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Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 5: Transition Phase and Intelligence Assessments

By Chris Deliso

The previous installments of this series on European involvement in Macedonia’s crisis comprise the beginnings of Balkanalysis.com’s comprehensive deep background series, known as The Great Unraveling. It will continue indefinitely, as new and important information keeps flowing in, as people become more frustrated and outspoken about the impasse.

On the Surface Still

So far, our series has basically stayed at the level of surface politics; this is not because deeper connections do not exist, but simply because we must first set the stage for what is to come- and to prove how, even at the level of surface politics, European intervention has failed due to problems with professional capacities, goals, time limitations and institutional self-protection mechanisms that have all contributed to a deep mistrust of the whole venture, and further divisions, in Macedonia. In other words, even in the case that deeper issues had not existed, the problems of the day could not have been resolved by the means officially chosen. Yet had the powers-that-be made different choices, at least the crisis’ continuation would have been avoidable. It was simply handled incorrectly.

Indeed, watching the crisis unfold has been like seeing one of those gruesome botched beheadings in which the victim writhes in agony because the executioner is too incompetent to get a clean cut. This failure is part – but only part – of the reason why German Special Envoy Johannes Haindl and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland are soon returning to Skopje. It is another validation of what we have already isolated: one year on from the supposedly conclusive Przino Agreement, the EU has lost its credibility and leverage in Macedonia.

Recounting the Series

Ten days have now passed since the fourth installment of this series, in which we isolated the flaws of the June 8 2015 Priebe Report in the context of pre-existing EU policy (Part 3) and key factors that occurred in early 2015, like the Hahn Cabinet’s decision to treat the crisis as a “rule of law” issue (Part 2).

Finally, some 17 days have now passed since we discussed the EU’s self-defensive tactics of media patronage and evasiveness, which not incidentally have contributed to the chronically delayed and incomplete reporting of the current series (Part 1). Ironically, only after a sharp social media comment yesterday did we get a partial answer to some of the questions sent over a month ago to Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič.  It is unfortunate that it is necessary to criticize an official on Twitter in order to prod them into doing their job.

Current State of Affairs

As of June 30, 2016, the major parties in Macedonia remain deadlocked, with the cancellation of previously agreed June 5 elections earlier this spring indicating again a tendency of parties to not negotiate in good faith, and a continuingly naïve attitude from the Europeans that they actually ever intended to do so.

The EU’s diminished capacities locally have been damaged further by last week’s Brexit vote, which has caused internal instability and shifted the focus northward. This has created further opportunity for individual states (namely, the US and Germany) to take an active role in crisis resolution attempts. The possibility of ‘Brexit contagion’ will be used both by Euro-federalists as a threat that can only be met by political union, and by Eurosceptics as a precedent against such union.

When first elected as EU leader in 2014, Juncker promised no further enlargement until at least 2020. A vacuum was created in which politicians of candidate countries were freed to do as they pleased since there was no incentive to cooperate within any upcoming election cycle. Juncker effectively handed Austria’s nomination for commissioner of enlargement, Johannes Hahn, with a mandate that needed no fulfillment. It should have been a very low-pressure job, but has turned out anything but that.

In fact, the only reason why the EU has paid significant attention to Balkan countries has been the migrant crisis since June 2015. Now, the anticipated second migrant wave that we have long predicted will begin anytime Turkish President Erdoğan chooses. Now that he has made moves to soothe tensions with powers to the north (Russia) and south (Israel) the Turkish leader is in a much stronger position to pressure Brussels over the migration deal which was never more than a desperate attempt to buy time.

Maybe some of its supporters expected it to magically solve the situation, but since then the increasing prominence of Egypt and Libya in the illegal migration game is also causing pressure and a tactical rethink in Europe. This should free up some of the pressure on Macedonia and other Balkan countries, which may also use the renewed migration crisis as a weapon to further punish Brussels for perceived interference. Only Brussels is not aware of this.

A Changing of the Guard

In Macedonia specifically, European diplomacy is going through a phase change. August 2016 will see the end of mandate for two of the most high-profile diplomats mentioned frequently by media throughout the crisis, EU Delegation leader Aivo Orav and Italian Ambassador Ernesto Massimo Bellelli. Also leaving is the Slovenian ambassador, Branko Rankovec (who was not specified by local media for any role in the crisis).

The departure of the first two ambassadors will remove a huge burden from their respective diplomatic apparatuses, as they have been consistently blamed by media, rightly or wrongly, for playing an outsized role in Macedonian internal affairs during the crisis. Yet the alleviation of subterranean pressures on EU and Italian diplomacy in the past two years will have unpredictable effects. For example, the pressure on both men has partially influenced them to do more ‘positive engagement’ (such as fundraising, bringing investments, giving ceremonial awards and so on) than they might otherwise have done. It will be interesting to see whether their replacements, free of these pressures, will continue their predecessors’ initiatives as they themselves will not be similarly burdened.

There is an interesting detail for the historical record. Both Orav and his expected replacement (Samuel Žbogar, current EU envoy to Kosovo) had been appointed at the same time, on 21 December 2011, by the same official. That was the former British Commissioner for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, who was replaced by Italy’s Federica Mogherini in 2014. Ashton’s term coincided with a very important period in international involvement in pre-crisis Macedonia, which will be covered in the author’s upcoming ebook, The Macedonian Mosaic.

As we have already recounted in this series, Aivo Orav was never allowed to speak with Balkanalysis.com by the EU. Only they know why.  Ambassador Bellelli, however, did (after some persuasion) manage to make time for an exclusive interview with Balkanalysis.com, which we will discuss at the appropriate point in our upcoming series on Italian security concerns in the MENA/Balkan region.

It should also be noted that there are several foreign diplomats who will not be cycling out this year, and who have taken a similarly visible role in the crisis. Their activities too will be mentioned in the relevant contexts as we move forward.

Observed Trends

As we have noted, one clear trend throughout the crisis has been a reliance on ‘cunning plans’- political and security stratagems that have never fully succeeded. This is due largely to their tactical rather than strategic nature. The damage that these failures have caused has multiplied the pre-existing problems.

This has been most serious for internationals, because tactical failures cannot worsen the perception of local actors who already have long lost all public credibility. And in any case, Macedonian system society absorbs and internalizes everything, until it passes into folklore. (Perhaps the only good thing about this tendency is the sign of a very patient and tolerant society).

The general result of this is an increased tendency towards promoting violent extremism as more reasonable options become exhausted and actors grow more impatient. There is also an increased reliance on local patronage schemes which, it is perhaps overoptimistically believed, will help contain the damage and ideally, cover up foreign involvement since even before the coup plot began from August 2014. But that is in the murky depths beneath surface politics and as such, a topic for another time.

In this light, the general history of foreign interventionism in Macedonia can be understood as a series of tactical gaffes that have required a resolution through the legitimization of parallel institutions (most notably, the ‘Special Prosecutor’s Office’) to guarantee that everything gets swept under the rug and that the right people are punished for a desired political result.

A Prosecution that Is Special, in Every Sense of the Word

However – and still, at the level of surface politics – the very concept of an SPO was always fatally flawed. This is symptomatic of the rushed and ill-conceived thinking that informed the entire process of foreign interventionism since February 2015.

As with the Priebe Report itself, this is reflected by choice of language. The official Przino Agreement of 15 July 2015 states that “by 15 September 2015, there shall be a new, Special Prosecutor with full autonomy to lead the investigations surrounding and arising from the interception of communications.”

The terminology italicized above was deliberately vague. It essentially entitled this new and unusual entity to do anything it wanted. Without any clear limitations on mandate or methods, and with a massive budget of 4 million euros, it naturally took a maximalist and extremely aggressive approach that has alienated the majority of the public and resulted in one PR disaster after another. Literally everything the SPO does now reinforces the argument of ex-PM Gruevski, that the body was set up to arrest him and his colleagues while rewarding the opposition.

Thus once again an instrument of tactical foreign intervention has backfired. It is not in the interests of Western media to make a substantive investigation of the SPO from Przino times until now; instead, they have tried to emphasize a cult of personality aspect, as with the BBC’s absurd and meaningless recent comparison of the carefully-selected SPO team to ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ This identification (with fictional characters, at least fitting in that regard) was first developed in the German media and has since metastasized like a cancer among Western propagandists for the opposition cause.

Nevertheless, as with the work of the SPO itself, its foreign PR support continues to perpetuate simmering Macedonian public distrust of all Western interests. Again, both action and rhetoric increase the divide between outside perception and local reality.

Tactical Assessments for a Summer of Unconventional Warfare, and a Fall of Planned Change

In early May both MI6 and BND assets visited Macedonia, from north and from south. Another tactical failure had recently occurred, and the emphasis was on field assessment of the future viability of the Colorful Revolution crowd funded by Soros and various other outside interests.

Balkanalysis.com can confirm that the cumulative assessment indicated disappointment with the movement’s failure to gain traction and credibility among the general public. The frustration with this lack of a result has recently led to infighting and competition within the revolutionary ranks, which itself also plays into the hands of pro-government supporters.

Western secret services have assessed that a six to nine month period will be required in order for the executioner of their policy instrument (SDSM) to be in a position in which it can even compete in elections. Until then, a low-grade war of attrition – ideally, complemented by some high-level arrests – will continue. However, sources indicate that any election for fall will be delayed until (as has been argued variously) next year, to coincide with scheduled local elections.

Until then, the actions and counter-actions from pro-opposition and pro-government supporters will be conditioned by the following factors: the outcome of US-German overseen negotiations; reactions to the NATO Summit’s expected rejection of Macedonian membership; the potential revived migrant crisis, and the inevitability of summer vacation reducing the number of available protesters.

Colorful revolutionaries have been told in no uncertain terms, however, that the continuation of their funding will depend on continuing to ‘show up’ through the summer, even if this interferes with their vacations. They have even been requested to ‘escalate their activities to the next level,’ as one foreign observer recently told Balkanalysis.com.

In the same way that the Hahn Cabinet originally envisioned a ‘two-track’ solution to the crisis (in March 2015), we have now in reality a two-speed unconventional war. There is a long-term, slow-speed plan for supporting and replenishing the opposition through various soft-power tactics, which will probably fail but which will pay enough to keep the depleted movement going.

At the same time, the fast-speed unconventional warfare that will continue throughout the summer will feature offenses and counter-offensives in both i/ops and various more tangible efforts. It is hard to predict exactly what they will be, but we expect at some point the war will take on an international tenor. In other words, physical manifestations of the antagonism between pro-SDSM and pro-VMRO factions will be seen outside of Macedonia.

Depending on the outcome of this war of attrition, the conditions will be ripe for a movement towards not only political, but also structural change in Macedonia. That is the big question in the background. For certain powers, the changing of one politician or another does not suffice to make the long-term changes deemed necessary for local transformation. Although this is beyond the outside media’s interest, the local population is very much aware that the future of the country will depend on the events of the next months- 2016 will be known as the year when the ‘dead period’ of summer was actually rather lively.

Illuminating Conclusions

The intensification of unconventional warfare on all fronts is necessary for another purpose; the distraction of foreign media from the very real international scandals that have not been reported but that are intimately at the heart of the Macedonian crisis. Diplomatic sources indicate that the great powers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the SPO’s incompetence and inability to sweep everything under the rug. That is ultimately, of course, the fault of the people who chose those running that particular sideshow.

Thus, once again the trend of tactical failure will have to manifest in more aggressive rhetoric and even violence. But one of the most interesting and recurring aspects of the Macedonian crisis, from an objective standpoint, is the constant creation of new scandals throughout tactical failures meant to obscure the old ones.

As such, things can only conclude with an obscuring of the cumulative deeds that have darkened the local landscape for the past two years and more, or through a peaceful illumination of the facts of events as they have happened. The latter might not end up being as painful as many fear, for the long-term good of the country and those involved with it.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 4: Inside The Priebe Report

By Chris Deliso

The June 8, 2015 Priebe Report was written by six experienced professionals. The Hahn Commission and Skopje Delegation gave these men all required support. The team and the Commission were both satisfied with the final report, the recommendations of which would seriously influence subsequent political negotiations and institutional changes.

According to the report, the EU recruited the team “to carry out a rapid analysis of the situation and provide recommendations to address these issues.” Regarding these “issues,” the authors specify “the systemic problems” which wiretapped conversations released by SDSM “have revealed or confirmed.”

Brief Assessment: Factors Influencing the Result

Balkanalysis.com’s comprehensive series on EU intervention in Macedonia has isolated eight key factors that influenced the conduct and outcome of the expert team mission in spring 2015. They are:

  1. The Hahn Commission’s perception of the crisis as primarily reflecting “rule-of-law” issues (see this series’ second article) .
  2. The EU’s longtime concerns over Section 4.24 of annual progress reports, and the Interior Ministry’s specific SIGINT setup (see the third article, and this leaked internal document from 2010, regarding amendments to key legislation on communications).
  3. The Hahn Cabinet’s selection of certain expert team members ideologically predisposed towards accepting allegations such as those presented by SDSM in the “wiretap scandal.”
  4. The key logistics role of Delegation Chief Aivo Orav, and high likelihood that he was being blackmailed or at least heavily pressured before, during and after the period in question.
  5. The direct access of SDSM Vice-President Radmila Sekerinska to the team members.
  6. The agreed decision to investigate the content of the wiretapped material, instead of first solving the mystery of provenance and general creation motives.
  7. The short and rushed working time of the group, and the relatively tiny sample size of content examined by them, compared to the amount of still-unknown data that has since been announced.
  8. At least partial ignorance and disinterest regarding Macedonia’s security responsibilities and its key role in overall European security.

Unsettling Facts

Now, off-the-record comments provided for Balkanalysis.com indicate some unsettling facts. Comparing our own interviews, knowledge of events from the field throughout the crisis, and the report itself, it becomes clear that the team ignored historical context, contradictory events, and basic common sense.

Yet most shockingly, some of the Priebe team’s personal opinions – which did not appear in the report, but which definitely informed it – reveal a fundamental ignorance of Macedonia’s security challenges, and a demeaning attitude towards its institutional needs. This view has, unfortunately, been repeated for years in various forms to Balkanalysis.com by similarly clueless Eurocrats. Simply, they do not understand Macedonia’s crucial role in the general European security architecture.

Above and Beyond

Balkanalysis.com has spoken to multiple members of the expert team, Macedonian and international diplomats, commission officials and other informed sources over the past year and more.  All of this research has gone into The Great Unraveling series, of which this article constitutes the fourth part.

Our current and previous analyses indicate that the Priebe Report reflected chronic EU concerns. But it also went beyond all previous recommendations, ordering radical new punitive measures not previously suggested. Nevertheless, since the Commission accepted all its recommendations, the Priebe Report became the bedrock upon which the July 2015 Przino Agreement was founded. Thus it is the most significant document/event in the entire crisis.

The Przino Agreement was negotiated between four local party leaders, under heavy EU and US pressure. Essentially, this means that about 15 individuals are ultimately responsible for turning the EU’s failed intervention into a new national reality.

However, this intervention has been heavily criticized, by ordinary citizens as well as partisan supporters. In its well-meaning but botched operation, the Commission and Delegation actually perpetuated further scandals, real and perceived, that were used against key figures throughout 2015, and which continue to paralyze their capacities. This paralysis has tipped the balance of power and influence in favor of the German government and the Americans.

A New Chill in the Air

We exposed the fundamental hypocrisy behind the EU’s pledged respect for media freedom in this series’ first article. It is thus appropriate here to mention that as soon as Balkanalysis.com made official information requests to the Hahn Cabinet about the Priebe Report in May 2016, a sudden behavioral change occurred. Informed persons, including team members who had previously spoken freely with us in an off-the-record capacity, suddenly went silent or referred us to Commission spokespersons.

We thus asked EC Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič if she or Commissioner Hahn had instructed Priebe team members to not speak with Balkanalysis.com. We have yet to receive a reply.

Mandate: Rapid Analysis, Rule of Law, Content over Provenance

According to the report, and new responses from the Hahn Cabinet, the mandate of the expert mission was “to carry out a rapid analysis of the situation and provide concrete recommendations on how to address the issues arising from the interception scandal.”

According to the Cabinet, the Commission and Hahn himself were “satisfied” with the report and its recommendations, “which reflected and confirmed” many concerns previously raised by the Commission. They were pleased by the “concrete steps” the report recommended. A “broader” set of recommendations (the so-called Urgent Reform Priorities, presented by the Commission in June 2015) followed. Macedonia’s four largest parties signed off on these, without any public debate or qualitative discussion of the Priebe Report, and thus arrived at the July 15 Przino Agreement, which has been a predictable failure.

However, the Hahn Cabinet may have now unwittingly betrayed the possibility that parallel institution creation (today’s ‘Special Prosecutor’s Office) was, as we suspect, envisioned from the very beginning. The expert team’s mandate was not to investigate the making of the recordings themselves, the Cabinet informed us in May 2016, because “that criminal activity is currently being investigated by the Special Prosecutor’s Office which was set up at the end of 2015 for this precise purpose.”

There was no reply from Spokeswoman Kocijančič when we pointed out that this explanatory reference was an anachronism; in early 2015, no special prosecutor existed, but the regular public prosecutor was successfully investigating the provenance of the recordings and the circumstances under which they were made.

Yet without first solving this mystery, without verifying the reality of the ‘evidence,’ there is no point investigating unproven content- unless, of course, your goal is to create a rushed, out-of-context and activist document for a political goal. And that is precisely what the Priebe Report was.

The working group intentionally refrained from inquiring individual cases,” one senior team member told Balkanalysis.com, when addressing the issue of why they chose to investigate content over provenance. “That is for prosecutors and courts. This probably explains why some ‘prominent’ cases were not even mentioned in our report. In any case, we were aware of each such case.”

This is interesting, though inconclusive testimony that the Priebe Team had a wider awareness of events than is reflected in their narrow report. Yet they (and the Commission) were surely aware that their own activities would inevitability put heavy pressure on said prosecutors and courts, regarding how they conducted their own investigations.

EU Team Selection Process and Targeting: the TAIEX System and Contradictions

According to the Cabinet, the Commission Directorate General department dealing with Macedonia selected “independent experts” familiar with the issues and the country. Similar expert team visits occur elsewhere, in relation to various parts of the acquis (especially justice and home affairs). Such experts are chosen from the TAIEX (Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument of the European Commission).

According to the Hahn Cabinet, the Priebe Team members were chosen on objective grounds including their knowledge of their field, and Macedonia; they were not proposed by EU Member States, officials state. The work of such experts (in theory) is apolitical and not made public, but shared only with the Commission and the involved country.

For some reason, the Commission perceived the Macedonia mission as more important than most; it thus sent what it considered its most experienced and trusted experts. This is quite interesting, because Balkanalysis.com also knows experts with regional and highly specific SIGINT backgrounds who were not chosen, and who arguably could have done a better job. One team member told Balkanalysis.com that “all of us had some experience in dealing with pre-accession and Western Balkan countries. The composition of the group made sure, that very different areas of expertise were covered (including security, intelligence, IT and constitutional matters.”

However, inconsistencies emerge. While the Cabinet has attested that TAEIX was used, this team member admitted to actually not knowing “how individual members have been selected.” We assess that Hahn personally selected at least the team leader, retired career EC official Reinhard Priebe. “[Hahn’] probably did not pull his top lieutenant out of TAIEX,” says one Brussels official with basic knowledge of the case. “He wanted a guy he could count on.”

Further, intelligence available to Balkanalysis.com indicates that at least one expert member had little or no Balkan experience, and that member-state interests did, contrary to the Cabinet’s claim, play a role in the selection of two other members.

There are other odd discrepancies. A senior team member told Balkanalysis.com in April 2016 thatI do not know if any of the members have done some further FYROM work afterwards.” However, we know that at least two team members were asked to continue advising in Macedonia after the team’s activities ended. Thus either the old gang does not keep in touch, the cabinet is not being entirely honest, or people’s memories are slipping.

Hahn spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič did not respond to our request regarding possible member-state influence on expert team selection.

EU Stealth Missions: Non-Transparency as the Rule, Not the Exception

For many Europeans, one sinister thing about the European Union is its tendency to use small groups of anonymous, faceless technocrats for purposes that inevitably impact the lives of millions. This is symptomatic of the EU’s current democratic deficit.

Most such expert groups come and go without anyone even knowing of their existence. Luckily, the Priebe report is known- but only because the Enlargement Commission made a very unusual decision. Due to the “seriousness” of the situation the decision was taken, “exceptionally,” to publish the report, the Hahn Cabinet told us.

While the report was made public, it did not name the specific team members, except for Reinhard Priebe. So, in the interest of transparency, Balkanalysis.com will now list the expert team members. The member identities were all confirmed for us as correct by a senior team member.

Meet the Experts

Reinhard Priebe. This former German judge and (from 1984) career EU official gave the expert team’s report its informal name. On his distinguished CV, two appointments stand out: Priebe’s former role as Director for Western Balkans in DG External Relations (2001-2004) and identical role in DG Enlargement, in 2005-6. Before retiring in 2014, Priebe was for four years Director of Internal Security at DG Home Affairs. In this period he negotiated data-sharing agreements with the US, implemented the EU Internal Security Strategy, and worked on anti-corruption and police cooperation initiatives.

Priebe was thus covering Macedonia during the last period of rule by SDSM- a time when Deutsche Telecom was fighting to retain its business and SIGINT monopoly position. According to the mentioned Brussels official, Priebe is “a consummate professional, a real EU insider who knows the system inside out. If I was Hahn, I might have picked him too.”

James Hamilton. This veteran Irish prosecutor was the team’s key legal/ideological mind. Director of Public Prosecutors of Ireland from 1999-2011, Hamilton was elected President of the International Association of Prosecutors in 2010, serving for several years. He has worked regionally on legal missions for the EU and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. Thus, Hamilton has written about laws on the Prosecutors Offices in Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine, as well as political parties, amnesty laws and so on in Balkan, Caucasus and Central Asian countries. He has also worked on anti­corruption issues and criminal justice systems issues in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Albania.

Given the context of an alleged ‘government wiretap scandal’ in Macedonia, Hamilton was a natural ideological choice. His writings indicate strong leftist views. For example, in a 2006 Venice Commission report, he concluded that state security actions actions “must be taken carefully, and must be restrained in their application, limited in a way that echoes the derogation provision of the ECHR, no more extensive than demanded by the exigencies of the situation, and which do not go beyond it.”

Hamilton also criticized the US Patriot Act in that text as being “among a number of American legislative measures designed to remove the impediments that individual privacy rights pose to investigations. It permits the interception and monitoring of communications and communications records, and searches without notice.”

An August 3, 2015 media article confirmed that Hamilton had been retained after the expert team’s mission, to advise on issues regarding the envisioned special prosecutor’s office. He can thus be considered one of the most influential team members.

Thomas Trier Hansen. This 46-year-old Danish lawyer has human rights and anti-corruption expertise, and is a partner at Nordic Law Group, which advises companies on compliance and due diligence with Deloitte, Denmark. Formerly Team Leader for the “Access to Justice and Reform of Law and State” program at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Hansen was also a lawyer for the Danish Immigration Service, and President of the Court of Greenland (2009-2011). He is also a board member of Transparency International Greenland and a member of the Danish Refugee Board. Hansen was a judge in the Eastern High Court of Denmark (2008-2009), and been chairman of the Greenlandic Board for supervision of municipalities and the Greenlandic Complaints Board for Public Procurement.

Dovydas Vitkauskas. This British-trained Lithuanian lawyer advises on justice, human rights and good governance issues- illustrating again the ideological worldviews of the team. He is a partner at Moscow-based Threefold Legal Advisors, and worked for 10 years as a senior lawyer at the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights. He was nominated as a judge there In December 2009 by the Lithuanian President. Vitkauskas has worked on EU-financed projects regarding judicial and legal reforms in Russia and other CIS countries.

Vitkauskas also was Team Leader of the IPA Project for Further Support to the Judiciary and promotion of the Probation Service and Alternative Sanctions in Macedonia, from 2010. But more recently, and possibly of more relevance, is the fact that, according to the EU, he participated in a justice-related event at Skopje’s Stone Bridge Hotel on January 24, 2015- one day after Zoran Verusevski’s arrest. The coincidence could have given the Lithuanian ‘added value’ as an external expert who, coincidentally, had been in-country at a key moment.

Maurizio Varanese. This veteran Italian chief police inspector was the Priebe team’s key law-enforcement expert. He has served in similar EC expert missions in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Georgia, Jordan and Ukraine, on topics like organized crime, terrorism, corruption and financial crime. This very experienced lawman, who has also worked for Europol, has lectured on telecom interception, and was one of two SIGINT specialists on the Priebe Team.

All available intelligence indicates that Inspector Varanese was selected from the beginning for implementation of planned future legislative changes. As of November 23, 2015 (at latest) he had been asked to help rewrite Macedonia’s law on interception of communications.

6. The final Priebe Team member, also Italian, played an important role on several fronts. However, we will not identify him at this time.

The Secrecy Pact

From the beginning, the team made a pact. “We agreed to preserve the confidentiality of our work, in the interest of working efficiently,” one senior team member told Balkanalysis.com in April 2016. “This includes by the way, refraining from giving any information to the outside on who said what in the group.”

While this is standard practice for such entities, it certainly does not add to public trust or transparency. Macedonian citizens had little idea of this team or its work, though these citizens – and not the experts – would have to live with the consequences of the experts’ findings.

The secrecy pact was mostly, according to this official, a preventive measure against possible damage arising from media citations or “sending mixed messages.” In a highly-charged and fluid atmosphere, it would make sense. However, the fact that multiple members have made private comments contradicting (as we have seen) some Cabinet remarks indicates that leakages still occur.

The Logistical Role of the Commission and Delegation- and Possible Hostile outside Influences

The key liaison between the Hahn Cabinet, the Priebe Team and EU Delegation in Skopje was a little-known Commission official named Marie-Sofie Sveidqvist. She has served in similar roles in the past, for example accompanying a 2004 EU justice-related expert mission to Turkey. In January 2013, as an “international policy officer,” she participated in a Brussels event on human rights in Macedonia. Other information is not readily available; Sveidqvist would seem to personify the anonymity of the Brussels machine. “She was not a member of our team,” one member told Balkanalysis.com. “But as a Commission official she, like other officials gave technical support to the group.”

The Hahn Cabinet informed us that the expert team’s meetings were organized by “the geographic unit in Brussels” and the EU Delegation in Skopje. The latter arranged meetings for the team with state bodies, representatives of relevant international organizations, NGOs and journalists (note: this website was not among those invited). According to the Cabinet, meeting/interview subjects were chosen “based on the relevance of their (or their institution’s) activities, to the rule of law issues raised by the intercepted conversations.” They further add that a “courtesy meeting” was arranged with Foreign Minister Nikola Popovski.

A team member told us that Delegation Chief Aivo Orav and his staff “took care of logistics and getting confirmation on meetings. We asked their advice for meetings, and if they had other recommendations, we were not against seeing anybody.” The Commission, in addition, also helped find certain interview targets.

In the end, the team was satisfied. “We were free to arrange the meetings we wanted to have, and managed indeed to meet all the people we wanted to see,” the official notes. “Of course, we could have met more and other people, but we got quite a good picture of the issues at stake in the meetings we had.” This is an important comment to keep in mind, considering some of the problematic elements (discussed below) regarding who the team did (and didn’t) meet.

Throughout the expert team’s three visits, they also confirm awareness of “underground interest” from the various embassies in Skopje. But it is unclear to what extent they interacted. One member recalls that US ambassador Jess Baily joined the team for a dinner, but that this was “just a dinner, he happened to be there too. He did not seek to advise us.”

However, neither the team nor the Commission would discuss one crucial factor. While the Macedonian media has recorded countless testimonials of blackmail allegedly exerted against politicians, businessmen and foreign officials, Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič failed to reply when asked whether the Commission had been aware of this. Yet all available intelligence indicates a high likelihood that key figures assisting the Priebe Team (most importantly Head of Delegation Aivo Orav) were being heavily blackmailed by local actors at the time, and that this affected his behavior.

Since neither the team members nor the Commission will acknowledge whether they are or were cognizant of this situation, the question of how external pressures impacted the EU’s handling of the Macedonian crisis remains unanswered. We might note again (as in the first article) that Orav has ignored or avoided all requests from Balkanalysis.com to discuss anything since last July. He is expected to leave Macedonia in August.

This is also significant because the Priebe Report does in fact note that unnamed foreign diplomats had been tapped, though no one would discuss any details, or whether this has had an influence on the diplomatic process.

Structural and Linguistic Characteristics of the Priebe Report

The Priebe Report is 20 pages long and includes 34 footnotes. It starts with a Background and Working Methodology section, which gives an overview and profile of the kinds of persons they met. It ends with nine bullet-point recommendations. In the General Remarks section (1) the authors state that their findings were made “on the basis of a series of technical meetings conducted in Skopje on 3-4 May and 18-20 May 2015 and numerous reports and materials from various sources.” However, here they do not mention the earlier, 20-22 April meeting; did it not contribute to the overall findings, or was it not a ‘technical’ mission? The situation is unclear.

In the footnotes, the authors refer to Zaev’s wiretapped ‘bombs’ as ‘revelations’- a Biblical word associated with prophets, and one that confers indirect legitimacy. The report uses a carefully legalistic writing style; this is meant to avoid assuming responsibility. The authors frequently use passive-voice sentence construction and vague copular verbs (‘seem,’ ‘appear’ and so on). This is a classic distancing technique that protects authors from having made a direct assertion of fact, while simultaneously intimating a sort of abstract authoritativeness and objectivity. This choice of linguistic register was very unfortunate, given the significance of the research subject.

For examples of passive usages, the authors allege that shortcomings “have been identified,” and “cannot seriously be contested.”  Or, the team reports that it “was confronted with” a certain attitude from interlocutors. Other vague verb usages occur when, for example, the team writes that they have focused on what “appear to be” areas where action is most needed. They write that parliamentary committees “appear unwilling” to fulfill their mandate.

This linguistic subterfuge surfaces again in the section ‘Causes of the Current Situation,’ in which the report endorses Zaev’s allegations, without factually endorsing them. Thus the authors write that the counterintelligence service “appears, to an external onlooker, to have been operating outside its legal mandate on behalf of the government, to control top officials in the public administration, prosecutors, judges and political opponents with a consequent interference in the independence of the judiciary and other relevant national institutions.”

The Ramifications of Bad Language and Content-Over-Provenance

That formulation technically keeps the authors (and EU) safe, as they have not specifically blamed anyone for anything. But the conflation of foggy language and foggy thinking tended toward a tacit endorsement of opposition allegations, even though team members we spoke with assert they did not intend this.

For example, when briefly mentioning (without really discussing) the then-ongoing investigation of Zoran Verusevski and his former UBK colleagues, the report adds that “it would be a matter of concern to the group if these investigations focused exclusively or primarily on opposition-linked figures and related to the leaking of the documents rather than the substance of the wrong-doing which appears to emerge from many of the transcripts.”

This is a disturbing intervention in an allegedly objective technical paper, and not only because of the sleazy choice of linguistic register. Fundamentally, the comment is a reaction to political advocacy regarding assumptions that were unproven, and which the group specifically did not want to prove. The proliferation of passive voice, copular verbs and the subjunctive mood is symptomatic of the legalistic distancing language used whenever a subjective element is expressed in a supposedly objective technical document.

When asked to explain its activist approach, one senior member told us, “we were an expert group, not a court. But all our factual findings are based on solid information/evidence which made us confident that we got the facts right. If you have the impression, that we simply took over the charges put forward by the opposition, this impression clearly is wrong. Many of the allegations (in particular those related to wire-tapping) were not contested by interlocutors from the government side. I am not aware of any reaction on our report, pointing out that we got the facts wrong.”

The Other Reason for Content-Over-Provenance: Limited Competencies

There is another interesting fact regarding why the team avoided investigating the provenance of the wiretaps- and the whole Verusevski aspect. It was not only because the case was already being handled by the courts (as the team and Hahn Cabinet state), but also because the experts did not feel themselves competent to investigate.

“We had long meetings and decided not to rush to judgment,” a senior expert told Balkanalysis.com. “We said, ‘let’s not cover [provenance-related issues], because we are not sure.’ So we decided to leave that aside and concentrate on the wiretaps.”

Thus, it appears clear that even had it wanted to investigate the case properly, the EU would have not been competent to do so.

Problems: Short Stays, a Reluctance to Investigate, and Unique Priorities

One of the major disconnects when dealing with Priebe Team members and the Hahn Cabinet is their unshakeable belief that the report is comprehensive, correct and not qualitatively flawed. The fundamental blame first falls on the Hahn Cabinet, in that it demanded such a rapid assessment. SITREPs are essential for advisory purposes, but they are not something that a government or institution should base an ambitious multi-year institutional policy on. Yet that is precisely what happened with the Priebe Report.

As anyone who understands Macedonia and the context of the issues could tell you, three visits by six individuals supported by bureaucrats is simply insufficient for making a legitimate assessment of anything- let alone sweeping policy suggestions. However, the team takes a different view.

“We had the time available we needed to produce a serious analysis of the situation,” says the senior expert. “Obviously, one could have spent much more time on the various (and on other) subjects, but this was not the intention. In any case, I do not think that there are any shortcomings of the report caused by undue time constraints… it would not have come out differently, even if we had had another year to work on it.”

In fact, if the team had been given more time, they would have spent it on “the media freedom situation”- a historic talking point among the opposition and its NGO supporters. This alleged national deficiency was lapped up by a credulous and ideologically sympathetically expert team. It indicates how strongly they were influenced by the media and NGO members who Orav arranged for them.

Indeed, if the EU expert team had been able to spend more time on ‘media freedom’ issues, their interlocutors would have most certainly been the precise media and NGO bodies that were and are heavily subsidized by the EU (as discussed in our first article). It is a perfect circle.

Another Problem: a Small Sample Size and No Evidence of Technical Examination

Another fatal flaw was the relatively insignificant sample size of content examined. The credulous authors of the Priebe Report reference (by number) what had been leaked as ‘bombs’ by Zaev since February 9, 2015. The grand total was “36 packages of recorded telephone conversations,” which equaled “500 pages of transcripted conversations.” At that time, the team reported, SDSM claimed that it had access “to over 20,000 such recorded conversations.”

However, over time many more recordings have emerged, even being leaked from other persons and countries, and SDSM has continually raised the number of recordings it claimed to possess. Indeed, Zaev stated on February 10, 2016 that the number he transferred to the Special Public Prosecutor was actually over one million.

Who knows what could be on these tapes, or why others were released instead of them? The discrepancy between the small sample size available to the Priebe team and the total amount of (largely, still unknown) data is startling. Only the Commission and the expert team do not regard this as a serious issue.

From reading the report and discussing with team members, there is no evidence to suggest that the Priebe Team asked the basic question of who transcribed 500 pages of conversations, and how long that process had taken; certainly, it could not have been done overnight. So when did the whole process begin?

This is a basic common-sense question, just as is that of why the government would record itself saying self-incriminating things. Again, the fundamental case returns to establishing provenance and motive first. But the team did not seriously consider consistent claims that the taped material was in some cases doctored or completely edited to cause deception.

There is also nothing in the Priebe Report that would indicate the team made technical assessments of the recorded files, as one might expect from a mission of ‘technical experts.’ Thus, unless a new investigative body is convened, we will never know whether audio editing of ‘evidence’ took place, and where.

The team also ignored clear evidence that SDSM had infiltrated not just the UBK and SIGINT, but the border police database (on April 1, 2015, Zaev released an Israeli citizen’s passport image and entry/exit information, clearly taken from that database on April 15, 2013). A detail like that would change the focus of the entire investigation if, of course, the EU had been interested in a real investigation.

A Dangerous Path to Truth

There is no evidence that the team sought forensic verification of content- rather, it examined the content, and believed that a certain amount of it surely indicated crime and corruption; this because, as two team members have told us, the government did not contest their claims.

This is a dangerous way of establishing truth in the Balkans, especially when one considers Macedonia’s unique political climate. In short, politicians here often have motives for their actions or statements that are based on other factors that could affect an outcome. They might smile politely and accept what you say, not because they agree but because it serves a tactical purpose at that specific moment. Certainly, the excuse that ‘nobody objected’ to the team’s assertions is not an objectively correct way of establishing the truth.

Thus we are left with a team that spent six days in Macedonia and based its assumptions on 36 packets of unverified ‘evidence,’ without seriously trying to establish the provenance of said evidence, who had executed the operation and why, nor whether the content had been modified (through audio and/or transcription), while ignoring evidence of a wider intelligence infiltration. But it gets worse.

Source Issues and Intelligence (Non) Meetings

Source issues are crucial for understanding the report’s problematic nature, and why certain decisions were made.

According to the report, the team met: Representatives of the Ministry of Interior, including the Director and staff of the intelligence service (UBK); State Public Prosecutor and members of the Prosecution Office; President and judges of the Supreme Court; President and members of the Judicial Council; Representatives of the associations of judges and prosecutors; Director of the Academy for Judges and Prosecutors; Judges and prosecutors working in the specialized court division and prosecution office dealing with organized crime and corruption; The Ombudsman and his staff ; Director and staff of the Data Protection Directorate; President and members of the State Election Commission; Speaker of the Parliament and members of two of its oversight committees. The group also met with representatives of relevant international organisations, non-governmental organisations, associations of lawyers and journalists.

The first interesting claim is that the team met with “representatives of the Ministry of Interior, including the Director and staff of the intelligence service (UBK).” Leaving aside the fact that the UBK is actually the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence – the Intelligence Agency is under the President’s office – it is unclear who they actually spoke with. This is important because of the personalities involved.

Indeed, the assertion that wiretapped material was created within interior ministry facilities is supported by footnote 6, which states that this “has been acknowledged to the group by the former Director of the intelligence service (UBK) and can also be inferred from the plea bargain admissions and subsequent conviction of a former employee of UBK.”

One can determine the latter’s identity from the news. As for the former, it is unclear. Was the group granted access to Zoran Verusevski himself, while still in jail? Neither they nor the Commission would say. If not, which former UBK chief did they speak with, and how was this particular person arranged for them, considering that all UBK chiefs have been politically appointed by one side or the other?

Similarly, the assertion that the group met with the (current) director of the UBK is also problematic. Saso Mijalkov, who headed the administration at the time of the team’s work, was one of Zaev’s two major targets in the wiretaps affair, and allegedly guilty of many crimes. He resigned on May 12, 2015 with this official resignation letter.

This is problematic because in December 2015 we asked a senior expert team member whether they did in fact meet Mijalkov: “yes, but only on our last visit,” was the reply. However, the team’s last visit was 18-20 May, six days after Mijalkov had resigned. His successor as UBK chief, Ljupco Andonovski, was not appointed until 27 May.

“They are lying if they say they met Mijalkov,” one intelligence official told Balkanalysis.com. “Maybe they met [police official Mitko] Chavkov, but not Mijalkov.”

If true, this would not be just a simple lapse; we are talking about the man who the Zaev camp alleged was behind both the wiretapping affair and sundry crime and corruption. We are not aware of any claim from Mijalkov, as to whether he did or not meet the Priebe team. In any case, whether or not they did meet Mijalkov, it is inexplicable why the team would have avoided this major figure until their report was essentially finished, given his central role in every aspect of the case. It reaffirms the general unserious nature of the EU’s intervention.

Source Issues and Political Influence

Whether or not they actually met Mijalkov, the Priebe Team certainly did not meet Zaev’s other alleged partner in crime, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. This was because of a procedural decision, however.

“We were keen to avoid seeming political, since it was purely technical work in a very sensitive technical level,” a senior team member told Balkanalysis.com. “We didn’t ask to see the prime minister because we did not want to involve politicians.”

However, the policy applied strictly to party leaders: the team was happy to meet deputy leaders. In May 2016, the The Hahn Cabinet told us that a meeting took place with “a representative of the political party which had come into possession of, and was publishing, the intercepted conversations.”

As was confirmed for us in discussions with a senior team member in December 2015, that politician was indeed Radmila Sekerinska, the SDSM Vice-President and a former protégé of deposed SDSM chief Branko Crvenkovski. Sekerinska has been the real leader of SDSM behind the scenes, with Zaev a mere figurehead. Literally everyone in Macedonia knows this.

Unfortunately for the Priebe Team’s credibility, they knew this too. As a senior team member admitted for us in December, “I knew quite well” that Sekerinska was the real SDSM leader at the time of their activities in Macedonia. Thus while the team but a ban on meeting party presidents as a policy, they were happy to meet a deputy president who they knew all the while to be the real leader.

In fact, the team member recalled that Sekerinska had been the “opposite number” of team leader Reinhard Priebe, when he had worked on Balkan issues for the EC from 2001-2006. As such, they had already enjoyed a “good working relationship” many years ago, this official states.

Macedonian media have long speculated about the extent of Sekerinska’s role in influencing the Priebe Report. This new inside testimony for Balkanalysis.com is the first solid indication that these suspicions may have some validity.

In reconstructing the period, our estimate is therefore that two people had an inordinate influence on directing the schedules, interview subjects and orientation of the Priebe Team: Aivo Orav, the Delegation chief who we believe to have been under heavy blackmail at the time; and Radmila Sekerinska, the shadow president of the party making the allegations. If this assessment is correct, the Priebe Report – and subsequent EU reform efforts – would have to be re-examined.

An Unprecedented Order: Take Away the Toys

Yet there are still aspects of the Priebe team’s views that are even more troubling than source issues, linguistic register or political influence. Their most radical suggestion – not previously made by the EU – was the recommendation/order that the UBK be forced to give its SIGINT machinery to the telecom providers. (Try telling that to the NSA). While the team strongly believes that the current set-up is contrary to EU practice, the 2010 leaked EU document we provided in the previous article only noted that it was a different, perhaps unusual practice. But it not suggest drastic measures.

The exact text of the Priebe report reads:

“The UBK should have no direct access to the technical equipment allowing mirroring of the communication signal. The proprietary switches should be moved to the premises of the telecommunication providers. The providers should activate and divert signals to the competent law enforcement agencies (Police, Customs Administration and Financial Police) or the security agencies (the Security and Counterintelligence Service (UBK), the Intelligence Agency, and the Ministry of Defence’s military security and intelligence service) only upon receipt of the relevant court order, and only for the purposes of lawful interceptions. Under no circumstances should the UBK have the practical capability to capture communications directly.”

The team arrived at this edict from a number of perspectives, ranging from common practice in EU states to human rights and the rights of other intelligence bodies. But what they fundamentally failed to understand – because they deliberately did not investigate the provenance issue – is that misuse of this machinery was not due to the UBK as an institution. And it was due not a lack of parliamentary oversight, but a lack of internal oversight; without going into further details, it was specifically a human resources problem that created the conditions for illegal wiretaps to be made.

The Priebe Team was not interested in this. We pointed out that returning the equipment to the telecom providers would specifically mean returning to the set-up when Deutsche Telecom held a business and security monopoly in Macedonia.

A team member acknowledged for Balkanalysis.com that they did in fact understand this reality. “Obviously, we were well aware of the ‘dimension’ of recommendation,” he stated. “I would not contest this [UBK hosting of equipment] in a normally functioning state, with rule of law and parliamentary oversight in place, but that is not the case in Macedonia… It is quite a far-reaching recommendation, but under the circumstances, the combination of the parliamentary oversight committee not functioning and so on, that triggered the recommendation.”

In other words, the ‘expert team’ proposal is based on a subjective perception of Macedonia, at a particular moment in time, and not on a law. And we have shown above that this perception was based on numerous factors leading to an incomplete and often subjective result.

“That Does Not Impress Me”

To date, the UBK has chosen not to follow the ‘divestment’ order. As an example of how SIGINT access is indispensable to modern anti-terrorism operations, we brought up the Kumanovo operation last May, in which a coordinated terrorist plot was only foiled because of the police’s existing SIGINT capacities. In fact, according to intelligence available to Balkanalysis.com, SIGINT played the key role in identifying the plotters, who had planned to cause mass casualties in several Macedonian cities.

At this point, it is worth recalling the testimony of a veteran Macedonian intelligence official we noted in the third article of this series. He had said that in the days of Telecom’s monopoly, when there was no direct data access, it could take weeks or months for a tap request to be fulfilled. Had that structure been operational last year, thousands may have been killed.

“That does not impress me,” one senior Priebe Team member stated for Balkanalysis.com, in consideration of the Kumanovo operation. “Any intelligence service will tell you that the more direct data they have, the better. I don’t agree.”

The reader can make his own conclusions.

Does Macedonia Even Need an Intelligence Service?

Finally, we must note that the Priebe Team’s lack of understanding goes beyond technocratic opinions such as the above ones. With the exception of Inspector Varanese, it is not clear that the team had any real understanding of Macedonia’s actual importance in European security – let alone its responsibilities for its own citizens – despite the objective reality of terrorism plots, organized crime concerns, and being on the direct route of Europe’s worse migration crisis in modern history.

Indeed, as one senior member mused in a December 2015 discussion with Balkanalysis.com, “Macedonia is such a small country- why should it even need an intelligence service?”

Such an opinion would automatically disqualify anyone from participation in a serious job- except, of course, for the EU.

There is really nothing left to say.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 3: The Priebe Report in Context

By Chris Deliso

The reasons why the Hahn Commission perceived the Macedonian crisis as specifically a “rule-of-law” issue were discussed in this series’ previous article. The present analysis reveals that, far from a sudden change of policy, this technocratic perception existed since 2010, and was influenced by both EU legal norms and anti-government lobbying that created a chronic groupthink in Brussels.

The EU’s intervention from 2010 was driven by reaction to key legislation on interception of communications. This legislation itself followed the government’s procurement and use of Israeli-made SIGINT equipment- a system that was later compromised internally, leading to the bogus ‘wiretap affair’ that would be used to destroy state institutions in 2015-16.

In addition to the divergent interests of other players, the Zaev affair gave the EU an excuse to demand that Macedonia’s security architecture be radically reconfigured- though this conclusion had not been made in original 2010 analysis by the EU, and though it risks returning state security to the previous era, when the Deutsche Telecom monopoly was the country’s essential SIGINT gatekeeper.

The present analysis will document the development of this EU process, revealing how it led directly to the ill-conceived 2015 expedition of ‘experts’ discussed in the next part of this series.

The SIGINT Apple of Enmity

It is not clear when the Gruevski government, first elected in 2006, initially considered a SIGINT upgrade, but with its 2008 re-election the interior ministry received a large financial boost; this was criticized in summer 2008 by some diplomats, opposition, and ‘civil society’ groups. The Israeli-made communications interception equipment was purchased without tender, which is legally permissible for state investments where state secrets were involved.

Balkanalysis.com preserves the historical record, as we specifically raised the issue in an interview with then-Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska, on April 2, 2009. Before recounting several successful high-profile counter-terrorism and organized crime cases undertaken by the MOI, Jankulovska noted that before her tenure, “the police were working in the same old ways, with the same old equipment, and getting the same results. In the 21st century, it’s impossible to fight today’s sophisticated forms of crime with 20-year-old equipment.”

She was referring to outdated analog equipment being used then by both the ministry and Telecom. Interestingly, the interview also recalls that by summer 2008 the opposition SDSM’s talking points, shared with local diplomats and Brussels officials, already were warning that the government sought to create a ‘police state.’ This contention would deeply infect the discourse and SDSM/civil society public relations with Brussels since then.

For the sake of inclusiveness of views, we raised this concern in 2009. Minister Jankulovska replied that “believe me, the police has more than enough work to do fighting the existing criminal and security threats- we have neither the time nor intention to deal with anything else.”

This context is essential because it helps explain why the EU (and Western media) so eagerly and credulously lapped up Zoran Zaev’s February 2015 “government wiretapping” allegations. The psychological conditioning had been going on for years, as the historical record and personal experience prove; all that anti-government forces needed was a convenient excuse.

Macedonian SIGINT as a Threat to the Balance of Regional Power

However, there is more to the story than simple animosity towards a particular government or party. The greater danger for Western powers was that improved security capacities would give Macedonia too much independence. Macedonian modernization also threatened to upset the carefully-maintained balance of regional (in)stability and intelligence capacities. The fact that Macedonian had purchased the gear from Israel, neither a NATO nor EU member, did not go unnoticed either by EU governments or the corporate lobbyists that control them.

In any country, SIGINT equipment fascinates the public. Deeper than that, Macedonia’s new acquisition actually caused serious concerns within rival intelligence agencies. For example, it reduced the BND’s competitive advantage, as the local Deutsche Telecom investment had, as said, served as gatekeeper. Aside from giving the Germans what they wanted, the set-up severely hampered Macedonian investigative capacities.

“It was very frustrating,” recalls one senior Macedonian intelligence official active during the period for Balkanalysis.com. “Even after the prosecutor’s office gave us permission [to request wiretaps], it might be weeks or months before the operator would cooperate. So the intelligence was not any longer useful in many cases after such a delay.”

The Germans were not the only losers. Macedonian law enforcement was becoming too successful; a long period of peace, stability and prosperity would reduce the capacity of foreign powers to influence government towards pre-determined policies. It was a very frustrating time for foreign operators as several violent disruption plots were destroyed in pre-planning phases.

However, rather than kill the system that was causing such irritation, some clever major players decided to just take it over, to use local assets to compromise the system from within. Balkanalysis.com is aware of the identity of these people and the approximate date when the operation began, though there are still some grey areas. It is also possible that the foreign operators lost control over their local assets after a certain point; what is sure is that it will take more time and context to tell the whole story.

Having a local asset inside a SIGINT system is also useful in that the content it provides is from a ‘unique’ and unrelated source. Thus while big entities like NSA or GCHQ can and do tap everything on earth, their own primary data does not ‘exist’ as far as the public is concerned; therefore, to ensure ‘plausible deniability,’ it is helpful for big players to have local protégés working from their own systems. Thus even if the data is identical, there is a layer of separation between two simultaneous operations, meaning that only the local one need ever be referenced or identified for media or political i/ops. This is probably what happened in Macedonia.

EU Orientation

For its part, while influenced by member states and specific diplomats, the EU was, as usual, living in its own rarified universe. It sought to do what it does best and regulate, criticize, and parse legal terms in regular meetings with officials and on annual progress reports.

Such reports are informed by data from Delegation offices (such as monthly Pre-Accession Reports) and Brussels desk analysts. When compiling the annual progress reports for candidate countries, they go down a well-defined set of categories and insert their interpretation of reality. This comes from both original research and political lobbying; in Macedonia’s case, owing to the name issue, Greek Commission officials are always vigilant to police the wording of every text involving the country and can introduce their own particular scrutiny, which often causes internal discord.

Explaining the EU’s “Rule-of-Law Issue” Perception: the Importance of Section 4.24

The fact that the 2015 Expert Team’s focus on rule-on-law issues was decided before, and not after, the team had even begun its investigations does not primarily reflect the EU’s historic disdain for the Gruevski government. It was simply easier for the bureaucracy to categorize the issue. Zaev’s allegations made the report content fit comfortably within a specific section of reports on candidate countries- Section 4.24.

As discussed by the CEP here, Chapter 24 of the EU acquis tracks applicant countries’ progress on issues involving Justice, Freedom and Security.  A careful comparison of the relevant sections of each annual progress report from 2009-2014 indicates that the EU did not get antagonistic until October 2010- in part, influenced by an internal document from that June, which we will reveal for the first time. The two major issues, then and now, have been parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services, and the legal requirements of telecom operators to provide data access to the security services.

Section 4.24 of the 2009 Progress Report on Macedonia concludes on a rather positive note that “the weaknesses in parliamentary control over the security and counter-intelligence administration have been addressed. Deficiencies in judicial control over the security and counter-intelligence administration with regard to executing the orders of the public prosecutor to monitor communications, notably concerning the location of the relevant equipment, have been addressed.”

Further, the 2009 report adds, “the Law on Monitoring of Communications is being implemented smoothly, although the relevant parliamentary committee has not been very active. Work on establishing an integrated intelligence system for inter-agency use is in progress. This should remedy the existing shortcomings in sharing intelligence and in mutual access to databases at interagency level.”

Things would seem well and good; however, 2010 saw a fundamental (and permanent) change in the EU’s approach to Macedonia on the SIGINT issue, which would eventually explode in the pages of the Priebe Report in 2015.

The change in tone is visible in Section 4.24 of the November 2010 EU Progress Report on Macedonia. “Amendments to the Law on electronic communications have been enacted, including technical provisions on the obligations of the telecommunication operators regarding the implementation of interception orders.”

However, while “the implementation of the Law on interceptions has strengthened the effectiveness of investigations,” the EU report continued, “the direct involvement of the Ministry for the Interior in authorising the use of interceptions is against EU standards. Moreover, the external [i.e., parliamentary] oversight mechanism needs to be strengthened.”

These criticisms resumed in Section 4.24 of the October 2011 EU Progress Report on Macedonia. “The direct involvement of the Minister of Interior in authorising the use of interceptions remains in place and the Law on interception of communications has yet to be amended,” stated the EU.

“Moreover the existing parliamentary oversight over the use of interception orders needs to be strengthened. The overly restrictive and centralised application of the interceptions inadequately addresses the increasing threat of organised crime.”

In the next two years, legislative challenges and amendments were noted but the criticism remains similar in the October 2013 EU Progress Report on Macedonia. It notes that while “amendments to the Law on Interception of Communications, removing the direct involvement of the Minister of Interior in authorising interceptions, entered into force,” nevertheless, “the secondary legislation regulating its enforcement in detail and safeguarding against undue influence in the execution of interception orders, remains to be adopted.”

The 2013 EU report added that “the Law on Electronic Communications still needs to be amended to take into account the Constitutional Courts annulment of certain articles which imposed overly broad obligations on operators to provide access to communications networks.”

However, in its final report before the crisis, the EU in its October 2014 progress report noted that “the Law on Electronic Communications was amended, taking into account the Constitutional Court’s 2010 annulment of certain articles relating to access to communication networks.” Yet if the EU was satisfied by legislative developments in 2014, why did the backlash months later rely on opinions from earlier years?

The 2010 EU Delegation Internal Document

The formative period of 2009-2010 for EU attitudes on SIGINT in Macedonia is attested in a document leaked to Balkanalysis.com by a European official back in 2010. Uploaded by Balkanalysis.com here, it is the May-June PAR (Pre-Accession Report) crafted by the EU Delegation in Skopje at the time. All of the persons involved in writing it at that time are listed within.

These regular PAR reports cover the specific acquis criteria in order, referring to recent developments. While the authors covered the whole range of local topics in the report, they took special interest to provide a lengthy analysis of the SIGINT issue. Their observations then directly shaped the 2010 annual report mentioned above- and the trajectory of subsequent EU intervention in 2015. Available now for the first time, this internal document might thus be the best resource for understanding the historic development of EU policy in this regard in Macedonia.

The 2010 Reaction to Amendments of the Law on Electronic Communications

The PAR report noted that parliament in June had enacted the amendments to the law on electronic communications, which had been passed in 2005. The main problem with that law, the EU report noted, was that “initially it comprised only one article referring to the obligations of the operators” in their responsibility “to provide adequate equipment and interface for the implementation of interceptions.” What the 2010 amendments did, therefore, was to clarify the operators’ role and responsibility before the state security bodies.

Interestingly, even the EU report confirms what Balkanalysis.com intelligence sources (such as the officer mentioned above) attested. “Before the enactment of these amendments MoI was confronted with some difficulties as regards the operators’ responsiveness towards the interception requests (i.e. their obligations were not clearly set up in the law and therefore there were cases when for ex. the operators sent the traffic-related data to MoI after an excessive period of time when the information became obsolete for the investigations).”

While the EU was thus indisputably aware even in 2010 of the problems faced by law enforcement, it also noted protests made by “civil society” groups claiming that the amendments would lead to what has been cheaply packaged since 2015 as a ‘police state.’

“ The provisions most contested by the civil society stipulate, among others, that the telecommunication operators are obliged to deliver traffic-related data upon request of the competent authorities in the course of pre-investigations or during criminal proceedings or when required by security and defence reasons,” the PAR report thus continued.

The Main Issue in 2010: ‘Continuous and Direct Access’

“Operators are also obliged to provide ‘continuous and direct access’ of the competent authorities to their electronic communication networks, as well as conditions for independent taking over of traffic-related data,” the report added. “The same is provided for the information on the geographical, physical and logistic location of the terminal equipment of the subscribers. Another controversial provision regards the period of time during which traffic-related data may be kept (i.e. 24 months).”

The EU report also noted that, even then, the Committee for the oversight of the use of interception of communications had “a composition dominated by the opposition parties,” which unsurprisingly “issued a negative opinion on the amendments to law.” From this comment and from personal memory, it is clear that the EU Skopje Delegation was lobbied by such opposition figures to similarly disapprove of the amendments.

Future EU reports would reveal that the ‘continuous and direct access’ clause was a major sticking point. And, while announcing the “NGO sector” would issue a challenge to the Constitutional Court, it also noted that the then-general public prosecutor, Ljupco Svrgovski, stated that with the amendments, “the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is thus put in a privileged position as the only institution which is implementing interception orders, since the public prosecutors have no technical capacity to enforce the interceptions.”

However, as the report also noted, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the MoI and the representatives of the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office for Fight against Corruption and Organised Crime “pointed out that interceptions are regulated by the law on interception of communications and that the law on electronic communications sets up simply the obligations of the operators. According to the above-mentioned authorities, the law on electronic communications does not replace or add to any provision to the law on interceptions, i.e. no interception can be carried out without court or public prosecutor order.”

In its analysis, the EU noted that “all interceptions carried out without court or public prosecutor order are illegal and cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.” This remained the essential issue in 2015 and was the reason for legal impasses regarding Zaev’s leaked material: according to both his side and the government’s, these wiretapped conversations had been created illegally. They just disagreed on who had done so.

For the EU in June 2010, “the most disputable provisions” of the amended law were “the ones according to which ‘the operators of public communication networks and public communication service providers shall be obliged to provide the competent authorities continuous and direct access to their electronic communication networks, as well as conditions for independent taking over of traffic-related data.’

The EU averred than that “the very wide and ambiguous formulation of the provisions on access to network may lead to abusive use of interceptions by the police or by the operators. This might be even more confusing since for some articles like the ones covering the data on location there is an express reference to the conditions of the law (i.e. on interception of communications) while for the article on access to network this reference is omitted.”

In its analysis, the EU continued to add that “the interception equipment is placed solely within the MoI which is the only institution that implements the interception orders,” and such enjoyed “a privileged position as opposed to other law enforcement agencies which are entitled according to the law to perform interceptions.”

These arguments were directly made, not only by successive annual reports, but by the 2015 Priebe report. However, as of June 2010, the EU report only noted this location issue as a fact, not necessarily an existential problem.

“According to the law on interception of communications, Customs Administration and Financial Police would also be entitled to implement interceptions, but they have no equipment to apply such investigative measures.” The June 2010 report assessed. “Public prosecutors do not have interception equipment at their disposal either.” Although it did not elaborate, a possible solution for this imbalance would simply be to recommend these bodies get their own equipment.

In the end, the June 2010 report concluded that the law’s “ambiguous legal wording” regarding the terms ‘continuous’ and ‘direct’ access to communication networks “may create the premise for an even more uneven distribution of powers among the law enforcement agencies as far as interceptions are concerned.”

Intriguingly, however, the Skopje Delegation did not seem particularly concerned about the actual SIGINT equipment’s use – only the legalese surrounding its use and accessability. It was other states and interests, not the EU technocrats, who considered the equipment as a threat to the balance of international power.

For example, regarding the stipulated ‘independent’ take over of traffic-related data by the MoI, the EU admitted that “even before the entry into force of this law interception of communications were being carried out by two modalities: either through the operator or through direct access of the MoI (i.e. with their own equipment) to the communication networks (the latter being most frequently used, since it is the safest to avoid any possible leak of information and since MoI is endowed with its own equipment and has staff specialised on these matters). Inious this context, ‘conditions for independent taking over of traffic-related data’ refers to this latter modality of implementing interceptions.”

The Fundamental Difference between Previous EU Policy and the Priebe Report’s Suggestions

In other words, while it did not endorse the MOI’s use of its own SIGINT equipment, the EU did not state that its existence was a problem in and of itself. While the June 2010 did predict certain possible scenarios for vulnerabilities related to legal wording and the “tensions” between law enforcement groups that might result from perceived centralization of SIGINT control, it did not suggest that the equipment itself be removed from the MOI and given to the telecom operators.

The Priebe Report, however, would demand precisely the latter: that since the ministry (and by close extension, the government) had been acting like a naughty child, its toys should be taken away.

As we will see in the next installment of this series, five years of constant opposition lobbying in Brussels would not fail to have an effect. The EU ‘experts’ who were credulous enough to take Zoran Zaev’s charges at face value simply built on the existing paperwork and came up with an arbitrary punitive measure that neither reflected the reality of the situation, nor offered a sustainable and realistic way forward for Macedonian state security.

Yet even before the team made these final sweeping recommendations in its 2015 report – which political parties have treated as some kind of indisputable, sacred book – it had had its own problematic elements. These elements, which will be examined in the following article, further call into question the objectivity and credibility of the report and everything that its findings set into motion from June 2015.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 2: Introduction to the Priebe Report

By Chris Deliso

As the foundation document upon which the July 2015 Przino Agreement was directly based, the EU Expert Team report (the Priebe Report, uploaded by Balkanalysis.com here) represents the single most important event in the 2015 Macedonia intervention.

Analyzing the report reveals (among much else) that, at its hard bureaucratic core, the EU utilizes operational capacities that create undemocratic realities; as in other cases, a small number of anonymous foreign ‘experts’ were allowed to determine the fate of an entire country.

While Macedonia’s political party leaders still pledge to implement the Priebe Report’s “reforms,” local and foreign media have not investigated the report itself- including its underlying rationale, personnel, logistics arrangements, policy priorities, technical execution- and the ramifications that its conclusions would have for Western crisis response in managing, and prolonging the crisis.

A Most Civilized Murder

The EU may be owned by corporations and guided by invisible lobbyists, but in general it is not an aggressive actor; instead, it offers death by a thousand footnotes. So while the means and methods of exacting a result may differ from those of a military intervention, the EU intervention through its Expert Team reached a similarly political result.  The beauty of the system is that those most directly involved are always hidden within the black hole of EU bureaucracy. The purpose of such methods is to limit transparency and any chance of deeper inquiries.

Therefore, given the Priebe Report’s historic significance for Macedonia and foreign involvement there, Balkanalysis.com has conducted the first such analysis. Our 10-month investigation is based on official EU Skopje Delegation interviews, leaked documents, and written testimony from the Hahn Cabinet, as well as interviews with high-level Expert Team members, EU diplomats, European security and intelligence officials and other informed sources. This multi-part investigation will examine, with minute precision, the facts about EU involvement in Macedonia through its team of experts and their influential report.

Our series will thus hopefully be useful for anyone seeking to understand the trajectory of events in Macedonia since late January 2015.

A Problem of Timing

It is debatable whether the Macedonian crisis began on April 27, 2014 (when SDSM leader Zoran Zaev refused to accept the election results), or on January 23, 2015 (when former SDSM-era counterintelligence chief Zoran Verusevski was arrested), or on January 31, 2015 (when PM Nikola Gruevski addressed the nation to announce the blackmail scenario and coup that the two had allegedly planned).

However, the Priebe Report cites none of these. Like the very effective foreign media coverage in following months, it settled on February 9, 2015- the date when Zaev started releasing what the report describes as “a large number of illegally intercepted communications.”

Obviously, the European Commission, intelligence services and diplomatic missions involved with Macedonia had been watching the situation carefully since the April elections. However, the EU’s slow reacted to events indicates that it was surprised by the Verusevski arrest- one of the many tactical failures that have characterized the period of The Great Unraveling, in which the locals have always been one step ahead of the foreigners.

The Fog of War: Timing and Deployment

For a truly comprehensive analysis of the EU reaction and decision to deploy an Expert Team, it would be necessary to know precisely when and how the EU first reacted. However, the Hahn Cabinet did not respond to our requests for clarification.

Balkanalysis.com did however interview other Expert Team members, including a very senior member of the group, in December 2015 in person and by phone in April 2016. This individual, who supplied a wealth of otherwise unknown inside details, did not “remember the exact date” when the Commission first reacted to the crisis, nor when it decided specific policy actions. The group was created, he recalls, “in March [2015] to support the Commission’s work and to advise it.” Nevertheless, the team member concedes, it is possible that “plans for such a group and discussions with FYROM authorities might have [begun] earlier.” Again due to the non-cooperation of the Hahn Cabinet, we could not clarify these dates further.

Interestingly, this key source specified that the early intercession of three MEPS (Richard Howitt from Britain, Eduard Kukan from Slovakia and Ivo Vajgl from Slovenia) was “quite useful. It gave political weight in the European Parliament and Commission to the idea that, since technical issues were involved related to rule of law, technical experts were needed to provide concrete advice.”

Nevertheless, EU experts were not deployed until late April, by which time the already fluid operative conditions were very different. SDSM’s ‘bombs’ campaign was ongoing, while the majority of the public was amused or infuriated by Zaev’s behavior. Unknown to many, a terrorist plot directed from Kosovo was in formation, and opposition protest activity was visible.

Most importantly, the prosecutor’s office was also getting dangerously close to unraveling the whole network behind the failed coup. Although Verusevski was still in jail, Zaev had never been arrested (merely, his passport was taken). Things were becoming, as the EU noted, “urgent.” But for whom?

When asked about the perceived delay in taking action, the senior expert told us that “I do not think it took the Commission an unusually long time to enable us to go on our first mission to Skopje. The team had to be composed, people needed to be available, and some preparation work needed to be done in advance of the first meeting.”

Key Dates

According to the official report, the Priebe Team made only three trips to Macedonia: 20-22 April; 3-5 May, and 17-20 May. The fluidity of events also ensured that these visits coincided with different political and security circumstances as the overall drama unfolded.

The report was published finally on June 8, 2015. While the caveat was made that it represented the views of the (unnamed) authors, and not necessarily represent those of the Commission, the latter took every recommendation on board when Delegation leader Aivo Orav and the Commission negotiated with the four political parties (VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, DUI and DPA) to reach the July 15, 2015 Przino Agreement.

Therefore, the Priebe Report is the founding document of the politically-negotiated settlement. And it has had serious ramifications for Macedonian politics and security, which include the creation of a parallel justice system (the Special Prosecutor’s Office, founded in fall 2015), and recommendations that, if followed, will severely impair national and international security.

Most recently, the Enlargement Committee indirectly referred to the Priebe Report at the June 15, 2016 Stabilisation and Association Committee meeting between Macedonia and the EU (led by David Cullen from the Hahn Cabinet). According to an official press release, the meeting discussed “the importance of the implementation of the Przino agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities, without any further delay and in an inclusive manner, in order to return the country to an EU path.”

The so-called “Urgent Reform Priorities” refer to the findings of the Priebe Report, that were formally adopted in June by the Commission.

The History of Hahn’s First Decision: a “Two-Track” Approach Dependent on a Rule-of-Law Perception

According to background information sent to Balkanalysis.com from the Hahn Cabinet on May 20, 2016, the Commission decided from the beginning to take a “two-track approach to “the wiretap scandal.” This confirms that thinking in Brussels has never changed- their overall engagement was triggered following Zaev’s activities starting February 9, 2015. For them (and much of the media) that day constitutes the beginning of history regarding the Macedonian crisis. This is a false assumption, but one that is extremely significant, as we will see.

Our fully-documented timeline of official correspondence with the Hahn Cabinet and EU Delegation in Skopje was discussed in the first part of this series. As was true with our requests there, Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič has failed to reply to key follow-up questions.

For instance, it is unclear who proposed, and when, the EU’s chosen policy path. The Hahn Cabinet told us that the “envisioned” ‘Track One’ involved political facilitation of “that crisis” by Commissioner Hahn. This process, it was noted, was at an (unstated) later date supported by the above-mentioned MEPs. This, according to the Cabinet, resulted in the Przino Agreement of July 2015.

Interestingly, considering the heavy overlap between the Priebe Report and the final Przino Agreement, the Cabinet continues to regard the second, “Track two” as somehow separate from the first. According to the Cabinet, this involved “sending a team of senior rule of law experts to examine, and make recommendations on, the serious systemic rule of law issues which were revealed or confirmed as a result of the publication of the illegal interception of communications (wiretaps) over preceding years.”

It is therefore clear that the Hahn Cabinet from the beginning understood the crisis as a rule-of-law issue, rather than a counter-intelligence failure, human resources problem, or even just a good old-fashioned mystery. The Commission’s perception, therefore, led the EU to a tacit endorsement of SDSM’s charges. The entire Priebe Report investigation would follow this trajectory- and not only due to EU preferences, but also due to several cover-ups that can be discussed later in the series.

Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič has failed to reply to our query regarding whether the “two-track” approach was decided simultaneously from the beginning, or if the second came after the first at some later point. She has also failed to clarify whether the whole policy came from Hahn’s own brain or was a result of collective musings with others. These could quite conceivably have included Federica Mogherini, the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Commissioner, and Dimitris Avramopoulos and his Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commission. Both of these have powerful anti-Macedonian lobbyists within, and the competencies of both involved all of Macedonia’s converging issues of 2015, including the migrant crisis.

The Fatal Decision: Content over Provenance

The EU’s original perception that Macedonia’s ‘crisis’ was a rule-of-law issue rather than literally anything else has had serious ramifications for the trajectory of all crisis diplomacy. It has forced the EU and its Western cohorts to impose locally unpopular measures that have significantly damaged the credibility of these powers among the majority of Macedonians.

This is forcing some very frustrated foreigners to support increasingly violent protest actors, while enforcing political stagnation. Since summer is coming, there will be a two-month lull during which time the various sides will reappraise their strategies for fall. The tragedy is that all of this could have been handled differently and resolved from the beginning, though – for reasons only partly involving EU preferences – it wasn’t.

Rather, the fundamental preliminary question should have been this: whether to investigate where Zaev’s SIGINT material came from, how it was acquired and for what purpose (provenance), or what this material comprised (content assessment). There is no evidence to suggest that anyone in the EU ever seriously pondered this difference.

Johannes Hahn, the MEPs, and all the experts they assembled preferred the latter option, despite seriously problematic aspects including claims of content tampering (a technical issue) and active lobbying of a credulous EU by opposition leaders (a political one). A Dutch diplomat recently reaffirmed this for us, stating that the West perceived the crisis as “a clear rule-of-law issue” in a country where allegedly “a small group of leaders want to control everything.” Two months ago, a Greek diplomat in Skopje echoed this sentiment in comments for Balkanalysis.com.

New intelligence also indicates that several prominent Western embassies have, throughout the crisis, been coordinating their situation reports sent to their foreign ministries, so that any cross-checks between superiors of their various countries will not reveal any differences. Thus continues the echo chamber phenomenon concerning Western perceptions of Macedonia.

Observing the unfolding crisis from close-up on a daily basis, it was very clear that not only local opposition politicians, but Western diplomats in Skopje as well, were lobbying the EU to treat the whole affair as a rule-of-law issue in which the Gruevski government was the culprit.

And yet, incredibly, none of these people – not the diplomats, the technocrats, nor the media – ever stopped to ask the obvious question: why would the government make self-incriminating wiretaps of its own leaders?

Nevertheless, the foreign media and diplomats eagerly lapped up and repeated the Zaev allegation that “20,000 persons” in Macedonia had been wiretapped by “the regime,” without any critical inquiry into the veracity of the claim. And, despite the government’s insistence that the taped material had been manipulated, the EU decided that this was not relevant.

In short, the EU was (and is) not interested in discovering truth; rather, it saw the crisis as an opportunity to exert its political will, and thus to achieve a ‘result.’ The excuse provided at the time – and now – by the EU is that the prosecution would investigate any provenance-related issues, while the EU would research the content-related issues.

With an almost touching naiveté regarding the EU’s good intentions, Nikola Gruevski accepted the deployment of the EU’s Expert Team. Unless he should pen a tell-all memoir someday, we will never know what pressure he was put under to accept this team, or why he reneged on his early promise to the public, to reveal the foreign intelligence operators behind the coup attempt.

But one thing is clear: the moment when the government accepted the EU’s deployment, Macedonia relinquished its sovereignty, perhaps forever.

Whether or not the country ever implements the so-called “urgent reform priorities” dictated by the Priebe Report and the following Przino Agreement, both are deeply flawed and deserve intense scrutiny. It is unlikely that they will lead to truth, justice- and hardly the much-needed process of reconciliation. We will explore the reasons for this assessment when The Great Unraveling series continues tomorrow.

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 1: Assessing EU Behavior

By Chris Deliso

-The work of independent media is crucial for good governance and a properly functioning democracy. Johannes Hahn, EU Enlargement Commissioner

-Fuck the EU. Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State

Although the EU has been heavily invested in negotiating Macedonia’s so-called ‘political crisis,’ it has been relatively ineffective. The bloc’s failure has frustrated Washington and Berlin, which in mid-May appointed its own special envoy, Ambassador to Austria Johannes Haindl. Despite statements to the contrary, this decision indicated the EU is perceived as having failed.

Introduction to the Latest Failure

Some might say that EU intervention since February 2015 has failed because of diplomatic arrogance, poor analysis, lack of predictive capabilities, and an inability to understand local realities, including cultural and behavioral differences and political preferences. All of these factors are to some extent correct.

The EU’s bureaucratic character is another major factor in the Macedonian malfunction. As the (overt) lead actor, it has reacted unsurprisingly: by crafting expert reports, demanding urgent reforms, throwing around money, and making incongruously idealistic affirmations. The essential predictability, inflexibility and non-accountability of Brussels diplomacy have allowed local and foreign actors to influence and manipulate EU decision-making and operations.

Perception and Reality in the Macedonian Pressure Chamber

While EU representatives have talked tough since February 2015 in public, behind the scenes they have felt threatened, frustrated and even terrified by events that constitute a crisis for them more than for most locals. As such, the crisis has shown how easily EU bureaucracy and operations can be paralyzed. This exposes the key vulnerability of a bloc aspiring to be a global player.

Numerous informed sources attest that EU officials in Skopje and Brussels have been pressured heavily by member states, intelligence agencies, political parties and ideological activists. Within the Skopje Delegation itself, some 40 of a total 70 staff are local, allowing rich possibilities for foreign and local infiltration. In a country built on rumors, the EU is the leakiest vessel in the harbor.

As such, in Macedonia perception is often treated more seriously than reality, and it actually influences official behavior and decisions. Thus, since fall 2014, even before the crisis began, scandals and perceived scandals associated with European involvement have severely limited the capabilities of Johannes Hahn’s Enlargement Commission and the Skopje EU Delegation, led (for a little while longer) by Aivo Orav. These men have been forced to cover for other people’s problems, while other dueling interests also brought them personally into the crisis as time passed, chronically paralyzing the EU’s communications systems.

Indeed, Macedonia will not be an enviable assignment for the man tipped to replace Orav in August, Samuel Zbogar, with whom we discussed local realities earlier this month. Good luck to him.

A Note Regarding EU Influence on Our Publication Timing

Our current series would have appeared in some form long ago, had it not been for chronic poor cooperation from the EU in Skopje, and to a lesser extent the Hahn cabinet in Brussels. By virtue of this inaction, the EU has both worked against media freedom and reaffirmed the delusional paranoia its representatives have exhibited throughout the crisis.

The current introductory analysis, therefore, chronicles EU communications paralysis during the crisis. This factual context is critical to understanding our coverage of the EU’s Macedonian misadventure since February 2015, which we will analyze in depth throughout this series.

Critical Players and Critical Restrictions

During the crisis, EU and US diplomats have been united when dealing with local politicians and media. The more interventionist-minded European powers, special envoys, and dangerously incompetent supranational organizations like the OSCE have also gotten involved. All of these have been long penetrated by local and foreign political and intelligence interests, which have acted as subterranean drivers of the crisis.

“[Avoiding this penetration risk] is probably why Russian embassies, unlike us, generally do not hire local staff,” a representative of the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security told Balkanalysis.com last summer during a special visit to Skopje. It was a logical point. Speaking highly of the Bureau, one retired US diplomat tells us that “they are the cops. They are the investigators.” It is unclear whether the EU, as a 28-nation bloc, can utilize a similarly robust and unified internal investigations mechanism, but certainly due to its multinational construction, the EU is more prone to failures with disastrous results, as this week’s coverage will show.

Both on the surface and beneath it, Commissioner Hahn and Ambassador Orav have been criticized relentlessly and often unfairly by all sides (even ‘friendly’ ones). For example, on 8 June 2015, at a key period in crisis diplomacy efforts, Hahn was criticized in an EU Observer article penned by Nikola Dimitrov (a former Macedonian diplomat) and Erwan Fouere (Orav’s direct predecessor as EU Delegation chief in Skopje).

Fouere’s preference for the leftist opposition SDSM was always clear. In the years preceding the crisis, his statements and actions contributed to negative perceptions of the EU in a fairly conservative country. Indeed, the significance of Western diplomatic attitudes between 2009 and 2012 in alienating the public cannot be overstated when trying to understand the crisis. What the EU somehow still does not seem to understand is that for the past decade, its chief representatives have been perceived as politically subjective and out of touch with local values. As such, the EU’s own diplomatic behavior locally has killed its credibility as an overall institution for many Macedonians. Its handling of the crisis has only confirmed pre-existing suspicions.

But Hahn and Orav have at least tried to remain objective, unlike their recruited random Belgian, Peter Vanhoutte, who enjoyed a nebulous but well-paying role as EU mediator. Vanhoutte never hid his personal preference for the SDSM over conservative rival VMRO-DPMNE, and his perceived subjectivity further increased anti-EU sentiment domestically.

Indeed, Vanhoutte’s approach antagonized VMRO-DPMNE so much that it ultimately chose to stop working with him, on 21 February 2016. The party announced that from then on, he would be “no more than a tourist” to it because of his insulting attitude towards party negotiators and his tendency “to belittle the people and the Republic of Macedonia.” The Belgian became briefly semi-famous for his mocking cat memes on Twitter. Such behavior reinforced public opinion that the EU was an arrogant and disrespectful player whose diplomatic overtures were not to be taken seriously.

Currently, sources close to Hahn attest that he has become frustrated with Macedonia, and would prefer the whole situation disappear. Meanwhile, Orav, who had until recently been seen regularly at press briefings with American counterpart Jess Baily, has all but vanished. We will discuss the reasons for this later on in the series.

EU Self-Defense Mechanism 1: Funding Friends and Extremists

The EU talks a lot about the need for greater media freedom, transparency and access to information in Macedonia. Yet it itself does precisely the opposite. The bloc excels at covering its vulnerabilities in several ways.

The first is perpetuating cash-and-access patronage networks, in which EU (and member-state and other) funded media and NGOs enjoy access to high officials and institutions. In a sympathetic March 2010 feature on Hahn, Politico noted his instinct even then for solving problems with money. “Hahn intends to continue the new practice of making funds available to regions in every EU state. Questionable as this may be from an economic perspective, it could prove politically shrewd. As one lobbyist says, ‘If money is available to everyone, nobody is going to protest,’” stated the article.

Of course, the cash-and-access scheme was firmly in place in Macedonia long before Hahn became Enlargement Commissioner in 2014. And these tactics are of course used by sundry governments and interests around the world. In the Balkans, the patronage network system guarantees that those who enjoy EU (and other foreign) largesse will stand by their patrons, perpetuating the fatal illusion that the majority of local people also support the EU’s policies and approach.

The patronage scheme has also sustained parallel networks in the Balkans, often through ‘civil society’ groups connected with political parties. Such groups can be mobilized for (sometimes, violent) policy purposes, as has occurred with the latest artificial Macedonian protest movement (the so-called ‘Colorful Revolution’). The EU is hardly the only supporter of the movement, which has become the sharp end of the spear in a quixotic and violent campaign to impose foreign political goals.

However, Macedonians know that such protest movements are not endemic, and would simply evaporate without foreign funds. The EU’s failure to criticize recent destructive behavior, damage to public property, violence against police and even protesters blocking people from getting to the hospital has only increased the majority perception that the EU is acting against state (and basic human) interests.

Yet this patronage scheme has actually harmed EU reform goals over time in other ways. Over the past decade, the scheme has sustained a perverse symbiotic relationship, in which the continued popularity of what civil society activists condemn as a ‘totalitarian’ and ‘fascist regime’ perpetuates their own funding cycles and overall raison d’être. The self-imposed exile into civil society of intelligent, liberal-minded young people has actually contributed directly to the lack of qualified personnel in the opposition ranks. “I know Macedonia needs a strong opposition,” then-Prime Minister Gruevski admitted a few years back, according to one former US diplomat in Macedonia. “But I can’t make them improve themselves.”

EU Self-Defense Mechanism 2: Evade, Avoid, Escape

Like most diplomats, EU personnel may make decisions based on their own expected duration in a country or on a project. In controversial situations, such as in Macedonia recently, their choices are thus conditioned by temporal expectations as well as by any engagement’s perceived rate of risk. Our experience illustrates precisely how the EU’s evade and avoid, escape defense mechanism works in practice.

As stated, the EU in Skopje and in Brussels have been largely uncooperative with our information requests throughout the crisis. This has impacted in two ways: first, it has proven detrimental to EU interests and increased their paranoia levels; second, it has significantly slowed down our research. By deliberately avoiding transparency, the EU has actually made a bad situation much worse.

EU Media Engagement during the Macedonian: The Two Media Policies in Action

As said, our research has been affected by official EU communications failure. Our timeline of crisis-period communications is as follows.

In a group email to journalists of 19 June 2015, Aivo Orav wrote: “please let me sincerely apologise for being late at yesterday’s ceremony for awarding the EU Investigative Journalism Award… without trying to make any excuses and explanations, I would simply like to apologise and promise that we will do our best to avoid similar situations happening again.”

Assuming that such statements indicated Mr Orav’s eagerness to assist media, we wrote to a Skopje Delegation spokesman on June 28, 2015 to ask for further information regarding the EU’s (then recent) Expert Team and general activity in the crisis. There was no reply.

On July 15, 2015 we wrote directly to Orav, noting that we had sent “two messages to the responsible spokespersons in the EU mission and EEAS mission in Skopje, but not heard back, unfortunately.” Again, there was no reply. Then, on 20 July, a spokesman simply wrote: “please note that the ambassador will not be giving interviews in the next period.” However, over the “next period,” Orav was constantly active in public life; it appears the EU has different policies for different media.

In fairness, there was some internal confusion over when Orav would actually leave; several diplomatic sources state that it depended partly on the crisis resolution, which has proven slower than expected. This still does not explain the Delegation’s lack of cooperation, however.

We tried writing the Delegation again on May 5, 2016. Finally, a meeting was planned for 13 May. However, Orav managed to escape at the last minute, as a meeting with the incoming German special envoy was more pressing. After another request, on May 16 a spokesman replied: “I have alerted the ambassador twice about the need to meet with you. Believe me, we are doing our best to get to him. I have asked his secretary to contact you directly as soon as she has a reply.” Of course, there was no reply. We again requested meetings in writing on May 20 and May 28.

While Orav has not cooperated with our media requests over almost an entire year, he nevertheless has managed to find time to make public addresses for the cash-and-access crowd. Of course, he is just doing the job that Commissioner Hahn and his predecessors have ordered.

For example, on December 14, 2015, Orav spoke at a Skopje event for the 2015 Jean Monnet Prize for journalism. Four days later, he spoke at an event for the “further development and financial sustainability of the civil society,” according to a press release. This was to inaugurate the next generation of multi-million euro grants for Western parallel networks in Macedonia.

Then, on April 7, 2016, Orav addressed the follow-up of the Speak Up conference. At the event, “recently started EU-funded projects supporting freedom of expression and freedom of media” would, according to a press release, “be officially promoted.” Then, on 5 May, Orav addressed the “official launch of EU-funded project ‘Network of journalists for press freedom.’” Most recently, on May 27, Orav spoke at the “EU Investigative Journalism Award”, an activity launched by the Enlargement Commission.

This final award has a clear policy objective, as a press release revealed. “The EU award regional scheme for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey is established by the European Commission, DG Enlargement, following the EU Enlargement strategy which recognizes strong need for ensuring freedom of expression in the media, and for support to investigative journalism to monitor the reform processes and to keep the historical momentum toward the EU accession. The EU award for investigative journalism was established in 2015 and will be given each year in the period of three years.”

The political preferences of the EU cash-and-access schemes for media were clearly attested in another contemporaneous press release. It announced that from January 2016 through January 2019, the generally pro-SDSM Association of Journalists (ZNM) “will implement the project ‘Network of Journalists for press freedom’ funded by the European Union with almost 200,000 EUR. The objective of the project is to foster the development of a favorable environment for the rights of journalists and to improve the reporting of journalists according to professional and ethical standards. The Association of Journalists also participates in one of the EU-regional projects “Western Balkan`s Regional Platform for advocating media freedom and journalists` safety“, budgeted with almost 1.2 million EUR.”

According to the EU, “the objective of this action is the establishment of a regional Early Warning and Prevention System Network as a mechanism of joint advocacy for implementation of EU standards in the field of media and prevention of malpractice, through capacity building, networking and exchange of knowledge between six regional journalists’ associations.” All in all, EU support for so-called “media reforms” equals 2.7 million EUR.

ZNM’s domestic rival, the Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAN) is viewed negatively by the EU, as being ‘pro-VMRO.’ The purpose of the funding and preferences is – as clearly stated – network development for ideologies in line with the EU’s regional agenda- ideologies which however are not shared by large majorities of local populations. Therefore, while EU largesse has made a small group of people very rich, it has failed to change the worldviews of the affected countries.

To mark the occasion on 27 May, an official Commission press release provided the following uproarious comment from Hahn himself: “the work of independent media is crucial for good governance and a properly functioning democracy. The EU awards for investigative journalism reflect the priority we give to freedom of expression and media in the enlargement process.”

A Cabinet Engagement

Given Aivo Orav’s incredible disappearing act, we decided to directly contact the Hahn Cabinet’s communications people, on 5 May 2016. After some discussions, we received written answers on 20 May, which were indeed informative and will be noted later in this series. However, on the same day we replied that key questions had not been clarified. After some back-and-forth, we were reminded that “only the spokespersons are entitled to give “on the record” statements on behalf of the Commission.”

Thus on 3 June we contacted Maja Kocijančič, the Cabinet’s spokeswoman, and Commissioner Hahn himself, once again extending the invitation to discuss the issues personally with Orav. She replied, “send us your questions and we will do our best to get the replaces [sic] to you ASAP.” We therefore sent what was described as a ‘first round’ of questions on 6 June, but received no reply. On 11 June, we informed the two that they had still two days to come up with some responses before publication. Thus after waiting for eight days without a reply, we have arrived at today’s (long-delayed) initial publication.

Critics of the EU often note its bloated bureaucracy in the context of wasted money. But this structure also plays a critical role as a self-defensive mechanisms. Commissions hire so many random ‘communications experts’ in part to shield the Commissioner to the greatest extent possible from having to engage with the public. In the end, 28 unelected civil servants can enjoy being treated as heads of state (and tend to regard themselves thus), despite having no such rank or function.

A Curious Silence

It would be hard to believe that Johannes Hahn was not made aware of our request for more information about the EU role in Macedonia’s crisis last summer. In the improbable case that he was somehow not informed then, there is no question that he was informed in early May 2016, as we wrote him directly.

Fortunately, throughout the crisis Balkanalysis.com has been able to speak with many other people, including some who have been at the very heart of the EU’s engagement, as this series will show. So in the end, the reticence of the EU Delegation and Commission to speak has been self-defeating. It only further cements their legacy as failed institutions in the Macedonian crisis.

Unanswered Questions Regarding Media Requests to the EU

The failure of Kocijančič and Hahn to answer, for eight days now, specific follow-up questions indicates that our research has hit a nerve in the EU apparatus. Perhaps some of the relevant themes will be reconsidered later on this series, whether or not they have received official clarification. As for the current article, the most significant (and probably related) unanswered questions left regard the EU’s lack of cooperation since July 2015.

For example, when presented with the representative communications events in the above-stated timeline, Kocijančič did not respond when asked whether the Commission had ordered Orav not to speak with us during the short but vital pause between 15-20 July 2015, or why at that time we were told Orav would no longer be giving interviews, when he quite clearly was very active in the following period. Similarly, there was no response when we asked whether Orav had been ordered to avoid meetings this May, despite the written notification we received from a spokesman that attested “we are doing our best to get to him,” and that his secretary had been instructed to reply to us directly.

This is important not as some point of pride, but for historical accuracy: in order to correctly analyze all of the granularities of the crisis, it would be useful to know whether the Commission has chosen as a policy, or Orav as an individual, to meet or not meet specific analysts.

Again for the sake of historical accuracy, it would be useful to know to what extent Hahn and Orav have been pressured (other than in the media and public sphere) during the crisis, as this could conceivably have affected their decision making- and thus the trajectory of the whole crisis.

The EU’s Expert Report (the Priebe Report, which we will discuss in detail tomorrow) noted that foreign diplomats had been wiretapped in Macedonia. There has been intense speculation and media coverage since the very beginning of 2015 that some diplomats have been blackmailed by political and intelligence structures. Maja Kocijančič did not respond, however, when we asked whether Commissioner Hahn had ever been threatened by political actors during the crisis.

Considering that there are some indicators of subterranean manipulations that would indicate intimidation of diplomats, we may return to this theme at another time as The Great Unraveling continues.

Mistrust and Different Priorities Vex EU-Macedonian Security Cooperation

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: while the migrant crisis has been widely covered, no one has provided a comparative analysis of the different prioritizations of security issues by the EU and Macedonia- or the reasons for this. This comprehensive overview not only does this, but also contains two appendices, with new and unique official relevant data from the Macedonian Ministry of Defence (regarding expenses and damages suffered due to migration), and the EU Delegation in Skopje (regarding present and future EU support for Macedonia in the migration issue).

By Chris Deliso

Eidomeni Camp: Closure as Incitement to Unconventional Methods

Yesterday’s closure of the Greek-Macedonian border camp of Eidomeni eases a siege situation that had developed for months, as over 13,000 migrants guided by activists tried to assail the border, significantly challenging both Greek and Macedonian security forces. But even with this specific closure, the reality is that almost 30,000 migrants remain in Northern Greece for the medium-term.

Macedonian soldiers scan the horizon at the Greek border (MOD photo)

Intelligence suggests that they will remain (or try to independently escape) throughout the tourist season, with further moves likely in September. If, as we warned in a May 15th analysis, Macedonia is forced to make further troop reductions, this could leave 150 soldiers or less to man a long and difficult border where armed migrant smugglers are still active on a daily basis. People forget (or simply don’t know) that the current border replicates the WWI front lines, and the deadlock between opposing forces there lasted for years with only slight alterations. S, just because a certain battle is now over hardly means that the war has been won. Certainly, no one involved feels that they have achieved their optimal goals.

The relocation of migrants to government-authorized camps will however, lull the EU into a false sense of security, minimizing its security prioritization on both sides of the border. Balkanalysis.com expects that this will prove a dangerous miscalculation, as a second wave of migrants (either during or after the summer) is bound to arrive, while traffickers will continue to operate, leading to bottlenecks further up the route as is currently the case at the Serbian-Hungarian border.

A Call to Action

Both migrants and anarchists view the closure as merely a temporary setback, and it is already giving them motivation as they see it as not only a logistical, but also an ideological challenge: indeed, the activist-related German Indymedia site on May 26 defined Eidomeni as “a symbol of the struggle for freedom of movement on the borders of Europe,” and specified May 30-June 5 as a period of “decentralized and creative actions.”

The activists describe this as “a call for international solidarity and outrage under the slogan #overthefortress.” Such rhetoric has defined the entire migrant-crisis experience. The Eidomeni camp provided valuable experience for what we predicted in December 2015 as the convergence of migrant, activist and anarchist cooperation. This has since been confirmed in both information warfare and communications (social media) spontaneous organization, as well as more clever and militarized techniques of border invasion.

The EU and Macedonia: a Legacy of Mistrust

While both parties are cooperating, significant mutual mistrust exists between Macedonian authorities and the European Union on security matters. This is due to both general differences of mentality and specific contentious experiences. Although subtle, this simmering mistrust may have negative consequences in the case of a renewed migrant surge this summer.

Soldiers guard a dangerous river, where they rescued 4 migrants in March (MOD photo)

Soldiers guard a river, where they rescued 4 migrants in March (MOD photo)

Skopje and Brussels clearly have fundamental differences regarding the prioritization of national security, compared to other issues. This would be bad enough at any time, but is especially problematic now, as Macedonia remains the guardian of Europe’s external borders. While the Balkan Route is closed, hundreds continue to try and infiltrate the border daily.

The differences in priority perception represent not only cultural and national differences, but also ideological ones. And they have been exacerbated by a legacy of mistrust generated over the past years. Both sides feel that their positions have been misunderstood or manipulated, which has led to further behind-the-scenes infighting. Further, individual EU member states have wildly opposing views on security and migration, meaning that the EU Delegation can hardly present a unified stance when dealing with the Macedonians.

The Basic Ideological Difference: Prioritization of Security

Macedonia is located in an occasionally turbulent region and has long experience with security threats, ranging from organized crime to terrorist attacks. It suffered a near-civil war just 15 years ago, and its neighbors are hardly always friendly. Macedonians thus tend to see national security as preliminary to everything else.

This sentiment was literally expressed in an April 11 Youtube video went viral of a Macedonian soldier saying ‘I am ready to die for my country’ while being stoned by Eidomeni’s militarized migrants on the Greek side of the border fence.

EU envoys, on the other hand, tend to come from wealthier, more placid countries that have been at peace for decades. They are not psychologically burdened by having to live through constant, intense existential political and national crises every day for the past 25 years. They are thus less inclined to view national security as the core issue. This is not just hypothetical, as we have confirmed the psychology of many dozens of diplomatic cases over a long period.

Recently, a senior official at the EU Delegation in Skopje indirectly confirmed this attitude again for Balkanalysis.com, implying that Macedonia’s focus on security is sometimes seen as covering for a perceived lack of will on “political and rule of law reform.” An EU member state ambassador in the country was even blunter: “[the Macedonians] want to focus on the migrant crisis, so they can keep ignoring their political responsibilities to Przino [Agreement implementation].”

The cumulative analysis gained from long interaction with both sides reveals that the EU (and some other Western states, such as the US) does not regard the migrant crisis as a serious issue, as they believe the southern border with Greece will remain closed permanently. Especially now with the closure of Eidomeni, they expect the problem to disappear, and that Macedonia will need less support. But as we reported last time, this is not a given. The EU official cited above believes that Turkey “will not send more [migrant waves] because they know their strategic interest is with the EU.”

Soldiers maneuver through Macedonia’s intricate border fence system (MOD photo)

It is unclear how pervasive this line of thinking is within the EU at large, but the fact that the Skopje EU Delegation seems to believe it is very concerning- and especially so for the Macedonian security forces, which face budgetary constrictions and extensive materiel damage (see Appendix 1). The promised EU aid (cited in Appendix II) is still in tender phase and, given the glacial pace, of EU bureaucracy, cannot be expected to arrive soon.

Our official request for further clarification on this matter went unanswered by the Delegation.

Attitude Problems: Perceived EU Indifference or Lack of Support for Counter-terrorism Efforts

Following from the ideological difference in threat perception, the EU and Macedonia also have different views of actual security events. This also feeds strong mistrust. This was most dramatically (but not most recently) seen with the EU’s perceived lack of support for the Macedonian police’s counterterrorism operation in Kumanovo last May.

Reactions from the EU and European diplomats ranged from cautious expressions of concern to outright dismay that the terrorists had not succeeded. These reactions reinforced long-standing local suspicions of EU motives. Most ambassadors were missing in action during President Gjorge Ivanov’s recent posthumous awarding of medals of honor for the eight policemen killed in Kumanovo. As has been officially stated since that action, EU allies failed to respond to Macedonian requests for intelligence-sharing during the spring, when a potential terrorist threat had been identified. This failure to cooperate will not be forgotten anytime soon. A recent report in local media that police have prevented yet another terrorist incursion in the Lipkovo area has only increased the distrust in EU and general Western ‘allies.’

Operative Restrictions: Macedonia as a ‘Third Country’

Being a mere candidate country, Macedonia is considered a ‘third country’ by the EU. This designation negatively affects security cooperation capabilities, as is similarly the case with other countries equally burdened by the migrant crisis such as Serbia and Turkey.

Macedonia is thus prevented from contributing migrant data to EURODAC, the EU’s fingerprint database for asylum seekers. Although liberal lawmakers in the EU consistently try to weaken its scope, EURODAC can be used under strict conditions by law enforcement to track criminals and terrorists.

Considering the gravity of the situation with the migration crisis, and the fact that several of the Paris and Brussels attackers transited the Balkan corridor, one would think the EU would make an exception now. Macedonian security officials, however, were rebuffed when offering to share data on over 500,000 registered migrants since last summer.

This was a particularly serious loss for the EU’s internal security, since Greece had not registered many of these people at all. As Germany and other EU countries have admitted, there are hundreds of thousands of migrants roaming Europe with no known identities, thanks to Angela Merkel’s poorly thought-out open-door policy of 2015. This will manifest in terrorist attacks, increased organized crime, and underground intelligence network development in coming years.

The fact of being a ‘third country’ also means that Macedonia must make official requests for assistance via the local EU Delegation, which must then interface with Brussels. Several cases exist that indicate mistrust in the reliability of this process, as when the Delegation failed to pass on an early official request for assistance from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior. (We will explore that subject another time in more detail). The end result has been frustration, lies, deception and anger. In general, it is clear that Macedonia and the EU have not enjoyed a happy relationship in migration assistance coordination during the past year.

On the other hand, the EU Delegation official cited above does inform us that the EU is paying the costs for border police assistance from EU states which have bilateral agreements with Macedonia for border protection. Support for Macedonia has only come from individual states, as with the May 6 visit of Hungarian General Tibor Benko to the border. Hungary, along with Slovakia, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic, has been a strong supporter of Macedonia’s defensive efforts. It will be worth noting whether other factors (like the election of a liberal Austrian president) will change any of these relationships.

Misunderstandings over Money and the Future Capacities and Role of Germany

On the other hand, the unrequested appointment of a German envoy for solving Macedonia’s political crisis means that Berlin will become heavily involved in domestic affairs. We expect that the behavior of this special envoy will potentially cause a backlash against German interests at home and abroad.

The German government is already both increasingly antagonistic towards the Macedonian leadership, and increasingly incompetent in its own security management capacities, since the April 27 firing of BND chief Gerhard Schindler. Intelligence officials from around the region who were consulted unanimously consider this a “disaster,” as Schindler was a competent and well-respected “man of action.” The decision to replace him with a technocrat leaves much room for poor decision-making with long-term ramifications.

The Merkel cabinet has been furious with Macedonia for a long time already. It has reacted both directly, and instrumentalized the Enlargement Commission of Johannes Hahn for making further attacks. Germany controls the EU through bureaucracy; according to diplomatic sources, the key figure in the Merkel cabinet’s anti-Macedonian policy is Hahn’s chief of cabinet, Michael Karnitschnig. This Austrian technocrat served previously under Barroso, was once seconded to a German MFA position, and began his EU enlargement career as desk officer for Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, from 2001-2004. He has been described by interlocutors as the “toughest” member of the cabinet in negotiations with Macedonia.

In an early March Bild interview, President Ivanov criticized the EU’s perceived failure to cooperate on migration security. Interestingly, the strong reaction from Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert focused mostly on the president’s claim that the state had received no financial support from the EU for migration security. On March 13, Ivanov responded to an official statement from the Enlargement Commission by asking rhetorically that if Macedonia had indeed been given 52 million euros, there was no record of it in the state budget. Dnevnik tried to get an official reply from the Enlargement Commission, but it was somewhat vague.

The misunderstanding derives from differences between Macedonian law and EU procedure. The Law on Crisis Situations (in place since August) foresees funding from ministries, state institutions and local government. Therefore, any EU money should go to these bodies. However, the EU works differently, and has contracted the International Organization for Migration; it gives money to this group and other international organizations like UNHCR. Until now, at least, these donations have been much more for humanitarian aid than security. But with the Balkan corridor now closed, and now Eidomeni too, there is less need for humanitarian aid, since there are no migrants (except those who are caught and returned to Greece). Security cooperation is rather of primary importance.

EU officials seem genuinely confused by this legal distinction. “Why should it matter whether the money goes in the state budget?” said the senior EU Delegation member quoted above. “We are donating to support the border management.” Still, it appears that the EU has been influenced, however slowly, by the president’s views, as some of the donations specified in Appendix 2 below are more security-oriented. However, they are arriving far later than they should have, due to the unreported blockage of requests we alluded to above.

In general, questions of financial support for Macedonian migration capacities have long been controversial: last year, Balkanalysis.com revealed a secret plan that the UNHCR was considering, to turn the country into a migrant dump for up to 30,000 persons in camps. Now that would be the kind of thing Brussels would love to subsidize- after all, the EU could keep sweeping a problem it could not solve under the Balkan rug. But Macedonia refused to take the bait, angering Brussels and Berlin. “Basically, the internationals thought the Macedonians were stupid or desperate enough to take the support,” says one British development official aware of the situation. “So when they kept refusing, they became more and more angry, though since it wasn’t ever officially an offer they couldn’t factually blame [the Macedonians].”

It is necessary to remember this context to understand just how deep and long-lasting the antagonisms are.

The European Reaction: Attack from Afar…

An aggressive, obstinate and dysfunctional Germany, combined with an indifferent EU, does not augur well for Macedonian national security. The enormous external pressure over the political crisis continues to mount just as the controversial migration deal between Turkey and the EU may be unraveling. Even the most hopeful of prognoses indicates a long and tense period of subterfuge, recrimination and asymmetric war in the months ahead. And that is only between allies- never mind open enemies.

Events that we will discuss at a later date have led to a situation in which the EU, under German leadership, is using migration to exert political pressure, and even violent destabilization, in Macedonia. Most of this does not reach the level of surface politics, but one case did- the release on 11 May of a Council of Europe report harshly critical of Macedonian border security methods. The rhetoric in it directly expressed the Greek (and now radicalized German) agenda, but is partly informed by tremendous anger in Brussels over an event that did not go as planned.

Interestingly, the report was the product of a 4 March border visit by the Council’s special representative on migration and refugees, Tomas Bocek. That was the same time the EU had just announced a 700mn euro emergency fund for Greek migration efforts, and a few days before President Ivanov’s comments for Bild.

In the report, Bocek said he was concerned about “allegations of maltreatment by police stationed along the Macedonian border,” and even offered to train border guards, to ensure that “the border with Greece be watched over in accordance with the country’s obligations as well as in relation to human rights.” This angered Macedonian officials, who have constantly reinforced their caution and care in dealing with even violent migrants. The fact that all police actions are filmed also means that Mr Bocek will have an interesting time proving his opinions.

The year’s second major attack on the border from Eidomeni occurred on April 10. The next day Greece condemned Macedonian use of tear gas. Greece’s opportunistic prime minister would highlight the apparent moral difference between his migrant policy and Macedonia’s, when five days later he made his ‘Tsipras Dove of Peace’ photo-op with the Pope on Lesvos. At the same time, aggressively fundraising NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontiers seized on the Eidomeni incident; yet they did not question the paramilitary tactics of migrants or the morality of using children as human shields before the fence (and waiting cameras).

As in the March attack, the migrant surge was caused by mysteriously placed disinformation that the border was opening. Referring to the assault, AFP reported that “Macedonia has used tear gas and stun grenades to push back migrants at the Greek border to the south and has been accused by NGOs of using rubber bullets, though the government denies this charge.”

Dedicated readers of Balkanalysis.com should keep these dates, events and allegations in mind, as they are much more important than they might at first seem.

…While Looking Interested on the Ground

To balance the unpleasantness of rebuke from a distance (the COE report), the EU sought to look more positive on the ground. Thus after the report, on May 12, Head of Delegation Aivo Orav and several EU ambassadors visited the Transit Centre for Migrants in Gevgelija- among “several EU-funded projects, in order to get closely acquainted with part of the assistance that the European Union is providing to the country through the IPA funds,” according to a press release.

This kind of PR stunt actually had little to do with the border or migration, however. Rather, it reflected two things: one, concern over the EU’s tanking popularity in the country, due to its constant political interference and personnel behavior; and two, a demonstration of the Delegation’s own long-simmering anger. “The government has taken credit for some infrastructure projects that actually got EU funds,” one international aid consultant in Skopje tells Balkanalysis.com. “This trip was the EU’s way of making a statement about money, and migration border issues only in context of the general aid package.”

And that was it. While the gathered ambassadors made no statement of support for the army and police, and certainly no criticism of chronic non-cooperation from the EU country on the other side of the border, one ambassador did think it would be quite clever to bring up the political crisis.

Not that there was anything more relevant to talk about, all things considered. On 17 May, Alfa TV cited police sources who indicate organized human trafficking from Greece has risen since the closure of the Balkan Route. All told, “from last November through today, the Republic of Macedonia has blocked the entrance of 31,398 illegal migrants from entering our territory.”

Meanwhile in Istanbul, Angela Merkel was questioning “the independence of Turkey’s judiciary and suggested a tentative July 1 target date for Turks to travel visa-free to the European Union probably won’t be met, saying the government has to meet the EU’s terms in the refugee accord first.” In the chancellor’s words, “open questions remain.” The same goes for the future of migration and security cooperation in the Balkans.

Appendix 1: Official Data from Macedonian MOD on Defensive Measures, Costs and Damages Due to the Migration Crisis (reproduced as received electronically by Balkanalysis.com on May 16, 2016)

Starting last year, the Republic of Macedonia and other countries along the so-called “Balkan Route” were and still are under increased pressure from migrants whose aim is to transit towards the countries in the European Union. The Ministry of Defence in coordination and support of other institutions in the Republic of Macedonia is taking measures to address this situation and maintain peace and security, particularly on the southern border with Greece, i.e. the “Schengen area”.

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia, based on the conclusions of the Crisis Management Center dated 19.8.2016, adopted a decision declaring the crisis situation on the southern and northern borders. Based on this decision the President of the Republic of Macedonia and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Gjorge Ivanov, issued an order on 21.08.2015 to engage the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (ARM) in enhancing and providing continuous security of the southern and northern borders in support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Border Police. After the expiration of the 30 days from the declaration of a crisis situation, on the proposal of the Government, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia extended the crisis situation first to 15 June 2016, followed by an amendment to extend the crisis situation by the end of this year.

In order to prevent illegal crossing of the state border and direct people to the registration checkpoints, so as to avoid oversights due to inadequate registration that might lead to adverse security consequences, from the very beginning of engagement, the members of the ARM take preventive measures and necessary technical and tactical measures such as surveillance, reconnaissance and patrolling in the area of responsibility of the border.

In the past period, the direct costs for securing the border (accommodation, food, fuel, etc.) have reached more than 7 million [euros].

In terms of monthly expenses, we are not able at present to deliver you a detailed response on the grounds that the monthly costs are not fixed, and they mostly depend on the number of ARM members engaged on the southern border.

Regarding the second and third questions, we would like to point out that in performing tasks for preventing illegal crossings, thus far, the ARM has suffered damage to the vehicles and materiel, and injuries to its personnel, especially in the attempts of mass and violent crossing of the state border, such as the most characteristic developments and events of 28.11.2015 and 11.04.2016.

So far the Army has suffered the following damages:

  1. a) Damaged vehicles as a result of direct attacks by illegal migrants:

– Several Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) “Hermelin” (broken headlights, mirrors, cracked windows) and motor vehicles “Humvee” (broken headlights, mirrors, windows).

– Extensive damage to protective equipment from the direct attacks by migrants (helmets, shields).

  1. b) Damage and defects of motor vehicles and engineering machines from the everyday performance of the given tasks:

– Several APCs and several all-terrain vehicles (Iveco, Humvee) and engineering machines and vehicles.

The financial implications for the re-commissioning of damaged materiel and equipment amount to tens of thousands of Euros to be allocated from the budget of the MOD and the ARM.

So far in exercising their duties for preventing illegal crossings in the direct attacks by migrants on the above dates (mostly by throwing stones) 12 members of the ARM were injured (limbs injuries, fractures and scratches, as well as head injuries).

Dozens of ARM members have suffered injuries while providing regular state border security, patrols and traps, fortunately the injuries were not serious and required prolonged absence from the unit.

Despite this, the ARM members continue to act in the most correct and humane manner towards to migrants, which can be seen in the performance of the activities and construction of facilities by the ARM members, such as: ballast roads to the shelter, ballast platform at the camp, water channel, constructed protective fences around the detention camps, mounted tents and containers for accommodation of the migrants, cleaning of the riverbed near the reception center in Gevgelija. Moreover, the humane treatment was best demonstrated with the rescue of four migrants from the floodwaters of Suva Reka on 14.03.2016.

 

Appendix 2: Official Data from European Union Delegation in Skopje (reproduced as received electronically by Balkanalysis.com on May 16, 2016)

Special Measure 1

This measure aims to support the relevant government offices on national and local level. The assistance is supposed to cover not only short-term needs but also a long-term nature needs such as terrain vehicles for border police, waste management vehicles for the municipalities, ambulance vehicles, and specialized medical equipment for the hospital in Gevgelija.

Disbursed – €600,000

In March 2016, the EU disbursed 0,6 MEUR to support in particular Crisis Management Center (2 minivans, that can serve also for transportation of vulnerable migrants and government staff), Gevgelija General hospital (with 2 ambulance vehicles for health care provision), waste management public companies in the municipalities of Kumanovo and Gevgelija (with 2 buldozers for waste management and garbage collection).

In the pipeline:

The EU is to shortly procure and deliver in 2016 terrain vehicles for the amount of 2,4 MEUR for the Border Police, Crisis Management Centre,  Gevgelija General hospital and waste management public companies in the municipalities of Kumanovo and Gevgelija. This support should help central government and local authorities to deal with migration flow and to mitigate its negative impact on the local population.

Although not yet fully implemented, Special Measure I is even more relevant nowadays.

Terrain vehicles for MoI

Tender dossier for terrain vehicles is to be re-launched mid-May 2016 – negotiated procedure

It is linked with the increased irregular migration including smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings.

Namely, the terrain vehicles will be used:

  • For rapid mobilization of the border police in managing the actual situations related to the migrant crisis.
  • For intensive border surveillance of the state border by the border police, greater mobility on the field for detection of criminal structures or individuals trying to manipulate and misuse migrants.
  • Detecting groups of migrants trying to pass the state border via the regular movement routes, as well outside them.
  • Transport of migrants who have been found in weak condition on the field and have need of medical assistance on the spot to specific centres competent for providing medical assistance (health institutions, Red Cross centres).

Medical Equipment:

Tender dossier for medical equipment is to be re-launched end of May 2016

General Hospital Gevgelija continued to provide on time medical care to the migrants, established   separate “examination foster clinic with daily care”, equipped with basic furniture, medical equipment and disposables. The migrant part and daily clinic,   so the migrants wouldn’t have to wait for the health services with other patients and could receive the health services promptly with separate entrance, is separate from the outside. The reconstruction of the roof of the hospital is completed as well as specific medical equipment delivered (including 2 equipped ambulance vehicles) within the frame of our CBC project, and partial reconstruction provided by the Council of Europe Bank is to be completed very soon. Once the reconstruction is completed our procurement of the complex medical equipment will be completed, too.

Waste management vehicles

Tender dossier for waste management vehicle sent to the potential bidders – negotiated procedure, deadline for submission of the offers is 25 May 2016

Support to municipalities of Gevgelija and Kumanovo with new waste management vehicles will enhance their capacity to extend municipal waste and water collection in transit centres with stranded migrants and mitigate impact of migrants’ crisis to the local context and prevent negative sentiment vis-a-vis migrants.

Special measure II

 EU disbursed €5,900,625.00

This Measure aims to ensure effective management of the south border, to prevent smuggling and trafficking of migrants and to ensure an efficient identification and registration process of migrants at the border.

It is very much linked with the SM 1 as well as with the Governmental decision from late November 2015, to request from several EU Member States to deploy border guards (“guest officers”) to the country’s southern border with Greece and to strengthen the country’s border management activities with respect to border surveillance and registration activities.

Nevertheless, the management of a large and complex multinational team in a sensitive political context currently is a major challenge.

Therefore, after the second scoping mission, in February this year a contract was signed with IOM in amount of 9 million. With these funds:

  • the EU will cover the government’s running costs (food, accommodation, fuel) of “guest officers” (from several Member States) and, where justified, for the domestic border police officers;
  • then will provide training and advise to the Ministry of Interior; and
  • will buy specialized border surveillance equipment for the border police.

 

Special Measure III

Following several meetings held with relevant institutions Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy concept note was submitted by the Government.

General comment to the CN: More comprehensive and up to date justification for the activities proposed under the action document is needed. The analysis of the situation and the potential scenario are out of date and not really reflecting on the current state of play and what the situation could be like in the coming months.

The EUD in Serbia is nominated to lead the negotiation process with IOM responsible, while the HQ will be the Contracting Authority.

 

Migration Intelligence Indicates Potential Security Breakdown in Macedonia and Mediterranean

By Chris Deliso

Fast-moving current events, including multinational network destabilization across the Balkans, protests throughout Europe and uncertainty over the future course of Britain and Turkey are creating a situation in which a single breakdown at one point of pressure could have serious ramifications for European security. A small but critical pressure point in all of this is the Republic of Macedonia.

The Impending Macedonian Troop Drawdown

On May 13, Alfa TV reported that Macedonia will have to withdraw 50 percent of its troops from the Greek border. As Balkanalysis.com has chronicled in detail, a crisis situation was declared in August, and Macedonia took institutional measures to protect the safety of its citizens. And with the closure of the Balkan Route earlier this spring, Macedonian security forces have been protecting the country – and Europe – from mass illegal migration.

Since March 8 alone, the army and police have sent back 11,700 illegal migrants to Greece, which cannot guard its own border despite generous EU financial, technical, and personnel assistance, and vastly larger capacities. Macedonia, on the other hand, has received almost no assistance from Brussels, and its offers to contribute the kind of intelligence that could prevent terrorist attacks further north have been rejected on bureaucratic grounds.

Macedonia border protection includes cooperation from police from other EU and Balkan states, based on bilateral agreements; they have an EU mandate to safeguard Europe’s external borders, since EU-member Greece has failed to do so itself. But now the army will be forced to “redefine” its mission, Alfa TV reports, due to low funds, equipment damage and injuries in a highly dangerous area. The EU’s failure to provide meaningful support has long been noted locally. This perception is not exactly increasing Macedonian morale to keep serving as guard dog of Europe.

Balkan Route Closed, but Pressures Remain

At its peak last year, the ARM (Army of the Republic of Macedonia) deployed over 800 soldiers on active border duty. Since March, when the Balkan Route was declared closed, that number fell to 400. Despite clear announcements by EC Presidential Donald Tusk that the route was closed, the ‘wild’ Eidomeni camp swelled to over 12,000 persons.

Encouraged by European anarchists, activists and possibly intelligence services, many of these migrants have refused to go to Greek state-provided shelters and chosen to remain in squalid conditions nearest to the border. On several occasions they have attacked Macedonian security forces in organized attempts to breach the border.

The activists are keeping up the pressure on social media and on the ground. For example, the Moving Europe group published a report on May 11, to dissuade migrants from going to the new Lagkadikia camp. The report quotes 20 Syrian refugees who were relocated there from Eidomeni. It accuses the Greek state and UNHCR of “lying” to the refugees, who claim conditions were better in Eidomeni. The general purpose of such reports is to discredit the official Greek and UN system, and further foment unrest among the migrants.

European leaders seem blissfully unaware that there is a major difference between a refugee in quick transit and an angry mob kept immobile for months in poor physical conditions, and constantly fed propaganda from radical leftists seeking to fulfill their own ideological dreams through other people’s misery.

Indeed, one day after the April 10 organized attack on the border by migrants and activists at Eidomeni, Greek minister for Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas made a revealing, if politically incorrect statement for media. “Referring to the hundreds of young men tearing down border fences, throwing rocks at police and screaming ‘Allahu Akhbar’, Mr. Toskas said: “what you see today, are the jihadists of tomorrow.”

Of course, different people stress different views. Marianna Karakoulaki, a Greek journalist who has reported from the Eidomeni camp often in recent months, tells Balkanalysis.com that “activist, leftist and anarchist groups are indeed present in Eidomeni but their sole purpose there is to provide help and solidarity to the people who have been stuck for months in the area. They of course still have their ideology and they still focus on other causes, which is part of their political activism. But this is the case for every social movement worldwide; there is not only one cause, but every cause can be influenced and interact with another.”

Drawing another distinction, Karakoulaki adds that “activists and volunteers do interact with refugees but they are in no way connected to smugglers. Those in Eidomeni in fact are not supporting smuggling and try to convince people to wait ‘til their asylum claim is processed. Activists and volunteers are integral to the well-being of refugees in the Eidomeni as the large numbers of volunteers means that the officials are not able to handle everyone effectively.”

While some aspects of this perspective are open to debate, the claim that traffickers and activists are not working together is an interesting one. But for the Macedonian security forces under constant attack from the other side of the border, the distinction hardly matters in an operative sense.

Statistics and Significance

Soon, only 200 soldiers will be left to support Macedonian and allied European police forces. Aside from the current psychological condition of the migrants and goals of the anarchists occupying the border, what are the ramifications of this new reality?

One statistic helps put this development in perspective. On May 9, Alfa TV reported that in one six-hour overnight period alone, police and army intercepted 861 illegal migrants trying to sneak into Macedonia. Some 60 of these migrants were discovered 20 km inside the territory. Thus, a 50 percent troop reduction, to only 200 soldiers, will make it much harder to stop radicalized, well-organized migrant groups.

This will lead to more injuries and damage to defending security forces and, eventually, to a resumption of illegal mass migration as the word spreads among migrant and activist networks that they can, in their own words, “smash the border.”

On May 10, Utrinski Vesnik reported that two local smugglers had been arrested and over 100 migrants freed in three police operations on Sunday and Monday. In the past two weeks, an average of 300 daily illegal border crossing attempts had been made, by mostly Afghans, Pakistanis, Moroccans and other Africans. Of these, over 100 successfully escaped north to Serbia. Traffickers now use increasingly sophisticated methods- and as the police and army resources remain insufficient to fully manage the threat.

Migrant Tactics Shift to Night Transit

Unlike with the high-profile, activist-led mass attacks on the border earlier this spring, migrants who pay up to 800 euros per person to leave Greece are trying to be more subtle. Military and police sources indicate that the ‘overnight route’ is becoming increasingly popular, as migrants assume the darkness improves chances of escaping detection. These efforts were document by Macedonian television crews who recently accompanied the army and police on night patrol.

Migrant Transit Locations in Greece and Secret Routes Used

Greece’s migrant camps have been established strategically along the border, near Lake Dojran, at Eidomeni and elsewhere. This both keeps migrants away from prime tourism destinations, and also intensifies the pressure on Greece’s northern neighbors.

In recent weeks, migrants have been starting from five points inside Greece: Eidomeni camp; the nearby Hotel Hera, from where smugglers organize migrant groups; decrepit buildings run by Thessaloniki-based anarchists, in the area of Evzoni and Polykastro, as well as the latter’s gas station, and the smaller camp in Cherso. This means that large concentrations of migrants currently occupy strategic points on the border with Macedonia. The siege line is almost identical to that of World War I.

To appreciate this scale, note the latest data, reported by To Vima on May 11: it reveals that of the 54,542 identified migrants and refugees in the country, some 29,139 are being kept in Northern Greece, with 14,330 more in the Attica (Athens area) region. Almost 7,000 are being kept in hot spots in the Eastern Aegean islands.

Migrants now are paying smugglers up to 800 euros to enter Macedonia at four illegal entry points: the village of Selemli; the village of Moin (the site of the infamous ‘March for Hope,’ in which three migrants drowned in a river); the Tri Bora outpost (karaula), and the more difficult mountain road to Rozhden.

Costs and Damages

Citing military sources, Alfa TV reported that the military has paid 2.5 mn euros from its own budget over the past nine months- not counting the cost of the extensive border fence, nor the interior ministry’s own costs. It quotes General Mircea Gjorgoski, who attests that “in the past crossing attempts that resulted in violence, 15 ARM personnel were injured, one of them seriously.” Further, “seven combat vehicles and other machinery and equipment” were damaged.

According to General Gjorgoski, the 50-percent troop drawdown is necessary “in order to maintain a high level of combat readiness and performance” in light of these problems and the “extremely difficult logistics” of the undeveloped, wooded and mountainous terrain near the border.

Contextual Ramifications

All Macedonian security forces are currently overstretched due to the migrant threat and the need to deal with carefully-placed nationwide political protests. That is a story for another time, but is very much related to the general security situation and stability of the country. In the case of another major security threat or political upheaval, Macedonia may be forced to abandon border protection altogether- leading to a mass movement of radicalized refugees and their ‘no borders’ anarchist minders heading north. Similar radical movements exist in all other European countries, and can thus supply logistical and anti-police protest support along the breadth of the continent.

More Bad News: French Intelligence Reveals Anticipated Migrant Surge

Balkanalysis.com can report that French and other European intelligence services have intercepted recent communications between migrant trafficking outfits in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. Whether or not the EU-Turkey deal holds, traffickers plan several new routes. One is a new ‘short hop’ route for summer from Turkish Thrace (ports on the mainland coast and Gallipoli area) directly past the Evros Delta to Alexandroupoli and the small beach areas beyond it.

This direct mainland access would solve the main problem of migrants who get stuck on the islands. From Greek Thrace, migrants could choose to either head straight north to Bulgaria, or further west and then up through the Pomakohoria villages north of Xanthi into Bulgaria. Or, continuing further, they could enter Bulgaria on numerous small mountain paths or at the main crossings leading to Goce Delchev, or Petritch near Macedonia. And they could of course continue westward through Greece to cross into Macedonia at Eidomeni, or continue even further to the Ionian coast for transit to Albania or boat traffic to Italy.

Although the Greek coast guard and Frontex have long been present in the Evros area – where Greece has fenced off its land border with Turkey for five years – it remains to be seen whether they would be effective against traffickers who may employ various sophisticated methods. And the return to Turkey of any intercepted migrants will depend on the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal.

The EU-Turkey Deal and Migration

A number of present and future scenarios indicate high risks of instability. The first factor is the fate of the Turkey-EU migrant-swap deal. Currently there are serious differences between the two sides. President Erdoğan has refused to change an anti-terrorism law to please the EU, and his dismissal of Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who was reportedly more amenable to Brussels’ demands, is seen as a blow to the process. On May 13, Hurriyet reported that while efforts to cement the deal have “intensified,” the five outstanding reforms sought by the EU are causing difficulties.

The lack of consensus with the European Parliament and the Enlargement Commission led by Johannes Hahn is adding to the confusion. “At this point, the topic is locked at the European Parliament” the newspaper quoted Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkır as saying. “The solution of this [state] lies at the European Commission.”

Marianna Karakoulaki states for Balkanalysis.com that the EU-Turkey deal “was set to fail from the very beginning. First of all its clauses are not possible. Turkey’s visa requirements will not easily be accepted by EU members.”

Noting the departure of Davutoğlu as another factor, the Greek journalist adds that “from the very beginning it was obvious that Turkey’s sole goal was to achieve its visa requirements and extra funding from the EU, however, even though it managed to achieve the deal it wanted, Turkey’s government doesn’t seem willing to follow its own responsibilities.”

While these obligations include legislative reforms demanded by the EU, Karakoulaki also points out “the very little steps it has taken to tackle smuggling networks. Turkey uses the refugee crisis as leverage for negotiations with the EU; it can break the deal at any given moment because we all know that in this case it’s the EU that needs Turkey and not the other way around. Last but not least, no matter what the deal is, you cannot stop people who are running from conflict – one way or another they will manage to reach safety.”

Further Signs of a Widening Migrant War: Egypt and Libya

As of April 20 – when there was still relative optimism for a compromise – UNHCR revealed that “so far this year 179,552 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and Aegean. At least 761 have died or gone missing attempting the journey.”

This statement was made while recounting the deaths of around 500 migrants who had departed Tobruk, Libya and drowned on an overcrowded ship. The continuing incursions of ISIS into Libya are helping prevent stability there, and offering a great chance for migrant traffickers to continue their trade. The decrease of migrants from Turkey to Greece due to the EU-Turkey deal means that Italy is now the largest recipient of maritime migrants in Europe.

Now, a new British parliamentary report expresses skepticism about the EU’s attempts to restrict illegal Mediterranean crossings (Operation Sophia). According to ABC News on May 13, Committee chairman Christopher Tugendhat said that “a naval mission cannot disrupt the business model of people smuggling, and in this sense it is failing… without support from a stable Libyan government, the operation is unable to gather the intelligence it needs or tackle the smugglers onshore.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s attempts to get political and financial concessions from the EU are, as we had predicted, giving other nations similar ideas. Since Italy has stepped up criticisms of Egyptian democracy and secret services, Egypt has started allowing use of five ports to hit 23 Italian destinations with long-haul migrant ships. This has been reported mostly in the context of tragic accidents in which ships fail to arrive leading to deaths, as on April 18.

On May 13, UNHCR stated that Italy had rescued around 1,000 migrants in fishing boats near Sicily. They had come from Egypt. With its vast population and access to other African nations, Egypt could become an even larger migrant exporter than Turkey.

And ever more migrants are about to come ‘on stream,’ as it were. While EU officials (and some American) tend to believe that solving the Syrian war will solve the migrant crisis, the opinion is incorrect. Kenya, for example, announced on May 11 that it will close Dadaab refugee camp. Set up in 1991, it is the world’s largest refugee camp, with hundreds of thousands of mostly Somali refugees. Kenya claims, however, that it has become a safe haven for Al Shabaab terrorists. When the camp is broken up and people repatriated, we can expect a large number to attempt to reach Europe via other routes, including Somali, Egyptian and Middle Eastern ports.

Finally, it should be noted that motives such as politics, economics and hybrid war may increase the potential for countries like Turkey, Egypt and Libya to use new migrant waves to destabilize the European Union’s soft southern underbelly. Targets would include Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Italy.

There are several quite realistic scenarios we are currently modeling for how the Schengen Zone could be destroyed in this way, with even a new military conflict possible in Cyprus due to diversionary tactics involving migrant assistance. Essentially, if the Turkey-EU deal falls through, all options are again on the table.

Back to Macedonia: Vigilance Required

All things considered, with 200 (and possibly fewer) soldiers left on Europe’s last external border, Macedonia, it may prove premature to say that the Balkan Route is closed- especially with 29,000 migrants currently massed strategically across the border. Should negotiations with Turkey break down or other factors lead to a resumption of mass migration, Macedonia is still the direct route to Central Europe, and as such will always be targeted.

There is another fundamental problem with Greece and migration. Any official numbers, such as those quoted above are essentially bean-counting. Greece has over the years amassed an immigrant population of around one million people. Evidence already suggests that some such ‘permanent migrants’ have taken the opportunity of the migrant crisis to pretend to be fresh-off-the-boat arrivals, looking for a better life further north. Greece, obviously, would like to empty its territory of immigrants, not add more to an already overburdened social welfare system. Thus it does not even matter if further migrant ships arrive. Greece will be able to fill the corridor for years simply with the masses it has accrued over time.

It is not clear that the EU and foreign observers really understand any of these dynamics. But the behavior of the EU and allied institutions in the months ahead will to a large extent determine what kind of Europe will exist by this time next year.

Asymmetric Threats Challenge Macedonia before Easter and Elections

By Chris Deliso

A Balkanalysis.com investigation has discovered that Macedonian security services are currently tracking several home-grown jihadists who had returned from Syria among the wave of migrants and refugees beginning in mid-2015.

In total, over 80 radical Islamists, including two feared potential suicide bombers, are now under constant surveillance. With Orthodox Easter coming on Sunday, terrorists could execute attacks to inflame religious and ethnic tensions in the small country- which is currently the key border state stopping mass uncontrolled migration into Europe.

If Macedonia falls, and thousands of militarized migrants pass through, the cohesion of the European Union may be fatally undermined. However, despite these risks, Western services are not offering any help in countering violent extremism.

This could not be happening at a worse time, as the police and army are already overstretched. They have to not only safeguard the country’s southern border from migrants – as requested by the European Union – but also keep a constant presence in Skopje and other cities against violent protesters organized by the leftist parties, Soros NGOs and Western governments- the so-called ‘Colorful Revolution,’ which the vast majority of the local population does not support.

Unnecessary Threats Diminish Capacities

Despite the destructive behavior of these hooligans, the police have acted professionally. What is striking about these protests – recently fleshed out by radical anarchists from Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries – is the internationalization of what was typically an internal Macedonian issue. On the other hand, no police were needed to contain last week’s major rally by the GDOM citizen’s organization, an entirely peaceful and pro-democratic rally of 60-70,000 persons. This event was almost completely ignored by the Western media.

The numerically insignificant Colorful Revolutionaries, on the other hand, have received fawning adoration in the Western press. Interestingly, they have also been highlighted in the Russian international press, which will lead to increasing confusion over the movement’s goals, identity and personnel.

In the past two weeks, these activists have destroyed public buildings, thrown paint at national monuments, buildings and police, and generally made their presence felt. The activists’ behavior is also marked by an unusual spirit of hatefulness, again indicating that foreign radical views have affected a generally peaceful national mentality.

This was attested when one young woman approached a policeman and snarled that she wished him “another Kumanovo.” This was a reference to last May’s counter-terrorism operation in which eight policemen (both Macedonian and Albanian) were killed while eliminating a terrorist cell masterminded from Kosovo. It is very unusual for a Macedonian to wish harm to a police officer charged with protecting her; it is just not the national mentality. This again indicates the influence of hardcore, nihilistic foreign activists on impressionable young minds.

These politically motivated protests are occurring at a time when the country should be preparing for June 5th elections. However, members and friends of the main opposition party, SDSM, which plans to boycott the vote, have been spotted at these protests, instead of on the campaign trail. Western diplomats have given tacit support for violence by refusing to specify who was guilty, and by refusing to encourage all parties to participate in election.

These diplomats are thus directly contributing to instability in the country, and thereby acting against their own national interests.

Meanwhile, on the Border

A recent FRONTEX report showed that Macedonia’s border control efforts have resulted in a 90 percent decrease in monthly illegal crossings from Greece. The EU-sanctioned operation to close the Balkan Route, with the help of European police stationed at Macedonia’s Greek border, has been very successful. However, this has both driven up prices for migrants, as smugglers now take them on more dangerous routes, and also radicalized the migrants who refuse to leave Idomeni.

The increasing militarization of these migrants has been seen in recent attacks on the border fence. They are coordinated with the help of Greek, German, British, Italian, Spanish and other anarchist groups. Idomeni has become a magnet for this revolutionary cause in recent months, with Thessaloniki offering a rear support base.

Some Macedonian activists who are operating in political protests have overlap with these groups and the migrant cause in general. They are partly responsible for internationalizing the political protest scene in Macedonia through this connection. Balkanalysis.com warned in December of the potential convergence of anarchist and migrant activist operations, and indeed we are seeing the results now.

The Macedonian state already banned some foreign activists from entering the country following the March illegal crossings offensive from Idomeni. If they are forced to do so again, with either foreign migration or political activists, it will create further bad press for the country as ‘innocent activists’ will be seen as punished by an ‘oppressive regime.’ In fact, it is likely that activists, local and foreign, will continue to try and provoke police to help their overall goal of postponing elections.

Terrorism Threats and Turkish Security Cooperation

However, if political antics were the main issue, this whole misadventure might just be an annoyance. But the fact that safeguarding last week’s protest required considerable pre-planning, and a phalanx of police cars and trucks along half of Bulevard Partizanski and over to the government meant that valuable time and resources were wasted, while much more serious threats receive less attention. Since the nihilistic protesters are expected to continue through May and into June, the same challenges will remain for an already overstretched police force.

Nevertheless, Macedonia somehow manages to survive, time after time, infuriating and bewildering its enemies. This is due to diligent police work and the fact that it still has some powerful allies. Turkey was the only one of 17 regional and NATO allies that answered Macedonia’s request for urgent assistance in the months leading up to last May’s foiled terrorist plot. The non-assistance of Western powers was strange, considering that they all claim to support the country’s security and territorial integrity.

For its part, Macedonia has also helped Turkey on numerous occasions with intelligence cooperation. Since neither are EU members, they are especially affected by a lack of intelligence sharing with Western countries, and experience the distrust that this fosters. Especially because of the terrorism situation in Iraq and Syria, and the concomitant migrant waves, intelligence services have to be on full alert.

For one example of bilateral cooperation, Macedonia in October 2014 helped the Turkish MIT identify two Al Nusra members who were from Macedonia, and hiding in the east of Turkey. The jihadists had shot at Turkish police while crossing in from Syria at some point previous to that. “We can say that Macedonia is a close friend,” says one retired Turkish military official for Balkanalysis.com. “Always they were there, if we needed information.”

Terrorism, the Migrant Wave and Current Vulnerabilities

As a recent Washington Post article which quoted Balkanalysis.com analyst Ioannis Michaletos showed, crossing from the Middle East to Northern Europe was very easy until Macedonia sealed the Balkan Route. While the border is sealed currently, again, any destabilization within Macedonia could result in a security vacuum and border violations. In this case, more terrorists could infiltrate Europe.

It is not clear whether such a strategic motivation could be guiding potential terrorists in the Macedonia. Information from Turkey indicates that two other potential suicide bombers from Macedonia were killed in military operations in Syria in recent weeks, so it is believed there are (only) two potential suicide bombers in Macedonia now. However, the large number of suspected foreign fighters who cannot be charged with any crime is a serious concern, as they can be activated (or moved abroad) at any time.

The situation is also extremely foggy because American officers with Balkan experience have liaised with elements of the Syrian opposition out of Gaziantep during much of the Syrian crisis. It is thus not clear whether any information supplied to Macedonia from Turkey could have come, in all or in part, via others players in the field such as the US, Israel or Germany. For now, at least, Macedonia is just thanking Turkey.

Anti-Terrorism Legislation and Implications

Before the steady deterioration in Macedonian trust in America that has characterized the last 16 months, there actually was some visible security cooperation. The Macedonian government passed a law similar to others the US was supporting throughout the region. This, the law on Foreign Fighters was passed in parliament on September 3, 2014.

However, the bill only passed because the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, which the US and its partners now oppose, had the votes to get it done. At that time, both SDSM and the smaller Albanian party, DPA were boycotting parliament. And, while no one voted against the law, several members of the Albanian coalition partner DUI abstained or were absent. The US has never considered this basic fact regarding who was responsible for implementing their own desired security policy in the country.

Then, on September 24, 2014, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2178, popularly known as the ‘foreign fighters resolution,’ similarly motivated by the ISIS threat. The resolution had been strongly backed by the United States, which released a fact sheet on the State Department website.

Macedonia, like neighbors Kosovo and Albania, which also passed such laws, was clearly on the side of the international community. However, unlike those two countries, arresting potential terrorists is very sensitive because of the ‘ethnic factor.’ If non-Albanians arrest an Albanian Muslim, it is considered a provocation to either the nation or the religion, and the inevitable irritation of some of the community creates a scenario for violent protests. However, if the same operation is done in Kosovo or Albania against ‘one of their own,’ there is no similar scenario for protests, except from the Islamist bloc, which is easily contained.

This is part of what makes the US role in the region so hard to assess. The US did nothing to assist the Macedonian state in stopping the Kumanovo plotters, and it also did nothing to help Kosovo prevent them from entering Macedonia illegally.

On the other hand, after the heavily nationalist funerals for the “heroic” would-be terrorists were held in Kosovo, the US took (at least privately) a harder line. “We were very angry about how they handled that,” one senior US diplomat in Kosovo told Balkanalysis.com. “We said to the leadership, ‘what are you doing?’ They were clearly manipulating ethnic tensions over the deaths of people who were definitely not national heroes.”

The ISIS Threat and Terrorism Potential

According to the above-mentioned Washington Post investigation, ISIS has developed a sophisticated operation in Europe, masterminded from the Middle East. It has a network of sleeper cells and mobile operatives (via the refugee streams) which are not known to one another, and which are not informed about their final target until shortly before an operation occurs. This was confirmed by the confession of two young ‘migrants,’ who were supposed to have taken part in the Paris attacks, but were ordered to stay put when travel delays prevented them from arriving on time.

This command-and-control system also prevents potential damage to the entire network, because individual operatives or cells have no information about other ones being run concurrently. This is a classic technique used by intelligence services to prevent a whole network from being compromised if one cell is dismantled. The arrested ones would simply not have the information needed for police to take down the whole network.

This is what is concerning about the current situation in Macedonia. There has been, and continues to be, way too much political interference, rather than security cooperation from the country’s supposed allies. As usual, only Turkey is being counted on for proper assistance.

It is not known if the local jihadists currently under surveillance have direct links with the Brussels and Paris attackers, but very generally, authorities do know that they have “some connections” with likeminded groups now in Belgium. And, though they are not connected to today’s political and ideological activists in and around Macedonia, the latter would absolutely take advantage of any destabilization from a terrorist attack for achieving their own interests.

 Ground Assessment of Coming Threats: 10-Day Forecast

Macedonia faces (at least) four hard security threats, in addition to Islamic terrorism, in the period leading up to the June 5th election. These include further attempts to breach the border by migrants and activists, potentially violent protests in Skopje and other cities by local and foreign political activists, and even a small-scale attack from disgruntled ex-UCK fighters.

Fourth, numerous sources have claimed that both Ali Ahmeti, the DUI leader, and Nikola Gruevski were targeted for assassination in the past year. Ahmeti’s people have reportedly foiled three such plots, all of which came from the Kosovo Albanian opposition and underworld. Obviously, any assassinations in peaceful Macedonia would have a destabilizing effect. There are other assassination scenarios involving other people for other motives, but we will discuss that another time.

All of these threats will persist over the coming period. But, for the short-term, we can offer these assessments for the next 10 days or so.

May 1, which is Orthodox Easter, is a key date with national and religious significance. Potential terrorists now under surveillance could be activated to disrupt the most important Christian holiday. Since Islamist exhortations to violence have historically come during Friday prayers in radical mosques, police will surely be monitoring mosque activity carefully on Friday, April 29. On the other hand, an order via secret channels coming from the Middle East would be almost impossible to detect.

May 4 is the second major date, because of the potential for migrant-related violence. On that date, the European Commission will release an advisory report on Turkey’s progress towards visa-free travel. While Hurriyet has noted that practical issues will prevent many Turks from even enjoying free travel for months, no matter if Turkey fulfills all 72 benchmarks, attention – and possibly, symbolic action – is gravitating around this date. The EU-Turkey deal is opposed by nearly everyone: by the right, as too conciliatory to Turkey, and by the left, as inhumane (in that it enforces deportations). No matter what is decided, we can expect ‘No Borders’ activists to make renewed border incursion efforts around this date and afterward.

Macedonia To Seal Southern Border, Employ ‘Unconventional Methods’ ahead of Anticipated Migrant Surge

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: those interested in regional security will find the following exclusive report useful. Hopefully, migrant-facilitation groups that have been teaching people how to illegally cross international borders will also incorporate the relevant data into their ready-made ‘travel guides’- if they in fact care about the safety of those they claim to support.

By Chris Deliso

After months of security planning and several weeks of diplomatic consultations with Austria, Visegrad and Balkan countries, Macedonia will seal its border completely from all refugees and migrants, Balkanalysis.com can report. Barring any unexpected developments, this will happen between February 23 and March 13.

Simultaneously, the Balkan country is employing a range of conventional and unconventional border security measures – reported here for the first time – that demonstrate a certain native ingenuity, in anticipation of a massive surge of attempted migrants due to the arrival of spring and ramped-up military activities in northern Syria.

This Macedonian policy is causing particular consternation and alarm in Berlin and Athens. It will thus attract great interest at the Munich Security Conference (February 12-14), to be attended by President Ivanov. The president recently stated that since border fencing has been built, some 33,000 illegal crossings have been thwarted by army and police.

As new information below reveals, Germany and Greece are in a secret alliance over the migrant issue; they are opposed by the Visegrad countries, which constitute the core of a second and rival European alliance. Macedonia, therefore, has become the front line in a struggle between much bigger powers, owing to its strategic position- as in several wars of the past.

Macedonian Policy in Context: Security Concerns, Psychology and Policy Calculation

Since January 2015, Macedonia has survived an unprecedented combination of security threats; these include an ongoing political crisis sparked by an attempted coup, a narrowly-averted terrorist plot (a threat which credible intelligence indicates may return), and finally the refugee/migrant crisis, in which the equivalent of half of the national population transited the country in under a year. Any one of these threats could have destabilized any other country, but Macedonia is not any other country.

In light of this combustible mix of threats, appropriate measures were taken within an institutional framework. Balkanalysis.com already discussed this in detail in December, here. Everything we are now seeing (and will see) derives ultimately from this institutionally-driven process, one driven by pre-emptive threat assessments beginning last spring.

A second factor critical to understanding Macedonian policy is the character of the people and their collective experience. Macedonia is a small, relatively conservative and family-oriented country (regardless of ethnicity). Foreign diplomats have mistakenly assumed that their ability to turn people against each other based on political differences gives them similar superpowers across all levels of society. However, Macedonians will not accept participation in any adventures that could compromise their family and national security.

This is what the Germans, EU and UNHCR failed to understand when thinking they could bribe the country’s leaders into accepting 30,000 refugees in camps. This opposition was reiterated on 10 February by Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki, who promised that Macedonia will “not turn into a refugee camp.”

Another psychological factor that must be considered is the fact that for the last 25 years, Macedonians have been continually blockaded, vetoed, lied to and betrayed by foreign ‘allies’ and neighbors. They do not have any reason to trust anyone, and thus they do not. Given its difficult history, Macedonia has decided not to entrust its own security to any outside forces.

Most fundamentally, regarding policy, Macedonian leaders know that Germany and the EU cannot even guarantee any migration deals they may reach- whether for Macedonia or anyone else. This is because everything ultimately depends on their own ability to negotiate with Turkish President Erdoğan, who can open the floodgates of migrants that would totally destabilize Europe whenever he chooses.

Being thus the most powerful man in Europe for the foreseeable future, Erdoğan should enjoy pressing his advantage to extract whatever financial and policy concessions possible in the months ahead. Erdoğan has considerable interests in Syria, where a multi-actor invasion seems more and more likely, meaning a greater concentration of refugees heading north in months ahead.

Macedonia is thus aware of this fundamental geopolitical reality and wants to avoid becoming collateral damage in this battle between today’s Great Powers.

Germany’s Double Game

International media has recently been reporting on the second layer of fencing Macedonia has started putting up along the southern border. This activity has angered Greek officials who, informed sources tell us, complained about it privately to Germany. Their unholy alliance owes to Greece’s (quite understandable) desire to pass on migrants arriving from Turkey as soon as possible, and Germany’s (less understandable) desire to keep taking them, as well as the whole euro-bailout Imbroglio in which the two countries are eternally entwined. At the same time, however, Germany has been publicly talking about the need to reduce migrant numbers, and privately leaning on Austria to get this done.

Yet after Greece complained to Germany about the new layers of fencing, the German foreign ministry on February 8 dispatched a ‘verbal note’ to numerous Macedonian ambassadors, in which it said that Macedonia should have asked for permission from Greece before building a fence on its own territory.

As if this was not distasteful enough, the German demarche also made the ludicrous warning that Greece “might not support” Macedonian Euro-Atlantic integration because of such decisions. Of course, it is Greece that has already been blocking such integration for the past 25 years. No one possibly believes that the Greek position can be affected by Macedonia building or not building a fence.

What we are therefore likely to see is a sustained German diplomatic and media offensive against Macedonia, as German leaders become increasingly angry that a small and unimportant country would resist Merkel’s orders. This offensive will involve planting doubt about national capacities, spreading disinformation about the country, and generally fomenting unrest. For example, Deutsche Welle on February 10 called Macedonia “a questionable choice” as Europe’s actual land border, following Greece’s inability to guard its own borders. Predictably, the report contextualized this by saying that Macedonia is amidst “a deep political crisis.” The title of the article was “Macedonia’s refugee dilemma.” But as we will see, there is no dilemma- the plan is already in action.

Conventional and ‘Unconventional Methods’: Securing the Border

Almost all foreign media coverage of Macedonia’s role in the refugee crisis has revolved around emotive, human-interest stories of refugee suffering. This is simply because it drives political pressure for big players, and because it makes money. This kind of reporting sells newspapers, gets clicks, and also boosts fundraising for aid groups, from the smallest NGOs to the biggest UN aid agencies. Indeed, in the cynical business of humanitarian relief, the photographing and interviewing of suffering refugees in the wild is the ideal form of ‘product placement.’

So, since no one has yet offered a simple factual analysis of the hard security aspects of Macedonian border security, we provide the following information about the combination of creative measures being used, which has a disproportionate effect when compared to the modest budget and personnel used.

In short, if you’re thinking of illegally crossing into Macedonia- good luck.

Personnel: along with numerous police and border police, 1,000 Macedonian Army soldiers can be strategically placed across the long border. According to a February 5 interview on Telma TV with presidential advisor Ivica Bocevski, the original planning for this began when the president declared a crisis situation in August. “At present, around 150 of the soldiers are regularly active at the border,” said Bocevski, adding that the number “grew to around 600 when placing the protective barrier.” It was decided that the country had the means to deploy, feed and accommodate 1,000 soldiers for as long as necessary and this estimate remains the same currently.

Additionally, small numbers of international police from Visegrad and Balkan countries have been deployed to the border following bilateral agreements- scuppering any fantasies the EU might have had for taking control of the situation. These officers are mostly being deployed at Gevgelija and taking part in inspecting and verifying refugee documentation. There is also serious talk of sending Austrian soldiers to the border.

This large number (and variety) of personnel gives Macedonian security forces the ability to react rapidly to small or large-scale disruptions across the long and mountainous border. Since Macedonia is not an EU member, it also provides valuable diplomatic support.

For example, since November Macedonian border police have seized from incoming refugees approximately 8,000 false passports which had been stamped as legitimate by Greek police in the islands, when these people had come in from Turkey. Of these documents, some 885 have been witnessed and documented by the partner police forces from EU states. The latter can therefore confirm the long-time Macedonian argument that Greece has not been effectively or carefully identifying people entering its own EU border.

Police Dogs: Specially-trained police dogs are being used to sniff for intruders, explosives and drugs. These dogs are quite friendly, of course, once you get to know them.

The Defensive Fencing System: this extends not only around the most heavily transited route near Gevgelija and the highway/railway; there is now fencing across the River Vardar, and in the internationally-divided waters of Lake Dojran to the east and Lake Prespa to the west, as well as in other vulnerable areas.

Stretches of razor-wire fence extend in some places to 3.3 meters in height. The new layers of supporting fencing are being added as a preventative measure, since traffickers were occasionally cutting the first fence and escaping through. The new fencing layers allow police and army time to react in cases when traffickers get through the first layer.

However, things do not end there. Between two (and sometimes three) layers of fencing, Macedonian security forces have irregularly placed culverts and ditches, so that an unfortunate trespasser might not even make it to the second layer. Further, at some points within the defensive system, a trespasser will set off high-pitched sonic emissions that disorient and stop an individual, forcing him to return to where he came from or be immobilized until police arrive.

Helicopters and Drones: Macedonia currently has six drones monitoring the skies over the border, which is useful in inaccessible forested areas. Army helicopters are also used when necessary in the border area.

Thermal Imaging Cameras: the Macedonian security forces currently operate 11 trucks mounted with thermal imaging cameras, for use during night operations.

Camouflaged Watchtowers: traffickers trying to cross the border through mountainous areas and other uninhabited places should consider that the army has established numerous watchtowers from which it can observe all movement over a wide swath of territory.

Other Special Measures: the mountainous border that comprised the ‘Macedonian Front’ 100 years ago is too expansive to be fully manned, so it’s reassuring to know that some 3,300 booby traps have been hidden here and there along the way. These range from simple stick-and-rope apparatuses to bear traps.

This provides a viable and cost-effective measure against traffickers. Local hunters have been advised about the precise areas to avoid. By the way, local hunters have a tendency to consider themselves deputized, like their peers in southern Texas.

There is also said to be a network of underground tunnels and other things that “we can’t discuss for now,” one official says. The general concern, again, is to preserve the element of surprise against traffickers who will probably be armed and dangerous.

Finally, there is always the chance – especially during summer – of exploding grenades and shells left over from the First World War. (These collector’s items are primarily found in the Mariovo mountain area, where people still go in search of similarly buried French army cognac and gold from that period).

Wildlife: wild animals such as bears, wolves and wild boar all inhabit Macedonia’s southern mountains. The country’s snake population includes three poisonous viper species. Especially in aqueous areas, snake populations generally increase in springtime.

Along with the risk of physical injury accompanying contact with wild animals, aspiring trespassers should also consider that some of these creatures have been fingered in organized crime- as with the bear found guilty of stealing honey from a beekeeper by the Bitola court in 2008. The bear remains at large.

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

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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