MPO History - Evanoff reflects on achievements, progress, future of MPOOutgoing MPO President Chris Evanoff spoke to the MPO leadership at the delegates meeting.
What a remarkable journey we have all traveled together over the past ten years!
I received one of the greatest honors in my life when the delegates and Central Committee selected me to serve as president of this great organization.
So much has occurred since that time -- most of it very good -- and a few things that could have gone better. Part of the nature of Macedonians is to be skeptical … almost cynical about people and events. However, I wish to focus on the brighter side of who we are as a people and as an organization, because Macedonians are a people of wonderful character and very industrious. I would like to discuss with you progress … the tremendous advances we have all achieved as a people and as an organization over the past ten or so years.
We are a people who believe in value and take much pride in the importance of history and traditions. Most of us realize that we have lived through an incredible time in the history of Macedonians and the MPO.
The MPO, after 85 years of existence, is vastly different today than it was when our Macedonian forefathers and patriots formed it just after World War I. Then, the MPO was a uniquely Macedonian organization comprised of Macedonians living in the US and Canada. As the MPO matured, we became more hyphenated, a Macedonian - American or Macedonian - Canadian organization, still Macedonian in focus, but with a strongly Western democratic influence. Today, we are fundamentally an organization of Americans and Canadians with Macedonian influences.
We continue to share common beliefs and a common history (sometimes). But, today’s MPO is comprised of members whose life experiences, interests, worldviews and expectations are vastly different than prior generations of MPO patriots. It is vitally important to recognize our evolution as an organization and adapt to its new membership realities in a constructive and appropriate way. I believe we have begun that process over the past ten years, and in my view, that is a measure of MPO progress. Many of your children and grandchildren have never known nor lived in a time when there was not a free and independent Republic of Macedonia! Those of us sitting around these tables, barely a generation ago, not much before 1990, ever thought that Macedonians would ever have a nation-state of their own. Some -- but not all -- of our homeland is free! Many of our friends and relatives enjoy liberties and opportunities that could only have been dreamed about less than a generation ago. That is a remarkable level of progress. What does that have to do with the progress and achievements of the MPO?
The MPO, throughout the 20th century was the one constant -- the strongest voice that NEVER gave up the dream of an independent Macedonia. Not the Europeans, not the United Nations, not the US and Canada and not even some Macedonians themselves remained true to the ideal. The MPO was always there, and it never wavered. And look at what was accomplished in 1991 with the formation of an independent Macedonian state. That, my friends, is among our greatest achievements as an organization. It is not perfection, but it is truly progress by every rational measure.
Our annual convention has hosted heads of state, ambassadors and key leaders of the Macedonian Republic and other Balkan countries. The opening address to this delegates meeting was provided by the US Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia, The Honorable Gillian Milovanovic, and the keynote address at the banquet on Sunday evening will be delivered by The Honorable Ljupco Jordanovski, Macedonia’s ambassador to the US. The MPO is acknowledged by them as a vital link between citizens and officials in the Republic and Macedonians living throughout North America. That, too, is progress.
The MPO has been, and continues to be, at the forefront in protecting and preserving our heritage and history as captured in the book Macedonian Tribune Page One: Major Events of the 20th Century, published by the organization in 1999. The project was led by Lou Todorov. In addition, our rights as an ethnic group have been defended through the efforts of MPO chapters in California, Illinois, Michigan and elsewhere that have withstood the onslaught of Greek lobbyists who sought to undermine what is rightfully ours … our history and identity as a people. Resolutions passed in these states resulted from the collective efforts of our people to stand strong in the face of organized opposition and huge odds. We all succeeded when we stood and worked together -- that is progress!
Just a few years ago, the TRIBUNE was published and distributed, for the first time, in the Republic. The special edition of the TRIBUNE heralded the MPO’s efforts to preserve our heritage when the resolutions that I just spoke of were passed in California, Illinois and Michigan. A generation ago, a Macedonian citizen could have been arrested for even possessing a copy of the TRIBUNE.
If you understand domestic Macedonian politics and the country’s historic political aversion to the MPO, the publication of the TRIBUNE in Skopie is an achievement of historic dimensions -- and yes, that, too, is progress. We have sponsored two trips to Macedonia, and more are planned. This is a role of an ethnic organization -- to showcase our homeland, to convey to our children and grandchildren and non-Macedonians our homeland’s beauty, charm, unique history, food and culture. This type of activity for the MPO was also virtually unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago. Progress? -- Indeed it is!
We have many heroes today in our organization who have emulated the care, charity, concern and commitment of our Macedonian heroes past. Vlad and Stephanie Atseff, whose efforts to provide educational and other humanitarian assistance to Macedonian school children cannot be understated. All of you from our California chapter, (especially you Jordan Azeff) who endeavored to support orphaned children in Macedonia are heroes to us all. Dr. Leon Speroff, my nephew George Rochette and others working through the Gotse Delcheff Foundation to deliver vitally needed medical equipment and supplies to hospitals in Macedonia are everyday heroes, especially to those in Macedonia whose ailments and sufferings have been relieved. All of these charitable efforts are a sign of the progress of our organization.
Roughly two years ago, our MPO chapter in Fort Wayne opened the first and only Macedonian museum in the US that now houses artifacts, historic documents, cultural icons and other items that will preserve our history and identity for our children and grandchildren. The MPO members in Fort Wayne, led by the Baloski family, had a dream, united around their cause, and through their efforts, hard work and spirit of volunteerism, made the dream come true. That is true progress!
This year in July, the MPO formally established professional presence on the World Wide Web. Tom Lebamoff and Michael Sarafin led this effort with the help of several other members. The Internet will and build on for future growth. This was a must for our organization, which will foster progress for the future.
While certainly there is more to be done, we must acknowledge our achievements and successes. In the last 10 years, while not attaining perfection, we have accomplished much. We as Macedonians and as an organization should not hesitate to stand tall and take pride in the good we have accomplished and the progress we have realized!
Indeed, we have a considerable number of challenges in our future.
First and foremost, we have to ensure that a firm and sustainable financial foundation is established. To sustain the MPO year-to-year on the basis of donations that are not predicable is not a sound financial strategy. More creativity is required, whether it is the use of the Internet for merchandising opportunities, insurance beneficiary programs, increasing convention income margins, seeking foundation support. All of these and more must be further explored.
Our facilities in Fort Wayne must be objectively assessed to fully determine their potential financial risk, compared with other more cost effective options. We must continue to evaluate our organization and its appeal to succeeding generations of Macedonians. Whether it is convention venue cities, social activities, communication strategies and other marketing vehicles, all must be fully assessed in the context of how they will be appealing and effective in sustaining the future of the MPO and its members.
Everyone desires to be part of something that is successful and promising. If you look at the progress we have made over the past 10 years, the commonality between them all is that we acted as a united and purposeful organization. Each success captured our optimism, creativity and energy to achieve an important objective.
Let us ensure that our legacy to future generations of MPO members is a message of unity of purpose, commitment, optimism and sacrifice; that the future of the MPO, although faced with challenges and potential obstacles, is bright and promising. As we look around this table and seeing second and third generation Macedonians actively participating with the organization, it is certainly a sign that our future is bright and long lasting.
In closing, my dream for this organization, that many of you share, is for the MPO to live and celebrate a Centennial Convention, for our people in the Balkan’s to be united in harmony regardless of geographic borders, and for all Macedonians in US and Canada to join in purpose and vision. That, too, would be progress of the highest proportion!
I would like to extend my most sincere thanks to those MPO members who have supported me over the years. Without your help, counsel and support, we could not have achieved this progress. Also, I would like to acknowledge my family, especially my brother-in-law Kosta and sister Draga for all their wisdom and my daughter Sophie for her passion in our Macedonian heritage. My life is certainly fuller and more complete with the rich friendships that I have acquired over the years. These will be life lasting.
May God bless all of you and may God bless this great organization.