Alex N. Grigor’ev
The Scripture marking the grave of Macedonia’s late president Boris Trajkovski is Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Mr. Trajkovski died tragically on 26 February 2004, when his government airplane crashed in bad weather in the mountains of southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. A verse from a gospel is as unusual for the grave of a Balkan politician as President Trajkovski was himself an unusual leader in the cauldron of Southeastern Europe. He was never considered a great politician, a father of the nation, or a mover and shaker of the universe. He was not even head of a political party. Nevertheless, he will be gravely missed for the rare gifts and qualities of character he possessed.
At the Helm of a Fractious State
Mr. Trajkovski was the second president of Macedonia after the country gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Besides Macedonians, this ethnically divided nation includes Albanians (almost a quarter of the population), Roma (Gypsies), Serbs, Turks, Bosnjaks, and Vlachs. In addition to this complication, Macedonia’s neighbors have problematic attitudes toward the country. Greece does not recognize its constitutional name. Bulgaria does not recognize its language as being distinct from Bulgarian. And Serbia’s Orthodox Church does not recognize the independence of Macedonia’s Orthodox Church.
A Gift for Calming Troubled Waters
Boris Trajkovski was born in 1956 in southeast Macedonia. He graduated from St. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje in 1980 with a specialization in commercial and labor law. His relatively short political career started on the local level in the capital city of Skopje. In 1998, as the newly-appointed deputy foreign minister, he oversaw Macedonia’s handling of the refugee crisis spilling over from the fighting in the neighboring Serbian province of Kosovo. A year later, he was elected president after receiving 52 percent of the vote in the second round of the general election. Although in the past he had been a loyal member of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DMPNE), Mr. Trajkovski refused to follow the party line in 2001 during a short but bloody conflict involving an armed Albanian insurgency. The government favored a hard-line approach, using all possible military means to attack the rebels and the ethnic Albanian villages in which they hid. The president, however, adopted a moderate position, preferring a strong police action supported by negotiations.
Trajkovski was a major architect of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, signed by the leaders of Macedonia’s four major political parties. This accord successfully ended the armed conflict and opened the way for positive constitutional and legal reforms that gave more rights to ethnic Albanians and transferred considerable power from the national government to local municipalities. He also was behind efforts to establish the Adriatic Charter, a regional grouping that brought Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia together in their efforts to join NATO. He was a staunch supporter of dialogue in the Balkans, inviting regional leaders to Macedonia and establishing forums for politicians from neighboring countries. In addition, he worked hard to move Macedonia toward membership in the European Union.
If the Ohrid Agreement is fully implemented and the dialogue among the country’s ethnic communities is institutionalized as Trajkovski wished, the country has a promising future. Through his promotion of sanity, peace, and reconciliation, Mr. Trajkovski earned great respect abroad, especially in the West. As the leader of Trajkovski’s political party shared at the late president’s funeral: “It is a tragedy for us, but a satisfaction for you, that today we have understood that you were respected more in the world than in your own country.”
Even in his death Trajkovski managed to do something that others were not able to do—unite all Macedonian citizens regardless of their ethnic affiliation. It was a moving sight on the day of his funeral on March 5 to see several hundred thousand people forming a living corridor for the president’s casket.
A Leader of Character and Faith
But there was more. And that “more” was perhaps the overriding reason President Trajkovski will be sorely missed by his own people and by the international community. Boris Trajkovski’s character clearly distinguished him and set him apart. He was truly an unusual man, a quiet and honest president, respectful of others, open and frank, kind and soft spoken. Moreover, in a sea of corruption, he was never tainted by scandal. Nor did Boris Trajkovski shy away from sharing his faith. On one occasion he commented: “The key to the transformation of Macedonia can happen only through Jesus Christ, by encouraging people to know the Lord Jesus, and I know the only way to do this is through continual prayer.”
In a predominantly Orthodox country with a large Muslim minority, Mr. Trajkovski was a Methodist. In fact, he pastored his own church before he became president and was the head of the United Methodist Church in the former Yugoslavia. Besides trying to bring his country’s ethnic communities together, he sought to unite Christians as well. At one church gathering he shared, “I know that we come from different denominations, but in Jesus Christ we are the same. Our common denominator is that we can all say that we know the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, and I can say myself that He is my Lord and Savior.”
I first met President Trajkovski at Macedonia’s first National Prayer Dinner, which he organized. At that gathering, with leaders of Macedonia’s religious denominations, government and opposition politicians, as well as foreign diplomats in attendance, he quoted his favorite Psalm (133:1): “How good it is and how pleasant it is when brothers live together.” There is another line from the Gospel of Matthew that precedes the one written on President Trajkovski’s grave in Skopje: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This is God’s promise to Boris Trajkovski, no doubt fulfilled.
Alex N. Grigor’ev is a senior program officer for the Project on Ethnic Relations, Princeton, New Jersey.
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© 2004 East-West Church and Ministry Report