Gala Marking UMD’s 10th Anniversary a Success; UMD Honors Lou Vlasho

On Saturday, October 18, 2014, over 200 Macedonians and friends of Macedonia gathered at a Gala at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the United Macedonian Diaspora’s 10th Anniversary. UMD’s Gala was a featured event of the Global Diaspora Week. Macedonia’s Honorary Consul to the United States and Honorary UMD Advisory Council Member, Mr. Lou Vlasho was recognized with the Global UMD Macedonian Heritage Public Service Award. The Gala was live-streamed for another couple hundred people through UMD’s YouTube Channel, courtesy of Chicago-based UMD member Gjoko Sikoski.

Special guests included:

  • His Excellency Mile Janakieski, Macedonian Minister of Transport and Communications
  • His Excellency Jerry Naumoff, Macedonian Minister for Foreign Investments
  • the Macedonian Member of Parliament responsible for North and South America, Mr. Pavle Sazdov
  • the Macedonian Agency of Emigration Director, Mr. Vasil Naumov
  • Macedonia’s first Ambassador to the United States from 1991-2000; UMD Gala Co-Chair, Ambassador Ljubica Z. Acevska
  • the Director of South Central European Office at the Department of State, Mr. Thomas Yazdgerdi
  • the Director of Balkans at the White House National Security Council, Ms. Sammie Smith
  • the U.S. Department of Defense’s George Antoniou, 
  • U.S. Department of State Macedonia Desk Officer, Ms. Carina Canaan
  • Macedonian Honorary Consuls to the United States, Dana Klein, Jason Miko, and Lou Vlasho
  • Embassy of Macedonia Charges d’affaires, Mr. Oliver Krliu
  • Canadian Macedonian Place Foundation President, Ms. Marilyn Trentos
  • Macedonian Businessman’s Club President, Mr. Michael Kormushoff.

Casa Dumetz Wines founder Sonja Magdevski gracefully emceed UMD’s 10th Anniversary Gala. Following the Macedonian and American anthems and video greetings by Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, the Ilinden Macedonian Folklore Ensemble, all the way from Mississauga, Canada, performed the traditional Macedonian Zhetvarka, or Harvest Dance.

The first speaker of the evening, UMD Advisory Council Member and Gala Co-Chair Christos T. Antoniou described his growing up as a Macedonian from the Aegean region of geographic Macedonia and the discrimination his family faced in Greece. Antoniou, who was quite active in the early 90s in spreading the truth about Macedonians in Greece in Washington, D.C., praised UMD for taking Macedonian advocacy to the next level, and expressed his pride that an organization such as UMD exists today. He introduced a special video on UMD’s 10th anniversary.

UMD Chairman Stojan Nikolov followed: “After all, if Alexander the Great could beat an army of few hundred thousand Persians, with less than 40,000 soldiers and manage to create the largest Empire known to man more than 2,300 years ago, surely then today a few million of us Macedonians around the world working together can manage to secure a permanent spot for the Republic of Macedonia on the world map of nations as an equal among equals.”

Minister Naumoff detailed the progress Macedonia is making, including the rising trends in economic and investment opportunities. Minister Naumoff, who was born and raised in the United States, decided to go back to Macedonia and give back to the homeland, and encouraged all in attendance to visit and consider Macedonia in their future investment engagements.

During dinner, Gala guests were wowed by the performances of 6-year-old guitar prodigy and youngest-ever guitarist to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Mr. Evgeniy Pereski, and renowned Baltimore-based pianist Ina Nacev Allen.

Next, UMD Co-Founder and President Metodija A. Koloski spoke about UMD’s impressive progress. During his remarks, he asked all Co-Founders, Board Members, Advisory Council Members, Regional Representatives, and all past and current UMD Fellows to stand and be thanked by everyone in the audience for their service to UMD over the past decade. A huge applause followed. Koloski also recognized the partnerships UMD has developed over the years with the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the American Jewish Committee, and the Turkish Coalition of America, which all had their representatives in attendance.

After, U.S. Department of State Office of South Central Europe Director Mr. Thomas K. Yazdgerdi spoke stating “Let me start by congratulating UMD for your 10-year commitment to advancing Macedonian-American friendship with the U.S. and preserving the communities. Of course – and I can say this here in front of the UMD community—our people-to-people connections are the lifeblood of our bond. Through your work—from local communities and university campuses in states like Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio to the halls of Congress – UMD is building new bridges between Macedonia and the U.S.” Click HERE for his full remarks.

Yazdgerdi’s remarks were followed by U.S. Agency for International Development Investment Officer Mr. Stephen Matzie who detailed the role Diaspora play in giving back to their respective homelands, specifically in resources available to Diaspora to invest. He announced that USAID plans to finance up to $20 million, through Homestrings, an online investment and social media platform with deep connections to the global diaspora community, that will make partially guaranteed loans to Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF), an active small and medium sized enterprises (SME) investor with a proven track record. He stated that SEAF would then make investments into SMEs in Macedonia and Serbia, with potential expansion to other regions. UMD’s partner Macedonia 2025 has been working on this project with SEAF, and UMD’s Economic Development Program has expressed its interest to offer guidance and support.

UMD Co-Founder, Vice President, and UMD Advisory Council Chair Aleksandar Mitreski described the early days of UMD, and went on to acknowledge the role of UMD President Koloski saying, “He is the modern revolutionary of today’s fight for the Macedonia cause, he’s the heartbeat of UMD, and he’s our Goce Delchev of our time.”

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Global UMD Macedonian Heritage Public Service Award to Mr. Lou Vlasho, whose career as an executive, volunteer and community service leader has spanned over fifty years.

In recognizing Vlasho’s contributions to the betterment of Macedonian society, Mitreski elaborated that when he “met Lou I told him how we think we can make a difference. I was taken aback by his passion for Macedonia, positive attitude and willingness to help…Whenever you call Lou, the first thing he says is ‘How can I help? And he means it.’”

Following, Mitreski called Ambassador Acevska to the stage to both present the Award to Vlasho.

In accepting the Award, Vlasho recognized the efforts of UMD, and shared his family story and upbringing as an American of Macedonian heritage growing up in Ohio, expressing the great pride he has for his heritage.

“My parents emigrated from Aegean Macedonia, and I never met my grandparents… But we always were told (by our parents), we were Americans first and Macedonians second,” said Vlasho. His opinion: “100% American, 100% Macedonian, there’s no fifty fifty.”

Vlasho’s older sister Christine came from Arizona to share in her brother’s achievements, as well as Vlasho’s son Vincent and his family, who reside in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

Congratulations poured in for Vlasho from Macedonia’s Minister of Defense, Minister Zoran Jolevski, Florida and Ohio’s Governors Rick Scott, and John R. Kasich respectively, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Ohio Senator George Voinovich, Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, and Mayor John F. Sorey III of Naples, Florida.

The closing artistic performance by Ilinden Macedonian Folklore Ensemble included a mix of dances from the Aegean part of Macedonia. UMD Gala Co-Chair Mr. Mark B. Mitskovski concluded the formal program with comments on the enormous responsibility UMD members and supporters have to ensure the Macedonian voice continues globally, and urged all to find ways to help the UMD cause.

UMD’s 10th Anniversary Gala concluded with the traditional Macedonian dance with all in attendance joining the oro, which was played beautifully by the recently formed NYC-based band Odglasi (Echoes). Odglasi played Izvorna, Calgija, and Starogradska music.

UMD would like to thank the generous support from all sponsors and donors of UMD’s 10th Anniversary Gala, including Michael and Marian Ilitch, Turkish Airlines, The Antoniou Family, AG Mac Old World Import/Export – Gala Wine Sponsor of Bovin Wines, Ambassador Ljubica Z. Acevska & Dr. Joseph R. Novello, Mark B. Mitskovski, Turkish Coalition of America, The Vlasho Family, Evelyn Dinu, Ohrid Travel Agency, Jim Ristevski, Vladimir and Stephanie Atseff, National Federation of Croatian Americans, Biljana Lazoroska, Slavco & Menka Madzarov and Family, Sonja Magdevski, Vera Najdovska, Trajko & Biljana Papuckoski, George Peters, Samuel Petreski, Goran & Divna Popovski, Alexander & Melissa Sarafin, Stojan Trajkov & Dusanka Delovska-Trajkova, Vanille, Inc., Sophie Evanoff, Chris Evanoff, and the American Jewish Committee.

Gala Silent Auction items included two round-trip tickets to Macedonia courtesy of Turkish Airlines, two traditional Macedonian folk costumes from the Kochani region of Macedonia donated by the Zlidar family, and a beautiful painting by Los Angeles-based Macedonian-American artist Natasha Carovska, entitled “Spomeni” or “Echoes” in English, painted especially in honor of UMD’s 10th Anniversary.

Download your free copy of UMD’s 10th Anniversary Gala Journal HERE.

Photographs by Lidija Muscolino can be seen by clicking HERE.