Who is Toše Proeski?
At the end of December I went on a small tour of Macedonia and Kosovo, meeting Peace Corps volunteers and fellow travelers along the way, and entertaining my travel-mates love of communist era statues and visuals. On this particular morning we were headed to the Macedonium, a large monument in the semi-remote mountain village of Kruševo. Just for a visual, Kruševo is built a bit like a bowl. The bus dropped us off near the center at the lowest point, and then the city streets and buildings radiate outwards, winding upwards on the mountainside.
Needless to say we got lost, but using non-existant Macedonian and wild hand gestures, Joe found out that the statue we were looking for was in, or on, or around, or nearby to, something called the “Muzeu Toshi” (phonetic spelling based on – hell if I know). So here we are walking, winding our way through the narrow city streets, getting a little winded by the steep incline and burdensome load of our travel things, stopping the occasional citizen and asking “Muzeu Toshi? Muzay Toshi? Toshi muzay?” We follow one nice lady who takes us through some alleys and then a small clearing opens up to our right and she points and says, “Muzeu Toshi.”
We walk into the clearing and follow the path and there in front of us, in stark contrast to the traditional style houses leading up to it is the Muzej Toše Proeskog. Now when Joe and I walked in here, we could see it was dedicated to this man, but our immediate question was, “Who is Toše?” Our guide, a nice lady who thankfully spoke English, was I think shocked and surprised that we had no ideas about Toše, though it helped when we explained that we were American. Please watch the video below to understand what it is we saw.
So who is Toše? Well quite simply – he’s a pop star. A young, talented singer who died rather young and a cynical person could say of little consequence. We walked through the museum, looking at oddments of his personal life. It seemed so strange to see encased in glass an Adidas track suit, a Toshiba laptop, his identification card, credit cards and passport. Acqua di Gio for heaven’s sake (apparently his favorite scent – really?). I was derisive of the whole thing – and then I looked closely at a pair of jeans (I think from the day of the accident that killed him), and the curator had been clever enough to show, peeking out of one of the pockets, a little note, and I thought “Who was that from, or for? I wonder what it has on it?”
We walked up to the second level, and our guide showed us the copy of the living room in his family’s house where he spent time with them: pine wood floors, cheesy leather sofas, large flat screen tv, a few simple paintings and a knock off set of daishō. We saw pictures of him with his nephews, soccer uniforms, awards for his charity work, and a wall with the phrase, “I love you all” written in every major language. Apparently he ended every show saying this to the crowds.
At first it seemed like the museum was trying to build him up to be some superstar upon a godlike pedestal. Don’t get me wrong, he was talented. The number of albums, awards and recognition he received all before the age of 26 is impressive, but as we walked through the museum, mostly it just seemed like looking at the memorabilia of a nice, talented, naïve, young kid with a lot of potential who wanted to do good things for himself, his family and others. I felt like I had just rummaged through a college kid’s dorm room, and it felt a little dirty. But Toše means different things for different people: family, pop-star, commodity, philanthropist, national hero and the savior of Macedonia, etc.
Who is Toše? Just a person like you or me.