Interview by Slobodanka Jovanovska – Nezavisen Vesnik
The US Ambassador to fYRO Macedonia, Jess Baily, sees an opportunity in the Prespa agreement for the citizens to choose a better future for themselves. According to him, the United States stands firmly behind NATO’s invitation, although the Senate has the final say. In an interview with Nezavisen/Independent newspaper, he calls for an open debate in the country about the significance of the deal with Greece, saying he personally sees no better opportunity for the country in the next decade.
Mister Ambassador, NATO gave us an invitation for membership. What are you going to tell to those who oppose the name agreement and are ready to say “no” to the membership?
First, I want to emphasize how monumental this moment is for Macedonia. After 26 years of seeking to enter NATO and the EU, citizens now have the opportunity to do just that. If Macedonia’s citizens support moving forward with the Prespa agreement, they will be choosing a future of greater security, stability, and progress in NATO, a seat at the table of the most successful security alliance in the world.
I understand that the Prespa agreement is a compromise and that citizens are disappointed in some parts of it, but I honestly do not believe that a better opportunity will appear in the next decade. We hope that there will be open conversation among citizens about the merits of the agreement. Of course, opponents of the agreement have the right to express their opposition and to vote against it.
Over the past several years, several people in Macedonia have expressed to me a fear that Macedonia would be somehow divided, including by its neighbors. If Macedonia joins NATO, your neighbors – Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania – will become your allies, pledged to defend your territorial integrity and sovereignty. And you theirs. That’s a powerful message, after a century filled with strife.
Do you see any possible obstacle in the U.S. to the ratification of Macedonia’s membership?
We have been very clear in our support for Macedonia’s accession to NATO, and we look forward to welcoming Macedonia as the 30th member under its new name, the Republic of North Macedonia. In the United States, however, the Executive Branch does not have the final say. It will be the Senate which will have to ratify a new NATO member.
How do you comment the behavior of our president Gjorge Ivanov who didn’t congratulate for the invitation, and during the most important days for Macedonia after long time, went to visit Turkey? What message is that?
President Ivanov has long voiced his support for Macedonia’s future in NATO and the EU, including in conversations with me. I hope he will support the process moving forward. He has stated his concerns about the Prespa agreement, but the Parliament has voted twice in favor of ratification. Soon the citizens of Macedonia will have the opportunity to express their view. Again, the agreement with Greece involves difficult compromises, but it also represents a historic opportunity to secure the country’s future in the family of Western democracies, in NATO, and in the EU with the new name of the Republic of North Macedonia.
Тhere wеrе celebrations but also protests in the country. Do you agree that obstructions are persistent as leading policy in Macedonia?
People certainly have the right to protest peacefully; that’s one of the fundamental tenets of our – or any – democracy. I hope, in the end, that everyone also respects the right of Macedonia’s citizens to express their opinion on the Prespa agreement and on Macedonia joining NATO and the EU through the referendum.
Are you concerned that problems to establish a new State Election Commission can prolong or even stop the referendum about the name agreement?
Again, I would just say that Macedonia’s citizens have the right to vote and express their position on the Prespa agreement. That is something we want to see move forward. This includes electing a new State Election Commission that will oversee the referendum process. As we have in previous elections and referenda, if requested, the U.S. will provide assistance to the State Election Commission, so that it can organize a free, fair, and efficient voting process.
How do you comment requests of opposition party VMRO-DPMNE to grant amnesty to those who are sentenced for the events of 27 April in Parliament? Could it be serious?
Improving rule of law is one of the top priorities for this country. That’s clear in the government’s reform plans, for the EU process, and for NATO membership. The indictments in the April 27 cases are serious charges. The United States has said several times that organizers and perpetrators of the attacks should be held accountable for their actions. At the same time, all individuals have the right of presumption of innocence. It is important that the legal process proceed in a thorough, unbiased, and independent manner.
Such high profile cases will test the country’s rule of law institutions; stopping the legal processes now would only undermine citizen’s faith and trust in those institutions by reinforcing the notion that every decision is based on political deal-making. I would also add that prematurely halting the cases might imply that all the defendants are guilty without ever giving them a day in court.
How do you see the first sentences in high profile cases in Macedonia, having in mind the requests by EU and NATO to fight corruption in the country?
It’s a positive sign that we are seeing these cases actually reach decisions, instead of continually being delayed. People should be able to have their names cleared if they are innocent, and should be held accountable if they are guilty. This will also allow citizens to understand what did and did not happen.
It is important that the institutions, such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, be empowered to independently address corruption and impunity. In the end though, corruption comes down to personal integrity, for example to the decision of whether to offer a bribe or to accept it, or to ask for or give a job to a relative. And we know that changing behavior, of individuals and of institutions, happens slowly. So, we’ve seen some progress, but there is of course a lot that remains to be done. The United States stands ready to help your institutions involved in the fight against corruption./IBNA