As I write this, I am thinking of my grandmother Baba Mica who suffered a stroke this week, and is in a coma in the hospital in Bitola. My mother and entire family are in Macedonia, expecting the worst. But I have hope. My friend Natalia called me yesterday to give me some more hope, as Macedonian Orthodox believers are celebrating the holiday of Saint Petka Paraskeva today, revered as a wonderworker for the elderly and women. I am praying for my Baba’s recovery.
Growing up in New Jersey, I was privileged to have my grandparents from Macedonia live with us. Almost every day I would come back from school, go upstairs, where my grandparents lived, and listen to Baba’s stories about Macedonia: the countryside, the farm, the 13th century monastery near my mother’s village, life under Communism, the great grandparents, etc…thanks to Baba Mica, I set out to build my family tree, and got all the way to the 1840s.
Baba Mica has always been the life of the party – everyone laughed at Baba’s jokes, she loved to sing, and we would sing old Macedonian songs together regularly. My grandfather, Dedo Kiro was a true pecalbar (migrant worker), having lived and worked in France, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Russia, and Greece. My sister and I listened very carefully to his Macedonian history lessons.
Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents carried the torch of the Macedonian cause during very tough times. It is up to the next generation, our generation, and future generations to remember, and to honor that legacy.
Macedonian Ambassador Nikola Dimitrov hosted a reception in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Ilinden Uprising, on August 2, 2003, in Washington, D.C. I was planning to start a U.S. foreign policy study program at American University that fall, so I drove down from New Jersey with a Brazilian friend, Elisa, who loves Macedonian food, and even speaks some Macedonian. I was pleasantly surprised to see over 150 people in attendance, dancing to Macedonian music, eating Macedonian food. Everyone was so nice, and as a result many of us forged friendships, which last to this day.
Following the reception, we all exchanged numbers and e-mails, and continued communication. I was on the bus one day from AU to my dormitory and encountered a Macedonian. In my American University class, I encountered another Macedonian. During my internship, I encountered yet another Macedonian. Lucky me! Meeting Macedonians all over the place and I thought to myself, why we don’t have an organization in D.C.? We need an organization to help us bring us together, and more importantly, to advocate for Macedonia and the Macedonian cause. Up until then, other ethnic interest groups like the Albanians and the Greeks had free reign in D.C. to push for anti-Macedonian policy.
I set out to meet the first Macedonian Ambassador to the U.S.A, Ambassador Ljubica Acevska, who to this date is a dear friend and mentor. I met others, Macedonians who worked at the White House, Congress, and at the State Department. And I wondered why we still didn’t have an organization, with all these bright minds in town?
I gathered about twelve of us and we met near American University. That night, we informally established a group called the Macedonian Association of Students and Young Professionals (MASYP) of Washington, D.C. Our first gathering was at an apartment in Annandale, Virginia, and about 45 people attended. MASYP made sure there was a Macedonian at every event in Washington, D.C. related to Macedonia and/or the Balkans, a Macedonian voice.
On October 28, 2004, we organized a meeting with some State Department officials over the building of the new U.S. Embassy in Skopje. Towards the end of the meeting, one of the officials asked us, why isn’t there a national organization for all Macedonian-Americans based out of Washington, D.C. This is how MASYP grew into the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD).
Then November 4, 2004 came – our dear honorary Macedonian Jason Miko called me at 6:00 a.m. in the morning! “Meto, did you hear President Bush recognized Macedonia?” I will never forget his words! I jumped out of my bed, went to the college library and began writing thank you letters, e-mails, spreading the word! The feeling was great! Finally, the country I call home recognizes my ancestral homeland by its rightful name!
A few months passed, we started developing UMD’s agenda and mission statement… a few Americans were already involved, and two Australians joined the team after. We decided to launch UMD publicly with a petition, which would summarize all the key aspects of the Macedonian cause into one document, and that we would send to all international community leaders. We launched the petition on April 30/May 1, 2005 – Orthodox Easter – and in one month had over 30,000 signatures, at the end of the second month we had over 80,000 signatures. By the end of the campaign, we had over 100,000 signatures. WOW! We sent the signatures to the UN, EU, NATO leaders. These signatures gave us the courage to carry on UMD’s mission, to carry on the Macedonian torch! Click here to read the petition and see all the signatures.
My friends, eight years later, UMD is still active, still fighting for the Macedonian cause. Eight years later, UMD has grown from a small group of students and professionals to a global movement, with active operations throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, and representation throughout Europe. Eight years later, UMD has become one of the leading organizations for Macedonia.
My friends, up until eight years ago, Albanian, Bulgarian, and Greek special interest groups were dictating the future of U.S.-Macedonia relations. Eight years later, UMD, and all Macedonians are speaking on their own behalf. Currently, no anti-Macedonian resolutions exist in Congress, and we have our own Congressional Macedonia Caucus. The Macedonian Diaspora communities in the U.S., Australia, and Canada are more organized and more vocal than ever.
But my friends, it’s not enough. We have so much more to do! If you read the petition, you will notice that many of the problems we faced in 2004, we still face today. Macedonians in Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece still do not enjoy basic human rights! Macedonia is still discriminated against in the EU and NATO! Macedonia is still referred to as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” by the UN, and EU bureaucrats attempted to erase the Macedonian language and identity. Are we going to sit by, and watch status quo?
My dear fellow Macedonians and friends of Macedonia, UMD needs your financial support today, to continue to carry on the Macedonian torch for another eight years, and longer. UMD needs your help to continue to make sure Macedonians have a voice in Washington, D.C., Canberra, Ottawa, and Brussels. UMD needs your help to continue fighting for what we all believe in – a Macedonia, which will flourish socio-economically, which will never change its name, and which will protect the Macedonian identity and language. UMD needs your help our brothers and sisters in Albania, Bulgaria and Greece finally get their basic human rights! I am asking you to join UMD today, as we help shape the future for Macedonia and Macedonians!
Ways to give:
Become a member of UMD today by clicking Become a United Macedonian Diaspora Member Today and Help Macedonia!.
Monthly donors are highly encouraged, giving UMD the monthly support for basic office and administration costs. $20 or $30 a month goes a long way!
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for continuing to support UMD. God Bless you! And, please say a prayer for my Baba Mica if you can. I would really appreciate it.
Thank you so much!
Most respectfully yours,
Metodija A. Koloski
United Macedonian Diaspora
1510 H Street, NW, Suite 900
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 756-2244
E-mail: [email protected]