AMHRC condemns US Ambassador-designate Baily’s description of Macedonians as “Slavs”

24 September 2014 (Melbourne, Australia)

On 17 September 2104, at a hearing in front of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador-designate to Macedonia, Jess Baily, made the following statement:

"I would note that within the fabric of Macedonian society there are more than ‘Slavs and Albanians’. There are Turks, there are Roma and others, so this is a microcosm in many ways of the richness of the Balkans and to get all those populations to see a common future, I think the US can play important role given our own history and our own set of values.”

His answer was in response to a question from Senator Chris Murphy, Chairman of the Committee in the American Senate who asked:

"You touched on some recent concerns raised about ethnic tensions within Macedonia, of course, ethnic reconciliation is a key element of lasting regional peace in the Balkans and so, you’ve got a Slavic majority, an Albanian minority, you’ve got reports of rising tensions and you got, as you mentioned, the Ohrid Agreement. Um….what’s your understanding of where the Ohrid Agreement stands…………?"

While Mr Baily correctly and appropriately indicated that there were ethnic Turks, Roma and Albanians living in Macedonia, using the names they use for themselves, his reference to the Macedonian majority as “Slavs” is especially worrying as not only does it show a complete disrespect for Macedonians’ chosen self-identification, name, history and culture, but appears to be an intervention designed to place pressure on Macedonia to change its name in order to satisfy Greek demands. Even though one could be charitable and accept that Mr Bailey used this demeaning terminology in response to Senator Murphy’s equally demeaning and negationist “Slavic majority” reference, it is hard to believe that, as a seasoned diplomat who has served in Turkey, he is not aware that the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia is Macedonian and refers to itself as such. His “Slav” reference is even more concerning given that just prior to making it he had spoken of “ethnic Albanian and Macedonian populations”.

Ambassador-designate Baily would be aware that “ethnic Slavs” simply do not exist.  Ethnicity is a matter of subjective choice. In other words, ethnicity refers to how a group self identifies and Macedonian identity is deeply rooted in the centuries-long, historically well-documented process which led to the establishment of a Macedonian state. As a representative of a state which recognises the Republic of Macedonia under its freely-chosen name and which refers to Macedonians in its annual State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices as precisely Macedonians, it is strange indeed that Mr Baily would deliberately choose to then refer to Macedonians as “Slavs”. His use of this offensive term does not augur well for the promotion of closer relations and cooperation based on mutual respect between the USA and Macedonia.

The AMHRC applauds the verbal protest note delivered to the US Deputy Ambassador in Skopje by the Macedonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding Mr Baily’s use of the term “Slavs”. However, it urges the Macedonian authorities to go further and deliver a stronger official written protest and demand that Mr Baily apologize to the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian people- before handing his letter of accreditation to President Ivanov- for his use of this offensive term which only serves to embolden Macedonia’s enemies to continue denying Macedonia’s name, history, culture and language. Moreover, we call on Ambassador-designate Baily to apologise forthwith to the Macedonian people for the offence he has caused it.