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Accolades for New US Ambassador in Skopje Ceremony

September 7, 2005

By Christopher Deliso

Gillian Arlette Milovanovic, the new American ambassador to Macedonia, has finally arrived and on Tuesday presented her credentials to President Crvenkovski, ending months of waiting and, previously, speculation as to who would replace the departed Lawrence Butler.

According to state media body MIA, the new ambassador last served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in South Africa, and previously had served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Sweden and Director of the Office of Nordic and Baltic Affairs at the Department of State.”…Someone once said that Macedonia is ‘a small country with a huge heart,’” said Ambassador Milovanovic, according to MIA.

“I can witness this truth despite my short stay here. Macedonia is gifted with natural beauties, rich history and cultural diversity. I am looking forward to serving here, working on the strengthening of the already firm relations [between the US and Macedonia].”

In his welcoming speech, Crvenkovski played up the ‘war on terror’ and Macedonia’s token troop contributions to American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, hoping that these gestures would continue to pay off diplomatically: “…I am convinced that [the] USA will continue to support Macedonia in the realization of its statehood and national priorities, i.e. building of [a] multiethnic, democratic and economically prosperous state,” said the president.

Looking forward to Macedonia’s becoming “…a future full-fledged member of [the] Euro-Atlantic institutions,” Crvenkovski cited Macedonia’s participation in the Adriatic Charter as an “exceptionally important element” in the process, something which the new American ambassador echoed in enthusing that the partnership would help Macedonia in “…fulfilling the ultimate goal – NATO membership.”

Branko, however, perhaps went a bit far when saying that Macedonia “would support USA in the establishment of democracy worldwide – a lofty goal considering that the consolidation of this ruling principle at home remains far from complete.

Indeed, the president has continued to express his disapproval of the government’s mishandling of the celebrated case of Kondovo, stating yesterday for MIA that “…the law will either rule in Macedonia or not. Laws will be either valid for all or we shall promote lawlessness.” And there is always the issue of government interference and intimidation against voters, something from which the president and government are not entirely immune.

Getting the new US Ambassador, as well as other key figures, to take a no-nonsense line against Albanian militantism such as has been seen in Kondovo remains Crvenkovski’s biggest challenge. Most of the previous US ambassadors to Macedonia have been non-committal or outright appeasing to Albanian demands. Indeed, this perceived tendency has resulted in a lack of enthusiasm for any American ambassador amongst Macedonians, except for the well liked and pre-war Christopher Hill.

Ambassador Milovanovic replaces the departed Lawrence Butler, whose up-and-down tenure was marked by internal events of varying severity (volatile elections, Albanian extremist attacks, the mysterious death of President Boris Trajkovski) as well as some silly but ultimately disastrous ones, such as the ‘gay billboards’ imbroglio. Local media speculated widely at the time that the apparent US support for the homosexual cause aroused the ire of the Bush administration and would affect Butler’s next posting.

In fact, for undisclosed reasons, the former ambassador was removed entirely from the US system. “We loved him so much we passed him off on the Europeans,” said one bemused observer in Skopje. Butler has become Deputy-High Representative of the “international community” in Bosnia, that is, an assistant to the tyrannical Paddy Ashdown.

It looks like it may be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for the erstwhile ambassador, who is lacing up on the bench in Sarajevo at precisely the time when Dictator Ashdown, having practically dissolved parliaments and sacked leaders according to his varying whims, is pushing for more centralized control by the Muslim-majority central government- thus angering both Croats and Serbs who fear living under Bosnian Muslim rule.

According to a Croat member of the collective state presidency, Ivo Miro Jovic, the increasing centralization bodes ill for its two minority groups; according to the Italian report, he recently attested that “…all of Bosnia was hostage to mujahadeen from Islamic countries, who remained in the country after the war, and wielded a strong Islamic influence on local people and institutions.”

However, back in Macedonia Ambassador Milovanovic may not have so bad a time of it. There has been speculation that her Serbian last name (see note below) will alienate Albanians, but diplomacy is diplomacy and this is hardly likely to affect anything. Prior to arriving in Macedonia, the incoming ambassador was appraised on Macedonian concerns at a late August meeting with a Macedonian-American diaspora group.

What might be the most fascinating aspect of the new posting, relations-wise, might just be the fact that the new ambassador is female. While to some degree sexism is to be found throughout Macedonia, it is much more pronounced in traditional Albanian society, especially in the villages. It might take some getting used to for macho Albanians, should they end up taking orders from the highest American official in the land. As everyone knows, the US ambassador has more influence in Macedonia than any other official. Should she take a stand against Albanian militants, the latter will find themselves in an awkward (by virtue of being unprecedented) situation which might affect their ability to react in their typically testosterone-fueled manner. But as for now this must remain hypothetical.

What is for sure is that the fact of having a female American ambassador will be, in and of itself, a positive thing, as it could serve to show local women (as well as imported ones) prevented by tradition from getting an education or leaving the house what levels they can aspire to reach.

Note:Macedonian diaspora activist Chris Purdef writes:

“Ambassador Milanovich is an American married to a Croat, she’s not Serbian. For some reason the Macedonian media made a big deal about this a few months back, and has not been able to pick up that she isn’t Serbian.”

We thank Mr. Purdef for the correction.

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