Photo: IBNA

Stevo Pendarovski is the SDSM presidential candidate for the elections in N. Macedonia. The first round is on Sunday April 21, 2019. Mr. Pendarovski holds a PhD from Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje in political science and has been an Assistant Professor at the University American College Skopje since 2008. He was the SDSM presidential candidate in 2014.

What do you pledge to do in the first 100 days of taking office?

I will start implementing the policies developed in my political manifesto from the first day in my office. If I have to underline one primary task it will be to re-instate the political dialogue between the political parties. Within the commitment of encouraging political dialogue, national reconciliation and overcoming social conflicts, I will organize regular meetings with political parties and I will encourage the achievement of compromises across ideological lines of division on strategically important issues. Within the dialogue, according to the needs, the academic and professional public, business community, trade unions and civil society organizations will be included.

If elected, what would you want your legacy to be by the end of your first term? 

The function of the president of our country is not only the highest function in accordance with our Constitution. Being a president means to unite, not to divide, to promote togetherness and mutual understanding, not to stimulate conflicts and spread evil blood among citizens. Being a president means to have the courage and daring to make difficult decisions, not to hide behind the propaganda of fear and hatred. The president leads, he takes the responsibility for his own decisions. The president unites, he always seeks a common solution from which everyone will gain, and no one will lose everything. The president supports the Parliament and the Government whenever it is in the interest of the citizens, no matter which political party or coalition is in power. But the president criticizes and uses all of his constitutional and legal powers to prevent taking wrong or unconstitutional and illegal decisions.

Finally, being a president of the country, means being the face of the homeland, equally at home and abroad, to be pride of the citizens, and not shame for the homeland. The representation of the country at home and abroad is not only the norm of our Constitution. It is the essence of the function of president of the country. The first citizen of the state, equal with all citizens and a leader for all citizens, a man who unites and leads!

My legacy as a president will reflect the envisioned role of the president. Fulfilling it by serving my country and my people will be the greatest honor in my political and professional career.  

What role do you envision for ethnic Albanians in your government if elected, especially in light of the Language Law that bypassed President Gjorge Ivanov and was signed into law by Speaker of Parliament Talat Xhaferi in January?

As a President, I want to unite our people and our country. My dream is to create one, common society and I guarantee to stop the policies that further deepen divisions and spread hatred.

I want to reconciliate, to be the voice of togetherness and to connect different people living in our country. I will work for the citizens, I will serve my people in an honest and righteous way.

As a president of all citizens I will commit myself to include representatives of all ethnic communities chosen according to their competence and professionalism in my Cabinet. The President’s Cabinet will reflect our multicultural society.

The Prespa Agreement is in the process of being enacted – Greece has ceased blocking North Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the EU for renaming the country the Republic of North Macedonia. What are your thoughts on the agreement and what benefits and drawback do you see?

One of the most difficult and complex political decisions in the last year and a half was to reach an agreement with Greece regarding the problem they had with our constitutional name. From the very beginning of the long and tough negotiations, the main goal was the agreement not to disrupt the national identity of the Macedonian people and its independence. Our Macedonian language, our Macedonian culture and civilization benefits.

The next goal was the agreement to provide long-lasting cooperation and friendship with Greece, and Greece, gradually, to become our big supporter in achieving our strategic commitments. This cooperation and friendship already result in an increase in the trade exchange, investment growth and economic partnership between the two countries.

The first benefit from the Prespa Agreement is our NATO membership. Our homeland was invited to join NATO, it successfully completed the negotiations for NATO membership, which, as a national coordinator for NATO, I coordinated. The ambassadors of the member states have signed the Accession Protocol for our NATO membership and now, one by one, the Parliaments of the NATO member states ratify the Accession Protocol. The Republic of North Macedonia in a very short time will be the thirtieth NATO member!

But our homeland does not stop there. We have received a positive report from the European Commission on our progress in the reforms. Every day we are going through the necessary steps so that very soon we can receive an invitation to start the negotiations for full membership in the European Union.

We can conclude that the key benefit from the Prespa Agreement, apart from our upcoming membership in NATO and the European Union, is precisely the economic progress, the investments and the new jobs. That is the real progress; it is the social well-being our citizens want!

According to the World Bank, youth unemployment (ages 15-24) is at 47% – how would you engage the Macedonian youth?

The youth unemployment is the greatest challenge for our economic and social development. Although, the president doesn’t have direct competences in the economic and social policies, my duty as a head of the state will be cooperate in every possible way with the government in combating the youth unemployment. Combating the unemployment is only possible if we have new investments that will open new well paid working places. My role as a president is to support the policy of investment by fulfilling the strategic orientation of our country towards NATO and EU and to further improve the relations with our neighboring countries, a policy that in the last year and a half serving as a boost for new investments and speeded economic development. 

The Macedonian diaspora is an integral part of society – how do you envision their role in North Macedonia? Furthermore, how would you handle the brain drain that is affecting the country, and, more broadly, the region?

Our diaspora is important part of society and already plays and will continue to play very important role in the development of North Macedonia. One of the main objectives of my political manifesto is to establish continuous dialogue with our diaspora by encouraging their investment in the homeland, and in particular the return of young educated people who were forced to leave their homeland in the last years.

Our diaspora is an important source of income for many families. By supporting their families our diaspora is a great contributor to our GDP. However, we, still, lack more investments and return by investment of the capital that our hardworking people earned abroad.

The brain drain poses a great challenge not only for North Macedonia, but for the whole region. According to some data, by the World Bank for example, hundreds of thousands citizens left our country in the past 25 years. Brain Drain is not merely losing people in great numbers. Furthermore, the process is endangering the general development and the future of our country. I fully support young people that want to finish part of their education or obtain university degree or specialization abroad. Such achievements are important part of the career of modern day professionals. They are also precious human capital for the country. But, the problem is that many of these young professionals decide not to return to the country. We can’t stop the emigration. In the age of globalized world, it is impossible. What we can do is to create better living conditions and opportunities that will attract professionals to remain in the country or even to return to North Macedonia from abroad. Unfortunately, in the past decade the authoritarian regime forced many professionals to leave the country because of the undemocratic practices and monopolized institutions and economy. Our initial step to revive the democracy in the country was essential move in the right directions. However, we need to create systematized new approach and national strategy in order to re-gain, at least, some of the young professionals that left the country.

This year marks 25 years since the United States recognized your country. If elected, what are your plans to commemorate this anniversary. What is your vision for enhancing the next 25 years of bilateral relations?

The recognition of the independence of our country by the United States was one of the most important political decisions towards the strengthening of the statehood and the political independence of, in that time, Republic of Macedonia, now Republic of North Macedonia. USA are our strategic political partner, our supporter in overcoming many obstacles and historically hard periods, one of our most important economic partners and a home to many of our fellow compatriots. Together with the government we will commemorate this anniversary in a way that will reflect the strategic partnership and friendship between our both countries.

I will invest myself in the continuation of the partnership and close cooperation with USA also in the future. Our upcoming NATO membership would had been impossible if we hadn’t had the US support. In that sense I can only conclude that the partnership with USA is a strategic goal of our foreign policy alongside our NATO and EU membership.

The Holocaust museum opened in Skopje in March in grand fashion and Macedonians played a major role in protecting Jews during World War II. Furthermore, the Prime Minister of Romania Viorica Dăncilă was in Washington and announced the movement of their Embassy to Jerusalem. The same week Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic was in Israel. What is your vision for work with Israel and the Macedonian Jewish community?

Macedonians will always remember the tragic fate of the Jewish community in Macedonia during the WWII. Almost, 98 % of the Jewish community, that mainly lived in Skopje, Bitola and Stip, was deported in the concentration camp Treblinka, where, unfortunately, most of them were killed by the Nazi criminals. The Jews that managed to escape the deportation joined the antifascist resistance and played major role in the liberation of Macedonia and Yugoslavia and the rebuilding of the country after the war.

Israel is very important political and economic partner of North Macedonia. We are supporting the independence and territorial integrity of Israel as well as the efforts of the international community to reach a compromise and long-lasting peace in the region. We appreciate the economic and technological advance of Israel. Israeli’s technology, especially, in the agriculture, but also IT industry is an inspiration for us and a good direction for our further economic and technological development.

Macedonian Jewish community, although small in numbers, is a link between Israel and North Macedonia. There are significant number of Jews from North Macedonia that emigrated in Israel, but they always remember their home in our country and support us whenever they can.

The Holocaust Museum is the symbol of the desire of Macedonians to pay tribute to their Jewish neighbors and friends that tragically lost their lives in the Nazi death camps. PM Zaev emphasized these special bonds between the people of North Macedonia and our Jewish friends once more this year in March, on the day of commemoration of the deportation of the Jews from Macedonia.