By John Murray
Macedonians and Greeks have responded to the news that Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, above right, is traveling to Struga, Macedonia, this summer, to cement a sister city agreement between Struga and Waterbury.
The Balkan Peninsula has long been mired in border disputes and ethnic tension, and O’Leary’s strong relationship with the local Albanian community in Waterbury led to the sister city relationship. Struga’s mayor, Ziadin Sela, above left, is an ethnic Albanian, and 60 years ago Struga was officially a part of Albania. As borders shifted, Struga is now a part of Macedonia, a country that didn’t exist decades ago. Greece opposed the use of Macedonia as a name for the new country (which declared independence as Yugoslavia broke apart) and has opposed Macedonia’s efforts to join the European Union entirely based on the name dispute.
To say the situation is complicated is as understated as saying New England has had a tough winter.
The Observer received the following letters from Macedonian-Americans and Greek-Americans upset at O’Leary’s visit to Struga. The first letter is from Macedonians concerned about the ethnic situation inside Macedonia, and the second letter is from Greeks concerned about the name Macedonia…..
Macédoine is a word the French have used to describe a mixed salad of vegetables or fruits. But translated to English, it is first and foremost the name of proud people and country.
Today’s Republic of Macedonia is called home by just over two million citizens who contribute to the unique, rich and hospitable culture of the country. While the history of Macedonia goes back millennia, the modern-day nation-state was created on September 8, 1991 when Macedonians voted to become independent of the then-disintegrating Yugoslavia. Since then, Macedonia has been led by governments representing Macedonia’s diverse ethnic mix, including Macedonia’s Albanians who have always been a part of each government the Macedonian people have elected.
The Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) of 2001 ended a brief conflict that began when some individuals challenged Macedonia’s legitimately and freely-elected government. While they were roundly condemned by the international community, Macedonia nevertheless instituted a number of reforms to address the concerns of the Macedonian people. One of these included the creation of the position of Deputy Prime Minister for Implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement which is held, and has always been held, by a Macedonian Albanian. Almost all of the reforms under the OFA have been implemented and the position remains open to ensure that all of Macedonia’s ethnic minorities – including Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosnians, and Albanians – benefit from equal opportunity for all and the rule of law. This also includes insuring that in geographic areas where the majority, the Macedonians, are the minority, that their rights are respected as well.
Macedonia’s current government, led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and, which again, includes Macedonians and Macedonian Albanians among others, has implemented policies in order to create conditions that allow for job creation. This includes tax free zones, a 10 percent flat tax, and rapid adoption of free enterprise solutions, all of which are attracting numerous international corporations to invest in production factories in Macedonia and which employ Macedonians regardless of ethnic background. It’s no wonder that Macedonia was ranked 43 in the world for economic freedom by the Heritage Foundation, better than any of its neighbors.
Macedonia’s proud heritage of being home to different ethnic groups is one reason why Macedonia has been held up as an example to neighboring countries with ethnic minorities of their own. Like any other state, Macedonia only asks that citizens – no matter what their ethnic group or faith tradition – work hard, act responsibly, pay their taxes and adhere to the law. This is the best recipe for a successful, modern and forward-looking country.
Lou Vlasho, Florida
Andy Peykoff Sr., California
Jason Miko, Arizona
The above all serve as Honorary Consuls of the Republic of Macedonia
Boston: March 9, 2014
To his Honor Mayor O’Leary Waterbury, CT
Dear Mayor O’Leary,
On behalf of The Pan Macedonian Association of U.S.A., a nationwide membership organization for Greek Americans whose origins are from Macedonia Greece, we write to you to make some comments in light of the meeting and agreement you had on January 21st, 2014 with Mayor Ziadin Sela of the city of Struga of the F.Y.R.O.M. as well as the associated article on the Waterbury Observer titled “Waterbury and Struga Agree To Become Sister Cities, O’Leary To Visit Macedonia Next Summer”, that contains grave inaccuracies.
We are American citizens of Macedonian cultural and historical identity. We are Hellenes from the Hellenic province of Macedonia, and we consider our Macedonian identity as a cultural and historical reality. This identity is shared by 2.5 million Macedonians in Macedonia Greece, and hundreds of thousands abroad. Our Resolutions and Position on the Macedonian issue have been unanimously adapted by (AHEPA) the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and therefore represent the opinion of all of the Greek American community on the Macedonian issue.
Our Macedonian identity includes Alexander the Great and Phillip of Macedonia and is under attack by the so called ‘Macedonian’ identity of the Slavic people of the F.Y.R.O.M. The language of instruction when Aristotle taught Alexander was Greek, not Slavic. The language Alexander spread on his expedition to the East was Greek, not Slavic. Why do we have ancient inscriptions in Greek in settlements established by Alexander as far away as Afghanistan, and none in Slavic?
Why did the Greek language became the lingua franca in Alexander’s empire if he was actually a Slav?
In reference to the said article above, there is one grave inaccuracy regarding the claims that a region called “Macedonia” existed before World War II in Yugoslavia. Tito in 1943 gave the region previously called Vardarska Banovina in Southern Yugoslavia, to the communist cause calling it “Macedonia” something that Secretary Stettinius at the time condemned as a fabrication and a cloak of aggression against Greece. Greece suffered grave losses and destruction during 5 years of civil war and today we want to avoid a threat to our country emanating from what became an independent country calling itself what Tito and Stalin called them when they tried to dismember Greece. We strongly object the appellation of the F.Y.R.O.M. with the name Macedonia.
The nationality and language of the inhabitants of that region should be officially recognized as that of the F.Y.R.O.M. Your association with the City and Mayor of Struga of the F.Y.R.O.M. will reflect negatively in the eyes of the many voters of Greek descent in your area.
This sister cities initiative should not be used to exploit nor promote the claims of the F.Y.R.O.M. people against Greece. If you choose to visit F.Y.R.O.M. you should also visit Macedonia Greece just south of the F.Y.R.O.M., and 50 miles from Struga and immerse yourself in the true Macedonian, rich Hellenic identity for millennia. You can visit Pella, the palace of Alexander the Great, Vergina, the burial site of Phillip of Macedonia, and Thessaloniki that bears the name of the sister of Alexander.
Greece is a longtime friend, ally, and strategic partner of the United States. We would like to see the U.S. discourage any form of aggression against Greece. The U.S. interests in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean require solidified stability. Therefore, the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations among neighboring countries in the region.
Dimitris Chatzis, Supreme President Pan-Macedonian Assoc., USA
Tom Rigas, Supreme Secretary Pan-Macedonian Assoc., USA