Macedonian’s one-man mission to build embassy

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

A Macedonian diplomat is on a mission to set up his country’s first embassy in Tokyo all by himself.

“In the last 20 years, Macedonia started building its diplomatic network from scratch. It took some time before we had embassies in all European countries. Now the time has finally come to do it in Japan,” said Bojan Petrovski, a third secretary at the Macedonian Embassy in Austria.

Petrovski, 28, has been working full-time on his one-man mission in Tokyo since August last year.

Currently, the Macedonian Embassy in Austria is in charge of diplomatic affairs with Japan. The country’s ambassador to Austria, Gjorgji Filipov, concurrently oversees the duties vis-a-vis Japan, but Petrovski said the new ambassador and staff to man the Tokyo embassy, scheduled to open in the latter half of 2012, have yet to be chosen.

Petrovski now heads Macedonia’s Agency for Foreign Investments in Tokyo, and also takes charge of the technical aspects of opening the embassy in Japan — essentially on his own.

Since he was appointed to the position last year, he says that he has been “working very, very hard to strengthen the (economic) relationship between Macedonia and Japan.”

As setting up an embassy “is a really slow process, and it takes a lot of effort and a lot of finance,” he says he will take it “step by step.”

In cooperation with the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, he will find a location for the embassy, register an office, and then “raise the office to a level of an embassy,” he said.

The Republic of Macedonia, a country located between Bulgaria and Albania, declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

“Being such a young country and being so far from Japan, it hasn’t really allowed (Macedonia) to develop a very close relationship (with Japan),” said Petrovski. “By establishing an embassy, obviously we would like to strengthen the ties, particularly the economic relationship.”

He says that Macedonia is looking for Japanese investment, particularly from the auto parts industry and the electronic components industry.

He is trying to promote the country’s products in the Japanese market — especially organic food, berries, honey and mushrooms — in addition to the current two biggest Macedonian exports to Japan — tobacco and wine.

Petrovski also stressed that Macedonia would like to attract more Japanese tourists. “We would like the Japanese to come and see the ancient Macedonian and Roman cities — including the old monasteries and churches,” Petrovski said.

Cooperating with Japanese travel agencies, he plans to set up longer tours to Macedonia, instead of the package tours that take the visitors to several Balkan countries in a matter of days.

As he prepares to set up the embassy, one of the suggestions Petrovski plans to make to his government is to hire a Japanese technical/administrative staff.

“That’s an absolute key to having a successful embassy in Japan,” he stressed.

“It’s very difficult for a foreigner — even if he has lived in Japan for 10 years and speaks Japanese perfectly — to know the ways of communicating in Japan, (from) the procedures of saying thank you to the presents you need to buy. There are these small things in the Japanese culture that a foreigner — no matter how long (he/she has) lived in Japan — will never know to the full extent,” he said.

Born and raised in Skopje, the nation’s capital, Petrovski speaks fluent English, some Russian and Spanish, and of course his mother tongue, Macedonian.

While attending university in Skopje, he traveled to many European countries, and lived in Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland and the U.K. as a local leader of a Europe-wide student NGO.

After a few years’ experience working for the Macedonian government as well as for international organizations such as the European Commission and the World Bank, he gained a scholarship from Japan’s education ministry to study in Tokyo at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Right after receiving a master’s degree in public policy from the institute, he landed a post at the Macedonian Embassy in Vienna, and was immediately assigned to the job in Tokyo.

“This is something that I’ve wanted to do ever since my student days in Japan, so I really like what I’m doing now,” said Petrovski.

“It’s sort of (like) a dream come true for me to work on strengthening the Japanese-Macedonian relationship. Given that it’s just a one-man show, I’m very certain that when other (staff members) come, it will give extra impetus to our work here in Japan, and it will further contribute to strengthening the relationship between the two countries.”