The Mayor of the Municipality of Gevgelia, Saso Pockov, in an interview for CIVIL media says that he finds European values closer to him than nationalism. He also talks about how the municipality is coping with the Covid crisis and what his expectations are for the next local elections.
What is your assessment of the political situation and processes after the early parliamentary elections that were held in July?
In a time of a pandemic, emphasis is on surviving and if the situation in the country is difficult, then in Gevgelia it’s even more difficult, because when the situation was good, in Gevgelia it was the best. That’s the fate of all border places, that’s how Gevgelia is situated and that’s the structure of the economy of the city, there are no Greeks – everything has come to a stop. In Gevgelia, about 50 percent of the money that comes into the budget of the local economy are from the citizens of neighbouring Republic of Greece, and since they’re not here, it can be felt. The local economic development is closely related to all that.
We live in a time of a pandemic that has shaken the whole world, the latest government economic package of measures was a fight for saving every job, because we are still in a phase of surviving and in a fight against the pandemic. Part of the measures are for the post-Covid crisis and I hope that the health aspect of the Covid crisis will be overcome by spring next year. Of course, I am no expert, but these are my expectations, or we will have to get used to living with the Covid crisis. I hope that there will be improvement and we will start thinking about expanding businesses, not me as a local government, but the real economic sector and economic operators, and all that means that the richer they are, the richer the municipality is.
There should be improvement from the start of next year, and we shouldn’t forget that every difficulty at the same time means an opportunity. Now is the time for entrepreneurs to create new opportunities on the basis of the current setting with the Covid crisis… There are new platforms now, the IT sector is leading now and adapting to the situation, and I hope that our entrepreneurs will also feel that in every crisis there is an opportunity for beginning of something new, to take advantage of that and to apply it in practice. And that would mean a wealthier municipality, state and wealthier citizens and a better standard for all of us, life for all in Macedonia.
There is about a year until the local elections. What are your prognosis?
I think that most of the mayors are doing their job excellently. This year there is a standstill, I am talking about the Municipality of Gevgelia, due to the Covid crisis. The state had a package of measures, but the municipality also had a package of measures such as a reduction in communal fees, reduction in the payment for using public space, and all those are planned revenues from previous years. But this year, even though we planned it in the budget, we nevertheless gave it up, and the package was worth about 85 thousand euros. I am in favour of spending according to the possibilities, not to engage in something if realistically we have no chance of paying for it even though we have planned it. I hope that next year the situation will be better, because we have 3-4 major capital projects that will certainly start by next year, but I don’t know whether we will have time to realize them or they will have to be after the elections. My political assessment is that VMRO-DPMNE is constantly obstructing all important issues that are significant for the RN Macedonia, and the people recognize this and will recognize it. The people recognize my work and the work of the previous mayor from the lines of VMRO-DPMNE. Now there is a different concept, a different approach. Firms and the business sector can see this. I encountered the municipality with a debt of 143 million denars. Now. the municipality doesn’t owe anything to companies, it only has a debt toward the communal enterprise. We have a totally different concept of work, a financially stable municipality, all with the purpose of showing that we are not the same, although someone is persistently trying to portray us that way. Unfortunately, we encountered a very bad situation and that costs us a lot of time and lot of money, but it is yet to be visible and the benefit of that work to be felt.
Capital projects – yes, but I don’t want to make a capital project and indebt Gevgelia. And even if I wanted to I wouldn’t be able to because the municipality is already so indebted that not a single bank will give a loan. Meaning we need to repay the old loan, and then take a new loan, and that’s not the result of my work, but of my predecessor. Even if we wanted to do certain things, we wouldn’t be able to, because there are laws, an economic logic and a banking sector that is governed by its own laws.
I see that all mayors who are mainly from SDSM are active on the ground, they listen to the citizens, there are many construction activities and the central government is helping. I can tell you that in the 3 years of my mandate, we have received 2 million euros from the central government for local infrastructure projects. They are all for regional roads, but they are not used by the citizens of Skopje, rather by the citizens of Gevgelia. It concerns the parallel road from Prdejci to Smokvica, and then we have the one from Miravci to Miletkovo and from Gevgelia to Negorci, which is the second biggest settlement. It is money from the Public Enterprise for State Roads that’s not costing the municipality anything, and the benefit is felt by the citizens of the Municipality of Gevgelia.
We had an action of 60 million denars, with 50 million euros that the government placed for assistance for the municipality for writing off debts. There is that connection between the central and local government and I am satisfied from all that and think that SDSM in the following elections, perhaps not in a large number, but surely will be a winner precisely because of these two reasons in that the mayors and the central government successfully dealt with the problems and the people see this, and the absence of VMRO-DPMNE as a political opposition in key issues and not having a position for a single matter and provoking certain nationalist topics that are already history and should be history, our guide should be the future, more specifically, what we will leave for the future generations.
How is the local self-government in Gevgelia preparing for EU integration? How much and how are European values respected?
The local self-government has been preparing for a long time for EU integration. I will tell you through examples. We have various contacts with business elites from abroad who are interested in building in Gevgelia. Of course, they also demand standards, they are European standards they already have in their countries, and we are a member, that is, Gevgelia is a member of the Southeastern region that borders with two European countries, namely with republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Greece. Every three years, there are public calls for using European money placed through the IPA program through those countries. Gevgelia continuously receives such projects and always benefits from them. These are projects of 200 to 500 thousand euros from EU grants, which are evaluated and controlled by European representatives. We are now in the implementation phase of a grant from the KfW Bank from Germany in the amount of 2.5 million euros, and international standards are again requiring, international tenders and through all those donations we are winners in all those situations.
I find European values closer to me than nationalism. Gevgelia is pro-European inclined and I think that with the start of the EU negotiations that by end of December with the German presidency, whether we want to or not, we will have to apply those European values, principles, because now is our chance. This will prevent us from fleeing to Europe, from a mass exodus of the young people, but to bring Europe here in Macedonia, for the young people to stay here to live in their homeland, and to bring the European values here.
camera: Jon Ajdini
editing: Arian Mehmeti
translate: N. Cvetkovska