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Prime Minister of Macedonia: U.S. Has Ally in Balkans

Prime Minister of Macedonia: U.S. Has Ally in Balkans
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

By    |   Tuesday, 02 January 2018 10:24 PM

By the end of 2017, the Republic of Macedonia had made significant steps toward renewing democracy, engaging in regional cooperation and advancing integration with the United States and Western Europe.

This accomplishment is all the more impressive considering that at the beginning of the year, our small Balkan country was mired in a deep political crisis.

In the mid-2010s, I took it upon myself, as leader of the biggest opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), to initiate a project "Truth about Macedonia."

I revealed wire-tapped materials that exposed a system of corrupt governance and gross abuse of power. I expected the corrupt politicians in power and wrongdoers would resign in three days; however, it would take us two-and-a-half years to drain the swamp in our capital, Skopje.

By the start of 2017, 10 years of authoritarian rule in the Republic of Macedonia created internal divisions and external tensions with neighboring countries including Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania.

The Republic of Macedonia had become a center of geopolitical intrigue with increasing opportunities for external powers with anti-democratic values and norms to meddle in the internal affairs of our country.

The culmination of the crisis and our personal struggles for freedom and democracy came April 27, 2017. After a newly formed majority in Parliament elected a new Speaker, a well-organized mob of 4,000 thugs stormed our parliament and tried to lynch us.

I thank the courage of my fellow MPs from different parties and ethnic groups and our heroic security guards, that we calmly withstood these violent attacks, heavy blows, and bloody injuries. I also thank God that none of our colleagues were killed.

We not only survived this brazen assault on our sovereignty, but endured because we are united in our belief in basic democratic values and standards.

Under my leadership, our party reached out for support to different ethnic groups in the Republic of Macedonia. Our democratic message and hard work paid off as the coalition I led in the December 2016 election received substantial support from the minority Albanian community.

During our struggle, we never wavered from our support for civil society and cooperation on equal footing. We engaged our citizens to rise in defense of these democratic rights, freedoms and the rule of law.

The result was stunning: an electoral majority in the national parliament that opened our path toward change.

Through the will of the people, we were empowered to exchange an authoritarian regime for a government with a resolute will to restore democracy.

We managed to do what is frequently aspired to, but seldom accomplished.

However, overcoming the crisis was only half of the story. We desperately needed to bring new perspectives.

Thus, we created a platform of good governance that is based on four pillars.

Inclusive governance is the first pillar. This means we are strongly determined to build independent institutions and a rule of law that is equal for all and to extend inclusive and accessible public services.

The concept "one society for all" is our second pillar. This is a civic based concept to bridge ethnic divisions.

There should no longer be ethnic and nationalistic polarization. We lead by example to implement this concept.

We have integrated Albanians in my party, in the party structures, as MPs and as candidates in local elections, and strengthened the cooperation with minority Albanian parties.

In local elections in October 2017, we gave the opportunity to Albanians to vote for ethnic Macedonian candidates and to ethnic Macedonians to vote for Albanian candidates.

Our success was immediate and overwhelming. Today, I am proud an Albanian woman from my party is mayor in a municipality that was a battleground in the inter-ethnic conflict in the early 2000s. Democracy truly works.

The third pillar of our good governance platform is equitable growth. We introduced policy measures to eradicate poverty and to increase the standard of living.

In my government's first six months, we increased the minimum wage, increased accessibility of public services, introduced more programs for self-employment, increased support and incentives for small business creation and provided equal opportunities for domestic and foreign investors.

Today, the government in the Republic of Macedonia is supporting up to 50 percent of any new investment in the country.

In terms of foreign investment, in early 2018, we will pass a law lowering the corporate tax rate for IT companies to 3 percent.

We expect this will attract businesses to the Republic of Macedonia and we look forward to negotiating with these companies during the course of 2018. Macedonia is open for business.

The fourth necessary pillar is to be friends with our neighbors. We are strongly committed to regional cooperation.

At the Western Balkan Summit in Trieste 2017, the Republic of Macedonia received a grant of almost 70 million Euros from the EU to build a railway to Bulgaria.

In August 2017, we signed a good neighborly agreement with Bulgaria and held our first joint government session (G2G) with Bulgaria in November.

In mid-December we had the first G2G with Albania, and in 2018 we plan to have G2Gs with Serbia and with Kosovo. And we will host the first summit on the digital economy in the Western Balkans in the first half of 2018.

With Greece we are building positive momentum to overcome the long standing “name dispute” that is a major obstacle for our EU and NATO integration.

Together we are engaged in a process of confidence building measures and are improving the dialogue between our two countries to find a solution.

The first results of our platform are encouraging. In our October 2017 local elections, international observers concluded elections "contributed to strengthening confidence in the democratic process."

My government is strongly committed to EU and NATO integration as main strategic goals. In 2018, we aspire to open EU accession negotiations and to receive an invitation to join NATO.

We created an ambitious plan called "3 – 6 – 9" to move forward in EU integration.

It is a plan with concrete policy reforms outlined in the first three months, six months, and nine months. It is a comprehensive set of policy reforms in crucial areas such as rule of law, public administration, security services, and media.

Regarding NATO integration we support President Trump's call for NATO members to pay their fair share of the NATO defense bill, and we will increase our military budget by 15 percent in 2018.

We have the political will to increase our defense spending in each successive year so we reach the NATO 2 percent target in due course.

We remain a loyal and reliable partner to NATO and to the US, as envisaged in the strategic partnership agreement our country signed in 2008.

We participated in the U.S.-led mission in Iraq and take part in NATO's "Resolute Support" mission in Afghanistan.

We are the fourth largest contributor per capita, and will increase our participation in 2018.

The Balkans have had a turbulent past, but we are the masters of our future.

Citizens in the entire region hope for a new generation of transformational leaders that will nurture sustainable peace and stability and develop cooperation to serve their economic interests and well-being.

The government that I lead has the honor and responsibility to govern in the Republic of Macedonia.

We need to serve the best interests of our people. My aim is to strive for nothing less than that, and I hope to deliver results to my fellow citizens.

Zoran Zaev is the Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia.

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The United States has an ally in Balkans, the prime minister of Macedonia writes Tuesday for Newsmax.
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Tuesday, 02 January 2018 10:24 PM
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