Macedonianism as a political trend on the Balkans


Ass. Prof. Dr. Stoyan Germanov

Macedonianism as a political trend on the Balkans bears the marks of the doctrines of some Balkan states from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th c. in Macedonian, of the Comintern and the Balkan Communist Parties. It has been influenced by and depends on a series of outside factors and circumstances. In order to outline its genesis, parameters, stages and nature, its concrete manifestations and bearers, first it is necessary to make a short review of the origins and the evolution of the Macedonian question.

It is commonly accepted that the Macedonian question originated after the resolutions of the Berlin Congress in 1878, as part of the unsolved Bulgarian national question. Till that time the European scientific and political thought had recognized the ethnic boundaries of the Bulgarian people in the three main regions – Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. The fact was confirmed, also, by the Great Powers at the Constantinople Conference (1876). All initiatives for political and spiritual liberation of the Slav population in the region of Macedonia during the National Revival had a Bulgarian character. Those struggles had their climax with the Sublime Porte’s recognition of an independent Bulgarian church in 1870. The Bulgarian Exarchate, representing it, included the Macedonian dioceses, dioceses of Skopie and Ohrida. Actually, that was a referendum for self-determination.

The decisions of the Berlin Congress did not satisfy the Balkan states. The Bulgarian ethnic territory was divided into 5 parts: the Bulgarian Principality, Eastern Roumelia, Macedonia and Thrace, the two of which were left under the Turkish Sultan’s direct authority, and other parts, given as a compensation to Serbia and Romania. Serbia and Greece, in their turn, laid territorial claims to the region of Macedonia. Disputes started, which grew into a sharp controversy as to what was the national character mainly of the Slav population in the area, although that question had already been solved from a scientific point of view.

Even before the era of disputes, the researches of such conscientious and unprejudiced scholars and travelers like V. Grigorovic, Ami Boue, H. Brailsford, l. Lamoushe, Z. Desbons, G. Weigand, L. Niederle, P. Milyukov, N. Kondakov, N. Derjavin and many others, had undoubtedly shown that the Slav population of Macedonia was Bulgarian in history, lifestyle and culture, and that Bulgarians were the dominant part of it. All other nationalities – Greeks, Turks, Albanians, etc. - were a minority, and their presence in some towns and villages was hardly visible. However, that fact did not suit the policy of the ruling circles in Belgrade and Athens. In the course of the disputes, which seemed harmless in the beginning, an attempt for the realization of the Serbian and Greek long-standing strategy started to be visible. The scientific thought of both countries was called to assistance. This was a beginning of a contest, which was to determine whose interests were greater, who had the historical rights, etc. The Serbian thesis had the support of Russian diplomacy, of the consuls in Bitolya, Skopie and Thessalonica, who had previously shared other views.

However, seeing that the course of direct serbianization of the Bulgarian population in Macedonia had no perspective from a political and scientific point of view, a part of the Serbian intelligence oriented towards Macedonianism.

Stoyan Novakovich expressed the Serbian idea of Macedonianism in a letter from 5th December 1887. The letter said, “Since the Bulgarian idea, as it is well known, is deeply rooted in Macedonia, I think it is almost impossible to be shaken completely by opposing to it only a purely Serbian idea. This idea, we are afraid, merely as bare opposition, will not suppress the Bulgarian idea. That is why the Serbian idea will need an ally that could stand in direct opposition to Bulgarism and could possess in itself the elements which would attract the people and their feelings and thus sever them from it. I see this ally in Macedonianism.”

Here one can see already present the aspiration for disuniting and denationalization of Bulgarians in Macedonia, for their alienation from the Bulgarian spirit and origin. At the beginning of 20th c. the Serbian scholars Tsviych, Belich, and others, added a new nuance to Novakovic’s idea. They stated that the Slav population in Macedonia was neither Bulgarian, nor Serbian but a “floating mass”, uncrystallized in national terms. It could equally give birth to Bulgarians, Serbs, and, of course, Macedonians.

Macedonianism had almost no influence in Macedonia itself till the Balkan Wars. Few were the Bulgarians like Kr. Misirkov, who succumbed to Serbian influence and were ready to sacrifice their Bulgarian national feeling. The authority and the influence of the Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization (IMARO) had swayed the minds and the hearts of the population in Macedonia. The revolutionary organization was for autonomy, as it realized that a direct annexation to Bulgaria would meet resistance on part of the neighbour countries and the Great Powers. The idea of autonomy, with a priority of the Bulgarian population being the most multitudinous, was accepted not only by IMARO, but also by the Bulgarian governments.

After the First World War the Macedonian question entered a new stage of development. It was not justly resolved according to Wilson’s democratic principles for a free self-determination of the people. The series of peace treaties with defeated Bulgaria confirmed the division of Macedonia between Jugoslavia and Greece. Only the present district of Blagoevgrad (known as a Pirin Macedonia) remained within the boundaries of Bulgaria. A new, more tragic stage in the life of Macedonian Bulgarians set in. Unprecedented terror was established over Bulgarian population in other two part of Macedonia and a policy of compulsory denationalization was conducted. The Serbian government closed 641 Bulgarian schools with 1031 teachers and 37 000 students, 761 Bulgarian churches with 6 bishops and 833 priests. The ruling circles in Serbia tried to change the Bulgarian population’s national consciousness with all possible means. The occupation regime suppressed the resistance through prosecution against members of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), youth, student and women’s organizations.

In Aegean Macedonia the Greek government closed 340 schools, including 20 junior high schools and 6 high schools with 750 teachers and 19 00 students, 378 churches with 300 priests. Bulgarians in this part of Macedonia were declared “Hellenes-Slavophones” and were subject to merciless denationalization and assimilation.

Deprived of its cultural characteristics, politically persecuted and physically destroyed, a considerable part of the Bulgarian population chose to seek refuge in Bulgaria, while other part preferred to take the long road of emigration to America. The nearly 600-thousand refugees’ wave in Bulgaria was not reconciled with the grave situation of their brothers and sisters in Aegean and Vardar Macedonia. The refugees from the two parts of Macedonia restored the Macedonian brothers and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) in Bulgaria. Those organizations kept up the spirit and organized the struggle of the Bulgarian population against the occupiers, defended the population from persecution.

After the First World War the refugees from Macedonia and their organizations on the territory of Bulgaria, having been convinced that there was no other solution, raised once again their claim for autonomy. Under the new circumstances, the purpose of this claim was not to allow further division of the Bulgarian population, to avoid violence, denationalization, persecution, etc. The movement’s political vocabulary used the term “Macedonian” in the sense of “an inhabitant of Macedonia” and the term “Macedonian people” as a combination of all nationalities in the region – Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, Wallachs, etc. But, still, we are not justified to speak of any Macedonianism.

A serious prerequisite for the formation and the establishment of Macedonianism were the doctrinal views of the Communist International on the national, and particularly, on the Macedonian question. At the beginning, the Communist parties of the Balkan countries considered the Slav population in Macedonia as Bulgarian. After a long period of hesitation and indecision, the parties accepted the strategic position of the Communist movement, namely that the national question was subordinate to the class question, that it was secondary, and, as far as the Balkans were concerned, it could be resolved by means of a victorious revolution.

Till the middle of the 30s the Comintern’s attitude towards the national question was determined by its chief aim to struggle against the Versailles system and Yugoslavia as a product of this system. After Hitler’s coming to power and the changes in the international situation, the aim turned to be using Yugoslavia as a barrier against nazi expansion towards Eastern Europe. To accomplish this, national passions had to be appeased. That was the time when the Comintern changed its position on the Macedonian question. The slogan raised was for autonomous Macedonia within the borders of Yugoslavia. Thus, came the Comintern’s resolutions for a Macedonian nation and Macedonian language in 1934. Those formulations, which were out of touch with reality and life, gave birth to the idea of a new nation. This idea additionally complicated the Macedonian question with lasting after-effects.

Meanwhile, the ruling circles in Belgrade in the 30s came round the opinion that it was impossible to achieve any considerable results with the serbianization of Bulgarians in Vardar Macedonia by means of violence. They began looking for new ways to accomplish the same.  The more liberal circles themselves launched the Macedonianization of Bulgarians in Vardar Macedonia with the motto “Better Macedonians, than Bulgarians”, hoping that in the course of time and at the cost of certain privileges, Macedonianism would connect permanently Bulgarians to Yugoslavia. This, actually, presented a fusion of the Macedonianism propagated by the ruling circles, and the Macedonianism brought about by the Comintern, the Balkan Communist Federation and especially the Yugoslavian Communist Party. But here also the processes were not one-sided. As a reaction of defense against the severe intimidation and the denationalization policy of the Serbian government, a new movement came into existence among the intelligentsia of Vardar Macedonia under the slogan: “Better Macedonians, than Serbians”. Considering the circumstances of the time, that was an attempt to avoid direct repression whenever a declaration of a Bulgarian national self-awareness was being made. That arising Macedonianism, however, did not bear any anti-Bulgarian character. Deep inside people’s consciousness “Macedonians” was a synonym of “Macedonian Bulgarians”. Nevertheless, that tendency, too, was quite feeble till 1945; it did not have any significant influence on the population, but only on Communist Party members and some circles of the intelligentsia.

Throughout the WW II and mostly in the postwar years the Macedonian question reached a new stage. Taking advantage of the grave situation of Bulgaria as a German ally in the war, the Yugoslavian Communist Party (YCP) citing the resolutions of the Comintern about a “Macedonian” nation forced its view on the solution of this so ticklish problem. At the insistence of Tito and with the help of Stalin the Macedonian question was turned from Bulgarian and Balkan into a purely Yugoslavian, one that is to be settled within future Yugoslavia. The Macedonianism was once again in focus after the failure of the Serbs to serbianize directly the Bulgarian population in Vardar Macedonia. In those days and even later this was a cover to impose the Great Serbian hegemony.

  In the postwar period between the Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria was erected a wall higher than the Berlin and longer than the Chinese in order to separate brothers from brothers, relatives from relatives, children from parents. Bulgarian books and newspapers were prohibited in Macedonia. The names of the schools and cultural centers connected with the Bulgarian past were ruthlessly replaced with new ones. Monuments of the material and spiritual culture of inestimable value for the European civilization were brought down and desecrated “ with fire, sword and word” so that all survivals of the Bulgarian culture and history should be eradicated. The scribblings of historians and publicists were aimed at forging the historical and cultural past, the struggles and self-awareness of the Bulgarian population in Vardar Macedonia. Events, facts and figures and cultural achievements of the Bulgarian creative genius were appropriated contrary to the historical truth. Some of the most renowned Bulgarian political and cultural figures were claimed to be “Macedonians”. 

Thus was initiated a real crusade against all that is Bulgarian. The people who kept to their Bulgarian nationality, Bulgarian self-awareness and language were subjected to prosecutions, physical and spiritual torments. Hundreds and thousands of democrats and communists, intellectuals and ordinary people, white-headed leaders, people from the Ilinden uprising, students and young pupils, soldiers and officers were assassinated without charge or trial. Thousands of people were forced into camps such as Goli Otok, Indrizovo and others. The  “Macedonian National Honour Protection Law” hangs over the people’s heads like the sword of Domocles and provided a ten-year sentence and confiscation of property. In accordance with this and other such laws over 700 trials were held. The consequences of this anti- Bulgarian campaign are but grave- more than 23 000 were the victims of the regime and more than 150 000 were sent to camps and prisons. All this was attended by an extreme anti-Bulgarian campaign in the media. The latest human history witnessed a rare phenomenon. No country had ever made so many efforts- material or spiritual – in order to change the nationality of a part of its neighbour’s population- in this case Bulgaria, and to prove that that population has nothing to do with Bulgaria and the Bulgarians.

The Bulgarian population that remained in Aegean Macedonia met the same fate. Swept by the civil war, it was renounced the right of self-determination and free manifestation of its Bulgarian nationality consciousness. Some were moved away from their living places, others were forced to the islands of Aegean Sea, and still others were compelled to leave their homes.

    Refugees from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia who left their homes at one time or another after 1945 underwent great hardships , the same holds true for the population of the Pirin region of Macedonia. That population had always considered itself as belonging to the Bulgarian nationality, language and culture. The Bulgarian spirit had always been present throughout this region. It is quite another matter that the Bulgarian governments after Sept 9, 1944 and more particularly the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) made some compromises and retreats having fully accepted Stalin's doctrine, susceptible to the threats of the Yugoslavian ruling circles and to the impact from outside. This led to serious political mistakes, such as exercising of administrative measures over the population in order to be change its nationality in 1946.

Indeed. After 1944, the policy of the Bulgarian governments was characterized by the complex and tough Bulgarian - Yugoslavian relations, the impact from the Yugoslavian government as well as the acceptance of the doctrinal conviction that the national question, including also the Macedonian question, was of secondary importance, being subjected to the revolution. From 1944 to 1948 the Bulgarian policy vacillated, swung from the one extremity to the other and in the long run, however, adopted Tito's conception about a "Macedonian" nation in Vardar Macedonia and a Macedonian minority in Pirin Macedonia. Under Tito's  pressure and with the help of Stalin the BCP and the Bulgarian government made compromises with the national interests of the Bulgarian people. Thus, in 1946 the government compelled the population to change their identity into Macedonian. Thousands of letters, telegrams, statements and resolutions from intellectuals, students and their parents revealed their deep concern about the compulsory study of a  "Macedonian" language.

Since 1948 up to the beginning of the 60's there were a gradual and tough shift in the Bulgarian policy towards the Macedonian question, the Bulgarian ruling circles held serious arguments and attacks against the Yugoslavian government. The Bulgarian communist government confessed its mistakes in respect to the Yugoslavian federation, denounced the YCP, ceased the process of Macedonianization, yet it kept on maintaining the existence of a "Macedonian" nation in Vardar Macedonia and a "Macedonian" minority in Pirin Macedonia.

After the  census in 1965 Bulgaria  revised its policy towards the Macedonian question on the basis of the historical truth, the ethnography, the language and the culture of the Bulgarian population which had manifested freely its nationality. In the meanwhile, it was made clear that a "Macedonian" nation had been created on an anti-Bulgarian basis through forgery of the Bulgarian culture and history. The solution of the Macedonian question was now looked at from a scholarly viewpoint. This policy remained unchained until 1989. Nevertheless, its complementation in practice showed inconsistency and contradictions at home and abroad all of which due to the pressure from Belgrade exerted through Moscow. All this enabled the pro-serbian elements in Macedonia to impose, undisturbed, the Macedonianism on an anti- Bulgarian basis.


For the last 10 years important changes have taken place on the Balkan Peninsula. The new situation calls for an up-to-date look upon the survivals of past problems and their solutions. From the Bulgarian viewpoint one such problem is the Macedonian question and connected with its Macedonianism.

First of all it is worth delineating the evolution in the understanding of the Macedonian question in Bulgaria and the neighbouring countries. For the last decades important changes have taken place in the demography, the politics, the economy etc. of the three separate parts of Macedonia. Many slogans and ideas of the independent and unity Macedonia, just and expediencies in the past times, but unacceptable in our day. Today the only reality is - the Vardar Macedonia there arose Republic of Macedonia.

Bulgaria was the first country to acknowledge the Republic of Macedonia because of her historical duty, the same historical origin, the common history and culture in the past, and because of the relatives on both sides of the border. It is a matter of one people linked by many common features but artificially separated. The acknowledgment goes with the confidence that in Macedonia democratic changes are coming and are in the spirit of the European democratic processes, viz. the abolition of the borders in the economic, political and humanitarian sense of the word, the extension of contacts and communication, a gradual overcoming of the artificially accumulated contradictions of the past in the fields of science, scholarship, culture, etc.

To this effect the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia ratified basic documents about the relations between them as two independent countries on equal footing. They found a working formula to settle some disputed questions. There were also agreements on concrete fields, e.g. economy, education, culture and so on.

Still problems do occur from time to time, the relations are often in  a state of flux. In my opinion these problems must be brought up for an open discussion so that there should be no surprises for politicians and scholars who are presently exploring the situation on the Balkans.

What causes those problems in our view?

First, even nowadays the old pro-serbian, Comintern's concept about a Macedonian nation still survives. The idea that the Macedonian nation originates with Alexander the Great is widely spread there . Others consider that the Macedonian nation comes of the Middle Ages, through the national Revival up to the present-day Macedonians in the Republic of Macedonia and minorities in the neighbouring countries. We understand the drama of our colleagues in Skopie go through the moment they let their conscience speak, as they know well what the truth is.

We understand also the romantic fascination. This is the youngest independent state in Europe. It must be inevitable to do without seeking for the romantic side of the matter, for the past, for heroes, etc.

Yet, this is not, frankly speaking, just some temporary fascination. Quite a lot of facts and analyses reveal it is a well-thought-of and intently carried out policy which is in essence old’s one.

What is this all about?

The present-day state Macedonianism on an anti-Bulgarian basis, which is still being advocated, encroaches on history and culture, etc. thus some overt or covert claims for territories, population, etc. are being laid to neighbouring countries. Such claims are especially laid against Bulgaria.

An assumed Macedonian minority is believed, according to the state Macedonianism, to be living not only in the region of Pirin but also all over Bulgaria. As is known thousands of refugees came to Bulgaria  at one time or another ( after the Russo-Turkish war, after the Kresna-Razlog and Ilinden-Preobrazhenie uprising, after the Balkan and World War I and even after 1945). Nowadays the refugees from the region of Macedonia and the descendants are about 2'500'000. All of them came here because they felt themselves to be Bulgarians in the past as well as now and sought the freedom in their Motherland. On what basis should we claim them to be Macedonians? Just for living in the geographic region of Macedonia?

Last but not least, I am going to mention the various organizations which were established by Belgrade, and now supported by Skopie too,  on the territory of Bulgaria  (e.g. OMO Ilinden). They advocate national separatism, change of the borders and thus destabilize the region and in practice threaten the piece and security on the Balkans.

We, the Bulgarians, and especially the Bulgarian scholars cannot connive at the fact that our heritage is being falsified, that thoughts, ideas and sentiments are being attributed to the dead who never had them in their lifetimes; that our historical and cultural past is being fixed up and our history rewritten for centuries back, be it in a scholarly-like form.

Providing these disputes persist the efforts of scholars and cultural figures will be directed towards meaningless disputes about language, nation, etc. which will come to the benefit only of the present-day state and political ruling circles in Republic of Macedonia that stipulate and lay claims to their neighbours and mostly to Bulgaria. It may even turn out that Bulgaria  has allegedly stolen the heritage of Macedonia, of some non-existent Macedonian nation in the past. Is it not true that the Sofia University bears the name of St. Kliment of Ohrid and that the National Library bears the names of our first teachers- " St. St. Cyril and Methodius"?

There are still more questions to discuss.

First, about the past and the common origin. This is a question of primary importance and therefore a starting point. No matter what is being done, no matter what tricks are being made, the common origin between the Bulgarians  in Macedonia and the present-day Macedonians is beyond dispute.

Now we are making an important distinction. We do not impose, nor would like to and will not impose some self-determination on the Slavic population in the Republic of Macedonia. It is another matter what they are now and what they, the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia after 1945, consider themselves to be, whether they approve of the methods of violence and pressure to change nationality. This is their own right. This was already the subject of the previous report. What is important is that there must be freedom and democracy for self-determination as this is a supreme right of every citizen.

Why does the Republic of Macedonia still follow this line of conduct?

1. The false ideology, the false myths have penetrated deep into the educational system. One whole generation has already been so educated and has adopted wrong perceptions, has been imposed an ethno-genetic myth, an ethno-cultural model different from the Bulgarian.

2. The stereotypes formed for more than 50 years are impossible to overcome.
3. It is beyond doubt that the endless sufferings and victims have instilled fear in the period between the two world wars and especially after the World War II. Fear, however, damps human spirit, undermine the foundations of truth and morality. On the other hand , it is an instinct of self-preservation, survival,  a reaction of defense. Suffice it to mention one extraordinary and unprecedented fact, viz. for a hundred years the Slavic population has been thrice forced to change its national identity- from Bulgarians as have been known centuries on end and so prefer to call themselves, through Serbs and finally into Macedonians.

Despite all zigzags, however, sooner or later there will be contacts between scholars as it is the meaning of scholarship to reveal the truth, or as is commonly said- " to arouse good thoughts ", to provide conditions for spiritual improvement, not for confrontation. The juxtaposition of viewpoints may put an end to the illusions and the false myths. The recent changes in South-Eastern Europe and the Republic of Macedonia inspire the hope that the artificial problems to establish civilized European-like relations between the Balkan and European countries will be finally overcome.    


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