AIM: start

THU, 27 DEC 2001 00:36:06 GMT

Prime Choice Ally

The unraveling of the current political and security crisis in Macedonia has resulted in a logical dilemma: why has President Trajkovski overnight been promoted from a merely ceremonial figure to that of one actually presiding over the crisis? Is this to be understood as an overture to the installment of a presidential system of government as opposed to the parliamentary one now in existence?

AIM Skopje, December 20, 2001

When - around midnight and at about this very time two years ago - the newly elected president Boris Trajkovski solemnly swore before the TV cameras that he intended to protect the interests of all Macedonian citizens alike, at least a half of the electorate felt like someone was playing a practical joke on them. Not without good cause: for one, up to then, Trajkovski was known as a much to much docile aparatchik of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party for anyone to believe that he might have turned into a veritable political figure of any consequence overnight; secondly, according to many, his victory had been muscled by means of a not too convincing support of the ethnic Albanian electorate; and, last but not least, the international community put its bet on him only because, in the run-up with the Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM) candidate Tito Petkovski, a diehard communist, Trajkovski seemed a lesser of the two evils

The very same Social Democratic Alliance whose candidate Petkovski then suffered defeat at the elections seemed to be vexed by Trajkovski’s victory more than anyone else. Trajkovski was referred to by the SDSM as "ever-obedient citizen Boris", a "man with no biography" and "the persona behind the statement" (an allusion to a recommendation he passed on to the western press at the peak of the Kosovo crisis, advising the ever-so-altruistic international community to send planes and provide for the deluge of refugees from Kosovo itself ). As it turned out, the leader of SDSM has come to regret dearly all the insults once addressed to Trajkovski. Not that others thought better of "Borce" (an ironic nickname for the new president) at the time: everyone was convinced he was merely a ceremonial figure, ever ready to follow the instructions of his powerful party boss Ljubco Georgievski.

Trajkovski was supposed to be the very opposite of his predecessor, the old sage Kiro Gligorov, for a long time revered both at home and abroad as the founding father of the Macedonian nation and the utmost authority to be consulted on just about everything. And consulted he was! At the time, the international community did not concern itself too much with the letter of the Constitution and hardly anyone in Brussels knew who the president or the chief of diplomacy in Skopje might be - that was of no consequence anyway. Gligorov was there. Only towards the end of his mandate did the pert juniors who might have well been his grandchildren start to occasionally thrust before his nose the "Bible of Macedonian democracy".

On the other hand, Trajkovski - now in his early forties - has never aspired to being a father figure for anyone other than his own children, being more prone to obeying than having others obey him.

And then the bubble burst! With unexpected vehemence, the crisis erupted and inundated the lives of each and every citizen of Macedonia. Overnight, the international "patrons", up to then convinced that their proteges in Skopje - Prime Minister Georgievski and his coalition partners - will give them no headaches, suddenly realized that "little Ljubco" had a bad temper", his chief of police Ljube Boskovski a "rather quarrelsome disposition" and that their coalition partner Arben Xhaferi tends "to be unaware of things going on around him". In the beginning, the President of the Republic played the role of a disinterested bystander in the negotiations between the international envoys and the local "war lords". Afterwards, when it became obvious just how liberally the Prime Minister interprets vows made, it became clear that things had to change. Something had to be done urgently!

At first hesitantly and then more and more openly, it was rumored that the overbearing Branko Crvenkovski and Trajkovski were scheming something. Their meetings were first occasional, then grew more and more frequent. This coincided with suggestions coming from Washington and Brussels for a government of national unity to be set up in which the SDSM would play a significant role. It also led to the sudden drawing closer of the two SDSM vice-presidents, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva, with President Trajkovski. As a result, a symmetry was established at the top of the government: Trajkovski (as the supreme commander of the armed forces) and Defense Minister Buckovski led the "doves", while Prime Minister Georgievski and his faithful pal Ljube blazed the trail for the "hawks". The international community came to realize that it had picked a somewhat hesitant partner prone to wavering in Trajkovski but, nevertheless, an ally ever ready to go along with "what he was told to do last" (as a local commentator sarcastically put it).

During the Ohrid negotiations which resulted in the signing of the homonymous general agreement of the four leading political parties (which has placated or permanently put an end to the conflict, this yet remains to be seen), Trajkovski was assigned the role of a patron of a sorts: not that of a mediator (that is what the mission of the international envoys Leotard and Pardew has come to amount to), nor that of a negotiator (the role was forced upon the quarrelsome party leaders), but rather - simply that of a patron. In a sense, in the eyes of the international community, Trajkovski has come to represent "the guardian of the vows made".

In the realization of the Agreement itself, Trajkovski was entrusted with much broader authority. He appeared in the role of the promoter of the constitutional changes, an extremely unpleasant task seeing the downpour of harsh words and curses descending upon him from the part of the Macedonian parties accusing him of "betraying national interests". He was furthermore allotted the equally sensitive duty of granting amnesty to the self-disbanded ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army members. The main stakeholders in the death-game being staged in Macedonia have good cause for satisfaction: the role of the sacrificial lamb was voluntarily taken over by someone else other than themselves.

Sobranje Speaker Stojan Andov, seen by many as a rather cunning character, saw to it that both he and all of the innocent lambs from the flock he was entrusted with stood well aloof from the Ohrid Agreement. At the time of the signing of the Agreement, parliament members were in a state of nirvana: partly engrossed in their very own private businesses, partly deeply preoccupied with the dilemma of where to spend their paid summer vacations. According to Andov and the majority of the public, at the time, the amendments to the Constitution were adopted only because it was so ordained. As an experienced manipulator in such matters, Speaker Andov saw to it that the parliamentary procedure was carried out in the dead of the night, so as to spare the electorate of unnecessary worries.

It thus seems as if Macedonia is turning into a state out of necessity run solely by its president. In response to questions posed by the press if that is to be understood as the intention of the international community to press for a presidential system of government, president Trajkovski’s chief national security advisor Stevo Penderovski responded by stating that: "...the government has thus far received no such formal initiatives (?) and that, in practice, the president is doing his best to bridge the gap between the existing conflicted political forces - a duty mandated him by the very post he occupies and one of the utmost importance at the moment.

President Trajkovski holds yet another advantage over his opponents: his is a mandate lasting a whole two years longer than that of the current executive and legislative authorities. In other words, when their three- year mandate expires, Trajkovski is to remain in office for another two years. Unless he is ordered differently.