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April 25, 2017Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: in this fascinating new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the insights of Dr. Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Associate Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Professor McLauchlan’s wealth of personal experience includes having worked at the US Supreme Court, US Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, and in the White House during the Clinton Administration.
Since January 2017, Professor McLauchlan has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Macedonia, becoming somewhat of an American goodwill ambassador through teaching university students while traveling the country, learning more about its unique people, traditions and culture. You can follow her adventures in Macedonia at her blog, McLauchlan’s Macedonian Musings.
Background: from Graduate School to the White House
Chris Deliso: It’s nice to see you again, Judithanne. Firstly, before getting into your work here, I’d love to get some background about your fascinating life experience for our readers.
Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan: I grew up in the Philadelphia area and did my PhD in Public Law at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Then I lived in Washington DC for several years. I worked at the US Supreme Court for the US Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993. And I worked in the White House after working on the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992-
CD: I recall it well! Actually, this one time we drove by a campaign rally in Vermont and they were giving out free Ben & Jerry’s [ice cream]. It was enough to win my vote. So I was in high school, and you were working in the White House at an early age. How did you get the opportunity?
JM: In my mid-twenties, while I was in grad school, I got a White House internship. In President Clinton’s first term, I started out working under the First Lady’s representative on the President’s Domestic Policy Council. This was part of the White House Office in the Executive Office of the President. I left the White House to work on the re-election campaign, in important states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania for the primary, and Florida for the general election. I said mid-twenties, but eventually I celebrated my 30th birthday in the Indian Treaty Room.
CD: What an experience! What was it like, working in the White House and campaigning for the president?
JM: It was amazing! During the 1996 general election campaign I started at the state headquarters in Florida, and organized volunteers and internships at that level, and then moved to Southwest Florida- a big and challenging, heavily Republican region. But we led a very successful ‘Republican Women for Clinton/Gore’ movement. It was the first time Democrats had won Florida [in a presidential election] in 20 years.
Then I returned to the White House, starting out in Presidential Personnel. I was working with the woman responsible for education, justice, and health and human services appointees. Later I worked in Presidential Correspondence, where I directed the Comment Line, where I trained 120 volunteer operators.
CD: What is this? A service for people to call in? Some 1-800 number?
JM: Yes, any citizen could call in to express their opinion, but it wasn’t an 800 number. I was director of the Comment Line during the impeachment. We would get thousands of calls a day. President Clinton actually cared what citizens thought, and our daily reports would be sent to the Oval Office and senior staffers. So it broke my heart when President Trump closed the Comment Line.
CD: Well, possibly in the age of the internet, not as many people call in now…
JM: No, they still do! I know activists are marching and calling their representatives back home. I was also Director of the Greeting Office. For example, someone might write in saying, “it’s my grandfather s birthday coming up, could you send a card?” And we would. I was also director of the White House’s Volunteer Program, which had 1,000 volunteers. President Clinton had promised during the campaign to cut staff by 10 percent – which he did – but that meant we had more work and less staff. President Clinton wanted to make sure that if someone took the time to write in, then he would write back, so we had a big job.
Actually, since I have been here I visited Pristina. I wanted to see the Bill Clinton statue on Bill Clinton Boulevard. While there I delivered a guest lecture at the American Corner in Pristina, and after my lecture I donated some original lithographs of the Clintons and the White House from my time working in presidential correspondence.
Thoughts on Hillary Clinton
CD: You worked for Hillary Clinton, who as we all know has become a very polarizing figure in America. Can you give us an insider’s perspective on what the ‘real Hillary’ is actually like?
JM: As you might imagine, she is brilliant. So knowledgeable. The problem [in the 2016 campaign] was that she became kind of a caricature in the media, of someone being cold or hard, and that is just not true. She is very caring and compassionate. That’s what drives her in public service.
As one example, let me tell you about the White House Volunteer Appreciation Day event in the Rose Garden. I was excited that I would get to introduce the First Lady at the event and had prepared my presentation. Just before the event Erskine Bowles, President Clinton’s Chief of Staff, mentioned that he would like to thank the volunteers for all their hard work. Protocol would dictate that I should introduce Erskine and that he would introduce the First Lady who would then introduce the President. The Social Office staff were arranging this new program, just moments before we were heading on stage. Inside, I was panicking. And then, the First Lady turned around to me and asked, “Judithanne, is that okay with you?” And I said, “actually, I had prepared to introduce you.” She was so thoughtful to stop and to ask! And so it was agreed that we could go out of the order of protocol so that I could (as prepared) introduce her. And when, at the conclusion of my remarks, I said, “now, I’d like to introduce our most respected and our most beloved volunteer, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton,” she smiled and gave me a big hug.
My point is that Hillary cares about people- she is thoughtful, considerate, warm and caring. And, she knows how to get things done. I don’t know why the media has sometimes portrayed her as being cold. Her political opponents certainly characterize her that way. I think women candidates in general face the challenge of having to appear tough, but not too tough, and feminine, but not too feminine.
On the Campaign Trail
CD: What an interesting and insightful story. How did you go on from the White House to your future work?
JM: I left the White House in June 1999 to work on Al Gore’s presidential campaign, first in New Hampshire, and then in Maine, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Jersey, and then Oregon, where I was state director for the general election. Then I went to Florida for the recount.
CD: Wow- what historic moments.
JM: Yes. The race was really tight in Oregon. We were down in the polls the entire time I was there, mostly because [Green Party candidate Ralph] Nader was at 7%. And Oregon had just become the first (only) 100% vote-by-mail state, and when you’re a campaign director, you make assumptions and decisions based on past data. But we didn’t have such data under those conditions, and no one knew when people were going to return their ballots. And that year Oregon also saw the most ballot initiatives since the 1920s- for Democratic Party interests, you name it, there was a ballot initiative against it, whether it was anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-labor, etc. Since these initiatives could be profoundly bad for all of our allies, they needed to be out there working to defeat them. Which took away resources from the effort to elect Al Gore. It also felt like we were losing core constituencies to Ralph Nader. When I would go out in the high democratic precincts, and there were Nader signs on every lawn and Nader bumper stickers on every car. I would go to the coffee shops, and people would mock me for supporting Al Gore, even the baristas saying ‘why you voted for Gore? He is no better than George Bush.’
CD: Ah, the baristas…
JM: (Laughing). Yes. There were similarities to the 2000 election in 2016 general election. It was frustrating, seeing young, anti-establishment voters supporting ‘Bernie or Bust’ or Green Party or Libertarian or other candidates. I was thinking clearly they didn’t remember what happened in 2000. And this paved the way for Donald Trump’s electoral college win.
CD: Indeed. Though in fairness, some of them weren’t even born yet then.
Democratization and Political Transitions: from Moldova to Macedonia
CD: I must ask, when did you first become aware of the Balkans? Was it during President Clinton’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, perhaps?
JM: Actually, it was much earlier. I started grad school in fall 1990- right around the fall of the Soviet Union, and then the wars [in Yugoslavia] started. So it was this historic period of state breakups, re-formations and new constitutions. And I was aware of colleagues going overseas for democratization activities and helping to draft constitutions for these new states. I wanted to be a part of that, but it didn’t work out because I was soon working in Washington, DC. So it became a sort of deferred dream, which I was able to fulfill later.
CD: How did that work out?
JM: Well, first I was awarded a Fulbright to Moldova. I went there in 2010, and then won a returning grant in 2012. I later brought a group of my students from USF there in 2013.
In between, I returned in 2011 to work with the advance team for Vice-President Biden’s official visit. That was the highest-level visit Moldova had received up to that point.
CD: Wow, you’re a friend of Uncle Joe too?
JM: I love Joe Biden! If you go to my Facebook page, you’ll see some cute pictures of him with my daughter.
CD: How was the Moldova experience? You mentioned you brought some of your US students there as well.
JM: We loved Moldova, it’s such a fascinating place. I was able to bring some of my students from USF to Moldova for an ‘alternative spring break.’ It was a very exciting time- like here in Macedonia now. There had been a political crisis for three years. In fact, just before our trip the government collapsed. When recruiting students for the course I explained “you can go to Paris or London anytime. But this is a really historic time to go to Moldova.” And they had a great time- though they were exhausted since I packed so much into that trip. We were doing something different from 8AM to midnight!
CD: That’s great. Did any of those former students keep up their interest in Moldova because of that trip?
JM: Yes indeed. One of them wrote her master’s thesis about Moldova, and another devoted a chapter of the master’s thesis to the country. A third student on that trip returned for an internship at the US Embassy in Chisinau and then went on to intern for the US Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is now working in the State Department in Washington, DC.
Coming to Macedonia
CD: Wow, what a great experience. So now we get to Macedonia. Was this your first time here? And how did you decide to come in the first place?
JM: Yes, this is my first time in Macedonia, since arriving in late January. Back in 2014, I ran for the Florida State Senate. I didn’t win, but a few months later, in February 2015, I was asked by someone with whom I had worked in Moldova, “have you ever considered going to Macedonia?” A rule of law and civil society Fulbright teaching award had been announced.
CD: Wow! What a lucky opportunity, to be told about this award that seems perfect for you.
JM: Yes indeed, when I was first thinking about it in February 2015, it was a historic moment, with the beginning of the political crisis, the wiretap scandal and so on. I didn’t know much about Macedonia at that time, but it became more interesting as I learned about the [2001 Albanian] uprising in Tetovo, and the Ohrid Framework Agreement, how it was being implemented, and so on.
Since I teach constitutional law, civil liberties and civil rights, I thought the Fulbright award here would provide a great opportunity to learn about the protection of ethnic Albanian rights. I expected the Albanian dimension could provide an interesting comparative aspect for my work on other minority rights in the US. But back then I didn’t really predict the whole experience would be as interesting as it has been, and that the issues would come to a head as they have.
CD: Indeed, all very relevant topics. But obviously, you didn’t come at once-
JM: No, I applied in August 2015 for the Macedonia Fulbright award. It takes a year for the process to play out – so grantees are not usually notified until later in the spring of the following year (Spring 2016) for the following academic year (2016-17). I wanted to be in the US for the presidential election, which is why I started here in late January 2017. With the traditional Fulbright Scholar program, you can choose a one-semester award or two-semester award. It has been such a wonderful experience that I wish I could stay for the whole year, but my family obligations prevented me from being away for that long.
Settling In and New Discoveries
CD: How was it, getting accustomed to life here? Were there any surprises or things you hadn’t expected?
JM: When you first move to a new country, there is obviously an adjustment period, but it hasn’t been too difficult. It’s kind of funny. Now there are things I have grown to love which I won’t be able to get back home, like a good macchiato. At first it was hard, as I wanted to find a latte or brewed coffee like in the US. But now I love Macedonian macchiatos. So when I go home, I will miss Macedonian macchiatos.
CD: I miss root beer.
JM: (Laughing) Yes, you don’t see root beer here. I don’t drink soda back home, but now I am a big fan of Schweppes Bitter Lemon-
CD: Yeah, you can’t ignore the Bitter Lemon.
JM: And, about things I hadn’t expected… well, I naïvely thought from the cursory glance I had had at the Ohrid Framework Agreement, that the issues there were all settled. I was surprised, once I came here, that after more than 10 years some of the things I thought were resolved by the agreement are still not in place.
CD: Like what?
JM: I teach law at the State University in Tetovo, and learned that, for example, there could be an Albanian-speaking judge, attorneys and participants in the case, but the entire proceedings must be in Macedonian.
CD: Well, it is the national language.
JM: Yes, of course. But I thought that in communities that were majority-minority populations that there could be proceedings in the Albanian language. I am teaching at two universities that were founded to provide higher education opportunities to ethnic Albanians in their native language. This seemed like a good idea. It still does, but, now that I know that they [law students] will need to practice law entirely in Macedonian, regardless of whether they are practicing in an Albanian-speaking village, I wonder if more needs to be done to be sure they are effective advocates in Macedonian.
CD: Do they complain about this issue?
JM: No. But also, I am teaching them in English. A third language!
Student Engagement and Subjects in Macedonia
CD: In your classes at the university in Tetovo and the SEE University branch in Skopje, what are your courses about?
JM: At SEEU I am teaching first-year law students US Constitutional Law. And at the State University in Tetovo I am teaching first-year Political Science students Democracy and Civil Society and third-year law students US Constitutional Law.
CD: Do the students express any opinions in class on world political issues?
JM: Not so much in the class during lectures and seminars, but we do chat informally. They are frustrated about the lack of a government mandate [in Macedonia]. I would say they are very thoughtful and aware. One day over break we were talking about Trump and I said that I was surprised when he praised [Turkish President] Erdoğan on the referendum results. The students said Erdoğan was using religion as a tool to increase his own powers. They said that some people in Albania think he’s saving the Muslim world, but we think he is being undemocratic and trying to enhance his powers.
It was interesting to listen, but I am not trying to interject my opinion when teaching. We are covering core topics in US Constitutional Law (federalism, separation of powers, judicial review), so the world political issues you mentioned don’t usually come up during class.
CD: Now one perennial issue teachers here have complained of is a certain apathy among students, and a lack of critical thinking. Have you encountered these issues?
JM: I haven’t found that with my students, although students are signing up for and attending my lectures because they want the opportunity to study with an American professor. I also try to keep things interesting by using some of the methodologies I would in the US, like field trips, simulations and experiential learning opportunities. For example, I am planning to bring my law students to the Constitutional Court, and I brought my political science students to a women’s legal clinic. Next week my law students in Skopje will be participating in a US Supreme Court oral argument simulation.
Student Awareness of American Issues
CD: Very interesting. Tell me, to what extent are the Albanian students you teach aware of political events in America, like the last campaign and the new government?
JM: Oh, they are aware. One of my students asked me the other day if Trump is ‘making America great again.’ They seem to know about the campaign and the current administration. So when I mention things like use of executive powers, they are aware of current events like the recent health care debacle and the immigration ban.
CD: What do they think about Bernie [Sanders]?
JM: I’m not sure- we haven’t really talked about Bernie. He does not come up, as far as the topics we are covering in my law classes. Maybe since they are aware that I worked for the Clintons in the past they do not bring it up?
CD: Considering, as we noted, it is a historic moment here and the crisis has brought up so many relevant issues, have you been able to engage on events relevant in the local context?
JM: Not too much. There were some topics that came up in studying separation of powers in the US, like cases involving wiretapping and the use of a special prosecutor that seemed relevant in a comparative perspective. In that unit we also discussed the Nixon Tapes case and the resulting impeachment of President Richard Nixon, and how in the US no one’s above the law.
‘Thinking Strategically’ about Future Research and Macedonia
CD: Over the years I have met many Fulbrighters, and seen how they spend their time. Some seem to just inhale substances, or work on their dating skills. But you- you are keeping very busy. Was this part of your specific award’s program? For you is this busy schedule a requirement, or is it a result of your personality?
JM: (Laughing) It’s my personality! It’s also due to the relatively short time I have here. I would love to be here the whole year, but it’s just one semester. The upside is that every single day we have to contribute, to do more, to learn more about Macedonia. With these awards, it’s what you make of it. For me, even when some issue comes up, even a roadblock presents an opportunity. I don’t want to waste a single, precious moment that we have here.
CD: How has the [US] embassy been? Are they supportive?
JM: Absolutely. They are very supportive. But no one’s been telling me that I have to go and do all these things. I don’t think it is typical [for a Fulbrighter] to be teaching in two universities in two different cities with three faculties, while also doing speaking engagements all over the country.
The embassy has helped arrange some of these guest lecture opportunities. I asked if I could present at each of the American Corners [in Stip, Struga, Bitola, Tetovo and Skopje], and they made that possible. And other contacts have connected me with colleagues at other universities. What I learned from my Fulbright experience in Moldova is that you never know which faculty member or what opportunity is going to lead to long-term collaboration. So I want to have as many opportunities to connect with potential collaborators here in Macedonia.
CD: Since you have been teaching ethnic Albanians, do you feel that you have missed out on meeting students from the Macedonian side, and other ethnic minorities?
JM: Yes, and so I’ve been trying to supplement this by working with UKIM [University of Ss Cyril & Methodius] in Skopje. For example, the law faculty will let us use one of their courtrooms for the mock oral argument simulation. I have delivered guest lectures there. And I hope we will find other ways to collaborate in the future. I also gave a lecture about the US Supreme Court for the Turkish Yahya Kemal College, as well as a guest lecture for UACS [University American College Skopje] on federalism and on administrative law. And I’m working with a professor at Bitola’s St Kliment Ohridski University [UKLO], and will be on their journal’s editorial board. So I’m trying to have as many meetings and guest lectures as possible to broaden my contacts and opportunities with Macedonians.
Now that I have passed my halfway point in Macedonia, the time has come to start thinking more strategically about future possibilities for specific research projects.
Results of Teaching and Final Thoughts on Macedonia
CD: That sounds very promising. How do you think your teaching has been most important for the Macedonian setting?
JM: Strengthening the rule of law in Macedonia is part of the mission of our embassy. Government leaders should be working for the good of the people. Reducing corruption and increasing public trust in institutions is the foundation from which all other things are possible.
I hope that through my work I can make an impact with my students, who are the future of Macedonia.
CD: Have you met with the Special Prosecutor?
JM: I have not. I did meet the OSCE rule of law officer, Rezarta Schuetz, to learn more about their activities- to gather information rather than solve their problems. She told me about a range of activities being undertaken, including anti-discrimination, hate speech, protection of Roma rights, gender equality, the independence of the judiciary and so on. And I am going to be scheduling meetings with others working to improve rule of law here in Macedonia.
CD: Is there a possibility that you could through USF or another university, bring Macedonian judges and prosecutors to the US for training?
JM: I think it could be possible. I know that in Moldova, the Embassy (together with the Justice Department) brought prosecutors and judges to America, and the American Bar Association did a lot of work training judges, too.
I want to learn more about what is being done here in Macedonia to improve training and to provide infrastructure to support transparency and efficiency. For example, in Moldova, USAID had invested in computer systems that randomized case assignment, as a way to combat corruption in the judiciary. I need to learn more about programs here in Macedonia.
CD: Since we agreed it is a historic moment in Macedonia, including on the legal front, I was wondering if you had studied the current disagreements over interpretation of the Macedonian constitution. For example, that the government partly isn’t formed yet because [EU Commissioner Federica] Mogherini has pointed to Article 72 and argued a simple parliamentary majority is enough to form a government, whereas President Ivanov has cited Article 82.1, citing his responsibilities to uphold national sovereignty and the unitary character of the state.
JM: Interesting. No, I would like to learn more about this crisis, from the constitutional perspective.
CD: This spring has seen another historic moment, the Together for Macedonia rallies which have been going on for over 50 days straight- have you had a chance to see them for yourself?
JM: No. We are advised as a security precaution to avoid large demonstrations.
CD: The pensioners won’t hurt you (laughing). They are just regular people. That’s alright. I wanted to ask, before we finish, if there is anything I have forgotten, anything that is important that you’d like to add.
JM: It has been a wonderful experience here in Macedonia. We have tried to see as much of the country (and the region) as possible. There is so much natural beauty – the lakes, rivers, springs, snow-capped mountains. And so many interesting things to learn by exploring the historic sites.
If I had to say one thing about what I like here in Macedonia, I would have to emphasize just how welcoming the people are. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality and kindness people have shown to my daughter and me. This has been extraordinary and unanticipated.
I was so glad my husband could come for a visit, and when he did, even though he could only be here a short time, he could see and experience what I had been saying when we skyped. Macedonians are incredibly welcoming, and at every turn of our journey he could see examples of these kind gestures. We have so many stories of nice things that people here have done for us.
And – the food! It’s delicious. Even my daughter, who is a notoriously picky eater, is eating well and enjoying the cuisine. Her favorite is pastrmajlija. And I am trying to figure out how we are going to get a jar of ajvar home without it breaking in my suitcase.
We have felt so welcome here, and the truth is, neither my daughter nor I are ready to leave! We are going to try to pack in as much as we can during our remaining weeks here. And I am going to work to lay the foundation for future cooperation. We want this to be our first trip to Macedonia, but certainly not our last.
CD: Judithanne, thank you for this very insightful interview. I am really glad you have enjoyed your time in Macedonia.
JM: Thank you!