Thank you very much for coming out today and for letting an old guy end this conference and share a few thoughts that I think fit in with the overall theme. As several of my colleagues have mentioned today, USAID is celebrating its 25th anniversary in Macedonia. Over the last several months on social media, you’ve been able to see information and stories about what USAID and what the American people have funded here in Macedonia over all these years.
But the point of all that really is not to talk about the history or even to tout successes, it’s to look at those and imagine what is the future going to be like. What is it going to consist of? What can we do now that’s different that seems perhaps even unimaginable.
Today you’ve heard from a lot of different speakers, dare I say role models, I listened to them, and I listened to the last panel, and I can learn a lot. I think that’s one of the most important things – you always have to keep learning. You’ve heard how they’ve been remarkably successful in a variety of fields. Their people; the organizations they lead are making real differences in communities. They show that this country, Macedonia, is a place of opportunity and in the end, that’s the key thing.
Being among you today reminds me of a story. This is a true story and it took place here. I had not just arrived in Macedonia but I’d been here for about six months, and I went to Krusevo where Peace Corps every year has leadership camps for young men and young women. I was speaking to a group of young men, and one of them stood up and asked me, “What’s the biggest problem in Macedonia?” He listed a pretty familiar set of problems, “Is it unemployment, is it ethnic tensions, it is the political crisis, it is corruption?” It was a pretty long list, and I looked at him and I said, “Actually the biggest problem Macedonia faces is keeping you and people like you here, and I say that not to talk about brain drain or going abroad as something bad but because it means you don’t see the country as a place of opportunity.” If people don’t see that, to go back to theme of this conference, then the road to self-reliance is going to be a whole lot longer. People will go abroad; they will go somewhere else. There are communities in the United States where this happens. It’s not just countries. It’s continually trying to make opportunities.
So in the end, all of this is up to you. You all are Macedonia’s future leaders, future educators, business people, and politicians – because it takes political leadership as well. You will determine Macedonia’s future, not American ambassadors, not American assistance, not foreigners; you all will do it.
I know, from talking with you and from hearing the discussion today, you are committed to seeing your country be a better place, a prosperous, secure, inclusive democracy, and I certainly have faith that you all can make it happen. It’s not easy, it takes persistence as the speakers just said, it takes determination, it will not be handed to you, but it is certainly possible.
Many of you – as I said, I’m the old guy – many of you are in your 20s and you’re wondering about your future. Where are you going to see success? Where are there going to be opportunities? That’s a question anybody your age asks, and you just heard the answers to many of those things. You really do have to make your opportunities. You do want the country to be a place where you can raise families.
So, to tie it into what I do, that’s why we talk about Macedonia being on the Euro-Atlantic path, something Macedonian citizens, three-quarters of them, say they want for the country. I think a lot of young people particularly want that. They want their country tied in the West, and this isn’t about distant institutions and bureaucracies and so forth. What they’re saying, I think, is about values. The values those institutions, those other countries, stand for and try to live up to, because I’ve got to tell you it’s always a constant struggle. There’s never an end road to the kinds of things Sefer was talking about.
So Macedonia joining NATO, joining the EU, these things really means that Macedonia is a place of democracy, of the rule of law, of economic freedom, of individual liberty, of human rights. Sometimes, what I’ve heard, the sentence I’ve heard from many people is “I want my country to be a normal country.” That’s what they say. I don’t really know what a normal country is, but I think they’re talking about those kinds of values. You’re looking for a place where hard-working young people can succeed no matter where they come from; where their efforts, their profits are not eaten up or frustrated by corruption and graft; and where success depends on what you do and not who you know or what your connection is. Now that’s true everywhere in the world. As I said this is not something you get to and you sit back and go “ah-ha, okay, here we are, we’ve done it.” No, it takes continued persistence and indeed vigilance.
So I hope the kind of future I talked about is what you would like your country’s future to be. That’s certainly what we as the United States, the Embassy, USAID, the American people want to help you try to achieve. Just hearing from the stories of speakers today, I know it can be done. What I’m curious about is what is, what are all your stories going to be in 10-15 years. I’m going to be watching. I do hope that one thing is true – that on that road, our two countries and our two peoples will become ever closer and ever stronger partners. So thank you all very much for coming out here today, and I hope we can continue these discussions, these partnerships, as your country grows stronger and indeed more self-reliant. So thank you very much.