CIVIL published an interview with Erwan Fouéré five years ago (2011), within the CURE publication (page 354). CURE is a project for political culture and dialogue, implemented in 2010-2011. It was a mega-interview in which he provided his sharp and in-depth analysis of the political situation in the country in which he served as an EU diplomate for five years. The interview was immediately published by the only independent political weekly in the country “Fokus”, led by late Nikola Mladenov, who got killed in a mysterious car crash in 2013, during the highly problematic local elections.
Five years later, Mr. Fouéré concludes that the situation in the country has worsened. This interview was conducted in Skopje, on May 6, 2016, as part of the activities of FORWARD! - elections monitoring project.
H.E. Amb. Erwan Fouéré (1946), Ireland, a career European official, who has served as Head of the European Commission Delegation in Macedonia, Slovenia, South Africa, and Mexico. Bachelor of Civil Law, University College, Dublin, 1967, Bachelor of Laws, University College, Dublin, 1968, Diploma in European studies, Institut Européen des Hautes Etudes Internationales, Nice University, 1969, Post graduate Research Assistant at the Max Kohnstamm Institute for European studies, Brussels 1970-72. Awarded the Order of Good Hope, Class II; Grand Offi cer by President Mandela (January 1998).
After having pursued a career spanning 38 years with the EU institutions, during which he assumed various responsibilities both at Headquarters and more particularly in the EU’s External Service, Erwan Fouéré has joined Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) as an Associate Senior Research Fellow.
By Xhabir Deralla
CIVIL Media crew: Nikola Ugrinovski (camera), Dehran Muratov (camera), Biljana Jordanovska (photo)
You personally were the inspirer for our project on political culture five year ago. Back then, you described the situation in the country with the following words: Here we have this abusive power which reflects the approach how to share the spoils of power with one’s friends and party soldiers, not how to ensure that the power that is exercised is the one to bring benefit to all the citizens, irrespectible to their political affiliation. What is your assessment of the Macedonian situation now?
FOUERE: Well, the situation has, unfortunately, got far worse and if you look at the developments of every sector of the society whether it is at the political level, whether it is at the economical level, the cultural level, the educational level - this all have been taken over by the apparatus of the ruling party, which sole interest is to usurp the lawful authority of the state and to impose its own very narrow party ideology. And we saw the roots of that already, particularly after 2008, I think, the sort of ethno-nationalist bent in their behavior. But we didn’t realize, certainly I didn’t realize that they would have gone so bad; that they would have not stopped at anything to control and to use their authority in manipulating the entire system and also abusing of the interest of the citizens of the country for their own personal gain.
They see the country as their own personal property.
So, at every level, unfortunately, the poison that has been sawn has gone down very, very deep. Many people, who were able to, have left the country, because they see no future, particularly the younger generation. And it’s only by cheating that they have reached where they are now, and that’s why they want elections, because they know that - by cheating again - they will win.
They control by intimidating.
I also feel that the international community should have been much stronger, particularly after the violence of the 24th of December 2012. There should have been a very, very strong message from the EU in particular, so that they would not repeat such a thing. But, unfortunately there has been a weakness, there has been a failure to appreciate the depth of the crisis in Macedonia.
I remember, when I wrote my policy paper in 2013 for the Center of European Policies, I entitled it “Macedonia, a country in crisis”, and the people in the EU institutions told me I was exaggerating. But, I wasn’t. I was even underestimating the depth of the crisis. Now we see where we are, and I’m glad that, finally, the international community does understand the action that is required.
You supported the protests of the citizens demanding democracy and justice, by being present there for a few days. What would you do next if you were part of the organizers and the people who are on the streets? Do you think that this regime, the way it is, would peacefully resign and let democracy and rule of law take place in the country, or you see some other developments?
FOUERE: Well, one has to hope so, that reason will prevail. But, of course, we know that desperate people can resort to desperate measures. The strength of the feelings of the people out in the streets is really something that they can no longer ignore. They have tried to, the government-supported media, I think, don’t even mention it. They are negating the reality by not recognizing that these people, thousands of people, are out in the streets every day, because they want to be there, they want to demonstrate their total rejection of the ruling party, of the way they have manipulated the resources of the state, of the way they have discriminated against the citizens, marginalized many communities, and abused the confidence of the citizens. This has been going on for three weeks. I admire these people. And, I felt it was important that I should come out and show them that I and many others of the friends of Macedonia support these people. I hope that this will make the government and the ruling party realize that they have to compromise.
They have to step down, and they have to face the full force of the law. That’s why the Special Prosecutor’s role is so important. So, I believe that now, with the increased international pressure, this will show the ruling party that they have to move, they cannot stay like that.
And of course, by supporting the protests, you became part of the “dark forces, foreign spies, traitors” and all sorts of attributes that we all are bearing for a number of years nowadays…
FOUERE: It’s very sad to see that. The friends of Macedonia are here to help. I used to say that to the Prime Minister often. I said, my criticism of the performance of the ruling party is not as an enemy, but as a friend. I want to show that it is important. As a candidate country Macedonia has responsibility to follow the basic democratic standards. But, of course, they dismissed all of that, and when the President launched his pardon of all these senior officials, he mentioned the fact that he was critical of the so-called interference of the diplomats.
This shows that the ruling party does not understand the concept of diplomacy.
They look at all of this in such an arrogant way and they don’t realize that the whole world is looking at Macedonia as a failed state, unfortunately.
Do you think that we should agree on a fixed date for elections? Is the demand - conditions for free elections first than date for elections - feasible? What if elections get postponed with a fixed date, and what if the elections take place on the 5th of June?
FOUERE: Well, certainly, having elections on the 5th of June would only worsen and deepen the crisis. I’m very happy that the Netherland’s presidency of the European Union issued a letter, a very strong letter, making very clear that the conditions are not in place for having free and fair elections. The Przino agreement that was mediated by the European Union together with the US last year, had some important positive elements, but one of the weak elements was the fact that they set a date for the elections, which many of us, independent experts, considered it was far too early.
They should rather have said: “First of all the work has to be done and then decide the date”.
Now, we are in a situation where the elections have been postponed already. My feeling is that they have to be postponed again, but they need to be postponed in a different way. And, it should be postponed whereby a date will be set once all the conditions are in place, the media reforms are really in place and functioning, the Voters List vetting concluded properly, also insuring that there is this complete separation between the State funds and the party funds. I mean, we see the former Prime Minister Mr. Gruevski going round the country opening projects, left, right and center.
With what money? Is that government money? Then he shouldn’t be doing it!
So, all of this needs to be addressed, as well as the question of intimidation of public administration officials. These are a lot of measures that need to be in place before credible elections can take place. Because, the whole idea of these early elections, in the Przino Agreement, was that they should signal a new page for Macedonia, a return to democratic standards, and to give confidence to the citizens that their vote means something. But, to have those elections in the current circumstances on June 5 would simply not achieve that objective. The EU needs to be consistent, and therefore should now say: Put all those measures in place, and then you must decide.
Do you think there is a potential for violent development of the events in the country? The Russian Ministry of foreign affair and the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE are often mentioning the Ukrainian scenario. How would you comment on this? Is the ruling party actually pushing for violent development, in order to get away with its transgressions?
FOUERE: The statements projected by the ruling party is fearmongering. They are trying to raise fear among the citizens and making suggestions which can only provoke, and maybe this is what they want. This is the tragedy of this ruling party. They have been promoting violence through their confrontational politics over the years. We have seen incidents of violence which do not reflect Macedonian society. This is a result of the confrontational politics of the ruling party and the way in which they manipulate people.
Yesterday evening was the marking the memory of the murder of this young student, one among many examples of people who have suffered from the violence by this regime. But again, one has to hope that the pressure of the international community will be such - and I think it’s growing by the day - so that any violent scenarios would be prevented, and that the ruling party will not be allowed to do that.
Of course, with all the danger, as we saw with the Kumanovo events last year. Because, if there’s one thing, which unfortunately we have seen in Macedonia, and yet it is a wonderful example - the Ohrid Framework Agreement shows the interethnic mix of this country – as a unique opportunity to show the possibility of different communities working together. The ethno-nationalist policies of this ruling party have exacerbated the tensions between the ethnic communities.
I was amazed when I saw last year, after the Kumanovo events, how the entire country was united, rejecting that violence that took place, rejecting those dark forces that I’m sure have links with shady individuals in the margins of society, who want nothing but ill for the country. And, you had all the ethnic communities coming together as a force of rejection against the ruling party and its policies. I’m sure this will be the savior of Macedonia. Hopefully, the peaceful solution will emerge.
But, it will take quite some time to restore the confidence, to eliminate the fear that is prevalent in the society now, and also to end the divisiveness in the society.
I feel very strong in my mind, after talking to so many of the people yesterday evening during the “Protestiram” demonstrations that they have a tremendous strength and they’re there because they want to be there and that I think is strength that the ruling party will never be able to vanquish.