Remarks for Independence Day Reception

Ambassador Jess L. Baily

Good evening, dobro vecer, mirëmbrëma.

Capie and I, along with the entire Embassy staff, warmly welcome you to the U.S. Embassy, and thank you for joining us here tonight to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

President Ivanov, Speaker Veljanovski, Prime Minister Dimitriev, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Distinguished Judges, fellow Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have you all here with us.

And I give a special thanks and welcome to our sponsors in the business community whose generosity makes this wonderful evening possible.  Please give them a warm round of applause.

Many thanks also to Biba and Audrey for their renditions of our national anthems, and to the musicians of Substandard.

It is good to be with friends and colleagues tonight to celebrate the many achievements in the partnership between our two countries. Through Peace Corps we expanded our collaboration in schools and communities throughout the country.  In the UN, we joined with 173 other nations in signing the historic Paris Agreement to combat climate change.  And here in Skopje we have worked to help Macedonia move forward to NATO and EU membership.  That includes increasing our joint training between our militaries.  That means working to address Macedonia’s political crisis and to strengthen the rule of law and democratic institutions, as set out in the Przino Agreement.  That last point has dominated the news, but we also know that Macedonia is much more than what’s in the headlines.  Macedonia is its people, its heritage, and its natural beauty from the Shar mountains to Lake Dojran, from Lakes Ohrid and Prespa to the Osogova range.  To know and understand Macedonia, we must also lift our eyes from our daily pursuits and appreciate this beauty that surrounds us.  I’m blessed to be able to do that from these grounds, every day.

This year in America we celebrate 240 years of independence and the 100thanniversary of our National Park Service — hence the posters and photos on display.  On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the Park Service, giving it responsibility for protecting America’s national parks and monuments.  America’s first national park, Yellowstone, had been created 44 years before and designated “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”  At that time, this was a progressive, even radical, idea, to preserve places in their natural, wild states for the benefit and enjoyment of all the people.

In the United States, the National Parks also include places of cultural and historical significance.  They recount seminal events in our history–the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Civil War at Gettysburg, and our entry into WWII at Pearl Harbor.  They celebrate our immigrant heritage and diversity at Ellis Island.  They help us face tragic errors – the forced migration of the Cherokee along the Trail of Tears, or the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII.  And they tell the tales of our struggles – for women’s rights at Seneca Falls, New York, for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, and now for LGBTI rights at the Stonewall Inn in New York City – which President Obama designated last week as our newest historic site

The 1916 National Park Service Act noted as well that the parks must be conserved “unimpaired for the enjoyment for future generations.”  A national park is a promise we make to our children, and to their children, and on into the future.  In committing to conserve our parks and commemorate our history, we give those who follow us a truly magnificent gift.  We safeguard our biodiversity for them, by protecting animals and plants that make these places their home.  We preserve history for them, by reminding them of the struggles and choices we made in the past. And we provide places of astonishing beauty for them, to inspire their imaginations and stir their souls.  To introduce a child to a tree, a mountain, or a river is a joy and privilege from generation to generation.  Capie and I learned that as we hiked with our son to see his first glacier at Glacier National Park and talked about the meaning of the Civil War amid the battlelines and cannons still standing at Gettysburg.

National parks are indeed, as American writer and historian Wallace Stegner said, “the best idea [America] ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best.”  As you may know, Americans often do not see eye to eye on matters of public interest.  And if you follow this contentious U.S. election, you may even call that a dramatic understatement.  But national parks give us something to agree upon, for our national parks truly belong to all Americans and represent our shared history, heritage, and culture.  Although people may debate issues, I have never met anyone who believes that we as a nation would be better off without our parks.

Abraham Lincoln said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”  As we face the conflicts and challenges of today, let’s resolve them so that future generations will look back with pride on the decisions we made, and will commemorate them in the places where we made them.

Wise stewardship, that’s the choice national parks represent, in my country and also here in Macedonia.  I have been fortunate to visit all three of Macedonia’s national parks several times, most recently enjoying a climb over Mount Baba to Lake Prespa.  Together with your cultural and historic sites, your parks are gifts from your parents and grandparents, and your gifts to your children and grandchildren.  So tonight, we also celebrate the wise decisions to protect these places.  We are delighted to have with us tonight the national park directors and staff from Mavrovo, Pelister, and Galicica.  They have materials to highlight the extraordinary and complex beauty of your national parks. Please take some time to visit their tables, which I know will inspire you to visit your parks again and again.  We also have with us several of the winners of an online contest to design posters for Macedonia’s parks.  You can also see their work displayed over there

And now I’ll ask you to join me in a toast to celebrate the 240th anniversary of America’s independence and the wise decisions previous generation made to create our national parks.  Using the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, a great champion of protecting and preserving the natural world, let us raise our glasses and toast to “the value of natural beauty as a national asset.”

Happy Independence Day, and I hope everyone enjoys the fireworks that will begin as soon as it is dark as well as the music of Nina Janeva and 2EXIT.

Thank you.