Remarks for Independence Day Reception

Ambassador Jess L. Baily

July 2, 2015 

Dobrovecer, mirëmbrëma, good evening.  Mr. President and Mrs. Ivanova, Speaker of Parliament and Mrs. Veljanovska, Mr. Prime Minister and Mrs. Gruevska, honored guests, welcome to the Embassy and our Independence Day celebration.   Thank you for coming to help us celebrate my country’s 239th birthday.

It’s a special honor for Capie and me to have you here, as so many of you have given us such a warm welcome to Macedonia over the past five months.   I also want to thank the many businesses whose contributions helped us put on this fantastic event – you’ll see their names on our sponsor board and on the back of your programs.  Sponsors, we are grateful for your continued support over many years.

On Independence Day, Americans celebrate the spirit that has defined us as a people and a nation for more than two centuries.  We celebrate the principles America was built upon, laid out with beautiful clarity and simplicity in our Constitution, whose preamble begins with the iconic phrase you see on your programs:  “We the people.”

These three words are a powerful start to our foundational document, a clear and concise confirmation that our nation belongs not to the government or its leaders, but to the people themselves.

We the people created a democracy, and we the people have the responsibility to maintain it.  Of course, America’s understanding of “we the people” has changed significantly over the years.  To those who drafted our Constitution in 1787, “we the people” would have referred to a smaller group – generally white males – than “we the people” of America today.

It has taken over two centuries of struggle – for women’s rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, and voting rights, to name just a few – to expand the equal treatment and equal opportunity guaranteed under our Constitution to all Americans.  That hard work continues to this day.

This year, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of legislation that ensured equal rights for people with disabilities – the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which became law in 1990.  This landmark legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, ensuring that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The ADA transformed the architecture of buildings, and the layout of streets and sidewalks.  It has changed for the better the way Americans live and work together, and how we regard and value our fellow citizens.  It has also inspired the world to see disability through the lens of equality and opportunity.   We at the U.S. Mission are proud to work on programs for people with disabilities here in Macedonia – through USAID, Peace Corps, and many other programs.

And on that note, I’d like to give a special welcome and best wishes to a group of your fellow citizens here with us tonight – the athletes of Macedonia’s Special Olympics team, who are preparing to head to Los Angeles for the games.  We’re glad to have you with us, and we know you will make your country and fellow citizens proud in L.A.

Independence Day marks another year of America’s growth as a democratic nation – another year of experience, of marking our successes and learning from our mistakes.  This is what our founders meant when they said that the goal of the Constitution is to create “a more perfect union.”  A more perfect union, not the perfect union.

Making a more perfect union has never been easy.  It requires the commitment and participation of all members of society – of “we the people” – through volunteerism, civic engagement, altruism, public service, and activism of all kinds.

All citizens have something to contribute to make their society and their democracy stronger, and it is up to each of us to find what we can do and where we can play our parts.  As Eleanor Roosevelt, a great American, once said, “democracy is not about words, but about action.”  Ordinary citizens are the ones who expanded the definition of “We the People” in so many ways, including the activism 25 years ago that led to President George HW Bush signing the ADA, when in his words, “a shameful wall of exclusion finally came tumbling down.”

This year, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Macedonia, we reflect on our partnership and achievements.  We have come far together – from the official beginning of our relations in 1995, to our 2008 Declaration of Strategic Partnership and Cooperation, to our collective action to confront many challenges today.

People of our two countries have worked together in business, stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield, shared culture and knowledge through exchange programs, and built lasting friendships based on trust and mutual respect.

Our nations share many things in common.  We are both multi-ethnic countries, not defined by a single ethnic group or a single language.  This diversity is a source of strength, and also provides challenges that we must continue to surmount.

Making progress requires us to work together, to recommit ourselves to the values of democracy each day.   “We the People” and “a more perfect union” are phrases that resonate with Americans, but they also speak to the people of this young democracy.  Americans are proud to be friends and partners of the people of Macedonia as they strive to create a prosperous, vibrant, and multiethnic democracy.

Please join me now in a toast to the friendship and partnership between the United States of America and the Republic of Macedonia.

Thank you again for coming tonight and joining us in our Independence Day celebration.

Blagodaram.  Ju falemnderit.  And please remember that we will have fireworks as soon as it is dark enough for a good show.

Happy Independence Day to all!