Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years - Part II - 1878 - 1903
Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years
Part II - 1878 - 1903
by Risto Stefov email@example.com
In the previous article (part I) I covered events leading up to but not including the 1877 Russian invasion of the Ottoman Empire which ended with the dreaded 1878 Treaty of Berlin. Events covered included the Serbian and Greek uprisings, Super Power interventions in the Ottoman realm, results of the Crimean war, and the 1875 economic crisis in the Balkans.
In this article (part II) I will start where I left off in part I and cover events from 1878 up to the developments leading up to the Macedonian Ilinden uprising of 1903.
I want to apologize for the large number of quotes I have included in this document. This is the only way I can "stave off" those who accuse me of "inventing" or "making up things". I will also do my best to reference Western and neutral sources in order to keep my arguments as unbiased as possible.
On top of paying heavy taxes to the Ottomans, the village peasants of the Balkans were now burdened with additional taxes to pay off Western European loans. For some the burden was too great and it manifested itself in a number of independent uprisings. Discontentment with Turkish rule, economic plight and pure neglect of human life precipitated the "Eastern Crisis".
The first of these uprisings began in 1875 in Bosnia but soon spread to Montenegro and Serbia. About a year later the village peasants in Bulgaria showed their discontentment and staged a massive liberation struggle. To a lesser extent, the liberation struggle extended to Macedonia where an armed insurrection took place in Razlog in 1876.
The growing discontentment of the peasantry in the Balkans disturbed the Great Powers who now had a vested interest in protecting the Ottoman Empire from falling apart. A conference was convened in Tsary Grad (Istanbul) in 1876 to discuss strategies on how to deal with the insurrections and the "Eastern Question" in general. Representatives of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Britain, Germany, France and Italy attended the conference and decided to place Macedonia and Bulgaria under the control of the Great Powers. Turkey rejected their demands and soon after found herself at odds with Russia. By early 1877, war broke out in Serbia and Montenegro followed by a massive Russian invasion of Bulgaria. The Turkish armies were decimated and Turkey was forced to talk peace. Peace was negotiated between Russia and Turkey on March 3rd, 1878, (the San Stefano Treaty) without Western Power consent. Russia, as usual, was concerned more with self interests and less with the interest of the people she was trying to protect, so she sought the opportunity to realize a long held ambition in the Balkans, access to the Mediterranean Sea. The following agreements were reached:
1. Turkey was forced to recognize Greek sovereignty over Thessaly.
2. Montenegro was declared independent.
3. Turkey was forced to provide autonomy to an extended Bulgaria that included Macedonia, Western Thrace, a part of Albania, and a district of Serbia.
The conclusion of this treaty sent shock waves not only through the Western Powers who had a lot to lose (financial investments in the Ottoman Empire) but also to states like Greece and Serbia who had territorial ambitions of their own towards Ottoman territories.
Disturbed by the Russian tactics, the Western Powers re-convened the Eastern Question at Berlin in July 1878. At this point the San Stefano agreement was revised as follows:
1. Independence was granted to Serbia, and Montenegro as well as Romania.
2. Bosnia was given to Austria-Hungary ("Britain did not want more Slavic states to form". Page 379, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century)
3. The territory of present day Bulgaria was divided into two administrative districts. Bulgaria proper and Eastern Rumelia. Eastern Rumelia was given back to the Turks.
4. Macedonia, Thrace, Kosovo and Albania were given back to the Ottomans.
At the verge of bankruptcy Russia could not resist the Western Powers and gave in to their demands.
With the exception of clause 23 that required the Turks to provide a small degree of economic autonomy to Macedonia, Macedonia was once again committed to Ottoman oppression. The conditions of clause 23 unfortunately, were never enforced by the Super Powers or complied with by Turkey.
In the spring of 1878 Macedonia reached the crossroads of her destiny. She was one step away from overthrowing six hundred years of Ottoman tyranny when Western Powers stepped in to prevent it. Why? Was Macedonia less deserving than Greece, Serbia or Bulgaria? Were the Macedonians less Christian than the Greeks, Serbians or Bulgarians? Was the Macedonian struggle to free itself from Turkish tyranny not convincing enough? The real reason for throwing Macedonia back to the wolves had little to do with religion, nationalism or human rights and a lot to do with economics, profit and access to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia desperately wanted to access the Mediterranean but the Western Powers desperately wanted to prevent it. Here is what Trevelyan has to say about that. "Throughout the 19th century Russia was striving to advance towards Constantinople over the ruins of the Turkish Empire. She was drawn forward by imperialist ambition, in the oppressed Christians of her own communion, many of whom were Slav by language and race, and by the instinct to seek a warm water port-a window whence the imprisoned giantess could look out upon the world. The world however, had no great wish to see her there".
"Canning (a British politician, 1812-1862) had planned to head off Russia's advance, not by direct opposition, but by associating her with England and France in a policy of emancipation, aimed at erecting national States out of the component parts of the Turkish Empire. Such States could be relied upon to withstand Russian encroachment on their independence, if once they were set free from the Turk. The creation of the Kingdom of Greece was the immediate outcome of Canning's policy" (page 372, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century).
Russia had no economic stake in the Ottoman Empire so she wanted the Turks out of the Balkans. The Western Powers invested heavily in the Turkish economy and infrastructure and were anxious to keep the Ottoman Empire alive and well in the Balkans. The success of the Crimean war (Turkey won), convinced the British to slow down their policy of creating new Balkan States in favour of exploiting the lucrative Ottoman markets and collecting returns on loans made to Turkey.
At the stroke of a pen Bulgaria was freed (autonomous) while Macedonia was sentenced to suffer further indignity and humiliation. Back in the hands of the Greek clergy and the Ottoman Authorities Macedonia now entered a new era of suffering and cruelties, destined to pay for the sins of all the other nations that rose up against the Ottomans.
Between the spring and summer of 1878 Macedonia's fate was decided not by Russia, or the Western Powers but by Britain alone. Britain who created Greece and introduced the curse of Hellenism in the Balkans, was now prepared to fight Russia, by military means if necessary, to keep her out of the Mediterranean. To avoid war a compromise was reached. "The essentials of this compromise were agreed upon between England and Russia before the meeting of the European Congress, which took place at Berlin under the chairmanship of Bismarck, and formally substituted the Treaty of Berlin for the terms of San Stefano" (page 377, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century).
"To our (British) eyes the real objection to the San Stefano lies not in its alleged increase in Russian power, but in the sacrifice of the fair claims of Greeks and Serbians, who would not have remained long quiet under the arrangements which ignored their racial rights and gave all the points to Bulgaria. Lord Salisbury felt this strongly, especially on behalf of Greece."
"Beaconsfield's success, as he himself saw it, consisted in restoring the European power of Turkey. It was done by handing back Macedonia to the Port (Turks), without guarantees for better government. This was the essence of the Treaty of Berlin as distinct from the Treaty of San Stefano. 'There is again a Turkey in Europe' Bismarck said. He congratulated the British Prime Minister - 'You have made a present to the Sultan of the richest province in the world; 4,000 square miles of the richest soil.' Unfortunately for themselves, the inhabitants went with the soil. Since Beaconsfield decided, perhaps rightly, that Macedonia should not be Bulgarian, some arrangements ought to have been made for its proper administration under a Christian governor. Apart of all questions of massacres, the deadening character of the Turkish rule is well known. Lord Salisbury seems to have wished for a Christian governor, but nothing was done in that direction. A golden opportunity was thus let slip "(page 378, Trevelyan, British History in the 19th Century).
After gaining status as protector of the Suez Canal and the waterways to India, Britain was awarded Cyprus. Content with her gains, Britain became lax and agreed that Russia and Austria-Hungary should oversee Ottoman affairs in Macedonia. "The British people, when left to themselves, neither knew or cared who massacred whom between the Danube and the Aegean. Byron's Greece had appealed to their imagination and historical sense, but the Balkans were a battlefield of kites and crows" (page 373, Treveleyan, British History in the 19th Century).
The Macedonian people were not at all happy about what went on in the Berlin Congress and showed their discontentment by demonstrating first in Kresna then in Razlog but as usual, their pleas were ignored. The Turkish army was dispatched and the demonstrations were violently put down.
Facing the possibility of becoming extinct in Europe, the Ottoman Empire began to re-organize and take demonstrations and rebellions seriously. After the Greek uprising the Sultan became distrustful of the Phanariots and expelled most of them from his services. He came close to ousting the Patriarch and his tyrannical Bishops but Russia stepped in and prevented it. Many of the Slav people were not happy with being ruled by a Greek Patriarch and after Russia's show of solidarity to the Greeks and the Patriarch, they threatened to convert to Catholicism. This created a real concern for Russia. "In the days when Panslavism was a force in Russia and General Ignatieff ruled Constatinople. Russia naturally feared that if the Southern Slavs became Catholics she would lose her ascendancy over them" (page 73 Brailsford's Macedonia). In 1870 Russia convinced the Sultan to allow a new millet to form thus creating the schismatic Bulgarian Exarchateate Church which was immediately excommunicated by the Patriarch. Fracturing the Rum (Romeos) Millet into two opposing factions suited the Turks perfectly because now Christians, instead of rebelling against the Turks, would fight one another. Now, in addition to the Ottoman and Greek, a third government was created that would rule the same people in three conflicting ways. From a religious standpoint, minor differences distinguished the Greek from the Bulgarian Church. Both were Christian Orthodox except the Greeks acknowledged the authority of the Greek Patriarch while the Bulgarians obeyed the Bulgarian Exarchate. The language of liturgy was about the only distinct difference between the churches. The Bulgarians used the Old Church Slavonic (Macedonian), familiar to Macedonians, while the Greeks used an ancient language no Macedonian could understand.
The creation of the Exarchate Church stepped up nationalistic activities inside Macedonia and increased the stakes for territorial claims.
From the day they were liberated, both Serbia and Greece were strengthening their economies and poisoning their people with nationalist propaganda. Serbia introduced education for the masses and was teaching her youth about her ancient exploits and past empires that ruled Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia and that the Slavs (except for the Bulgarians who were Serbia's enemies) were truly Serbs.
The modern Greeks on the other hand, infatuated with the discovery of the Ancient Greeks were going overboard promoting "Hellenism" and making territorial claims on Macedonia based on ancient rites. At the same time the same Greeks were making wild claims that all Orthodox Christians were Greeks. Their argument was that if a person belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church they were Greek. Here is what Brailsford has to say about that. "Hellenism claims these peoples because they were civilized by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is a conception which the Western mind grasps with difficulty. It is much as though the Roman Catholic Church should claim the greater part of Europe as the inheritance of Italy. To make the parallel complete we should have to imagine not only an Italian Pope and a College of Cardinals which Italians predominate, but a complete Italian hierarchy. If every Bishop in France and Germany were an Italian, if the official language of the church were not Latin but Italian and if every priest were a political agent working for the annexation of France and Germany to Italy, we should have some analogy to the state of things which actually exist in Turkey" (page 195 Brailsford's Macedonia). Here is what Brailsford has to say about how the Greeks received title to the Orthodox Church. "The Slavonic (Macedonian) Churches had disappeared from Macedonia, and everywhere the Greek Bishops, as intolerant as they were corrupt-'Blind mouths that scarce themselves know how to hold a sheephook'-crushed out the national consciousness, the language, and the intellectual life of their Slav (Macedonian) flocks. It is as a result of this process that the Eastern Church is a Greek Church. The sanctions of 'Hellenism' so far as they rest on the Church, are the wealth of the Phanariots and the venality of the Turks....the Slav libraries in the old monasteries were burned by the Greek Bishops (page 196 Braisford's Macedonia).
After 1878, for a Macedonian to be Hellenized meant that he had to give up his name, his own language, his own culture, his history, his folklore and his heritage. Here is what Karakasidou has to say. "...the ideological content of notions of the Hellenic nation, which far from being ecumenical has shown itself to be intolerant of cultural or ethnic pluralism, has lead many inhabitants of Greek Macedonia to deny or hide those aspects of their own personal or family pasts..." (page 125, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood).
Hellenization was never made by choice, only by brute force. One was made to "feel Greek" when it suited the Greeks but the moment one wanted something from the Greeks or one crossed one of the Greeks, they were reminded of their "true identity" and quickly "put in their place". To be Hellenized meant to lose dignity and to suffer constant and unwarranted humiliation because no matter how hard one tried to be a Hellene, they could never measure up. A Hellenized person was neither Greek nor Macedonian but a soul in limbo.
To quote David Holden "To me, philhellenism is a love affair with a dream which envisions 'Greece' and the 'Greeks' not as an actual place or as real people but as symbols of some imagined perfection" (page 12 Greece without Columns). What is Hellenism then?
Before I answer that question, I will once again quote David Holden. "Further back still beyond the War of Independence, when the modern nation-state of Greece came into being for the first time, the whole concept of Greece as a geographical entity that begins to blur before our eyes, so many and various were its shapes and meanings. But if geography can offer us no stable idea of Greece, what can? Not race, certainly; for whatever the Greeks may once have been, ...., they can hardly have had much blood-relationship with the Greeks of the peninsula of today, Serbs and Bulgars, Romans, Franks and Venetians, Turks, Albanians,...,in one invasion after another have made the modern Greeks a decidedly mongrel race. Not politics either; for in spite of that tenacious western legend about Greece as the birthplace and natural home of democracy, the political record of the Greeks is one of a singular instability and confusion in which, throughout history, the poles of anarchy modulated freedom has very rarely appeared. Not religion; for while Byzantium was Christian, ancient Hellas was pagan." (page 23 Greece without Columns). Unlike Macedonia and other Balkan nations who have natural and vibrant languages, Greece artificially created and used (up until the 1970's) an imposed adaptation of the classical language called the Katharevoussa. "Hellenizing" under these conditions not only rendered the Hellenized races mute but also imposed a meaningless and emotionless language on those doing the Hellenization (if you want to learn more about the Greek language controversy read Peter Mackridge's book "The Modern Greek Language").
When Greece was born for the first time in 1832, it was unclear what her national character was. To quote David Holden, " the Greek nation-state was a product of western political intervention-'the fatal idea' as Arnold Toynbee once called it, of exclusive western nationalism impinging upon the multi-national traditions of the eastern world. By extension, therefore, at any rate in theory, it was a child of the Renaissance and of western rationalism..." (page 28 Greece without Columns).
Officially, Greeks call their modern state Hellas, and are officially known as Hellenes, but at the same time they call themselves Romios (from the Turkish Rum millet) implying that they are descendents of the Romans. Greece however, is a derivation of the Latin "Graecea" (page 29, Holden, Greece without Columns) the province of the Western Roman Empire which extended from Mount Olympus to the Peloponnese. Again, to quote David Holden " its international use to describe the sovereign state that currently occupies that territory is merely a reflection of the fact that 'Greece' in this modern sense is literally a western invention" (page 29 Greece without Columns).
If philhellenism is a love affair with a dream, then Hellenism is a dream of a few "evil geniuses" (Phanariots) who sought to destroy what was real in favour of creating something artificial, like a Frankenstein's Monster. Hellenism may be a dream for a few (mad men) but it has been a nightmare for Macedonia. Here is what Karakasidou has to say. "Greek natural identity was not a 'natural development' or the extension of a 'high culture' over the region of Macedonia, although now it is frequently portrayed as so. The ideology of Hellenism imposed a homogeneity on the Macedonian region and its inhabitants" (page 94, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood).
If modern Hellenism is a western invention propagated by the Phnariots, then who are the Modern Greeks?
According to historical records, a large majority of the Greeks of Morea that fought during the Greek War of independence were Tosk Albanians that became Hellenized after the 1930's. The Slavs of Peloponisos (what happened to them?), the Vlachs of Larissa, the Albanian Tosks of Epirus (what happened to them?), were also Hellenized. In other words, the Greeks of today are a "forcibly Hellenized diverse collection of people". Even the Greek national dress, the fustanella is fake. The fustanella is the national costume of the Albanian Tosks (page 230 Brailsford's Macedonia).
In addition to desperately trying to define an identity and a language for herself, after 1878 Greece stepped up Hellenization activities inside Macedonia through the Orthodox Church and by employing (bribing) the services of the Turkish authorities. Willing young Macedonian men were enrolled in Greek schools in Athens with promises of education only to be poisoned with Hellenization and Greek nationalist propaganda. Many of these young came back (home) to Macedonia only to be used as agents of Hellenism.
After the creation of the Bulgarian Church, Bulgaria was not far behind in her attempts to instill Bulgarian nationalism in the Macedonian youth. This was most evident when Macedonian young men like Gotse Delchev were expelled from the Bulgarian schools for wanting to use the Macedonian language and to learn Macedonian history. Here is what Radin has to say about that. "In the 1870's, six Macedonian districts seceded from the Exarchateate. Bulgarian schools were destroyed, with the Macedonian teaching intelligentsia organizing students against the Exarchateate. Macedonian literary associations were discovered, to study Macedonian history and culture. The periodical 'Vine' was published to mobilize Macedonians against the vehement propaganda. In 1891, an attempt was made to re-establish the Macedonian Church. This national renaissance significantly produced a Macedonian intelligentsia that was to later prove instrumental in founding IMRO" (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) (page 45 of A. Michael Radin's book "IMRO and the Macedonian Question").
Russia's rash attempt to gain access to the Mediterranean by creating a "Greater Bulgaria" (San Stefano Treaty), gave the Bulgarians rationale to make territorial claims on Macedonian territory. On top of the Greeks forcibly trying to Hellenize Macedonia, the Macedonian people now faced a new enemy, Bulgarian chauvinism. In the hands of the Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians and Serbians, Macedonian misery seemed to flourish as if all the evil in the world was unleashed at once and struck Macedonia with all its fury. What makes Macedonia's misery even more tragic is that the entire world stood by and watched the horrors unfold and did nothing.
While the Greeks employed brutality, the Bulgarians adopted intrigue to sway Macedonians to their side. They were publicly calling for Macedonian autonomy all the while they were promoting a Bulgarian nationalist agenda. In the next decade after 1878, nationalist fever gripped the Balkans. The new nations (Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria) were making exclusive claims not only on Macedonian territory, but also on the Macedonian people, each claiming that Macedonians were Serbs, Greeks or Bulgarians. Each new nation desperately tried to prove its claim by propaganda campaigns, coercion and forcible assimilation. Here is what Brailsford has to say on the subject. "Are the Macedonians Serbs or Bulgars? The question is constantly asked and dogmatically answered in Belgrade and Sofia. But the lesson of history is obviously that there is no answer at all. They are not Serbs, ... On the other hand they could hardly be Bulgarians... They are probably what they were before a Bulgarian or Serbian Empire existed..." (page 101, Macedonia Its Races and their Future). As for the Macedonian's being Greek, this is what Brailsford has to say. "The Greek colonies were never much more than trading centers along the coast, and what was Greek in ancient times is Greek today. There is no evidence that the interior was ever settled by a rural Greek population" (page 91, Brailsford's Macedonia).
"The period immediately following the Berlin Congress demonstrated therefore, that Balkan chauvinist intent was not merely to occupy, govern and exploit Macedonia, but to eradicate the Macedonian culture, and superimpose its own culture upon a people alien to it. By guile, gun, religion and quasi-legal manipulation, the Balkan States attempted to divest the native Macedonians of their language, religion, folklore, literature, traditions and consciousness. The ultimate goal therefore, was to anaesthetize the Macedonian people, and then remold them into Bulgarians, Greeks and Serbians" (page 45 of A. Michael Radin's book "IMRO and the Macedonian Question").
Did it not once occur to Westerners that in the heart of Macedonia, perhaps there was a unique Macedonian culture living there? Did it not once occur to them that perhaps the Macedonians with their multicultural and multiethnic character did not want to be molded to fit the Western profile of what a nation should be? By throwing her back to the Greeks and the Turks, was Macedonia punished for her stubborn ways, for refusing to be molded into a monolithic uni-cultural, pseudo-homogeneous nation? Only those who participated in the 1878 Berlin Congress and who forever committed Macedonia to suffer more cruelty and injustice can truly answer these questions. One thing is for certain however, as the West is now growing old and gaining wisdom and experience it is realizing that the way to peace and prosperity in a small planet is tolerance of minorities, democratic freedom and cultural and national pluralism. Macedonia as it turns out, always had those qualities. As for the rest of the new Balkan States, one day when they realize the error of their ways they will forever bear the shame of what they did to their neighbours, the Macedonians.
I know that words can do no justice to the suffering the Macedonian people endured since 1878, but I will do my best to describe what life was like to be ruled by the Turks, governed by the Greeks, pillaged by the Albanians and robbed and beaten by the villains of society. It has been said that education was a curse in Macedonia. No educated Macedonian lived to a ripe old age. If a man was educated, he died at the hands of his enemies, not because he was educated but because he was feared. The Turks feared him because he may rise up against them. The Greeks feared him because he may oppose them. The Bulgarians feared him because he may expose them. (If you wish to learn more about the horrors committed by the Turks in Macedonia, read Brailsford's book, Macedonia, Its races and their Future).
The 1878 Treaty of Berlin awakened the Moslem Rulers (Turks and Albanians) in the Balkans to the reality that their Empire came close to disintegrating. But instead of searching for a rational solution, the Turks did what they always did best, turn to violence. They took counter measures to suppress the "troublemakers" by extinguishing their rebellious spirit. In practice this manifested itself into a variety of punishments that included the following:
A) Taxes were raised to pay off Western loans. The Turks and Muslim Albanians were a predatory (parasitic) race and produced nothing themselves. Instead they lived off the earning power of the Macedonians and other Christians.
B) To prevent further uprisings and rebellions, the Turks stepped up espionage activities and searches for weapons. In reality however, the weapons searches were nothing more than an excuse to take revenge and further pillage the Macedonian peasants. Those who could afford to pay bribes paid off the Turks and avoided misfortunes. Those who couldn't were tortured and usually beaten to death. If by any chance weapons were found, the entire village was burned to the ground. Even if the weapons belonged to a thug. The Turks were not above shaming or kidnapping Macedonian women either. In fact it was common practice for Muslim soldiers to grab Christian women while conducting raids on villages. (For a Macedonian woman death was preferable over a lifetime of shame). The Macedonians of the Ottoman era were extremely moral people and conducts of this nature were not taken lightly. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done to avenge the women, so women carried the burden of shame alone for the rest of their lives. No Christian was allowed to bear arms and defend his family and there was no one to complain to because in most cases the perpetrators and the villains were the law. No Muslim could be punished for doing harm to a Christian, no matter what the crime.
C) In addition to contending with the Turkish authorities, Macedonians faced kidnappings and assaults from the Albanians. Any man, woman or child that ventured too far from the village exposed themselves to the risks of being kidnapped (an old Albanian pastime) by Albanian marauders or by Turkish outlaws who demanded a hefty ransom for a safe return or face death if no ransom was paid.
D) There were also the roving Turkish patrols that traveled the highways and if someone happened to cross paths with them, they would be robbed, beaten and humiliated in a number of different ways depending on the mood of the soldiers.
E) The greatest threat to Macedonian life came from the Bashi-buzouks or armed civilian Muslims. Most of the Bashi-buzouks were Albanian who made a career out of pillaging, burning Macedonian villages and torturing the inhabitants. After 1878, Bashi-buzouk raids escalated to a point where they became intolerable. The Christians had no legal recourse to fight back. Being Muslims, the Bashi-buzouks were immune from legal prosecution. The only way Macedonians could fight back was to flee to the mountains and join the outlaws.
F) Let's not forget the annual routine homage and tributes paid to the Albanian clans for not burning the villages and crops, the local policemen for not humiliating and beating family members and the local hoods for not assaulting and bullying the women and children.
G) It would be an injustice if I didn't mention the way Turks treated women. No Macedonian woman was safe from the Turks. If a woman caught a Turk's eye there was no escape, she would be plucked kicking and screaming from her home and family, converted to Islam by force and thrown into a harem to become an object of lust. No woman was safe, not even a bride on her wedding day.
I want to mention here that after the Western Powers decided to do something about the Ottoman cruelty against the Macedonians, they began to record complaints from the people. Macedonians were encouraged to report acts of injustice and cruelty to the European consuls. All the complaints were recorded in what was referred to as "the blue books". What happened to the "blue books"? If anyone has any knowledge of their whereabouts please let me know. It is very important for the Macedonian people that these "blue books" be found.
By the time taxes and bribes were paid to the authorities, the warlords and the town hoods, a Macedonian family was left with 25 to 40 percent of their meager annual earnings to live on. To make ends meet Macedonian men were accustomed to taking on additional jobs within the Ottoman Empire or abroad to make enough to survive the winter.
It has been said that after twenty-five years of achieving autonomy, Bulgaria was thriving economically thanks to the cheap labour of the Macedonian migrant workers.
I want to mention here that Macedonians have always earned their living by sweat and blood and deserve more that they have been dealt with in the past. The maesto's (maistori) of ancient Rome were skilled Macedonians not Greeks as modern history claims them to be. Even the word "history" comes from the Macedonian saying "tie i storia" which translates to "they did that" or "they made that".
The West, including the USA and Canada were to some extent, also beneficiaries of cheap Macedonian labour. Western traders flooded Macedonia with cheaply manufactured goods and bankrupted the local (antiquated) industry (run by the guilds). Raw materials purchased from Macedonia were manufactured using cheap Macedonian labour and the finished products were sold back to the Macedonians at a profit.
A Macedonian could not rise above his tyrannical existence on his own because every time he did he was killed for his education, robbed of his wealth, kicked out of his home for his lands, murdered for defending his family and humiliated for his existence. This is not what Macedonians wanted for themselves, but those powerful enough, refused to help them. The Greek clergy who were responsible for the well being of the Macedonian people were the first to condemn them. Their first priorities were to Hellenize them so that they could steal their lands. The Greeks with their "superior attitude" despised the Macedonians because of their race (the Slavs were the enemy) and because of their agrarian abilities (which the Greeks loathed).
The Super Powers in their zeal to dominate the Balkans found themselves at odds with each other and by 1878 were either content with "doing nothing" or stifled by frustration and "turned their backs" on the mess they created.
Turkey, for the West was the goose that kept on laying golden eggs.
No excuses or apologies from the English and the French can make up for unleashing Turkey and Hellenism on Macedonia after 1878. No Macedonian, and for that matter, no human being should ever forgive the Western Powers for putting profit ahead of human life and intentionally turning their backs on the Macedonian people. No argument can convince me that "that was the right thing to".
Labeling people "Slav" and "Barbarian" because they were not educated does not make them inhuman and certainly does not excuse the "civilized" western societies for tormenting them. Here is what Petrovska has to say. "It is erroneous to dismiss peasant culture as backwards, simply because they are not literate cultures. Indeed the opposite is the case. Children were educated by way of story telling and folklore, which contained morals and lessons about life, relationships and their places in the world" (page 167, Children of the Bird Goddess). (If you want to learn more about life in Macedonia there is a gem of a little book written by Kita Sapurma and Pandora Petrovska entitled "Children of the Bird Goddess", an oral history that spans over 100 years and explores the lives of four generations of Macedonian women. You MUST read this book, you will not be disappointed).
One has only to examine Macedonian traditions, customs, dress, folklore and attitude towards life to find an "old race" full of vigour, enduring hardships, living as it always lived close to nature, always craving everlasting peace. Macedonian songs are timeless records of sorrow and of hope that "someday this too will pass".
Macedonians have survived to this day because they have a caring quality and a capacity to give and forgive, never wanting anything in return. Anyone who has visited a Macedonian home or has lived among Macedonians can attest to that.
Macedonia had done no ill against any nation to deserve her punishment from the Turks and the Greeks. Macedonians did not desire to be labeled "barbarian Slavs" or choose to be illiterate. It was "pure prejudice" on the part of Western Societies that degraded the Macedonian people to barbarian status and created the conditions for the Turks and the Greeks to abuse them. The West's artificial creation of Greece and Hellenism and the Greek quest for purity and national homogeneity is what upset the "natural balance" in the Balkans. Macedonia, since Alexander's time has been a "worldly" nation and has maintained her multi-ethnic, multi-cultural pluralistic character. If you take the Turks out of Macedonia in the 19th century you will find a society of many nations working and living together in peace, each doing what comes naturally. Anyone who has lived in Macedonia can attest to that. It has always been "outsiders" that shifted the balance and disturbed the peace in the Balkans. While Western Europe slept through her "dark ages" the people of the Balkans lived in relative harmony for over 1,100 years. Each race played an important role in maintaining the social and political balance and the economic self-sufficiency of the region.
During the 19th century almost all Macedonians lived in village communities. There were no Greeks living in the Macedonian mainland and only a small minority lived in the coastal towns, islands and the larger cities. The majority of the villages were Macedonian with the odd Vlach village nestled here and there in the mountains. Macedonians spoke the Macedonian language and lived an agrarian life working the lands. Among the Macedonians lived some Vlachs who spoke both Vlach and Macedonian. Their main occupation was retail trade, running the local grocery stores and retail businesses. In addition to the Vlachs, were the roving Gypsies who traveled from village to village trading their wares. They traded pack animals like horses, mules and donkeys, repaired old and sold new flour sifters, loom reeds, and other fine crafts. They bartered with the village women and traded beads, string and sewing needles for beans and walnuts. To those that could afford it, they sold silk kerchiefs, hand made baskets and purses. With those who couldn't afford them they traded their wares for vegetables, eggs and a few bales of hay. Among themselves the Gypsies spoke their Gypsy dialect but with their customers they spoke Macedonian.
Another race that frequented the Macedonian landscape were the panhandlers from Epirus and Thessaly who performed magic on old copper pots and pans and made spoons and forks shine like mirrors. In addition to their own language, they too spoke Macedonian and were open to bartering for their wares and services.
Carpenters, stone masons, barrel makers, and woodcutters came from far and wide. They came from as far as Albania or as close as the poorest Macedonian village. For a fair wage, some rakija (alcohol spiced with anise during distillation) and three meals a day, they built fences, porches, staircases and entire houses.
For the Macedonians, the soil provided most of life's necessities, the rest was bought, traded or bartered for.
The only desires Macedonians had in the 19th century were to rid themselves of the tyranny of the oppressive Turks. This was most evident in the communique's, appeals and manifesto's of the legendary Macedonia Revolutionary Committee (more about this in part III).
While Macedonia was being choked by the Turkish noose of oppression, tormented by Hellenism, and frustrated by Bulgarian deception, the Greek army in 1881annexed Thessaly and in 1885 the Bulgarian army (with Russia's support) annexed Eastern Rumelia. While the Ottoman Empire was crumbling at the edges, it was tightening its grip ever harder on Macedonia. Looting, burning homes and murders were on the rise. More and more Macedonians were made homeless and forced to become outlaws. The brave ones took up arms and fought back only to see that their actions caused more deaths and misery. The Turks and their Albanian allies didn't care who they killed. If one Turk or Albanian died in battle, the army took revenge on the next village they encountered. Thousands of innocent women and children were murdered in revenge killings not to mention the assaults on countless young girls. Occupied homes with people inside were burned down and the inhabitants shot as target practice as they ran out to save themselves from the fire. Those too old or too sick to move died a horrible fiery death.
Many of the survivors from the burned out villages joined the outlaws in the mountains and as their ranks swelled they began to organize and fight back.
Western Europeans and Russians, on the other hand, were flooding the Ottoman Balkans on vacation, to do business or to lend a helping hand as missionaries or relief workers. They enjoyed all the freedoms and privileges as honorary citizens of the Ottoman Empire under the protection of their county's flag, and paid nothing for the honour bestowed upon them, not even taxes.
To be continued in part III, events leading up to the Ilinden Uprising.
Before I finish with part II, in view of what is happening in Macedonia today, I would like to say a few words abut how the Albanians came to be in Macedonia.
It has been said that soon after the Turks conquered Albania, Albanians began to convert to Islam. As Muslims, the Albanians to a large extent enjoyed the same privileges and advantages as their conquerors. The advantages of becoming a Muslim as opposed to staying Christian were obvious. Those who wanted to retain title to their lands did not hesitate to convert. In fact many realized that by converting they could amass wealth and increase their own importance at the expense of their Christian neighbours.
By the 19th century, about two-thirds of the Albanians embraced Islam and served in almost every capacity in the Ottoman administration including the Sultan's palace guard. Also by the 19th century a great deal of the Ottoman services became corrupt and self-serving. Being Muslims, the Albanians were protected from prosecution of crimes committed against the Christians. This encouraged them to perform predatory acts like kidnappings for ransom, illegal taxation, extortion, and forceful possession of property.
There are two documented ways, that I have come across, that describe how Albanians of the 19th century came to live in Macedonia, among the Macedonians.
1. To keep the Macedonians in check, the Turks created and strategically positioned Albanian villages inside Macedonia among the Macedonian Villages.
2. By expelling or killing a few families in a Macedonian village, Albanian bandits could claim squatters rights and move in. By the next generation, the children of the squatters would become the "begs" of the village which made them legitimate landowners. Being in charge of the village they then appointed their own family members and trusted friends into positions of authority like tax farmers and policemen. In this manner, they could rule unchallenged.
Forceful occupation of villages was most prevalent during campaigns in the absence of the Turkish army. When the Turks were sent to fight against Russia in the East or against Napoleon in Egypt, the Albanians sought their chance and moved in unabated. Here is an excerpt from Brailsford's book about the habits of some Albanians. "He will rob openly and with violence but he will not steal...He will murder you without remorse if he conceives that you have insulted him"...(page 224 Macedonia its Races and their future).
To be fair, I want to mention that Albanians have their good qualities as well. Brailford speaks very highly of them when it comes to loyalty and honesty. As I mentioned earlier, under the right conditions Albanians can peacefully co-exist with other nationalities and be a contributing factor to the wealth of a nation. The Macedonians have always co-existed side by side with the Albanians. Also, the Albanians that fought to liberate Greece in Morea did not fight for Hellenism, they fought for the good of all the people of the Balkans, including the Macedonians.
There was also that one-third of the Albanian population who remained faithful to Christianity that equally suffered the injustices of the Greek clergy and the Ottoman authorities, that also deserves mentioning.
"People who originate from one and the same race, speak the same language, live together in harmony, and have the same customs, songs and mentality, constitute a nation, and the place where they live is their homeland. In this way, the Macedonians are a nation and their homeland is Macedonia" (Gjorgji Pulevski, 1875).
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1. A. Michael Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question, Kultura
2. The University of Cyril and Methodius, DOCUMENTS of the Struggle of the Macedonian People for Independence and a Nation-State Volumes I & II
3. The World Book Encyclopedia
4. Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents rock and shatter Modern Political Ideology
5. H. N. Brailsford, Macedonia Its Races and their Future, Arno Press, New York 1971
6. David Holden, Greece Without Columns, The Making of Modern Greeks, J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia & New York
7. George Macaulay Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782 - 1901), Longmans 1927
8. Kita Sapurma & Pandora Petkovska, Children of the Bird Goddess, Pollitecon
9. Anastasia N. Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood, Passage to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870 - 1990, Chicago
10. Peter Mackridge, The Modern Greek Language, A Descriptive Analysis of Standard Modern Greek, Oxford 1985