Macedonia's defense minister reaffirmed her government's commitment to joining NATO and the European Union, saying in an interview that the nation's new government fully understands that success or failure is in its own hands.
"Nobody will bring it to us," Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska told VOA's Macedonian service. "We need to work toward it, to be accountable for the progress. And the international community's support will follow."
In office since May 31, the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has placed its highest priority on reforms aimed at preparing Macedonia for integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. European Union leaders have declared their readiness to work with the new government, and the Zaev cabinet has responded with an agenda listing concrete reform priorities.
At the same time, there is a renewed push to resolve a long-running dispute with Greece, which has opposed NATO membership for Macedonia as long as it shares the name of a neighboring Greek province.
Political life has largely stabilized in the former Yugoslav republic since supporters of the previous conservative government stormed the parliament three months ago to try to prevent the transfer of power to Zaev's Social Democratic party.
Sekerinska was brutally attacked in front of news cameras during the incident, but she said in the interview that her government is looking to the future, not the past.
"We have to make up for the time lost during the tenure of the previous leadership. We cannot expect anybody to be more ambitious and more interested in Macedonia becoming a NATO member than Macedonia itself," she said.
Sekerinska listed media freedom, civil society, rule of law and judiciary reforms among the areas in the most urgent need of improvement. "That is a huge task, but we need to show that we are serious about NATO."
Sekerinska said she is looking forward to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's scheduled visit to the region next week as an opportunity for Macedonia, in a co-host role, to build closer ties with "the most important strategic partner."
"This is a very important sign that the United States, the key player in NATO, considers the Western Balkans a zone they can support and invest in."
Asked whether the new government is concerned about Russian influence in Macedonia, Sekerinska said its priority is to "reach out and build relations with other countries."
"However, our message to them, including to the Russian Federation, is that while we are interested in having close bilateral relations, the strategic decisions will ultimately come from the Macedonian institutions and the citizens of Macedonia," she said.
"Joining NATO and the EU is our goal, based on the broadest consensus in the country, and these questions have been decided, and will be decided, only by the citizens of this country."
As one of the top recruiting centers for the Islamic State group, Macedonia is plagued with a growing risk of terrorism and violent extremism. Sekerinska said the threat is universal and requires intelligence-sharing among the countries.
"Macedonia can certainly contribute in securing the region's stability, but to do that effectively, we need to refocus the institutions designed to fight these threats. In recent years, they were misused for political assignments, to fight the opposition, instead of working on the job they were designed to do," she said.
While acknowledging that will take time, Sekerinska said the new government is determined to become a partner in the fight against today's global threats.