Kiro Gligorov is not the last of the presidents of the former Yugoslav republics to die. Milan Kučan of Slovenia is still with us.
But Gligorov’s death certainly marks a milestone. He presided over independence without war, guided Macedonia through its difficult first years when Greece was most hostile and its own Albanian population unwilling to take part fully in political life, suffered an assassination attempt that scarred him with a bizarre indentation in his forehead, and left office in dignity to pursue a peaceful and productive retirement. None of the former Yugoslav leaders who have preceded him have more to tote up on the positive side of their ledgers.
I met a couple of times with Gligorov while he was president, and once after his retirement. Rarely has a politician impressed me so definitively as benign, but still profoundly determined. He had his eye on what counted: ensuring a safe and more prosperous future for Macedonia. A man of few words, he chose them carefully and did not wax eloquent, at least not with me in private conversation. But you could feel the determination and commitment.
The people who lead Macedonia today are many decades younger than Gligorov. Many were still students or young adults at independence in 1991. I hope they have inherited from Gligorov his sense of proportion, willingness to go out of his way to avoid violence, and openness to compromise on non-critical issues even with those who do not wish the country well. Macedonia still faces serious challenges. Gligorov’s model is still relevant.