Emilia Lisa Sterjova made the Macedonian community proud when she was elected as Mayor of the City of Whittlesea, and inspired many young Australians in becoming more involved in politics, connecting the youth to their local government.
However, a cycle of political bullying and recent personal attacks, including death threats, on account of being Macedonian and a woman, Ms. Sterjova was stood down as Mayor of Whittlesea Council, as of March 19, 2020. This was following the intervention of the Victorian State Government, led by Premier Daniel Andrews.
Whilst the entire Council has been dismissed, Ms. Sterjova has expressed concern that this decision was made following the relentless and cunning bitterness of two Councilors, who were not originally successful in the positions of Mayor and Deputy Major respectfully. In consideration of the successful implementation of numerous proposals and programs introduced by the Mayor throughout her term, and the widespread support and admiration of local Whittlesea residents, it is evident that Ms. Sterjova was not attacked for any political failures or misconduct, but rather on the basis of her identity. Her dismissal was therefore unjustified and anti-democratic.
There is no room for misogynistic attitudes and discrimination within Australian politics, yet this is a reoccurring problem that continues to arise, and indeed halts effective local government action, as was evident with this dismissal. This, therefore, denies the residents of Whittlesea of their fundamental democratic rights of local government representation.
UMD is deeply disappointed that a young female’s political career quickly culminated in death threats from members of the Greek community. It is further demoralizing when considering that the leadership of the Labor Party did not act in support, or speak out against misogynistic and bigoted attacks against the Whittlesea Mayor. Certain party members instead added to the insult, using the circumstance to score themselves points within internal party conflicts, which have plagued the Whittlesea Council for years. Moreover, Cr. Pavlidis, a councilor of Greek heritage, and long-time colleague of Ms. Sterjova, also chose this path, which included sending a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seeking clarification on the Prespa Agreement. As a reminder; DFAT has stated that the Prespa Agreement is not binding on Australia’s domestic and international relations. Hence Ms. Pavlidis efforts to bind Australian-Macedonians under this bilateral agreement was labeled as “defamatory” by Ms. Sterjova. Unfortunately, when interviewed by Neos Kosmos, Pavlidis did not use this opportunity to denounce acts of bullying within the council, but rather called out Ms. Sterjova for being photographed with a flag, which merely represented her cultural identity.
The shock decision by the Victorian Government now begs the question of lobby power initiated against those of Macedonian heritage, as well as females who aspire to successfully lead in politics and our community. Ms. Sterjova strongly claimed that “with what [she has] endured as the youngest female Mayor in Australian history. God help any young woman who aspires to enter into politics.”
In Australia, Macedonian interests remain unrepresented as the interests of the Greek lobby prevail. In the 1990s, the Victorian State Government, led by Premier Jeff Kennett, changed the identity of the Macedonian people and language from ‘Macedonian’ to ‘Macedonian (Slavonic),’ which was found by the High Court of Australia in breach of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975). The federal government of Australia never recognised Macedonia under its constitutional name the ‘Republic of Macedonia.’ Furthermore, the current Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews quoted former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, saying that ‘Macedonia is as Greek as the Parthenon.’ Although, there is no concrete evidence to support this ridiculous claim.
Ultimately, this nonetheless emphasizes that having young professional Macedonians involved in politics is of pivotal importance for the Macedonian community in Australia. A community that has contributed to strengthening multicultural Australia, and should, therefore, have its own voice through passionate and dedicated Australian youths, such as Ms. Sterjova.