FON University 30. 10. 2008
“What can be expected from the new administration in Washington? What are the challenges and perspectives for Macedonia?” In a panel organized by the Center for Research and Policy Making in cooperation with FON University from Skopje, a number of experts and representatives met to discuss these questions at FON University.
Professor Dimitar Mirchev, the Dean of the Faculty of Political Science at FON University, gave a short expose explaining the basic facts about the American elections. He said that a fourth of the presidential mandate is dedicated to campaigning, and in this period one can see how policies are created and how platforms are influenced by the public opinion and the internal and external political issues. With regard to the prevalent anxieties among Macedonians regarding a Democratic president, he stated that, in his opinion it did not matter which candidate is elected, as radical change in the American policy towards Macedonia seems unlikely. Anyways, 90 per cent of the American electorate base their votes on national issues, rather than the foreign policy ones. Even though Obama is in the lead with 8-9 per cent according to the polls, it is still not certain who will win, since frequently public opinion changes at the last moment. . In his concluding remarks Prof. Mirchev stated: “I expect both candidates to have bigger understanding for the global issues, such as the reformation of the United Nations,” he concluded.
The American insight was provided by David Burger from the American Embassy in Macedonia. He identified Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina as the swing states – whoever wins these states would win the elections. Due to the complex and difficult history in the American racial relations, he stated that the presence of Obama makes these elections very interesting. That’s why the expectations are a record voter turnout – over 60 per cent. He also added that most probably the difference between the candidates will decrease at the very elections, and did not exclude the possibility of McCain winning. “Even though Obama is more of a natural multilateralist, you should not underestimate the international experience of McCain,” Mr. Burger said, adding that “McCain is not anti UN or EU.” Both candidates have expressed grave concerns about climate change (a significant difference between Bush and McCain) and both face an enormous challenge – the economy. As for the American policy regarding the Balkans, Mr. Burger said that the current focus if on Kosovo, Bosnia, and Serbia. No matter who is elected, the US will support Macedonia’s candidacy for NATO and the resolution of the name issue through the UN. “There is no logic in changing the decision about the name,” [and] “[in the long-run]you must become greater security provider than consumer,” he assured the Macedonians.
Ilija Talev, an analyst at CRPM, expressed his support for the Democratic candidate, and went on to demystify the Macedonian paranoia about Obama winning the election. After a pro-Greek resolution sponsored by Obama the Macedonian support for him decreased severely. However, Mr. Talev explained, there is no need to worry, since such a resolution has no binding power, and it will not pass the Senate foreign affairs committee , because of its nationalistic and sensational nature. He continued explaining five myths about the American elections that exist in Macedonia.
1. For some countries, it is very important who wins the elections, but for others, such as ours, it is not. – He said that it is very important who wins the US elections but not because of the name issue, but because of the differing views of the presidential candidates regarding other global issues such as global warming, the financial crisis, the future of energy etc.
2. The American foreign policy would change with a new president While some change is about to come, the strategic interest, which is the global stability, would not change.
3. The American president can single-handedly alter the internal and international policies of his country – this oversees the fact that the president’s limitations about new policies – his party, the Congress, lobby groups, and the administration.
4. The Greek lobby is very strong in the US and they can influence the new president, especially Obama if elected The fear that the Greek lobby would convince the American administration to withdraw the decision to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name is illogical, as it would be in conflict with the US policy of creating stability in the Balkans, especially when it is trying to attract countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
5. The name issue is an important question for the US at this time. – The global economic crisis, the energy status, the relations with Russia, global warming – those are the focus issues, while ours is on the margins.
As a very important issue, Mr. Talev mentioned climate change and the need for a Kyoto Protocol successor, whose framework for 2012 needs to be done in 2009. He inserted that “Obama has the capacity of a global leader,” [and] “the new US president will have the responsibility to unite the world about on this issue.”
The stand was also taken by Adelina Marku, a columnist, who criticized the political elites in Macedonia for not having the edge to criticize the decision-makers, made a small comparison between the Macedonian and American political cultures. While there is an open society in the US, she said that Macedonia is still stuck in a revolutionary transition where the anticommunist rhetoric is more inclined towards installing authoritarian mechanisms, rather than promoting democracy and an open society.
The journalist Mitko Biljanovski reaffirmed the previous speakers in saying that he does not believe that whoever wins the elections would have the courage to “place a thorn in a healthy foot,” of course referring to the name issue. “No one would make experiments in a region which is already improving,” he added. The American people are asking for a change, both candidates are promising changes, but Obama is in a big advantage, since he even physically represents a change, while McCain is something already seen.
Professor Rizvan Sulejmani was the last speaker at the panel. While Americans are good with hard power and Europeans are better soft managers, he saw in Obama very good soft managerial skills. He gave recommendations to our policy creators to develop such skills for adapting to new changes in the international political arena – which is the only way to succeed in these crucial times for Macedonia.