President of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 24 June 1996

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a special honour for me today to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and to address the representatives of one of the oldest and most numerous European families. My country, the Republic of Macedonia, is the thirty-ninth member of this association that has played a very important and historic role in building the general European awareness of peace and understanding, for co-operation and prosperity of the European countries and nations. The Council of Europe is a place where horizons of human rights and freedoms are conquered and broadened, where the strategy of pan-European understanding, and the future of the common European home is being constructed.

This is the reason why, on this occasion, I wish to underscore the significance of the Republic of Macedonia’s membership of the Council of Europe, as a place where my country and my people can realise and defend their aspirations and goals and where they can give their contribution to the well-being and development of the continent.

The Republic of Macedonia gained independence in 1991, following the dissolution of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. It did so in a peaceful and legitimate manner, by way of a referendum and a new constitution, thus showing that, at the threshold of the twenty-first century, it is possible to gain one’s own independent state without bloodshed.

This act was possibly primarily due to the fact that the Republic of Macedonia refused to take part in the senseless war that was waged in the region of the former Yugoslavia and the fact that the Republic of Macedonia proclaimed independence within her present borders, as internationally established borders. Thus, not only did we opt against the policies of territorial aspirations, forceful changing of borders and ethnic cleansing, but we showed that such policies are the cause of conflicts and wars in the ethnically intermixed Balkans. Bearing this in mind, as well as our own personal history in such typically Balkan surroundings, the Republic of Macedonia wrote down in her constitution that she has no territorial claims towards any neighbour. Just the opposite is the case; the Republic of Macedonia opted to affirm the European principles of co-operation and friendship, with formal borders open for a free flow of people, goods and ideas. Today, the Republic of Macedonia has established full diplomatic relations with all countries in the region, and we have practically no border dispute with any of our neighbours.

In establishing overall domestic and foreign policy, the Republic of Macedonia offered itself as a factor of peace and stability in the region. This is confirmed by our ceasing to be what was historically a bone of contention and becoming a key to peace in the southern Balkans. This was possible because an independent and sovereign Republic of Macedonia put an end to the historical aspirations of her neighbours towards the republic’s territory and people.

We opted for an active policy of good neighbourliness on the principles of equidistance – in other words, equal friendship with all our neighbours. We opted for political dialogue and peaceful means for resolving outstanding issues with all of our neighbours. As a country in transition, we opted for speedy and radical reforms leading towards a market economy. We opted for, and started building, a modern European legal state and civil society. Interethnic understanding and tolerance and the realisation of the rights of national minorities represent the foundations of our internal stability and democratic development, which have singled us out as an atypical example of Balkan behaviour. Our foreign policy is firmly oriented towards the European-Atlantic option. Lastly, we promoted the option for the Europeanisation of the Balkans and its speedier attachment to the European integration.

The painstaking five years that the Republic of Macedonia needed to gain the rightful and natural place that it and its people deserved in international organisations and in the international community is now behind us. It was painstaking due to the many obstacles and restrictions placed in our way, which disregarded our will and political preference. They were the result of the disturbed situation in the region of the Balkans, the war, great mistrust and misunderstandings, sanctions and embargoes, as well as the lack of a consistent policy on the part of the international community for quite some time. There were, of course, the residues of European bi-polarity and the major problems of the post-communist period.

Fortunately most of the problems to which I referred have been overcome, which is confirmed by our membership of the Council of Europe, an association that has been of exceptional help to the Republic of Macedonia on its path to international recognition. For that reason I want to elaborate the views of my country on the situation in the region where it is situated – the Balkans.

I am convinced that I will not be making an overstatement if I say that the Balkans is one of the key issues that will test not only the future of our common European security architecture and defence policy but the strategy of the common European home.

Like it or not, the Balkans are a European region, and not only because of their geographic location. Today, there is a new political structure and reality in the Balkans. Greece is a member of the European Union and Nato. Turkey is getting ready for integration with the Union and is a member of Nato. Slovenia and Macedonia have clearly corroborated their European orientation, with economic and democratic reforms well under way, a clear peaceful position and orientation for association with the European Union and Nato. Croatia shares the same aspirations. The European aspirations of Albania are clear, although this country is still facing major economic and social problems, and reforms are dragging behind. Bulgaria is also a typical country in transition. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, following the signing of the Dayton Agreements, has yet to secure economic consolidation and access to international institutions and organisations. Bosnia-Herzegovina needs reconstruction to salvage the consequences of the devastation of war and to re-establish basic living and working conditions. Today it is the biggest construction site in Europe, overshadowed by doubts whether peace has been achieved for the long term.

All those facts are major topics of discussion on the agendas of the European Union, Nato, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Again, it confirms the political and factual European affiliation of the Balkans, not least because Nato is involved in the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and not least because the south front of Nato is located on the Balkan-Mediterranean belt. The majority of the Balkan countries have joined the Partnership for Peace and have commenced the process of negotiation for trade, co-operation and association agreements with the European Union, and are almost all members of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Europe suffered greatly from historical events in the Balkans, and from recent events. The physically severed north-south communications resulting from the war in some areas of the former Yugoslavia rendered transportation – as well as economic exchange and the free flow of people, goods and ideas – much more difficult. Enormous pressure has been created by new economic emigrants and more than two million refugees from the countries that were at war. There is the threat from war profiteering and the expansion of money-laundering routes, drug trafficking, terrorism and the arms trade, as well as the problems of chemical and radioactive contamination.

The basic moral that we must never overlook is that the strengthening of the peace and security of the Balkans must start with the new Balkan reality – the former Yugoslavia has dissolved and countries are independent and sovereign states with internationally established borders. All former members of the Yugoslav Federation have an equal right to legal continuity and equal succession to the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Any new experiments in imposing or forcefully creating some new state entity in that region are impossible. All those countries have problems and perspectives of their own, and some have a radically different approach towards issues such as democratisation, privatisation and human rights. For those reasons, it is high time that various gatherings, documents and international forums stopped using the term “former Yugoslavia”, because such an entity does not exist. If that fact is disregarded, all other plans and actions may prove to be counterproductive.

The only solution is to support the independence of those countries and their speedier assimilation into the European economic, political and military integration. A major contribution to that end will be the full implementation of the Dayton Agreements and the Paris Treaty for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the normalisation of relations among all Balkan countries, the successful development of democratic processes in all of them, and the advancement and protection of human and minority rights. That is the only way by which the European powder keg – the Balkans – can truly grow from a mere geographic entity into a stable and secure European region.

By opting to build up a legal state and a civil society, and to join in with European integration, the Republic of Macedonia has consequently and authentically opted for full cooperation with the Council of Europe – for co-operation in the process of gradual adjustment of our political and legal system to European standards and rules. From the time when we initiated the procedure for gaining the status of special guest at the Parliamentary Assembly, the Republic of Macedonia has been attempting, in co-operation with the Council of Europe, to make a selection of compatible legal regulations, and to implement further adjustments benefiting from the expertise that is helping to “purify” or upgrade such laws.

On the other hand, in the much smaller area in which regulations were lacking, we used the experience of the experts from the Council of Europe from the very initial stages of preparation of such laws and other acts. Hence, in the course of last year and this year, with the help of legal experts, we passed a number of laws that incorporated the standards of the Council of Europe. We expect that, with the help of legal expertise, a number of others will be in place by the end of the year. We believe that in that way we are creating the qualitative conditions for completing the first phase of transition, and for enhancing Macedonia’s standing as a modern European state.

That is why the Republic of Macedonia is working seriously to fulfil the obligations that she undertook by becoming a fully fledged member of the Council of Europe. By September we shall have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and all its protocols, as well as the General Agreement for Privileges and Immunities of the Council of Europe, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the European Charter for Local Self-Government. We are currently working intensively on their ratification.

In that regard, I shall present our views regarding the monitoring system established under the auspices of the Council of Europe. In principle, Macedonia has from the very beginning accepted international monitoring. That was to our benefit, for it made possible a realistic presentation of the situation in Macedonia, and it helped in the rationalisation and resolution of various problems. That is why we believe that in the coming period we should not be included in the mandates for the former Yugoslavia. The mandate must conform to our status as a member state of the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and similar United Nations missions.

In that context, it is especially important that the negotiations between the European Union and the Republic of Macedonia for a trade and co-operation agreement have ended successfully, marking the beginnings of our association with the European Union.

The Republic of Macedonia is devoting special attention to the advancement and protection of, and respect for, human rights. There is a Macedonian proverb, “Every man is worth as much as the next – and more.” To me, that illustrates better than any political statement the essence of our deep tradition and the awareness that our people have of respect for, and advancement of, human rights, cohabitation, understanding and tolerance towards other people. Hence the Macedonian state’s authentic desire to apply high international standards, especially the standards of the Council of Europe, in our domestic legislature. In a short time the Republic of Macedonia has truly achieved a lot in that area.

On this occasion I should especially like to address the issue of the protection and advancement of the rights of national minorities. Minority rights in Macedonia rest on a model based on the traditions of the Macedonian people and the minorities that live together with them, but also on the standards of international law and practice in that field. That model puts the protection of minority rights in a clear and comprehensive legal framework, by which special treatment for minorities is established on a constitutional level. That is the starting point for further legal elaboration.

In addition to advancing the legal framework, a clear policy of affirmative action is being created and implemented, with the aim of facilitating the full realisation of the foreseen solutions and to improve the integration of the minorities in all spheres of social life. That has confirmed the Republic of Macedonia as an atypical Balkan country, in times when ethnic cleansing and genocide, stifled ethnic rights and religious and ethnic discrimination are a Balkan reality and one of the greatest security risks for Europe.

I must point out the valuable role that experts from the Council of Europe and from the United Nations have played in this process, together with the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the OSCE.

As a whole, the respect of national minorities’ rights is crucial for peace and stability not only in the Republic of Macedonia, but in the whole region where Macedonia is located, as there is no single country in the Balkans without national minorities. Their existence has enriched our societies and it is a sound basis and a bridge for bringing people closer together, for building good bilateral and regional relations, and for establishing constructive co-operation between the countries in the region.

Those convictions form the foundations of our proposal for conducting a comparative study that should determine the position of the national minorities in the Balkans. The proposal has been supported by the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ms Elisabeth Rehn, as well as by the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the OSCE, Mr Max Van der Stoel. The delicacy of the issue implicitly demands permanent dialogue, with the aim of advancing understanding, trust and friendly and good-neighbourly relations, and, ultimately, of preserving stability in the whole region. We are convinced that the study that we propose will represent a good starting point for such a dialogue, and that it will enable the Balkan countries to co-operate more closely on issues of common interest and to offer recommendations for further development.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to express again my deep pleasure at having the opportunity to speak before all of you here today, in this open and democratic forum of European countries and peoples.

I, of course, remain at your disposal for all questions that are of interest to you in connection with the Republic of Macedonia and the policy that we follow. Thank you.


Thank you, Mr Gligorov, for a most interesting statement. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them all that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. The first question is from Mr Ruffy.

Mr RUFFY (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, I speak to you with a certain degree of emotion, as the last time I had the privilege of meeting with you was before the terrorist attempt made on your life.

In saying how delighted I am to see you here today, I speak as someone who knows the many battles you have waged and who is full of admiration for your level-headedness, your political acumen and your determination to ensure respect for the principles we all share here and which we attempt to defend with similar conviction.

That being said, you spoke, Mr President, of peace and stability in the Balkans, implying that the accession of the various Balkan countries to the conventions of the Council of Europe would afford an element of stability.

Do you think that is enough? Should we not consider the possibility of countries in the Balkans entering into a mutual commitment in relation to a certain number of basic tenets?

And what would be the geographical area within which countries in the Balkans would be bound by such a mutual commitment?

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

said that the Balkan area needed a chance to use the expertise of the members of the Council of Europe. He was concerned that if some Balkan countries were excluded, the Council of Europe’s influence over all the Balkan countries would be diminished. The Council of Europe should not look for everything to be done at once; rather it should look for evidence of change.

Mr ABOUT (France) (translation)

Mr President, allow me first to thank you for your work and diplomatic efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in the Balkans.

In spite of the many concessions you have made, such as removing the Star of Virginia from your flag, you still do not have the right to use the term “Republic of Macedonia” to denote your own country. France, for her part, appreciates the use by one of her neighbours of the name of one of her regions, Brittany.

Might you avoid trouble by calling your country “great”, say? What about “the Republic of Great Macedonia”?

On a more serious note, Mr President, may we hope for a speedy settlement of this war of words?

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

replied that some countries had changed their names through sovereign act, but Macedonia was in an impossible situation. While Greece insisted that Macedonia should change its name, those in power and in opposition were not authorised to capitulate the state’s name and dignity even if they wished to do so. They would patiently await the outcome of talks. In the meantime, business links between Greece and Macedonia continued to be established and time would solve such problems. It was not possible to denounce a name which defined the country’s identity and place in the heart of the Balkans.

Mr LANDSBERGIS (Lithuania)

I am still wondering about the same question: what other names will the political Pickwick Club invent now? We already have strange official names such as the Former Soviet Republic of Russia and the Present Yugoslavia, or Former Serbia and Montenegro. It is becoming more absurd than I can cope with. I already know your answer, thank you.

Mr PAVLIDIS (Greece)

I come from Greece and I share your views about stability in our region. I also appreciate the efforts made to solve some of the problems that we had – I am referring to Greece and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” but the critical issue of your name is still pending, and that is why there have been negotiations under United Nations’ auspices. Mr President, after the answer you gave to Mr About, do you think that there is any meaning in continuing the talks around this issue in New York?

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

said that it was essential to continue talks, without which nothing could be achieved. Reasonable talks and listening to the opposing arguments could perhaps lead to agreement in three to six months’ time. Macedonia was also prepared to talk about any outstanding problems regarding the Balkans and would always stand ready to take part in dialogue, provided this did not entail a loss of national identity.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

Mr President, in answer to a previous question you referred to the totally unacceptable and extremely damaging embargo imposed on your country until last year by your neighbour Greece, and the welcome improvements that have occurred since that embargo was lifted. What differences and obstacles remain between your country and Greece, apart from people being unable to refer freely and rightly to your country as Macedonia instead of FYROM? What is your country’s position regarding those outstanding obstacles and differences?

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

replied that, in principle, there were no other differences. However, there remained the problem of those left without the homes and property which they had previously owned in Greece. The problem was similar to that of Bosnian refugees, who had no legal right to return to their homes, or whose homes had been destroyed through war. There was a need to seek solutions to these most sensitive issues through the organs of the Council of Europe and other institutions of the European Community.

Mr SOLÉ TURA (Spain)

Some time ago I visited Macedonia as a member of the Council of Europe. I fully appreciated your efforts to overcome the great difficulties and problems that you faced. One of your greatest concerns was the issue of minorities in a wide geographical zone, both inside and outside your country. What is your opinion of the developments in neighbouring countries such as Albania and Kosovo? How could these developments affect the position of the Albanian minority in Macedonia?

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

believed that the question of Kosovo was an essential issue, and was perhaps the primary instigator of conflict in the region. Many Albanians in Kosovo sought human rights, including the restoration of a previously held autonomy. They had set up separate institutions which had reduced the dialogue between Serbs and Albanians. He had held discussions with the President of Kosovo in which he had urged negotiations with Belgrade to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the situation had worsened. Some Albanians had proclaimed independence, others had claimed that the area was a protectorate of the United Nations.

Macedonian experience of open dialogue and a common approach to all nationalities was a positive example of conflict resolution. However, if conflict were to start in Kosovo and a military settlement were sought, matters in the region would be complicated and there would be an impact on Macedonia. Macedonia was the natural route for refugees, whose arrival would alter the ethnic map of Macedonia. This had the potential to start a Balkan-style conflict.

In his opinion no neighbouring country could remain passive in such circumstances.

Mr DIAZ DE MERA (Spain) (interpretation)

noted that the ethnic map of Macedonia had changed and that the percentage of Albanian children in schools had increased. He asked Mr Gligorov what political measures had been considered to encourage stability between ethnic groups.

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

said that his address had discussed minority rights as a condition of stability. In Macedonia this was an important factor. A census had been conducted with the approval of the Council of Europe and the OSCE and under inspection by international observers. It had shown that two-thirds of the population in Macedonia were of Macedonian origin, 22,9% of the population were Albanian, and the remaining people were minorities such as Turkish and Serbian. It was, therefore, clear that the majority population was Macedonian.

Measures had been taken to address the rights of the Albanians. The most pressing issue was that of education. Consequently, primary education in Albanian had been secured for all Albanian children and secondary education, exclusively in Albanian, for all Albanian students now entering secondary school. Facilities for the study of Albanology at Skopje University had been doubled and faculties for the training of teachers in Albanian had been set up at Bitola and Skopje universities. It was hoped that this would alleviate the problem of lower quality education in Albanian schools, which arose from a lack of adequately trained teaching staff. He had held several meetings with Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia and had learned that the whole of the education system needed to be addressed. The main problem for Albanian students was that the existing system did not allow Albanian and Macedonian students to sit university entrance exams on an equal footing. The establishment of a separate Albanian university was a secondary consideration.

Mrs AYTAMAN (Turkey)

Mr President, I have been following with appreciation your consensus concerning efforts to establish peace and harmony among the various ethnic groups existing in your country. In fact, your personal consent in organising a census under the supervision of the Council of Europe in mid-1994 proved instrumental in developing the fundamentals of a sound democracy based on social harmony. Yet, we see that a neighbour of yours to your east, who, while showing interest in the ethnic structures of the others, shies away from recognising the presence of different ethnic groups in her country, like the Macedonians, and the Turks of western Thrace, who already have national minority status.

Mr President, how do you evaluate what Ï must call a double-standard approach? How can we ensure peace and stability in this region and support the pan-European approach before we fall into such ethnocentric policies?


Mr President, before you answer, may we please take the other questions as well? May I remind the delegates that I will really stop them at thirty seconds? Mr Bokov, please will you note the rules? You have been here quite a long time.

Mr BOKOV (Bulgaria)

Thank you. In two weeks’ time a meeting of the Balkan foreign ministers is scheduled to take place in Sofia. I understand that Macedonia will participate. Would you kindly share with us your expectations of that meeting and tell us what you expect its outcome to be?

Secondly, does Macedonia expect to participate in a meeting of the ministers of defence of the Balkan countries, which is supposed to be held some time later this year?

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

stressed that it was very important to make a comparative study of the treatment of ethnic minorities in all the countries in the Balkan region. Within Macedonia, issues of the treatment of ethnic minorities were constantly discussed but little attention was paid to the condition of minorities within neighbouring Balkan countries. Every Balkan state had more than one national identity within its borders.

It was essentially an internal matter and was important, regardless of the percentage which formed a minority within any country. It was also an issue which faced other European countries, not only the Balkans. Over-dramatising one particular case was not helpful because there were other, less high-profile cases, where the same problems existed.

He confirmed that the Macedonian Foreign Minister would attend the meeting of the Balkan foreign ministers. He did not expect that there would be spectacular results but it was important for the ministers to meet at the same table and to take this step forward.


We have today the Council of Europe 1963 Convention, and most of all that convention has the aim of harmonising national legislation. Mr President, apart from the European Convention on Human Rights, how many conventions of the Council of Europe have been ratified by “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, and how many have been signed? What measures have been taken to implement this convention in your country?

Sir RUSSELL JOHNSTON (United Kingdom)

Mr President, yours has been an extraordinary display of courage and resilience. Like so many others, I salute you. You mentioned a dialogue between President Rugova and President Milosevic. Surely the problem is that the Albanians want an open agenda while the Serbs in Belgrade exclude any suggestion or discussion about cessation. In what way, Mr President, do you think that this Parliamentary Assembly might be able to help resolve the impasse?


Thank you, Sir Russell, for confining yourself to thirty seconds.


I am British.

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

wished to answer the second question first. Unconditional dialogue was necessary to avoid a repetition of the tragedy of Bosnia although it had to be recognised that the approaches taken by the two sides might be different. Using a third party as a mediator could be useful.

In answer to Mr Szymanski, Mr Gligorov confirmed that all the conventions he had mentioned in his speech would be ratified by September.


Thank you, Mr President, for your most interesting address and for your full and helpful answers to all the questions put to you. The members of the Council enjoyed putting their questions and you will be well aware of the close and continuing interest that is taken in all the issues to which you referred. You can be sure, Mr President, that that interest will be maintained.