Prague, 27 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski is lamenting Trajkovski's death as a "huge loss." Yet, in a television address last night, Crvenkovski said he is convinced Macedonia will remain a "strong and stable" country.
"This is a time when the nation's unity is a necessity. The eyes of the whole world are turned upon us. I am convinced that, even under such tragic circumstances, we will reaffirm our potential as a state, our democratic maturity and high [level of] social responsibility," Crvenkovski said.
Rescuers today recovered the bodies of all nine passengers on board Trajkovski's plane, which crashed at dawn yesterday near the southern Bosnian town of Stolac. The area was heavily mined during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
"Trajkovski managed to distance himself from political parties, keep himself above the political games, and impose [himself] to the citizens as a president working in the best interests of Macedonia."
Trajkovski, elected president in late 1999, led his country through some of the roughest periods since independence eight years earlier. He made his name as a peacemaker when in 2001 he pushed hard for a Western-brokered peace agreement to end an ethnic Albanian insurgency that had brought his country to the brink of civil war. Despite sporadic flares of ethnic tension, the Ohrid peace agreement has held firm over the past three years.
Trajkovski's death, analysts say, is unlikely to lead to an unraveling of the reconciliation process.
Ana Petruseva is a Skopje-based analyst with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, an international think tank. She told RFE/RL that political leaders seem well-aware Macedonia has no alternative if it is to survive as a multiethnic state. "That there could be a danger [of political destabilization], that's not excluded," she said. "But I think that, first of all, Europe would not allow such a thing to happen. And second, the government now in place, they have accepted the legacy of the Ohrid agreement. They have accepted that Macedonia's only chance to survive, its only alternative to partition, is multiethnicity. I think there are good chances they would continue on the path that Trajkovski set initially."
Government officials yesterday reassured Macedonians that there is no crisis and that all institutions are functioning normally. The speaker of parliament, Ljubco Jordanovski, will serve as acting president until elections are held, probably in March or April.
The poll, which had been due at the end of this year, will catch the country's political parties unprepared. Petruseva says few potential candidates have emerged yet, and those that have are mostly without political experience. But she added, "What is truly important, regardless of their political experience or their background, is that, once elected, or once [chosen as] candidates, they will continue Trajkovski's legacy, [that they] will work to maintain Macedonia's stability and keep Macedonia as it is."
After his election, Trajkovski -- in what would seem to be a rare case among Balkan leaders -- managed to gradually distance himself from his party, the right-wing nationalistic VMRO-DPMNE. The solid backing he received from ethnic Albanian voters helped build his image as a leader above the ethnic and political fray.
"Trajkovski managed to distance himself from political parties, keep himself above the political games, and impose [himself] to the citizens as a president working in the best interests of Macedonia," Petruseva said.
International leaders yesterday hailed Trajkovski as a promoter of regional cooperation and said his loss is a blow to the whole region. Petruseva says that in the ethnically tense western Balkans, a readiness to compromise is a rare political commodity.
"What is most important, Trajkovski was [a political leader] seen balancing between Macedonian nationalists and Albanians,” Petruseva said. “He was always the one to attempt to find a middle solution, a compromise, and I would assume that when people talk about a [possible] future destabilization, the fears are that losing him, there are not many people left who would do that kind of balancing and who would insist so much on compromise."
Trajkovski also was a strong advocate of European Union membership, and one of his last acts as president was to sign Macedonia's formal application to join the bloc. The application was to be submitted to the EU's Irish presidency yesterday in Dublin, but the ceremony was put off.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana arrived today in Skopje and pledged continued support. "You can be sure, the citizens of Macedonia can be sure, that the European Union will continue to be with you, will continue to be helping you, will continue to be accompanying you in this process that we have started a time ago. And that is the moment to show unity in the country, responsibility in the country, so that the journey that you had started, to go to Europe, will be a reality -- the sooner the better," Solana said.
The outpouring of international sympathy is unlikely to open a shortcut on Macedonia's path toward the EU, however. Some critics had warned that the country's EU application was premature. And now, following Trajkovski's death, all eyes will be turned on Macedonia to see whether it will continue along its chosen path.