The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD), based in Washington, D.C., concluded its annual visit to New York on the sidelines of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly.
The group, led by UMD President Metodija A. Koloski, was joined by Southeast Europe Coalition Co-Chair and Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina Executive Director Ajla Delkic, a long-time UMD partner organization. UMD New York Representative Vera Arsova, New Jersey Representative and Ajvar 5K Project Director Ana Dukoska, UMD Member Vladimir Kotevski, and UMD-Generation M Board Member Mirjana Kuzmanovski were part of UMD’s delegation.
The purpose of this visit was to continue UMD’s multi-year educational advocacy efforts to the United Nations and its Member-States bringing to light issues of concern for Macedonians worldwide. Among the principal topics of discussion were: (i) The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece; (ii) Macedonia’s relationship with the United Nations; (iii) increasing UN Member-States’ recognition of Macedonia’s rightful and constitutional name; (iv) full human rights for Macedonians in Southeast Europe; and (v) domestic legislation that hinders Macedonia’s constitution.
The visit kicked off with a nearly two-hour long meeting with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov and the Minister for Diaspora Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, Edmond Ademi as a follow-up to meetings UMD leadership conducted in Macedonia this past summer. These meetings are designed to convey our legitimate concerns about pressing domestic and foreign policy issues that impact Macedonia and its diaspora. Despite our interest in building dialogue with respected parties in Macedonia, UMD does not necessarily endorse government or political party policy initiatives at home and abroad.
Koloski opened the meeting by expressing UMD’s strong opposition to the draft language law recently proposed by Macedonia’s government coalition, which hinders Macedonia’s constitution and already deeply flawed Ohrid Framework Agreement. UMD believes no minority in Macedonia should have preferential treatment over others, and Macedonia must stop creating parallel societies, but instead focus on building a proud homeland for Macedonians and all who respect Macedonia’s institutions. UMD will not tolerate redefining of Macedonia’s national identity. UMD insisted on the need for a more detailed explanation of the new draft law and its possible implications. Prime Minister Zaev explained that the draft law is only the last legal part of a series of language laws adopted in 2008 and 2011 and that it does not infringe on the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia. UMD called on the government to immediately plan a population census, which has not been done in Macedonia since 2002. Prime Minister Zaev answered UMD’s request and pledged to conduct a census in 2019.
Next, Kotevski used the opportunity to stress to the delegation UMD’s policy that Macedonia’s continued participation in UN-mediated talks on Macedonia’s rightful and constitutional name is the wrong strategy. 137 countries recognize Macedonia and Macedonia should suspend these talks, especially in light of Greece’s ongoing violations of the U.S.-brokered 1995 UN Interim Accord, and seek a UN Security Council resolution undoing the 1993 UN Security Council Resolution 817 by which Macedonia was admitted illegally under a name Macedonia does not call itself by.
Kotevski reemphasizing UMD’s staunch position regarding the agreement with Bulgaria, stressing that the aim of agreements of this kind should be limited to building business relations that could bolster the Macedonian economy. He continued that the government must avoid any future agreements that could be detrimental to the integrity of the Macedonian state and that the protection of the rights of Macedonian minorities abroad should be of the utmost importance.
Koloski continued by emphasizing UMD’s position that Macedonia should not have to change its rightful and constitutional name to gain membership into NATO and the EU.
Long-time UMD partner, Ajla Delkic, from the Advisory Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, highlighted the importance of UMD’s work as the only existing non-partisan voice for Macedonia in Washington, D.C. initiating the formation of the Congressional Caucus on Macedonia and Macedonian-Americans, which now has 33 members of Congress. Delkic added that division among the Macedonian diaspora would only be detrimental to Macedonia; the existence of one, single and united common position should be the only path forward for progress in and for Macedonia.
Arsova spoke about the problems facing the Macedonian community in New York and New Jersey due to the lack of a Consul General. Taking into account the fact that this Macedonian community is one of the largest in the United States, having no Consul General in the area is a major disadvantage. Arsova asked for the return of consular representation to New York, given the city’s economic and political importance. Similarly, Arsova requested the opening of consular posts in Los Angeles, Perth, and Sydney, Australia. Arsova encouraged the delegation to develop programs to bring Macedonians to the United States on internships and fellowships, as well as support the Macedonian Language E-Learning Center, which promotes the study of the Macedonian language abroad.
During the discussion on diplomatic consular missions, Koloski expressed UMD’s and the Canadian-Macedonian community’s dissatisfaction with the recent decision by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to remove the Macedonian Consul General, Jovica Palashevski, from Toronto at the request of the Greek foreign ministry. The purpose of the Macedonian diplomatic consular office is to interact with the Macedonian diaspora community, and Palashevski has always served the national interests of the Republic of Macedonia. Koloski emphasized that the reason behind Palashevski’s removal was unfounded. Palashevski, who was simply a guest speaker at a function organized by the Canadian-Macedonian community in which there was a map of historic geographic Macedonia, and should not be seen as a threat to Greece’s territorial integrity. UMD appealed to the Minister for a more reasonable response and the return of Palashevski to his post as the Consul General of the Republic of Macedonia in Toronto.
After, Dukoska discussed UMD’s charitable programs, among which she emphasized UMD’s renovation of the Stajkovci hospital following the devastating floods in August 2016 and the Ajvar 5K project. The charitable 5K races fundraise for marginalized groups in Macedonia, including orphans and children with disabilities. Dukoska also mentioned that she is in communication with the new Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Mila Carovska, as well as a group of parents of children with special needs. Their requests for changing Macedonia’s laws for people with special needs, which would improve their living conditions, are at different stages of development. Dukoska appealed to the Prime Minister for direct cooperation with the parents to find specific solutions for them, as they are the ones directly affected.
Koloski closed the meeting with reiterating UMD’s 13-year request to open an official Ministry of Diaspora, incorporating the Agency of Emigration, and called for the inclusion of UMD in the process of building a national strategy towards the integration of the diaspora in advancing the political and socio-economic well being of the Republic of Macedonia. Koloski appealed to the government delegation to uphold Macedonia’s national interests and emphasized that UMD will continue to monitor their work closely and give constructive criticism or support accordingly.
The following day, Koloski met with the UN Secretary General’s special envoy on the UN-mediated name talks, Ambassador Matthew Nimetz. At the meeting, Koloski reiterated UMD’s position that the name talks should cease, emphasizing that 137 countries have already recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name. At this meeting, Koloski stressed to Ambassador Nimetz that UMD does not support the position of the two main Macedonian political parties for a referendum on the name of the Republic of Macedonia, noting that the Government of the Republic of Macedonia has a mandate to abide by the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia in its entirety; there is no open question about the will and determination of the people to retain and protect the rightful name of their country – the Republic of Macedonia.