Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 22
22 November 1999

Boris Trajkovski S K O P J E:
A New Era:
Macedonia's New President

Zhidas Daskalovski

On Sunday 14 November, in the second round of the presidential election, Macedonians voted for Boris Trajkovski to succeed the 82-year-old, Kiro Gligorov.

In East European chronicles Gligorov will be remembered as the substantial figure that preserved the multiethnic character of Macedonia and avoided the disarray of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Gligorov's expected exit from politics after two presidential terms ends a personal influence that reached far beyond his actual constitutional powers.

After Sunday's electoral count, Boris Trajkovski from the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), was declared the winner with 592,118 votes over Tito Petkovski, the candidate of the Social Democrats gained the support with 514,735 votes. International monitors from the OSCE said on Monday that, although marred by some faults in the Northwest Macedonian electoral districts, the presidential elections were generally fair.

Trajkovski, 43, overtook first-round leader Petkovski with massive last-minute support from ethnic Albanians, who make up twenty three percent of the population of Macedonia.

Macedonian Albanians came to the support of Trajkovski, after the opposition candidate expressed strong views opposing independence for Kosovo. The ruling VMRO-DPMNE, on the other hand, had toned down their hostility to the demands of the country's ethnic Albanians especially since entering into a coalition with the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) in the fall of 1998.

Trajkovski's pro-European and anti-Communist stance has appealed to both ethnic Macedonian and Macedonian Albanian voters. He received a strong boost on Friday before the second round of the elections when the DPA, the largest Macedonian Albanian party, called on its supporters to back him. The leader of the DPA, Arben Dzhaferi, declared that the Social Democrat Petkovski was pro-Serbian and that his victory would herald a return to Communism.

What does the victory of the candidate of VMRO- DPMNE signify for the future politics in the region?

Trajkovski hit the headlines during the Kosovo crisis earlier this year, when he rightfully accused the Western Alliance of paying too little attention to Macedonia's pressing concern arising from the crisis - the influx of 300,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from the Serbian province. However, despite his criticism of Allied behaviour during the war, the new President is a young politician with a Western outlook and one who has built up relatively good contacts with Western diplomats and politicians. The election of Boris Trajkovski as new president will bolster Macedonia's drive for integration in Europe and further improve the country's relations with its neighbours.

Macedonian-Albanian relations are likely to become more stable, and communication with Bulgaria, and Greece will likely be strengthened. In the words of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova, "With this vote, Macedonian society rejected old stereotypes of ethnic intolerance and hatred of its neighbours... and made its final choice in favour of democratic European values."

The friendly axis of Albania-Macedonia- Bulgaria, complemented by Greek economic penetration of the Balkan region, leaves Serbia out in the cold. Petkovski's loss is perceived by Belgrade as another blow to Serb influence in the region.

Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic confirmed Serb disappointment with the results of the presidential elections by succinctly stating where Macedonian policy was headed: "If relations [between Macedonia and Yugoslavia] reflect the will of the citizens of both countries, they will develop. If they reflect the policies of the 'Bulgarian-Albanian' coalition they will not."

Macedonia's embrace of European integration and closer co-operation with Serbia's strategic opponents, Bulgaria and Albania, will further isolate Slobodan Milosevic. In the past, the supreme ruler of Serbia had the tacit support of Macedonia's previous government run by the Social Democrats, and President Gligorov on Serbia's strong rule in Kosovo. Thus, in the years before the Kosovo crisis erupted, Macedonia, fearing both Serbia's might and Macedonian Albanian extremism, did not raise too many objections over the way Milosevic handled Kosovo Albanian demands for greater autonomy.

Today, however, Macedonians have chosen a different course of action; NATO engagement in the region has made them more self-assured and open to co-operation. Once more losing in the southern front, the Serb regime will have less room for manoeuvre. Not matter how unrelated they seem to be, Macedonian elections have forced yet another nail in the political coffin of Slobodan Milosevic.

The question is: how many more are needed?

Zhidas Daskalovski, 16 November 1999

The author is a PhD candidate at the Political Science Department of Central European University.



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