By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The first president of independent Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov died late Sunday at the age of 94.
Gligorov died at home in his sleep at aproximately 10 PM local time according to his office.
The funeral will be held on Tuesday at the city cemetery in Skopje. According to the late president’s wishes, the ceremony will be private, with only members of his family attending.
Following Macedonia’s introduction of multi-party elections in 1990, Gligorov became the first democratically elected president. He served for two terms, from January 1991 to November 1999.
He led his country through some of the most tumultuous years in its history.
After Macedonians voted for full independence in a 1991 referendum he guided the country through its split from the Yugolsav federation. His biggest challenge and his greatest success came in his striuggle to keep Macedonia out of the bloody Yugoslav wars that raged at that time in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. It was also during his term in office that Macedonia became a member of the United Nations.
He introduced a policy of so-called equal-distance from all of Macedonia’s neighbors, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. These regional neighbours all had separate issues with the new born country and were skeptical about its future.
In October 3, 1995, Gligorov was the target of a car bomb assassination attempt in Skopje. He lost an eye in the attack but recovered and continued his presidency. At the time theories about the motive behind the bombing ranged from an assassination ordered by Serbian President Milosevic, to an attempt by Bulgarian intelligence, and even an organized crime hit, but the attackers were never found and the case remained unsolved.
Born in 1917 in the central Macedonian town of Stip, Gligorov graduated with a law degree from the University of Belgrade. He joined the Macedonian Anti-fascist undergorund during World War 2.
After liberation he held various high positions in the political establishment of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Gligorov remained active even after his retirement from politics. He published his memoirs, established a foundation bearing his name and supported various cultural events.
In 2005 he was the first to be awarded with the country’s highest honor, the Order of Republic of Macedonia. It was a honour that reflected the fact that while he was president, and in the years that followed, various opinion polls showed he was a politician with unmatched high popularity among the people.