In 2008, North Macedonia and the United States signed a strategic partnership agreement, which ushered in a new chapter in the already strong relationship of the two countries. As a strategic partner, the United States has supported North Macedonia in the strides it has made towards its accession to the European Union, as well as democratic reform, improvements in security and stability, and economic development.
Since then, threats have come to take on a different form. While in the 2000s they had a flag, a uniform, and a physical presence, today the threat from disinformation, cyber-attacks and fake news risk undermining the very cornerstones of democracy. As a result, partnerships have also been redefined.
On 27 April 2017, protesters illegally stormed the Macedonian parliament, assaulting several MPs, critically harming one - scenes which were replicated in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on 6 January this year. Though far apart, the rationale of the protesters was the same in Skopje and Washington — vehement disagreement with the opposition and refusal to concede defeat.
Both events were signs of deeply divided and polarised societies and a breakdown of trust in institutions and which together can pose a grave security threat. To repair these issues requires an internal, bottom-up approach.
In January this year, the Strong Cities Network, in partnership with US Conference of Mayors, hosted His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 74 mayors and subnational leaders around the world for an important conversation on ‘kind and compassionate leadership’.
"Both events were signs of deeply divided and polarised societies and a breakdown of trust in institutions and which together can pose a grave security threat. To repair these issues requires an internal, bottom-up approach."
Building on this momentous occasion, U.S. mayors met virtually with North Macedonian counterparts last week in an event organised by the Strong Cities Network, in partnership with the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau and the U.S. Embassy in Skopje.
The event, at which ten mayors from North Macedonia and four current and former mayors from the U.S. were present, was intended as a means to exchange experiences and discuss some of the divides within their respective communities. This was a novel approach about seemingly distant societies which have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Mayors discussed their own hurdles and some of the successes and failures in their endeavours to address them.
The event was opened by H.E. Kate Byrnes, U.S. Ambassador to North Macedonia, ushering in a renewed focus for public diplomacy at a subnational level. Despite different contexts, communities in North Macedonia and the U.S. share similar threats to their community cohesion. These exchanges form a united front against challenges stemming from similar types of disinformation geared towards polarisation. While the 2008 strategic partnership between the U.S. and North Macedonia was signed in a different context, it is nevertheless proving vital against contemporary challenges which require tailored new approaches.