Deputy Prime Minister of Macedonia H.E. Ivica Bocevski visits Columbia University next Tuesday to speak about the accession of his nation to the European Union. Big Think spoke with Gordon N. Bardos, Assistant Director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia, about what this innocuous country's chances are for becoming an official European state.
BT: What are some of the reasons for Macedonia's desire to join the E.U. and what would acceptance mean for the country?
GB: To most everyone, the European Union represents a better life and a more efficient government. However, Macedonia is still merely a candidate and several years from E.U. integration.
BT: Would you say Macedonia's recent name row with Greece is an impediment to their acceptance into the E.U.?
GB: I wouldn't say Greece is the sole impediment to a Macedonian E.U. state, but currently they are vetoing their accession to not just the E.U. but also to NATO. I also don't want to say Greece is unnecessarily putting roadblocks on Macedonia's progress, but it would be nice if both sides could come to an agreement on disputed issues. Right now, there's a lot of blame on both sides. This issue seems to be hostage to a lot of domestic disputes.
BT: The Balkans have been no stranger to heated domestic disputes, yet somehow Macedonia has managed to come out relatively unscathed from the violence and ethnic tensions its neighbors encountered in the Balkan War. Why do you think Macedonia was able to largely avoid the conflict?
GB: For the most part, better leadership than neighboring countries allowed them to maintain peace through this era. On their end, the Macedonian leadership was probably much smarter in realizing the degree of danger there was in the escalating violence between countries. In addition, the balance of power between Macedonians and Albanians was much different than in nearby Kosovo. In addition, the way the international community reacted to the violence in Macedonia was much different than towards some of the more polarized countries.
BT: When the Deputy Prime Minister comes to speak next week, what do you think he will talk about? Also, what are some of the positive and negative influences that will be swaying minds in Parliament as they think over Macedonia's E.U. application?
GB: The DPM will be talking a fair amount about what Macedonia has achieved so far--mostly their economic and governmental reforms. To many, Macedonia's prosperity and relative stability has been held up as a Balkan success story, seeing as we mentioned before they were able to avoid the Balkanization and mass violence of their neighbors during 2000-2001. While the E.U. will surely recognize Macedonia for avoiding conflict, the leadership in Brussels was critical of what they saw as "Skopje provoking Athens" over the name change and various other disputes. In addition, the E.U. community views a certain amount of "immaturity" on the part of Skopje when dealing with perceived unfairness. An example would be the Macedonian leadership's recent boycott of Parliament.