AIM: start



SUN, 24 FEB 2002 20:36:19 GMT

A Symbol of Coexistence

It took an unofficial visit by the NATO secretary general for Macedonians to realize that the eternally Balkan issues of heroism and betrayal can be viewed from a different angle. The international community believed all along that there must be a Pavle Todorovski somewhere. And finally, it found him.

AIM Skopje, February 12, 2002

During his visit to Skopje last Friday, NATO Secretary General George Robertson, a frequent visitor of the Macedonian capital well-acquainted with all local politicians, asked for something and it was granted to him: to meet Pavle Todorovski, a quiet veterinarian from the Tetovo village of Tearce. Todorovski is no politician or stage star, but he certainly deserves to have his hand shaken by the head of the most powerful military alliance in the world. He is the only Macedonian who, during the crisis in the Tetovo region last year, stayed in his village of Tearce, not willing to abandon his ethnic Albanian neighbors. After the situation improved, he initiated the forming of a multiethnic council, chaired by an ethnic Turk, of which he was vice chairman, and his ethnic Albanian fellow villager secretary. As much as it recalls the affirmative action solutions of the communist era, this was still something unique bearing in mind current conditions in Macedonia.

And then there was a shock. In the evening of Jan. 23 the whole of Macedonia was stunned to learn that a group of masked men dressed in black had beaten Todorovski in his home in Tearce. With injuries all over his body and a slight concussion, Todorovski was transferred to a hospital in Tetovo. Most Macedonian journalists, used to similar incidents, immediately thought that it was yet another crime committed by the remnants of the ethnic rebel Albanian National Liberation Army. Fortunately, Todorovski left the hospital the next day. After returning home he became withdrawn and was unwilling to speak to reporters. Whoever attacked him had attained his goal. "This is yet another example of who is against coexistence!", a TV reporter hastened to announce. But the truth was quite the opposite!

The next day the OSCE mission came forward with an unusual press release: it said, quoting Todorovski and some eyewitnesses, that he was beaten by men who spoke Macedonian and accused him of betraying Macedonia. The authorities were embarrassed and their promise to find and punish the perpetrators sounded quite confused and hollow. As many times before, the culprits were never found.

Eyewitnesses said that only hours before the attack, during a meeting with EU representative Alain Le Roy in a local community office in Tearce, Todorovski said that peace was impossible "as long as Ljube Boskovski is interior minister." Boskovski is perceived by the international community and many Macedonians as a hardcore advocate of disciplining ethnic Albanians by force. This is why it almost immediately occurred to international representatives that such "operations" could be entrusted to a motley crew of police formed at the height of the crisis, which the interior minister, following the example of paramilitary units active elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, named "the Lions," presumably to instill respect in disobedient citizens.

The opposition Social Democratic Alliance used the opportunity to add that the incident was yet another case of state-sponsored "terrorism." The strongest opposition party, furthermore, managed to convene a special session of Parliament devoted to state-sponsored crime. But it fell short of spectacular results and forcing minister Boskovski, who even spoke at the session, to change his ways. Party representatives, unfortunately, failed to make use of the Todorovski case to bring about change in the political climate and present it as an example of what ethnic relations ought to look like, but used it instead for their petty political goals. The media also failed to perceive Todorovski's efforts as an opportunity for promoting a new and different approach to coexistence, as opposed to their over-abused stereotypes. They still believe that more prominence ought to be given to instances proving that coexistence has no future.

All this changed after Robertson's visit. The NATO secretary general gave a bottle of whiskey from his native Ireland as a gift to the courageous veterinarian, openly calling him a "Macedonian hero, a hero of coexistence." Their encounter was indeed touching, even for reporters usually insensitive to emotional scenes, and Todorovski made headlines. He invited his new Irish friend to visit him again in the future.

It took an unofficial visit by the NATO secretary general for Macedonians to realize that the eternally Balkan issues of heroism and betrayal can be viewed from a different angle. The international community believed all along that there must be a Pavle Todorovski somewhere. And finally, it found him.

Zeljko Bajic

(AIM)