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Congress on your corner.

While I was writing the text for the column My Diary, a tragic event happened that made me want to share with you my thoughts about the challenges that representatives of the people face in doing their job in a democratic society. On January 8, 2001, an unstable 22-year-old man opened fire on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the people assembled at the town hall meeting she was holding at a grocery store in her district of Tucson. Six people were killed and another 13 were injured, five of whom, including Congresswoman Giffords, were in critical condition.

I met Gabrielle for the first time in the spring of 2007 right after my arrival in Washington and shortly after her election to the US Congress. She left the impression of being a wonderful person inside and out. She attentively listened to my arguments and said she wanted to be kept informed on the situation in Macedonia and Southeast Europe and we stayed in touch. When I hosted a lunch in honor of my colleague and dear friend ambassador Reeker, before his departure to take on his duties in Skopje I invited her as a good friend of Ambassador Reeker and Macedonia. After the tragic event, Mark Belcher, a friend of mine, sent me an e-mail that described Gabi. He wrote in that e-mail "I want to thank you for inviting me to a lunch a few years ago when you introduced me to Congresswoman Giffords. I remember sitting across from her and talking to her about how she and her husband Mark met, about how she flew to her home district most weekends, and what it was like to be a member of Congress. I remember how impressed I was by her grace, warmth, and authenticity. Like everyone else, I was absolutely in shock when I heard the news of the assassination attempt and I have been closely following her struggle to recover from her injury."

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The elections to the House of Representatives of the Congress are held every second year. This is a huge burden on the representatives who are basically in election campaign mode all the time. On the other hand it is highly beneficial for the citizens. Their representatives to the Congress continuously communicate with them, listening to their appeals, views and opinions on a variety of matters. At the same time they inform them about the legislation they pass and explain why it is good for them. In order to achieve this, congressmen have to be available always for the citizens they represent. If you go to the US Congress to see a congressman, you are not even required to show your ID. You only need to go through a metal detector. When I asked a congressman why they let people enter the building where their offices were without asking them to show their IDs, he said that the Congress is a house of the citizens and they could freely enter and voice their stances to the people who represented them. In addition, every congressman or senator is in his constituency from Friday through Monday meeting people. That was the case on that Saturday too. Congresswomen Giffords had a meeting with her fellow citizens only three days after she was sworn in on Wednesday, 5 January, in Washington. As her website still says, she was holding her "CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER". Immediately after her third reelection, she wanted to meet the citizens and give them the possibility to discuss with her the issues that needed to be addressed by federal authorities. These meetings, as President Obama stressed, "are the essence of what our democracy is all about." And therefore when you ask an ordinary citizen how they see the work of Congress you are most likely to receive a negative response (according to Gallup, only 25 percent of the interviewees positively assess the work of Congress), but if you ask them how they are represented by their congressmen, their answer will be "my congressman is the best."

Apart from direct contacts with citizens, one of the most revered responsibilities of their representatives is the vote. When congressmen, congresswomen and senators have to vote, they leave everything, in order to be able to vote. An overwhelming majority of them vote on over 99 percent of the decisions of the Congress during their term of office. Not voting means that they do not represent the citizens who have elected them. When you talk to them, they say their voters would not forgive them for that.

The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner, said after this tragic event that "an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve." This attack was an attack on US democracy and therefore all agreed that despite the risk for the lives of the representatives of the people, they will not be discouraged from serving those who elected them. All stood in defence of the basic values and principles of democracy and the serving of their electorate. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with congresswoman Giffords, the injured and the families of those killed.

Zoran JOLEVSKI, Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia to the United States of America
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Title Annotation:DIPLOMATIC DIARY
Author:Jolevski, Zoran
Publication:Macedonian Diplomatic Bulletin
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:874
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