Remarks for Independence Day Reception

U.S. Embassy Macedonia Celebrates Independence Day, June 29, 2017

Ambassador Jess L. Baily

July 3, 2018

Dobro vecer, mirembrema, good evening.

Prime Minister Zaev, deputy prime ministers, ministers, members of parliament, mayors, colleagues in the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure and an honor for Capie and me to welcome all of to the Embassy tonight to celebrate Independence Day with us.

I want to extend my special gratitude to all the businesses that generously supported this wonderful event – you can see the names of all our sponsors on the display.  Please, join me for a round of applause to thank them for their generosity.

Another special thanks to Jana, Mikel, and Lea for performing this evening.

Lastly, I want to recognize my colleagues at the Embassy who have been working on this event since the beginning of the year.  They are creative, professional, and energetic.  I’m proud to serve with them each and every day.

I think that everyone noticed a difference when they received their invitation for tonight.   Frankly, I’ve never answered so many questions about dress code before!

This year we wanted to celebrate Independence Day with you more like we do in the United States.  On July 4, Americans do not go to official receptions in suits and dresses.  We spend the day with our families and our communities.  We have picnics, BBQs, and parades.  At the end of the day, we sing our national anthem, sit on the grass, and watch fireworks.  We take the time to think about what America stands for, the rights and freedoms that we enjoy because of where we live and our system of self-government.

And most of us do this – in blue jeans.

In fact, it’s hard to think of one single item that represents America as much as blue jeans.  Jeans stand for rugged individualism, informality, and respect for hard work. Jeans are factory and farm, coal miner and coder. Jeans are honky-tonk and hip-hop, rock-and-roll and rap.  Jeans are business moguls, models, and movie stars. Jeans unite our nation, no matter where we are from, where we live, what we look like, or what we believe.  Though not decreed by any institution, jeans have become our national dress.   Everyone wears them.

After WWII, jeans came to symbolize freedom and youthful rebellion – think of James Dean on his motorcycle or hippies at Woodstock.  Jeans carried ideas of American liberty around the globe. Billy Joel, the famous musician, once said, “The whole world loves American movies, blue jeans, jazz, and rock and roll.”  He’s right.  It’s a great way to get to know our country.

Blue jeans, particularly the American brand Levis, symbolized for many in Eastern Europe a connection to the West and defiance of communist regimes.  Many people here tell me stories about travelling to Italy to buy a pair of Levis, paid for out of carefully assembled savings.  And when the Berlin Wall came down, we were glued to our television screens, as a bunch of kids wearing blue jeans climbed over that symbol of division.

Jeans remind us that America is founded on global commerce and trade.  Denim originated in France but grew popular after the California Gold Rush.   Cotton and indigo, the two key parts of denim, helped drive industrialization in the 19th century.  Today a factory assembling jeans is likely to use cotton grown in Benin, indigo produced in Germany, pumice stone from Turkey, thread dyed in Spain, zippers from Japan, and brass from Australia.  Here in Macedonia, the factory that used to produce American Wrangler jeans for all of Yugoslavia, now sells to teenagers in Turkey.

Jeans remind us, too, of the dark side of global trade – whether the brutal conditions and slavery in cotton and indigo plantations in the 19th century or the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh five years ago.  Jeans tell us to respect human rights and fair working conditions.

But, jeans are also about innovation and entrepreneurship.  Levi Strauss turned humble workers’ clothes into a global brand. Calvin Klein made jeans high fashion in the 1980s.  Lee, Wrangler, The Gap — who doesn’t know these labels?  And scientists and engineers right now are researching how to conserve water, reduce waste and incorporate more recycled fibers in the process of producing jeans.

Standing here in our jeans we celebrate a hopeful moment in the creation of the United States, when our leaders took a risk to secure our nation’s future.  Today is also a hopeful time here in Macedonia.  People are rightly focusing on the formal bonds that link Macedonia to your neighbors, to Europe, and to the United States,– NATO, the EU, the Prespa agreement with Greece, and the Treaty of Friendship with Bulgaria.  So much progress has been made in the last year, and we anticipate good news from next week’s NATO summit.

It is equally important to focus on the values bring us together.  The people of our two countries share a desire to succeed because of our hard work – no matter who our family is or who we know.  We want our laws to create a level playing field, and we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy lives filled with opportunity, freedom, and peace.

So I thank all of you for coming out tonight to celebrate with us.  Your presence is a poignant reminder for me that the United States represents not just a country and a people, but also a set of ideas — freedom, liberty, and justice.  We come together to honor these ideas and to stay true to them.

Enjoy the rest of the evening.  The fireworks will begin once it gets a little darker.

Thank you.