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Slovakia’s Deepening Relations with Macedonia: Interview with Ambassador Martin Bezák

January 23, 2016

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: in this comprehensive new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the informed insights of Martin Bezák, one of Slovakia’s most experienced diplomats in the Balkans. Since 2013 ambassador to Macedonia, Mr Bezák has also served in Slovakia’s diplomatic missions to Belgrade and Athens. In 2005-2006, he was also Deputy Director and Head of the Balkans Unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of South-Eastern and Eastern Europe.

In the present interview, Ambassador Bezák discusses Slovakia’s evolving bilateral relations with Macedonia, in the areas of diplomatic, cultural and business ties, as well as initiatives for promoting better regional cooperation at a time of great challenges to the general European project. In addition, readers are treated to several exciting new details that further highlight the developing bilateral relationship.

Martin Bezak Slovakia Macedonia interview Balkanalysis

In the opinion of Ambassador Bezák, the shared legacy of Ss Cyril and Methodius “is the strongest bond, spiritual, cultural or religious, in the whole Slavic world.”

Background and Bilateral Relations

Chris Deliso: Ambassador Bezák, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. First of all, it is noteworthy that you have come to this position here with such extensive regional experience already. So, how did your previous experience in diplomatic missions to the former Yugoslavia and Greece, for example, prepare you for your current position in Macedonia? Was there anything particularly valuable that you learned during these postings?

Martin Bezák: Yes, my previous assignments all influenced or helped me in some way. I had the privilege to be in Belgrade during some of the most crucial times for the Balkans; during the NATO bombardment and sanctions, in the period following Milosevic and during the state of emergency that was called after the Djindjic assassination. Those were tough times.

I also had the privilege to serve under Ambassador Miroslav Mojžita, who I consider probably the finest diplomat Slovakia has had, and under Ambassador Miroslav Lajčák, who is our currently foreign minister, an excellent diplomat, and a former High Representative and EUSR for Bosnia and Herzegovina. So this is a good school of diplomacy I have benefited from.

Regarding the local situations, from Belgrade, we also covered Macedonia at that time, so I have actually been in touch with the country since 1999. And of course my assignment to Greece helped me understand better that country and their view on the crucial unresolved issue that still hampers Macedonian EU and NATO accession. So, with my experience coming at both ends of Trans-European Corridor 10, perhaps it is quite logical that I am currently posted here in Macedonia, where I am also currently the youngest accredited ambassador, at age 43.

Finally, I might add, the fact that my son was born in Skopje gives me another kind of ever-lasting personal bond with Macedonia.

CD: Very interesting! So, in that light, it would be interesting to know how you characterize Macedonian-Slovak relations today, and how have they advanced in the period since 2011- the time when we interviewed your predecessor, Robert Kirnag. Do you have any thoughts?

MB: The basic characteristic for Slovak-Macedonian bilateral relations is that they are traditionally very open and friendly, without any open issues that could burden our bilateral cooperation. In 2009 was the opening of the Slovak residential embassy here in Skopje, something that definitely contributed in a positive way to the development of our relations.

Here I would like to say that things would be even better if there was a Macedonian embassy in Bratislava, or at least an honorary consulate.

CD: Really, there isn’t? That is a surprise.

MB: No, but I can say that there are certain dynamics in both directions at the moment, and so I really hope that by the end of this year at least an honorary consulate will be opened by the Macedonian government in Bratislava. This would have a positive impact on trade relations and economic promotion as well.

However, even despite this lack, the current political dialogue is advancing quite well. There is a certain asymmetry, though, in that the great majority of our meetings are taking place in Bratislava. My task is to balance this trend.

New Developments: Economic Cooperation and Air Connections

CD: Are there any specific opportunities for increased cooperation, and perhaps bilateral achievements you would like to mention?

MB: In economic diplomacy there is huge potential that is not being used to the full potential we would like to see. But, in the weeks and months to come, certain initiatives will be taken to bridge this gap.

For example, in February in Skopje, the first meeting will be held of the Joint Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation. This is co-chaired by the deputy ministers of economy. Simultaneously the first-ever Slovak-Macedonian Business Forum will happen, from 22-23 February. Further, in March the Slovak-Macedonian Business Club, based in Skopje, will be established.

Also, in the field of public diplomacy and the cultural promotion of Slovakia in Macedonia, we are doing well. An important part of our mission now is to provide consular services, and we have upgraded these services in the past two years. We are issuing passports, IDs and visas here now- this wasn’t the case before.

CD: That’s great to hear. These new initiatives sound most welcome. If I can ask as well, what have you learned about Macedonia, having been here for some time now? Is the country different in any way than you had expected?

MB: Macedonia definitely is a nice place for living and working as a diplomat. The country is small, which gives you an advantage to know almost every corner of it. The people are very friendly, the food is good and the wine is even better. Of course, since my very first experiences with the country in the late 1990s, it has changed a lot, and Skopje especially. From one perspective that has been a little controversial, but on the other hand, it was very helpful in bringing tourists, and also from my country.

On that note, I am proud to announce that from the end of March, we will have the first-ever direct flights from Bratislava to Skopje, operated by Wizz Air. This will definitely help bring many more Slovak tourists to Macedonia and vice versa.

CD: That is excellent news! But how did the preparations for it work? Was it a simple business decision from the company, which after all is a Hungarian one, or did you lobby in any way for this route to be added?

MB: Yes, we did lobby for this route, as we had a bilateral agreement on air transport. Of course it is ultimately the primary interest of the company, to decide on the cost-benefit analysis of any route, so we are happy they agree it is worth having. The first flight is scheduled to be on the 28th of March.

CD: So, what is the awareness level of Macedonia among Slovaks? What do you they think, if anything, when they hear of the country there?

MB: The overall knowledge about Macedonia in Slovakia is relatively low. Most Slovaks know about Macedonia from football, as we are traditional rivals. But more recently, it is interestingly in the context of the migrant crisis that the knowledge of Macedonia increased, since the media has reported so much about the issue and the country is on the route.

A Shared Diplomatic and Cultural Heritage, and Slovakia’s International Role

CD: Migration is indeed a pivotal issue, which I would like to return to a little bit later. But first, I wanted to clarify another issue: what is the historical basis of Slovak bilateral diplomatic relations with Macedonia in the post-1991 period? Was there any specific orientation or vision that your leaders had over the years?

MB: In a few weeks, we will celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Slovakia and Macedonia. There are a lot of similarities between the two countries, even in terms of constitutional development. Both were in the past part of multinational federations- and both were smaller parts. At approximately the same time, within a distance of one year, they both gained their independence.

Plus, I don’t want to omit this really strong bond which is constituted by Ss Cyril and Methodius. The bond which comes out of this legacy, in my opinion, is the strongest bond, spiritual, cultural or religious, in the whole Slavic world. And this shared cultural bond has provided a very solid basis for development of relations in the post-independence period.

There is a common strategic foreign policy as well, for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Slovakia has so far been more successful in this, but on the other hand, our very success obliges us to help our Macedonian friends in their path towards these integrations. We do this by extending our experience, which is quite unique, and still relatively fresh. We are willing to share this experience- and not only the awareness of our successes, but also of our mistakes, as this is what sincere friends do- to help each other learn from their mistakes.

CD: That is all very significant to note, and it is important to see Macedonia has a committed ally in Slovakia. On a more international scale, your embassy co-hosted an event in Skopje late last year, on Slovak participation in the post-WWII period in San Francisco and involvement with the UN there. How important do you see the UN as being in today’s world? Is Slovakia able to use any of its diplomatic influence through UN channels to complement its role with Macedonia and the larger region?

MB: The migration crisis, and the struggle against terrorism in light of recent tragic events, confirm the argument that none of the national, regional or global crises can be solved without joint efforts and the involvement of the UN. Current threats require a strong emphasis on conflict prevention and mediation as well, and in this regard, the role of the UN is quite unique and irreplaceable.

For Slovakia, the goals and principles of the UN charter are at the basis of our foreign policy. And there are a lot of examples as to how Slovakia contributes to these values. In Cyprus, for example, it is a relatively little-known fact that Slovakia plays a crucial role as the mediator of inter-party dialogue between the Greeks in the south and the Turks in the north.

CD: Really! I had never heard of this.

MB: Yes. For over two decades, the Slovak ambassadors in Nicosia have organized bi-communal meetings at the Ledra Palace Hotel, in the divided city’s no-man’s-land.

CD: That is a marvelous fact, but seems completely random. Why would Slovakia have had this role in the first place?

MB: Well, it is a historical function. The independent Slovak state inherited this from the time of Czechoslovakia; one of its ambassadors then started this forum as the only channel for direct meetings between political parties from the north and south, keeping Greeks and Turks in good contact. So this is just one important example of how Slovak multilateral diplomacy can be seen in action today, under the UN system.

Secondly, I should add that Slovakia is a leader in such critical areas as security sector reform in different countries. This is important in post-conflict countries, and Slovakia has played a key role in such nations, particularly in Africa, with an emphasis on how to reform the security sector after the armed conflict has ended.

There are other examples of Slovak diplomats who have been engaged in the UN system at high levels. From 1991 to 2001, the SG Special Envoy for the Balkans was Eduard Kukan, the same man who was also foreign minister and is now one of the facilitators from the European Parliament here. [Editor’s note: read the 2012 Balkanalysis interview with Eduard Kukan here]. His assistant at that time was Miroslav Lajčák, who was later of course, the UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and, as said, now Slovak foreign minister.

Exclusively for your website I would like to tell you that there are rumors that Mr Lajčák will be nominated as Slovakia’s candidate to be the next UN Secretary General. From what I know, if he decides to run, the government will support him as the only Slovak candidate.

Migration and Security Relations

CD: Thank you, that is a very interesting bit of news. We will keep a lookout for such news. Now, perhaps we can discuss migration, which is the most important issue for Macedonia, and for Europe, entering 2016. Since last summer, migration policy has of course been on the top of everyone’s agenda. However, the EU, UNHCR, and many other states failed to correctly understand and assess the issue even as it was becoming very apparent to those of us living in the region. What measures should be taken, according to Slovakia?

MB: This is a very complex and actual issue. What is our approach… first of all, you have certainly noticed that Slovakia is not in the ‘Brussels mainstream’ on how to tackle this phenomenon.

We said that we promote complex, comprehensive and sustainable solutions, since the crisis has very many aspects. As such, it cannot be solved through a simple administrative approach- by this, I refer mainly to quotas.

Not less important, we also are saying that Europe should focus on how to solve the whole problem- not just the consequences, but also the causes. What does a sustainable solution mean, in practice? What is the remedy?

First, we must insist on better protection of Europe’s external borders. Functioning hot spots, where registrations should be maintained, must also operate. Secondly, the EU needs to create a better readmission policy for migrants. And we need better cooperation between European intelligence services, and a more robust common foreign and defense policy of the EU. You know, we have instruments in existence- we are just not using them effectively enough. There is the Lisbon Treaty, Frontex, and so on. We need better synergy between the EU and NATO, which already has existing capacities. If I am not mistaken, in the Eastern Mediterranean NATO’s Active Endeavor security operation is ongoing, and this could play a role as well.

CD: Very interesting arguments. Can you explain further about the legal challenges from Slovakia and other countries over migration quotas? This has been one of the most significant events to try and slow down what has been a rather autocratic policy process steered by the Germans…

MB: On migration quotas, we launched a legal action against the European Council of Ministers of the Interior. The Hungarians did the same. The Czechs announced that they would also do so, but they have not done so thus far.

We were forced to do this because we believe that, for Slovakia and for Europe, a quota system is not a real solution to the migration problem. This developed largely because of the way the discussion was held within the EU. The discussion was neither comprehensive nor sophisticated enough; nor was it sufficiently inclusive.

There are a lot of open questions about quotas. Did anyone define the absorption capacity of individual countries, and the EU as such, before assigning numbers to them? What would the right number be, and who is to decide? The figure of 120,000 was decided after some debate. Who made this up? Is it the final number?

CD: I don’t think so. Now they are talking about millions…

MB: Yes, that figure was from the time when this discussion started, last year. But now we are at the point where over one million people entered the EU during the last year, and the arrivals are obviously continuing. So, in our estimate, migration quotas have the potential to create more migrant flows- would-be migrants see the announcement of quotas as a sort of invitation.

And this in turn creates many difficult questions. Who will be selecting and deciding who goes where? How can Brussels know what is appropriate for Slovakia, and indeed, for any other EU state?

CD: I agree with you completely. It is common sense. But when someone makes such a case, they are usually accused of discrimination and so on.

MB: This is not about discrimination- it is about real integration. We want to ensure the capacity for meaningful integration, and to avoid creating ghettoes, a condition of living that is first of all bad for the migrants themselves.

We have even been accused of a lack of ‘European solidarity.’ But if you speak of solidarity, you should stick to it at all times- not only selectively. So in energy security, for example, where is the solidarity concerning Nord Stream, or regarding Ukraine, for just two examples?

In fact, to speak about European solidarity, it is a little-known fact that Slovakia received so far more than 8,000 economic migrants from Ukraine. And we also temporarily received 500 Middle Eastern asylum seekers from Austria, people who had arrived in Austria but who were still waiting for Austrian approval.

CD: These are good points. And I believe that Macedonia, even if it is not an EU member, has suffered a lot of pressure from Germany and other EU states over migration. The country has taken responsibility for its own policy, as we analyzed in a recent article. Most recently, police from several Balkan and Central European countries have been invited to come, and will come, to help Macedonia police its borders. Is Slovakia going to join this contingent?

MB: Yes. Slovakia is part of this action, in order to help our Macedonia friends better protect the border with Greece, and to fight against illegal migrant smuggling. The Slovak government decided on January 13th that it will send 25 fully-equipped police personnel, to be deployed from the 5th of February, primarily on the border with Greece. Slovakia’s police contribution is the biggest per capita out of those countries that replied positively to the request of the Macedonian authorities.

Moreover, on 19 January, a meeting of the Visegrad Group’s ministers of the interior was held, a meeting which also included representatives of the Slovenia, Macedonian and Serbian interior ministries- the V4 Plus. At that meeting, it was agreed that in the next 14 days a special expert assessment mission from the V4 will be dispatched to Macedonia’s southern border with Greece, to see and assess other needs there, like technical equipment.

CD: That is a positive development. Over the past nine months, the situation at the Greek-Macedonia border has been chronically misreported in a way that casts Macedonia in a bad light, both by partisan sources and by aid agencies looking for further funding. To what extent do you think that this new enhanced police presence will correct the outside view, considering that these European police must report what is happening to their home countries, and therefore cause the information to trickle up in the EU?

MB: This is possible, but not sure yet; what we can say is that there are clearly efforts being made by Central European countries to help Macedonia. To what extent this will help, we will have to wait and see. But I do think it will definitely help. There is also a balanced number of police by nationality. There are 10 from Croatia, 20 from Serbia, and six from Slovenia. Then there are 31 from Hungary and 25 from the Czech Republic. But we should also keep in mind that the deployments are being done on several rotations. For example, the Slovak and Czech officers will come at the start of February, while the Hungarians only came quite recently. So we will wait to see the results.

CD: During his November 21st visit to Skopje, Donald Tusk stated that Macedonia has “a right and a responsibility” to protect its borders. We know that the Macedonian state has said it cannot accept more than 2,000 migrants in transit, even though behind the scenes there is still heavy pressure from certain EU forces to fund camps through the UNHCR for up to 30,000 persons. Macedonia has repeatedly stated such a scenario would be a logistical and security problem. Can Macedonia count on Slovakia to speak up on its behalf, whether publicly or in the halls of power in Brussels, on this issue?

MB: Again, as we see it, the issue is fundamentally about quotas. It would be wiser to leave Macedonia to decide on its own what its capacities and capabilities are to handle this issue. If the Macedonians have said several times that their maximum capacity is up to 2,000 persons in transit, Slovakia has absolutely no intention to question this statement.

CD: As we have seen with Kosovo, large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers in 2015 were actually coming from the Western Balkans, despite years of Western funding that was meant to create viable states that would expressly keep citizens from trying to move elsewhere in Europe. What should be done to address this issue?

MB: This is obviously a very delicate issue. On the one hand, it is necessary to create a local ownership role, to create suitable social and economic conditions to stop brain drain and economic migration. Second, it is necessary to really reform the asylum procedures in EU member states, since they are not harmonized, and we have now a pattern of misuses of benefits given in certain member states.

Guidelines for Good Diplomacy

CD: During 2015, Slovakia stayed out of the political crisis in Macedonia, one that has had damaging effects on certain other foreign missions’ ability to cooperate with the Macedonian state, as their representatives have ended up compromised in one way or another. Does this local reality give Slovakia a greater role than it might otherwise have?

MB: Slovakia has experience in the Balkans, which has been proven over many years of engagement. We don’t have any hidden agendas in the region, and I can say that Slovakia is thus kind of an honest broker here.

Again, what we can offer is our experience and advice. We have the approach of “two A´s” – assistance and advocacy, for countries in transition. And for this we can use our position within the EU and NATO.

You know, sometimes it is better to keep a low profile, and not publicly expose yourself in order to do the job in a better way. Also, we are working with a view to the future, bearing in mind that Slovakia is now preparing to assume the presidency of the European Council, in the second half of 2016. There will be plenty of opportunities at that time for us to be more visible in this regard.

Slovakia’s Role in Regional Development through the Visegrad Group

CD: This sounds like promising development, which will also increase the stature of Slovakia at an important time. More generally, where do current events figure in with any regional development initiatives Slovakia may have here? Where does your government assess the most need?

MB: In the Balkans, there are already quite a lot of regional initiatives. Some are fruitful, and some are more questionable, in terms of real added value.

But what Slovakia emphasizes in the Balkans, and what I am doing here, is inviting the local actors to examine the possible example of Visegrad cooperation. There are a lot of aspects here that should be followed, considering that the V4 is the most successful such group for regional cooperation in Central Europe. Nowadays it’s an internationally respected brand, even here in the Balkans.

We have a special program, the previously mentioned V4 Plus cooperation. And one of the target regions for it is the Western Balkans. Within this format, we communicate, cooperate, and transfer our experience.

CD: Does this group have an associated fund for projects, similar to other development agencies and indeed the EU?

MB: Yes. This started after our accession into the EU, 10 or 11 years ago. The so-called Western Balkans Fund, as it is called, is kind of a clone of the International Visegrad Fund, and was established in November of last year. The Slovak V4 presidency played a crucial role here. The treaty was signed in November in Prague, during the Czech presidency, but the preparatory period happened when Slovakia held the presidency.

Local and external donors provide for the V4 fund, which has a 10-million euro annual budget. But contributions also come from Germany, from the Dutch, from the US- even from South Korea.

Regional development and good neighborly relations are the two main goals. Behind the success of the V4, I strongly believe, is our focus on a positive agenda. This means that the primary value is placed on the points of common interests of the citizens of the region, while any differences are put aside. The V4 agenda is thus not burdened by open bilateral issues; the initiatives we consider are based on a positive vision: let’s focus on what unites us, what´s beneficial for the region and its citizens, let’s connect, let’s solve bilateral issues bilaterally.

Another aspect that makes the V4 successful, I might add, is that it does not have any institutions, no permanent secretariat, no assembly. So operationally speaking, it is quite informal, very flexible and efficient. Third, it has established a certain solidarity in the region, which we have always felt, even during the more autocratic Vladimír Mečiar period of 1992-98 in Slovakia.

CD: The Group sounds like it can set a good example and perhaps play a positive role for Balkan countries. What sort of feedback do you get here? Has the Macedonian side been enthusiastic about cooperation?

MB: Yes, I believe that they are. And our legacy of positive experience with the V4 leads me to wish as much Visegrad as possible for the region.

An important fact that people should appreciate, also, is that in Macedonia, the V4 is the only regional format that maintains regular meetings with the president of the state. What is interesting and very important is that this has come on the initiative of the Macedonian President, Gjorge Ivanov. Every year, he invites the ambassadors of the V4 for a working lunch. We really appreciate this gesture from the president; it is another sign of the quality of cooperation that Slovakia, and the V4 in general, enjoy in Macedonia.

Building Economic Relations

CD: Everyone knows the Macedonia government for almost 10 years now has been focused primarily on attracting foreign investment. Can you give us any information about Slovak investments in Macedonia and/or Macedonian investments in Slovakia? What is the balance of trade between the two countries?

MB: There is unfortunately still no proper direct Slovak investment in Macedonia. Rather there is Slovak participation in investment by the Macedonian state, as with Macedonian Railways, being helped by Slovak producers. Thus the supply of 150 freight wagons produced in Slovakia means the renewal of 20 percent of Macedonia’s freight fleet- the first such renewal in 30 years.

Similarly, another Slovak company provided modernization services for the Macedonian Army’s helicopters calibration of equipment. And one Slovak construction company, Chemkostav Michalovce, is performing repairs and building activities at the state prison at Idrizovo. Quite recently, they also got the second tender for construction of sewage systems between Berovo and Pehcevo in eastern Macedonia.

As far as I know, there are no Macedonian investments in Slovakia. The current balance of trade comes to only about 100 million euros. This is not so much, but with the imminent establishment of direct flights and a business club, I am quite optimistic about the future.

CD: Are there any specific industries that you see as most promising for the future bilateral economic relationship?

MB: The automotive sector is certainly promising- a fact you should know is that Slovakia is the world’s number-one producer of cars per capita. In fact, last year over one million cars were produced in three factories: this equals 184 cars per 1000 inhabitants.

CD: I definitely did not know that, though I can imagine room for convergence given Macedonia’s existing investments from auto parts producers. What are the companies?

MB: Volkswagen, PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) and Kia Motors. And last year, we were also successful in attracting Jaguar Land Rover to make a 1.4 billion euro investment. And yes, future cooperation with Macedonian factories could realistically come through sub-supplies, connecting the clusters.

A second field perhaps would be energy, and particularly in terms of biofuels. Macedonia has practically no experience with the kind of plants that we are already using for producing electricity from biofuels. We would like to transfer our knowledge regarding this, which could lead to growing the right kinds of plants and building power plants using this resource. These are just a couple of the many opportunities for economic cooperation that lie ahead for our two countries.

Developments regarding Cultural Relations between Slovakia and Macedonia

CD: Every year, we note the special day of the above-mentioned Ss Cyril and Methodius, ‘enlightener of the Slavs,’ who traveled from Macedonia to Moravia on their famous pilgrimage. What is the perception of their achievement among Slovaks, in popular culture and daily life? Has it influenced in any way cultural relations or cultural awareness of the Macedonian heritage?

MB: Ss Cyril and Methodius, and their legacy, is an integral part of our modern state and identity; Slovakia is the only country in the world with a direct reference to the legacy of their mission in the preamble of its constitution.

Upon this basis, and in accordance with the ties that are confirmed by this story, we are developing our activities in the cultural and academic field with Macedonia. For example, the University of Ss Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, and the University of Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra, which is the nucleus of the saints’ Great Moravia mission, established an international conference on Slovak-Macedonian cultural, linguistic and literary relations.

So far, two such conferences have been held- one in Nitra and one in Skopje. We promoted the publication of the first trilingual version – in Old Church Slavonic, Macedonian and Slovak – of the Proglas (Foreword) of Constantine the Philosopher (St Cyril).

CD: Are there any specific cultural relations, events or organizations between Slovakia and Macedonia that you would like to highlight? Can we expect any exciting developments or events in 2016?

MB: Well, first to conclude, we also did promotion for the first Slovak-Macedonian dictionary, the first tourist guide to Ohrid in the Slovak language, and a few other events, like the first Days of Slovak Cinema in Macedonia, and the first Days of Slovak Gastronomy in Skopje. Now we are planning a second Days of Slovak Gastronomy, in the fall and will continue with other events.

CD: Great news. I am interested in this light to know what efforts are being made to develop exchange student programs between the two countries? Do you have any information on the number of Macedonians studying in Slovakia, and vice versa?

MB: Several such initiatives are taking place, some are bilateral, and some are organized under the auspices of the V4. About 30 Macedonian students are currently studying in Slovakia, mostly in technical subjects. Unfortunately, no Slovak students are currently studying in Macedonia

But there is a special program within the V4 fund called academic mobility, and scholarships through this can be provided through the fund. Presently supported through it is an academic program on conflict resolution, here at the University of Ss Cyril and Methodius: it aims to relay the experience of V4 countries in this regard to students from the Balkans. It is an ongoing program, and has attracted lecturers from V4 countries. The program also provides for excursions of Macedonian students within the V4 countries.

CD: These are all very promising developments. So, to conclude, I must ask you: where do you see Slovak-Macedonian relations in 10 years?

MB: My wish is to see Macedonia as a strong friend and ally of Slovakia within NATO, and a country well advanced on its way to negotiating EU membership. I really hope that by then Macedonia will have established a dynamic diplomatic presence in Slovakia, and I hope that we will have really increased our economic, trade and touristic exchanges. These are my hopes, and I believe they are attainable with the right spirit of cooperation and effort.

CD: Ambassador Bezák, thank you very much for your time and valuable insights, they are very much appreciated.

MB: Thank you as well.

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