MALC2015 Reaffirms Vital Importance of Macedonian Unity

On May 8-10, 2015, Columbus, Ohio was the host of the 2nd Macedonian-American Leadership Conference (MALC2015) organized by the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD), and its next generation program for young leaders, Generation M. MALC2015 brought together Macedonian-American leaders of various Macedonian cultural, business, and faith-based organizations from throughout the United States, including Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, and California.

Click here for pictures from MALC2015

UMD gratefully thanks our sponsors: Balalovski Real Estate, Easy Living Gourmet Products, A.G. MAC Imp./Exp. Co., and Jordan’s Deli for their generous support! MALC2015 would not have been so successful if it was not for their support.

MALC2015 kicked off with an opening reception at St. Mary’s Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral in Reynoldsburg, Ohio in honor of His Excellency Dr. Vasko Naumovski, Ambassador of Macedonia to the United States of America. Following the singing of the American and Macedonian national anthems by the Makedonski Tanec Ensemble, Ambassador Naumovski spoke, expressing how impressed he was with the beauty of the cathedral and the success of the Macedonian-American community of Columbus, Ohio. Emcee for the evening was UMD Generation M Global Chair Filip Jotevski, originally from Columbus, Ohio. The Makedonski Tanec Ensemble concluded the evening’s reception with an array of traditional Macedonian folk dances.

May 9th was the focal point of the weekend with several presentations and discussions on a wide array of topics.

The conference at Ohio State began with opening remarks from the UMD Director of U.S. Operations, Trajko Papuckoski, who traveled from California, on the importance of such conferences to strengthen the Macedonian community.

Welcoming remarks were offered by Subdeacon Gorgi Gurcinovski of St. Mary’s Macedonian Orthodox Cathedral of Columbus, Ohio, which marks its 50th anniversary later this year. Subdeacon Gurcinovski gave his best wishes for a successful conference, and touched on the importance of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in fostering a sense of community.

UMD President Metodija A. Koloski followed with a brief overview on the history of UMD and how it has become the largest voice for the needs and interest of Macedonians worldwide. Koloski commemorated the 10th anniversary of UMD’s founding by highlighting the tremendous success and support that UMD has garnered over the years, with programs such as educational advocacy, UMD’s internship, scholarships, and Ajvar 5k.

Leaders in UMD’s new youth initiative, Generation M, continued the presentations. Mario Hristovski, President of MASO, and Filip Jotevski, Global Chair of Generation M, discussed how young Macedonians can stand up and get involved in their communities, and why this is a crucial time for the youth of Macedonia, and of the greater Macedonian Diaspora around the world.

To illustrate the success of youth involvement, the Generation M team highlighted past and current members’ experience with the UMD internship, committee meetings across the U.S and Canada, and various cultural engagement programs. Most promising, however, is the fact that this summer, up to ten members of Generation M will participate in Birthright Macedonia to intern in Macedonia for three weeks while staying with host families. This once in a lifetime experience will show them new sides of Macedonia, while simultaneously providing them the opportunity to develop a stronger understanding of Macedonian culture and language.

Continuing on the topic of the importance of preserving the Macedonian language in our youth, Dr. Biljana Belamaric Wilsey showcased her online e-learning center which provides interactive multimedia resources for learning, practicing, and teaching Macedonian. Dr. Belamaric Wilsey’s training and background have helped to build great resources including interactive multimedia tutorials, language learning games, audiocasts, texts about Macedonian culture, including customs, folklore, and children’s rhymes and games, as well as children’s books, available as paperbacks and for the iPad. Most importantly, Dr. Belamaric Wilsey showed how we can incorporate learning Macedonian in our everyday lives. Please click HERE to visit the website of the Macedonian Language E-Learning Center and improve your Macedonian skills.

Relating to Macedonian advocacy, Mario Hristovski then discussed how history could play a crucial part in defending our identity in his presentation, “The Case for Macedonians.” Hristovski showed how history does in fact support the existence of ethnic Macedonians through historical accounts and anthropology. Most importantly, he showed how historical revisionism in the 19th century placed the “Slav” label upon Macedonians, which is used in modern-day politics to deny our identity.

Attendees of MALC2015 then had the rare opportunity to listen to and converse with His Excellency, Dr. Vasko Naumovski, Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia to the USA, and Elena Zarkovska, Consul General of the Republic of Macedonia in Detroit. Discussions with the Macedonian officials ranged widely, including discussion of current policies to improve the economy, education, healthcare, and current events in Macedonia.

Later, UMD Representative Zhikica Pagovski offered lessons on why networking is an important tool for professionals entering the workforce and seasoned veterans looking to build new connections. When used correctly, networking is a mutually beneficial relationship. Pagovski’s presentation, “Networking: The Road to Professional Success,” also offered comprehensive strategies and tips to create durable professional relationships.

Extending the idea of relationships to incorporate and unite communities were James Petroff Barkan of Meizlish LLP, Laurel Tombazzi of the Eastern European Congress of Ohio, and Argie Bellio, UMD Representative, who discussed the challenges and best practices in organizing a community around core issues. Petroff, a union organizer, summarized his presentation in three words: Educate, Agitate, and Activate. Tombazzi spoke of her work on honoring the large Eastern European community of Ohio by advocating for April to be Eastern European Month. Bellio talked about the historic Fort Wayne community of Macedonians and how involved 3rd and 4th generation Macedonians are today.

In his video message to UMD, Ambassador Jess L. Baily spoke on the important role Macedonian-Americans play in advancing the interests of Macedonia in the U.S. and in the international arena. The goals of the U.S. embassy in Skopje are clear: “to see Macedonia as a prosperous, vibrant, and multi-ethnic democracy fully integrated into NATO, the European Union, and other transatlantic institutions and as a capable partner to work with the United States on the many challenges we face around the world.” Like the U.S. embassy, Macedonian-Americans have the power to influence economic and political relations directly, through business investments, trade, and the support of Macedonia in creating a stronger democracy and society. USAID created the SEAF Macedonia II fund, through which investments submitted through homestrings.com will be invested in small and medium sized enterprises in Macedonia. Macedonian-Americans can use their own personal experiences in other societies to encourage Macedonia to address its challenges.

David Turkaleski, Director of International Brokerage Services of AHT, spoke about Macedonia as a foreign direct investment destination.  He cited Macedonia’s location, infrastructure, highly skilled and educated work force, investment incentives and the investment friendly policies as major reasons why Macedonia is a prime location for investments.  In addition, he explored other diaspora’s pride in their nation’s exported goods and asked why the same does not apply to Macedonians. According to Turkaleski, we all can do our part by buying Macedonian products or by requesting Macedonian products when stores do not have them. He has hopes to expand Macedonian business opportunities in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Speakers Michael Stakleff, President of the Macedonian Businessmen’s Club (MBC), and Michael Kormushoff, Secretary of the MBC, then looked at how Macedonians can advocate for Macedonia in the business world. Mike Stakleff and Mike Kormushoff talked about how the MBC was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1950 and has served the community by raising money for scholarships and creating a professional network for members. Click HERE to learn more about their events, including their Golf Outings and 64th Annual Awards and Scholarship Dinner, which will be held on November 13th. Since 1950, MBC has provided over $100,000 in scholarships. After having traveled to Macedonia last year, Stakleff and Kormushoff decided to start importing Macedonian wine to the U.S. You can learn more by clicking HERE.

“UMD has always impressed me as an organized and professional organization, which has the ability to enact large scale support for the diaspora and residents of the Republic of Macedonia. I have made this financial contribution because I believe UMD makes a positive impact with its activities and I hope that UMD will continue to see success,” said Stakleff who recently became a UMD Macedonian Companion.

Afterwards, a video message from Senator Rob Portman stressed the strong bilateral relations between Macedonia and the United States, and how our goals of cultural promotion, linguistic preservation, education, and advocacy are necessary to continue this relationship. He added that the relationship is also strengthened by the shared values of democracy and human rights, and that this commitment was seen in Macedonia’s contributions to efforts in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In closing his message, Senator Portman congratulated Macedonian-Americans for all of their accomplishments, and encouraged them to continue advocating their heritage as well as the ideals of democracy, justice, and human rights.

UMD President Koloski and Cleveland/Northeast Ohio representative Konstantin Nakovski then discussed how advocacy is done, how to build relations with elected officials, and most importantly, how to follow-up on issues concerning Macedonian-Americans. Koloski briefed the audience about H. Res. 56 pending before the U.S. Congress, which affirms U.S. support for Macedonia’s NATO Membership. Nakovski described his efforts to build relations with local and state-level policymakers.

The conference closed by showing audience members what steps they can take given everything they’ve learned while attending. Most importantly, members were encouraged to simply tell their friends and family about what they saw and heard. Even something as simple as an explanation over breakfast or cup of coffee can potentially bring meaningful, effective impact. Seeing the success of events like MALC, members are also encouraged to donate to UMD and become full members, so they can continue attending such events and expand the efforts of programs like Generation M. As with every non-profit, every donation helps deliver services to its community. Finally, as was the theme of many presentations, members were encouraged to also donate their time and skills as volunteers. It is a great way to develop professionally in the community, but also provides tremendous help to UMD.

Likewise, the MALC2015 as a whole served to inspire Macedonian-Americans to get active and build upon the groundwork that many before them have worked tirelessly to establish. The conference ended on one final note: united, our diaspora can be a powerful instrument to achieving the values and goals so dear to our community.