By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conveyed her concern about developments related to the rule of law in Macedonia to the country’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski when the two met in Washington on Wednesday.
“The Secretary expressed concerns about trends regarding rule of law, independent media, and civil society,” US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley told media after the meeting.
The Secretary also expressed appreciation for Macedonia’s contributions to the international force in Afghanistan, recognising Macedonia as one of the highest per capita troop contributors.
Clinton “also reiterated our hope that Macedonia and Greece resolve together the longstanding name issue so that Macedonia can move forward on seeking NATO membership and fulfilling its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Crowley said.
For his part, Gruevski said that Macedonia “will remain focused on the settlement of the [name] issue,” expressing thanks for the US support of the Balkan country.
Skopje and Athens have been locked in a dispute over the use of the name Macedonia for almost two decades. Greece insists that Macedonia must change its name if it wishes to enter NATO and the EU, arguing that Skopje’s name implies territorial claims against its own northern province, also called Macedonia.
The Macedonian prime minister also met the US Vice President Joseph Biden on Wednesday. The two talked about a range of issues related to bilateral and regional relations.
Although representatives from the US and Macedonia insisted that Gruevski’s trip to Washington had been planned since last August, Macedonian media reported that the meeting reflects US concern over the recent political stalemate in the country prompted by the opposition boycott of parliament.
Some newspapers have noted that this is evidenced by the fact that two top US officials found the time to meet with Macedonia’s premier amidst the constantly developing events in Egypt and the wave of anti-government protests in the rest of the Arab world.
The Macedonian opposition began a boycott of parliament at the end of January, blaming the country’s centre-right premier for instituting a totalitarian-like rule, curbing media freedom, influencing the courts and suppressing protests.
While in the US, Gruevski also told Clinton and Biden that he remains commited to nurturing good ethnic relations between the Macedonian majority and the country’s large ethnic Albanian minority.
Gruevski’s remarks come amid concerns of the possibility for renewed ethnic violence in the country, fueled by the building of a church shaped museum in the capital Skopje, which has upset the predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanians.
The country nearly escaped an all-out ethnic conflict in 2001 when ethnic Albanian rebels engaged in armed clashes with the security forces for several months. The hostilities ended with a signing of a peace accord granting greater freedoms to the ethnic Albanians, who make one quarter of the population.