Balkan frustrations, evangelical focus
After years of waiting, Albania and North Macedonia received the green light this week to start accession negotiations for full EU membership. Newscasts showed officials in Brussels toasting the “breakthrough”.
So why aren’t Macedonians excited?
This news was only a few days old when Romkje and I landed at Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, to join a coaching program for young aspiring politicians.
On our first morning, we visited the Parliament building with the youth delegation for a briefing of a young christian deputy. She made it clear that not everyone saw this ‘fresh start’ as cause for celebration.
While the move was seen as an attempt to ease tensions in the Balkans and diminish Russian and Chinese influence in the region, she explained how so far the process has compounded the frustrations in his country both with their neighbors and with Brussels.
In more colorful language, our guide through the building expressed how many of his compatriots felt. They were exasperated, she implied, by the long series of vetoes that North Macedonia had to endure after gaining candidate status in 2005seventeen years ago.
The green light had come only after controversial government compromise to resolve dispute with Bulgaria.
Sofia continued to insist that the Macedonian language was a dialect of Bulgariannot a completely separate language, although it is already recognized by the UN and the Council of Europe.
In the meeting room, the offices of opposition members were still littered with placards and slogans opposing the government compromise.
For many years before, the Greek opposition prevented Macedonia from starting accession negotiations until it changed its name to North Macedonia and removed the Vergina Sun from its flag.
The Greeks consider the emblem of the sun as part of their historical heritage, associated with “their” Alexander the Great, and the name Macedonia to designate their northernmost province.
french president Macron was next to throw a spanner in the works. He blocked the opening of accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana until new guidelines for future enlargement at EU level have been drawn up.
Albania received candidate status in 2014, nine years after Skopje.
Now they have the green light, Albania should immediately start accession negotiationswhile North Macedonia will be we must first make changes in the constitution in accordance with the compromise agreement.
This includes controversy recognition of some of their historical heroes as “Bulgarians‘.
Albanian visitors have told me they don’t share the skepticism of their northern Macedonian neighbors fueled by Balkan infighting, as their country has been totally isolated from surrounding countries for so many decades.
A walk through Skopje’s city center reveals an explosive profusion of architecture and oversized statues of national heroes carrying swords and guns, from Alexander himself to 20th century resistance fighters, reflecting a deep need for national affirmation in a region known for its fragmentation.
Membership of the European Union is open to any European State which respects and is committed to promoting the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. human rights, including minority rights.
Candidate countries must demonstrate the stability of institutions guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as good as ability to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.
Brussels policy has in fact consisted in dangling the carrot of possible membership but in delaying the procedure as long as possible. The the last time the union welcomed a new member was almost a decade ago, in 2013, when Croatia joined.
Almost twenty years ago, EU leaders gathered in Thessaloniki pledged to bring the region into the union, but few still believe in such promises. Skeptics wonder how much more Hungary or Poland the EU can absorb.
The the long wait pushes more and more young peoplebest equipped to help their nations to a more prosperous future, leave the Western Balkan region and seek better salaries in the EU.
The North Macedonian government is the largest employer in this country of only two million people with zero population growth.
Yet for these aspirants young politicians eager to provide Christian answers to today’s problemsthere were reminders of the difference even one or two people can make in desperate situations.
A mosaic on the wall of the parliament hall recalled the story of Cyril and Methodius, two brothers from Thessalonica who brought the gospel to the Slavic peoples and gave them the Cyrillic alphabet, operating from the Macedonian city of Ochrid.
High on a mountain overlooking the city stood what is claimed to be the largest cross in the worldd, erected to mark the new millennium, a symbol of hope and resurrection.
Jeff Fountain, Director of the Schuman Center for European Studies. This article was first published on the author’s blog, Weekly Word.