Ambassador Jess Baily’s interview with MRT

Aired on August 20, 2015, at 19:30 

MRT:  Ambassador, first of all, thank you for this interview for the national television station. 

Ambassador Baily:  My pleasure. 

MRT:  The working groups held their first joint meeting in late July and raised the issue of election legislation. Now, in mid-August, meetings for the implementation of the agreement are expected to become more frequent.  Is everything progressing in line with the agreed dynamism?

Ambassador Baily:  Yes, I believe so.  As you noted, the working groups are now meeting – this week daily – to go over the key issues.  The reason why they need to do this is there is a lot to do in this very important agenda, so it will take focus, focus on solutions and a need to implement the agreement in the time necessary.  I think it is important to remember why these agreements exist – what is the end goal of them – which is to provide a more level playing field for elections that are now scheduled in April, to create a system of more checks and balances within your system of governance, to deal with the issues arising from the wiretapping scandal, including alleged abuses, and to help the country move forward in its reform agenda, particularly with regard to membership in the European Union.  So these are very important goals, and it will take focus and work. 

MRT:  Deadlines to meet obligations are precisely determined.  As of September 1, the opposition should be back in Parliament.  Two weeks later a special prosecutor should be appointed that should carry out an investigation on the wiretapped conversations.  Which, according to you, will be the hottest topic in the agreement? 

Ambassador Baily:  Well, as you say, there is an agreed agenda of going forward with dates and timetables.  As you say, opposition will go back into Parliament on September 1st – that’s very important for the functioning of democracy, to have an active opposition in Parliament.  Next you will have the special prosecutor named on September 15th.  This person, this prosecutor would have full authority to investigate issues, to decide or not whether there should be indictments and following the rules, of course, of the usual presumption of innocence.  They’ll need adequate staff and resources to conduct this.  But, again, this is a normal thing in a developed democracy, when you have highly politically sensitive cases that you want to create the confidence that they will be judged and carried out fairly and in a non-partisan way.  Next, you have issues concerning the electoral code, including importantly revisions or changes to the Voter List, perhaps authorities of the State Electoral Commission and other issues, many of which have been identified by the OSCE.  Then it continues – so it goes on to the discussion on media, to include very importantly the role of the public broadcaster – your station – in providing balanced and fair news and to look at the governance structure of the public broadcaster, and also to look at the issue of government advertising, to make sure it is not used for partisan influence over the media.  You then, on October 20th, have a question of change in ministries, so this goes on.  It is an ambitious calendar, but I think it’s what the country needs right now. 

MRT:  Will the deadline be met, so that parliamentary elections can be held at the end of April? 

Ambassador Baily:  I believe it will.  Of course, the elections depend on the implementation of the agreement.  I believe this, in fact, because I think the Macedonian people want this.  They want to move out of a period of crisis and towards a period of more normalcy, that’s understandable.  So it will take focus, it will take political will, but I believe it can be done. 

MRT:  Do you expect any particular point to be disputed?  Are there any new requirements that may become part of the agreement? 

Ambassador Baily:  Well, I don’t know if there will be new things that become part of the agreement.  I would say, on these issues, there are things that need to be worked out in detail.  In terms of will the parties have differences, of course they will, and that’s why we are having these negotiations – to see this process through.  Remember, again, it is important to address the issues to strengthen your democratic institutions, as I said, to create more checks and balances, and a level playing field in elections, to address allegations of abuse in a fair and transparent way.  And all of this leads to putting Macedonia more firmly on the path towards membership in the European Union and in NATO.  So, I think that’s a goal that everyone in this country supports, the vast majority of your citizens, so I think they expect this agreement to be implemented. 

MRT:  For more than 20 years, the United States and Macedonia have been building a dynamic partnership.  You promised that during your stay in Macedonia you will work on strengthening the relations between the two countries.  What are the key challenges in this regard? 

Ambassador Baily:  I am very proud to be here as we celebrate, next month, the 20th anniversary of full diplomatic relations with the Republic of Macedonia.  My time thus far, my first six months, have been dominated by issues surrounding the political crisis.  And that is natural, because my number one priority here, the United States’ number one priority here is to help Macedonia become a resilient, prosperous, multi-ethnic democracy fully integrated in the Euro-Atlantic institutions.  So it is normal that this would be my preoccupation.  That said, we are working on many other things.  We are working together to fight the threats from ISIL, and its ability to have its poisonous ideology attract some of your citizens to fight in Syria and Iraq.  We want to help with that, and there will be a meeting on that subject at the UN General Assembly next month.  We want to help build a good environment for entrepreneurship, investment, for our investors to do business here.  We want to work on issues surrounding rule of law, and professionalization in the judiciary and the police – these are important areas that have been identified in various reports.  We want to help bring the citizens of our country together, very importantly.  That’s a sign of a healthy, dynamic relationship in all kinds of fields.  Right now, you have every day in Macedonia about 80 American Peace Corps Volunteers working in schools and in communities throughout this country, building those ties between our countries, and I am very proud to say that that program keeps expanding, because both the people of our country and people of your country want it to do so.  I think it is a very healthy sign of our relationship. 

MRT:  Macedonia and Greece have signed an agreement to boost bilateral relations, yet the name dispute remains a major obstacle.  On the other hand, the country has been regularly commended as a loyal partner in all military missions in the world.  Can its loyalty be validated at the next NATO Summit? 

Ambassador Baily:  Well, as you say, Macedonia is a steadfast partner in international security operations. Our soldiers have served together in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the Balkans as well.  In fact, Macedonian soldiers and American soldiers in 2011 defended the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, when it came under attack.  So we very much want Macedonia to be a full member of NATO and we continue to help Macedonia’s military prepare for NATO membership as well as participation in other international peacekeeping operations.  Of course, at the Bucharest Summit, NATO decided to offer Macedonia membership once it is able to resolve the name dispute with Greece, and that remains an obstacle, of course.  So it is very good to see the effort to build confidence between the two countries through practical areas of cooperation, and our hope is that trust that can be increased as a result of that interaction will help the very important discussions that need to be had about the name issue.  We want to see that happen as soon as possible.  That will of course depend on the two countries, but we want to help that, we want to help the UN process achieve that. 

MRT:  You have been in Macedonia for six months, but you have visited multiple (ethnically) mixed cities.  How do you assess the current interethnic relations in Macedonia? 

Ambassador Baily:  Well, as you said, I have been here six months, so I am not an expert on Macedonia.  But I will say, it struck me on May 11, the day after the terrible tragedy in Kumanovo had ended, there were some newspaper headlines that maybe there was going to be a return to the terrible conflict of 2001.  But you know what?  That didn’t happen.  And you know why that didn’t happen?  That’s because Macedonian citizens of all communities rejected violence.  Their leaders rejected violence.  I think the world has changed over the years.  That said, despite progress in many areas, in representation of ethnic communities within the government for example, there remain a lot of challenges.  I am an American.  I know the challenges of living in a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.  It requires persistence to overcome issues of discrimination, to build tolerance, to build respect for diversity.  So that is a challenge very much we want to help Macedonia meet, both by discussing examples from our history, good and bad, but also through concrete assistance efforts.  We have a USAID program that works with schools and municipalities across this country to bring inter-ethnic activities into schools, and that’s very important because what is going to be crucial for Macedonia’s future is for the citizens, for the young citizens of this country, to have a shared vison of what it means to be a citizen of Macedonia, and what they want for the future.  As I said, Macedonians across ethnic groups, across religions, favor integration into Europe and that is something we very much support as well. 

MRT:   You have worked as a diplomat in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for 30 years.  How do you feel in Macedonia and what are your main challenges?

Ambassador Baily:  Well, I feel great in Macedonia!  I have had a very, very warm welcome here over six months, so that makes my job so much easier, to work with people who are friends and who are well disposed towards relations with the United States.  I have had a chance to visit many communities, as you said, I have hiked in the mountains, I have skied in the mountains, I have picked mountain tea in the mountains.  There is enormous beauty, culture here, great food, great developing wine industry, so what’s not to like? As far as challenges go, several weeks ago I was speaking to a group of young people here, teenagers, and they asked me a similar question.  They said: What’s the biggest problem in Macedonia?  Is it the political situation? Is it the economic situation? Is it inter-ethnic relations? Is it the economy?  And I thought for a moment, and as we have just discussed, of course, those are all very important issues.  But, I think the single biggest challenge, I said to them, is keeping the young people, who are dynamic, interested, creative, talented, in this country.  There are a lot who want to leave and I think it is a challenge for leaders, whether they are in government, in business, in academia, in any profession, to create the kind of environment where your young, dynamic, talented people, of which there are many, want to stay and build their businesses, build their lives here.  So, I really would love, in some very small way, to contribute to that kind of effort.  And I hope our Embassy, not just me, but our whole Embassy community can do that.

MRT:  Ambassador, thank you for the interview.

Ambassador Baily: Thank you very much.