Jordan Kamchev: Bulgaria, Macedonia Should Perform Jointly on Western Balkans
An interview of Novinite.com with Jordan Kamchev, a Macedonian businessman , on the challenges ahead of Macedonia and its relations with Bulgaria.
Born in 1970 in Macedonia's capital Skopje, Jordan Kamchev is Chief Executive Officer of Orka Holding and Chairman of the Board of Directors and also Chief Executive Officer of Acibadem Sistina Hospital. He is also the owner of the Media Print Macedonia group.
As CEO of a key company in Macedonia, how are you committed to boosting the economic growth and development of your country?
The economic stability and overall economic prosperity of Macedonia - where the dominant business of my company is positioned, is one of my top priorities and interests. Only in stable political and economic conditions can a business successfully grow, and only in a country with a developed economy can we hope for prosperity and happiness of its citizens. As a person born in Macedonia, maintaining a family business, I desire the development of my company to be in function of the overall economic development of my country. I want, and I do, everything to help solve bitter questions, such as unemployment, low economic standard and other negative appearances that occur in such conditions. But, patriotism is not enough in order to succeed in this intent. Today, every business is being evaluated on the world market. The world has become globalized, and should you not deliver the European level of quality in products and services, also should you fail to comply with the high ethical standards in business communication, you will be left with patriotism alone and lose your business.
In this sense, I repeatedly say that only through successful companies in our country can we tell the world the success story of Macedonia. With the implementation of European standards and competitiveness, Macedonia will achieve the country’s set objectives for her own integration into the European Union and NATO.
Being a businessman, which feature of Macedonia's economic environment and business climate would you describe as a major setback?
The key issue of the business in Macedonia is the fact that we have a small market. For any successful business, despite the long-term political and economic stability, the openness of borders and good infrastructure is absolutely mandatory.
Macedonia after 2001 has political stability, stable currency and macroeconomic constancy ensured by the government, but unfortunately, considerably lagging behind on its EU and NATO accession path.
At this point, Macedonia has a government that is making efforts to support the business community with low taxes and a range of measures in various areas, while presenting business opportunities in the free trade zones in attempt to attract foreign companies. The fact is that the capital is timid and requires guarantee for long-term political and economic stability of the country.
What are the main challenges ahead of your country along the road to European integration?
The question of the inter-ethnic relations and implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement remains fundamental for the development of the stability and security of the country. As a multi-ethnic society wherein 30% of the population is of another nationality, it is the first and foremost requirement. Macedonia’s relations with its neighbouring countries are a key pillar of her foreign policy. In this sense, Macedonia needs to foster cooperation and to undertake initiatives for active regional cooperation. Macedonia must find strength and in due time close all open issues, even those not depending solely on her will.
Perhaps we cannot agree on a shared past with our neighboring countries, but we surely can agree on a shared future. In accomplishment of this goal, painful compromises will be required by all parties, but the future is in the mutual business, mutual understanding and mutual happiness. If politicians in the Balkans collaborated and cooperated as well as the businessmen, I believe many misunderstandings would have been overcome by now.
Macedonia at the time being is a country with relatively low public and external debt. It does have and it can preserve the banking sector and macroeconomic stability. Furthermore, it is of high importance that we effectuate the investments in the transportation infrastructure. Each political decision should be seen as a business decision and to what extent it does or does not help the business and the economy in the country.
This year there were a few cases of ethnic scuffles with the Albanian-speaking minority. Even though a 2001 scenario is not unfolding again, what do you think should be done to eradicate tensions?
We should have in mind that ethnic tensions and conflicts in Macedonia emerged shortly after the crises in Kosovo. Macedonia’s situation had calmed after the Ohrid Framework Agreement was signed, and in 2005 Macedonia became a candidate member of the EU, but never received a date for accession talks. Recognition of Kosovo's independence, a good economic cooperation between the two countries, and a good political cooperation between Macedonians and Albanians in the government of the Republic Macedonia... with these facts the main problems between Macedonians and Albanians in my opinion are resolved.
However, the main problem is that Macedonia has not yet, nor has together with Albania in 2008, become a member of NATO. In addition to that, as result of the two-decades-long name dispute with Greece, the accession negotiations with the EU have not yet started – impeding the EU integration of Macedonia. This disturbs the Albanians in Macedonia, especially when they hear the "recommendations" from Russia that the Western Balkans should not rush with their membership in NATO and the EU. The internal integration of Macedonia depends on the implementation of the Framework Agreement and the fast integration of Macedonia in NATO and the EU. That is the key to stability around which the majority of Macedonia agrees. What I believe guarantees stability is the awareness among the Albanians, that Macedonia’s obstacles towards EU and NATO are not derived from a hidden desire of the Macedonians to return to Yugoslavia, or for some alliance with Russia.
How should the dispute with Greece about Macedonia's name be solved? UN mediator Matthew Nimetz made a new name proposal on Wednesday. And the west usually blames Southeast European countries for failing to seek compromise. But should both countries really make a compromise?
The Republic of Macedonia, which was first recognized as an independent country by the Republic of Bulgaria under its name, feels injustice when one of her neighboring countries requests her to change it.
Over 130 countries along with Russia, US, China and the UK have already recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name and have established diplomatic relations. Among those countries who signed contracts under the name of Republic of Macedonia in the past 23 years are all our neighbors except for Greece. In my opinion Greece will have to realize that blocking Macedonia is no longer in their interest.
And what about Bulgaria, from your point of view? A recent ranking of the Foreign Policy magazine placed the country 28th in terms of attractiveness for foreign investors, with Macedonia just behind. Do you think investment climate has improved over the past few years? And what do you think is the reason for this notch of difference with Macedonia?
As a member of the European Union and NATO, to her investors Bulgaria can certainly offer greater and longer political and economic stability. Bulgaria is a four times larger market than Macedonia with a very solid purchasing power, with business conditions similar to the Macedonian. Business requires stable governments and contracts, which is not the case with Bulgaria. It requires a climate of rule of law, that is to say fast and effective protection of property, effective judicial system and free market, protected from disloyal competition and corruption maintained monopolies. Those sorts of weaknesses occur in both countries which have not fully overcome the transition. Macedonia's progress in the ranking lists for foreign investment attraction is no evidence that the conditions are better than Bulgaria’s, but speaks above all about the progress in this area of special offers such as concessions and subventions to foreign investors. Foreign direct investments in our free trade zones are one important factor for the development of the Macedonian economy and unemployment reduction with new job openings. Probably the fact that unlike Bulgaria, Macedonia for the past 8 years has a stable government with a mandate of another 4 years, affects investors to start and conclude business deals in the projected period.
Speaking of rankings, Macedonia's record in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders did not worsen as much as that of Bulgaria, but still, it is 123rd. Is it economic interests, authoritarian politicians or something else that causes this result in Macedonia? Both options are quite often suggested about Bulgaria...
I do not consider the situation in the Macedonian media as bad, and particularly do not believe that it is the situation with Bulgaria. The media market in Bulgaria is large and thus has larger freedom. Therefore, it is no coincidence that even eight political parties entered the Parliament on Bulgaria’s last elections, which would be impossible in conditions of media monopoly or limited media freedom. Compared to Bulgaria, the media market in Macedonia smaller, but considerably increased in compared to the past. Today, in Macedonia there are many national and local television stations, satellite TV, national and local radio stations, as well as a number of internet portals and newspapers.
In this regard, I would like to point out that in view of the media in my ownership, i.e. the group Media Print Macedonia, which is the leading media company on the Macedonian market, has been conceptualized according to the highest business and journalistic standards. The Group has implemented the highest standards of professional ethics and editorial work as well as the social standards practiced at EU level. In this context, the Group is signatory to the Charter on freedom of the media, editorial independence and respect for OSCE ethical principles. I sincerely hope that the other media will adhere to these principles and will contribute to the mutual strengthening of stability and freedom of the media in the Republic of Macedonia.
In terms of business and trade, for instance, are Bulgaria and Macedonia doing enough to benefit from their proximity and their common border?
I believe we are not. Improving regional cooperation will be beneficial for raising both our countries’ economies. The countries in the region share similar economic challenges and depend on each other.We have much greater business opportunities. We are close, we have interest, and we have no communication problems. However, the main problem is in our transport infrastructure. Both our countries’ governments so far haven’t made enough to connect us with a highway and to finally finish the railway between Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Hopefully, the improved energetic connectivity between our countries will be of great interest. Through Macedonia, Bulgaria has an opportunity to acquire the already established business relations with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia and jointly perform in those countries. Kosovo and Albania are also emerging markets where with great competitiveness products and services can be sold. In order to encourage business, in my opinion one single meeting between our two governments is not enough. There should be a developed action plan on encouraging business and trade between the two countries.
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<<Perhaps we cannot agree on a shared past with our neighboring countries, but we surely can agree on a shared future.>>
It might be unfortunate, but I am strongly convinced it will be impossible for the majorities in Bulgaria, Greece and the Republic of Macedonia to agree on the future without agreement on the past.