UMD President Testifies Before Congress on U.S. Aid to Macedonia

This afternoon, UMD President Metodija A. Koloski testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs chaired by Congresswoman Nita Lowey.

Details about today’s public witness hearing and Koloski’s full statement for the record can be found by clicking HERE.

The video of Koloski’s testimony can be found by clicking HERE.

The text of Koloski’s verbal testimony can be found below:

Thank you Chairwoman Lowey, Ranking Member Rogers, Members of the Subcommittee for being champions for robust U.S. foreign aid around the world.

Yesterday was the 76th anniversary of the Holocaust of 98% of Macedonia’s Jewish population, which occurred while Macedonia was occupied by Bulgaria. Bulgaria to date has not apologized to the Macedonian Jewish community and we urge you use your Congressional influence to change this.

UMD represents the interests and needs of our nation’s estimated half a million Americans of Macedonian heritage, and Macedonian communities abroad, and has been a champion for stronger U.S. relations with Macedonia. The U.S. has invested close to $2 billion to help Macedonia.

Since 2008, when Macedonia’s NATO membership was vetoed by Greece due to Greece’s objections to Macedonia’s name, Macedonian public opinion of the U.S. has been on the decline. Macedonia’s lack of NATO membership also saw a growing interest by Russia in the country. Russia historically has never been a friend to Macedonia always supporting its neighbors to divide Macedonian lands and people.

The decline has been largely due to the U.S., particularly under the later part of the last Administration, and especially under this Administration, which applied significant pressure to Macedonia to change its name in order to join NATO while jeopardizing rule of law and democratic principles. The current Administration also supported the illegitimate election of a former terrorist Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of Macedonia’s Parliament. Allegations of members of Parliament being paid to vote a certain way have yet to be investigated.

For nearly 27 years, Greece has argued that Macedonia’s name implied territorial aspirations on Greek lands. How U.S. and Greek authorities accepted North astonishes our community, since if there is a North, there must be a South. Media outlets have recently started to shed light about the gross violations against the Macedonian minority in Greece since 1913. I encourage you to read a BBC article published on February 24th, 2019 “Greece’s invisible minority,” which can be found in the Congressional Record.

Our organization has been a strong proponent of Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic future, however, only under the name, the Republic of Macedonia. UMD was strongly opposed to the U.S. Department of State meddling in support for, and USAID providing education and funding on the September 30, 2018 referendum to change Macedonia’s name. The referendum turnout was significantly under 50% needed by the Macedonian Constitution, did not represent a mandate to change the country’s constitutional name, or reflect the will of the Macedonian people.

U.S. foreign relations and USAID funding should address the most pressing unmet needs in Macedonia, such as media freedom, rule of law, economic problems, and the grave environmental situation in the country, and not be in the business of changing or influencing support for one political party over another or harming a country’s right to self-determination. The sizeable Macedonian Diaspora worldwide, provides close to 21% of Macedonia’s annual GDP in remittances and can be a partner in these endeavors.

Currently publicly owned media outlets are strongly impacted by political parties. These media outlets are used to push certain political party agendas that may be at the jeopardy of the country’s democratic growth.

Work still remains to be done in the areas of increasing transparency and accountability of government, fighting corruption, improving the function of the Macedonian parliament, and a true decentralization of local governments.

U.S. aid should help small and medium-sized enterprises in Macedonia to team up with U.S. companies to expand trade between both countries, which will help drive economic growth in Macedonia where the average salary is between 300 and 400 dollars a month. The IT sector in Macedonia is booming, and the country has the potential to be the silicon valley of Southeast Europe.

Another major area of funding needed is in helping Macedonia tackle its grave air pollution problem. Reports state that 2,000 Macedonians die each year due to air pollution. The U.S. can and should assist Macedonian authorities to implement collective measures to tackle this issue, as well as give civil society organizations the necessary resources to bring greater public awareness.

Your Subcommittee has the power to impact change for Macedonia, history will judge us if we continue to take away a people’s right to self-determination.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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