Statement of the Macedonian Scientific Institute on the Bulgarian community in Albania



 The strong response from the Balkans regarding a resolution on the Republic of Albania, voted in the European Parliament, including recommendations for respecting the rights of Bulgarians within its state territory, prompted the Macedonian Scientific Institute to express its opinion on the matter. Historically, the Bulgarian national minority in Albania dates back to 1913, i.e. since the creation of a modern Albanian state. According to the decisions of the London Ambassadors' conference, the delimitation of the boarders between the Principality of Albania and Kingdom of Serbia, determines, that some settlements from the historic-geographical region of Macedonia, within the Ottoman Empire until 1912, now fall within the territory of the new Albanian state. Among them are villages of Slavic (Bulgarian) population - Christian and Muslim, found in the two regions in Upper Debar - Golo Bardo and a part of Pole. This nucleus also includes two big Christian Bulgarian villages in the Korca region - Boboshtica and Drenovo - and the Bulgarian colonies in Korca, Bilisht, Shkodra and others. Later on, a part of the Gora region, densely populated with Muslim Bulgarians, is added to Albania. After World War I, the Albanian state also included the Christian Bulgarian villages in Mala Prespa, along with the village Vrabnik in the Kastoria region. Because of internal displacements and external migrations (of Bulgarians from Macedonia under Serbian and Greek authorities - mainly refugees from the terror exerted upon them by Athens and Belgrade), the Bulgarian population in Albania is scattered around the country - in Tirana, Elbasan, Durres and other regions. Until World War I, European scientists, explorers, diplomats, publicists and others unanimously defined the Bulgarian language and appearance of this national group. Its roots lead deep into the middle Ages, affirmed by numerous testimonies about the language and appearance of this national community as a Bulgarian one.

 Ever since the IX century, the lands, where today there is a Bulgarian minority in Albania, are related to the Bulgarian Orthodox civilization, as written by their Holinesses Prince Boris I Michael Baptist, St. Clement of Ohrid and St. Naum of Ohrid. Most clearly highlighted in the New Time are the Bulgarian Orthodox Christians. Generally, they belonged to the two recognized and approved dioceses by the Ottoman Empire Bulgarian Exarchate, established in 1870 - eight years before the creation of the modern Bulgarian state. The Exarchate is a carrier of cultural and religious autonomy of the Bulgarian nation (millet). Its reach included the regions of Golo Bardo and Pole - an integral part of the Debar-Kichevo Bulgarian Diocese, Mala Prespa of Ohrid, the Prespa Bulgarian Diocese, alongside with Vrabnik and the Bulgarian immigrants in the town of Bilisht and of Korca. Until 1912/1913 Bulgarian schools were functioning there, as well as the officially used language in the Bulgarian churches was Bulgarian. The local Bulgarian population was involved in the struggle for political freedom through participation in the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) and the Macedonian-Adrianopolitan Volunteer Corps - Voluntary formation of Macedonian and Thracian Bulgarians in the Bulgarian army during the Balkan wars. In September 1913, these regions become a hotspot, resulting in outbreak of the common Bulgarian-Albanian uprising against Serbian occupation. Subsequently, an attempt was made to create a separate Bulgarian Diocese in Albania as a legitimate successor of the Exarches tradition in those parts of the Ohrid-Prespa and Debar-Kichevo dioceses. The collapse of the Albanian state and the subsequent occupation of the country during World War I put an end to this attempt. After the "Great War" the status quo established during the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) was complicated through the geopolitical parameters of both the Bulgarian and Albanian national issues. 

Despite repeated actions from Sofia, the problem of the Bulgarian minority in Albania remains artificially "frozen" due to pressure from Yugoslavia. It does not allow adjacent to the Vardar Banovina (i.e. South Serbia) another Slavic minority than the Serb to exist. Otherwise, the recognized presence of Bulgarians across the Ohrid Lake and the river Black Drin could raise the issue regarding the rights of their fellow Bulgarians, who were declared as "Southern Serbs", on both sides of the river Vardar. In the interwar period, active efforts to restore the Bulgarian church and school work in Albania, were made primarly by VMRO –a revolutionary organization of the Macedonian Bulgarians and legal organizations of refugees from Macedonia in Bulgaria – further, the Debar brotherhood and Association "St. John the Baptist "of the Bulgarian Christians from Golo Bardo and Pole (Debar). Aside the non-binding protocol for mutual recognition and respect for minorities, signed in 1932 by Bulgarian and Albanian delegation within the International peace initiatives on the Balkans and in Europe, nothing significant has been achieved in this direction. However, thanks to the efforts of the Bulgarian state, the connections between Bulgaria and the Bulgarians in Albania have never been interrupted during the period between the two world wars. Bulgarian textbooks and other books, sent by teachers and priests, were successfully delivered to them, supporting the feelings of a shared historical destiny and a common national identity, conveying hope for a better future. 

The same problem remained after World War II, with the difference, that the Bulgarian population in Albania was given a new "national" label - "Macedonians" according to the new national modification of the international communist movement and of the dominant neighbour - Tito's Yugoslavia, with its "alliance" member - SR Macedonia. For 45 years, due to old political mistakes and imposed foreign ideology, the communist regime in Bulgaria has turned their eyes away from our compatriots in Albania. This state of violated historical justice has gradually changed, subsequent to the democratic changes in 1989. Bulgarians in Albania have become the subject of increased scientific interest by Bulgarian historians, linguists, ethnologists and folklorists. Bulgarian literature has reached them once again. The media are also maintaining a high level of public awareness for their problems. Bulgarian universities have opened their doors for them. The recent resolution of the European Parliament on the Republic of Albania, with recommendations for respecting the rights of Bulgarians in its state territory, is a chance, but also a verification with many addressees - to the traditionally good Bulgarian-Albanian relations, to democracy in the Republic of Albania, to the wisdom and maturity of Bulgaria.

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