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2000-03-29 00:21
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Methodist lay preacher declares he is president of all
Macedonians
ENI-00-0110

By Bjarke Larsen
Skopje, 24 March (ENI)--On 15 December last year, Boris
Trajkovski, a Methodist lay preacher from the centre-right
Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, became the first
Protestant president of the small Balkan republic officially
known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Less than 1 per cent of the republic's 2 million citizens are
Protestant (66 per cent of the population are Orthodox, 30 per
cent Muslim, and 2 per cent Roman Catholic), but Trajkovski's
rise to prominence has prompted such deep resentment among some
sectors of the population that anti-Protestant graffiti has
appeared on buildings in the capital, Skopje, and a Methodist
church in a suburb of the city has been stoned on several
occasions.

Earlier this month an Orthodox bishop also made headlines in
several newspapers as well as on national television with
comments attacking Protestants, describing them as "worse than
vampires" who are trying to destroy genuine Macedonian culture
and religion. He called on all Protestants to leave the country,
adding that only Orthodox could be considered true Christians.

Archbishop Stefan, leader of the Orthodox church here, quickly
condemned the statements and called on all religious leaders to
work for peaceful co-existence.

Despite the problems, President Trajkovski is strongly
ecumenical in his attitudes. "I serve all religions, but, as you
can see, this country still has a long way to go when it comes to
reconciliation," he told ENI during a recent visit by journalists
to Skopje arranged by the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

However, he is optimistic about future prospects. "The choice of
a Protestant as president is a sign of how well-developed
Macedonia's democracy is, and it is good for the future of this
country that it could happen," he said.

A decisive factor in Boris Trajkovski's defeat of his Social
Democratic opponent in last year's election was the support at
the polls of the majority of ethnic Albanians, who make up 23 per
cent of Macedonia's population. He won their votes partly because
he is not of Serbian descent and partly because he promised to
build bridges between the nation's ethnic groups. (The question
of ethnicity is the source of much dispute in Macedonia,
according to the SBS World Guide, published in Australia. Those
described as ethnic Macedonians make up the biggest ethnic group
[66.5 per cent]. Other key ethnic groups are Turks and Roma [also
known as gypsies].)

But the Social Democrats have not accepted the election results,
despite a fresh vote in some constituencies and the intervention
of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and
other international monitors who described the final election
results "free and fair". The Social Democrats have maintained a
boycott of the new president.

Boris Trajkovski still preaches from time to time in the
Methodist church, which has 2500 members across the republic. He
has also been deeply committed to various kinds of community
service, particularly in programmes for the Roma people, most of
whom are poor and suffer widespread discrimination.

"When you preach love and understanding, you also have to live
that way in your day-to-day life," Boris Trajkovski told ENI,
adding that the Methodist church here had long been involved in
reconciliation and ecumenical projects.

President Trajkovski also hopes to help the nation's Orthodox
Church gain recognition from other Orthodox churches. The church
broke away from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967, but it has
yet to be recognised by those it regards as its sister churches.


"I have talked with Archbishop Stefan about this problem on
several occasions, and I have promised him to raise the subject
whenever I can," the president said. "Everywhere I emphasise that
the Orthodox Church of Macedonia is also my church, because I am
a Macedonian."

FYROM shares borders with Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and Serbia
including Kosovo. It is multi-ethnic and it is deeply affected by
the conflicts in the Balkans. However 10 years ago it
successfully declared itself independent from Yugoslavia, without
a single shot being fired - in strong contrast to events in
Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Despite tensions from time to time
the country has - in the words of Boris Trajkovski - "turned into
a bastion of peace and stability in the region".

"Today Macedonia is a role model for inter-ethnic co-operation
and co-existence. We have shown the rest of the word and
especially the rest of the Balkans that there are two ways of
living together: the Milosevic way and the Macedonian way."

Despite the recent signs of religious intolerance, Boris
Trajkovski believes that in the long run he will be accepted as
president of all Macedonians.

He said: "I want to develop Macedonia further as a living
example of democracy and co-existence for others to follow.
Whenever I can, I try to serve as a bridge-builder, not only here
in Macedonia but hopefully also in other parts of the region."