Thank you everyone. It is always wonderful to visit beautiful Skopje, to be back in Macedonia. This is my third visit in the last 13 months, and as you recall, the main topic of the discussions I have had here with the leaders of political parties, of the government, of other international community representatives, the main topic has been the crisis that began a little over a year ago, related to the wiretaps. The main topic in the last two days here in Skopje has been how to help the country get out of the crisis and get back on track for Euro-Atlantic integration, for building a stronger economy, increasing the number of jobs and opportunities for the citizens of Macedonia.
In all my meetings yesterday and today, we talked about the April 12 pardons by the President, which in our view, undermine the rule of law and the principle of accountability. These pardons damage not only the rule of law in Macedonia, but also Macedonia’s credibility, as a country that is determined to join with Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions. It is very important that leaders act urgently to repair the damage done by these pardons, and to do so, to undo this damage in a way that is clear, comprehensive and unambiguous, in as clear, unambiguous, and urgent manner as possible.
If leaders rescind the pardons, revoke the pardons, undo the pardons in only a partial or selective manner, this type of revocation or rescinding will add to what is a growing sense of impunity in this country and a lack of accountability. Accountability also requires that parties and leaders of this country extend their full support to institutions responsible for rule of law, including the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Until there is accountability for wrongdoings related to the wiretaps and other crimes, Macedonia will remain stuck, mired in this crisis and will not be able to make progress towards its most important goals, which include progress towards NATO and the European Union – Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Finally, the Government, we believe, must also show through actions its commitment to a robust and pluralistic democracy and a commitment to implementing the reforms, political parties undertook and committed themselves to, through the Przino Agreement. That means including the opposition, and incorporating the perspectives of civil society. Such inclusiveness will be key to introducing the checks and balances on government power that Macedonia needs in order to move forward. In conclusion, I want to say that Macedonia, in order to become a healthy, thriving democracy and to get back on track towards Euro-Atlantic integration, needs to go forward with a renewed commitment to these principles of pluralistic democracy, rule of law, respect for the concept of checks and balances and transparency. These cannot be a situation of business as usual.
For years the United States has been a strong and a reliable partner to Macedonia. We now call on Macedonia’s leaders to take the actions I have mentioned above in pursuing the reforms under the Przino Agreement, in strengthening institutions and building an inclusive, responsible and accountable government. As the leaders of this country do so, the United States will continue to provide support, to be a strong partner in their efforts.
Question: What is your comment about the technical government and the return of the old ministers?
DAS Yee: First I want to say that it’s up to the people and their elected leaders to decide on the form and the shape and the composition of their government. It’s not for outside governments or diplomats to decide or to tell them how to do this. What we do share with the leaders of this country, the political parties, is our strong desire to see implementation of reforms that all the parties committed to under the Przino Agreement, and implementation of reforms that will bring this country out of the crisis it has been in for over a year, so that we can continue to focus on the Euro-Atlantic integration of this country, the improvement of its economy so there are more jobs and opportunities for all of its citizens, especially young people, and that we can begin working on building institutions, stronger institutions, both economic and political and social institutions, so the country is able to keep up with the rest of the region. I think it is very important, and each time I have been here I think I have mentioned, that as I travel through the region it is noticeable, it is remarkable how much progress has been made in other countries, in your neighbors’ and, by contrast how far behind Macedonia is lagging because of this crisis, because of the lack of accountability, because of the lack of reform. So it is very important that, whatever government is formed, that whatever ministers are appointed in this government, that there not be business as usual, that there be a new commitment to accountability new energy, and an urgent sense of need to fulfill the reform commitments.
Question: The U.S. has backed very strongly the SPO. Do you believe that there is going to be undermining of the institution with the change in the Interior Ministry, and do you believe that with this gesture the Przino Agreement has been undermined?
DAS Yee: The U.S. supports very strongly Macedonia’s aspirations to join NATO and the EU, to integrate with Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions. In order for any country to do so, it must have strong institutions, it must have rule of law, it must have a functioning government, an inclusive government. It must have a government that is responsive and able to serve its citizens, a country must have institutions that are able to ensure there is justice. All these institutions must be able to do their jobs according to the Constitution, according to the laws of the country. We don’t support individual institutions, we don’t favor one institution over another. We support democracy and we support the rule of law. So when we are watching very carefully, while we are monitoring what’s happening here, while we are supporting Macedonia’s desire to join Euro-Atlantic institutions, we of course are sharing our views on which institutions need to be strengthened more, what institutions are not being respected adequately. What we want to see with the Special Prosecutor and with all institutions related to the rule of law in Macedonia is for their freedom to be able to do their job without interference from other institutions or political parties. We want to see them have the resources necessary so they can conduct their work. And if they are able to do so, we are confident that there will be an improvement in the rule of law, there will be improvement in the quality of democracy in Macedonia.
Question: Don’t you think that you give legitimacy to a continuous violation of the Przino Agreement? I heard you said in regards to yesterday’s decision by Parliament to bring back the old political government. You said that now you expect that this government will continue with reforms. What is the logic that the old government that brought the country in such a situation will now continue with reforms? I mean, it is again a question, is Przino Agreement still alive or not, because we have decisions for the President’s pardoning, which is against the principles of the Przino Agreement. The second thing is that yesterday Parliament brought back the old political government, which is again against the principles of the Przino Agreement. What is still alive in the Przino Agreement?
DAS Yee: That’s a lot of questions. I’ll answer as many as I can remember. First, regarding the government, as I said, we don’t endorse individual minister appointments, composition of the government, the government program. That’s not for the United States or any other foreign country to say. What I am saying is that we support the aspirations of this country to make progress towards Euro-Atlantic institutions. That means there has to be rule of law, there has to be accountability, there has to be a government responsive to the needs of its citizens, there has to be a government that is meeting its commitments to the international community and that includes, of course, the Przino Agreement, which we strongly support. So, whatever the government is, who is in the government, what the type of government is, what we are looking for is action, not just words; deeds, not just promises. We want to see progress towards meeting the commitments that Macedonia has made under the Przino Agreement and other agreements in order to ensure that the country can establish conditions necessary not only for integration, but for holding elections, free and credible elections as soon as possible, after the conditions for such elections have been created.
Question: Mr Yee, is partial amnesty on the table?
DAS Yee: These are decisions for the leaders of the country, responsible authorities to make. What I’ve said about the pardons is that we feel that the pardons of April 12, mass pardons given to some 50 or more politicians in this country, some of whom were suspected of crimes related to wiretaps, related to electoral fraud. This pardon undermines the rule of law and creates an image that Macedonia does not respect the rule of law, that in the state of Macedonia, there is not accountability for wrongdoings.
Question : I speak about two-three people.
DAS Yee: Again, in order for Macedonia to improve its image as a state that is committed to basic fundamental democratic principles, including rule of law, it must find a way to undo the damage that these pardons have created and it must do so in a clear and unambiguous way so there is no confusion about where leaders of this country stand regarding rule of law and not having a state of impunity.
Question: Can we expect the ex-Prime Minister, Mr. Gruevski, to come back as head of the government, because we don’t have a technical government in this moment and that is the base of the Przino Agreement?
DAS Yee: Again, we support very strongly the Przino Agreement. We support the principle that Macedonia needs a government that is going to be able to fulfill the reforms that it undertook in the Przino Agreement, that it will be able to deal reliable, effectively, with the international community, that it will have the necessary credibility to carry forward reforms, both domestically here and in dealing with the international community in attracting foreign investment, in ensuring the country receives sufficient international assistance to carry out these reforms. So we’ll need a government with leadership that is beyond reproach, that is beyond any doubt with regard to its integrity, we’ll need leaders who have a proven track record of being able to carry out responsibly and in accordance with democratic principles their obligations as leaders.
Question: Does this mean that you are asking for stronger guarantees, that it won’t turn into a vicious cycle, let’s say internet loop of bad decisions over here in Macedonia?
DAS Yee: Let me say, I’m sorry this is the last answer I’ll give. We are confident, the United States of America is confident that Macedonia has the people, the human resources necessary to get out of this crisis. It has the support from the international community, including from the United States. It has the opportunity to exit this crisis and get back on track towards Euro-Atlantic integration. What’s necessary now is for everyone in this country, beginning with the political leadership, the political parties, all the institutions, civil society, the media, you – journalists included, working together to ensure the reforms necessary take place and that politicians, all leaders, members of the business community are held accountable. There has to be rule of law, there has to be respect for the constitution and laws of this country. As your leaders, as civil society, as you work toward this goal you can count on the United States to continue supporting you. Thank you very much.