The landlocked Balkan nation of Macedonia has allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees to transit the country from Greece northward to Germany. Earlier this month, Macedonia, a non-European Union country, which borders Greece, an EU member, closed its borders to refugees.
Meanwhile thousands of refugees are stranded on the Greece-Macedonia border,
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov claims his country is paying for the mistakes made by the EU.
The following interview was conducted by Kai Diekmann, the publisher of the German news publication BILD and a Business Insider contributing editor. Business Insider and BILD are co-publishing the interview.
Business Insider: Mr President, in order to stop the influx of refugees, it has been planned that Turkey will receive six billion euros and that visa requirements will be lifted. At the same time, Macedonia has to do the “dirty work” for the EU at the border with Greece, as Vice Chancellor Gabriel calls it. Do you feel you have been taken for a fool?
Gjorge Ivanov: This is not the first time that Macedonia has been let down by the EU, we already know the feeling! No one helped us when we took on 360,000 refugees during the Kosovo War.
That’s why we have now reacted proactively — our army is protecting our borders. Let’s face it: in the refugee crisis, we are now paying for the mistakes of the EU. We already had to spend 25 million euros in tax money. We already declared a state of emergency. And what have we received from Europe? Nothing! Not a single cent. Instead, we as a non-EU country now have to protect Europe from an EU country, that is, Greece.
BI: You are also not a Schengen member, but you are protecting the Schengen border …
Ivanov: Yes, we are nothing here, not an EU country, not a Schengen country, not a NATO country. Nobody wants us. And still, we are protecting Europe from a European country that is insufficiently controlling the refugees or has simply sent them on. In the refugee crisis, the security situation has been entirely ignored. If we had trusted Brussels and had not reacted on our own initiative, we would already have been flooded with jihadists.
BI: What do you mean?
Ivanov: Look at these passports and papers. They are all forged or stolen. We have already seized 9,000 of them. Some so-called refugees are travelling through the whole of Europe with false identities, and Greece is simply stamping their papers so that they continue on their journey.
We have to assume that many of these people who were travelling with forged papers want to enter the EU via the refugee route as radical fighters.
BI: So do we Germans have to be grateful to Macedonia for radically closing the border?
Ivanov: In the refugee crisis, there’s the humanitarian dimension and the security dimension. With respect to humaneness, Germany has acted exemplary.
But your country has completely failed with respect to security. Just one example: we wanted to share our information about these alleged jihadists with Europe and Germany.
But no one wanted our data. We were told: we cannot cooperate with you; you are a third party country; we must not exchange data with you.
BI: Germany did not want to help you either?
Ivanov: No! We needed equipment for collecting biometric data and Germany always refused to provide anything. But we found other states that were able to help us. It is totally absurd: we are concerned not with money, but with the security of the entire continent.
But obviously nobody cares about that. Look: after the Paris attacks, we were asked whether we had any information, but only after the event. We told the authorities that ten people with the same identity as the assassins had entered the country.
BI: Turkey is negotiating with the EU; Macedonia is not invited to the table …
Ivanov: We are part of the menu, unfortunately. We have always been the victim of EU institutions. For 25 years, we have been lied to and manipulated. A potential EU membership for Macedonia has been discussed seven times already, but there was always an obstruction, caused by Greece. No one in the EU gets along with the Greeks and we are supposed to solve this conflict on our own with this country.
BI: The Greek prime minister is praising Chancellor Angela Merkel: on the refugee question, she is showing the moral and humane face of Europe, he says. Which face is Macedonia showing?
Ivanov: We are also showing a humane face. The Macedonians have provided an incredible amount of help. They have provided medical care and made donations. But once again: we are not an EU country and have to pay for the EU’s mistakes.
BI: Does that mean that the German policy of open borders caused the refugee crisis in the first place?
Ivanov: Chancellor Merkel has acted bravely by her humanitarian gesture. But now no one is brave enough to say what will come next. Between Sudan and Egypt alone, 20 million migrants who want to go to Europe are waiting. And what about Africa? The stream of refugees will not end. Everyone is very well informed because of Twitter and Facebook.
And what is Europe doing? It takes more than six months to organise a summit alone. By that time, one million new migrants have arrived. And concerning Germany: how can it be that 130,000 refugees have simply disappeared in your country?
We have to change. Radically.
BI: What exactly do you mean?
Ivanov: What we are seeing is that Europe does not function in a crisis situation. Brussels takes far too much time to make decisions. This is why, for instance, some countries along the Balkans route like us had to act on their own. But European crisis management is not working.
In the future, more countries will have to make decisions sovereignly. Chancellor Merkel has also decided to take on the role of saviour of Europe on her own. With her decisions, she alone has pushed Europe in a certain direction. Now she wants to achieve a solution together with Turkey. We will see if this works. I am very sceptical in this regard.
BI: But what will now happen to the thousands of people who are waiting at the border in Idomeni?
Ivanov: The refugees are waiting for Merkel to pick them up in planes or trains. They all want to go to Germany and do not want to stay in Greece.
BI: The situation at the border is threatening to escalate. If the refugees were to use force in order to continue into Macedonia, would your soldiers use not only tear gas, but possibly also armed munitions to keep them back?
Ivanov: We are of course not animals who would shoot at war refugees! First, you have to look at the Greek side. EU police are stationed there and it is their job to manage the situation. But they are obviously incapable.
BI: What will become of Greece if you keep the border closed?
Ivanov: You’ll have to ask the Greeks! Now they are receiving 700 million euros again from the EU, they are getting everything they want. But the problem is: they do not use it for anything! Why are there no hotspots and camps? I have understood that Europe does not care about us. But I will not accept that we are now being blamed for the mistakes of others! The EU has no right to accuse Macedonia. We are merely looking after ourselves.
BI: Is our impression, that you are quite mad at the EU, correct?
Ivanov: What would you do if someone blocked any paths for your country for over 25 years, if you were manipulated and lied to? Despite countless positive reports, there has been no development with regards to our EU prospects. We have been, so to say, stuck in a lift for 25 years.
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