Rachel Galloway

Her Majesty's Ambassador

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

7th September 2021 Skopje, North Macedonia

Celebrating 30 years of Independence! Friendship, partnership and cooperation – our UK and North Macedonia story

Working and living in North Macedonia is a real privilege. I am struck regularly by the warmth of the people, the taste of the food and the wine and the beauty of the landscapes. I have had the privilege to meet people across the country. To see the heritage of the country from Bigorski monastery to the coloured mosque to the Krushevo monument. To have ridden horses in beautiful Bistra, climbed majestic Ljuboten and swam in Ohrid Lake.

The lakes and landscape are not only a gift of nature, they also tell the story both of the region and the relationship between the United Kingdom and North Macedonia. Over 100 years ago, the United Kingdom and the world fought and died to preserve peace at the Salonika Front which extended from east of the Vardar River, the trenches west of Lake Dojran, and the Strumica Valley to the east. Over 160,000 British soldiers lost their lives during the campaign. We remember them together each year on 11 November at the British Military Cemetery in Skopje where 124 Commonwealth servicemen are buried or commemorated.

And our desire to support each other’s security and stability continued. During the 2nd World War, British servicemen trained with the Kumanovo Partisan Unit and were kept hidden and protected by the villagers in Pelince. One of my most moving moments was to read the poem written by one of the soldiers helped by the partisans – Major William Frank Thomson – on the balcony of the house where he stayed. We have continued to worked together to remember these stories and preserve these artefacts for future generations including through battlefield study tours and working with municipalities to refurbish and maintain war memorials.

This is just part of the reason why it has been so special for us to support North Macedonia on the journey to NATO. Since the signing of the first Memorandum of Understanding on Defence cooperation in 1995, the UK has supported the Army of the Republic of North Macedonia with training to improve its interoperability with NATO allies. We have supported building integrity, military capabilities and English language skills, the latter at the English Language Centre at Ilinden Barracks which was opened by the UK Minister of Defence in 2001.

Military scholarships have been awarded to representatives of the Ministry of Defence and the Army to attend training in the UK at some of the most prestigious educational establishments in the world, including the Royal College of Defence Studies, the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. And in 2019 at the NATO Leaders’ Meeting in London we saw the Macedonian flag flying over the Mall for the first time in its rightful place with all the other allies.

In 2018, the UK hosted the Western Balkans Summit, during which North Macedonia and other countries in the region signed up to a series of ambitious commitments. The Summit and collaboration that followed, have marked a new era in bilateral cooperation between the UK and North Macedonia. Our relationship in security has continued to grow, and in May this year, the UK and North Macedonia co-chaired the Berlin Process Security Commitments Steering Group meeting.

But our relationship goes far deeper than security. This is highlighted by just some of the UK visitors we have had here recently. In 2018, the then UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, visited. Since then, we have welcomed two Ministers for Europe and then in 2019, I hosted HRH Prince Edward Earl of Wessex, who during a 2-day visit, saw a variety of activities, people and places in and around Skopje from youth groups working on environment and digital skills, a kindergarten where he witnessed our programme building social skills in the youngest of society, to meeting Chevening scholars who we had supported to study in the UK and had come back to use their knowledge here in the country.

We are economic partners. North Macedonia is our largest trading partner in the Western Balkans and with the signature of a new Partnership, Trade and Cooperation Agreement this can only increase bilateral cooperation and economic opportunities between our two countries. We have large British investors in North Macedonia, companies such as; Johnson Matthey, Central Asia Metals – Sasa mine, Comfy Angel and Endava. And we see Macedonian companies, such as Alkaloid, now opening subsidiaries in the UK. We see Macedonian wines sold in UK supermarkets. Over the next few years there will be new opportunities for green businesses to create new jobs and partnerships.

We are partners on North Macedonia’s path towards democracy. We will continue to support strengthening the human capital in the country and the capability of institutions to improve the quality of citizen’s lives. In the last few years we have worked together on justice sector reforms, public administration and improved governance, including public finance management and economic policy reforms in the economy. We have worked together on the environment and are looking forward to the implementation of the green scenario of the energy strategy we supported. We are committed to work with institutions, civil society organisations and media so that citizens see their lives improve, have the information they need and the change they demand.

We stand together when the world changes. 2020 was an extraordinary year which changed everything about our lives. And highlighted how interconnected we are. To enable continuous education, we partnered with UNICEF on developing the Eduino online platform when schools closed. We worked with WHO and the Health Ministry to ensure improved health care response by training health professionals in management of COVID patients, and UK Coventry University and UK experts developed a feasibility study on an accelerated nursing diploma. We also supported, smaller CSOs in providing face masks, food and hygiene packs to vulnerable groups and supported women in remote areas through a mobile gynecological clinic and funded UNFPA and CSOs to support survivors of Gender Based and Domestic violence.

We share values and the desire to be a force for good. We have delivered creative and ambitious policy and programmes that have supported sustainable development, tackled issues around climate change, and that have promoted human rights and democracy.  We continue to advocate for a free and open society.  Our staff proudly took part in the first Pride parade in 2019 and the March for women’s rights and gender equality in 2020. We were proud to support Skopje Pride 2021.  We’re committed to raise awareness of the impact of climate change, working with our Young Climate Ambassador’s and civil society to advocate for climate action.  Our National Day this year focused on sustainable fashion which further demonstrated our passion and commitment to addressing the issues.  Our support to a Community garden in the municipality of Shuto Orizari, should benefit the local community now and in the future.  Through multiple projects with young people we have worked to show them that they are the future the country needs. These are just some of the many diverse projects that I am proud that the Embassy supports.

And we will be partners for the next challenges. Since we first opened our Embassy in Skopje in 1993, we have faced many challenges together. We will continue to do so and deepen our ties. We will stand together for Euro-Atlantic integration. This makes us all safer and brings economic gains for all. We will work together to tackle climate change and protect our most vulnerable ecologies and environments. We will work together to strengthen democracy and build the future our citizens want. We will stand side by side promoting peace and stability in the region. I am proud to be doing this together as partners, allies and friends.

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