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Macedonian Peacekeeping Contributions Recognized at International Defense Conference in Sofia

May 22, 2008

By Christopher Deliso

Two Macedonian Army representatives were among the chosen expert speakers at a conference last week in Bulgaria devoted to peacekeeping issues involving the former conflict in Bosnia and the Balkan security situation today. The conference was organized by the Bulgarian General Staff and NATO, and held at the prestigious G.S. Rakovski Defense and Staff College in Sofia.

The Macedonian army’s positive and ongoing activities in NATO peacekeeping operations and the military reforms made by Macedonia for NATO were also presented in front of a group of experts from the defense ministries of countries including the USA, France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Serbia, Latvia and Bulgaria. The Macedonian experience was thus presented on an equal level with other notable presentations from the military representatives of these countries.

The two Macedonian representatives, Lieutenant-Colonel Mitko Saraliev and Major Robert Tasevski, are undertaking advanced training at the G.S. Rakovski Defense and Staff College, as part of a bilateral agreement Macedonia has with Bulgaria. Macedonia has similar agreements with Turkey, Estonia, England, Germany, Croatia and the USA, so that Macedonian officers can undertake new training in special programs at staff colleges in these countries.

Before the distinguished guests, Lieutenant-Colonel Saraliev spoke on the participation of Macedonian peacekeeping units in the EUFOR Althea operations in Bosnia, and lessons learned from the experience of Macedonian helicopter detachments and medical teams in Bosnia. Major Tasevski, who is a Military Police commander, spoke about the lessons learned from IFOR and SFOR missions in Bosnia and how to improve institutional cooperation and planning among the NATO countries, and the need for Macedonian soldiers to improve English-language skills for dealing with allied peacekeepers.

tasevsi-schiller-russova-saraliev-rakovski-conference-2008

(Left to Right) Major Robert Tasevski, Dr. Mark Schiller, Lt-Colonel Rossitsa Russeva, Lt-Colonel Mitko Saraliev

In the conference, numerous Bulgarian experts also provided their insight, such as conference organizers Dr. Dimitre Minchev and Lieutenant-Colonel Rossitsa Russeva of the defense college, who spoke, respectively, about the historical context of the Bosnian conflict and the Bulgarian peacekeeping contribution there. The conference’s special guest was Dr. Mark Schiller of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA. Dr. Schiller spoke about information tactics in peacekeeping operations and the importance of having good public information officials and keeping good relations with journalists, from an American perspective. Numerous complementary perspectives were also provided in presentations from representatives of the aforementioned countries.

The Macedonian representatives also made the point that the ARM will continue its reform efforts. “Our reform process did not stop because of the negative result at Bucharest, and we will continue until we join NATO,” said Major Tasevski. “We will never give up from the NATO path and our American allies.” According to him, the USA has provided help with everything for Macedonia, from equipment to training and know-how.

Major Tasevski says that through training from the Vermont National Guard he has made many American friends and learned a lot. “I learned from the American colleagues that we must respect and trust everybody in our ranks- it doesn’t matter if the person is a soldier, Non-Commissioned Officer or officer. From the American training, I have learned to value the collecting of different opinions to make informed decisions.”

The US soldiers have also said that Macedonian soldiers are eager students, and learn very quickly. Said Major Tasevski, “I think this is true because we enjoy the job and the Americans are excellent teachers, who make it interesting for us, providing real experience in the training.”

The Macedonian advanced military students are also very happy with their cooperation with the Bulgarian military, and the professional working of the G.S. Rakovski Defense and Staff College. Lieutenant Colonel Saraliev is finishing his two-year assignment in Bulgaria in a few weeks and will return to his regular work in the Department of Inter-army Cooperation in the ARM General Staff. He reflects on his Bulgarian experience, saying, “I am very happy because here I have had the opportunities to use libraries, to be present at technical conferences that discuss strategic and tactical issues, and to present briefings.”

He also has good opinions of his Bulgarian colleagues. “Whenever I asked for help of any kind, or to find information, I was helped without any problems and with hospitality by our Bulgarian colleagues,” he says.

Major Tasevski agrees, saying that he has experienced only good cooperation and friendship with the Bulgarian colleagues. “In the beginning, I was a little nervous because of the difficult history and sometimes disagreements between Macedonia and Bulgaria,” he admits, “but after two weeks it disappeared. At the Rakovski Defense and Staff College, they always want to help us with everything, and even just keep us company so we don’t feel lonely here. I have made many friends and visited many places with my Bulgarian colleagues.”

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