An American Macedonian
G. Lebamoff


The Macedonian Patriotic Organization

I am president of the local chapter of the Macedonian Patriotic Organization, MPO. For several years I was national treasurer, and my brother Ivan has served as national president. When the new Macedonian government was formed from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, we began meeting with some of the Macedonian politicians and tried to help them in Washington. Some classify the MPO as pro-Bulgarian, and we say that maybe it was at one time, but now Macedonia needs help. Forget what was in the past; let's build a new future.

Still, some people who were educated under the old Yugoslav government continue to be pro-Serbian, pro-Communist, even pro-Greek, but anti-Bulgarian. If they would just read histories of Bulgaria and Macedonia in the tenth century, they would learn that Tsar Samuel was king of Bulgaria and all of Macedonia. But over the centuries Macedonians have falsified history by saying that Samuel was king of Macedonia, not mentioning Bulgaria.

My dad used to argue with younger people who would say they were not Bulgarians. "OK," he'd say, "The land is Macedonia, and has been from the time of Alexander the Great. Within Macedonia are seven different nationalities: the Greeks, the Serbs, the Gypsies, the Jews, the Turks, the Albanians, and the Bulgarians." He would point to one of his listeners, "Are you an Albanian?" "No." He'd ask about each of the other nationalities, and the answer would always be no. "Then you must be a Bulgarian." "No, I'm not Bulgarian. I'm Macedonian." Then he would try to explain again. "There is no Macedonian nationality, no Macedonian language. It's only the land. The language you speak is Bulgarian." That is still the situation in Macedonia today. Instead of working to clean the rivers or to improve the hospitals, they keep arguing about history.

Through the MPO we have spent a lot of time and money to help the Macedonian government. Members of the former Communist party are now the Social Democrats. We are again working with the reorganized IMRO party, which years ago collaborated with the MPO for an independent Macedonia. I talk by phone with Washington officials, and sometimes I go there, to help the Macedonian government.

Last year Senator Mitch McConnell held up a $7 million appropriation bill for American soldiers in Macedonia because of some internal friction with Albanians there. The appropriation was for telephone towers and other communications mechanisms so that conversations of the American soldiers could be protected from wiretaps. Asked to help resolve the problem, I contacted House Foreign Relations chairman Ben Gilman of New York and in the Senate, Jesse Helms, and his co-chairman, Richard Lugar. After a few weeks, the problem was resolved.

I have two close friends in Macedonia, Vlado Perev, a television correspondent, and Risto Pecev, who works for the government. We met in 1993 when I was there with the choir director of St. Jude's Catholic Church, Kevin Dimitrov, a real nice, bright young man who has Macedonian relatives in Greece. Our MPO convention that year was to be in Toronto, Canada, and we wanted to invite about twelve Bulgarians and twelve others from Macedonia to attend the convention. The original plan was to invite descendants of the revolutionaries, but when some couldn't come, we asked others who probably shouldn't have been there. One of the men Kevin invited was Vlado, and someone in Toronto had invited Risto.

Twenty-five people came from Macedonia for the convention. They flew from Frankfort to Chicago, where I was waiting with a chartered bus to bring them to Fort Wayne. I knew about a third of the men and women, and we all exchanged hugs. Standing by the bus with one piece of luggage was a dark-complexioned man who appeared to be a Gypsy. "Sir," I said to him, "I'm sorry. This bus is chartered; you can't ride on it." He didn't answer, but when I went back later, he was still standing there. It was obvious that he didn't know anyone. "This bus is reserved for a Macedonian group," I explained. "I am Macedonian," he answered. "Are you Risto?" "Yes." And we became friends. I brought sandwiches, snacks, sodas, beer, but the Macedonians had eaten on the flight and all they wanted on the bus was whiskey. Arriving in Fort Wayne, they checked into the downtown Hilton Hotel and we had drinks together in the lobby. A Supreme Court justice and the chief Bulgarian prosecutor left our group to tour the city that evening, looking for strip-tease places.

The next morning after breakfast, the group spent several hours touring the Macedonian Tribune building. We brought them to our house in the afternoon, to a buffet restaurant for dinner, and then a visit to our Coldwater Road liquor store. The following morning they flew to Toronto for the MPO convention.

Some of the visitors took advantage of our hospitality, renting x-rated movies in their hotel rooms and charging the bills to our organization. But having been under Communism for so many years, it was probably difficult for them to comprehend living in America or Canada and not having to worry about police raids. Again, they often inserted politics into their discussions, arguing over Bulgaria and Macedonia.

That trip cost the MPO about $60,000, and by soliciting our members, we  received donations to cover about half of that amount. Since then, we've brought over smaller groups.

About thirteen years ago New York Governor Mario Cuomo spoke at the MPO convention in Pittsburgh. He talked about the immigrants, which reminded me of my father, who wouldn't go to public events because they felt ashamed of their accents. My father wouldn't attend group meetings but would visit comfortably one on one, talking and telling stories. Governor Cuomo said the same thing about his father, who never went to a Catholic event in New York. "I always had to go to CYO meetings alone," he said, "or with someone else in the neighborhood."

The Governor was an eloquent, marvelous speaker. "Don't be ashamed of your parents," he said, "your nationality, or your ancestry. The immigrants who came here built this country, working on the railroads and in the steel mills. If it weren't for your people, my people, there wouldn't be any America." The crowd roared.

The first G. S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Christopher Hill, attended one of our conventions, and a couple of years ago Macedonian Prime Minister Lubcho Georgievski came with his entourage. Another speaker was former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and when she realized the good work of our organization, she apologized for taking her fee and later made a donation. Last September in Pittsburgh, an American-born Macedonian gynecologist told about growing up in a Macedonian family. This year in Chicago, our speaker will be a Motorola executive of Macedonian descent. When the MPO was established in the 1920s, the members were primarily pro-Bulgarian. Today most members are descended from Vardar Macedonia. My sons consider themselves Macedonians. The question has existed for decades and involves the Balkan states of Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia, and the former Yugoslavia. A number of Macedonians in America today declare themselves of Yugoslavian descent.

I advise all of our members that it is time to forget the past. We now have a free and independent Macedonian state. The Republic of Macedonia is a respected country in the world, known for its history, culture and natural wealth.

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