By Biljana Lajmanovska
Macedonia is working to achieve its strategic goal — NATO as well as EU membership — and is undertaking a diplomatic offensive to attain membership in the Alliance at the upcoming Chicago summit in May.
“We should do everything to succeed, but must be aware this may not give the desired results,” former Ambassador Risto Nikovski told SETimes.
Many analysts believe Macedonia will likely not succeed in Chicago given Greece’s opposition — NATO enlargement so far is not on the summit agenda — and should consequently expand its existing relationships.
“Macedonia has alternatives it should work out and they need not include Eurasia,” Nikovski said.
Options include better exploiting opportunities of the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the United States, strengthening the partnership with Turkey and other countries, but also approaching Israel, according to analyst Jovan Donev of the Euro Balkan Institute.
“It is harder and may cost more, but we should try. …We are not married to NATO or the EU. Many countries are not members but are very prosperous and successful,” Donev told SETimes.
Polls have consistently shown about 90% approval rate for NATO and EU membership, with periodic drops in support.
Nearly 40% of the polled say, however, Macedonia’s name should be preserved at the cost of foregoing membership, according to the local NGO Macedonian Centre for International Co-operation.
“EU-scepticism and NATO-scepticism here are far lower than the conditions and the treatment posed by NATO and the EU would suggest. … We are ready to wait, to tolerate,” Nikovski said.
The opposition however, criticised the government for sending mixed messages to Brussels while announcing it pursues a diplomatic offensive for Chicago.
“We have been calling on the prime minister to … say whether Macedonia has another alternative, because the road without NATO is very steep, very tough,” Social Democratic Union Vice President Gordan Georgiev said.
Opposition Liberal Democratic Party representative Nano Ruzhin blames the government’s strategy for diminishing Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic prospects long-term.
“It has a dampening influence over us — the funds for army reforms are reduced and the discipline to respect democratic standards lowered,” Ruzhin told SETimes.
The Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) party — a governing coalition partner — is the only relative corrector to the government’s approach, according to Ruzhin.
“If the (ruling) VMRO-DPMNE must choose between the name and NATO, they clearly say they will chose the name. If DUI must choose between NATO and being in power, they will likely choose being comfortable and the economic benefits that go with being in government,” he said.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Slobodan Chashule told SETimes the opposition claims are utopian.
“Macedonia is dedicated to NATO membership as never before and there is no straying from the course. The daily lobbying efforts by our officials are unbeatable proof we consider the US to be our number one strategic partner,” Chashule said.
“No less important, Macedonia has intensive co-operation with Turkey, the US’s biggest ally in the region, and we participate in the military mission in Afghanistan and in Iraq and did in Bosnia before that,” he added.
Albanian analysts argue any option other than Euro-Atlantic integration can be dangerous to Macedonia’s multi-ethnic stability.
“We must know that NATO and the EU are the only pillars that are holding our survival. Without them, there is no state,” FON University Professor Mersel Biljali told SETimes.