?
As bizarre as it may sound it is an honour to be labeled an enemy of Macedonia these days, because here [in Macedonia] people who see things like they really are can recognize that we are only making efforts to help.
I am neither the first nor probably the last to be labeled that way. Just remember the former EU ambassador to Macedonia Erwan Fouere who did a tremendous job helping the country. He was labeled as enemy simply for pinpointing country’s shortcomings that needed to be fixed.
Alas, in the long run we have to stabilize the Western Balkans. If Serbia managed to make a breakthrough [regarding its EU bid] by delivering war crimes suspects to the Hague, I believe that Macedonia can do that as well. If Serbia changed I am confident that Macedonia also has the internal capacity to change and move forward towards NATO and EU instead of focusing on [so-called] antique-isation and history.
Q: Later this month the EC will issue its annual progress report on Macedonia. What can Macedonia expect from it?
Regardless of what the report will contain, more important is what the Macedonian public will be allowed to hear from it. Here lies the core of the manipulation of the public.