In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. For this issue, we spoke with Goran Milevski, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in North Macedonia. He shared what inspired him to become a politician, why cooperation and working together in politics matters and how the future of Europe looks like from the Western Balkan perspective.
Goran Milevski, what inspired you to enter into politics? And what in your view makes a good (political) leader?
Change is an essential part of any society. That notion is particularly relevant in our Southeastern corner of Europe. This was the main reason why I decided, since young age, to enter and join the political world.
As a young idealist, I thought the world would be easily changed. I felt that the liberal ideas and values that guided me throughout my youth and my activism were what contributed to a better tomorrow. This is how I ended up in politics. From being a youth activist to becoming a councillor in the municipality of Bitola, then a member of parliament, I have reached the position of Minister of Local Self-Government. Climbing up the ladder was tough, but it has certainly paid off. I am now successfully putting into practice the ideas and values that I stood up for as a young person.
When it comes to leadership, in my opinion the most important characteristics of a good politician or a leader are persistence, perseverance, not hesitating to struggle for what we really stand for and being able to work as part of a team. A real leader sets an example for young people on how to work in an accountable, transparent and democratic manner.
In your current role as Minister, what have you been able to do to improve the lives of citizens in your country?
The services are best provided by authorities that best understand the needs of the citizens. I stand for genuine decentralisation of power, and I implement this value in my ministerial role. The municipalities in North Macedonia are now more independent, actively participate in the formulation of local policies and contribute to improving the daily life of their inhabitants. For me, as the Minister of Local Self-Government, the most important thing is to increase the visibility and independence of North Macedonia’s municipalities and to provide more funds for completion of their projects. The numbers indicate that we have achieved a lot in only 20 months.
I truly love my city, Bitola, and I am passionate to see it with a greater degree of decentralised power, something that should apply to all municipalities. More local authority, given the Macedonian mentality, a priori means a real guarantee of the human rights and freedoms of every citizen equally, regardless of their place of origin. We are welcoming and open people.
I also strongly encourage the municipalities to get involved in European projects, and indeed, the interest in these is increasing year by year. They are applying for grants to improve the standards and conditions in each individual municipality. That gives me a real sense of achievement.
Speaking of your party, the Liberal Democratic Party, it turns 25 years next year. Looking back, what do you consider to be its biggest achievements?
While the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a smaller coalition partner in the government, people’s belief in our ideas and our ideology is behind our long existence. Being a real fighter for the same values and ideals is what keeps an individual but also a political party relevant.
Our party is also known for having a strong foundation in the community of intellectuals, especially young intellectuals. In the DNA of LDP is our ability to engage a party membership that thinks differently, a membership that stands for European values and standards, a membership that is educated and ready to create change and better policies across all social spheres.
Currently LDP is one of the parties in a coalition government. Has this brought up surprises, challenges or opportunities you were not expecting?
Being part of the government coalition after a decade of authoritarian tendencies in the country is a great challenge. To destroy democracy is easy – to rebuild it requires time and patience. We simply must discontinue the previous governing practices and demonstrate different type of governance. As junior partner in the government we have a greater responsibility to be more vocal about the importance of that difference that the citizens must notice in their daily life.
While LDP represents the European values and policies advocated by the entire government coalition, through our representatives in the Assembly and the Ministries and through other officials in the state administration we first act independently, advocating primarily for our liberal ideas, values and policies. We push for more freedom. Our party and representatives remain consistent in their autonomy and are recognisable for their good ideas and, at times, idealistic approach regardless of the policies advocated by other political actors.
Your party is the founder of the Liberal South East European Network (LIBSEEN). How can a network like this contribute to the development of liberalism in the region?
Yes, LIBSEEN was founded in Skopje in April 2008 during our anniversary Conference. We are proud of it. Through cooperation between liberals in the region, the dialogue on liberal values has been raised to a higher level. That is how we fight the persistent strides of the populists and nationalists. Also, through LIBSEEN, we support each other in crucial moments, such as elections. We know that when other liberal parties in the region are stronger, the liberals in North Macedonia will have greater success. We are all connected in the Balkans, and this way of close cooperation will help our nations achieve faster our joint goal of EU membership.
Your party has also been an active member of ALDE Party and Liberal International for many years now. How has your party benefitted from being part of the wider liberal family?
As a full member of ALDE Party and Liberal International, we enjoy the sense of equality with the other liberal parties. We benefit greatly from the exchange of ideas and experiences. This leads to better policies, successful projects, stronger network of liberal practitioners, and ultimately to greater support of liberal values world-wide. With authoritarianism on the rise in so many countries, we liberals have to work together more than before.
You are an economist by training. In your view, what are the economic advantages of further EU integration?
The citizens of North Macedonia feel European, and the large majority wants a membership in the European Union. For us, the European integration means completing the common European project. A better economic situation, economic pluralism, strengthening the position of small- and medium-sized enterprises, increasing the conditions for foreign direct investment, openness and full market liberalisation are the things that further the path to Europe. It is an investment in a win-win for all Europeans.
And what role can liberals play in overcoming the divisions on the European continent while looking at a future of Europe that includes the Western Balkans?
The common European project I mentioned means peace, freedom and prosperity. In other words, it is a liberal project. The values that liberals stand for are precisely those that will lead to the reduction of segregation and divisions that exist in the Western Balkans. Liberal values contribute to increasing unity and cooperation between the countries in the region. So, who better to deliver a liberal project than the liberals themselves? But we need help from friends and partners in the EU to deliver, and to deliver fast.
Follow Goran Milevski on social media:
Follow Liberal Democratic Party on social media: