By Goran Trajkov
Both Branko Bakreski and Zoran Baulovski are native Macedonians who moved abroad in search of a better life. Each closely follows political, cultural and economic events at home — largely via Macedonian media.
Bakreski, who has lived in Canada since 1989, left Macedonia seeking a different mentality and way of life. Bitola native Baulovski left in April 2008 due to a rough financial situation. He now lives with his family in the US state of New Jersey.
Both men visit their native country, but with differing frequency: Bakreski returns every summer; Baulovski returns as his finances permit.
Both have met Macedonian MP for the US and Canada Pavle Sazdov, and stressed their desire to stay connected to their home country.
Sazdov told SETimes that members of the Macedonian diaspora continue to identify with their native language and culture, evidenced by the number of Macedonian organisations operating in North America.
“Also, the church plays a great role in connecting Macedonians in the United States and Canada,” Sazdov said. “It organises different events, even teaching the Macedonian language to the younger generation.”
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government adopted a whole new approach in working with Macedonians abroad. It focused on relations between Macedonia and its diaspora, including its unprecedented inclusion in elections this year. According to the Macedonian Foreign Ministry website, the diaspora consists of just under 900,000 citizens worldwide, with more than 50 registered associations.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Borce Stamov told SETimes that most requests it receives involve voting rights, social security agreements for resident countries and issuance of travel documents.
“The Republic of Macedonia signed an agreement for social security with Canada and Australia,” Stamov said. “In the future, the diaspora will have full rights for pension and disability insurance.
For the first time in Macedonian history, this year the diaspora can exercise voting right[s] throughout embassies and consulates of the Republic and participate in creating democracy [in] their native country.”
The interior ministry announced the opening of a separate counter to address the needs of diaspora members who spend summer vacation in Macedonia. Here, they can obtain needed documents like property lists, building licenses and birth certificates. Earlier this year, the ministry opened a special phone line with which the diaspora can schedule appointments to obtain travel documents.
But some problems with the system exist, particularly with Aegean Macedonians living abroad. Until 2005, acquiring citizenship required applications be submitted to and cleared by the foreign affairs and interior ministries.
Approval or denial of each request was decided in a separate government session. Former Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski amended the process so that Albanians, Turks and Serbs who originated from Macedonia could gain citizenship.
In 2006, the ministry of education and science began an initiative offering university scholarships to students belonging to Macedonian minority groups. The ministry of foreign affairs also formed a special sector for documenting and supporting Macedonian national minorities with international institutions and bilateral protection agreements for national minorities.
Then there is the issue of investments. Baulovski hopes to earn enough in the US to invest in Macedonia, and Bakreski said he already invests in his homeland when he spends money there every summer.
Sazdov told SETimes that diaspora community members looking to invest are especially interested in the fields of telecommunications, energy and metals.
Macedonian Consul General of Detroit, Igor Dukoski, told SETimes his office handles inquiries such as these.
“They are especially interested in the latest reform measures that offer tax relief for investing in the republic,” Dukoski said. “They also welcome the decision to choose their own representative in the Macedonian Assembly.”
Other matters often raised include the longstanding name dispute with Greece, property issues and the new biometric passports.