Macedonian refugees in Bulgaria (From 1878 to the 30s of XX century)




Macedonian Review, 2016, № 1, p. 19-28

 Assoc. Prof. Daniel Vachkov, PhD 

 Several times in its recent history Bulgaria has been facing a painful and difficult to solve problem with the reception and accommodation of large numbers of people seeking refuge from the persecution of violent regimes or from the horrors of large- scale hostilities. Even during the restoration of the Bulgarian state, the phenomenon of “refugees“ emerged, which, for long periods of time, will be a real test for both economic and social policy of the government and the ability of Bulgarian society to show solidarity and empathy with the suffering of people who left their homelands. The main reason for the frequent influx of refugees to Bulgaria is rooted mostly in the unresolved national question in the Balkans. 

Created by the Congress of Berlin in July 1878 Principality of Bulgaria included in its borders only half of those living on the peninsula Bulgarians. Even after the Unification of 1885 outside the Bulgarian state continued to live nearly two million compatriots1 those Bulgarians, preserving their language and culture are concentrated in Macedonia. It is these failed attempts for over 40 years this area be annexed to the Fatherland, that is the basis of recurring waves of refugees to Bulgaria. The theme of Macedonian refugees, which is determinative of the biggest refugee question in the new Bulgarian history, affects very many aspects of the overall social development of Bulgaria in the first half century of its independent development after the Liberation. A significant number of scientific publications 

 1 According to some foreign researchers from XIX c., the number of Bulgarians on the eve of Liberation amounted to little more than 5,1 million, including the Bulgarian communities outside the Balkan Peninsula. 


by Bulgarian historians considered the most diverse aspects of this problem. The most common theme was studied as part of economic and social policies of various Bulgarian governments or parties2 foreign economic relations of the Bulgarian state with its neighbours, the great powers and international organizations and financial circles3 investigated the role of refugees and their organizations in Bulgaria for the development of national liberation struggles of Bulgarians outside the country4 Last but not least, the issue was raised in the context of studies on donations in Bulgaria5. 

 The aim of the presented paper is to analyze and summarize the financial efforts of the Bulgarian government to resolve the refugee issue; in particular that of Macedonian refugees who make up the majority of Bulgarian refugees during almost the entire period of Liberation (1878) until the beginning of the 30s of XX century, when basically economic accommodation of refugees ended. It will also attempt to assess the effectiveness of costs incurred over the years and how they affect the long-term prospects in the development of Bulgarian society. The main difficulty faced by researchers of the refugee problem is the lack of accurate data on the number of refugees. The reasons are, on the one hand, that not all refugees arriving in Bulgaria have been officially registered as such, which was not reflected by the state statistics. On the other hand, in different periods there is a definite dynamics in migratory movements, which also makes it difficult to track the number of refugees. 

For example, after the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising and the signing of the Bulgarian-Turkish Agreement of 1904, or after the release of Macedonia in the autumn of 1915 part of the refugees returned to their homeland to 

2 Димитров, Г. В. Настаняване и оземляване на българските бежанци 1919–1939. Благоевград, 1985; Косатев, Т. Политиката на Българския земеделски народен съюз по бежанския въпрос 1919–1923. – Известия на Института по история. Т. XXVI. С., 1983. 
3 Димитров, Г. В. Малцинствено-бежанският въпрос в българо-гръцките отношения (1919–1939). Благоевград, 1982; Mitev, D. The refugee Loan of 1926 and Britain. – Etudes historique, t. 12, 1984; Косев, Д. Външната политика на България при управлението на Андрей Ляпчев (1926–1931). С., 1995; Вачков, Д. Проблемът на българските бежанци пред Обществото на народите (1923–1925). – Македонски преглед, 1998, No 3, 21–38. 
4 Пандев, К. Националноосвободителното движение в Македония и Одринско 1878– 1903. С., 2000; Елдъров, Св. Върховният македоно-одрински комитет и Македоно- одринската организация в България 1878–1903. С., 2003; Гребенаров, А. Легални и тайни организации на македонските бежанци в България (1919–1947). С., 2007 и др. 
5 Генадиев, Г. Бежанците във Варненско 1878–1908. С., 1998. 


It was seen in the context of foreign policy and . Especially they become refugees again years later when the area was occupied again by a foreign power. Another part of refugees, which, after the Balkan wars, were housed in Bulgaria acquired areas in Western Thrace, after the First World War were driven out by the Greek authorities and once again were forced to seek refuge in Bulgaria. In turn, when the Bulgarian state in the mid-20s of the XX century was taking a more active policy in their permanent housing and land settlement, it used general data on refugees without making precise distinctions how many of them were from Macedonia, Eastern and Western Thrace, Dobrudzha, Western Outlands.

 This approach, while fully justified, since, for Bulgaria, all Bulgarian refugees need equal support regardless of where they arrive, makes it impossible to accurately determine how much financial and material resources were spent specifically for Macedonian refugees. Only by using indirect data from other unofficial statistics as well as a comparative analysis of the weighting of refugee groups flooding from various Bulgarian regions, it is possible establishing to the nearest the amounts used for the accommodation of Macedonian refugees. 

 * * * 

 Even before the convening of the Berlin Congress, alarming information began to spread among Bulgarians that Macedonia will not be included within the free Bulgarian state. Despite numerous petitions made by the Bulgarian population in the area to the Great Powers not to be separated from the Principality of Bulgaria, the Berlin Treaty defined the return of Macedonia under the direct authority of the Sultan and only Art. 23 of the document generally provided for administrative reforms in European Turkey. Against their determined in Berlin fate, part of the Bulgarians in Macedonia started an armed struggle and in the autumn of 1878 triggered the Kresna-Razlog Uprising. Following the hostilities and the Uprising defeat in the winter and spring of 1878–1879, more massive waves of refugees from Macedonia were coming as well. 

 Over 30 000 people headed to the closest cities in Sofia province – Gorna Dzhumaya (today Blagoevgrad), Kyustendil, Dupnitsa, Samokov and of course, the capital Sofia. In their support, a special commission was formed in Sofia, with branch-Committees in these regional towns of the province. The Commission and its branches were tasked with the authorities to distribute aid, organize humanitarian activities (food, clothing, heating, medical care, etc.) and refer refugees to areas for their accommodation. Amounts spent were determined by the Provisional Russian government to about 400,000 golden francs. Eventually, all refugee families that remained on the territory of the Principality received parcels of land in the frontier zone with the Ottoman Empire or in the hinterland6.

 See in more detail: Миграционни движения на българите 1878–1941. Т. 1, 1878–1912. Съст. В. Василева и др. С., 1993, с. 36 и сл.; Британски дипломатически документи по българския национален въпрос. Т. 1(1878–1893). Съст. В. Трайкова и др. С., 1993, 78–95; Тодоров, Г. Временно руско управление в България 1877–1879 г. С., 1958, .


 The census made later – in 1887, of the Principality of  Bulgaria, noted that people living in the country that arrived from the Ottoman Empire (mainly Bulgarians from Macedonia and the region of Adrianople) are 54,462. After examining these figures, one of the most prominent researchers of demographic processes in Macedonia, Vasil Kanchov, concluded that Macedonian Bulgarians settled in Bulgaria in the first decade after the liberation, were about 30,000 to 32,000 people7 New wave of refugees to Bulgaria was formed in 1902–1903, when Gorna Dzhumaya and Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprisings were cruelly extinguished. 

In early September 1903 Bulgarian Interior Ministry noted that the number of refugees in the country has reached nearly 20,000 people8 the year and early in 1904 their numbers increased, exceeding 30,000 people9 condition of refugees was extremely critical and it was necessary to quickly vote by the National Assembly loans for their urgent assistance. The total amount of assistance provided amounted to impressive for that time 2.3 million golden levs10 Substantial material and financial support to refugees was provided by a number of charity organizations and the whole Bulgarian society11. 

Later significant part, primarily Macedonian Bulgarians, of the refugees received the opportunity to return to their homelands after the conclusion of the Bulgarian-Turkish Agreement of March 26, 1904, under which the Ottoman Empire announced amnesty for rank and file participants in the uprising12. This situation, coupled with the fact that in the first decade of the XX century the Bulgarian state is experiencing an economic and financial rise, allowed refugees to integrate successfully into the economic life of the country, without leading to an acute social crisis. 

Census in the Kingdom of 159–161; Дойнов, Д. Кресненско-Разложкото въстание 1878–1879, София, 1993, 84-86 и др. 

7 Кънчов, В. Избрани произведения. Т. ІІ. С., 1970, с. 313. 
 8 Генадиев, Г. Посрещане на бежанците от Македония и Одринско във Варненско през 1903–1904 г. – В: 110 години от Илинденско-Преображенското въстание и българската национална идея от Сан Стефано до Букурещ (1878–1913). С., 2014, с. 313. 
 9 Миграционни движения..., Т. 1, 301–304; Трайков, В. Бежанският въпрос преди и след Илинденско-Преображенското въстание. – В: Осемдесет години от Илинденско- Преображенското въстание. С. 1988, с. 507. 
10 Националноосвободителното движение..., Т. 2, с. 367. 
11 Генадиев, Г. Посрещане на бежанците..., 316–320. 
12 Принос към дипломатическата история на България. Григор Начович и българо- турското споразумение от 1904 г. Съст. В. Китанов. С., 2004; Пенчев, П. Българо- турското споразумение от март 1904 г. и неговото приложение. – Известия на държавните архиви, 2004, No 87, 32–55. 


 In the coming months to the end of Bulgaria in 1910 reported 36,993 people born in Macedonia and 32,634 people born in the region of Adrianople. Of a total of 69,627 people born in two areas, 61,321 were listed as Bulgarians by nationality13. According to the famous Bulgarian economist and statistician K. Popov on the eve of the Balkan wars in Bulgaria there were about 150,000 Bulgarians arrived from Macedonia, region of Adrianople, Romania, Bessarabia and Banat; nearly 100,000 were those of Macedonia. Of course, most of them did not have refugee status and were mainly economic migrants14 Far more critical is the situation of the emerging mass of refugees during and after the Balkan wars 1912–1913. The conquest of Macedonia by Serbian and Greek troops, persecutions started over the Bulgarian population and the outbreak in the summer of 1913 of the Second Balkan War were cause thousands of Bulgarians from Macedonia, Eastern Thrace and Southern Dobrudzha to leave their homes and take the hard road of refugees. By the summer of next year, the arrival continued of large groups of people seeking refuge in Bulgaria. Specialized state bodies officially registered 25,765 refugee families, or 120,690 people, with clarification that to them “positively“ should be added “at least another 50,000 members single refugees“ who governmental committees have not been able to present15 Subtracting the number of refugees from Eastern Thrace, which was quite accurately specified by Prof. L. Miletich to over 37,000 16, relatively few in number to that moment refugees from Southern Dobrudzha, as well as those of Asia Minor, it could be determined, to a high degree of confidence, the number of Macedonian refugees after the Balkan wars to approximately 80,000 to 100,000 people. In their majority, these people were forced very quickly to leave their lands and arrive in Bulgaria without any means of survival. Their survival depended entirely on the help of the Bulgarian state. For the provision of the most basic needs of food and shelter, only, by the end of 1913 the government spent 1.45 million golden levs. This sum happened to be not enough and in April 1914 a new credit outside the budget was passed by the National Assembly worth 1.2 million golden levs to help refugees17 . 

13 Общи резултати от преброяване на населението в Царство България на 31 декември 1910 г. Кн. І. С., 1923; Георгиев, Г. Н., А. Геренска. Македонските бежанци, преселници и гурбетчии в Кюстендилски окръг (1878–1912). – Известия на Исторически музей – Кюстендил. Т. ХVІ. Кюстендил, 2008, с. 199, 203. 
14 Попов, К. Стопанска България. С., 1916, 72–73. 
15 ЦДА, ф. 176К, оп. 3, а.е. 209-а, л. 18; История на българите 1878–1944 в документи. Т. ІІ, 1912–1918. Съст. В. Георгиев, Ст. Трифонов. С., 1996, с. 298. 
16 Милетич, Л. Разорението на тракийските българи през 1913 година. С., 1918.


 It is obvious, however, that the problem can be solved only after permanent housing and allotting land to thousands of refugee families. Yet in the summer of 1913 the government of Vasil Radoslavov formed special committees, which should engage in solving these problems. Instructions were the refugees to move towards newly annexed lands to Bulgaria – Pirin Macedonia and Western Thrace. The goal that aroused was, on the one hand, to use the abandoned lands of the Turkish population and, on the other, to strengthen Bulgarian ethnic element in these areas. Distribution of lands began and, for their commercial utilization, Bulgarian Agricultural Bank granted refugee 15 millions golden levs low-interest loan guaranteed by the state to purchase farm implements, livestock, materials for construction and others18. Despite efforts on the ground, the placement of a mass refugee proved difficult process requiring a lot of time. It is far from end when in the autumn of 1915 Bulgaria entered the First World War with the intention to correct the mistakes of the Balkan wars and to achieve the much desired national unity. 

 The choice of ally turns out to be fatal in the autumn of 1918. Bulgaria is again in the camp of the vanquished. Thousands of new Bulgarian refugees began to arrive seeking rescue from renewed repression by the Balkan neighbours of Bulgaria. Census in Bulgaria showed that by 1920 the number of registered refugees after World War I has increased by about 50,000 people and with those of the Balkan wars already exceeds 175,00019. Signed on November 27, 1919, with the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgarian-Greek Convention for “voluntary“ exchange of population also emerged as an additional source of refugees in the near future. Initially, this agreement did not indicate a large movement of people. But the situation changed dramatically in 1922–1923, following disastrous for Greece war with Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal. Greek defeat was accompanied by the expulsion of nearly 1.5 million Anatolian Christians, many of which were housed in Aegean Macedonia and Western Thrace. Brutal pressure began by the Greek authorities over the local Bulgarian population to emigrate in Bulgaria and thus make room for Greeks arriving from Asia Minor. The principle of voluntariness was grossly violated and another wave of refugees to Bulgaria started. So in the years after World War I, over 106,000 new refugees arrived in Bulgaria from Macedonia – 20,323 from Vardar Macedonia and 86,572 from Aegean Macedonia20. In autumn 1925 the 

 бежанци след Балканските войни. – В: 100 години от Балканските войни. Международна научна конференция, 11 ноември 2013, София. С. 2015, с. 144. 18 Ibid, 147–148. 
19 Димитров, Г. В. Настаняване и оземляване..., с. 30. 20 Косатев, Т. Бежанският въпрос в България след Първата световна война (1919– 1932). С., 1976, с. 261 (Thesis); Даскалов, Г. Българите в Егейска Македония. Мит или реалност. С., 1996, с. 181. 


authorities in the Kingdom made accurate census of the Bulgarian refugees found shelter in the country since 1903. The official figures show 296,593 people, whose numbers included also the deceased21. In the preserved documents, unfortunately, there is no exactly specified information from which parts they come, but comparing data on refugees from other Bulgarian regions – Eastern and Western Thrace, Dobrudzha and Western Outlands one can reasonably assume that over 230,000 are refugees of Macedonia. At this time the Bulgarian state was facing a huge humanitarian problem for the solution of which did not have the necessary financial and material resources. Bulgaria was completely exhausted with excessive economic costs incurred during the years of war. Its production and trade were deeply disturbed and the state of the public finances was very grave. Accumulated during the war and in the years immediately after its end obligations of the State to the Bulgarian National Bank amounted to a colossal amount for that time of nearly 4.5 billion Lev, but actually the most frightening situation was with the external debt. In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, Bulgaria was ordered to pay reparations to the winners of 2,250 million golden francs, without including benefits in kind and gave up war material. 

 Along with the pre-war debts contracted by the Bulgarian state, the amount of foreign debt of Bulgaria reached the nearly 3 billion golden francs22. With such a debt burden no steps can be taken to recover the Bulgarian economy, let alone pursue activities in placement of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Initially the efforts of  Bulgarian governments after the war were mainly in two directions: to achieve relief of reparative payments and to create conditions for the return of Bulgarian refugees to their homes, provided that their rights of ethnic minorities were respected. On the first issue substantial success has been achieved – in March 1923 an agreement was made for deferred payment of reparations, which gave a breath of Bulgarian finance. However the attempts of the Bulgarian diplomacy remained unsuccessful to make Serbo-Croat-Slovene Kingdom and Greece recognizing the presence of the Bulgarian minority in their territories and thus create conditions for the return of the Macedonian refugees staying in Bulgaria. Although the policy of close ties with Belgrade, the government of Alexander Stambolyiski did not receive satisfaction of Bulgarian demands. The next government, that of prof. Aleksandar Tsankov, focused their actions towards Greece. With the support of the League of Nations (UN) an agreement was made in September 1924 on mutual recognition and respect for the rights of the Bulgarian minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Bulgaria. But this convention, known 

 21 НБКМ–БИА, ф. 361, а.е. 824, л. 107. 
 22 Иванов, М., Ц. Тодорова, Д. Вачков. История на външния държавен дълг на България 1878–1990. Втора част. С., 2009, с. 11, 15. 


by the names of the two foreign ministers Kalfov-Politis, was not been ratified by the Greek Parliament and did not enter into force23 state was left with nothing more than to turn to external financial assistance for accommodation and allotting land to over 200,000 extremely poor Bulgarian refugees. Formal request for international support for the conclusion of refugee loan was made by the Bulgarian government in September 1925. In October the same year, events occurred that accelerated international solution to the refugee issue in Bulgaria. After the incident at the Bulgarian-Greek border on October 21, Greek troops invaded Petrich region. Bulgarian government asked for the support of the international organization to stop the foreign invasion. 

The decision of the League of Nations Council was all troops located in a foreign country, to immediately withdraw from it. A month later an international commission was organized to investigate the causes of the Bulgarian-Greek conflict. One of its main conclusions was that the irregular situation of refugees in Bulgaria is the major source of tension in relations between the two countries. The report recommends international financial assistance to Bulgaria for economic accommodation of refugees. It was decided that the Greek State shall pay the affected population of Petrich region a compensation of 30 million Lev. The first steps in providing external support have been taken since the beginning of 1926, when in Sofia the Government of Andrey Lyapchev came to power, having better reception abroad. 

In February two representatives of the world organization arrived in the country, which in their report reflected the critical situation of the Bulgarian refugees and recommend as soon as possible to help Bulgaria to secure their accommodation. Special merit to solve the problem had the French financier and lawyer Rene Sharon appointed for Commissioner for Refugees in Bulgaria. He, along with the Bulgarian authorities and especially the director of the Directorate for accommodation of refugees Eng. Stoimen Sarafov, prepared a detailed plan for their full integration into Bulgarian society24 Despite numerous obstructions on the part of Yugoslavia, Greece and Romania, the League of Nations Council decided the Bulgarian state to get a refugee loan guaranteed by the world organization. At the end of 1926 mainly English and American banks issued seven percent Refugee loan to Bulgaria, whose product amount at 4.5 million dollars and 2.4 million pounds25. With the funds received, extensive measures were taken to complete the housing and land settlement of Bulgarian refugees. 

 23 Вачков, Д. Проблемът на българските бежанци..., 27–30. 
 24 Journal officiel de la SDN, VII annee, Geneve, 1926, p. 923 
 25 Иванов, М., Ц. Тодорова, Д. Вачков. Op. cit., 70–72.


 In this situation the Bulgarian . Macedonian refugees and their accommodation in Bulgaria ... (from 1878 to the 30s of XX century) 27 In general, work placement completed fully by the summer of 1931. More than 30,000 refugee families received land and were provided with livelihood, or a total of over 200,000 people, of which over 150,000 were from Macedonia. 1,090,323 acres of arable land were distributed, 24 359 heads working cattle, 10,555 wagons, 10,042 plow and 3,605 harrows. 10,262 houses were built for refugees in 13 districts of the country. 127 villages were supplied with water. To successful integration of areas with refugees, a number of infrastructure improvements have also been made. Swamps near Burgas and Straldzha were drained, a dike in Gigen was built to stop Danube river overflows and the railroad Rakovski–Mastanli was built. When the loan funds were finished, for the completion of these works, the Bulgarian state paid extra from the budget about 104 mln. Levs.26 Again after the decisive intervention of the League of Nations, the Joint Bulgarian- Greek Commission significantly accelerated their business on voluntary exchange of population. In 1927, an Agreement was made of the finance ministers of the two countries, Mollov and Kafandaris, which detailed the way immigrants will be compensated. 

By the end of 1929 the Commission led by the League of Nations representatives, was able to process 25,598 declarations of Bulgarians who left Greece and 15,487 Greeks who left Bulgaria; according to estimates of experts it is a matter of about 90,000 Bulgarians, including 70,000 from Aegean Macedonia, and around 46,000 Greeks. After assessing the value of their abandoned property, a global amount was defined that represented the difference and should be paid by the Greek state. It amounts to 7,165,252 dollars27. Very little part of this amount entered, however, since in the summer of 1931 because of the sharp global financial crisis, US President Hoover introduced one-year moratorium on the payment of war reparations and inter-governmental debts, which continues thereafter. Using grounds that Bulgaria has suspended reparative contributions, Greece refused to pay its debt on the Agreement “Mollov–Kafandaris“. So in general it can be said that the funds spent on accommodation of refugees were met mainly by the Bulgarian state, including much of the Refugee Loan servicing. 

 * * * 

 For the whole period from the Liberation to mid 20s of XX century, from Macedonia to Bulgaria, huge number of people arrived as refugees. It is difficult this number to be defined with absolute accuracy, but if to the official census of refugees in 1925, covering the period after the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising, we add those of Kresna-Razlog Uprising, the Macedonian refugees can be set 

26 Селскостопанското настаняване на бежанците в България 1927–1932. С., 1932, 104-162; ЦДА, ф. 159К, оп. 2, а.е.198, л. 3. 
27 Димитров, Г. В. Малцинствено-бежанският въпрос..., с. 283. 


approximately to about 250,000. And if we include all those arrived singly or in small groups of people for political or economic reasons, it can rightly be argued that at least 350,000 Bulgarians refugees and immigrants from Macedonia under foreign rule – Ottoman, Serbian and Greek, were permanently housed and integrated into Bulgarian society. This means that by the 30s of XX century nearly 8% of the population of Bulgaria consisted of Macedonian refugees and immigrants or their descendants. It is difficult to calculate the costs incurred for their accommodation. On the one hand, not all money spent can be tracked, and the other – continuing several years devaluation of the lev after the First World War complicated the global amount assessment. Until the Balkan wars due to the small number of refugees and thanks to sound economic and financial situation the state managed to deal with the problem with its own forces. Also, relatively numerous properties were used abandoned by their former Turkish owners. Direct costs of the state in this area amounted to about 3 million golden levs. This amount does not include aid provided by various Bulgarian and foreign public organizations and private efforts of already former refugees to help their newly arrived countrymen. The picture became quite different after the 1912–1918 war. The arrival of huge masses of refugees at a time when the country was in a difficult financial and economic situation required the search for external financial assistance. Funds from the Refugee Loan and made off government expenditure amounted to 2,260 million Levs, or converted to the value of the golden lev, corresponding to approximately 85 million golden Levs Certainly the problem of refugees from Macedonia had lasting consequences for the overall development of the Bulgarian nation and state. Leaving aside the serious psychological traumas that marked thousands of Bulgarians passed by the tragic path of refugees, it is sufficient to note the fact, as the most devastating result of these large-scale migrations, that thus the Bulgarian ethnic element significantly weakened in this primordial Bulgarian area. With special force this statement refers to Aegean Macedonia remained under Greek rule. But on the other hand, integrated in Bulgaria refugees with their work, knowledge and energy contributed greatly to the overall development of their Homeland. Hardly anyone can dispute the enormous contributions of hundreds of prominent Bulgarians from Macedonia in achieving impressive successes in the field of Bulgarian culture, science, economy. 



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