Kiro Gligorov

Condolences to my Macedonian friends on the sad but not hugely surprising news that Kiro Gligorov, the first president of independent Macedonia, has died at the age of 94. He had a remarkable political career, beginning as a rising star among Tito’s Partisans during the Second World War, serving as Yugoslav finance minister in the 1960s, and as speaker of the Yugoslav federal parliament in the 1970s before emerging from retirement at the age of 74 to become President of Macedonia, in its first multi-party elections, in 1991 and then steering it to independence that year rather more peacefully than Slovenia, Croatia or Bosnia were able to manage. He retired in 1999, his job complete.

I saw Gligorov speaking at conferences several times, but only got talking to him once. He would always speak in Macedonian, through an interpreter, if making a public address, though in fact he was fluent in English and several other languages. As the result of an assassination attempt in 1995 he had a cavity practically the size of a golf ball in his forehead; he lost an eye in that bomb attack but otherwise appeared to have recovered pretty well.

My one conversation with Gligorov was shortly after the fall of Milošević, when I was fortunate enough to end up at the same table as him at a conference dinner (in the significantly named Herzegovina restaurant in Copenhagen). One of us asked Gligorov what his own most recent contact with Milošević had been. He told us that he had called the presidential office in Belgrade, in what turned out to be Milošević’s last month in power, to express his concern about the mysterious disappearance of Ivan Stambolić, Milošević’s predecessor as President of Serbia and a friend of Gligorov’s. He left a message with a secretary, expecting to hear nothing more, and was surprised to get a direct call from Milošević a few minutes later. “But all he wanted to talk about was the trouble he was having with Djukanović [then president of Montenegro].” Of course we now know what we only suspected then, that Stambolić had been kidnapped, killed and buried by the police on Milošević’s orders.

Vladimir Gligorov, Kiro Gligorov’s son, is a well-known economist based in Vienna; we used to see each other quite a lot on the Balkan conference circuit where, though he does not particularly identify himself as a Macedonian, he combines the Macedonian traits of pessimism and wit. One of his lines that I find applicable in many circumstances is his warning that “The European Union should realise that it is cheaper to keep its promises than to break them.” Anyway, my thoughts are with him and the rest of his father’s extensive circle, in Macedonia and elsewhere.

One thought on “Kiro Gligorov

  1. I think there is only one story in the whole of SJA that is actually bad. (“Mona Lisa’s Revenge”)

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