|Updated: 27-May-2004||NATO Speeches|
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
27 May 2004
by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Distinguished Members of the Parliament,
It gives me great pleasure to address this distinguished Parliament. I am all the more pleased as I come with a sense that you are confident, and rightly so in feeling that you are firmly on the right track. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has gone through many daunting challenges in recent years. And although these challenges must have seemed insurmountable at times, you overcame them. You can be proud of what you have achieved – and I am proud that NATO has contributed to your success.
Throughout the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was considered both fortunate and prudent. It gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia without bloodshed; it mastered many of the difficult challenges of this newly won independence; and it was able to reconcile the interests of its different ethnic groups. Through these achievements, the country gained international respect, and served as an example to the entire region.
When in spring 2001 the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had to cope with a growing internal crisis, the international community engaged, and engaged fully. No one argued that we should simply look the other way. The country needed our support – and NATO, the European Union and the rest of the international community took action, in cooperation with all parties to the conflict, to prevent the crisis from escalating.
Today, there is ample proof that those efforts have paid off. The risk of civil war has disappeared. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has not only emerged from the crisis; it has consolidated its inter-ethnic coalition, and is now generally in calmer waters. And political differences are being dealt with in the only appropriate place: the country’s democratic institutions. I am very pleased to see that one of the last stages of the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement is currently being implemented – the decentralisation of power. And I am fully confident that the municipal elections in fall will be a success as well.
These invaluable achievements must be preserved and nurtured. A functioning democracy is the key to this country’s success in building peace and security at home. It remains the essential foundation for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s future stability and prosperity. And it will remain the necessary precondition for its further integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
It is my firm impression that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is irreversibly set on this course. You have improved your bilateral relations with your immediate neighbours. And you participate in broader, regional initiatives, such as the Adriatic Charter. Neither the tragic death of President Trajkovski last February, nor the flare-up of violence in Kosovo in March could derail this country from its path. And I salute you for that.
Do these achievements mean that this country faces no more problems? Of course not. We all know that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia still faces significant challenges that need to be resolutely addressed.
The economic situation is a serious concern, not least because unemployment it is a potential breeding ground for extremism of all kinds. Economic reform must go ahead, to ensure the longer-term stability of your country.
Ethnic reconciliation also must proceed further. Given the memories of the conflict of three years ago, this is a tough challenge. However, there is no other option. This country’s wealth has always been its different cultures and peoples. Denying this pluralism would mean denying much of this country's potential – indeed, its unique identity. That is why equitable political representation of all ehnic groups remains a key goal that must be vigourously pursued.
The rule of law also needs to be further strengthened. This means fighting corruption wherever it occurs. It means fighting organised crime, including trafficking in human beings and money-laundering. And it means building a strong judicial system that commands the respect of all citizens. The progress in investigating the killings near Rastanski Lozja is an important signal in this regard.
Defence reform is another issue every country has to face. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the government on the progress made in that area. The decision to conduct a Strategic Defence Review was a major step in the right direction. Clearly, undertaking such a Review, and doing it well, are two different things. But Allies have been impressed with both the determination and realism with which this difficult process has been pursued. The results set the stage for the development of a smaller but more effective force – a force that will be able to contribute to national defence and to deploy outside your national territory for international operations.
This latter point is particularly significant. Already today, troops from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Your country has also provided substantial medical and host nation support for both NATO and the European Union. This engagement clearly underlines this country’s determination to be a producer rather than a consumer of security. Achieving that goal requires the full implementation of the Strategic Defence Review.
In implementing defence reform, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia can count on NATO, just as it could count on the Alliance when times were rough in recent years. Ever since NATO forces moved in to prevent a civil war three years ago, relations between the Alliance and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been progressing rapidly.
Last year, after NATO handed over its mission to the European Union, the Alliance remained engaged in this country – as an advisor in security matters. And to this date, civilian and military representatives of NATO here in Skopje continue to assist with security sector reform and the adaptation to NATO standards.
As you are all aware, we are now working towards a similar handover in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At our Istanbul Summit next month, we expect to announce that NATO’s mission in Bosnia – SFOR – can be successfully brought to an end at the end of the year. The EU has already stated that it would be ready to deploy a mission into Bosnia, in full cooperation with the Alliance, and with NATO’s continuing support.
And NATO will remain engaged, in more ways than one. We will retain a NATO presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina even after the handover to the EU. We will remain involved in the search for war criminals. And we will continue to help the country in its defence reforms. Because our goal remains to welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina – as well as Serbia and Montenegro – in our Partnership for Peace programme, in due course.
Our commitment to Kosovo also remains unflinching. Kosovo remains an enormous challenge, not least for its immediate neighbours. But the recent outbreaks of violence have only strengthened our resolve to see this mission through. When violence flared up last March, we were able to quickly reinforce our presence and put out the flames. And we are now far more deeply engaged in the political process than ever before. To make my the point crystal clear: NATO is not moving away from the Balkans. With a job still unfinished, this simply cannot happen.
What is happening, however, is that the Balkans are moving closer to NATO. Our Membership Action Plan is crucial in this regard. It requires aspirant countries to set clear and measurable objectives across a wide range of issues, including the consolidation of democratic institutions, the strengthening of the rule of law and the improvement of goodneighbourly relations.
The MAP has been extremely effective in helping countries to focus on key areas of reform. It has helped several Balkan countries to chart their way into NATO. And it will help the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to realise that ambition, too.
You all know by now that no new invitations are expected at our Istanbul Summit next month. This should not come as a surprise. After all, just two months ago, NATO admitted seven new members, including several from Southeastern Europe – NATO’s greatest enlargement ever.
But the door to NATO will remain open. And I am certain that the desire to walk through that door will remain a powerful incentive for the aspirants, including this country, to continue on the path of reform. I know this country has made lots of progress in fields relevant to defence reform. And I expect that the NATO Summit will give a clear sign of encouragement to your country.
I do not want to conclude without having paid tribute to the late President of your country, Boris Trajkovski. He was an exceptional individual. A man of strong convictions, of impressive moral authority, and of clear vision. Boris Trajkovski used his formidable political experience to shape a better future for his country. And he left no doubt about where he believed that future would lie: in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s membership of the European Union and NATO.
NATO Allies share that same goal. No one doubts that your country’s future lies firmly within Euro-Atlantic structures. The road to achieving this goal will still be long and difficult, but the opportunities are greater than ever. Because today, after a period of turbulence, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is once again an example to the entire region. It is demonstrating day by day that ethnic tensions can be overcome through dialogue and negotiation. And it is demonstrating that persistence and perseverance will pay off.