Interview by Milica Trpevska, an alumna of the State School for Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Youth “Dimitar Vlahov” – Skopje
The British Ambassador to Macedonia, His Excellency Mr Charles Garrett, welcomed me in the British Residency for an interview for the “Dobredojde” Macedonia Welcome Centre online magazine. He shared his impressions about Macedonia, its people and culture. Mr Garrett joined the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1987. Before arriving in Macedonia he was most recently on secondment as Foreign Affairs Liaison at the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. Before that he served as Head of International Relations at the Organising Committee of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. His FCO career has been divided between Europe with postings in Cyprus and Switzerland, and East Asia with postings in Hong Kong and Taipei.
Your Excellency, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed for Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre Magazine. I am really honoured to do the interview with you and I will start with a question connected to your experience here in Macedonia. So, there is no doubt that you have played a very significant role in Macedonia, in many different aspects since the beginning of your service. Would you please summarise for us your experience here in Macedonia, from your first impressions when you came, learning the language, getting to know the culture, to the present political reality. How has your accommodation in the local context developed?
Thank you very much for coming. I feel very welcome in Macedonia. One of the reasons I have been able to work with motivation and energy here is that Macedonia is a beautiful country with warm people and wonderful culture. That has motivated me to learn Macedonian which in turn has helped in my work. Having done three years of my mandate, I’m occasionally sad that I have only one year left here. But of course the optimistic view is that I have had three great years with one more to come.
Part 1 of the interview, where Ambassador Garrett talks about his impressions about Macedonia:
That’s a great way of ending this, and thank you for answering that elaborate question. I am really glad that my home country was so kind to you. Could you tell us more about the specificity of the role British Ambassador to Macedonia, what would you advise your successors, or any future candidates who would follow you in this position?
Britain’s interest here is to help Macedonia become more secure, richer and more stable, so that it can be a stronger partner for us in Europe. In doing that, the Embassy covers a wide range of work, supporting British companies here in Macedonia, following political events, supporting British citizens in need of help. I would advise my successor to prepare thoroughly for all of that. And of course to learn Macedonian.
That’s a great advice, I hope your successors would follow it, for the benefit of all. So, we all know that you have developed a very influential and specific twitter profile. I know for a fact that many people like your posts, describing Macedonia’s beauty, but there are also some reactions to your core diplomatic statements. In your opinion, how useful are the modern forms and channels of communication, for your sensitive work nowadays?
That’s an area that has changed dramatically since I became a diplomat almost 30 years ago. Back thenthe main channels of communication were newspapers, TV and radio. Today those are less prominent, while social media is much more so – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so on. That is now how people get their news and exchange ideas. The Foreign Office strongly encourages its diplomats to use these channels to get our messages out and to hear back from local citizens. So that’s why I engage so much through Twitter and Facebook. It makes a diplomat’s work much more exciting because it allows for a closer connection with the people.
Thank you very much for your answer Your Excellency. Having in mind that you observe our society and our culture, could you please compare the two countries, Great Britain and Macedonia, are we substantially different and what is your opinion, should Macedonia do progress in its economy, in other area, or in the other pillars.
Macedonia is both very similar and very different to the UK. Our cultures are different. You have a culture based in South Eastern Europe, ours is typical of North Western Europe. Our climates are different. Our geography is different, our economies are different. But there are also powerful similarities. As European countries we have many shared interests. Those include important interests like security, stability and prosperity. That means we work together as partners to promote our interests for the people in Macedonia and Britain.
What can Macedonia do, in your opinion to make progress in its economy, its education, tourism and all other areas regarding… our society?
There is no short answer to this. It is a long-term thing. The government needs strategic direction and a clear idea of where it wants to be in ten years. But the good news for Macedonia is that there is fantastic opportunity and potential here. Every time that I go to Shar Planina for example, or to places like Ohrid, I see the potential in the tourist industry. And unique Macedonian food products like ‘ajvar’ and wine from the wonderful ‘vranec’ grape are only just beginning to enter the British market. There is so much potential for Macedonian tourism and exports.
Part 2 of the interview, where Ambassador Garrett shares his view on Macedonia’s potential to make progress in its economy and society as a whole:
Thank you Your Excellency, this was a really good answer. Could we now move on to culture, that’s another interesting topic. The UK has developed and shared the concept of ‘creative industries’ with the world and has become one of the main European trends. Even here in Macedonia the British Council has engaged with national culture authorities to develop National Strategy for creative industries. In your opinion, where is the cultural potential for this sector to grow and that can act a practical value for this policy document, the National Strategy on creative industries.
You are right. Britain has a strong creative sector, particularly in TV, film, architecture, gaming…the list goes on. Our success is built on education, access to finance and, crucially, the diversity of British society. Many of our creativebusinesses are based in places with the most diverse populations. And that’s no surprise. A group of people from different parts of the world, with different cultures, different perspectives, different ideas, will generate impressive creativity. Macedonia really has an in-built advantage here. You also are a very diverse society, with ethnic Macedonians, ethnic Albanians, and Turks, Vlachs and Bosniacs, Roma, Jews and many others. If you can harness their different perspectives and ideas, you are well on the way to boosting your creative sector.
Thank you Your Excellency, it is great that you think about exploiting the power of diversity of the society here in Macedonia and that’s a very much largely unexploited area that could further develop, I think so. Let’s us now move on to practically the reason why we are here. You stood as Honorary President of the 2016 International Charity Bazaar organised by the Macedonia Welcome Centre. In your opinion, why is charity work and civic engagement so important for today’s society and how could you inspire and empower people in Macedonia to be more engaged and more charitable in their daily lives.
Society always benefits from people engaging in charity work.Many of the things which make society better, which make the environment better, which support the weaker in society, many of these things depend on action by individuals motivated by all sorts of different reasons. There is a limit to what Government can do for the citizens.And society is stronger with a healthy voluntary sector, not just because of the direct benefits, but also because the volunteers themselves get a lot out of it. I have seen much of this first-hand because my daughter Florence’s disability has brought us into contact with many voluntary initiatives. I have seen the benefit they bring to everyone involved. The more you put in, the more you get out.
What about Macedonia? What do you think about the charitable sector here, how could you engage and inspire people here to be more charitable to devote more time to charity?
I’ve seen many charitable initiatives here which make a real difference in people’s lives. Most recently, I hosted the launch of a Macedonian initiative to support businesses who want to do more charitable work. Just as with individuals, businesses with a programme of corporate social responsibility can get a lot out of helping others – it really is win-win.
Thank you very much your Excellency. Moving on to this great charity event that we touched upon, the International Charity Bazaar that the Macedonia Welcome Centre is organising. The fund this year would go to the Skopje based state school for blind and visually impaired pupils called Dimitar Vlahov. I know for a fact that you were part of the organisation and attended the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London 2012 and you’ve probably met some blind athletes there. Could you tell us a story, or anecdote that could inspire and empower blind children and youth here in Macedonia and in your opinion how should they see themselves to be self-sufficient individuals and thriving members of their society I mean both here and in the UK.
When I was working on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I had a colleague called Chris Holmes. Chris went blind literally overnight at the age of 14. You can imagine the shock. But, with the support of his family and others he got on with life, qualifying from Cambridge as a lawyer as well as swimming for Britain. He has won more medals than any other British paralympian. This man, through leadership, inspiration and determination, organised the best Paralympic Games the world has ever seen. For me there is no better example of how something like blindness, no matter how great the shock for you as an individual, shouldn’t stop your life, or stop you achieving things.
I hope we could see Lord Holmes some time here in Macedonia. I was wondering what is your opinion, what should blind people and children yearn, to become more independent, more self-sufficient, more contributing members. Do you have a message, or advice for them?
Find a role model, someone who inspires you. You’re a good example Milica. Here you are interviewing me. I’ve seen you get around Skopje, live your life in a very full way. You show that there is no reason why a blind person cannot do that. Of course it requires support. But at the heart, I think it is about ambition and determination, setting your sight on achieving something and working to do that.
Part 3 of the interview, where Ambassador Garrett shares the story of his friend, Lord Chris Holms – a successful blind lawyer and athlete. He also gives a piece of advice to blind children and youth living in Macedonia:
You are right Your Excellency, I am always trying to motivate other blind people to serve as a role model so that they could become more independent and they could look up to me and see me as an example how they could succeed in life with hard work and to have determination. So, moving on to the last question, but not least important question, how do you see the mission and activities of Macedonia Welcome Centre in Macedonia, what future role can it aspire to have?
Macedonia Dobredojde Centre is a great organisation. It helps diplomats and their families settle in, it helps them to live a fulfilled life in this wonderful country. It also brings the community together for good causes. The cause this year, the school for the blind pupils is a good example. The Centre will, through its organisation bring people together, to raise money, to allow the school, to continue to support children in Macedonia who are blind. The Dobredojde Centre plays an important role here.
Part 4 of the interview: Ambassador Garrett discusses the mission and the important role of “Dobredojde” Macedonia Welcome Centre:
So, what future role the Centre can have, how do you see it developing in the future?
I see it developing what it already does, helping diplomats and local communities alike.
Your Excellency, thank you very much for bearing with me and for doing the interview with me. I hope we will see each other again at the Charity Bazaar and do another interview after the event on how do you see the funds being distributed to the school and how the pupils are doing thanks to the support from all the embassies and diplomatic missions under the auspices of Macedonia Welcome Centre. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. It’s been a very enjoyable interview.