Kiro Gligorov (born 1917) became the first president of the Republic of Macedonia in January 1991. He led the newly established state to international recognition, independence, and sovereignty.
Kiro Gligorov was born on May 3, 1917, in the city of Shtip (Stip), in the Republic of Macedonia, a part of Yugoslavia. He came from a family that was actively involved in the struggle for the national liberation of Macedonia from the Ottoman Turks. Most historians agree that until the beginning of the 20th century a majority of the Slav population of Macedonia considered themselves Bulgarians. However, after the establishment of an independent Bulgarian state and changes in the social and political conditions in the Balkans, a Macedonian national consciousness and separatism developed rapidly. This process was enhanced by the ideology and tactics adopted by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, which, founded in 1893, fought for "Macedonia for the Macedonians" and the creation of an independent Macedonian state.
During the first Balkan War of 1912 an alliance composed of Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia defeated the forces of the decaying Ottoman Empire and brought an end to five centuries of Turkish rule in Macedonia. However, the victors could not agree among themselves on the division of Macedonia, and a second Balkan War ensued a year later in which Romania and Turkey joined the three former allies in a war against Bulgaria. By the Treaty of Bucharest the territory of Macedonia was apportioned among Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia, which later became part of Yugoslavia. Aegean Macedonia, the largest part, was attached to Greece; Vardar became part of Yugoslavia; and Pirin, the smallest area, was given to the defeated Bulgaria. In addition, a small number of Macedonians were included in Albania.
Each of the Balkan states adopted a policy of de facto assimilation, the Greeks regarding Macedonian Slavs as Slavophones (Slav-speaking Greeks), the Serbs calling them "Southern Serbs," and the Bulgarians considering them Bulgarians. For the Macedonians themselves the division was but one more event in a long history of subjugation and imposed division. Throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries most Balkan and foreign observers referred to Macedonia as "the apple of discord" and "the powder keg of the Balkans." It was in this social, political, and cultural environment in Vardar Macedonia that Kiro Gligorov grew up.
As a youngster Gligorov attended the local primary school in his native town and then moved to Skopje, now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, where he completed his secondary education. He received his higher education at the Law Faculty of the University of Belgrade, graduating in 1938. As a university student Gligorov was active in left-wing politics and in 1937 was arrested and jailed for a time. After graduation he returned to Skopje, where he worked as an attorney for a private bank.
The greatest political challenge of his generation was the struggle against fascism and the construction of a new socialist society in post-World War II Yugoslavia. In 1941 Gligorov joined the antifascist national liberation movement and actively participated in the struggle against the foreign invaders. In 1943 he became secretary of the Initiative Committee for the convocation of the Antifascist Council for the People's Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) and then as a member of the Council of ASNOM fought against foreign occupation forces as well as for the overthrow of the old regime. On August 2, 1944, representatives of the people of Vardar Macedonia proclaimed an independent and sovereign Macedonian state as an equal member of the six constituent republics of the People's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (PFRY). In the new Macedonian Republic, Gligorov, who, it seems, until then was also known by the name of Kiril Gligorov, was appointed secretary of finances of the Presidium of ASNOM (1944-1945).
During and immediately after the war Gligorov was active in the Antifascist Council for the People's Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) and was a delegate to the third assembly of AVNOJ as well as a member of the Presidium of the newly-established Provisional Government of PFRY. In 1944 Gligorov joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, subsequently called the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY).
Recognized by the party and the government for his ability and expertise, Gligorov soon moved to Belgrade, where for more than four decades he occupied several significant positions of responsibility in the federal government. At the same time, Gligorov was a professor in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Belgrade.
As an economics expert responsible for the finances of the country and vice president of the Federal Executive Council from 1967 to 1969, Gligorov was one of the influential economists who initiated and supported the introduction of reforms designed to give the government, LCY, and society at large a more democratic foundation. As head of a federal government team, he was one of "the architects of the economic reform" and was instrumental in implementing the first market-based modification of the Yugoslav economy. It is noteworthy that these were the first such reforms not only in Yugoslavia but anywhere in the then socialist bloc.
Most historians agree that Gligorov was one of the most capable pro-reform officials in the federal government during the 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1970s he occupied a number of high positions in the federal structure. From 1969 to 1972 Gligorov was a member of the presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). From 1974 to 1978 he was president of the National Assembly (Skupstina) of the SFRY. While occupying these posts Gligorov was also elected to the National Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia as well as to the Federal Assembly.
Gligorov was also active in party work and was elected to many leadership positions in the LCY. At the Eighth Congress of the LCY in 1965 he was elected to the Central Committee, and at the Ninth Congress in 1969 he became a member of the party presidency and of the Executive Bureau of the LCY. At both the Tenth and Eleventh LCY Congresses he was reelected to the Central Committee. As in his governmental work, Gligorov also demonstrated his democratic and liberal commitment within the party organs. At the Tenth LCY Congress in May 1974 liberalism, pluralism, and the federalization of the party were strongly condemned by many delegates. However, in his keynote speech to the Commission for Socioeconomic Relations Gligorov gave what one historian described as "a spirited defense of the necessity and virtues of a market economy."
After 1978, although Gligorov continued for some time to serve as a member of the Council of the Federation and the National Defense Council of the presidency of SFRY, he was effectively removed from the political life of the country. However, as earlier, he continued to do research on social and economic questions, participate in scholarly conferences, and publish his findings. Throughout most of his years in Belgrade Gligorov was a member of the Council of the Institute of International Politics and Economics and of the Federal Planning Institute and served as president of the Institute for Social Sciences. For his services, Gligorov was awarded many Yugoslav and foreign decorations.
Gligorov's greatest contribution to the history of Macedonia and to his people came in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1989, when the transformations emanating from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe reached Yugoslavia, Gligorov was called to serve on a team of experts in the last Yugoslav government to oversee the implementation of a market economy and the building of a "new type of socialism." Events, however, outpaced political reforms. With the onset of the crisis in Yugoslavia, Gligorov made a successful political comeback, this time in his native land, the Republic of Macedonia.
When the former Yugoslavia seemed on the verge of collapse, Gligorov sided with those who called for moderation and a peaceful solution of the crisis. Together with the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he put forward a realistic proposal for an alliance of equally sovereign states. However, it was not accepted by the other Yugoslav leaders. There is no doubt that the end of the Cold War and the changes in the social, political, and economic system in the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Bloc not only influenced but produced changes in Gligorov's ideology as well as his tactics as a politician.
In Macedonia Gligorov advocated the democratization of the country, the establishment of a civil society with independent institutions, the introduction of legality, and a free market economy as well as a multi-party system and free elections. Inaugurated as president of the Republic of Macedonia on January 27, 1991, Gligorov managed to guide the Macedonian Republic through a difficult period and to place the presidency at the forefront of Macedonia's national consolidation.
He supported the Macedonians who, on September 8, 1991, voted overwhelmingly in a general free referendum for the independence of their country. Following the vote, on September 17, 1991, the Macedonian Parliament proclaimed the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia. The Macedonian Republic, therefore, was the only state of the former Yugoslav republics to attain independence through peaceful means.
Despite the country's economic difficulties, the tensions the country's ethnic diversity created, and the problems associated with the politics of transition to a market economy and democracy, Gligorov kept domestic peace by observing the new constitution, which guaranteed human and civil rights to all. He earned the respect of many world leaders and was instrumental in gaining United Nations' recognition, albeit under the awkward title of former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He succeeded, moreover, despite strong Greek opposition to the name of the republic, in convincing the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, and other states to grant recognition to Macedonia.
The Macedonian Republic had many domestic problems to solve and foreign issues to overcome. Despite the fact that there were people who were critical of Gligorov's past activity and did not approve of many of his presidential policies, he became a national symbol of determination, pragmatism, and moderation for the majority of Macedonians. Through his efforts he strengthened the Macedonian people's will to overcome obstacles and enhanced their optimism in building their own authentic, democratic republic. To keep the civil war in the former Yugoslavia from spreading into Macedonia, the United States sent troops to patrol the northern border.
Gligorov was reelected to a second five-year term in October 1994. A president of the republic may serve two terms at most. One year later, however, Gligorov's fortunes turned when the president was gravely wounded in a car bomb attack in early October 1995. Gligorov lost an arm and was partially blinded. Parliamentary Speaker Stojan Andov was appointed acting president. Extreme nationalists were blamed for the bombing at first, followed by the Bulgarian mafia. Many viewed the assassination attempt as being spawned by an agreement signed in New York in September 1995 with the goal of normalizing relations with Greece. The agreement was expected to result in increased trade with Greece and the restoration of Macedonian access to its main sea port, Thessaloniki. However, sanctions against Serbia remained a problem.
With Gligorov off the scene, at least temporarily, it was thought by some that the Alliance for Macedonia, a fragile ruling coalition of (formerly communist) Social Democrats and free-market Liberals, would dissolve. Gligorov surprised skeptics with an extraordinary recovery, returning to his office to put in full days of work while wearing tinted glasses to conceal the loss of his eye. Gligorov expressed a desire on Macedonia's part to avoid Slav or Orthodox alliance and join NATO and the European Union. For his efforts to bring peace to the Balkans, Gligorov was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by an American university professor and a group of Macedonian academic institutions in 1996.
In June 1997, Gligorov traveled to the United States and met with President Bill Clinton. According to a White House statement, Clinton "praised President Gligorov for his statesmanship in resolving differences with his neighbors and promoting ethnic tolerance at home." During the meeting, Gligorov urged Clinton to extend the mission of 500 U.S. troops stationed in Macedonia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. "No one in the Balkans can remain impassive or quiet and peaceful and tranquil in terms of all the developments we have seen in Bosnia and the ones we're now seeing in Albania, and the possible dangers of any kind of involvement on the part of Kosovo (in Serbia) in this situation," Gligorov said following his meeting with Clinton.
The writings and speeches of Kiro Gligorov are scattered in various periodicals and publications of the former Yugoslav Parliament. Since 1989 most of his speeches and interviews have been translated into English and published in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Report (Eastern Europe). For his role in the introduction of reforms in the 1960s and 1970s see Dennison Rusinow, The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1974 (1978). For brief notes on Gligorov and the events in Macedonia see the following articles in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Research Report: Duncan M. Perry, "Politics in the Republic of Macedonia: Issues and Parties" (June 4, 1993); Hugh Poulton, "The Republic of Macedonia after UN Recognition" (June 4, 1993); and Stefan Troebst, "Macedonia: Powder Keg Defused? (January 28, 1994). For Gligorov's role in the fall of the former Yugoslavia see Lenard J. Cohen, Broken Bonds: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia (1993). □