WASHINGTON — Ljubica Z. Acevska says that when she agreed to become the Republic of Macedonia's representative to the United States, she was optimistic about her ability to turn herself into a successful diplomat.
After all, she already had many years of experience as a partner in a trading-and-development company specializing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. There's no real difference between international business and international relations, she told herself.
But 17 months later, she is struggling even to get an audience with the Clinton Administration.
"My accessibility to this Administration has not been very good, which is very unfortunate," Acevska said recently. "Right now, I'm a persona non grata. "
As Macedonia's representative, Acevska's position is the equivalent to that of an ambassador--except that her country does not exist in the eyes of the U.S. government, meaning she does not have diplomatic status, much less an embassy.
But she says she has persevered, learning as she goes along and keeping her eye on her primary goal--to get the former Yugoslav republic recognized by the United States.
"This is not my profession, but I felt that I could be of assistance to my homeland," Acevska said, explaining why she gave up a six-figure salary for a job that barely pays enough to cover the cost of phone calls home.
"It wouldn't be fair for me to ask others to help if I wasn't giving up something myself," she said.
Since Macedonia declared its independence and elected a new government 18 months ago, Greece has objected to the name, insisting it is of Greek origin and that its use would give the former Yugoslav republic territorial claims on the Greek border province of the same name.
Greece has used its influence to prevent most other nations from recognizing Macedonia.
The United Nations, however, admitted Macedonia in April--under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Although the United States has sent a small number of troops into Macedonia to prevent the spread of the Balkan civil war, the official U.S. position is that it will not recognize Macedonia until both it and Greece agree to a name--meaning that the poorest of the former Yugoslav republics can receive very little in the way of foreign aid.
For Acevska, it is this endless period of uncertainty that has been her most potent lesson in the world of diplomacy.
"In business you know that time is of the essence. In diplomacy, unfortunately, it takes much, much longer," she said.
Working out of an office in her former company just three blocks from the White House, Acevska does her best to play down her difficulties, insisting that she is luckier than other representatives from former Eastern Bloc countries who have been forced to set up their embassies from scratch.
"This is quite advantageous because I have accessibility to a fully functional office with all of the modern equipment," she said.
But she acknowledged that formal recognition gives other countries a great advantage. While their ambassadors can seek economic assistance and other international help, she is still working on her country's name.
"Every single day I have to do the same thing. Right now I am running against brick walls," she said. "I speak with people in the Administration, the State Department, the National Security Council, Congress. . . . Every day I have to give them the same speech, the same story, as to why we should be recognized."
Because she does not have diplomatic status, practically everything Acevska does--even giving an interview to a newspaper reporter--has to be registered with the Department of Justice.
"If I have a meeting at the State Department, I have to fill out a slip of paper which says that today, at 2 p.m., I met with the desk officer; topic discussed: Macedonia," she said, explaining that her status in the eyes of the government is the equivalent of a lobbyist for a foreign country.
Acevska says she has no plans to put her newly acquired diplomatic skills to work as an envoy.
"Once Macedonia is recognized you are talking about a totally different phase," she said, predicting that she will probably return to her old job.
Not that she isn't already helping to prepare for her eventual replacement.
"I am already looking for an embassy and a residence, and I hope it is very soon that we will get to set it up," she said. "But for now, the government back in Skopje (the Macedonian capital) says: 'Look, but don't sign anything.' "