Summary of 4th United Macedonian Diaspora Global Conference in Macedonia

4th UMD Global Conference Sets the Trend for Events in Macedonia

Prepared by Professor Nevena Trajkov, Eastern Michigan University

2013 marks 100 years since the division of Macedonian lands. In that century, Macedonia and Macedonians endured many changes, including the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the partition and annexation of lands into other governments, and the realization of an independent Macedonian state. To commemorate this bittersweet anniversary, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) decided to host its 4th Global Conference in the Republic of Macedonia. From July 24 – July 27, 2013, Macedonians and friends of Macedonia from twenty-six countries descended on Skopje to participate in a dialogue of what the last 100 years have meant for Macedonia and Macedonians. The chosen theme of the conference – Macedonia 2013: 100 Years After the Treaty of Bucharest –was intended to provide a space and forum for guests and participants to gather and have an honest discussion on the events and decisions that Macedonia and Macedonians experienced over the span of a century.

July 24, 2013 – Reception at U.S. Ambassador Paul Wohlers’ Residence, followed by reception at Aleksandar Palace Hotel

UMD’s 4th Annual Global Conference kicked off with a reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador Paul D. Wohlers. Ambassador Wohlers and his wife Mary Jo warmly welcomed Macedonian-Americans back to their ancestral home by opening their private home to conference guests, and lauded the decision of UMD to choose Macedonia as the backdrop of their 4th Global Conference, returning hundreds of Macedonian expatriates, and their families, to the country of their roots. The Ambassador’s speech expressed confidence that the conference would bring contributive insight and dialogue to Macedonian matters over the last century.

Afterwards, UMD hosted a reception at Aleksandar Palace Hotel, officially welcoming all guests, participants, and presenters to both the conference and the beautiful, ever-changing, capital city of Skopje.

July 25, 2013 – Conference Day 1

Opening Plenary

The first day of presentations and speakers began with the opening plenary, where UMD Chairman Stojan Nikolov and President Metodija A. Koloski addressed an audience of 250+ people, welcoming them to Macedonia, and elaborating on the significance the 4th UMD Global Conference has for both the Macedonian Diaspora and the Republic of Macedonia. UMD was honored to have Dr. Srgjan Kerim, president of the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations, former minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Macedonia and first recipient of the UMD Macedonian Heritage Public Service Award, address the audience, where his speech stressed unity and understanding, urging Macedonians of all ethnicities to work towards building a future of stability and prosperity for all citizens within the Republic.

UMD was also proud to have members of the Macedonian Parliament, Miodrag Dodevski and Pavle Sazdov, discuss their role as the first representatives of the Australian and North American Diaspora within Macedonia’s Parliament. In addition, Professor and Director of the Institute of National History, Todor Cepreganov, presented an honorary copy of the newly released book “The Peace Treaty of Bucharest and the Division of Macedonia in 1913” (Stojcev & Stojcev) to UMD President Metodija A. Koloski.

Other speakers included Metodija Tosevski (former Minister of Finance in the first Government of the Republic of Macedonia, and Representative of Macedonians from the Aegean region of Macedonia), Vasil Naumov (Director of the Agency of Emigration of the Republic of Macedonia), organizers of the academic conference, Nevena Trajkov and Nikola Zezov (Eastern Michigan University and University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, respectively), Aleksandar Krzalovski (Executive Directory of the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation), Ismail Bojda (Union of Macedonians of Islamic Faith), and Peter Dallas (Macedonian Heritage Village).

Academic Presentations (July 25, 26, & 27)

For the first-time ever, UMD decided to feature a full academic conference within its overall global conference. UMD and its academic team wanted to encourage professors, researchers, and journalists to continue producing objective research on Macedonian issues. The interdisciplinary academic conference provided an opportunity for professors and other experts on Macedonian matters to present their research that revealed truths and questions about Macedonia. Participants were selected from abstracts that were submitted to UMD’s Call for Abstracts, advertised in major journals, organizations, associations, and research institutions around the world. Utilizing a blind, democratic selection procedure, 44 papers were selected, representing academics from 12 different countries across Europe and North America. Papers were scheduled for presentation for each of the three days of the conference, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and then from 2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Each presenter was allotted a 20-minute presentation, followed by a 5-minute discussion and Q&A. While papers were selected for presentation in one of six panels (Balkan Wars: Event Analysis, Balkan Wars: War Tactics, Treaty of Bucharest: Repercussions, Treaty of Bucharest: Residual Effects in Contemporary Politics, Republic of Macedonia: Modern Government, and Republic of Macedonia: Societal Issues), their topics provided a diverse approach to Macedonian issues and questions.

From the name issue with Greece, to other topics, including the role of the Macedonian Orthodox Church on Macedonian autonomy during the Balkan Wars, an analysis of the writings of Krste Petkov Misirkov and their application to Macedonia’s modern government, the activity of the Macedonian Diaspora in Croatia, a comparison of politics between Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina vis-à-vis imposed agreements, and many more research questions, the academic conference provided guests and participants with insight to Macedonian history, contemporary politics, and provoked further questions for research. Our academic team could not be more pleased with the quality of the papers received and their presentation, and look forward to the release of new publications fostered by questions revealed at the conference, as well as a Journal of the papers to be published in the first quarter of 2014.

July 25, 2013 Luncheon Panel

Thursday’s lunch panel focused on the Euro-Atlantic future of Macedonia as well as its bilateral relations with the United States and the United Kingdom. The panel featured U.S. Ambassador Paul D. Wohlers, U.K. Ambassador Christopher Yvon, Macedonian Member of Parliament and Chair of the Committee of Foreign Policy, Antonia Milososki, Member of Parliament and Chair of the National Council for European Integration of Macedonia, Radmila Sekerinska, and Executive Director of the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, Aleksandar Krzalovski. UMD President Metodija A. Koloski moderated the discussion and Q&A session following the panel.

Ambassador Wohlers detailed his country’s support for Macedonia, providing over $1 billion U.S. dollars in aid since 1995. He reiterated the U.S. position to see Macedonia in NATO as soon as possible.

Ambassador Yvon expressed the need for Macedonia to continue on its reforms process in order to join the European Union in the future. He assured the audience that the United Kingdom remains a committed partner of Macedonia on its path to NATO and the EU.

Both ambassadors thanked the Macedonian Diaspora for their role in improving bilateral relations, and emphasized the need for the organization to continue with their efforts to help Macedonia meet its goals.

Milososki and Sekerinska, both previous ministers in government, focused on ways to remove the political and economic standstill Macedonia is in now, as a result of Greece’s opposition to Macedonia’s NATO and EU membership. Because they reside on different sides of the political aisle, it was expected that Milososki and Sekerinska would present different perspectives on current issues in the Republic, as well as solutions. However, despite their political differences, both came to the conference sharing the same goal for Macedonia – a Euro-Atlantic future.

Krzalovski presented the non-governmental perspective, and the role of civil society in helping the Euro-Atlantic prospects of Macedonia. He argued that developing and deepening civil society in the country could play a key role in Macedonia realizing membership goals. Krzalovski stressed that the country will only benefit from the Diaspora’s desire to increase both their interests and involvement in helping to build this vital political component.

Evening Activities: Macedonian Cultural Celebration and Dancing

The program for evening events began with a night celebrating Macedonian music and dance. The evening started off with a reception and the opening of an exhibit of local Macedonian artists sponsored by the Skopje and Miami-based NGO Art Studio, UMD Macedonian Companions member Irena Gapkovska, and UMD Advisory Council Member Nicholas Thaw. The exhibit continued throughout the full three-day conference. Following the exhibit opening, artists performed not only popular music from the country, but also traditional music of the people (narodna), featuring historical instruments and music styles to Macedonian composition. Participating musicians included one of Macedonia’s representatives to Eurovision 2013, and top pop-star, Vlatko Lozanoski Lozano, arranger, conductor, and teacher of traditional music and instrumentation, Bajsa Arifovska, and Macedonian ethno band, Kalevala. The evening continued with a spectacular dance performance by the Vlado Tasevski Macedonian Folk Dance Ensemble, and ended with members of the ensemble inviting guests to join them in dancing and celebrating the various types of oro, traditional Macedonian dances.

July 26, 2013 – Conference Day 2

Among other significant anniversaries, 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of Macedonian diplomacy. The luncheon panel titled “Macedonian Foreign Policy Since 1991” featured a keynote address by Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki, followed by a vibrant discussion by three of Macedonia’s top foreign policy commentators: former government spokesperson and Deputy Prime Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration Ivica Bočevski, former National Security and Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to Presidents Boris Trajkovski and Branko Crvenkovski, Stevo Pendarovski, as well as former deputy Defense Minister, Sulejmani Rizvan. UMD Vice President Aleksandar Mitreski moderated the discussion and Q&A session following the panel.

Speaking before a large number of representatives of the Macedonian Diaspora, the civil society and the media, Minister Poposki addressed the rocky road that the Republic of Macedonia has treaded in international relations, the process of recognition and promotion of the country in the international community, the results achieved, the EU and NATO integration processes and the various problems and challenges that our state has faced and is still facing.

Drawing a parallel between the past and the present, Minister Poposki said that the foreign policy of the independent Republic of Macedonia had taken its first steps in extremely difficult and fickle times. The challenges posed in that period, according to Minister Poposki, merely served to further highlight the desire of each and every Macedonian to persevere and show the world that the Republic of Macedonia has the capacity to endure the most difficult of times and successfully meet its international obligations.

Expressing his appreciation for the contribution of the Macedonian Diaspora to the recognition and promotion of the Republic of Macedonia, Minister Poposki said that fulfilling the dream of independence and statehood of many generations of Macedonians and Macedonian citizens would not have been possible without the unwavering and unconditional support from the Macedonian Diaspora, the representatives of which, with their numerous successes in different fields and countries, had contributed and were continuously contributing to promoting the independent Republic of Macedonia.

Minister Poposki also spoke of the goals, priorities and challenges of Macedonia’s foreign policy today. At the same time, however, he said that looking back from today’s point of view, we could gladly say that over the years, the Republic of Macedonia made friends and allies that supported the country in its endeavors and commitments, and that our strongest trump was the knowledge that we were a peace-loving European state that had only one claim – to win its place in the European and Euro-Atlantic family of democracies, preserving its identity and dignity in the process.

Evening Activities: Reception at Museum of Macedonian Revolution

The President of the Republic of Macedonia, Dr. Gjorge Ivanov, hosted the United Macedonian Diaspora and guests of the 4th UMD Global Conference at a reception at the Museum of Macedonian Revolutionary Struggle in Skopje to honor global Macedonian Diaspora leaders. At the reception, President Ivanov presented UMD with an award of recognition for its long-standing efforts to help Macedonia.

Generation M Žurka featuring DJ CJ Molotov

After the reception at the Museum, conference guests were invited to one of the premier night clubs in Macedonia, Paradiso, to listen to UMD Germany Representative Igor Danajlovski moonlight as his alter-ego, electronic music DJ and producer, CJ Molotov. Guests joined hundreds of other Paradiso patrons in letting loose and enjoying all the entertainment Skopje has to offer.

July 27, 2013 – Conference Day 3

Of the many topics of interest to members of the Diaspora, one of most concern is that of Macedonia’s economic development, and how to attract investments. Saturday’s luncheon panel brought together Macedonia’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Vladimir Pesevski, Macedonian National Bank Governor, Dimitar Bogov, Macedonian Minister of Foreign Investment, Jerry Naumoff, and Macedonian-Asia Pacific Trade Council representative, Vladimir Kofcegarski. UMD Board Chairman Stojan Nikolov moderated the discussion and Q&A session following the panel.

In his opening remarks, Nikolov praised the Macedonian government for the reforms it has undertaken since 2006 to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in Macedonia, and stimulate economic growth. He stressed the need to continue on this path, and further entrepreneurship so to decrease the country’s 32% unemployment rate, and improve the standard of living for citizens.

Pesevski presented the government’s recent efforts, as well as the policies and regulations put in place to better attract FDI. He highlighted large investments made by foreign companies, such as Johnson Matthey, Kromberg & Schubert, Dräxlmaier Group, Johnson Controls, KEMET, among others, that brought hundreds of jobs to the country. Pesevski encouraged the Diaspora to invest their business interests in the country due to the low tax rates, quick company registrations, and the excellent geostrategic location Macedonia offers in the region as it provides a door to a European market of over 650 million consumers.

Bogov discussed the stable monetary policy and stable banking system in the country, including the reforms that the National Bank implemented since independence, creating the monetary stability Macedonia enjoys. Bogov was optimistic, and concluded his presentation with his outlook that the future of the country is very positive compared to other countries in the region.

Delev detailed the many advantages to investing in Macedonia, particularly in the “Free Trade Zones” that the government created in order to attract foreign investors. Naumoff, the newest member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, presented his outlook for Macedonia, especially the positive picture Macedonia paints to the world as a unique gateway in the region, and the World Bank’s classification of Macedonia as a top reformer in doing business. He expressed great satisfaction with the government treating foreign investors not as foreigners, but as local business owners, who are provided the high quality of hospitality and accommodation.

Kofcegarski presented his organization’s mission in promoting Macedonia as a unique business destination to the Asia-Pacific region, and encouraged Macedonia to do more with this part of the world.

Nikolov concluded the panel by introducing an idea for the government to create a new form of an investment vehicle, similar to what Israel is doing, by issuing so-called Patriotic Bonds. Nikolov feels these bonds would provide the Diaspora with an excellent opportunity to invest in the future of Macedonia’s stability.

Evening Activities: Gala Dinner

The closing finale of the 4th Global Conference was a stunning gala held at Aleksandar Palace. Notable guests of the gala were the guest of honor, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Foreign Minister Nikola Popovski, Members of Parliament Miki Dodevski and Pavle Sazdov, Macedonia’s Ambassador to NATO, Martin Trenevski, Macedonia’s Ambassador to Sweden, Kire Ilieski, Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece, and UMD representative and human rights advocate for the Macedonians in Greece, Eugenia Natsoulidou.

The gala was opened with the national anthem of the Republic of Macedonia, performed by the world renowned St. Zlata Meglenska Women’s Choir, followed by a blessing and prayer conducted by Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias. Canadian-Macedonian and UMD Advisory Council Member, Elizabeth Naumovski, and Macedonian television and radio personality, Dimitar Atanasovski, emceed the evening.

UMD Chairman Stojan Nikolov and Vice President Aleksandar Mitreski each gave speeches welcoming guests to the final event of the 4th UMD Global Conference. In their speeches, each gave thanks to participants and guests for their unwavering support towards the growing organization, and reiterated the goals of the United Macedonian Diaspora, as well as its position on the name row with Greece. Nikolov and Mitreski also urged for Macedonians, both in the Republic of Macedonia and in the Diaspora, to unite and to become involved in helping Macedonia on its path towards success.

At the gala, Macedonian-Canadian Olga Sandalowich provided a beautiful and warm introduction for UMD’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, world-renowned teacher and performer of Macedonian folklore, Atanas Kolarovski. UMD Vice President Aleksandar Mitreski presented the award, followed by remarks from Kolarovski on the significance of receiving this award in Macedonia, while the country commemorated a century since the division of his homeland. The UMD Lifetime Achievement Award to Kolarovski is the first such award presented to Kolarovski from any Macedonian organization.

UMD also gave a Posthumous Award to Polosko-Kumanovski Metropolitan Kiril of the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric. UMD Vice President Aleksandar Mitreski provided comments recognizing the life of service Metropolitan Kiril gave to Orthodox believers, not only in Macedonia, but also throughout the Diaspora, most notably in North America.

UMD President Metodija A. Koloski then presented the Award of Recognition to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. In his speech, Prime Minister Gruevski gave recognition to the importance of Macedonian expatriates and their children in helping the Republic of Macedonia realize its goals and ambitions. The Prime Minister also addressed contemporary issues such as attracting foreign investments, the Macedonian economy, and the name row with Greece.

After the Prime Minister’s speech, emcees Elizabeth Naumovski and Dimitar Atanasovski officially closed the Gala, and invited guests to participate and enjoy the music and dance program that followed. Performance artists included acclaimed Macedonian ethno music group Baklava, Macedonian singers Andrijana Janevska and Sanja Lefkova, and Macedonian legend Violeta Tomovska. Recognizing the improbability of a Diaspora gathering in Skopje of this magnitude, weight and significance repeating itself, guests reveled in the atmosphere and energy of the evening, and danced into the early morning hours.

The United Macedonian Diaspora’s 4th Global Conference concluded with hundreds of Macedonians from twenty-six countries, holding hands, singing the songs of Macedonia, and dancing her dances. To quote Olga Sandalowich while she danced pravoto oro, “the positive energy and love in this room is very, very strong.”

Looking back, UMD would have to agree, and cannot wait to begin with plans for its 2014 Global Conference. We hope to see you there!

Following the conference, guests went on cultural tours throughout Macedonia, and visited Mala Prespa, in Albania, and Edessa (Voden), in Greece.  The tours concluded with a visit to Krusevo for the Ilinden Uprising Anniversary commemoration.

Click here to see the pictures from the entire UMD GC2013. Videos will be on UMD’s YouTube Channel.

Download the UMD GC2013 Commemorative Journal, including our sponsors, letters from dignitaries, and biographies of speakers by clicking HERE.

Message from UMD: UMD would like to thank the academic conference organizers, Teon Dzingo, Nevena Trajkov, and Nikola Zezov, all conference presenters, speakers, and guests, our sponsors, and our numerous student volunteers spearheaded by Ivana Koleva.  Without all of these superb individuals, UMD GC2013 would not have been possible.

Please consider making a donation to UMD so that we can continue this great work by clicking here. Canadians, please click here.

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