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Restoring EU’s Credibility and the European Consensus in the Civil Society in N. Macedonia (Preliminary Research Report)

It is our great pleasure to share with you our recent study entitled: “Restoring EU’s Credibility and the European Consensus in the Civil Society in N. Macedonia.” This version of the study is quotable, so please if you find it useful you can cite it, comment on it, and freely share it with your colleagues. The study is based on extensive research that took the form of surveys, focus groups, and desk analysis, as well as relying on our team’s analytical processing of the data received through field research.

Conclusions (excerpt from the study)

We can only reinstate the insights presented above, both regarding the central findings and the more specific issue-related ones, by way of summing them up in the following inferences:

• The perception of the greatest part of the prominent CSO is that there is an overall polarization in the country and that it is a challenge that needs to be faced and overcome.
• The majority of the CSO see the crux of this polarization in the country’s endlessly stalled EU integration process and in the fact that the EU negotiations perpetuate the possibility for further stalemate by integrating the treaties with Bulgaria and Greece as part of the good neighborly relations conditionality.
• The CSO sees the EU as the culprit for its diminished credibility and for the overall polarization.
• It seems that most of the CSO see the EU as an entity that can and should solve the country’s problems directly, including the identity-related disputes with the neighbors.
• There is no clear support among the CSOs for the recognition of the Bulgarian minority in the country’s constitution.
• Prominent CSOs, and in a vast majority, see the Open Balkans Initiative as an alternative to EU membership (and do believe that there should be one).

As already noted, the EU speaks a rather different language and does have conditionalities that unfortunately affect the identity-related sensitivities of the Macedonian nation and ethnos:

• Good neighborly relations, in particular with the EU neighbor-states are a legitimate condition, and a sensible one – stability is required from all prospective member states; thus, there is no issue of special (negative and unfair) treatment of N. Macedonia.
• The treaties with Bulgaria and Greece and their implementation are part of the obligation to build good neighborly relations and achieve them toward the end of the negotiation process; apparently, the EU has set a political framework for this, not a “historical one,” even if this framework implies that N. Macedonia ought to resolve its cultural and identity related (“history related,” as we called them in the region) disputes with the neighbors; cultural and national identity-related disputes are explosive when it comes to the stability and security of a region, including that of N. Macedonia and its neighbors, as well of the continent of Europe.
• Recognition of the Bulgarian minority should not be an issue for a country that recognizes all the ethnic communities as constituents of the nation. It is a condition for further negotiations as it vouches for the candidate’s good will toward the neighbors. Should the society fail to support this idea, N. Macedonia will effectively self-veto itself.

We can only repeat the aforementioned realization: a common ground must be found on which these entirely mutually exclusive discourses can become subject to critical conversation of good will, and a reinvention of a newly shared common language on the issue of enlargement as well as on the other aspects of the problem of polarization can be forged.