“The purpose of our visit is political, diplomatic and also cultural,” he says. Just having finished meeting Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, Milososki is impressed at the depth and experience of India’s foreign minister. “He was already a minister and had visited the former Yugoslavia twice already the year I was born,” he says, adding, “I am also going to Kolkata to place a wreath at the resting place of Mother Teresa. This visit is a familiarization visit and also a political signal of our mutual interest. We are countries that believe in freedom, democracy, pluralism and we are against religious misguided terrorism.”
Milososki points at the intersection of interests between India and Macedonia as the reason for setting up the embassy. “Macedonia has soldiers that are part of ISAF in Afghanistan because we feel regional insecurity may affect us all. We appreciate the position of India that the government of Afghanistan must be given a chance to do its job. The region is a very sensitive area, especially bordering Pakistan and people who practice religious extremism do not respect borders,” says Milososki.
But what are Macedonia’s interests in the region and how have Macedonia troops come half-way across the world to be deployed in Afghanistan? “The Macedonian people are supportive of our mission in Afghanistan. Eight years ago, Macedonia was a consumer of foreign security assistance and now we have become a contributor. The nations in need deserve being assisted by those who are in a position to assist,” explains the minister, going on to say, “In the globalized world, it is also in our interest to be part of the struggle against terror, after all one of the people who attacked Mumbai in November had been a mujahideen in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So we are all interdependent.”
Macedonia has been the peaceful exception in a region scarred by conflict and the minister is only too aware of the challenges his country has faced in maintaining its integrity. “Macedonia has managed to stay relatively peaceful in a region that has long seen conflict because we have chosen this way. We believe a hundred days of an imperfect peace are better than one day of perfect war,” he says, narrating the story of his country’s peaceful transition from being part of the former Yugoslavia to be being an independent country. “We had a referendum on the independence of Macedonia and ninety per cent of the people voted for independence. We believe in peaceful strife. We have also taken care to maintain our multicultural society. We have twenty eight per cent Muslims and seventy per cent Christian Orthodox besides other groups.”
It was not easy for Macedonia to stand apart from the conflict in the region and Milososki talks of how Macedonia was in danger of being drawn into the Balkan wars. “There were at least two attempts made to have larger conflict in the Balkans spill over into Macedonia. Notably Greece and Serbia were not happy about the independence of Macedonia. Greece tried to prevent the recognition of Macedonia and so it was an indirect obstacle to the development of Macedonia.
Then in 2001, with the war in Kosovo, an attempt was made to import the conflict into Macedonia and create conflict between the majority and the Albanian ethnic minority. But this was prevented by the political leadership of our country, which followed a policy of engagement and argued for equal opportunities for everyone.”
Milososki is also trying to attract Indian investment into his tiny country. LN Mittal and Binani are already big names there. “We want to increase trade links with India. We would like Indian Foreign Direct Investment in Macedonia. We already have industrialists like LN Mittal doing business in our country. We would especially like Indian investment in the IT sector and in any other field as well. It is also the wish of our Prime Minister to pay a visit to India with a large trade delegation.”
“Macedonia is a candidate for European Union membership, so there are opportunities for Indian companies for flexibilities – we have a flat tax rate, we are centrally located and we are interested in having Indian business invest in our country and this will help Indian companies get into the EU market,” he says.
Milososki recalls the reactions of his people to the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. “The attacks on Mumbai attracted the condemnation of everyone in Macedonia. Everyone condemned the killing of innocent civilians for any reason, misusing ideological thought to hurt a population. But we believe condemnation is not enough. Condemnation has to go on till final responsibility is taken for these crimes and the people and organisations responsible for this should be brought to justice.”
He reiterates his empathy with India in the challenges it faces in dealing with terrorism. “If Macedonia had suffered such a terror attack we would have reacted in the same manner, as we are sure Pakistan too would have reacted in the same way, if it had been attacked in this manner.”
Looking at the historical links between the two countries he added, “The first Macedonian who came to India came as a conqueror but the last Macedonian who came here was very small and very faithful and she has achieved great stature,” referring to Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.