At the beginning of the last quarter of one of the most difficult years for Europe in recent history, it can be stated that the Macedonian leadership of the OSCE will remain noted as a great success. Let’s remember, at the end of 2022, the Macedonian candidacy for the chairmanship of the OSCE was unanimously accepted by all 56 member countries of one of the most important organizations in the world. According to the OSCE statute, the chairperson is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani, who is also in charge of the numerous complex missions and tasks arising from this status of the country.
The fact is that the domestic public knows little about the role of Macedonian diplomacy in the OSCE and internationally. Without entering into an analysis of the reasons why this is so, it is enough to emphasize that the success of Minister Osmani and the Macedonian mission in the OSCE significantly affect the international status of North Macedonia, and indirectly, the internal political events and processes.
In this connected world, crisis hotspots and wars have a serious impact at regional level, and often set global trends.
Meanwhile, on Saturday morning, October 6, Palestinian militants attacked Israel, and in less than 24 hours, this bloody conflict, with more than 450 killed on both sides, turned into a regional one. The conflict in the Middle East coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War (also known as the Ramadan War) which was extremely bloody even though it only lasted two weeks and five days. Minister Osmani immediately issued a statement condemning Hamas’ attacks on Israel.
How it all looks through the prism of the first person in these processes, we learn from this interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani, for CIVIL MEDIA, in the last moments before he leaves for the important summit of the Berlin Process in Tirana, on Friday, October 5.
This interview covered three main military-security hotspots in the world at this moment, the biggest one being the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the tensions and violence in our immediate neighborhood, Kosovo and Serbia. Given Russia’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis and Kosovo-Serbia tensions, as well as its connection to the latest flashpoint in the Middle East, it is important to learn more about the OSCE chairman’s view of the Ukrainian story.
CIVIL MEDIA: Mr. Osmani, security challenges arising from the tensions in the north of the Republic of Kosovo and the Serbian-Kosovo relations are a threat both to the two countries, as well as to the entire region. What are your observations, what are the activities and forecasts about how this situation will develop, from the perspective of OSCE Chairperson-in-Office this year, but also from the perspective of a minister in the Macedonian government?
BUJAR OSMANI: Well, first, the Western Balkans as a whole are a vulnerable ground due to two reasons. First, because the Euro-Atlantic integration isn’t fully completed in the region, which makes the region a target also for other malign influences, and second, the open files, whether being the Dayton Agreement, which is not fully completed, or the Kosovo-Serbian issue. And certainly in conditions of a new geopolitical context created by the military aggression in Ukraine, usually the vulnerable areas are the ones that are first exposed and that can be fertile soil for new escalations, and hence our attention in regards to what happened in Kosovo on September 24, which was serious, had serious potential for greater escalation.
However, we hope that this, after the accumulation or buildup of arms on the border between Serbia and Kosovo, later being withdrawn, according to the statement of the President of Serbia, are the first signs of de-escalation. For us, this is very important. As a minister of a NATO member state, but also as an OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, I am involved in this issue. I was in Brussels, spoke with Secretary General Stoltenberg precisely on this issue, what the risks are, what we need to do, the need to reinforce NATO presence, particularly in the northern part of Kosovo.
You know that, through the OSCE, I have been involved for quite a long time. First, as a Chairperson-in-Office we published a nine-point plan for de-escalation. I was in Kosovo the day when this, in a certain way, last phase began, the last tension in the relations. We as OSCE have presence both in Pristina and in Belgrade. Our biggest field mission is currently in Pristina, after the mission we had in Kyiv was closed. However, we also have an important mission in Belgrade. So, we can also contribute on the ground through our presence, and certainly in my national capacity as a minister of North Macedonia, we are particularly interested in having peace and stability.
BUJAR OSMANI: Usually major escalations happen when the starting point cannot be predicted. So, that is why I say because of the fact that September 24 was managed to be controlled, I think that now everyone’s attention is at a higher level, both of NATO and of the other stakeholders in the process.
So, now I think that the process should take place in several directions – increased NATO presence in the north of Kosovo, a clear message to Serbia if there was involvement in this issue and, of course, increasing pressure on both sides to continue the dialogue. And this in terms of the Agreement from Brussels and the Annex from Ohrid.
We again are offering to be the place where Serbia and Kosovo will continue the dialogue. We think that it is the best way for permanent stability of the entire region.
CIVIL MEDIA: As Chairperson of OSCE, you have communication, cooperation, and different activities also at other critical points where there are also OSCE member countries. It is certain that you have activities in the crises in Nagorno – Karabakh as well. What is the situation like there and what are the expectations? What activities are you undertaking as Chairperson of OSCE?
BUJAR OSMANI: So, not only did I visit Baku and Yerevan, namely, Azerbaijan and Armenia, in the first half of the presidency, I also appointed a special representative for the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia at the beginning of the year. The OSCE doesn’t have missions in the two cities anymore, it used to have, then it was present through the so-called process.
However, because of the military aggression in Ukraine, the participants in the process do not meet anymore and therefore several parallel paths have been developed through which the so-called mediation or facilitation of relations takes place with the purpose of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We have the Washington line; you know that Secretary Blinken often invited them to a meeting. You have the process through the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, but of course, Moscow also has certain influence here, since it’s one of the stakeholders.
I tried not only through the OSCE, to present the story of North Macedonia there. In the conversation both with Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, and in conversation with Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, I spoke about the concept, the successful concept of the Framework Agreement, about the integration of a community that previously was outside the system, to peacefully integrate into a system in order to create a functional multi-ethnic democracy. I felt that the issue of Armenians in Azerbaijan is an issue that requires help in regards of integration, because the alternative to integration is either what Armenia accuses of ethnic cleansing or, on the other hand, constant conflicts. Hence, in addition to the frequent conversation with both Foreign Ministers, I have met numerous times with them during each escalation.
I offered both of them to meet again in Ohrid so that we could present them two concepts here. The concept of the Framework Agreement, as an opportunity to learn positive lessons on integration and second of regional cooperation. And that as trilateral: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, having in consideration, for example, our Framework Agreement, which is a good model, taken from the French-German way of reconciliation.
Through the youth, I offered, for example, to have a center opened in Tbilisi where young people from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia would meet and slowly work on prejudices, on reconciliation and so on. Therefore, we really were very active during this entire period. During this most recent escalation, I met with both ministers in New York a couple of weeks ago, both Bayramov and Ararat, so we are working on the case. I believe we have something to offer on this issue.
The invitation for Ohrid is still open. I hope that it will take place, and at two levels as well, at the political level, at the level of foreign ministers, but also at the level of the youth from the three countries who would come here to hear these positive stories of North Macedonia.
CIVIL MEDIA: Certainly, they have a lot to hear. Nevertheless, you mentioned Moscow, as an actor in this conflict too and crisis in general that has been going on for some time. Do you think that Moscow will remain on the sidelines of these peace steps and processes; right now, it suits Moscow very well to distract attention from the aggression against Ukraine?
BUJAR OSMANI: After the war in 2020 between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the so-called forty-day war, the Russian Federation facilitated a peace settlement and arranged for Russian troops to be present in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. Around 1,000 to 1,500 troops. So, the only external forces are of the Russian Federation. The European Union has now formed a team of observers, but it is on the Armenian side.
Therefore, they cannot enter Azerbaijan, but in Azerbaijan, in the area where Armenians live, there are only Russian troops. Therefore, this complicates the whole dynamic. First, the Minsk process cannot function because the parties cannot sit down at the table. We hope that Russia will not complicate the situation additionally so that the situation escalates on the ground. I think that the parties have entered a serious process of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.
Several drafts have already been developed, which the parties have reviewed. Here, now in Grenada there was supposed to be a meeting between Aliyev and Pahinyan, I heard that Aliyev did not go to Granada. However, these efforts must continue.
CIVIL MEDIA: Slowly we are nearing the world’s number one problem, security problem number one, and that being the war that the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine. How do you see the development of the situation in Ukraine, again I will say from the perspective of Chairperson of the OSCE, and of course, as minister in the Macedonia government?
BUJAR OSMANI: The issue of the aggression in Ukraine is currently one of the most important issues for the entire world. What we see there is a fight between democracy and authoritarianism. The outcome of that aggression will determine the world order, and the peace and stability in the whole world for the decades to come. It is especially important for the European continent and the region where we live.
Usually, when they ask me about Ukraine’s European perspective, they try to put us in a competitive relationship: How come Ukraine gets an accelerated path to the EU, whilst North Macedonia is waiting for decades?
My answer is: If Ukraine does not win, then the ship we want to get on will sink. Then, the whole aspiration of ours for membership in the European Union is useless.
Therefore, the Ukrainian story is much greater than all other political dynamics and challenges. That is why, as Chairperson of the OSCE, I decided Ukraine to be the dominant theme of the entire presidency.
I started the presidency on January 16, following a presentation of the priorities in Vienna on the 11th, whilst already on the 16th I was in Kyiv, and not only at a meeting with President Zelensky and my colleague Kuleba, but also on the ground, with the people, and I will go again next week. Precisely to show that a presidency of ours will be in the spirit of Ukraine.
However, even during the very presidency, every session of the Permanent Council of the OSCE, which takes place every Tuesday in Vienna, the Russian aggression against Ukraine is one of the topics, because we believed that we must keep all our attention on this issue.
Not only because of the political consequences, but also because of the humanity. If you have noticed, the title of our presidency is “It’s About People”. In Ukraine, it’s the people who are dying now, who are living in unbearable conditions, children who are being kidnapped and forcibly taken to Russia, millions displaced, not only inside Ukraine, but also all over the world, and hence, our attention was to help the people.
We activated the “Moscow mechanism” three times in the OSCE for monitoring certain issues that can lead to accountability of the perpetrators of serious crimes and crimes against humanity. However, in a national capacity as a country, you know that we are maybe be the fourth country in NATO in terms of military aid that has been given to Ukraine. Surely, this might not be much in absolute value, but in a relative proportion, in terms of GDP, per capita, it is impressive how much a country can help. But not only that. Also the political and humanitarian aid that we have provided.
We are working on taking care of the Ukrainian refugees in the Republic of North Macedonia. On several occasions, I have gone to the government with information, with the purpose to provide those people with a social and identity number, so that they can use the educational, health system. I hope that very soon we will come to a solution in that area as well, although we don’t have a large number, but we must take care of those 450 Ukrainian refugees according to all standards.
CIVIL MEDIA: Let’s stay a bit more on that topic. Apart from waging a brutal war against Ukraine, the Russian involvement, provocation, and responsibility for many other troubles in Europe, in Asia, in Africa and other places around the world is obvious. Of course, that is one range of the different activities that the structures in Moscow are carrying out, from military to propaganda ones. What should the public know about the Russian aggressive policy in Eurasia, and particularly the Russian aggressive policy in the Balkans? Is North Macedonia resilient to the Russian aggressive policy?
BUJAR OSMANI: You know that a characteristic of OSCE is that it has a so-called specific, comprehensive approach to security, that security should not be seen only from the conventional military dimension, but also from the economic, environmental one, food, water, human rights, democracy and so on. All those have an impact on security, and I think that the consequences of the Russian aggression in Ukraine are as such – they are wide-ranging.
For example, not only is Ukraine being destroyed militarily along with consequences on human lives, there is also the infrastructure. However, look at the issue of food, the issue of transporting the grain and non-renewal of the agreement with the United Nations, Turkey in regards to the grain, which will surely have consequences on the lives, standard and health of the people in Africa.
Therefore, the impact of this aggression surpasses the dimensions not only of our continent, but also affects the entire world, as well as through malign influence that takes place everywhere.
I will focus on the region. Usually, it would be nice if different geopolitical actors would compete on who can offer more for a region. That would be fair. In a multipolar world, it would be fair if there was an offer.
Nevertheless, we don’t have an alternative offer. We have a situation of malign influence through abuse of the frustrations that exist now in a vulnerable region, with the purpose to maintain latent crises and gain influence through those latent crises. First, to have potentials for remotely controlled escalation if needed at the request of the one ordering it. Second, you can usually manifest influence when you have such latent crises, of polarizations in society.
Here I come back to the story of North Macedonia. That is why NATO was important to us. Because we as a region are at a geopolitical crossroads. You know how the saying goes, in traffic – traffic accidents mainly take place at crossroads, and that is why it was important for us to enter NATO’s security umbrella. We have achieved that.
This condition, unfortunately, having to realize how important our membership in NATO is through tragedy, through the Russian aggression against Ukraine, we realized how safe we feel that we are part of NATO. On the other hand, through the escalation in Kosovo.
Do you know what the dynamics were in our country when an escalation in Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia would take place?
Now, we don’t think whether something will happen in our country, we think about how to help.
I told you a bit earlier that Ohrid should be a center for Serbia and Kosovo to meet. So, it’s an entirely new dimension of the position of our country, because of the NATO membership. That is why we need the European Union now. Precisely to remove the vulnerability, not only from the state, but also from the citizens.
I am offering a new approach to membership in the European Union, considering that the enlargement now is a victim of the all-or-nothing principle. You don’t get anything until full membership. Moreover, the path is long; the path is thorny and frustrating. The politicians don’t have enough motivation to press for reforms, because they cannot deliver, nor do the citizens feel the benefits, and then they become vulnerable to this propaganda, to fake news, to malign influence.
If we were to shift the focus from the moment of membership to annual goals until membership, then I think we would have complete focus through step-by-step integration into the European Union. I believe that this is the best way for creating resilience in the country and towards these malign influences.
BUJAR OSMANI: NATO qualitatively changed the situation regarding the resilience, but I think that we should not take things for granted, but instead we need to first work on strengthening the institutions and we should continue the path. You know, during COVID, there was a story – NATO is the first dose of the vaccine, and the EU the second dose.
For complete immunity from such malign influence, we need both doses, both NATO and the European Union. Therefore, the story is still not over yet in terms of resilience and here the issue of the EU is key.
CIVIL MEDIA: I thank you for this interview Minister.
BUJAR OSMANI: Thank you for the opportunity.
Photo: Biljana Jordanovska
Video editing: Arian Mehmeti
Transcript: Natasha Cvetkovska
Video in Macedonian, soon to be subtitled in English: