In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia Nikola Poposki, who is scheduled to visit Astana on July 1, discussed the current state and the future of bilateral relations.
This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries. How can you assess the level of cooperation between Macedonia and Kazakhstan, as well as their roles in an international arena?
On June 1, we marked exactly 20 years since that great day for our two countries. Over the past two decades, bilateral relations between our two governments and nations have been characterised by friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation. I am convinced that this is precisely how it will remain in the future, too, seeing as both countries are to this very day demonstrating a concrete interest and a sincere desire for further expanding and strengthening their relations.
Since its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has grown into a major geopolitical player, both in Central Asia and beyond, remaining active in a number of political developments and processes taking place within the international arena and, particularly, within the global and regional organisations shaping the world’s multilateral setting. The voice of Kazakhstan is ever more increasingly being heard across today’s multipolar world. At the same time, the country has evolved into an economic giant, enjoying extraordinary economic growth over these past two decades and being able to project its economic power onto literally every part of the world. The very fact that Kazakhstan is among the 20 most attractive investment destinations in the world provides the best testament to your economic potential and the glowing image that Kazakhstan has enjoyed within the world’s elite business circles.
The Republic of Macedonia, on its turn, is one of the countries which gained their independence with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991. With a population of 2 million, as well as a far smaller territory and fewer resources than Kazakhstan, over these 25 years, it has nevertheless managed to find its own place under the sun. In all those years, I feel that Macedonia has managed to grow into a respected and principle-observing entity within international relations, as well as a worthy partner of a great number of other countries throughout the world. With our country being located at the heart of the turbulent Balkan region, we Macedonians are especially proud of the fact that, starting from the position of consumer, over the years we have successfully transformed into a producer of security. Today, the Republic of Macedonia is a modern European country and candidate for EU and NATO membership, boasting a functioning market economy as well as a liberal democracy, an excellent business climate and a serious influx of foreign direct investment. Foreign nationals see our country as a land of great natural beauty, as well as a cradle of culture and an ancient land and people that have always fought proudly for their independence and sovereignty. Seen from that aspect, we share a great number of similarities with your country and people.
During the visit of the Macedonian President to Kazakhstan in 2012, the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in the political, economic and cultural contexts. What has been done since 2012 to meet the provisions of that agreement?
Yes, that visit was the initial spark that led to our cooperation taking an upward turn over the last few years. Within the political context, after 2012, a number of prime-ministerial and ministerial visits and meetings took place in Kazakhstan and across the world. What seems to be lacking, and what Macedonia very much desires, is to see a Kazakh official of high rank finally pay a visit to our country in the foreseeable future. I sincerely hope that this year or next, Macedonia will have the honour of playing host to your esteemed President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
With regard to the economy, I am glad that one of the key agreements signed during President [Gjorge] Ivanov’s visit to Kazakhstan in 2012, the Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation between the two countries, has recently entered into force after being ratified by Macedonia, and the Agreement on the Encouragement and Mutual Protection of Investments is soon to follow suit. Furthermore, we expect that the two countries’ Joint Commission on Cooperation will soon launch the implementation of the third of these bilateral agreements signed in 2012, the Agreement on Commercial and Economic Cooperation.
When it comes to our cooperation in the context of culture, the first memorandum of cooperation between two major national institutions in our two countries, Astana Opera and the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, has already been signed, and Kazakh artists are taking part in various festivals across the Republic of Macedonia as we speak, heralding an increase in the level of cooperation that the two countries have been enjoying in that area, as well.
On a personal level, I believe that by joining our forces and working in concert with each other, we can achieve a lot more in all these areas and we will be investing the utmost of our efforts into doing precisely that in the coming period.
Could you outline the course that cooperation between Macedonia and Kazakhstan might take?
What I feel is of vital importance to the bilateral relations between Macedonia and Kazakhstan at this juncture is the opening of the Macedonian Embassy in Astana in November 2014 and the accreditation of Ilija Psaltirov as the first Macedonian Ambassador resident in Kazakhstan. That very act offers the best proof of our country’s sincere intention of raising its relations with Kazakhstan to a much higher level than the existing one, as well as of its plans of continuing to raise them steadily and quickly to even greater heights over the months and years ahead. In that context, I would like to voice my gratitude to both my Kazakh colleagues and to the people of Kazakhstan as a whole for graciously offering their warm hospitality to Macedonia and affording it a very warm reception into their beautiful country, which, to me, is a testament to their own serious dedication to writing a new chapter in the development of bilateral relations between our two countries.
As can further be attested by all relevant indicators testifying to the quality of their economic growth, development and overall performances, Kazakhstan and Macedonia are leading the way and are at the top of the scale in their respective regions. Both countries have proven to be attractive destinations for foreign investors, offering them a variety of incentives should they indeed decide to choose them as the location of their next investment. Both countries are vital spots on the geopolitical maps of their respective regions and I would even say beyond. All this speaks enough of the potentials that the two countries possess, as well as of the opportunity that Macedonia on one hand opens to Kazakh companies in terms of using it as a doorway for entering the … huge European market, and the one that Kazakhstan offers to Macedonian companies for entering the Central Asian market on the other.
I would like to particularly emphasise that we can already boast the first Kazakh investment in the Republic of Macedonia. It has come in the shape of a company working in the field of consultancy, but is keen and planning on expanding the scope of its operations to other industries, as well. On the other hand, several Macedonian companies have been present in the Kazakh market for a number of years and we expect that the overall number of companies from both countries deciding to take their investments in the opposite direction will continue growing in the coming period, too.
Your country also played host to the first Macedonian-Kazakh business fora which, aside from relevant ministers from the two countries’ governments, were attended by a great number of representatives of the Kazakh business community, being held last month in Almaty and Astana as a collaborative effort between the Macedonian Embassy in Astana and the first Kazakh-Macedonian cooperation association, KAZ-MAC. Having been recently established at the initiative of Macedonian Ambassador in Astana Ilija Psaltirov, the primary objective of this association is to both establish and foster as close ties as possible between the two countries by furthering their cooperation in a multitude of different areas such as culture, economy, science, education, medicine, tourism, sport and many others.
All this provides a solid foundation for the way in which our cooperation in the future is going to unfold. The framework has now been designed, crafted and fitted; what the painting it will hold is going to look like depends in equal measure on both Kazakhstan and Macedonia. In that context, I see my visit to Astana as an introduction into the second stage in the development of our relations, the basic features of which are establishing new, specific and tangible forms of cooperation that will be able to produce both concrete and visible results.
What types of issues will you be discussing with your hosts during your visit to Kazakhstan?
Over the course of my visit, I will be discussing a broad range of issues with my Kazakh hosts, focusing, in essence, on all areas in which actual progress can be made at any level, be it political, economic or cultural. Seeing as there was a lack of concrete and real cooperation between the two countries for a great number of years, on this occasion, we are determined to make progress in as many areas as possible.
We wish to use the very momentum that has been created by those numerous political contacts that the most senior officials of our two countries have had over the last five to six years, which I mentioned and listed above.
In Astana, the emphasis will be placed on the potential avenues in which our two countries could expand their business cooperation in the coming period or, to be more precise, we will introduce representatives of the Kazakh business community and Kazakh authorities to the investment conditions and plethora of opportunities that Macedonia has to offer. We are hopeful that our presentation will lead to an increase in the number of Kazakh companies deciding to invest in Macedonia, as well as to a growth in the overall volume of trade between the two countries, especially when considering that there are indeed Macedonian businessmen who are interested in investing and doing business in Kazakhstan.
Furthermore, something that is equally important to us is to have a chance to present the enormous tourism potential of the Republic of Macedonia. Several groups of Kazakh tourists already intend to pay a visit to our country this summer, which provides an excellent signal and a welcome impetus for the future.
It is vital for our two countries to mutually abolish their visa regimes for each other’s nationals, which will allow both businesspersons and tourists to maintain easier and faster contacts in the future. The Republic of Macedonia already abolished on a unilateral basis its visa requirement for Kazakhstan nationals quite a number of years ago and I am hopeful that this unilateral act by my country will be reciprocated by Kazakhstan as soon as possible, taking into consideration that this issue is of paramount importance when it comes to the future intensification of the cooperation between our two countries in all areas and contexts.
Simultaneously, we will be diversifying the overall existing contractual framework between our two countries with the signing of several more key agreements and memoranda of cooperation, a trend that we wish to see continued in the future as well, particularly when considering that having a solid contractual framework is of crucial importance for channelling cooperation between any two countries.
At the same time, I am interested to learn how the Eurasian Economic Union operates and how it is developing its economic relations with countries that do not form part of its membership. I will also be exchanging my views with my hosts on a variety of major developments currently dominating the media the world over and, finally, I will also be updating my colleagues on the on-going state of affairs in the corner of the world where Macedonia is located.
In Kazakhstan, 2015 is the year of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, an instrument created to guarantee the unity of the country’s multicultural society. As a foreign observer, how do you assess the experience of Kazakhstan in shaping interethnic and interreligious relations worldwide? Is Macedonia interested in this mechanism?
I am impressed by the fact that there are around 130 ethnic communities, as well as several different religious groups, coexisting in today’s Kazakhstan. That only goes to show that you have devised the right formula for unity, coexistence and economic and social prosperity in your country.
Macedonia is also a country in which different ethnic communities coexist. We have even officially listed all separate ethnic groups under their full names within the country’s national constitution and each of them enjoys its own rights under it.
Fostering interethnic and interreligious relations and ties is of paramount importance to the stability of not only ours, but your country, as well. Hence, I feel that promoting mutual respect and understanding in a multicultural society has an exceptional bearing on its overall prosperity. Differences should be connecting people, rather than setting them apart and dividing them on various grounds. That is why I would like to offer Kazakhstan, its leaders and its people my congratulations on this year dedicated to the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, and offer at the same time my felicitations upon the great jubilee of 550 years since the foundation of the first Khanate, which has been the cornerstone of today’s Kazakhstan’s statehood.