The Hon. Radmila Šekerinska (Former Prime Minister of Macedonia)

07.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Hugh Garnett

Radmila Šekerinska is one of the most successful female politicians in Macedonia. Elected as a Member of Macedonian Parliament three times, she became the first woman in the Republic of Macedonia to be the leader of a major political party before becoming the first female Prime Minister. During her time as Deputy Prime Minister, Šekerinska played an important role in the negotiations of the Ohrid Agreement – a peace deal signed by the government of the Republic of Macedonia and ethnic Albanian representatives, putting an end to armed conflict and setting the groundwork for improving the right of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.

Radmila Šekerinska took part in two panel discussions during the “World Without Walls” congress. One was entitled ‘The US-Russian Relationship: Europe’s Role Then and Now,’ during which she commented on the changing structure of global politics. The other discussion concerned, ‘Global Leadership in a World Without Walls: The Challenges Ahead.’ During this debate Šekerinska placed strong emphasis on the importance of young people and their political engagement. She also asserted that, though no--one should ever assume that the world could be perfect, we should never stop trying to make the world a better place. Šekerinska kindly took the time to speak to CD News about her experiences in Macedonia, her views on Greece, the EU and Kosovo.

During your time as Deputy Prime Minister you worked hard to ensure that Macedonia remained a united state and that it was not torn apart by ethnic conflict. Could you elaborate on this? What did you try and do to bring people together and solve the ethnic tensions?

My attempts to bridge the walls in the country occurred even before I assumed the role of Deputy Prime Minister. It was during a period when I was only a Member of Parliament but was participating in the discussions of the Ohrid agreement, which ended the conflict in Macedonia. It was a very controversial agreement and the majority of the public were sceptical about it. It took a lot of effort, not only to come up with a compromise, but to also convince the population that it was, in fact, a compromise in favour of the country. During my four years in government I attempted to implement the contents of the Ohrid agreement and it was not easy. It involved major political changes in the constitution, in language use, the use of symbols and ethnic symbols and raised questions concerning education, including higher education in Albania. However, I think the sacrifices paid off. Macedonia managed to become a contender for EU membership only four years after the end of the conflict. It was an astonishing result.

Would you say then that the Ohrid agreement has been successful in uniting Macedonia?

Yes. The Ohrid agreement managed to strike a good balance between very liberal ethnic regulations which gave minorities extensive rights, but it still managed to promote unity at the same time. I don’t think a Dayton type agreement would have worked in Macedonia. It maintained the unity of the country but it gave each of the citizens the opportunity to use their rights.

Cultural rights have been affirmed and minority rights enhanced through changes in the Macedonian constitution. Do you feel that despite these improvements, inequalities still exist?

I think that there is no such thing as a perfect multi-ethnic state. Even in very developed countries with a multi-ethnic makeup you have these related issues. In Macedonia we need to get used to having this set of issues on the table and we need to solve them in the right manner. So, I think the Ohrid agreement doesn’t just concern a set of laws that need to change, but also a change of mind sets. Using new mindsets to solve newly arising problems is what we need to do in the future.

What is your opinion on Greece’s position on Macedonia’s accession into the EU? What can be done to end this name debate?

I think that Greece made a strategic mistake at the beginning of the 1990’s, a mistake, which went against its own principles and effectively built a wall between it and its northern neighbour. This was solely based on symbolic issues, such as a name. There are multiple examples in Europe where the same name is used in different regions and countries. But what happened cannot be changed and we have a currentt situation in which Macedonia has to try its best to come up with a compromise that is decent, workable and which can ensure our EU and NATO membership.

Greece is already a member state and can use its veto power but I think they must not try to corner Macedonia into accepting everything. An agreement that is one-sided and without compromise does not usually work and will eventually work against Greece’s favour. I think that a compromise will be made and I hope that this is made sooner rather than later.

Moving onto the issue of the EU, how long do you believe it will take for Macedonia to become a full member?

If we move forward to negotiations in 2010 I think Macedonia could be a member by 2015. I am a very strong optimist when it comes to EU accession, but I am not unrealistic. There are comments being made in Macedonia suggesting that we could finish talks in a few years, I think this is absurd and unrealistic.

What was Macedonia’s stance on Kosovo’s independence from Serbia?

We have seen the collateral damage of many conflicts, but especially that of Kosovo. It has had a direct influence on Macedonia as we were brought to the verge of conflict in 1999 after a huge influx of refugees. We have accepted the reality that Kosovo is not a part of Serbia anymore. We have recognised its independence and have established diplomatic relations. I do hope that Belgrade and Pristina will come up with a new policy of dealing with one another; it will ease a lot of the problems in the region.

Prime Minister Šekerinska, thank you so much for sparing time to talk to us today. I hope you enjoy the rest of the congress.