Peter Vanhoutte, a Belgian diplomat, former MP of the Belgian Federal Parliament, high level mediator, specialized in political conflicts, former European mediator in the Macedonian crisis in 2015, is of the most popular foreign diplomats in the country. He has manifested a continued commitment to help country’s politics get into the right direction – democracy and rule of law. These days, he’s on a mission to advise various actors on urgent steps towards democratic reforms in the country.
Mr. Vanhoutte, what is your assessment of the current developments in the country, particularly in the light of the practices and policies of the government?
VANHOUTTE: I would say there is progress, compared to where we were a year ago. Things are definitely different. The atmosphere is much more relaxed. I see a lot of initiatives coming from the government and being developed, but it’s not enough. Talking about European accession, talking about NATO membership, talking about the name dispute even, that’s all very important, the government should deal with that.
But, what I believe is lacking is that they should first of all talk about the real priorities, that people care about: economic development, about health care, about education. These are at the heart of your society, and if you can’t improve these, then there is a huge problem.
What are the urgent recommendations or urgent steps that the government has to take in this respect?
VANHOUTTE: I would like to see the government come up with a clear strategy. They need to define, first of all, the priorities and say: the coming time we will focus on this, this and this – education, health care, economic development. I think these are the core issues on the list. And then, they have to come up with concrete plans on how they are going to improve the situation. Not only from their offices here in Skopje, but they need to travel all around the country, talk to the people, figure out what are exactly the problems and how we can do something about it at a short notice. Not within the next twenty years, but now. We need to act now. It’s very urgent I believe.
What should we as a civil society do then?
VANHOUTTE: Civil society, ideally, should be in the middle between the government and the citizens. But, you are definitely on the side of the citizens, so you should, on one hand, raise awareness between the citizens, mobilize people for their urgent needs and tell them: now let’s go back to the government and tell the government what we want to do done urgently.
Camera: Atanas Petrovski
Photo: Biljana Jordanovska