President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 24 June 2010

said that it was a great pleasure to speak to the Assembly and a special honour for his country to chair the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers during these troubled times. There was great symbolism in the fact that the country had assumed the chair at the time of the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law were all essential to progress. Macedonia had a great contribution to make because its state rested on the same values, which ran deep in the country’s past. The principle of integration without assimilation was central. It was a source of pride that Macedonian society respected ethnic differences, and that Macedonia could provide a functional multi-ethnic model of democracy.

Today, more than ever, the region needed European values to promote peaceful co-existence. Europe should be an open space where diversity was tolerated and everyone could be respected for who he or she was. This concept of the European open space would provide fertile soil for the principles embodied by the Council of Europe.

At moments of crisis what was needed was a greater, not a lesser, Europe; it was necessary to return to the basic principles which had led to European unity and which had, after all, arisen from a terrible war. It was necessary to go back to first principles.

There was no need to react to the current economic crisis by turning inwards. Fear was understandable, but Europe must not allow fiscal bankruptcy to turn into moral bankruptcy. Europe’s capacity to remain open was its great strength, and it was this, and not high walls, which would keep it strong.

There was a danger, however, that an open Europe would be the first casualty of the crisis. Leaders with vision were needed, and Europe’s leaders had to meet the challenges that faced them and to deal with the crisis according to democratic principles and solidarity with those in need. This was his vision for his own country, and it applied equally to his goals for chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

His aim was to strengthen the Council of Europe and the protection of human rights by consolidating the work that had been done to protect the European Court of Human Rights at the Interlaken conference. The Court existed to protect citizens. To be effective, however, its decisions had to be implemented. Some states had refused to implement certain judgments, and his country’s chairmanship would organise a conference on reforms that would strengthen the Court. This was essential to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and guarantee individual rights.

All should be equal before the law, but this principle was undermined by corruption, which was the antithesis of the rule of law. Corruption was a problem faced by many countries and it was necessary for the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption to work towards tackling this. A conference on GRECO would be held with the aim of providing the transparency that would reduce corruption.

Human rights and the principle of solidarity would strengthen democracy. New challenges concerning employment and citizens’ standards of living were especially important at this time of international crisis. The European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights was of great importance.

A second priority was to enhance the position of national minorities through integration not assimilation. Ethnic, linguistic and other differences needed to be properly understood. Macedonia had a long history in which different ethnic groups had co-existed, as could be learned from ancient legends and songs. The first television programme in Turkish was broadcast as long ago as 1965, and there had also been early broadcasts on television and radio in Albanian. There were now broadcasts in many languages.

The conference in Skopje in May 2010 had been held to explore the issues of minorities and Roma. Full integration of the Roma was a big task both for his country and for Europe. Macedonia was willing to share its model of government with others. There was an opportunity to renew society from the inside and to build a house strong in all weathers. If, during this period, Europe proved rigid and inflexible, it might wake up without such a home. Renewal was necessary every day.

Macedonia had a long tradition of linguistic and cultural diversity. He was proud that it had ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and had encouraged countries yet to ratify to do so without delay, so that their national minorities could enjoy the protections envisaged in the convention.

All countries would continue to experience increased diversity, and this was why multi-ethnic and cultural dialogue was so important. Macedonia had held the first and second world conferences on intercultural dialogue. It would use its chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers to promote the religious dimension of cultural dialogue, focusing particularly on freedom of expression in the media and respect for religious diversity. It would provide an opportunity to gather the opinions, impressions and conclusions of the international community.

It was important to pass on democratic values to the next generation, and doing so would form the third goal of the presidency. Young people in south-east Europe should fully understand democratic values and principles and be involved in democratic processes in their own countries. This would be a focus of the 2010 Youth Year declared by the UN General Assembly.

Existing political systems and institutions had to be open enough to attract young people’s contributions and to engage them in the democratic process. Institutions should be open, so that young people did not feel the need to look for other ways to express their views and opinions.

The Council of Europe was a school for democracy. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many countries had used it as a forum to upgrade their democratic capacities. He wanted to transmit the lessons learnt and European democratic principles and values to the next generation.

Macedonia would work closely with Switzerland and Turkey, the once and future chairs of the Committee of Ministers, and with Spain and Belgium, who held the EU presidency this year.

He believed that success depended on the Council of Europe’s looking for new ways to protect the principles for which it stood. He called upon it to look ahead and to find ways to protect countries from the temptations of extreme nationalism. It should leave aside clichés and current thinking to find new ways to advance democracy, human rights and human freedom. He invited the Assembly to put its full authority behind legislative efforts to protect and promote diversity and the dignity of all people, including the people of Macedonia.


Thank you very much, Mr Ivanov, for your most interesting and comprehensive address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should be asking questions, not making speeches.

The first question is from Mr Volontè, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VOLONTÈ (Italy) (interpretation)

said that the President had spoken at length about moral values and his commitment to religious dialogue. In addition to what was already being done, what more could have been done to promote these moral and spiritual values?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

said that Macedonia had long been a model of religious freedom and tolerance. This was a product of its history as an empire; it had inherited a culture of tolerance. Growing up in a society that contained a diversity of religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – made people tolerant. Inclusion led to tolerance, it was isolation and exclusion that created tension.

Macedonia was a model of inclusive democracy. What Macedonia was today, Europe would become tomorrow; multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Tolerance would lead to peace; without tolerance, there would easily be conflict and the possibility of closed societies. This would in turn lead to further lack of tolerance and conflict. All those involved had to strive to find solutions through dialogue.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

As a member of our delegation which observed the presidential election in Macedonia in spring of last year, I vividly remember that, of the seven candidates – we met them all, including you, Mr President – three were of Albanian origin. How do you see that community’s political situation, which in the past sometimes involved acts of violence? What is the situation of other national minorities? You referred in your speech mainly to linguistic and cultural aspects of this field.

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

said that it was true that there had been a conflict in 2001 but that there had been moves to find a solution by including all stakeholders. This Ohrid framework agreement was a model of integration without assimilation. That model should be studied as it contained lessons for everyone.

In politics, everyone strove for power. This could lead to ethno-political tensions being emphasised; this was a particular risk during campaigns. However, when people were elected, they learnt that the same institutional rules would apply to everyone. Institutional regulations should be used to lower temperatures that could become inflamed during campaigns.

Ms KEAVENEY (Ireland)

In the context of open spaces and the European peace about which you talked, can you comment on the role that the arts – specifically music – and sport can have alongside new approaches to history teaching to assist in giving our students an understanding of “the other” in our societies, to minimise the potential for future conflict by focusing on our similarities within and beyond politics, rather than our differences? What role, if any, can the Council of Europe play in reaching that goal?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

spoke of open spaces and the positive heritage of the Balkans. Young people operated in their own open space, the Internet. This enabled them to communicate and share music. They listened to global music and followed global trends. When in European capitals, they ate the same food and wore the same clothes. They spoke the international language, English, and were part of a universal culture. These were positive effects of globalisation and were giving rise to new identities not based on territorial boundaries. This cultural richness was welcome and would improve society.

Global channels should be used to promote local values. He was very optimistic about the young generation, who were developing a global mindset. The Internet allowed people to learn facts about cultures and traditions, and to verify the facts independently. People had to be prevented from developing closed minds; open minds led to open space.

Mr BENDER (Poland)

Most Europeans do not realise that one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century, Mother Theresa, was born in your country. Do you agree that your country, with its history and its beauty, should be better known in Europe? A place such as Ohrid, a town of 40 000 inhabitants and more than 300 ancient churches, should be known to all Europeans. Does your government plan to attract more visitors, including Polish tourists, to your land?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

thanked Mr Bender for his kind words. He was pleased to hear them because sometimes people thought that he was not objective when talking about Macedonia. Mother Theresa had been born in Skopje in Macedonia as a Catholic, and she was a product of the country’s diversity. She did not learn tolerance and how to help people at university, but learned it by living in an open space. He was proud that his country had produced a Nobel laureate and was the birth place of the fathers of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kernel Ataturk, and Egypt, Muhammad Ali. He was proud that his country had created people who could transpose the model of tolerance to other countries.

Macedonia showed how to construct positive identities that might be developed by institutions. Identities could lead to conflict but should be used to build bridges. We learnt from other people by living with them.

Mr NIKOLOSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) (interpretation)

welcomed the president on behalf of the Macedonian delegation to the Council of Europe. He asked where the president saw the region in 10 years’ time and what he thought were the prospects for future co-operation.

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

said that a comparison of the region of 20 years ago with that of today spoke volumes for the region’s potential. Slovenia had joined in the European Union. Croatia and Macedonia were candidate countries and were close to joining. Other countries, including Albania, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were expected to achieve the same soon.

He knew the Balkan region very well, and there still existed some 19th and 20th century stereotypes based on bloodshed and violence. History showed that the facts were very different. There were 3 000 years of human history, before which there were only myths and legends. Of those 3 000 years, 2 700 had been years of violence. The two longest periods of peace had happened in the Balkans, under the Pax Romani and the Pax Ottomana. Now, what was needed was the creation of a new Pax, a Pax “Europeana”. There was a need to remind the western world that the idea that had driven the European project was peace. Peace was only possible in an open space. This required a single market, a single currency and a single language. Such an open space would lead to peace.

He was very optimistic about the prospects of the region. He loved the region – he was a “Balkan-ophile”.


Welcome to our plenary session, Mr Ivanov. I truly hope to be in a position soon to welcome you to all EU and European institutions. A few years ago, in this very Chamber, one of your predecessors, Mr Bučkovski, reassured almost the same audience of your country’s true wish to close with Greece the continuing issue of a commonly accepted name. What is the progress in that direction and what is your contribution?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

said that he was very pleased with recent developments in relations between Macedonia and Greece. There had been another meeting between the Macedonian and Greek Prime Ministers yesterday. This was the sixth meeting in a short time. It signalled a return in the confidence in relations between leaders of the countries. He was very keen to meet the Greek President, Mr Papoulias. While it had not yet been possible to arrange a meeting, they were corresponding and had written to each other three times. He wanted there to be no tension in relations between the two countries. His citizens again visited Greece on holiday and Greek businessmen made profits in Macedonia.

In restaurants in Macedonia could be found Greek salad on the menu, and people drinking ouzo. Greek music was played at Macedonian weddings. This sort of thing showed that there was no problem between the citizens of the countries; the problem had been between the elites. He was confident that relations between the prime ministers would intensify, and that a solution could be found under the guidance of the UN Ambassador.

Mr ZERNOVSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) (interpretation)

reminded President Ivanov that Greece had asked Macedonia to change its flag and constitution and Macedonia had done so. Now Macedonia was being asked to change its name. Did President Ivanov think this in keeping with the principles of the Council of Europe?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

reminded the Assembly that Macedonia had been formed in turbulent times after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and the issue of Macedonia’s name had first been raised then. The Greeks had asked Macedonia to adapt its constitution and flag to alleviate Greek security concerns, and the Macedonians had done so. Macedonia had signed up to United Nations Resolution 817, which did not mention changing the name but merely required the entering of discussions. The Lisbon Declaration had asked Macedonia not to use the name “the Republic of Macedonia” but to accept the use of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in international organisations as a provisional arrangement. It was now time to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

Macedonian had once been an official language of Yugoslavia, and the right of self-determination should guarantee the right of all Macedonians to speak their own language. If such rights were violated, the European Court of Human Rights would face many claims from individual Macedonians. He regretted that so much time and energy had been spent in dispute and hoped that the dispute would soon be resolved so that bigger issues affecting the Balkans could be discussed instead. The situation reminded him of the country in “Gulliver’s Travels” where there was constant fighting but no-one remembered why. This was especially true of young people who were often unaware of the UN resolution or the background to the dispute.

This entire argument over the flag, constitution, language and name was tied up in the issue of Macedonian identity. He was therefore pleased to see Greece recognising the Macedonian identity and the rights of Macedonians living in Greece.

Mrs TÜRKÖNE (Turkey)

We all know that cultural diversity is very important for your country. I visited Macedonia in 2005 and I saw that historical buildings, churches and mosques were well kept. However, in the city of Manastir, I saw two mosques that were closed, with their doors chained. It was a great pity, but recently I have learnt that under your presidency one of the mosques has already reopened for worship. I warmly welcome that and would appreciate it if you could share with us any other such works in your country.

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

said that, under communism, atheism was the official religion. Religious artefacts were nationalised and buildings turned into museums. The denationalisation of religion was a long process and the returning of religious property to its rightful owners would take time.

The Macedonian Constitution recognised five official religions, all of which operated in a culture of mutual respect. Many religious buildings were historical artefacts of which tourists and the public should be more aware. The multilingual and multi-ethnic nature of Macedonia made democracy and government very expensive, and he regretted that further progress on denationalising the religions of Macedonia would depend on economic performance.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

My question follows on from some previous ones. You recently said that an increasing number of people want to be Macedonian citizens, and that is a very positive trend. Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of your population. How many of them wish to be affiliated very strongly with Macedonia? How many of them think that their fatherland is Albania or Kosovo, two Albanian states that are nearby?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

noted that a large proportion of the population of Macedonia, about 25%, were ethnic Albanians. The Ohrid framework had left Macedonia with an inclusive model in which every identity was recognised, and the Albanian identity was specifically mentioned in the constitution. When ethnic minorities within Macedonia travelled to their homeland, they were still viewed as Macedonians. In fact, foreigners viewed all people living in Macedonia as Macedonians whether they were ethnically Turkish, ethnically Albanian, ethnically Greek. Equally, everyone living in Macedonia was a Macedonian citizen and was treated equally.

Macedonia was a very diverse country in a very diverse region. The Balkans needed the European tradition of separating the human and political dimensions. He was keen to stress that nationality, for example, was very different from citizenship, and he regretted that that distinction was not always made. He hoped that, as Macedonia and the Balkan region moved closer to Europe, they would also move closer to adopting European values and principles.

Mr CORLĂŢEAN (Romania)

I come from a country that is a strong supporter of the EU and of Euro-Atlantic enlargement in the Balkans – as you well know, that process includes your country. On EU accession, your country is the oldest candidate but in almost two years you have not yet established a clear date for starting the negotiation of the chapters. My question is a simple one: what political actions do you intend to take, as head of state, both in the domestic politics between your political parties and outside your country to try to promote, push and accelerate your European fight?

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

suggested that his role was very similar to that played by the European Union. Just as the European Union united disparate views towards working towards a common goal, in Macedonia the participants in politics were divided on many issues and had to be unified. All political parties in Macedonia were, however, united in their desire for European integration.

Balkan countries were more efficient when facing specific tasks, and in a crisis or when facing a fixed goal – then, all elements of society could come together to work towards a common aim. The promise of European integration led to the adoption of European values and rules, and progress would be made as long as that was a goal with a fixed date. However, when the date was not fixed or the integration process was hindered by other means, old issues and problems arose. Every benchmark that Macedonia had been set by the European Union had been met, but there were more than 70 opportunities for Macedonian membership of the EU to be blocked in the screening process. He reiterated that once a date for beginning negotiations was set, a more favourable climate for European integration would be created in Macedonia.

Mr AGRAMUNT FONT DE MORA (Spain) (interpretation)

noted that the constitutions of the states of the former Yugoslavia were very different. He said that some were good but some, like that of Kosovo, were bad. He asked whether President Ivanov thought all the states were politically and economically viable.

Mr Ivanov, President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (interpretation)

said that the former Yugoslavia was a strong state in times of peace but could not function in times of crisis. Once Tito had died, collective decision making had not worked, and that had led to dissolution of the state. The constitution of the former Yugoslavia had granted the six republics that made up the state the right of self-determination. It was this clause that had led to the break-up of the state and six new states being created.

Serbia was very different from the other new states in that it had two separate areas, Vojvodina and Kosovo. When the Kosovan area did not receive what it viewed as sufficient autonomy, it demanded the same right to self-determination as the other states of the former Yugoslavia had had, and this had caused the break-up of the Serbian state. Macedonia respected the new reality and tried to have good relations with both Kosovo and Serbia, but the creation of new countries could have a domino effect.

The creation of the European Union had weakened the state and created a post-Westphalian reality. This required open space and freedom to encourage democracy and integration which the European Union best provided. There were more than 5 000 ethnic groups and 6 000 linguistic groups globally. It would obviously not work if each group had its own state. Regional integration was therefore an important weapon in resolving and moderating these demands.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Ivanov.

Mr President, on behalf of the Assembly, I should like to thank you for your address and the answers that you have given to our questions.