President Ivanov talks domestic developments, international challenges in annual address

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We are leaving behind us another year of profound political crisis that has had a reflection on the everyday life of our citizens. This is my first address before the new composition of the Parliament and unfortunately, I cannot but note that crisis has become the new normal, something that people have grown accustomed to, said President Gjorge Ivanov in his annual address in Parliament on Tuesday.

“We are living in a period of major transformation. We are living the ‘meantime’, that some people refer to as ad interim or interregnum. And while elsewhere in the world, there are major global debates on climate change, sustainability of development, Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence, the threat of unemployment and poverty; our debates have been reduced to gloating over the misfortune of others. The Macedonian public space has been poisoned with hate speech, personal frustrations and a desire for revenge.

On December 18, 2003, President Boris Trajkovski addressed the Assembly from this very place. In his Annual Address, he underlined that what was worrying were the “signals of political revanchism, visible in the process of rationalization of the administration or in the police and court procedures, which give the impression that people’s political affiliation is an aggravating element in terms of their position.“

What is devastating is that today, 14 years later, the situation is practically the same. Instead of competing for the trust of voters with projects, our political parties perceive one another as arch enemies. This led to a profound political party influence and polarization of the entire society.

Citizens need reconciliation rather than revanchism. This citizens’ demand is my demand too.

The process of post-election coalition and creation of a new Government has become hostage to the post-election platform of another country, which in turn brought into question the fundamental interests of the Republic of Macedonia. Because of the Tirana Platform, the political crisis turned into a constitutional crisis. Many loose ends of the Constitution in terms of giving the mandate for the establishment of a new Government came to light. The constitutional vacuum could only have been filled by referring to the precedent made by President Gligorov in 1992. I gave the mandate only after the legal conditions were created and I was provided with written guarantees. Therefore, I make my decisions in accordance with those guarantees for the protection of the unitary character, sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and multi-ethnic character of the Republic of Macedonia.

This long political crisis has also had an impact on economy. For the entire year 2017, we have had a GDP growth of 0,5%, making it one of the lowest growth rates in the history of Macedonian economy. If at one point, we were among the leading world economies, this year we will probably be ranked among those at the bottom of the list. The uncertain political situation also led to a significantly reduced entry of foreign direct investments.

I am also following closely and with great concern the debate on the risk of environmental crisis. Our cities are struggling with polluted air. The competent institutions at the local level, and especially the City of Skopje, are legally bound to find sustainable solutions to this serious problem.

At the same time, the Southeast of the Republic of Macedonia are making a stand. Fellow citizens from my native region are asking to stop the construction of mines in Kazandol, Ilovica, Borov Dol… They refer to the fundamental human right of a healthy environment. Their demand is my demand too.

The use of harmful chemical methods for exploitation of natural resources has a negative impact on environment. Having this in mind, I expect for economic development to be in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. I expect that the state control mechanisms, in line with the Spatial plan of the Republic of Macedonia 2004-2020, to implement urgent and strict measures for the protection of environment and health of our citizens.

Speaking about pollution, I can only notice that apart from the environment, the public and media space have also been polluted.

Truth has never had as many enemies as it has today. We are living in a time of fake media reality. There is a war of perceptions through the use of fake news in Macedonia. The Internet and the broadcasting of messages tailor made for a certain audience are the new subversive instrument used to shape public opinion and influence election results.

The main actors in this war are the fake news and rumors generators, whose aim is to cover up their own incompetence and divert the attention elsewhere. We have seen certain institutions and officials creating cases based on fake news and false information.

They went insofar as to blame me of planning to declare a state of war. Instead of reading Chapter 7 that lays down the conditions for declaring state of war and state of emergency, they try to impose a fake image and create a public perception enabling them to build a case based on deceit. Unfortunately, some journalists and social network users became instruments for transmission of their lies.

Fake news, rumors and planned leak of information are eroding our institutions. In the past three years, more than 30% of the identities of our intelligence agents have been uncovered. This has provoked detrimental consequences in the form of failed operations in the country and abroad, jeopardizing lives and destroying the agent network for data collection.

It is high time to face the truth that generating and broadcasting fake news in the media, on the internet and on social networks, without monitoring or measures for civil and criminal liability, is a basis for tensions and conflict. Those who provoke damage by generating fake news must be held responsible. Positive European examples should be implemented in our case as well.

However, the law in itself is not enough. All of us who were elected by the citizens should give our example. It is time to reintroduce public decency in public debate. There is no better or more adequate place for that process to begin, than this house of democracy. The media should also give an example. The Republic of Macedonia needs free, independent and professional journalism, and not media outlets that function as exponents of political parties and place fake news.

Therefore, it is necessary to improve public and parliamentary ethics as the basis for a dialogue that will later on be able to prevent polarization and radicalization of society.

What is also necessary is an uncompromised fight against corruption and organized crime. Everyone should be responsible for their actions, since a just society is built through a responsibility that is not vague or general, but rather personal and specific. On the other hand, our prisons are full, and the conditions within are desperate. All of this speaks volumes about the situation in our judiciary system.

Judiciary reforms are underway and should be implemented with the help of eminent, impartial and independent experts who will not be subject to political party influences and pressure. Only in that way will we be able to build an independent judiciary that will ensure a genuine rule of law. Without suppression of crime and corruption, parasitic bureaucracy and clientelism, we will not be able to build a future for the Republic of Macedonia.

However, we must be careful not to reduce justice to mere political revanchism and personal vendetta. Because hatred breeds hatred.

It is also necessary to establish the responsibility for those who provoked the violence in the Assembly on April 27th. Whoever acted against the Constitution and laws should accordingly be held responsible. However, responsibility must not be generalized. Apart from obligations, citizens also have rights that must be respected – the right to defense, immunity and presumption of innocence that are the fundaments of every democracy. Unfortunately, we saw members of parliament in handcuffs and citizens of the “Zaednichka Makedonija” movement accused of terrorism. I cannot but support those who, for more than two months, in a peaceful and dignified way, expressed their concern for the state interests of the Republic of Macedonia. This because part of their demands were also my demands.

Justice ends where revanchism begins. Therefore, what we need is justice, and not revanchism.

Because of this, in the past period I constantly urged for a calming down of tensions. I called for non-violence, reasonable and responsible behavior. I initiated a dialogue between government and opposition in order to achieve consensus regarding the state interest of the Republic of Macedonia. We must restore the culture of political dialogue. Leaders of both Government and opposition must have a normal mutual communication in the interest of the citizens and in the interest of the country. The greatest responsibility in terms of stability and order in Macedonia goes to the political parties which represent the majority of the Macedonian nation.

In a state, as a political community, it is perfectly normal for people to disagree due to various interests, needs or ideas. However, what is not normal is mutual extinction because of such disagreements. We have had and we will have a change of government. But we must not have political persecution and revanchism that will inevitably spiral into new ideological monism.

Instead of political persecution, revenge and revanchism, we need reconciliation. And that reconciliation will have to rely on three things. First, legislation for renewal or reconsideration of procedures in court cases where there are justified indications of serious violations of human rights. Secondly, establishing civil and criminal responsibility for those who created political cases. And thirdly, eliminating the generators of crises with the purpose of restoring citizens’ trust in state institutions.

Citizens demand reconciliation rather than revanchism. Their demand is my demand too.

The road to reconciliation in Macedonia leads through justice, and the road to justice leads through the truth.

Looking back, not only in this past year 2017, but in the past 26 years, we will be able to notice a constant. Every time the Republic of Macedonia was faced with key decisions and solutions demanding social consensus, political or security crises appeared. Those were crises that undermined trust, paralyzed institutions, divided society and altered the state system.

The reasons behind those crises are multidimensional. From the blockades to our European and Euro-Atlantic path, through the political party influence in institutions, up to the bureaucratization of political parties in power. However, almost all the political and security crises that the Republic of Macedonia experienced and is still experiencing have a common denominator.

The most recent political crisis was an opportunity to unveil, demystify and finally, deconstruct that common denominator. This generator of political and security crises has been recognized and clearly singled out in the urgent reform priorities of the European Union, i.e. the Priebe Report. I quote: “The causes of the protracted scandal in the Republic of Macedonia can be traced back both to a concentration of power within the national security service (UBK) and to a malfunctioning of the oversight mechanism over the UBK. In other words, the center of almost every political crisis in Macedonia, and this one is no exception, has been located in one place, and that is the Office of Security and Counter-Intelligence and its technical support department.

Since 2015 until today, the Priebe recommendations have not yet been implemented. This is a basis for suspicion that there is still an abuse of the system; that cases are still being staged and that the competent institutions are still not acting in accordance with their legal competences.

Albert Camus once said that “nothing of significance or value has ever been based on a lie… Where lies multiply, tyranny looms, or is protracted, whereby lies inevitably finish in hatred; lie is a slave to hatred. Unfortunately, we are still hostages to those who spent years staging cases and creating evidence to justify their lies, without bearing any responsibility at all. The first step towards reconciliation in Macedonia is to stop and dismantle the machinery of lies and abuse.

It is not by coincidence that, for a year now, I have been persistent in stating that the priority of the Government must be a systemic reform encompassing all entities within the system of national security of the Republic of Macedonia.

Some might say that those reforms are already underway. Laws have been proposed on the establishment of an Operational Technical Agency and on communications interception. At first glance, the urgent reform priorities of the Union are indeed being implemented.

And yet, there are several problems.

Firstly, the absence of inclusion and dialogue with the authorities in charge of decision making as regards the reforms of UBK.

Secondly, a paradox: those who are supposed to be subject to reform are the same ones who are currently leading the reforms. Those who come from the crisis generating theatre are now the ones who offer exit strategies. The family ties and conflict of interest within the UBK staff are a basis for abuse and misconduct in office.

Thirdly, the draft legislation does not eliminate the cause for the remarks given by the high experts of the European Commission. The possibility for abuse and misconduct remains unchanged.

Milan Kundera would describe this as an unbearable lightness of governance with inherited mechanisms that have been continuously misused in the past. Or, to rephrase Blaise Pascal: not being able to empower just laws, a state will then legitimize unjust power.

As President, I wish to see an immediate implementation of reforms. In the interest of time, solutions can be found in the existing Law on the Interior, whereby the responsible official is able to immediately amend the internal acts in order to change the structure of UBK and separate the Operational techniques Department as an autonomous organizational unit within the Ministry of the Interior. Nothing prevents them from laying down immediately the special conditions for job posts of police officers who exercise and lead procedures for communications interception and police operations. This will immediately remove part of the substantial remarks by Priebe until reaching a generally accepted model for communications interception.

Lessons learned from the past teach us that the absence of vetting procedures and a code of professional conduct, combined with family relations between high politicians and high officials in the UBK is a formula for abuse of official positions and misconduct.

The entities of the system of national security and defense, but also diplomacy, should introduce a code of professional conduct in order to prevent conflict of interests between staff and their closest family with foreign embassies, foreign corporations, civil organizations and foundations receiving foreign aid.

Furthermore, security clearance has proven to be a selective means for elimination of competition and differently thinking people. The use of polygraph testing when making a security clearance is undisputable. Therefore, the people in charge of managing state bodies must implement measures for restoring the trust in institutions.

Finally, nothing prevents the competent officials in charge of institutions to initiate an amendment to the acts for systematization of job posts and, through the use of methods and instruments, to set up a framework for vetting procedures involving an obligatory polygraph testing and forensics for both staff and sources. The aim is to control integrity and professional assessment in order to prevent abuse and non-implementation of legal competencies.

Therefore, if we truly wish to reconcile, we need to invest our energy in systemic reforms in accordance with the Priebe recommendations. I expect that the Government as a proposer and the Assembly to carefully study the Priebe Report and apply the recommendations for supervision over the security services. If we truly want a European future, then we must implement European Union recommendations.

Let me remind you that the European Union, both in the Priebe and in all other reports, is not looking for revanchism, but reforms. Those reforms should bring about meritocracy instead of parasitic bureaucracy, pragmatism instead of clientelism and honesty instead of corruption.

Reforms can only be successful if they are a result of a broad consensus by the government and opposition. I would like to hear an answer as to how we should adopt systemic laws without the participation of the opposition?

Let me remind you that Macedonian citizens are not looking for revanchism, but reforms. Their demand is my demand too.

The Army of the Republic of Macedonia successfully accomplished its constitutional and legal mission. I would particularly like to underline the role that our Army played in the protection of our South border against the threat of illegal migration, as well as its contribution to global security through our participation in international peace-keeping operations.

The geopolitical picture of the world is changing. This cruel 21st century is a time of complex wars with cyber threats. Global climate change, religious radicalization on the rise, military skills of terrorist fighters, security risks from illegal migration and non-linear warfare of everybody against everybody else are some of the threats we are facing.

As Supreme Commander of the armed forces, I already stated that the future mission of the Army of the Republic of Macedonia will consist of four tasks.

The first task of the Army will be protection of the territorial integrity and borders against illegal migration and participartion of the ARM in UN-led peace – keeping operations in the regions where these threats originate from. I wish to remind you that we have been in a declared state of crisis because of the threat from illegal migration for 29 months. We have assumed the obligation to implement the decision of the European Union to keep the Balkan corridor closed.

Secondly – to support the police in the fight against urban terrorism on the entire territory of the country. Those who left Macedonia as extremists, are now coming back as terrorists who radicalize our youth. Therefore, there must be civil and military cooperation in order to suppress radicalization.

Thirdly – to support the crisis management mechanism when handling natural disasters and pollutions.

Finally, the fourth role of the Army will be the development of cyber defense and building a system of prevention and protection of critical infrastructure.

As Supreme Commander, I am an advocate for increasing the Army budget to 2 per cent, thus improving the standard of living of the Army staff and implement its modernization. This is required both because of the new security challenges and our aspirations to join NATO.

The competence that, as President, I share with the Government also implies that we are bound to work together for the good of our citizens and the protection of state interests. Understandably, the integration process is at the top of our joint agenda.

Passing through an exceptionally complex period in terms of internal politics, the biggest priority for Macedonia was to remain on its European path. This is why, as regards its foreign policy activities, the Republic of Macedonia has been continuously contributing to the strengthening of its national and European agenda whose main focus is integration and security of the European continent.

Confronted with the challenges from the internal crisis and the need to promote good neighborly relations, the Republic of Macedonia was dedicated to two parallel strategies this year. Through internal reforms and external cohesion, we should regain our position of regional leader. At all activities and meetings, we have reconfirmed and promoted partnerships and pointed to our political readiness to achieve internal political stability and regional cooperation.

We expect the European Union to reaffirm its open door policy. The Republic of Macedonia rightfully expects to obtain an unconditioned recommendation and a date for opening accession negotiations at the following summit. With this step, the Union would de jure recognize the equal and partnership position of our country in the process of building a united, free and peaceful Europe.

In addition to European integration, the Republic of Macedonia has continuously been proving itself as a reliable strategic partner of the NATO Alliance. The following year, in 2018, we will mark two NATO related anniversaries: 25 years since the adoption of the unanimous decision of the Assembly of December 23, 1993, on the NATO membership of the Republic of Macedonia; and 10 years since the great let-down of our hopes at the NATO Summit in Bucharest. 2018 could be a possibility for NATO to rectify the injustice from Bucharest. It could be a historic opportunity to finally finish what we began a quarter century ago.

As long as the majority of citizens provides their support to these strategic goals, it is our duty to respect them. But we should have in mind that the short term interests of our partners are not always corresponding to the interests of the Republic of Macedonia.

Ambivalence towards Macedonia today is a basis for new crises tomorrow. The only way for Macedonia to get back to normal is if it joins NATO as soon as possible and obtain a date for opening accession negotiations with the Union.

Unfortunately, we see populism reappearing, with its negative impact on good neighborly relations.

I already mentioned the Tirana platform as a populist interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Macedonia. We also had a counter intelligence fraud in our relations with Serbia. We are still waiting for the evidence from official Belgrade regarding the alleged Macedonian offensive intelligence actions against Serbian diplomats.

The Kosovo Government on the other hand, decided to allocate financial aid to the actors hired for the violent and terrorist acts in Goshince and Kumanovo. Is this perhaps the way in which the Kosovo Government wished to express its gratitude for sheltering over 350.000 Kosovan refugees in 1999, or recognizing the independence of Kosovo and including Kosovo in regional cooperation?

The leaders of the Region must draw a lesson from all of this. It is necessary to be very careful about every uttered word. Avoiding strong rhetoric is especially important in the forthcoming period, when many of the countries in the region will enter a new election cycle. A single out-of-place and populist statement could provoke a political earthquake in the entire region.

Regional cooperation is imperative in the building of good neighborly relations. We took part in several important meetings within the Southeast Europe Cooperation Process, Brdo Brijuni Process and Summit 100. The Republic of Macedonia continued its policy of building good neighborly relations on the basis of the principles of openness and mutual respect of the internal and foreign policy priorities of every country in the region.

In line with this, and considering the similar political, economic and security challenges that the region is facing, the following Summit of Leaders of the Brdo Brijuni Process to be hosted by the Republic of Macedonia will be of key importance. Positioned between the formalization of of the EU enlargement Strategy and the EU – Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, this Summit will represent a possibility for the countries of the region to harmonize their positions vis-à-vis the regional strategy of the EU. The focus of this Summit will also be placed on the security connectivity of the region. The threats that the countries are facing are cross-border and integrated, unlike the regional response. Therefore, security connectivity should be promoted as a new premise in the region.

I welcome the dedication of the Government to the process of finding a solution to the name issue. Overcoming this issue will substantially influence the stability and prosperity of the entire region. However, at the same time I urge for caution. Thanks to my 8 years of experience, I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but rather realistic with experience. Reality is that the solution to the name issue has become a hostage of NATO and EU bureaucracy. Therefore, the solution for the name difference with Greece can only be sought within the United Nations, where we are equal. A mutually acceptable solution must respect our national identity. One cannot auction the identity of citizens and the constitutional name of the country. We need strict observance of the framework of the talks – the United Nations Charter, the Security Council resolutions, the Interim Accord and the International Court of Justice judgment. We must continue to insist on the respect of international law and internationally assumed obligations, because they are the ones that give predictability and security in this world disorder.

I welcome the constructiveness as regards the confidence building measures between the two countries. At the same time, I call upon their enrichment with new contents. There is no better confidence building measure in the entire region than the construction of the Balkan Canal Danube – Morava – Vardar. This canal will forever change our region and improve the lifestyle of our citizens. I stand behind this idea and I have already discussed it with the Serbian President and the Greek Prime Minister. Thus, I invite the Government to establish an expert team in the shortest possible notice and to start working together with the Serbian and the Greek authorities on the realization of this project.

Since the first day of my term of office, I have been an advocate of promotion of good neighborly relations with all neighbors, based on the principles of mutual respect, assistance and support. This is why I gave my support to the initiative for transforming the 1999 Declaration for good neighborliness into an Agreement on friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation with the Republic of Bulgaria. As neighbors, we are naturally bound to mutual cooperation. The Agreement is a result of compromises that cannot satisfy absolutely everyone. However, in order to achieve its aim, this Agreement should be observed from the point of view of future, and not the past. This is an agreement on the shared history of the two countries and their peoples, and concerns the period since the recognition of the Republic of Macedonia by the Republic of Bulgaria, i.e. since 1992. I urge both Governments to contribute to fulfilling the aim of this Agreement.

The Agreement created an environment for greater openness and cooperation between the Churches as well. Although I am a believer, I am still the President of a secular state, separated from the Church. I do not interfere in the matters of the Church, but as all believers, I expect to see the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric as an equal part of the Orthodox ecumene.

In conditions of tectonic geopolitical movements, it is necessary to build the relations with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in a careful and balanced manner. Furthermore, building relations with the countries with which we have strategic partnership agreements, such as the United States of America and the Republic of Turkey. I expect the Government to continue building stable political and economic relations with the Euro-Asian countries through the various mechanisms available, such as the 16+1 initiative of the People’s Republic of China, but also Australia and the countries of Latin America and Africa, and especially the countries with Macedonian Diaspora.

What is also evident is the need to restore the dignity of diplomats. In the past period, I was committed to agreeing, with the Government, on the necessary standards for professionalism in diplomacy. The principles of professionalism, responsibility and meritocracy should be the main feature of diplomacy. It is for these reasons that I ask Macedonian ambassadors to first and foremost protect the interests of the Republic of Macedonia and care for its security, stability and wellbeing. At the same time, it is necessary to introduce some changes in function of strengthening the cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and the Intelligence Agency. It is only in this way that the Republic of Macedonia will be able to speak in unison in terms of its foreign relations. As a result of these talks, I expect the appointment of the first group of professional diplomats who will adequately respond to the foreign policy challenges I spoke about previously.

The central question that every society and every state is posing is whether freedom and order can survive together. The tension between freedom and order can only be overcome in one way, and that is through just and socially accepted laws. Laws on the other hand, create the social reality, by defining what is right and acceptable, and what is not.

Reformers might be right about what is wrong, but are not always right about what is just. One of those issues is the Law on the use of Languages.

This law, for the sake of short term political credit, brings into question the durable interests of the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian people.

First, the requirement for bilingualism has been absolved through Amendment 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia which stems from the Framework Agreement, and which regulates the issue of the official language in the Republic of Macedonia. As much as it is dangerous not to implement the Framework Agreement, it is just as dangerous to go beyond the frame it lays down. Let me remind you that the Republic of Macedonia is a unitary state of all its equal citizens – Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Vlachs, Roma, Bosniaks, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Atheists. This is what makes us different than the others.

Secondly, for a draft law to be labeled with a European flag, it is necessary to have a European directive that requires harmonization of the Macedonian legislation with the EU acquis. Such a directive does not exist. With this law, the Republic of Macedonia will perhaps become the only European country that imposes conditions for membership in the Union that no one even requires.

Thirdly, there is no precise terminology that distinguishes between official language, language of service and language in official use. This lack of precision will inevitably have an impact on implementation.

Fourthly, the law is repressive.

Fifthly, I wish to ask the following question to those who claim that the draft law is in line with the Constitution and laws: in line with which Constitution and whose laws? As President, I held consultations in my Office with legal experts, constitutional judges, academicians, university professors and linguists. After the consultations, I can say that the Law on the use of languages does not represent a threat to Macedonian language. It represents a threat for the unitary character of the state. This draft law violates the highest of all laws in this country, and that is the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia. And when major laws are violated, you do not get freedom or anarchy. Instead, what you gain is a multitude of minor laws which serve to justify the breach of the major ones.

Instead of building a multi-ethnic society in the spirit of dialogue, inclusiveness and coexistence and through generally accepted laws, we are adopting repressive laws without political dialogue and without the inclusion of the scientific and expert milieu.

For issues that touch upon the unitary character of the Republic of Macedonia; for issues that fall under the rights and competencies of systemic laws, there must be a genuine public debate and the broadest possible consensus.

What is encouraging is the announcement by the new Government that finally, in 2019, there will be a population census. This will allow for a realistic scan of the internal political situation and a basis for the rights and obligations of citizens and the state.

My decision on this particular law is based on the provided written guarantees on the protection of the unitary character, sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and multi-ethnic character of the Republic of Macedonia. The Law on the use of Languages must be fully in accordance with the Constitution and harmonized with the laws of the Republic of Macedonia.

I am the President of all citizens and I wish for a promotion of the use of languages of all communities, including the Albanian language. Therefore, I urge the leaders of all parliamentary parties to first hear the experts and then come up with a quality law that will not be contested. I urge them to draft a law offering a comprehensive solution that will genuinely promote the use of languages without creating divisions in the process.

Today, with the use of modern technologies and digital platforms there is already a solution for the promotion of the use of languages without the potential bureaucratic paralysis and division. Only in this way will we be able to come out of this process stronger and more united.

Only four days ago, the Assembly adopted the draft Law on Ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention. I welcome the sincere and well intentioned commitments for combating violence against women and domestic violence. A society cannot be just while there is still violence against women.

Yet, in this past period I received letters expressing concern and stating that certain articles of the Convention are controversial and should not become part of the Macedonian legal system without previous consultation with the wider expert public.

A careful analysis shows that the ratification of this Convention also brings certain risks. From a gender perspective, the Convention introduces a new and unconventional definition of gender as a social contruct that is independent from biological gender and can be changed upon will.

Among other things, this will open the possibility for three-year-olds in kindergarten to be imposed to consider the male and female gender in gender neutral terms. Their parents will have little to no possibility to express their personal view. This will disturb not only the fundamental human right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with their moral values, but also one of the fundamental principles of bringing up of young generations across eras and civilizations.

As a form of paradox, this has all been done in the name of a free, open society. But let us not forget that a free society is above all a moral achievement. Without shared moral values and institutions based upon them, society will fall apart.

The main point of the Convention is uncontestable because it regards combating violence against women and domestic violence, that should always and everywhere be subject to condemnation and sanction.

However, the introduction of a new notion for gender and sex, without an open public debate with parents, pedagogues, psychologists and all those included in youth education will lead to imposed tolerance, without a true and sincere respect for diversity.

Macedonian citizens require and deserve an open debate on the possible consequences of such legislation. Citizens’ demand are my demand too.

Yesterday, on December 25, we marked 114 years since the day when, back in 1903, one of the most important works for Macedonia was published in Sofia. It was the day when “On Macedonian Matters” from Krste Petkov Misirkov came out of print. Why am I mentioning Misirkov? Because many parallels can be drawn.

Back then, just like today, we see fake news and propaganda.

Back then, just like today, our identity was brought into question.

Back then, just like today, Macedonian language was a burning issue. Misirkov reminds us of the duty to preserve our language, because it is ours as much as our homeland.

Back then, just like today, the Macedonian tissue was apart. The message of Misirkov was that uniting can only happen through compromise between ideological opponents, and not capitulation of one or the other.

Back then, just like today, European reforms for Macedonia were a topic. If, back then, those reforms were supposed to be implemented by others, today, it is up to us to implement them ourselves. The Union can point out the challenges and recommend solutions, but it cannot implement reforms for us. It is our obligation to build functioning institutions and ensure independent judiciary and rule of law.

Back then, just like today, morals were an issue. Misirkov believed that leaders should dedicate themselves to the moral and intellectual improvement of their citizens. Today, what we see instead is attempts to take away the exact moral brakes that enabled us to survive.

Finally, back then, just like today, we have a similar attitude towards Misirkov’s work. The ink on the book was not even dry yet when almost all samples of “On Macedonian Matters” were immediately ceased and destroyed by those who were unable to handle the truth. Unfortunately, more than a century later, we treat those who think differently in a similar manner.

He said that “history helps every people to realize the mistakes they have done and keep them from repeating them.”And yet, we repeat them over and over again. In spite of all our ethnic, religious, ideological and political differences, there is one thing holding us together – the state. And yet, it is that very state that we are undermining for the sake of daily political agendas, mobilizing voters, conquering and maintaining power.

Therefore, it is high time to truly understand Misirkov. He invites us to look at ourselves and our interests with a dose of self-criticism. He invites us to get rid of mutual mistrust, overcome mutual hostility and unite around the state interests of Macedonia and the interests of Macedonian citizens. The interests of the state and the citizens are my interests too.

All of this can only be achieved through serious structural reforms in the education system of the Republic of Macedonia adapted to the needs of the 21st century. In this sense, I wish to put an emphasis on the necessity to strengthen patriotism, open mindedness, creativity and innovativeness.

While we are dealing with issues of the 19th and 20th century, while we are talking about adapting to the challenges of the 21st century, we are far from aware that generations born today will live to see the 22nd century.

It is up to us whether those children of our will see the 22nd century in their own, unitary and functioning state. A state that will guarantee and protect their rights and freedoms and that will offer a safe haven from global security storms. Or, will we leave them with a weak and non-functioning state and a politically burdened society, deeply divided on almost every basis.

I urge you to think about the meaning of every draft law that you will consider and every word that you will utter on this stand – not their meaning for the next elections, but their reflection on future generations.

Their demands should be my and your obligation”.