Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Macedonia Saddened, But Not Fearful
There were stony faces, tears and silence in the capital on Wednesday, as thousands of people lined the streets to await the arrival of the remains of Macedonia's late president, Boris Trajkovski. He was killed with eight other members of his staff when his plane crashed early on February 26 in Bosnia.
United in grief, people from all over the country lined up quietly in front of parliament on Thursday, where Trajkovski's coffin is lying in state, to pay tribute to the late head of state who was hailed as a peacemaker who averted civil war in 2001.
The area in front of parliament was carpeted in flowers, pictures of the president, sad messages of condolences and burning candles.
Trajkovski, a 47 year old lawyer and Methodist preacher, was widely respected for promoting tolerance and dialogue in a volatile region torn by ethnic violence. He institutionalised dialogue and built a framework that would outlive him, leaving Macedonia grieving for the past but not frightened about its future.
Trajkovski, Macedonia's second president since its independence in 1991, was the architect of the Ohrid peace deal that ended ethnic fighting in 2001 by granting greater rights to the country's large Albanian minority. But his demise is not seen as a threat to the agreement, or to the political stability it has helped underpin.
"We lost a great man," said a government source who asked to remain anonymous. "But the institutions are functioning and will continue to do so, and implementation of the Ohrid peace deal remains our highest priority."
Political analysts do not foresee a shift in policy, either.
Denko Maleski, a former foreign minister who is now a law professor, told IWPR that instability was unlikely because there was no longer any feasible option to the present policy course, "The peace deal… is our only alternative, and all political actors have accepted that it is the only path Macedonia can take."
For Iso Rusi, editor-in-chief of the Albanian-language weekly Lobi, the main achievement is that political stability has rooted itself in the system rather than in personalities.
"I don't see any danger of destabilisation," he said. "The reality that the peace deal was the only way to hold this country together is already widely accepted, and I don't see that changing. It is a legacy, a system whose survival does not rely on one politician".
Since 2001, Macedonia's parliament has adopted the constitutional changes and most of the laws envisaged by the Ohrid agreement. Large numbers of ethnic Albanians are joining the police and administration, while the Albanian university in Tetovo has been legalised after a decade of controversy.
The former rebels turned into politicians, and as the Democratic Union for Integration won the majority of Albanian votes in the September 2002 parliamentary election, and formed the present governing coalition with the Social Democratic Union as senior partner.
Abroad, Trajkovski was a strong advocate for Macedonia's integration into the European Union and NATO. In the Balkans, he encouraged regional cooperation and partnerships, often initiating meetings and bringing heads of states together to work for political and economic stability.
Analysts say that at home, Trajkovski - despite the pivotal role he played in the 2001 crisis - had begun to be marginalised in recent years, especially after the Social Democrats came to power.
He was in the final year of his presidential term, with an election set for October this year. It was thought unlikely that he would seek a second term, as he had lost support from his party, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, which was angered by the stance he took in 2001.
Macedonia now faces an early presidential election within a deadline of 40 days. Government sources told IWPR that the election law would have to be amended in order to meet the deadline.
Local media started speculating with possible candidates. Sources from the major parties - the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE - told IWPR that discussions would begin only after the funeral.
"Every election can be slightly destabilising, especially in a delicate situation like this when nobody is actually prepared for elections," said Maleski. "But it all depends on how the parties behave during the election."
Maleski believes that since the election has been prompted by the death of Trajkovski - a man praised for his moderate policies, "the political parties will adhere to a moderate line and not stir up tensions".
Flags remained at half-mast while the government prepared for the funeral, scheduled for Friday, and awaited the arrival of a dozen presidents and about 50 high-level government delegations. The authorities announced that Friday would be a day off, as some 200,000 people are expected to attend the funeral.
"Trajkovski was a great president, a true leader and he treated all [ethnic groups] equally," said Akif Feratovski, an ethnic Albanian farmer who travelled from the town of Veles to attend the funeral. "Sadly, we will never have another president like him."
Ana Petruseva is IWPR's project manager in Skopje.
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