Boris Trajkovski Biography

Born June 25, 1956, in Strumica, Yugoslavia; died in a plane crash, February 26, 2004, near Stolac, Bosnia-Herzegovina. President of Macedonia. In two great moments of crisis, Boris Trajkovski, president of the small Balkan nation of Macedonia, defined his career and his country's future. When hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fled the Kosovo war and overwhelmed Macedonia in 1999, Trajkovski, then deputy foreign minister, insisted that the refugees be allowed to stay. Two years later, as president, Trajkovski made peace with ethnic Albanian guerillas fighting government forces, avoiding a full-fledged war. In 2004, he died in a plane crash, and all sides in his divided country mourned.

Trajkovski was born in Strumica, Macedonia, in 1956, when it was part of Communist-era Yugoslavia. He graduated from Skopje University in 1980 with a law degree and also studied in the United States. He worked in commercial and employment law. In 1992, not long after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia, Trajkovski joined a traditionally nationalist political party, the Macedonian Internal Revolutionary Organization, and became a part-time adviser to its leader on foreign policy.

Ethnic divisions in Macedonia define much of its politics. An Orthodox Christian majority dominates the country (and Trajkovski's political party), but an ethnic Albanian, Muslim minority makes up about 25 percent of the population, and there are smaller minority groups. Trajkovski, a member of Macedonia's small Methodist Church, was never a strong nationalist and was a moderate within his party—all of which help explain his public stances, his political appeal, and his success.

After Trajkovski's party won the 1998 elections (in coalition with an ethnic Albanian party), Trajkovski was named deputy foreign minister. Soon the war in the nearby Yugoslav province of Kosovo made Trajkovski prominent outside his country. In early 1999, ethnic Albanian civilians began fleeing brutal treatment by Yugoslav government forces in Kosovo. The nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began bombing Yugoslavia in hopes of stopping the crackdown, but the bombings prompted even more Albanians to flee. Hundreds of thousands went to Macedonia.

Unprepared, the Macedonian government asked other nations to fly the refugees elsewhere. Hard-liners in the Orthodox majority, afraid the refugees would change the country's ethnic balance, wanted them removed or refused entry. But Trajkovski insisted that Macedonia should allow the refugees in. NATO troops and refugee agencies built camps in Macedonia for the refugees to stay in until the war ended. Trajkovski's talent for conciliatory politics also helped calm Macedonians who worried that allowing NATO troops into the country might bring military retaliation from Yugoslavia.

Grateful ethnic Albanians in Macedonia rewarded Trajkovski by supporting his campaign for president in late 1999. He was considered a long shot, but his Methodist faith and stance on the refugee issue made him an attractive middle ground in the eternal tension between Orthodox ethnic Macedonians and Muslim ethnic Albanians. He won 52 percent of the vote and was sworn in as president in December of 1999 at age 43. Since the prime minister holds a lot of power in Macedonia, and the president has limited powers, Trajkovski was not expected to make too many vital decisions. He seemed more valuable to his party as a modern, pro-Western diplomat.

But in 2001, when Macedonia faced its greatest crisis since its independence, Trajkovski "almost single-handedly prevented the tiny Balkan nation [from] veering into a full-blown civil war," the Times of London noted after he died. Hard-liners in Trajkovski's party pressured him to pre-emptively attack ethnic Albanian guerrillas who were planning a revolt. The guerrillas wanted Albanian to become an official language of Macedonia and wanted more ethnic Albanians allowed into Macedonia's army, police, and educational system. Trajkovski denounced the guerrillas as terrorists, and Macedonian forces attacked them. The guerrillas responded by starting their uprising and laying siege to Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city. In June, they took over Aracinovo, a suburb of the capital, Skopje. About 250 people were killed in the fighting.

To keep the country united, Trajkovski had formed a government coalition of national unity that included his party, its main opposition, and two ethnic Albanian parties in May. In June, Trajkovski proposed a peace plan that gave the Albanians some of the rights they demanded. With NATO and the European Union pressuring the government, both sides signed a deal in August of 2003 that called for the guerrillas to give up their arms, gave ethnic Albanians more rights in schools, and allowed Albanian lawmakers to speak Albanian in parliament.

The deal was risky for Trajkovski. After American peacekeeping troops escorted guerrillas out of Aracinovo, angry, armed Orthodox hard-liners took over part of the presidential palace. But Trajkovski deployed his diplomatic skills and calm to great effect. He got the hard-liners to back down by making a "typically conciliatory speech to the nation," as the Times of London described it. "There was little doubt in the minds of Western observers that Trajkovski, by his courage and force of character, had prevented a fifth Balkan war that might have dragged in Bulgaria and Albania and possibly even Greece and Turkey."

Diplomacy and conciliation remained themes during the rest of Trajkovski's time in office. After his party lost parliamentary elections in 2002, he managed to get along well with Branco Crvenkovski, the new prime minister from the winning Social Democratic party. He also worked hard to integrate Macedonia with the rest of Europe. One of his last acts as president was signing his country's formal application for membership in the European Union.

Trajkovski was flying to an international investment conference in Mostar, Bosnia, on February 26, 2004, when his small plane crashed in a fog in a mountainous area still filled with mines from the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Trajkovski and the eight others in the plane died in the crash. Explosives experts had to clear a path to the wreck. When his funeral was held in Skopje in early March, officials from more than 60 countries attended, and tens of thousands of Macedonians lined the streets. Crvenkovski, the prime minister, was elected to replace Trajkovski as president that April. Trajkovski is survived by his wife, son, and daughter; he was 47.


Financial Times, April 15, 2004, p. 10.

Independent (London), Feb. 27, 2004, p. 42.

New York Times, Feb. 27, 2004, p. A4; Feb. 28, 2004, p. A4; March 6, 2004, p. A4.

Times (London), Feb. 28, 2004, p. 48.

Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2004, p. A18.

—Erick Trickey

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