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The Funeral, in Words and Pictures

March 7, 2004

Note: Unfortunately, the photos that originally accompanied this article have been lost.

By Christopher Deliso

At 2:57 PM on a cold Friday afternoon in Skopje’s Butel Cemetery, Macedonia’s second president, Boris Trajkovski, was buried in the ‘Arbored Walk of the Greats,’ with full military honors. Hundreds of people, from family and friends to religious figures and diplomats, observed in silence as Trajkovski was interred

The funeral procession began at the Parliament, where the president’s flag-covered casket was loaded onto a gun carriage and followed by columns of mourners, led by Trajkovski’s family and Macedonia’s political leadership. Thousands of citizens thronged the streets as the procession continued across the River Vardar, past the Supreme Court and to the crossroads leading to Bit Pazar, before continuing the 8 kilometers to Butel by car.

Ordinary citizens waited in the cold until the ceremony finished so that they could pay their last respects before the president’s grave, strewn with flowers.

The ceremony attracted 60 official delegations came from as far away as China, Yemen and Iran. All of the neighboring Balkan countries were represented, as well as most European countries. Everyone from the presidents of Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Switzerland to the Prince of Lichtenstein came. Croatian president Stipe Mesic, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov were the most prominent Balkan representatives.

The European Union was represented by Commissioner Romano Prodi and foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Former NATO Secretary General, the famous Lord Robinson showed up, as did his successor, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The American delegation, however, was a relatively low-level affair, led not by Colin Powell but by Secretary for Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi.

Speaking at the funeral were Nikola Gruevski, president of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party that nominated Trajkovski for president in 1999, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democrats party, EU Commissioner Prodi, and Heinrich Boleter, Methodist Bishop for Southeast Europe.

Speaking first, Gruevski questioned why it took such a tragedy to bring the feuding parties and ethnicities together. Although his party had grown estranged from Trajkovski, he had only kind words to say on Friday. Speaking of the “enormous effort” Trajkovski had made to help Macedonia, Gruevski attested,

“…he used all of his personal friends worldwide in order to help Macedonia, and he did that without any hidden intentions. He was one of the most honest politicians I have ever met.”

Speaking on behalf of the international community, Chairman of the European Commission Romano Prodi recalled his last meeting with Trajkovski, at Thessaloniki’s EC summit last June. Prodi described the importance of the summit thus:

“…It was an important day for the Balkans. It was an important day for Europe. It was the day we decided together that the European Union’s enlargement would not be complete until all the countries of this region were full members of the Union.

I remember thanking Boris for all the enthusiasm and commitment he had shown in bringing the whole region – not just his own country – along the road to European integration,” said Prodi. “His reply was a smile and an even warmer embrace. That is the image of Boris Trajkovski that will always stay with me. His passion, his commitment, his love for Europe and for his region.”

The soft-spoken Prodi stressed the president’s vision for European integration, declaring that “…Europe was the guiding star on Boris’ journey. The values of tolerance and respect, on which our [European] Union is founded, were an inspiration to him in the very difficult times this country and all its people have seen.”

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski made perhaps the best speech of the day, speaking personally to Trajkovski and saying, “…ten days ago you sent me to Ireland… and now destiny decided for me to send you today to an unforgettable place in the history of our nation and our state.”

Referring to his sometimes difficult relationship with Trajkovski, Crvenkovski said, “this damaged profession of politics made us sometimes enemies and sometimes cooperators.” He cited the most turbulent period of the president’s rule, the war of 2001, when he was criticized often for capitulating to Albanian demands. Said Crvenkovski:

“…you were accused of being a traitor, yet you did the most patriotic act. You were accused of being a coward, yet you did the most courageous deed. It was you more than anybody else who stopped the war and brought us back peace.”

Crvenkovski finished his speech by saying, “rest in peace, big man.”

Bishop Boleter, who was flown in from Switzerland for the ceremony, delivered a eulogy that reflected the president’s religious orientation, attempting to put it in the context of Christian sacrifice and service:

“…sharing his life and work with us, the President devotedly served this nation for the good of all people. He carried out his leading role as a man with Christian values and Christian religion, as a brave and patient builder of bridges in these times of misunderstandings and conflicts in this Balkan region… Macedonia has lost a man of peace and reconciliation.”

The highest representatives of Macedonia’s Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Orthodox religious groups were all present at the funeral.

As the ceremony ended, the members of Trajkovski’s personal security detail (who lost two of their own in the plane crash) carried the casket into the grave, and gave the Macedonian national flag to Trajkovski’s widow. After his brothers, father and children painfully their last respects, the assembled mourners gradually dispersed. Afterwards, huge crowds of ordinary citizens entered the cemetery, many brought by specially-arranged buses from the city center, so they could pay their respects too.

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