MALC2017’s Memorable Moments; Detroit to host MALC2018

The Annual Macedonian-American Leadership Conference, abbreviated as MALC, celebrates the strong alliance between the Republic of Macedonia and the United States of America. This year, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) and its young leaders program, Generation M, hosted the fourth MALC —a three-day event from June 8th-11th—that worked fervently to emphasize and reaffirm the cooperative relationship between the two countries and brought attendees from throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, Macedonia and Romania. We would like to extend a special thank you to all the people on the ground that participated in the conference, the people behind the scenes that helped make it happen, our sponsor Vanille Patisserie and most importantly, all proponents of the Macedonian cause. MALC continues to provide a unique opportunity for Macedonians from around the world, as well as friends of Macedonia, to unite and spread awareness about the critical issues surrounding Macedonia.

MALC2017 kicked off on Thursday, June 8th, in UMD’s office in Washington D.C. Its goal was simple—bring as many people together as possible in order to celebrate Macedonian heritage and advocate for Macedonia and its diaspora. Dozens of Macedonian-Americans and friends of Macedonia ambitiously walked the halls of Congress to meet with House members, including Macedonia Caucus Co-Chairs Congressman David Trott and Congressman Brendan Boyle, Congressman David Cicilline, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Congressman Jim Banks, Congressman Pat Tiberi, and Congressman Donald Beyer, and their foreign policy legislative advisors. Our objective was to inform them about issues such as Greece’s dispute over Macedonia’s name, Russian meddling in the Balkans, NATO and EU involvement, and more generally, the role Macedonia deserves to play in the international community. In total, over 120 Congressional offices were visited. MALC2017 participants advocated for members of Congress to sign a letter urging Secretary Tillerson to visit Macedonia, and for them to join the Congressional Caucus on Macedonia and Macedonian-Americans. The Caucus strengthens ties between Macedonia and the U.S. and serves as a symbolic representation of the American commitment to Macedonia, as well as the role of the Macedonian-American community in the U.S.

Following the Hill advocacy, the UMD hosted a Macedonian-American Heritage Congressional Reception in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month. The event took place in the Rayburn Office Building, which included hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, and speeches by UMD’s President Metodija A. Koloski and the Macedonian Ambassador Vasko Naumovski. Ambassador Naumovski, who has participated in three of these conferences, praised the important role UMD and Macedonian-Americans play in increasing Congressional support for Macedonia. The evening finished with the first-ever Macedonian folk dance performance in the history of the U.S. Congress, by the Goce Delchev Macedonian Folk Dance Ensemble. The group travelled all the way from New Jersey’s Sts. Kiril and Metodij Macedonian Orthodox Church to perform traditional Macedonian dances, which wowed the guests and especially Congressional staff.

The second day of MALC2017 – Friday, June 9th – started with the 10th Roll Call of Nations Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial, in which UMD laid a wreath in honor of Macedonians who lost their lives during Communism. Additional meetings in Congress were followed with a luncheon at the UMD office. After lunch, UMD and its guests visited the U.S. Department of State for a briefing on U.S.-Macedonia Relations with Matthew Palmer, the Director of the Office of South-Central Europe. The second day concluded at the Embassy of Macedonia for the Ambassador’s Reception to celebrate MALC2017. Ambassador Naumovski and his Embassy staff provided a warm greeting to MALC2017 guests. The evening once again concluded with a special performance by the Goce Delchev Macedonian Folk Dance Ensemble – the first-time a Macedonian folk group has performed at the Macedonian Embassy.

The third and final day of MALC2017 began with a breakfast at the UMD office and was subsequently followed by a host of speakers tasked with addressing a variety of issues. UMD’s President Metodija A. Koloski and the Generation M Global Chairman Mario Hristovski led off the conversation. Koloski thanked all of the guests for their hard work—visiting over 120 Congressional offices during the first two days of MALC2017— and reflected upon their efforts, highlighting UMD and its mission; fight for the Macedonian struggle for justice; preserve the Macedonian name, language and heritage; and maintain Macedonia’s sovereignty and unitary territorial integrity. He explained UMD’s website, which included the UMD team, objectives, and upcoming events, such as UMD’s annual Ajvar 5k charity race that will raise money for children with Down Syndrome in Macedonia and take place in ten different locations throughout the U.S., Canada, and for the first time, Australia.

Hristovski, the Generation M liaison to UMD Board Directors, followed Koloski’s speech with a thorough explanation of Generation M, an organization focused on uniting the Macedonian youth throughout the world and their recent re-launch of UMD Voice magazine in an online blog format. Generation M promotes Macedonian heritage and education in order to empower the next generation of young Macedonians.

Following Hristovski, Koloski moderated a discussion on best practices for Macedonian human rights advocates with Mariana-Venera Popescu, Member of Parliament in Romania representing the Macedonian Minority in the country. Romania is the first EU and NATO member-state to recognize a distinct Macedonian minority within its own borders. Popescu led a moment of silence for the late Romanian Member of Parliament Liana Dumitrescu who tragically passed away at the age of 36 due to a brain hemorrhage and was the pioneer for the Macedonian minority in Romania. Her mother, Mrs. Constantina Dumitrescu and the President of the Association of Macedonians in Romania, Laura Rogobete were present at MALC2017. It was agreed that the Macedonian minority in Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece could learn a lot from the Macedonians in Romania.

After Popescu, MALC2017 guests heard from U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Jess L. Baily over Skype from the embassy in Skopje about U.S. policy and updates from the ground. Ambassador Baily continued with a Q&A session and took questions from the audience on Macedonia’s NATO aspirations, rule of law, and economic development/trade with the U.S.

The Macedonian Jewish Community Representatives followed with their Learning from the Past, Fighting for the Future presentation. The representatives included Blagoja Mladenovski, the president of the Holocaust Fund Board, Berta Romano Nikolik, president of the Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia, and Goran Sadikarijo, CEO of the Holocaust Fund and Holocaust Memorial Center. Mladenovski is a Holocaust Survivor and his parents are the basis for the storyline of the movie “The Third Half,” about a Macedonian soccer player who falls in love with a beautiful Jewish girl in Bitola. Members of Congress enjoyed meeting Mr. Mladenovski throughout the two-days of advocacy. Ms. Nikolik’s father was the last Rabbi of Bitola. Today only 200 Jewish live in Macedonia, and the community is fundraising for a permanent exhibit of Jewish life in Macedonia at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Ana David concluded the morning by discussing education, scholarships and other financial opportunities for Macedonian Diaspora youth. Mario Hristovski then unveiled the new Generation M Initiative and introduced a demo of Generation M’s app on Macedonian history from ancient times to present day. The app sparked a heated debate that provided great feedback for improvements before the app is officially launched.

Lunch featured a discussion with Metodi Hadji-Janev, Military Attaché at the Macedonian Embassy, Zhikica Pagovski, and Zlata Unerkova on Macedonia Forward, the European Union and NATO. The panelists concluded that Macedonia is a strategic location in the Southeast Europe region. Unerkova emphasized the importance of rule of law and trust in the judicial system in Macedonia.

Keynote remarks by Reta Jo Lewis, UMD’s Senior Resident Fellow, Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives and Director of International Affairs at The German Marshall Fund of the United States; followed the discussion on Macedonia Forward. Jo Lewis stated, “the challenges that the world is facing today are very diverse, so the people addressing those challenges should reflect that diversity.” This was a perfect segue for the official launch of UMD’s new Women in Leadership program chaired by Ana Dukoska and Gordana Mirkoska, featuring Ljupka Arsova and Maria DiBiaggio as speakers. This program strives to empower Macedonian women with the skills and expertise necessary for future success in leadership roles through mentorships and presentations by Macedonian women role models. These role models will be women who have attained success in the professional world and have expressed leadership qualities like businesswomen, activists, lawyers, doctors, and many others.

MALC2017 concluded with a UMD/Generation M evening Cruise on the Potomac River. Cruising by all the sunset-painted monuments of Washington, D.C. marked a beautiful finish to the three-day conference and laid out a solid and successful foundation for the fifth MALC conference: MALC2018 in Detroit, Michigan in spring 2018.

By Cam Bosak and Haley Duncan, UMD International Policy and Diplomacy Fellows