This story is part of a series of alumni profiles by current students for professor Laura Kelly’s Advanced Writing for Media class and was published in 2020.
May 2010. A team of diplomats is returning home from their mission in Vienna. In the private jet of the Government of Montenegro, a foreign minister talks to a 29-year-old diplomat. “Think about it. If you want to go, we will send you for four years. You will have your first posting abroad!” said the minister, inviting a young man to the embassy in Washington, DC.
In just a couple of days, a call from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was about to make another dream come true – a position of a political affairs officer was available. For Miladin Bogetic (’03), an alumnus of the American University in Bulgaria, it took 10 days to make a life-changing decision.
“I really wanted to go to Washington. On the other hand, if you refuse the offer from the UN, you don’t know if you’ll get it again. It was one of those moments when your life can go one way or the other. And you don’t know what’s better, because you cannot see the future.”
October 2020. Miladin entered our chatroom five minutes ahead of the scheduled time. He apologized for the bright light coming through the window of his cabinet of the UN press officer. A tall diplomat in his late thirties, he adjusted the shades so that his face was seen clearly through the web camera. It was a simple room with pictures and a calendar by Obshtina Blagoevgrad hanging on the wall.
“I didn’t get it myself,” Miladin said. “One colleague from the UN went for work-related events with the mayors there. Since she knew I studied in Blagoevgrad, she brought me the calendar. It’s a very interesting coincidence.”
This was not the only coincidence in this man’s life.
Miladin was born in 1980. His hometown, Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was a part of the former Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991 and tore the country apart. As the war further engulfed the country in 1992, his family had to flee to Podgorica, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Montenegro.
“I was only 11, but it was a bit of a traumatic experience. My grandparents stayed behind in Bosnia. We often didn’t know whether they were alive or dead because there were no phone connections, and we relied on radio amateurs and letters to keep in touch. It was tough.”
The wars did not turn Miladin away from global affairs. Quite the contrary. He always enjoyed watching international news on TV and reading newspapers. Montenegro had only two daily newspapers at that time. One of them, which Miladin’s father was reading, had an ad by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation in it, saying that the foundation was giving scholarships to study at AUBG.
“So, [my father] gave a call to the foundation and asked about the conditions. He asked, ‘Is it going to be a fair competition?’ Because in our region a lot of competitions were corrupt. They reassured that it’s going to be fair. Basically, I found out about AUBG by chance.”
In April 1999, the conflict in Yugoslavia was still not over. The night before Miladin’s mother brought home the fax with the acceptance letter and a full scholarship offer from AUBG, Podgorica Airport had been bombed by American NATO planes.
“You know, I could see it from my balcony, and I could see the airport burning. In a way, you are having an anti-American feeling at the moment because they just bombed you the night before. But on the other hand, a new chapter opens new possibilities.”
Miladin remembers a weird cocktail of feelings. “I was… I was happy. I was excited. I was a bit anxious, whether I can do it.” Nevertheless, the opportunity to escape was the most valuable aspect of all.
“My father, who was quite anti-American at that time, was kind of happy but also shared mixed feelings. He was saying, ‘You know what? At least I will manage to save one of my sons. He’ll go abroad.’”
The Hard Worker
One of Miladin’s hobbies as a young man was the debate club. In August 1999, he was selected to represent Yugoslavia at the international competition in Croatia. There, in an internet café, the future student discovered an email from AUBG, saying that he had to be in Blagoevgrad in the next two days. The packing process started immediately after his return to Montenegro.
“I had two of those big checkered bags. Sometimes you can see them at the markets, bazaars. And my father put me on a bus that was, basically, taking smugglers from Montenegro to Bulgaria. People who would go to Bulgaria, buy stuff for a low price, and then come back. They weren’t criminals. These were regular people who were doing that to survive. At the same time, that was the fastest way to go from Podgorica to Sofia.”
Miladin became the first student from Montenegro to study at AUBG. He chose Political Science (POS) as a major and a History minor. Even though his English was almost fluent, it was still unusual to study in a foreign language, especially to write academic papers.
“It was a big challenge in the beginning. I remember that I had a dictionary where I was underlining the words I didn’t know, learning new words this way.”
Professor of Political Science Robert Phillips remembers him as a bright student.
“[Miladin] was always competent. If you asked him a question in class, he was always prepared. He took his studies seriously. I have that memory of him being a good, good student, and I also have a memory of him being a good writer.”
Miladin completed a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in Bologna and the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, and an internship at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. In 2006, when Montenegro voted to separate from Serbia, he decided to start his diplomatic career with the newly established government of his home country.
New Diplomacy for the Old Country
For Miladin, the financial aspect has never been a critical factor in decision-making. The four elephants, holding the Earth for him, are learning, personal development, gaining experience, and contributing to the world.
“It was a new country, I mean, an old country but with the new independence. I was 26. I was full of energy. I studied abroad. I spoke languages. I really wanted to do my best then – contribute to the new country. And I was given this opportunity together with nine other young people to become the first class of the new diplomats of an independent Montenegro.”
Miladin had to learn many things from scratch by himself, travel with a minister, and participate in decisive meetings. “When you are from a small country like that, you are more visible. What you do matters more than if you come from the US or from Russia or other big countries.”
New opportunities appeared in Miladin’s life again by chance. His mother was working for a state institution, which received a letter about the UN looking for young people from Montenegro to join.
“You see, seven years later, now it was my mother who told me about this. By this time, of course, there was the internet and everything, and I could check details online. But it had never occurred to me before.”
Continuing his work in the ministry, Miladin started preparing for the application process, passed the test, and was invited to the interview. “That year about 850 people took the written exam in political affairs. About 35 were invited to the interview. And then I think it was about 28 or 29 of us who were put on this ‘successful roster.’ So, I did my best, and I was waiting for the UN to call or make an offer.”
Diving into the Ocean
In 2010, Miladin got two offers. One – to join the embassy in the US – was from the minister on his way back from Austria. The other – to become a part of a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon – was from the UN.
In attempts to make the right decision, the young diplomat asked many people for advice: family, friends, colleagues in the ministry, senior specialists, and UN employees. Miladin said that a deputy minister shared the best piece of advice.
“It’s up to you, Miladin. You see, either you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or you want to be a small fish in the ocean.”
Miladin decided to be a small fish and swim in the ocean. He joined the UN. “I went for a bit of an unknown. I was thinking that, in Washington, I would have a chance to work in the embassy and maybe travel. But it’s always going to be there. In Lebanon, it was more exotic, strange, and unusual.”
Miladin describes himself as an independent and curious traveler, not necessarily aiming to become a leader. He thinks that he was born to be this type of person. “I believe in astrology a little bit. My astrological sign is Sagittarius. And those are actually the characteristics of Sagittarius.” Miladin does not regret his choices. He prefers to swim in the ocean, to which he is eager to contribute every day.