3rd July 2018 Skopje, North Macedonia
On Wednesday I shall pack the car, drive up the road to Tabanovce and on out of Macedonia. The end of a posting prompts retrospective thoughts. And this time, leaving a country which has generated so much history in the last four years, is no different.
It has been an extraordinary privilege to serve in your country. When I worked for the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, I thought my job there could never be matched as a unique, and uniquely rewarding, challenge. But I was wrong. To serve as Ambassador is itself an extraordinary job. And to do so at the precise time I have in Macedonia makes it totally unrepeatable.
I wanted, before starting my road-trip home to London, to offer a few short reflections. And, because social media now dominates the way we communicate, I inevitably captured them under hashtags. Here are three.
One: #Potential #Потенцијал #Potencijal
I arrived in May 2014 to a country that seemed to be chasing its own tail, to be going round forever in circles. If you have ever seen the film Groundhog Day, you’ll know what I mean. Macedonia would be judged ready to open negotiations with the EU…and then they wouldn’t happen. Next year the same. Each year brought a similar cycle with NATO. Each year also saw efforts to bridge the gap on the Name issue…but the gap never seemed to narrow. And each time we went through this cycle, we all lost a little of our belief in the country’s future, and the country lost more of the energy it needs to move forward.
Which, to citizens of Macedonia and to friends of the country alike, was the source of deeply dispiriting frustration. Like all countries, Macedonia depends on its people – its teachers, its doctors, its young entrepreneurs, its everyone – to thrive, to move forward. And who can thrive when the country is going round in circles?
The recently reached agreement on the Name issue finally opens the way for Macedonia to move forward, to achieve its goals of joining NATO and the EU. And that gives all Macedonia’s citizens the opening to achieve their own potential.
Two: #Ambition #Амбиција #Ambicie
To achieve #potential you need #ambition. Early last year I published a blog about Macedonia in 2027. It was just a bit of fun to feed the debate about where people want the country to be in ten years. The name issue had been resolved; the Prime Minister was a woman; Macedonia was hosting the Youth Olympic Games. Think big, be ambitious.
But it is not just about national #ambition. It is also about the ambition of individual citizens, both in achieving your own potential, and in what you demand of your political leaders and your democracy. Aim high in both.
Two: #DiversityandInclusion #РазнообразностиИнклузивност #DiverzitetdheInkluzive
So much of Macedonia’s #potential lies in your diversity. To the outsider, your diverse peoples, your languages, your cultures, make your country endlessly fascinating. For Macedonia, that diversity is a source of strength. The key to using that source of strength is inclusion. Bring everyone to the table. Diverse opinions make for stronger debate. Diverse cultural backgrounds make for greater creativity. Everyone has something to offer. This is about disability too. In four years, I have seen public attitudes towards disability develop fast towards greater inclusion, towards giving everyone a chance. Keep it up: think of Chris Holmes, who came here last here. He went blind overnight at age 14 then got into Cambridge University, became a lawyer and later put on the best Paralympic Games the world has ever seen. And image of Macedonia that will never fade for me is that of the team of waiters with Down’s syndrome at the Queen’s Birthday Party here. Think #ThisAbility not #Disability.
I am off. I leave your country in awe of what you have achieved in overcoming political crisis, excited by the opportunities that are opening up, and yet slightly fearful because of the fragility of it all. There is no magic button to consign your political crisis to history. It will take honesty, courage to take hard decisions, clarity of vision and much more. You need full understanding of the low points of the crisis, not least Kumanovo in May 2015, if you don’t want them to happen again.
I leave buoyed up by the experience of working with the most extraordinary, and diverse, people of Macedonia. Politicians and human rights defenders, journalists and innovators and academics, lawyers and civil society activists.
I leave enriched by so many new friends, those I have worked with, those who so warmly welcomed me and my family. We have learnt so much here and been so moved by all you have given us.
Oh Македонијо! I will not forget you. Embrace your diversity and your potential. Think big and aim high. Се најубаво – ќе се видиме!