Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who died Thursday in a plane crash in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is being mourned as a leader who did much to hold his mountainous Balkan country together and bridge the divide between Macedonians and minority ethnic Albanians. VOA's Barry Wood looks at his legacy and what effect his death may have on the once volatile nation.
Boris Trajkovski is credited with playing the central role three years ago in pushing through a NATO-brokered peace agreement that promised greater freedoms to the minority Albanians and ended ethnic bloodshed. Mr. Trajkovski, a lawyer who had studied theology in the United States, passionately believed that Macedonians and ethnic Albanians could live together in peace.
"It's worth saying also that he was elected as president in 1999, with the support of both the majority and the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia," said Nicholas White, the Balkans director at the International Crisis Group in Brussels. "And that, of course, gave him a platform that other politicians who had been chosen by just one community or the other did not have. Now, his successor will hope to have the same kind of legitimacy."
Mr. Trajkovski's presidential term would have expired at the end of this year. In Macedonia, the presidency has a more ceremonial role than executive power. Friends say that while Mr. Trajkovski had not decided to seek a second term, he was likely to have done so.
The ruling coalition of Macedonians and Albanians is said to be favoring a government candidate to stand in the presidential election that must be held within 40 days.
Ljubica Avcevska, a long time friend of President Trajkovski and Macedonia's former ambassador in Washington, is among the several observers who do not anticipate political instability in the aftermath of this tragedy. "We have to look towards the future, towards working together, so we can get into the European Union more quickly, so we can get into NATO more quickly," she said.
Mr. Trajkovski died on the day that his prime minister was formally presenting to the European Union Macedonia's membership application. The application is the first step in a process that could take years.
Nicholas White credits Mr. Trajkovski for many of the recent gains toward ethnic reconciliation, following a six-month insurgency three years ago by ethnic Albanian rebels seeking more rights.
"We now have, for instance, the [Albanian language] University of Tetovo being legalized after many years," said Mr. White. "This was a big issue - legalized actually by the actions of speaker of the parliament [Ljubco Jordanovski], who now takes over as interim president. We have now got the Albanian language being used as an official language in parliament, and on identity documents. You know, if Albanians living in Macedonia look around and ask themselves, is this our country? It certainly looks more like their country than it did three years ago."
President Trajkovski leaves behind a wife and two children.