Robert Alagjozovski is National coordinator for interculturalism, one society, cultural development and inter-ministerial cooperation in the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia. His core responsibility is the implementation of the National Strategy on the development of the concept of one society and interculturalism, which ambition is to advance the rights of the communities in North Macedonia, to improve the intercultural dialogue, to foster the social cohesion and inclusion and to bridge the ethnic gap and the living in parallel societies. Before taking his current post, Robert Alagjozovski has served as Minister of Culture in the Government of the Republic of Macedonia (2017- 2018). Previously he has worked as a publisher, translator, and
manager of a number of projects related to cultural diversity, post-conflict reconciliation, and artistic activism. He is also author of reviews and academic papers. His participation
in the so-called “Colourful revolution”, a civic and political movement for overthrowing the “hybrid regime”, brought him in the current Government.



In the pre-text of this essay, please let me symbolically connect that the public debate preceding it, fell of two important holidays, in the two neighboring countries, Albania and North Macedonia. It is Youth Day in Albania, and St. Clement Day in North Macedonia. St. Clement was a 9th century monk who spread literacy in the region around Ohrid lake, now a bordering region between the countries, and I believe it is thanks to his educational work, and the work of his disciples afterwards, that we formed the basis, on which, centuries later we managed to build a modern nation. Literacy is the key to enter the modernity of today. Youth, literacy, education are the three points we should keep crucial when we speak of European and regional integration. The way how we organize our educational system and how we teach democracy, openness, dialogue (which is also the name of our host center /COD) [1] is crucial to how we relate with Europe and the region. For years I have been participating in many protests in my country against policies and political struggles which were focused on xenophobia, nationalism, closed society, corruption. Being part of the system management, as I am now, in the last five years, gives great opportunities to work towards the desired changes and contribute to the reform. So, to me, when we speak about the European integration, we speak about the change of how our society functions, the change of our mindset and how are we doing the things in our everyday life. There are voices saying, or regretting that North Macedonia missed so many opportunities to become member of EU in the last twenty years, but to me, formal membership, without changing our ways, means nothing. We witness, as well, that many new, of even older EU member states, have problems with democracy, rule of law, corruption, organized crime. So, fight for the formal membership and not for system change is wrong battle. Rule of law, democracy, good governance is the so-called general criteria for membership. We cannot say we have advanced in many specific areas: infrastructure, digitalization, economic growth, if we haven’t improved the general states of affairs. The strive to become member of European Union is also aspiration to be part of a civilization that shares values, to be in the club of the most prosperous societies and the values they rely on. This is the vision, and then, yes, there is a formal process of integration, where we must make a lot of efforts, painful achievements and changes, compromises in some areas. If we are to compare, where do we stand now and five or ten years ago, then for me, the message is clear: we are on the right way.


Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are one of the first criteria for membership. You cannot create, so to say, a federation, as European Union is, and at the same time have conflicting identities, history books with your neighbors, if you hate each other. You must introduce the multi-perspectivity in the approach. You cannot be good with someone from Brussels without being good with the ones in Tirana, Sofia or Thessaloniki. You cannot go on a beach in Valona and hate the guy you are sharing the sunbed with. Therefore, we are going into the Union together. Edi Rama, Vucic, Kovacevski, our prime ministers, they now stand together, and the relations are much better now than they use to be in the past. Even if they are not belonging to the same ideological or party scope, it is important that they speak the same language, that they fulfil the same agenda. This is the general stance, and it is good that it is happening. Because of that, I believe that even the notion of Western Balkans is nowadays not that negative as it was when the use of the term started. To the extent, that even when we speak now about the worsening relations in Kosovo, we can observe that there is no capacity for war, unlike the 1990s. The threat of large-scale violence is gone, and I think that this is great achievement which the region, overall, has reached it in the recent years. We must be very aware of what are the problems, and what are the conflicts about, and we must work to provide solutions, but I believe that the region is moving in a good direction. And if we overcome our prejudices, hatred, if we respect minority and human rights, then we can move the agenda ahead. It was good that the Summit Western Balkans-EU happened just few days ago in Tirana, in a Balkans capital, and not in EU, and that it spoke about the Energy problems, the Green Agenda, sustainable solutions etc. The war in Ukraine and the global warming are the real challenges. We look funny when confronted with real issues we cannot overcome our small quarrels. But here, we also have good results. If you read the so-called progress reports of both countries, allying with the general policies of European Union, sharing the common messages as the whole EU and the progressive world is where we stand best. However, we will see what the screening period which is now on-going will show, what would be the state of our system and where shall we move next from there. But it is good that it is happening.


Another thing which I want to point is that the political class of the region started listening to their citizens. The accountability is much bigger now. Before, they were used to just say the buzz words, European Union or Integration, and then they can do whatever they want in their mandate, or just don’t do anything. It is important that we do not speak only about the general level of democracy but also on the minor, everyday improvement of the quality of life of the people, a better life. It is good to see that the Open Balkans initiative, as a home-grown initiative for regional integration is seeking to provide real-life gains and advantages to the people. If we do not travel easy, if we cannot find job easy, if we do not have equal opportunities in our societies, we are going to flee to better places. It is good that Open Balkans memoranda targets free passage at the border crossings, or Berlin process provides reduced roaming prices.


And now I come to the final aspect of my text. In continuation to what I just said, I think it is great that the Youth policies are becoming dominant in the regional governments agenda, and they are, besides other things, also oriented in providing the youth with more concrete opportunities and incentives. Here I would also like to mention another strategy that I am coordinating in my country, and this is for the Concept of One society and Interculturalism. It means that we should provide equal opportunities for everyone, even the most vulnerable parts of the societies, and this is in line with the UN 2030 goals to leave no one behind. It also means that we fight corruption, nepotism and clientelism in the society. It means once you come to power you do not grasp power. You do not take the advantages only for you group but for everyone in society. This is what I like in the newly drafted measures, that the criteria are much more objective, and they can easily refer to whomever fulfills it and not only to the interconnected elites. This is very important to understand and to implement because I believe that now the biggest threats do not come from outside but from inside. Internal struggles, internal fights for resources and opportunities are what mark our societies and what can make them crumble. We all now must regain our common goals as societies. There is another malady, and this is that for the sake of internal divisions and benefits we are not consensual as we were in the path to European integration, but some dream of another world of autocracies and strong nationalistic and hegemonistic states. And this melts in the common division on the political spectrum, where one part of the society identifies with the pro-European and other with the anti-European ideas, and voluntarily adds to it, anti-war or pro-war, pro-Ukraine or pro-Russia, pro or anti vaccine, flat or round earthiness etc.


Building internal consensus and getting rid of myths and phantasms, deserting the old tales of past supremacies, is where I expect the most contribution from a new realistic European driven and European experienced Youth. In this regard let me finish once more by mentioning two facts that proves the readiness of the Government to envisage tailor made and successful youth policy, but even more important, the readiness of the youth to recognize and to make use of the measures. The Youth Guarantee is a programme of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia that increases the scope and inclusion of young unemployed people in the labour market.  This program is open to all young people under the age of 29 who are unemployed, have already completed their education and are not registered within the Employment agency. Applicants receive a quality offer of employment, further education, internship or practice.  All of these are key to successfully integrating young people into the labour market and reducing the outflow of educated staff from the country. The second fact is that more than 50 per cent of Fund for Innnovation’s portfolio is start-ups mostly founded by young people.

[1] The Center for Openness and Dialogue in Tirana is the venue in which the panel discussion took place, on the 8th of December 2022.