The two governments will hold their first-ever joint meeting in Belgrade in May in an attempt to boost cooperation and economic ties.Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic told a press conference in Skopje on Monday that the planned joint government session would help push forward mutual economic projects.
The two premiers said they were interested in boosting trade, finishing the remaining stretches of the pan-European ‘Corridor 10’ that links both countries and further discussing a Serbian initiative to build a river channel from Belgrade to Thessaloniki via Macedonia.
The joint government session in May will be attended by “ministers from the areas that we think are important for our bilateral relations, to assess the current situation on these issues”, Dacic told the press conference held during his current two-day visit to Macedonia.
A similar idea for a joint session, initially agreed between Macedonia’s Gruevski and then Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovkic, ran into trouble in 2011.
The Macedonian government’s ethnic Albanian junior partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, opposed the idea, saying that it would be seen as a provocation by Macedonian Albanians who make up a quarter of the country’s population and have close ties to their ethnic kin in neighbouring Kosovo.
Serbia is strongly opposed to Kosovo’s independence.
During Dacic’s visit, both premiers acknowledged differences on the issue of Kosovo’s independence as well as a dispute between the Serbian and Macedonian Orthodox Churches.
The religious bodies are locked in a long-standing row over the Serbian church’s refusal to acknowledge its Macedonian counterpart’s autocephaly, or ecclesiastical independence.
As a consequence of the dispute, the Macedonian church, which is smaller, has not been officially recognised by most of the rest of the Orthodox world.
“The resolution of this issue is primarily in the domain of the churches, but we are always ready to help if need be and if we are asked,” Gruevski said.
This is the second high-level visit to Macedonia by Belgrade officials in a relatively short period after Serbia’s Progressive party came to power last year.
In October, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic also paid a two-day visit and rekindled hopes of a breakthrough in the complex church dispute, saying he was ready to engage personally in finding a solution, although his visit did not generate any significant new initiative.
Dacic and Gruevski meanwhile spared few words to emphasise their two nations’ friendship.
Late on Sunday, both addressed an event at the Macedonian Opera and Ballet building to mark January 27, the Serbian national holiday dedicated to St. Sava.
Serbs’ “strong identification with this holiday” make it “part of our own national values as well”, Gruevski said.
For his part, Dacic assured his counterpart that “we wish to continue being best friends with the Macedonian people and with Macedonia”.
Security was stepped up for Dacic’s visit in an apparent precaution against potential incidents after Belgrade took down a memorial to Albanian guerrillas in the south Serbian town of Presevo, angering ethnic Albanians across the Balkans.