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Interview with Boris Trajanov (Part 1)

August 19, 2004

One of Macedonia’s most illustrious international representatives is renowned opera singer Boris Trajanov, who has attained fame throughout the world, playing to opera houses in France, Italy, Germany, America and more. (A detailed professional biography follows the interview text).

In this exclusive interview conducted by Balkanalysis.com Director Christopher Deliso, conducted last month in the aftermath of the decentralization protests in Struga and Skopje, Trajanov shares with his vision for the future of Macedonia and suggestions for how to go about realizing it.

In clear and concise language, emphasizing fairness but pulling no punches regarding what he sees as a failure of political nerve, one of Macedonia’s living legends suggests that what Macedonia needs to break its current political and social impasse is for intellectuals and cultural figures to voice alternative methods to those forwarded by the politicians, and for the people to hold the latter accountable for their failings, in the hopes of creating a truly multi-ethnic and forward-thinking society in Macedonia.

Part two will be appear on Saturday.

Christopher Deliso: Boris, it’s really great to be speaking with you today, after the citizen’s association grand opening meeting. It’s funny, you would seem somewhat of an unusual figure- as a respected opera singer – to be interested in politics.

Boris Trajanov: Actually, I’m not interested or involved in any political party. This association doesn’t have political ambitions, but just wants to bring into Macedonia a European way of thinking- and that’s way I am here. Simply, this is the time for making decisions which will influence Macedonia’s destiny.

CD: Let’s speak about Struga. Why do you oppose the territorial changes the government has proposed?

BT: The people in Struga already live well- they have the lake, tourism, and a peaceful life. Also, in these four villages [near Struga] they are building so many new houses, you know what that means, so even without Struga they live fine! So why start experimenting, when that experiment could cause problems? I don’t understand why the government wants to make this…

And also, some people want to make the [disagreement] into something it’s not, some sign of ethnic hatred. But in Struga, they [the Macedonian protestors] said, “okay, we will stop with our protests for the next three days,” because there happened to be a traditional Albanian festival during that time – that was beautiful!

CD: So what can the government do now? There is too much pressure on them from internal and external sources… I don’t see how they could go back.

BT: I don’t believe everyone is so good and so perfect as to never make a mistake. And here I’m not speaking specifically about SDSM and DUI, but for all parties. When VMRO and DPA were in power it was the same dynamic.

But now, I don’t think what has been was done in a democratic way. That is why there are so many amendments to the draft legislation, and why there have been so many local referendums and protests. The people were not adequately consulted about their own future.

It’s very important to know, especially for the outside world to see, that nobody is against decentralization- they’re just critical of the way it is being done. And I think it’s important that when you make mistakes to admit it and to say, “okay, we made a mistake, what can we do better?” Great-hearted people are able to do that, to admit they make a mistake and start over.

CD: It’s hard to imagine any politician ever doing that.

BT: Come on, in my life I’ve made a thousand mistakes. One example, ten years ago I was in Italy, and shopping in a music store with my new credit card. I was very excited to buy some new vocal score. But when I went to pay, the cashier saw there was no signature on the card and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t pay with this card.” I was so offended! I even said, “What, do you think I am a criminal or something?” and stormed out.

But I was wrong to have done that. It was 7 PM, the end of the day. Coming into my hotel, I realized that the poor cashier was actually trying to protect me- a criminal really could have stolen my card, after all.

He was just doing his job as he had been trained, and he had been fair with me. I could not wait. I went back all the way to the music store, and went up to him, even though they were just about to close. I said, “thank you for trying to protect me, it was my mistake, I’m sorry.” He was shocked- that someone could come only for that. But it’s important when you make a mistake to own up to it.

CD:So what about the decentralization? If they were to admit they did it incorrectly, how else could they do it?

BT:You know, I’m always on the side of the underdog. In Macedonia we have so many nations- [note: at that moment, a beggar boy selling gum serendipitously enters the cafe and approaches our table. Trajanov, after saying no twice, dips into his pocket and shells out twenty denars- also making the boy keep the gum to have it to sell to someone else].

Look, you see, nobody cares about poor people, or the Romas, or the Turks, etc. But you know what? 73% of population is against these territorial proposals of the government. Even in parliament, some of their representatives speak out against them. So if they really want to make things fair, instead in Macedonian and Albanian, why not in Skopje have the official documents written in all the languages we have? In that way we will not have a binational, but a multinational democracy.

CD:Something like the EU.

BT:Yeah, or like in Switzerland, where they have rights for many languages, even if there are not so many speakers of a certain language. You have to make it fair, and you have to make everyone feel comfortable. It should not be like these current “battles” for Struga, Kicevo, etc., where they are always obsessed with changing geography (like in Skopje) to come up with this 20 percent [of Albanian residents]. If you want to make a real country, you have to make all the citizens feel welcome!

Now what we have here is looking something like the Austro-Hungarian empire, wherein the two biggest groups were dividing up things between themselves,   but the Slovenians, Croatians, Czechs etc, were unhappy. And we know how that empire ended! So if the government wants to respect human rights and fairness they should be consistent. And always make things in the same way. If you want to have a community, make it for everybody!

CD:Imagine what Macedonia could be like if politicians were thinking more like you.

BT: Look, I have no ambition to be a politician. I make a much better livelihood singing (until now) in more than 60 opera houses in Europe and abroad. But I cannot understand such arrogance as this government has shown. Though it’s not just them. These past 15 years they have all been like that. I’m always saying that I’m not involved in the party machine, because I like all people in this country. Another example: nobody speaks about the Torbeshi problem-

CD:You’re speaking here of ethnic Macedonians who follow the Islamic religion?

BT: Yes, they converted in the past when we had 500 years under Turkish rule. It’s such a pity that we don’t care enough for them. They are Macedonians, with different religion but all we have the same god! ‘Allah’ for the Muslims, ‘Gospod,’ for the Orthodox, ‘Yahweh’ for the Jews is the name for the same Energy- He who is. The atheists consider nature as the fundamental source of life but that is only the other name for the god.

Religion must bring all the nations together- not divide them. Religion gives you life, love, togetherness… So, the Macedonians with Islamic religion could be the link with Albanian communities, but nobody listens to them.

CD: So, at this moment, what can Macedonia’s leaders do?

BT: Nowadays, with the situation the country is in, it’s most important that we have only a few problems, not a lot. So why can’t DUI, if they are really so interested in the stability and unity of the country say to coalition partner SDSM, “we see you have a problem. So we will leave Struga the same?” Here everyone is used to thinking that since the majority is Macedonian, they must always be very careful not to offend Albanian minority wishes. But it can’t be just taking [on the latter’s part]. Everyone must help everyone.

BT: You know, I’m always on the side of the underdog. In Macedonia we have so many nations- [note: at that moment, a beggar boy selling gum serendipitously enters the cafe and approaches our table. Trajanov, after saying no twice, dips into his pocket and shells out twenty denars- also making the boy keep the gum to have it to sell to someone else].

Look, you see, nobody cares about poor people, or the Romas, or the Turks, etc. But you know what? 73% of population is against these territorial proposals of the government. Even in parliament, some of their representatives speak out against them. So if they really want to make things fair, instead in Macedonian and Albanian, why not in Skopje have the official documents written in all the languages we have? In that way we will not have a binational, but a multinational democracy.

CD: Something like the EU.

BT: Yeah, or like in Switzerland, where they have rights for many languages, even if there are not so many speakers of a certain language. You have to make it fair, and you have to make everyone feel comfortable.

It should not be like these current “battles” for Struga, Kicevo, etc., where they are always obsessed with changing geographic (like in Skopje) to come up with this 20 percent [of Albanian residents]. If you want to make a real country, you have to make all the citizens feel welcome! Now what we have here is looking something like the Austro-Hungarian empire, wherein the two biggest groups were dividing up things between themselves,   but the Slovenians, Croatians, Czechs etc were unhappy. And we know how that Empire ended!

So if the government wants to respect human rights and fairness they should be consistent. And always make things in the same way. If you want to have a community, make it for everybody!

CD: Imagine what Macedonia could be like if politicians were thinking more like you.

BT: Look, I have no ambition to be a politician. I make a much better livelihood singing (until now) in more than 60 opera houses in Europe and abroad. But I cannot understand such arrogance as this government has shown. Though it’s not just them. These past 15 years they have all been like that.

I’m always saying that I’m not involved in the party machine, because I like all people in this country. Another example: nobody speaks about the Torbeshi problem-

CD: You’re speaking here of ethnic Macedonians who follow the Islamic religion?

BT: Yes, they converted in the past when we had 500 years under Turkish rule. It’s such a pity that we don’t care enough for them. They are Macedonians, with different religion but all we have the same god! ‘Allah’ for the Muslims, ‘Gospod,’ for the Orthodox, ‘Yahweh’ for the Jews is the name for the same Energy- He who is. The atheists consider nature as the fundamental source of life but that is only the other name for the god. Religion must bring all the nations together- not divide them. Religion gives you life, love, togetherness… So, the Macedonians with Islamic religion could be the link with Albanian communities, but nobody listens to them.

CD: So, at this moment, what can Macedonia’s leaders do?

BT: Nowadays, with the situation the country is in, it’s most important that we have only a few problems, not a lot. So why can’t DUI, if they are really so interested in the stability and unity of the country say to coalition partner SDSM, “we see you have a problem. So we will leave Struga the same?” Here everyone is used to thinking that since the majority is Macedonian, they must always be very careful not to offend Albanian minority wishes. But it can’t be just taking [on the latter’s part]. Everyone must help everyone.

CD: But, to take the cynical view, the politicians have deals to fulfill and promises to keep, stemming from the Ohrid Accord, no?

BT: The problem is just that – when you see that the politicians are making deals between themselves, with no regard for the good of the people. This is very unfair. We have to think about what is right and wrong.

CD: Yes, I agree- but what about the Ohrid Agreement? Doesn’t it mandate some of these changes?

BT: The persons who were involved in writing the Ohrid Agreement say that it mentioned nothing about Struga this, or Kicevo that… the only thing that was mentioned was that, if necessary, changes could be made in some municipalities not functioning very well, so that they would function better. The irritating thing is that the reforms are not starting in municipalities which already exist; with the new law, it becomes merely an instrument for changing the borders… But you can’t work with double standards, with the “people are silly, we know better than them” logic. So why they have not respected the most democratic way to express the will of the citizen: the referendum?

CD: I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but even if there is a referendum, local or national, and the people say no to the government’s orders, there will be a counter-referendum from the other side, as Ahmeti promised. So there will be two sides forever, and nothing will be done.

BT: Yes, maybe that will happen, but at least that is democracy.From the other side the intimidation of Ali Ahmeti about the referendum for decentralizations are empty because maybe he can find 150,000 signatures for referendum, but without people from other nationalities he can’t win. And in this case when everybody is against the law for decentralization, their referendum couldn’t have a chance.

The politicians must understand that they must play fair. They scared us into thinking that the reforms will be late by a few months. Yet compared with thousand years of history, what is one month? It is better to lose two or three months to find the right solution than to be spending 20-30 years suffering from the bad results.

I can’t understand the arrogance of politicians who don’t want to hear the expert’s opinion as is, for example, Ms. Siljanovska about decentralization! But, unfortunately, there are not so many people like Zoran Jolevski. I can tell you one story about him. Zoran Jolevski was chief of late President Boris Trajkovski’s cabinet. He has a double doctorate in economy and law. But, he is clever enough to know that for the things which are not in his competence, he should ask for advice from the people who are good in those things.

One day he called me. “Mr. Romano Prodi is coming, and we want to make some nice cultural event, can you sing?” he asked. “No problem,” I said. “But can you help organize it too?” he asked. I told him, “okay, first you must find the place and figure out the logistics: who will sit where, where the musical equipment will go, etc.”

So we started preparing and Zoran’s people had selected a piano, but a small one. I said, “No, no, no, we need a big Steinway.” And so they did. In the end Prodi was very happy. He said it was the best part of his trip.

CD: When was this?

BT: Uh… in March 2003.

CD: So what can the ‘experts’ do to make their voices heard, if the politicians don’t tend to be consulting them?

BT:First, the intellectuals must be much braver than they are now. Absolutely. They’re afraid of the politicians to take the first steps. I asked some of them to take a stand and say the politicians are not doing things right. But they were afraid. That’s not right.

Boris Trajanov- Biography

The Macedonian baritone Boris Trajanov studied singing with his father Goga Trajanov, Biserka Cvejic and Pier Miranda Ferraro. He is a winner of several international singing awards.

From his debut onstage with the Macedonian National Opera in 1986, Boris has sung 35 principal roles in more than 60 opera companies around the world, in cities like Vienna, Moscow, Rome, Bologna, Parma, Palermo, Trieste, Florence, Bergamo, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dьsseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart, Bonn, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Luxembourg, Basle, Oslo, Sгo Paolo, Cape Town and the Pacific Opera (U.S.A.).

From 1986 until September 1991, Boris sung mostly in opera houses in the former Yugoslavia, where he became one of the best baritones. His international career started in Germany, where he gave more than 300 performances. From 1995 on, Boris sang in many European opera houses – especially in Italy, which is for any opera singer the most important goal of his career.

Boris Trajanov has sung in more than 600 performances with Wolfgang Sawallisch, Daniel Oren, Tiziano Severini, Maurizio Arena, Marcello Vioti, Michel Plasson, Eugene Kohn, Daniella Dessi, Helen Donath, Katia Ricciarelli, Raina Kabaivanska, Bruna Baglioni, Peter Seifert, Luis Lima, Lando Bartolini, Alberto Cupido, Nicola Martinucci, and more.

In 1995, with Katleen Cassello and Rundfunkorchester des Sьdwest, Boris recorded a CD of Operatic arias and duets for Mons Records. His performances were broadcast on Cultura+ (Brazil), BBC3, RAI, Sьdwest Rudfunk (Germany), Croatian TV Broadcast, Macedonian TV, etc.

Boris Trajanov’s repertoire consists of 35 principal baritone roles in Otello, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Aida, Attila, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera, Don Carlo, La Forza del destino, I Vespri siciliani, Lucia di Lammermoor, Maria Stuarda, Carmen, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Andrea Chenier, Fedora, Cavalleria Rusticana, Le Roi Artus, Pique Dame/ Prince Yeletzky, Cosi fan tutte/Guglielmo, Die Rheingold/ Donner, etc.

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