President Boris Trajkovski – In Pursuit of Reconciliation, Peace and Justice
From his humble beginnings near the Macedonian town of Strumica, to the halls and corridors of power and influence in the capitals of this world, President Boris Trajkovski of the Republic of Macedonia was a man of reconciliation, peace and justice.
Boris Trajkovski grew up and came of age in Yugoslavia, but learned the workings and importance of diplomacy and statecraft in an independent Macedonia. Growing up as a Methodist in a predominately Orthodox and Muslim country, Trajkovski grew to know what discrimination and hatred is. The Methodists, a tiny community in an already small country, were often looked on as outcasts. Trajkovski’s father, Kiril was actually jailed in 1946 for his religious beliefs and though released two years later, continued to suffer through the denial of his basic civil rights. It was in this context that the young Boris began to form his views on people. Whereas many could become bitter over experiences such as these, Trajkovski, through the love of his family and teachings of his beliefs, came through the experiences as a humble, patient, caring and gentle man.
The crucible in which Trajkovski grew up in was later to serve him well in his official positions. As international secretary for the largest opposition political party (VMRO-DPMNE) in Macedonia between 1995 and 1998, Trajkovski began his introduction into the world of international affairs. He frequently traveled and met with contemporaries from other countries and learned more about the skills in diplomacy and how to succeed through dialogue.
When VMRO-DPMNE was elected to govern in 1998, Trajkovski was named Deputy Foreign Minister, a position which would soon thrust him into the international limelight. When the Kosovo crisis erupted in early 1999, Trajkovski, because of his background in international affairs, his command of the English language and his personal relationship with many of the Western players who soon found themselves in Kosovo, became the point man for the Government in dealing with the international community.
During his short tenure in this position, Trajkovski was tough but fair, compassionate but a realist. He argued passionately with the international community for the needs of his small country and was equally passionate with his own Government on the need for Macedonia to open its doors to fleeing and hungry refugees from Kosovo. While the international community was hammering Macedonia to take in refugees despite its limited resources, Trajkovski worked the same community to secure the needed assistance to support those refugees. The end result was that over 360,000 Albanians from Kosovo found shelter and homes in Macedonia. Trajkovski went to the mat on more than one occasion for them and often found himself between two competing interests – his Government and the international community. On one dramatic occasion, he even waded into a crowd of refugees clogged at the border crossings allowing them to use his cell phone to call loved ones.
For his work, Trajkovski became nationally recognized in Macedonia at a time when presidential elections were looming (the fall of 1999). Because he was perceived as being tough with the international community for Macedonia’s needs, he became popular and was eventually elected President.
Though the Kosovo crisis was his, and his Government’s, first real test of leadership with compassion, it was not to be the last or the largest. Macedonia’s greatest threat lay just ahead.
The security crisis of 2001 was a period of great uncertainty for Macedonia. Many pundits in the West predicted that Macedonia would implode and with it, the fears of the international community would be realized – the dreaded domino effect of the Balkans whereby Macedonia implodes, drawing in Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and then Turkey. Such, however, was not to be the case due to the efforts of men like Trajkovski.
When ethnic Albanian guerilla insurgents callously attacked Macedonia in early 2001, Trajkovski was faced with his greatest challenge yet. As he told one advisor, “How can I order a battle in which I know many will die when I am pledged to promote peace? My very faith goes against this.”
While he was encouraged to use all of Macedonia’s military might against the guerillas, Trajkovski thought that perhaps dialogue would be better. “Better to talk for 1,000 days than to fight for one,” he told one reporter from England. As a result, Trajkovski initiated talks among the largest political parties from the two largest ethnic groups in Macedonia, the first attempt to settle, politically, the military conflict. And he did this without agreeing to demands from the guerillas.
The demands of the guerillas were, as they say, for greater rights. Trajkovski, recognizing the shortcomings of the fragile democracy of Macedonia, agreed that greater rights would be discussed – but in a framework of rights for citizens. Speaking before a group of Macedonian and American businessmen in June of 2001, Trajkovski stated “As I have repeatedly said over the past several months, we must create a society based on individuals, not on collective groups, and citizens, not on ethnic groups.” In this way Trajkovski was determined to keep the focus not only on rights, but on responsibilities as well. His speeches are peppered with references to the need to link rights with responsibilities.
Those at the top take criticism from all sides and Trajkovski was no different. His citizens, his Government, the political parties and the international community criticized him but still he kept talking. Adopting an attitude of service and humbling himself before his duties Trajkovski hosted the Ohrid talks aimed at ending the conflict. The talks were eventually a success though Trajkovski will be the first to say that they were grueling, difficult and often on the brink of disaster. But they brought about an end to the war and provided a framework for moving forward.
After the 2001 conflict, Trajkovski busied himself with bettering Macedonia’s position at home and abroad. Recognizing the suffering that his citizens continued to go through and understanding that the mutual respect of inter-ethnic relations had been severely strained by the 2001 conflict, Trajkovski set about to encourage friendship, cooperation, security and prosperity not only among his citizens, but among the neighboring countries as well. He understood well that in order to have peace, you must first have reconciliation and understanding which leads to cooperation.
He did this in a variety of ways. He reached out to the leaders of Albania and Croatia to promote membership in NATO for all three countries as a group. Although he promoted peace, President Trajkovski understood the importance of strength. This is why he was strongly committed to bringing his country into NATO and other security alliances, believing that by working together and pledging to work toward common shared values, small nations could contribute to the workings of security throughout the world. A strong evidence of this was President Trajkovski’s commitment to send a small contingent of Macedonian soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq to serve as peacekeepers in those troubled lands.
He also reached out to the leaders of those countries plus Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro to accelerate membership into the EU. He initiated numerous bi-lateral meetings with Presidents and other officials from the region to encourage mutual cooperation, arguing that the past is past and that all must look forward to the future. He worked hard to bridge gaps in understanding, bury historical differences, agree to future cooperation and work for the benefit of all citizens of the region.
Back at home, Trajkovski had an infectious energy for his fellow Macedonians. He actively worked to bring ethnic groups together through a variety of initiatives and worked with the members of the international community in Macedonia to make sure that their resources went into the right areas. He even reached out to suffering citizens and farmers during floods by ordering the military to assist.
He also worked hard to promote the free market economy and civil society in Macedonia recognizing that these were important aspects of a stable and secure society. In numerous venues one could hear him state the same phrase over and over: “My vision is to create a society based on democracy, the rule of law and the free market economy, ultimately creating a civil society based on trust.”
The world of technology fascinated him and he was a big proponent of the Internet and its uses. He was the creator of E-Macedonia For All, his initiative to get the country hooked up to and using the Internet and he himself was one of the first leaders in the Balkans to use e-mail. He also believed passionately in giving students the resources to learn about technology and the Internet and secured a donation of 2,000 computers for high school students. Called “Vision for the Future” his program is now being implemented in high schools throughout the country.
Boris Trajkovski never imagined that he would grow up to be President of Macedonia. His father, during his prison term at Kale in Skopje, was forced into hard labor and found himself working on a villa at the foot of Vodno, the mountain that overlooks Skopje. That villa, as his father would one day learn, was to be the home of his son, President Boris Trajkovski.
It seems that still today, a gentle and humble spirit can still be effective in the pursuit of reconciliation, peace and justice.