2020 is not a good year for human rights. While many authoritarian regimes – in the shadow of the Corona pandemic – were able to restrict human rights far beyond an appropriate response to the virus, the international community is struggling to condemn those violations. Unfortunately, far too often each country seems to be preoccupied with itself.
Therefore, it is even more important to recognise those achievements that are countering this trend. One such positive beacon of hope is Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of North Macedonia. Zaev’s achievements lie not only in the conclusion of the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria in 2017 and the Prespa Agreement with Greece, which ended a 27-year-long name dispute, but above all in North Macedonia itself. Already as leader of the opposition, Zaev emerged as an important figure who stood up for civil and human rights of all Macedonians and peacefully advocated for new elections in the context of the movement "colorful revolution".
After many disappointments, Zaev’s determined reform agenda led to the EU member states decision to open accession negotiations between the EU and North Macedonia in March and paved the way for North Macedonia to join NATO as its 30th member.
In awarding this year’s Human Rights Award, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is paying tribute to Zoran Zaev's outstanding achievements. We are honoured that with Heiko Maas, Germany’s Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is particularly committed to fostering EU accession of the Western Balkans during the German EU Presidency, will be delivering the laudatory speech.
Following the award ceremony, we would like to open the debate by asking: "How do we defend human rights and multilateralism at a time when these values are coming under increasing pressure?"
Zoran Zaev (laureate)
Zoran Zaev has been Prime Minister of North Macedonia since 2017. He is a native of the town of Strumica, where he still lives with his family today. Zoran Zaev grew up in modest circumstances and, after studying economics, joined his uncle's business. As a businessman, Zaev was already engaged in socio-political activities and joined the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) in 1996.
From 2003 to 2005 he was a member of the parliament “Sobranie”, in 2005 he became mayor of Strumica. Zoran Zaev has been chairman of the SDSM since 2013, where he established himself as the loud and critical voice of the opposition in a time of autocratic backsliding. He uncovered a wiretapping scandal and sought for solidarity with civil society in the Colourful Revolution of 2016.
In May 2017, Zoran Zaev finally became Prime Minister. He recently took up his second term after being re-elected in early parliamentary elections in July 2020.
Heiko Maas (laudator)
Heiko Maas has been Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany since 2018. Born in Saarlouis on the French border, Maas first studied law in Saarbrücken, after which he joined the Saarland state parliament in 1994.
He was chairman of the SPD faction in the Saarland state parliament for 13 year. Since 2001, Maas is also a member of the SPD party executive committee on the national level. Before becoming Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas was Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection from 2013 to 2018.
15:50 - 16:00
musical introduction: Hajdi Elzeser on piano
16:00 - 16:20
official start of the event
moderator: Jana Pareigis
welcome remarks: Kurt Beck, Chairman of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
film clip from Skopje
16:20 - 16:50
laudatory speech: Heiko Maas, Federal Foreign Minister of Germany
acceptance speech by the laureate: Zoran Zaev
Hajdi Elzeser on piano
16:50 - 17:25
Zoran Zaev & Goran Buldioski (director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe) in dialogue:
How do we defend human rights and multilateralism at a time when these values are coming under increasing pressure?
17:25 - 17:30
farewell & end of the event
17:30 - 17:40
musical ending: Hajdi Elzeser on piano