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Macedonian president, a United Methodist, dies in plane crash

 


Feb. 25, 2004

A UMNS Report By Linda Bloom*

Boris Trajkovski, a United Methodist who helped unite his country of Macedonia and was admired in many circles for his skills at peacemaking and bridge building, died Feb. 26 in a plane crash in southeastern Bosnia.

The 47-year-old Macedonian president had been en route to a regional economic conference in Mostar when air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane under what were reported as poor weather conditions. Wreckage later was found in mountains about 50 miles south of Sarajevo. Six of Trajkovski's aides and two pilots also were killed, leaving no survivors.

His wife, Vilma, and two children survive him.

For United Methodists, his death comes as a double blow. Trajkovski - a recipient of the 2002 World Methodist Peace Award - actively worked for peace and political stability, both in his own small nation and the entire Balkans region. He also tried to strengthen relations among various ethnic and religious groups, using his own Christian faith to guide him.

"It's a tragic loss for the United Methodist Church and the whole Methodist family," the Rev. R. Randy Day told United Methodist News Service.

Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said the entire church was proud of Trajkovski's accomplishments, both as a political leader and faithful lay leader of the church.

"He was proud of his Wesleyan religious roots," Day said. "He was an active partner in the United Methodist global mission network. We will miss his warmth, humor and wise counsel."

The Rev. Wilhelm Nausner, based in Austria, had developed a close relationship with Trajkovski because he serves as district superintendent for the United Methodist Church in Macedonia, which has about 6,000 members.

Trajkovski, who often assisted during services at his United Methodist church in Skopje, had been active in the church since his childhood in Strumica. He even remained president of the church council after being elected president of Macedonia, Nausner said.

His prominent position in the country was not always an advantage for his fellow church members, who sometimes became targets for his enemies. "But the people in the church loved him," he added. "He was always a witnessing Christian. He tried to do everything according to his beliefs."

Trajkovski received a law degree from the University of St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje in 1980 and had specialized in commercial and employment law. He also had participated in a number of international conferences involving conflict resolution, religious tolerance and religious freedom.

His efforts at bridge building as deputy minister of foreign affairs for Macedonia helped him gain the Albanian vote and win the 1999 election for president. At the end of his Dec. 15 inaugural address, he invoked the words of Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to "heal the country's wounds" after the U.S. civil war.

Two years later, he used his skills to help diffuse fighting between the Slavic Macedonian majority and ethnic Albanians and bring about a NATO-enforced peace treaty.

Nausner said he visited with the president two weeks before his death and had a long conversation with him regarding his concern about a breach in the Orthodox Church between those who want to remain aligned with the Serbian Orthodox Church and those who favor an autonomous Orthodox Church in Macedonia.

"He always tried to bring people together - to talk with each other and not simply to talk about each other," Nausner said.

Trajkovski also played a critical role in pushing the Macedonian Parliament to approve a new constitution recognizing the Albanian minority and the main non-Orthodox religious groups, including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims.

The Rev. Peter Siegfried, a Board of Global Ministries executive, was a witness of the president's attempt to improve interfaith relations when he attended a conference related to that issue in Macedonia. "Where there was tension, Boris Trajkovski was there and tried to find reconciliation and bring people together," he said.

United Methodists such as the Rev. Phil Wogaman of Washington, who got to know Trajkovski as a fellow delegate during the denomination's 1988, 1992 and 1996 General Conferences, recognized him as a "force for good" in Europe.

"He was among the best statesmen in the world and in the finest tradition of Methodist peacemaking," Wogaman said.

The church officially recognized Trajkovski when he was nominated for the 2002 World Methodist Peace Award, conferred annually by the World Methodist Council. The nomination originated with the Rev. Thomas Trainor and the Rev. Ed Carll, clergy members of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

Neither had met the Macedonian president, but they were impressed by news accounts of his efforts to unite that country. Later, they had the chance to greet Trajkovski during the award presentation in Oslo, Norway.

"He spoke of his faith as a natural, 'this is who I am,'" recalled Trainor, a retired pastor in charge of missions at First United Methodist Church in Tuckerton, N.J. "He'd have to be a man of great faith to do what he was doing. It's going to be a great loss over there."

The Rev. George Freeman, top staff executive of the World Methodist Council, said Trajkovski received the award "because he had been able to use his faith to bring peace and stability into a region of the world in a nonviolent way and he was motivated by his faith in God. We were just impressed with his ability to persevere under those kinds of circumstances."

Freeman remembered Trajkovski as a "genuine and sincere person." As the president of Macedonia, he met many other world leaders, but he told Freeman the most meaningful encounter occurred when he and U.S. President George Bush - also a United Methodist - prayed in private together in the Oval Office.

"He (had) been a strong, committed disciple and an ambassador of Christ long before he was an ambassador of any country," said the Rev. H. Eddie Fox, the council's world evangelism director and a friend of Trajkovski's for 14 years.

Fox and the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, had planned to visit Trajkovski at Easter and present him with a honorary doctorate from the seminary.

As a denomination, United Methodists have contributed to reconciliation and rebuilding in the Balkans, working on such issues as the return of refugees and providing support to internally displaced people and other vulnerable groups.

Among those participating in the conference that Trajkovski was traveling to attend were representatives of the United Methodist Committee on Relief's nongovernmental organization.

Zlatan Buljko, head of the agency's sub office in Mostar, noted that "the people of Bosnia owe him a great debt of gratitude" for his efforts to establish peace in the region.

Robert Garnett, the agency's head of mission for the Balkans, lauded Trajkovski both for the stability he helped bring to Macedonia and his contributions to the church there. "UMCOR will continue to work throughout the Balkan region to ensure that President Trajkovski's legacy of peace building is continued," he said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.  News media can contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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