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When people ask me how I first got involved in Macedonia, sometimes I tell them a joke saying “I lost a bet.” It generally gets a laugh, if not a quizzical look.  Other times I tell them I heard the “Macedonian call” of Acts 16:9 – “In the middle of the night, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man standing and begging him ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’”  The truth, however, is much more interesting. 

Tomorrow is July 15, 2011 which for me is symbolic, a kind of birthday in a way. On July 15, 1996, I set foot in Macedonia on what would be a three month job, having taken a leave of absence from my public relations job in Washington, DC where I had been working for seven years.  I thought to myself – “I’ll do this Macedonian gig for three months, have a little adventure and then head back to Washington.”  But a funny thing happened on the way to my little adventure – I came to enjoy Macedonia.   

At the end of three months, I phoned the public relations firm and told them “Fill my job. I quit.” To myself I said “I’ll stay one year, have a little bit more of an adventure, and then head back to the United States.”  But a funny thing happened on the way to my little bit more of an adventure – I came to love the Macedonian people and Macedonia. 

So tomorrow is my 15th anniversary working in and with Macedonia.  While I actually stayed and lived in Macedonia for seven years – from the summer of 1996 to the summer of 2003 – I have been constantly involved since giving up my full-time life in Macedonia, going back and forth between Tucson, where I make my home, Washington, DC, where I have often made a living, and Macedonia, where I have made a second home in many ways. 

I started in Macedonia with Mercy Corps, a humanitarian and developmental non-governmental organization based in Portland, Oregon.  My job was a program officer, working mainly in Kosovo, but also in Serbia and Montenegro, and based out of Macedonia (it was the best of all places, regionally, to live – still is).  After the NATO war against Yugoslavia, I became the country director for Mercy Corps for Macedonia and continued in that position until the end of 2000 when they no longer needed an expatriate to run the office.  I had the opportunity to move with them – to Indonesia – but I declined.  I wanted to stay and work in Macedonia. 

So I hung out my proverbial shingle: “Jason Miko, Consultant/Writer.” I served as the first executive director for the American Chamber of Commerce in Macedonia.  I landed a position with Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, a premier lobbyist in Washington, DC which was then representing the Government of Macedonia in Washington, DC.  I was their point man on the ground in Macedonia.  And I took on a variety of other gigs – including a brief job working in Ukraine.   

By 2003, I decided that perhaps I should grow some roots back home and came up with the novel idea of buying a home in the place I am from – Tucson, Arizona. As for a living, I continued working on projects in Macedonia as well as Bulgaria with a number of entities, including the Boris Trajkovski International Foundation, Mineco, Booz, Allen, Hamilton and Quinn Gillespie and Associates, among others.  And in 2007, I managed to persuade Morten Harket of the Norwegian rock band a-ha, to visit Macedonia and speak at a conference at Lake Ohrid, the World Conference on Dialogue among Religions and Civilizations.  We stayed in touch and by the fall of 2008, we were well on our way to making a documentary film about Macedonia called A Name is a Name.  

It’s been a very fulfilling and active 15 years.  As I told the United Macedonian Diaspora Global Conference the other week in Washington, DC, “The good Lord has put me in Macedonia for a reason and after 15 years, my guess is that I’ll be involved in Macedonia for the rest of my life.  So, you’re stuck with me!” 

The truth, of course, is that I want to be involved in Macedonia.  I love Macedonia, I love the Macedonian people, I love the beauty of Macedonia and what it has to offer.  I pray daily for Macedonia and I want to see Macedonia do more than simply survive – I want to see Macedonia succeed.  I have many friends here that are like family but too often I hear Macedonians say, with a shrug of the shoulders, “I guess we will survive.” Do more than survive – succeed!  I know you can do it because you, Macedonia, have defied all of the predictions made about you over the past 20 years which said you would fall apart, cease to exist, implode.  You didn’t.  You succeeded. 

Now go forward – with your many friends who love you – and continue to succeed.  Work hard, enjoy family and friends, pray and worship God, have fun, read more, and never – never! – give up your name and identity.  If you do these things, you will do just fine.  And you will succeed.

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Jason Miko
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