The singer provided a symbol of unity in a region still marked by distrust, experts say.
By Misko Taleski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 05/05/11
Actor Rade Sherbedzija performs Tose Proeski's unpublished song "Krushevo" (text by Miroslav Rus), at the opening ceremony for a memorial house honouring the singer. [Misko Taleski/SETimes]
Tose Proeski dedicated his career to fostering harmony among people in the Balkans. The life and work of the celebrated singer, who died four years ago in a car crash, was commemorated this past Easter with the opening of a memorial house in his native town of Krushevo.
"Tose's art uniquely connects the peoples of the Balkans regardless of their ethnic, national and religious differences," a visitor from Bosnia and Herzegovina, 27-year-old Nermin Spahic, told SETimes. "His music and message continue to be a symbol of love and to break down any nationalist and antagonistic barriers."
But if Proeski were alive today, would he see evidence that those barriers are coming down? Political analysts say that while much progress has been made in the region towards reconciliation, distrust still lingers.
"Generally, locally, or, if you will, on a human level, things are slowly normalising. However, healing every wound requires a long time," explains Professor Biljana Vankovska. "Unfavourable economic and social trends affect things negatively, and they automatically create the conditions for strengthening nationalism, intolerance, and for seeking culprits and heroes."
"Very little is needed for the traumas to surface, even the hatred," Vankovska said, pointing to recent anger in Croatia over the ICTY's Ante Gotovina verdict as an example.
For Ivana Trajkovska, a Tose fan who paid a visit to the memorial house soon after its opening, it was precisely these difficulties that made the late singer's role so important. Proeski, she said, provided a unifying symbol for a region still haunted by the residues of conflict and prolonged economic woes.
"People of all nationalities and religions went to his concerts. We hung together and sang together regardless of our differences and despite the barriers that the politics created during the past conflicts," Trajkovska told SETimes.
We still do, she added.
The importance of Proeski's message was not lost on the Macedonian government, which financed the building of the memorial house. The presence of the country's leadership at the opening sought to promote further the universal values that Tose espoused.
Culture Minister Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska called the memorial house "a gesture of gratitude for Tose's life mission to unify the existing differences". At the same time, it is a recognition of Macedonian -- and Balkan -- cultural history, Kanceska-Milevska told SETimes.
The house is an imposing 870-square metre cement and glass structure in the form of a cross. It features over 350 artifacts and photographs representing different phases of Proeski's life and music career. Visitors can listen to his music and watch excerpts of his concerts on several screens.
It is a striking tribute to an artist who succeeded in accomplishing what most politicians and leaders cannot -- transcending the divisions that have wreaked havoc in the Balkans.
"Tose's greatness is exactly that, as an artist and a man, he succeeded in overcoming the boundaries, to connect the people from different parts of the region, and even to overcome the linguistic, national, religious or generational differences," Vankovska said.
"His example -- but that of many others as well -- show that regional integration can start from the bottom up, rather than through the current trend by connecting the ruling elites usually under the auspices of the international community," she said.
Lidija Zorba, of the Centre for Applied Psychology in Skopje, believes Proeski helped shape attitudes, particularly those of younger people who are more interested in future prospects than in the quarrels of the recent past.
"Through his music, Tose truly reached what are considered fundamental and universal values among people -- love and humanity," she said. Through his mature approach to fame and celebrity, he "showed his generation the way to those universal values."