Boris Trajkovski, Reconciliation, and the Region
February 26, 2019 marks 15 years since Boris Trajkovski, President of the Republic of Macedonia, died in a tragic accident over the mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with eight of his friends and colleagues, all who left behind grieving family, friends, and a nation in shock. While the memory of the man and his mission may have faded a bit with time, a 15-year anniversary of the death of a leader, especially in such tragic circumstances, usually brings up old memories, events that celebrate and commemorate, and words from those who knew him — or purported to know him.
I write this as someone who knew Boris Trajkovski as a friend, and as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ. I also knew him as President of the Republic of Macedonia even though he was not my president. Due to various circumstances, I was fortunate to get to know him when he was the international secretary for his political party, VMRO-DPMNE, and grew to have a deeper friendship with him during his time as deputy foreign minister, through the Kosovo crisis, and then as president. I think part of the reason we became friends was, first, because of our mutual love of Jesus, and second, because of our love of Macedonia. His love for Macedonia, of course, was far greater than mine — he was, after all, a proud Macedonian from Strumica and I was, and remain to a degree, a foreigner, an American of Hungarian ethnicity but one whose love for Macedonia and the Macedonians grows each day.
In the summer of 2003 I moved back to Arizona after living and working in Macedonia for seven years, but I found myself back in Macedonia in the month before his passing working on a project. I very much remember Wednesday, February 25, the day before he left us for a better place as I spent time with him in the morning at his office, and then later in the afternoon, at his residence on Vodno. The events of Thursday, February 26 are seared into my consciousness as are the days leading up to and through his funeral. Shortly after that, Vilma Trajkovska, his widow, asked me to help create the Boris Trajkovski International Foundation. The next approximately twelve months of my life were spent doing just that along with Vilma and her brother Robert, and Zoran Jolevski, Boris’ friend and former chief of cabinet. During that time we launched the foundation in a professional capacity, engaged in a number of activities to honor and remember him, and, at the end of the year on what would have been the fifth anniversary of his inauguration as Macedonia’s second president, officially promoted a monograph of his time as president, a beautiful photo-essay book in Macedonian and English. I wrote the 11,000-word text, but we all worked together to sift through literally thousands of photographs which complement the book.
In 2004 I also wrote an 82,000 word biography of Boris which remains unpublished to this day. It has many facts, figures, and stories which are long forgotten but would, in my opinion, contribute to a greater understanding of Boris, of Macedonia, and of the region and events during his time in office, and especially the events of both 1999 and 2001. I do hope to get that published this year, perhaps on what would have been the 20th anniversary of his inauguration as Macedonia’s second president. In many cases, it would certainly set the record straight which has been distorted through the years, through the simple ravages of time and forgetfulness….or deliberately.
On this 15th anniversary of his passing, however, I want to address just one subject which has been on the minds and lips of many in the region these past few months: peace and reconciliation.
As events have unfolded between Macedonia and Greece, the professional elites have all talked about how “peace and reconciliation” have now come to Macedonia and Greece and that the process whereby this was achieved is now the model for the future and for the region. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth for reasons I have written about and will continue to write about. If Boris was with us today, I know he would say the same thing. And here’s why: Boris believed, and knew, that true peace and reconciliation can only occur if those involved in a dispute or conflict first, admit that wrongs have been perpetrated, then admit there is a need for reconciliation and want it, then confess those wrongs, and then be offered, and accept, the forgiveness offered.
True reconciliation and lasting, true, peace can only be brought about if that process happens. Do you think lasting peace and true reconciliation was achieved after 2001, after the so-called Ohrid Framework Agreement was negotiated and signed and when those professional elites said that this was now the end of conflict in Macedonia between Macedonians and the minority Macedonian-Albanians? Of course not. I would argue that some of the problems in Macedonia today are a direct result of that agreement — and getting worse. And as I write these words, I am fully aware that President Trajkovski initiated the Agreement, pushed it, signed it, and then lobbied for its ratification by parliament. To that issue I can only say he was an imperfect man working with the tools at his disposal and the knowledge he had at the time and was under a great deal of pressure. And he knew and publicly admitted that the agreement had major faults.
But I can also tell you the following precisely because he was my friend and because we both wrestled with and discussed these issues: he knew that the government and the institutions of government were extremely limited in what they could do in an attempt to achieve peace and reconciliation. He also knew that, ultimately, true peace and reconciliation can only be achieved by individuals and on an individual-to-individual basis and that such peace and reconciliation had a better chance of succeeding and lasting if those individuals shared a belief in and love for God.
Were he alive today Boris would likely be talking about the existential problems facing the West today and would probably repeat what a Russian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, said in the last century: “Men have forgotten God.” And not just forgotten God but outright rejected God and set themselves up as gods with Mankind to be worshiped in His place as they pursue total radical and personal autonomy and the perfectibility of mankind.
Shortly before he died, Boris was asked to write a brief passage for a faith publication to be included as one of their daily devotionals. I close this column by leaving you with what he wrote for them. And you don’t have to be a Believer to grasp that what he writes is good, and true:
Peace Through Righteousness
It is appropriate in our world today, and especially in the field of politics — a field I know something about — to talk about peace and how we must all work for peace. And peace is a fine thing to strive for. But too often, we find that when leaders and politicians talk about striving for peace, they mean the absence of war. But peace is much more than the absence of war. Peace can also be harmony and tranquility among ourselves and our neighbors as well as freedom from civil discord between nations, not just freedom from war.
In James 3:17–18, we read “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise of harvest of righteousness.” Likewise, the Psalmist writes in Psalm 85:10, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
I believe that both writers are telling us that the fruits of our genuine faith in Jesus Christ are righteousness and peace. And you can’t have peace, without first having righteousness. If we are truly interested in achieving peace in this world — and here I mean not only the absence of war but also the harmony, tranquility and freedom from discord among nations — then we must pursue righteousness first. My prayer is that our hearts, minds and motives be pure and focused on Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Then and only then will we be able to pursue peace. Then and only then will peace kiss righteousness.