Rachel Galloway

British Ambassador

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

3rd October 2019 Skopje, North Macedonia

The hometown of Kocho Racin, a place of poetry, culture, history and tradition – my first visit to Veles

Last week, I travelled only a short distance from Skopje to visit Veles. It was a packed day as there was a lot to discuss and a lot of people to see and meet. Although Veles has a rich cultural history, our conversations were focussed on its future.

Mayor Ace Kocevski talked about his plans for the development of the city and increased investment and the necessity of public administration reforms and decentralisation to allow the municipalities to deliver for their citizens. The UK is working with the Ministry for Information Society and Administration in support of the reform of the public administration. But delivering this across the country will be a challenging task and needs the engagement of the municipalities. I discussed with local Veles parliamentarians how they worked across the political parties and with the municipality to make Veles a better place to live in. Their focus was on connectivity, infrastructure and availability of public services.

We were also looking to the future when we took the ‘NATO Caravan’, with project partner MOST, to talk to high school students about what it will mean for them when North Macedonia becomes the 30th member of the alliance. As well as discussing the purpose and benefits of the alliance, I shared my own experiences of working with a NATO mission in Afghanistan. They asked me incisive questions looking at everything from women’s participation in peacekeeping to what this really meant for inter-ethnic relations and relations between countries.

The visit to Kindergarten Detelinka (Clover) was inspiring. Director Efimija and her staff gave us a tour through the colourful but peaceful facilities, and yet, this is one of the largest kindergartens I have seen in North Macedonia with more than 200 children aged from 1 to 6. I got to experience the teaching approach our UNICEF project is embedding in kindergartens nationwide. It focuses on social and emotional learning to help children grow up possessing the emotional intelligence, empathy, and knowledge required to be positive and productive in their community. The project has trained and mentors teacher leaders who in turn train and mentor their peers. Two of the teacher leaders, Maja and Aleksandra, are from Veles, and we watched them lead a class for five year olds through a fun lesson about emotions. Children vocalised them, expressed them with each other and their toys. It was amazing how they kept their attention, and focused on what the teacher was saying. I can use the experience at home with my five-year-old!

At lake Mladost I met some of Veles Civil Society Organisations to discuss their work and challenges. I knew some as they had been part of our promoting good governance campaign ”Don’t Ignore! React!” It was a lovely setting for a meeting, if you didn’t look across the lake to see the remains of what used to be a park forest –destroyed in a fire a month ago. I met representatives of Vila Zora, Green Power, Foundation Focus, Aktivo, and Za zdravo pokolenie, active on the environment and good governance. Some were established in 1989 to fight the environmental effects of the Veles Smelter. Closing of the smelter in 2005 was one of their greatest achievements. It was encouraging to hear how passionate they are about their cause, and how they support each other. They have capacity and knowledge, and are ready to work with policy makers and institutions to fight environmental issues and to support improved governance. Their expertise is essential for oversight to ensure that reforms in these areas deliver for the people.

I had only a little time to explore the rich cultural history of Veles, hometown of Koco Racin, the founder of modern Macedonian literature. But I did get to see the incredible Veles Monument – Kosturnica where I was amazed by both the mosaics of Petar Mazev and the breath-taking view of the city.