Her Majesty's Ambassador to North Macedonia
Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia
Part of UK in North Macedonia
30th September 2020 Skopje, North Macedonia
A hidden gem in the Pelagonia region
Two years into my posting as British Ambassador to North Macedonia, September was my first month working for the recently merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the whole team coming back fully into the Embassy and adapting to the “new normal”. With my Embassy team, we have been working remotely and in groups from the office since the beginning of the pandemic. Even though the pandemic continues to leave its footprint on all of us, we must continue to build back stronger.
It was in this mood, that we decided to, safely and carefully, restart visits to local cities in North Macedonia to build relationships, discuss and strengthen ongoing cooperation, find new opportunities for UK/North Macedonia to work together, and also see the landscape, scenery and try the local foods.
With my Embassy team on 17 and 18 September I visited Prilep with a very busy two-day programme. I started with a fascinating discussion with the Mayor of Prilep Ilija about opportunities for trade in the municipality and his work towards a more inclusive society, building capacities though including persons with disabilities in the activities of the local community. I continued this discussion with local members of the municipality council, where, in a lively debate, I heard about their work on the environment and projects for improving the life of all citizens, including Roma communities. I also had a discussion with local MPs on the new Parliament and the importance of working across the parties. Education is at the top of people’s minds this year.
The visit to local primary school Blaze Koneski, which also takes part in the UK funded 21st Century School project, was an excellent opportunity to talk to the teachers about the challenges of on-line education. In April 2019 the school won a prize on the regional Coding Challenge during the Digital Summit for the Western Balkans. I was very pleased that we also donated a Micro:bit kit that they will use with their students for future fun projects to enhance their critical thinking skills.
Our Chevening Officer also held a presentation in town on the UK Government Chevening Scholarships to discuss the opportunities of undertaking one-year masters’ studies at any university in the UK.
We all are aware of the economic impact and challenges of the pandemic. The UK has a strong trade relationship with North Macedonia and is working to support strengthening the economy. Meeting the regional Economic Chamber and visits to local businesses provided a sober assessment of the challenges they are facing such as reduction in demand and production, and managing payment shortfalls. We also discussed how to take advantage of future opportunities including increasing trade with the UK.
A strong and free media is vital for a democratic society. The UK campaigns for media freedom worldwide. With local and regional media representatives I discussed the problems they currently face. I was glad that our support though the UK funded Media Literacy project was helping strengthen independent media through the development and delivery of professional training to journalists, editorial offices and media activists. But this remains a challenge and we need to work together to support a vibrant media environment.
A personal highlight of the visit was seeing Treskavec monastery. A 12th century building, surrounded by the beautiful nature and scenery of the Pelagonia region. I can’t wait for the accommodation to open as it would be a beautiful place to stay and give me an excuse to return to Prilep.