Your Excellency, you were recently appointed as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Romania to the Republic of North Macedonia. What can you tell us about the relations between the two countries? What can you tell us about the treatment of the Macedonian minority in Romania and vice versa, given the role of the minorities as bridges between the two countries?
Indeed, I had the privilege to be appointed as the Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of North Macedonia and I started officially my duties in this capacity in February this year. From the very beginning, I shall stress that the bilateral relations between our two countries are excellent. Romania has been and remains a firm supporter of North Macedonia’s European path. We actively support efforts which, we hope, would allow for the start of your country’s accession negotiations to the EU as soon as possible.
At the same time, Romania has consistently supported North Macedonia’s accession to NATO and we believe that joining the Alliance, last year, was a strategic achievement for North Macedonia, contributing greatly to the stability and security of the whole region. This also provides a solid premise for increased bilateral cooperation between our countries inside NATO, as we share common security interests in the region and beyond.
At the same time, Romania and the Republic of North Macedonia continue to work closely together within the regional cooperation frameworks.
In this context, Romania very much welcomes that the Chairmanship-in-Office of OSCE will be held, in 2023, by your country. This is clearly a recognition of the very constructive role North Macedonia is playing at the OSCE level, and regionally. We are confident that North Macedonia’s mandate at the helm of OSCE will be successful and will further consolidate your country’s solid profile as a reliable NATO ally and EU partner.
It is also worth mentioning that this year our two countries celebrated together 20 years since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Romania and the Republic of North Macedonia, which established the framework for political, economic, and cultural ties. These 20 years marked the deepening of our bilateral relationship, as demonstrated by numerous contacts at all levels, covering a wide range of issues, from the economic and scientific fields to the cultural and educational ones.
Also in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our two countries have worked together in order to mitigate its effects on their citizens. Through the RescEU stockpiles established at the EU level, within the EU civil protection mechanism, Romania ensured successive transports to North Macedonia of medical equipment used in the COVID context.
The EU solidarity was further proved in the context of the wildfires, which unfortunately affected North Macedonia this summer. In that context, Romania joined the impressive local efforts of the population and of the authorities of North Macedonia, as well as the international teams coming here to render their support, with a military aircraft adapted to firefighting and a team of 10 officers. It was indeed impressive how all these teams complemented each other and coordinated effectively in dealing with these devastating fires.
On this basis, I do hope that our bilateral relationship will become even stronger and that we will further enhance and expand our areas of cooperation. I refer in particular to enhancing the economic ties and the trade between our countries, which are not yet meeting their true potential. With this objective in mind, an Economic Forum North Macedonia – Romania was held on 30 June 2021, when we welcomed in Skopje many businesspersons and representatives of a cluster of companies from Romania interested to invest in North Macedonia in such diverse fields of activity as energy, construction, infrastructure, waste management, IT, tourism, pharmaceutical industry, consulting, media, education, research and many others. At the same time, I think there is a huge potential for increased trade on food and agriculture products, including wines.
I am convinced that the geographical proximity between our two countries gives all of us no excuse to not look forward to a vibrant and amplified bilateral trade.
Finally, you also rightly referred in your question to the role of national minorities as bridges between our two countries. Indeed, Romania and the Republic of North Macedonia strongly value and promote their respective kin minorities and ethnic communities and their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. On one side, the Macedonian minority in Romania fully enjoys all the rights conferred by the statute of national minority, including representation in the Romanian Parliament. Moreover, in December 2018, the Romanian Parliament adopted the decision to celebrate on each 8 December the “Day of the Macedonian Language”.
On the other side, we attach great importance to our cooperation in support of preserving the cultural and linguistic identity of our kin community in North Macedonia, and I refer here to the Aromanian and Megleno-romanian communities in North Macedonia, which are recognized as the ”Vlach nationality” in your Constitution, with whom Romania has strong connections in terms of historical roots and commonality of language.
We have a lot of cultural ties, for example Milton and Yanaki Manaki, both of them being Aromanian, the brothers that had the largest contribution in the development of the Macedonian early cinema. Can you tell us more about the cultural ties between the two countries?
The Manaki Brothers are the pioneers of the art of photography and of the cinematography in the Balkans. They have documented, with their photos and their movies, the very dramatic events which took place in the Balkans at the beginning of the 20th century. They were Aromanians. They identified themselves as Aromanians. They were born in the village of Avdella during the Ottoman Empire (currently Greece). They served as official photographers of the Romanian Royal Court.
You identified them as an expression of the cultural ties between our two countries. You were right, in the sense that they were Aromanians, and, as I said before, Romania values its historical and linguistic connections with the Aromanians. But it is more than this. The legacy of the Manaki brothers is indeed universal. This year, we celebrate 100 years since they opened the first cinema in Bitola. In their honour, the Manaki Brothers Film Festival is held every year in North Macedonia. From its part, Romania also values very much the legacy of the Manaki Brothers and their contribution to the modern cinematography, and you can find a lot of documentation on their lives and activities, as well as some of their movies or photos, at a number of Museums or Archives in Romania.
Let me also add, in this context, that, historically, Romania had an important contribution to the recognition and affirmation of the rights of the Aromanians in the Otoman Empire. In this regard, it is important to note that the Ottoman Sultan Imperial decree of 1905 (the ”Irade”, which granted rights to all the Aromanians South of Danube) was adopted following the decisive diplomatic action of Alexandru Em. Lahovari, the Romanian diplomatic envoy at the time.
These are just two examples out of many. Building on these historical connections, we think that we can further contribute, together with our friends from North Macedonia, to the joint efforts aimed at the preservation of the linguistic, cultural and ethnical identity of the Aromanian community in North Macedonia.
Of course, our bilateral cultural ties are much wider and there are, indeed, immense opportunities to further build on our close cultural backgrounds.
We do count on a very solid legal basis in this regard. The Agreement between the Government of Romania and the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia on the cooperation in the fields of education, science, culture, mass media, youth and sports (in force since 2019) is a very important achievement and we should proceed to its full implementation.
The Agreement creates the framework for increased direct cooperation between education institutions from our countries. In this regard, we welcome the very recent signing of a cooperation Protocol between the University of Iași and Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje.
The Agreement also provides for an important focus on the promotion of the study of the Romanian language in North Macedonia, and of the Macedonian language in Romania. In this regard, we count on the Romanian language Lectorate at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, and on the Macedonian language Lectorate in Bucharest. We consider our Lectorate here as the most important instrument we have for the promotion of the Romanian language in North Macedonia and we warmly welcome the celebration, this year, of 50 years of its functioning.
Another area where we have a long-lasting tradition of cooperation, which we should continue to enhance, is that of granting study places and scholarships to students, on a reciprocal basis.
In your opinion, in which directions can we expect to move the bilateral cultural cooperation?
Indeed, there is a lot to be done in order to advance our bilateral cooperation in the field of culture. Let us discover and nurture what is uniting us, by means of literature, theatre, cinematography, or music performance. I am sure the experience will be much rewarding and rich, on both sides.
Let me give you an example. Recently, the International Literature Festival Proza Balkan took place in Skopje. On that occasion, a great Romanian writer, Mircea Cărtărescu, was the winner of the prestigious ”Prozart” award. As an ambassador of Romania in North Macedonia, I am very pleased to find in the bookstores in Skopje many famous books of Mircea Cărtărescu translated into the Macedonian language. Proza Balkan Festival also had Ioana Nicolaie, another famous Romanian writer, as a special guest and, on that occasion, the translation in the Macedonian language of one of her books was promoted. These are concrete means through which, thanks to the remarkable job done by the translators, the Romanian literature is getting discovered by the wide public in North Macedonia.
And the list of Romanian literature personalities who are known and appreciated in North Macedonia is much wider. I was much pleased to discover that Mircea Eliade, Eugen Ionescu, and Nichita Stănescu are mentioned as their favorite authors by many cultural personalities in North Macedonia, as well as by so many people and students who have a passion for literature. Also, a reason of pride for us is that the famous Romanian poet, Ana Blandiana was, in 2019, the laureate of the “Golden Wreath” award of the most prestigious Struga Poetry Evenings.
Now, since we speak about moving forward our bilateral cultural cooperation, I would like also to mention our intention to explore ways for opening an Information Centre of Romania, perhaps affiliated to the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, aimed at deepening the connection with the academic environment in North Macedonia. Preliminarily, we have discussed this idea with our partners from North Macedonia. Romania has already opened five such Information Centres abroad, having the role of consolidating the cultural and linguistic links.
At the same time, following a law adopted by the Romanian Parliament in 2021, on 10 May we will celebrate, each year, the Day of the Romanianity in the Balkans. In this context, Romania is currently considering the possibility of cultural projects, implemented jointly with other countries from the Balkans, including North Macedonia.
Besides the cultural experiences, we can refer to tourism as well. What are the most attractive tourist destinations in Romania?
Indeed, another area with untapped potential in our bilateral relations is that of tourism. Being close, geographically and culturally, could make a real difference in this regard. At the same time, North Macedonia can be easily included in extended touristic packages, alongside other touristic attractions in the region. We, therefore, intend to focus more in the future on this area, perhaps by encouraging more direct, reciprocal visits by the tourism companies in the two countries, or by organizing, sometime soon, a bilateral Tourism Forum, based on the good follow-up we had recently with the bilateral Economic Forum in Skopje.
Perhaps the only thing that can make a real difference in terms of untapping the potential both in terms of economic relations, but also in terms of people to people contacts and in particular tourism would be to establish a direct flight between Bucharest and Skopje.
Speaking about the most attractive tourist destinations in Romania, without having the ambition to be exhaustive, I would mention in particular three main attractions. Firstly, for nature lovers, the Danube Delta, the largest preserved river delta in Europe, might be a unique experience, while also being a paradise for wildlife, especially birds. Also, the Carpathian Mountains offer great hiking possibilities in the summer and skiing in the winter. Secondly, the history lovers would be impressed by the medieval castles and the historical centers of some cities in Transylvania, but also by the beauty of the elegant 19th century Peleș Castle in Sinaia. Thirdly, those passionate about art, architecture, and traditions could find it most enriching to visit the ring of old painted monasteries in the Northern part of Romania or the wooden churches of Maramureș. The current vibrant cultural life of the big cities, like Bucharest, Cluj Napoca, or Iași, can also be the main attraction point.
Which destinations you have visited in North Macedonia so far? What do you find most amazing in our country?
From the very first day of my arrival in North Macedonia, I was impressed by the beauty of your country. Even from Skopje, you can get a glimpse of the high mountains surrounding the city and providing it with a spectacular view. Of course, I visited Ohrid, and I got impressed by its beauty and cultural richness. I am convinced that I will return many times to Ohrid during my stay in North Macedonia, as there are so many things to discover there. I also had the opportunity of discovering some other parts of North Macedonia, equally beautiful, like Bitola, Stip, Tetovo, Berovo, Kicevo. You have indeed a very beautiful country. The people I met here are all very friendly and always ready to help. And the food experience in North Macedonia is also very rich, and I found many similarities with the Romanian tastes. I also know that there are numerous possibilities for hiking and biking in your country, and I do look forward to exploring them.
Can you tell us more about the “Dracula phenomenon”, both from the cultural and touristic aspects? What is so enchanting about this myth, which is one of the things Romania is recognized throughout the world?
”Dracula phenomenon” is based on a myth, created around a novel about Count Dracula, by the Irish author Bram Stoker. This novel has some connections with Prince Vlad the Impaler of the 15th century.
Perhaps Bran Castle is the site most often associated with Dracula as his home. Irrespective of the documented facts, the Bran Castle continues to project and hold a strong attraction for all the Count’s fans.
With roots dating to the 13th century, this medieval castle today houses a museum showcasing art and furniture collected by Queen Maria of Romania. It is also home to an open-air museum featuring Romanian local countryside architecture and items.
The foreign tourists are fascinated by the myth of Count Dracula and they come to Transylvania to find out more about it. What they actually discover is the rich history which is behind the legend, in connection to the historical figure Vlad the Impaler, but also Transylvania’s natural beauty and historical landmarks such as Sighișoara, Poenari Castle, or Bran Castle.
Romania is an EU and NATO member state for over a decade. What experiences we can gain from Romanian membership in the Euro-Atlantic structures? What are the biggest benefits for your country?
Romania joined NATO in 2004, and the European Union in 2007. Since then, we have come a long way in terms of the continuous consolidation of our role and contribution within the EU and NATO, while consistently promoting democratic values, stability, and security in the region and at the global level.
Both accession processes were regarded as being mutually reinforcing. They were by no means an end in themselves. They were rather instrumental in boosting the most necessary reforms internally, whose final beneficiaries were the Romanian citizens. Indeed, the citizens themselves are those benefiting most if there is a functioning and independent judicial system in place or if there is less corruption affecting the country, or if the public administration is functioning more effectively, or if the economic rules are more transparent and in line with the market economy competitiveness.
Since North Macedonia is now preparing to embark on the very complex process of EU accession negotiations, which we do hope will start without further delay, Romania is willing to share its expertise related to this process, since we have been through it not so long ago. We know, from our own experience, that this process can sometimes seem incredibly difficult. This is a process of in-depth adaptation of the candidate country’s system according to the EU’s technical conditions fixed. It cannot be but difficult. But I would like to assure you that it is worth every effort. Its transformative power is impressive and this can be witnessed in the daily lives of each and every citizen of the country.
So, in this context, continuing with the implementation of reforms, despite their difficulty, remains the best argument North Macedonia has regarding its European path.
It is true, nevertheless, that any further delays in opening the accession negotiations for North Macedonia would be detrimental for the sustained efforts and remarkable progress your country has made so far while generating frustration and harming the motivation for reforms.
That is why we remain engaged in supporting the Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council in all their substantive efforts towards finding a solution and we hope that a compromise would be reached by the end of the year. This would be to everyone’s advantage, the Republic of North Macedonia, the EU and EU Member States, and the stability and security in the region.
According to your experience, what are the greatest challenges Romania faces nowadays, in terms of politics and government?
The greatest challenges of our times are perhaps those posed by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, by climate change, and by the new threats to democratic governance, at the regional and global levels. In this context, the concept of resilience has been gaining well-deserved attention both at NATO and at the EU level, as a proper means of structuring the answers of these organizations and of their Member States to the current challenges.
For its part, Romania is actively participating in the efforts of enhancing resilience at the state level, as well as at the regional, European, and even the global level. In order to give more substance and a strategic vision to the concept of resilience, Romania established in Bucharest, in May this year, the Euro-Atlantic Center for Resilience. This is Romania’s concrete initiative to the joint efforts of increasing the resilience at NATO and EU level, which basically means to increase the capacity of adaptation and better answers to the current risks, threats, and challenges, at the regional and global level, in order to better protect our common values, interests, and objectives.
I am convinced that Romania and North Macedonia will cooperate remarkably well in this field, too, sharing experiences and best practices on how to build and sustain resilience in an ever-changing world and with ever-increasing challenges.
Thank you, your Excellency, for your time to do this interview. At the very end, one more question: how do you see the mission and activities of Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre, what future role can it aspire to have?
I sincerely applaud you and your team at the Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre for everything you are doing in promoting social interaction at the level of the diplomatic community in Skopje, but also in what concerns the deepening of the cultural relations between the Republic of North Macedonia and other countries. I warmly encourage you to continue on this way, as your work proves to be so much useful to us all, the diplomats accredited in Skopje, especially when we are at the beginning of our mandate here.
I am also aware of the remarkable efforts you have done in order to adapt to the restrictive measures imposed by the pandemic context. Warmest congratulation, thus, for the successful 2020 and 2021 DMWC Diplomatic Charity concerts. Also, a special word of appreciation for the monthly newsletter that never fails to be both interesting and informative.
Thank you, indeed, for the opportunity you offered me to present some Romanian views on some interesting questions. Let me assure you of the continuous support of the Romanian Embassy in Skopje in all your activities.