SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA – Early in the morning on October 16, word came through news bulletins and blogs from a stretch of highway north of the Sava river, in Croatia. A terrible car crash claimed the life of Macedonian music superstar Toshe Proeski, who had been popular in all of the former Yugoslavia for his golden voice, charity and kindness. TV networks all over the region, from Macedonia to Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, pre-empted their regular programming and played Toshe’s music videos with messages of condolences. Thousands gathered in town squares, first in Macedonia and then in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia as well, lighting candles and making impromptu memorials. For a moment, Yugoslavia existed once more – united in grief over a man whose voice had brought them together.
Proeski was 26.
â€œI don’t believe in god any more. How could he let this happen?â€ growled a man from Skopje on Tuesday night; â€œGod takes the best from us,â€ said a fellow musician from Croatia. â€œHe was a wonderful man, good and kind, who loved all. I am crushed,â€ said another Macedonian fan.
Accounts of the accident seem to underscore the cruelty of fate. Proeski was traveling from Skopje to Zagreb by car; having driven all night through Serbia and Bosnia, driver was tired. The thick fog that blanketed the Sava river valley in the early morning made for low visibility as they merged onto the highway leading to Zagreb. It was hard to notice a stopped trailer-truck until it was too late. The Volkswagen SUV ricocheted off the truck and slammed into the guardrail. Proeski had been asleep. He died instantly. The driver survived.
Born in Krusevo, Macedonia, Proeski made a name for himself by singing both traditional tunes and pop melodies. In a fragmented music scene, often influenced by ethnic chauvinism, Proeski was equally welcome in Zagreb, Belgrade, Sarajevo or Skopje – something no other artist managed. In a region haunted by hatred and war, he offered hope. Somehow, with his songs, joy became more joyous and sorrow was easier to bear. His fans didn’t care that he wasn’t Croat, or Serb, or Muslim, or Albanian. He was Toshe.
It is said that as he took off from Skopje on Monday night, Proeski told someone that he was â€œgoing up.â€ He meant Zagreb. He went to heaven instead.