Recovering Macedonia 6 - The Macedonian Agenda

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Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913

Part 6 - The Macedonian Agenda

March, 2006


The year 1878 was a pivotal point in history for most of the Balkan people. A number of important historical events took place that would have lasting significance. This was the year when powerful decisions were made, some to liberate people yet others to subjugate them, decisions that would have lasting effects and grave consequences.

Before 1878 there was great hope in Macedonia that the Christian Powers in Europe would soon rise up and drive the Muslim Turk out of Europe. Most educated and enlightened Macedonians were well aware of the situation in the Balkans especially of the Ottoman State's slow but steady decline. They were witnessing the long held and powerful Empire crumble at its fringes and new Christian States forming from its debris. Macedonians knew it was a matter of time before they too would be liberated and for good.

Before 1878 Macedonians rose and fought against the Turks not only to liberate themselves but also to liberate their Christian Brothers in Greece, Serbia and other places. By doing this they knew that when their turn came they could count on their friends, with whom they fought side by side, to come and give them aid.

1878 was the year the maps of the Balkans were re-drawn. It was the year grand plans for solving the Eastern Question were put in action. It was the year Macedonia's fate was sealed.

1878 was also the year the enlightened Macedonians came to the realization that they could no longer hope or depend on the outside world to come to rescue them or liberate their Macedonia.

Unbeknownst to the ordinary Macedonians, who suffered endlessly under the Ottoman yoke, was that their calls would not be answered, their kind favours would never be returned, the freedom they so longed for would never materialize and their suffering would never cease.

Macedonians made their bid for liberation once in 1689 (the Karposh uprising) when Austria invaded Macedonia, once in 1876 at Razlog and twice in 1878. The Macedonian people rose and fought against the Turks side by side with the Russian army in early 1878. They again rose and fought the Turks in the Kreshna uprising in late 1878.

After the Russian army overran and liberated most of the Balkans in March 1878, the Macedonian people experienced a brief spell of freedom. Unfortunately their freedom was cut short in July 1878 by order of the Western Powers.

Russia's impudence for self importance and its impatience with the Western Powers, in a bid to gain access to Mediterranean waters, attacked Turkey in early 1878 delivering a devastating blow and liberating most of the Balkans including all of Macedonia.

Shocked by this unexpected act, Russia's opponents, the Western Powers, intervened by convening a conference in Berlin and decided, among other things, to return Macedonia to the Ottomans.

In the brief period from March 3rd to July 13th, 1878 Macedonians experienced a taste of freedom for the first time in centuries and also a taste of betrayal the kind they would never forget.

This betrayal was a clear signal for the Macedonian people of what the Christian Powers had in mind. Worse than being handed back to their tormentors was the inaction of the Western Powers who made absolutely no effort or demands to safeguard the rights or safety of those Macedonians whom they handed back to the Turks as a gift.

Macedonia, being the center of the Ottoman domain in Europe, had very little contact with the outside world and new ideas, especially nationalism, were slow to penetrate. Unlike the Serbians who bordered the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were continuously bombarded with outside propaganda and the Greeks who were merchants and sailors and had opportunities to interact with the outside world, Macedonians were mostly peasants and farmers tied to the land with virtually no outside contact. Macedonians however were well aware of who they were ethnically speaking, but little emphasis was placed on their ethnic identity mainly because they saw themselves as Christians first and Macedonians second. Their fight at the time was with the Muslim authorities and not with the individual ethnicities in the Balkans.

As Slav speaking Orthodox (not Catholic) Christians the Western Powers saw the Macedonians as natural Russian allies and enemies of the West. As a result of this Macedonians were disadvantaged and received little or no attention from the West. In fact Britain and Germany, ignoring evidence to the contrary like Macedonian folklore and traditions, did their best to rob the Macedonian people of their ancient heritage by declaring that they were "Slav" and had no connection to the ancient Macedonians who, in their opinion, were "Greek".

Knowing all this, the Macedonian intelligentsia still bore no ill will towards their Christian brothers and was confident that the world would see the truth one day once it became known. In fact, the 19th century Macedonian intellectuals were so preoccupied with the plight of their people that all priority was given to survival; everything else was of secondary importance.

The 1878 wakeup call for the Macedonian intelligentsia brought home the idea that Macedonia must liberate itself and for that to happen the Macedonian people must be informed, organized, armed and trained for a massive rebellion. Unfortunately by the time the Macedonian people were ready to do this, the Ottoman authorities were well aware of what was happening and rebellions were made very difficult to come by. After the Ottomans lost lands to Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria they were determined not to lose any more and became vigilant regarding such matters.

For some, especially for Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, 1878 was the year of realization that if Macedonia was not going to be liberated as a free nation-state then perhaps maybe it could be annexed by outside forces. So while the Macedonian people were organizing for a massive rebellion, new and more sinister forces were making plans for their future.

Unbeknownst to the Macedonian people, high level discussions and negotiations were taking place between the Great Powers and the new Balkan States on how to solve the Macedonian question.

Two important decisions were reached as a result of these negotiations;

1. Macedonia would be partitioned and annexed by Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, and

2. Macedonia would be divided along national lines.

Both of these decisions were made without the knowledge, consultation or approval of the Macedonian people.

After gaining approval from the Great Powers, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria began to infiltrate Macedonia by way of the churches, the only legal authorities recognized by the Ottoman powers. In the legal absence of a Macedonian Church, foreign churches were allowed to be established inside Macedonia.

Unfortunately, even though Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia through their churches busied themselves making Bulgarians, Greeks and Serbians out of the Macedonian population in Macedonia, the Macedonian leadership did not perceive this as a threat to the Macedonian national consciousness and continued to organize the struggle against its main foe, the Ottoman authorities.

With the formation of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization in Solun in 1893, the movement was nationally consolidated and the armed struggle began to take shape.

At the turn of the 20th century the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement began to feel the effects of the foreign churches on Macedonian soil. First it was the virulent foreign propaganda. When that alone did not produce desired result, the foreign churches began to illegally employ bands of armed brigands to terrorize the population and accelerate the process of making Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians out of the Macedonian population.

Unfortunately, most of the Macedonian leadership still could not see this as a serious threat. "One can change a Macedonian into a Greek as much as one can change a sheep into a goat." was not an unusual response one would get when posing the question.

With the exception of some intellectuals, like Krste Misirkov, the top leadership could not rationalize the "real reasons" why Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria would want to make Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians out of Macedonians. For the moment the leadership had a more pressing job which was to liberate Macedonia from the Turks.

In retrospect, the Macedonian leadership was correct in its assessment of the effects of foreign propaganda before the Ilinden 1903 rebellion. Direct threats from Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian involvement, be it propaganda or armed incursion, were minor in comparison to having to deal with the massive Turkish army. Indirectly however, especially during and after the 1903 attempt, foreign involvement proved to be lethal. The Churches and armed bands cooperated with Turkish authorities, which in the long term brought greater harm to the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement than its leadership could have estimated. Turkish authorities and the Turkish military needed assistance with its intelligence and had the eyes and ears of the Churches. History has recorded many instances where the Greek Church and its clergy and even the Greek sponsored brigands cooperated with the Turkish army to monitor Macedonian activities and to capture and assassinate Macedonian Revolutionary leaders.

The Macedonian Revolutionary Movement itself was well organized. It was a grass roots movement organized by the people for the people and it was not affiliated with any foreign powers or foreign states. It was a true peoples' movement dedicated to liberating all the people in Macedonia and creating a Macedonian nation-state. This was an accomplishment that all Macedonians can take pride in.

According to peace keepers who served in Macedonia and witnessed this, they declared it was one of the most organized but unfortunately most poorly executed revolutions that Europe had ever witnessed.

It was well organized mainly due to the efforts of the national and regional leadership and poorly executed mainly due to foreign, mostly Bulgarian, intervention.

Unlike the Greeks who had almost no local support and little hold on Macedonia before the Ilinden rebellion, the Bulgarians were in the thick of things. The Bulgarians were so certain that they would annex Macedonia they made every effort to stifle the rebellion and turn the tide to their advantage. They did this through sabotage and outright assassinations. In fact every time the Revolutionary Movement made some real progress, its leadership paid for it with lives. Bulgarian agents, spies and assassins were responsible for more Macedonian leaders being killed than the entire Turkish army. Even the 1903 Ilinden rebellion itself was instigated by Bulgarian agents to start early so that it would fail. Gotse Delchev, the supreme commander of the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement, was against an early rebellion because he believed his fighters were not properly armed and trained for the massive task at hand.

As for the Bulgarian involvement, based on historical accounts, Bulgarians have done more harm to the liberation movement and its pursuit for an independent Macedonia than all other forces combined. The Bulgarians were responsible for most of the revolutionary leadership's apprehensions and killings. It was by no accident that the Ottoman authorities declared the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization illegal on January 31st, 1903 and had all its leaders arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the harshest prisons in Asia Minor. A list with the names of all revolutionary leaders was compiled high up in the Bulgarian State leadership, if not by Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand himself, and handed to the Turkish authorities.

The annexation of Macedonia with all its glory and making it a part of Bulgaria was Prince Ferdinand's personal project.

The failed 1903 Ilinden Macedonian rebellion was a signal not only for Turkey but also for Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria to escalate their intervention. To make sure no future rebellions would occur, agents from all three states were dispatched to hunt down and eliminate all revolutionary leaders that survived the rebellion.

In the hunt for rebels and in the pursuit to quell the rebellion many fighters and civilians were killed and villages burned. These were acts of terror which not only instilled great fear in the hearts of the Macedonian population but also crushed their will as Macedonians. This was a great opportunity for the foreign propaganda machine to turn the situation around.

Leaderless and morally crushed, Macedonians began to doubt themselves and their abilities to liberate themselves by themselves. Those who could see no end to their misery found solace in the propaganda.

It was during this time and under these conditions that Greece exploited the situation and by wielding the might of the Turkish army turned Macedonians into Greeks. Yes, it was Greeks closely cooperating with Turks that turned the tide in Greece's favour. It is hard to believe Greece has forgotten all that! Yes, this is an historical fact that today's modern Greeks refuse to acknowledge. Without the help of the Turkish army very few Macedonians would have surrendered to the Greek will.

The failed rebellion and loss of leadership literally opened Macedonia's doors to foreign intervention. Left unprotected, the Macedonian people turned to the Greek Patriarchate and Bulgarian Exarchate Churches for solace only to be filled with false hope and to again be betrayed.

With the Macedonian revolution out of the way and having the Macedonian people fooled into believing that they would soon be liberated, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria anxiously made plans to invade Macedonia. Unfortunately, in their haste their plans were stifled because the three could not agree on how to divide Macedonia. Having no previous borders to agree on or the right kind of populations to liberate, they consulted the Russian King who also had no answers. He did, however, advise them that whatever territory their armies liberated, it would be theirs to keep.

I want to clarify at this point what I meant by my comment "the right kind of population to liberate".

Earlier I mentioned that one of the conditions imposed by the Great Powers in sanctioning the division of Macedonia was that Macedonia had to be divided "along national lines". This meant that Greece could only annex the territory where the majority of the population was ethnically Greek. Bulgaria could only annex the territory where the majority of the population was ethnically Bulgarian and so on. Since none of the population in Macedonia was ethnically Greek, Bulgarian or Serbian, the three states took measures to make it so. Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian ethnicities had to be literally manufactured.

After some trials, the final solution came down to church affiliation. By this I mean those Macedonians who were affiliated with the Greek Patriarchic Church were declared to be ethnic Greeks. Those affiliated with the Bulgarian Exarchate Church were declared to be ethnic Bulgarians and those affiliated with the Serbian Church were declared to be ethnic Serbians.

What is totally bizarre about this solution is that it assumed that since there was no Macedonian Church in Macedonia, there were no ethnic Macedonians in Macedonia.

Unfortunately since all three State Churches were allowed to operate in overlapping territories, all three Churches made claims to the same people. There were many instances where one village had a majority of Macedonians affiliated with the Greek Church, while another village in close proximity, just a few kilometers away, had a majority of Macedonians affiliated with the Bulgarian church and so on. In other words right from the onset it was not clear where the dividing lines should be placed. If I may add, all of this was done without the knowledge or consent of the Macedonian people.

Welcomed as their liberators the Macedonian people allowed the foreign armies to march into Macedonia unabated only to be betrayed again.

After the Turks were driven off, with Macedonian help I might add, the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian armies not only captured and jailed much of the Macedonian leadership but they also turned on the Macedonian civilian populations. The Greek army burned down villages where the majority of the population was affiliated with the Bulgarian Church. The Bulgarian army in retaliation burned down villages where the majority of the population was affiliated with the Greek Church and so on. There were so many atrocities committed and so much carnage left that the situation prompted an investigation from the Carnegie International Commission.

The Commission arrived in Macedonia just before the second Balkan War ended and even though it didn't witness all the atrocities first hand, it did interview many eye witnesses and a year later filed a report with its findings. Unfortunately the report was filed just before the eruption of World War I and was shelved before anything could be investigated. As a result no war crimes were investigated and no charges were laid. And so another saga ended un-investigated and the perpetrators literally got away with murder.

After Macedonia's partition in 1913 each State again took measures against the Macedonian people, some in retribution for assisting the enemy and others just simply to "ethnically" cleanse the population.

With all that had happened, the Macedonian leadership was very much weakened but not completely destroyed and continued to function, mostly externally. The new borders imposed on the Macedonian people, as a result of Macedonia's partition, proved to be more impenetrable than expected so interaction between the leadership and the people ground to a standstill.

Over the years after the occupation, the Macedonians in Greek occupied Macedonia and the Macedonians in Bulgarian occupied Macedonia faired the worst of all Macedonians and by the Second World War suffered expulsions, denationalization, jail sentences and disappearances. Many were murdered. The Macedonian language was outlawed and the Macedonian identity was completely erased.

Macedonians were forced to pledge loyalty to their new states and as a result were assimilated into their respective societies.

After the Second World War the Serbian occupied part of Macedonia was granted Republic Status within the Yugoslav Federation. The Macedonian people earned this right with the spilling of their own blood during the liberation of Yugoslavia from the Fascist forces. The Macedonians in Greek occupied Macedonia also spilled blood to free Greece but the Greek authorities refused to acknowledge it. The Macedonians in Bulgarian occupied Macedonia were briefly recognized as Macedonians but unfortunately the Bulgarian authorities had a change of heart and soon revoked the recognition.

Regarding the Greek Civil War, I would like to state my own opinion at this point because I believe there are things that need to be said.

In retrospect, based on what we learned after the archives of World War II were opened, there are indications that the Greek Civil War was not just a simple and straight forward war. I believe it had more sinister motives.

Knowing that the Great Powers had already agreed that Greece would remain under the British sphere of influence, why was the Civil War allowed to start in the first place?

Surely both sides of the Greek leadership must have known about this agreement?

It was made certain that Britain would not allow a Communist regime to govern Greece even if the Communist forces won by combat or by free election.

So the real crux of the problem is what do you do with a Communist majority in Greece?

How would Britain have handled a Democratically elected Communist Government in Greece?

Would a Communist regime cooperate with Britain and remain loyal and honour its policies? I don't think so!

I believe the Greek Civil War was started in order to crush the Communists in Greece, nip them in the bud before they had a chance to become a serious problem for Britain. After all Greece was the gateway to the Mediterranean waters. Am I the only one that sees the historic pattern here? If Greece became Communist, it would have aligned itself with Russia thus giving the Russians access to the Mediterranean Sea.

But why involve the Macedonian people? That's simple. During the German occupation, free from Greek oppression, the Macedonian people in Greece not only experienced a mini renaissance but also showed the will to organize and fight for their freedom. This was well demonstrated by the formation and actions of the Aegean Brigade which not only proved to be formidable but also put fear in the hearts of the Greeks.

The Macedonian people were involved in the Greek Civil War so that once again their spirits would be broken.

The Macedonians have always been a thorn in the side of Greece, so why not break their will while beating up on the communists. By its own admission after the fact, the Greek Communist leadership would have never given autonomy to the Macedonian people had it won. So why did it lie to them? Macedonians were promised autonomy, even outright independence, just to get them involved and in doing so destroyed them. One only has to look at the results to be convinced of the validity of this argument.

The expulsions and murders committed between 1912, when Macedonia was partitioned, and 1949 when the Greek Civil War ended reduced the Macedonian population from a great Majority to a minority on its native soil.

The above mentioned issues are well known to the Macedonians. It is high time now that they are made known to the international community so the world will stop treating Macedonians as some kind of Communist creation or as terrorists scheming and plotting to usurp Greek lands and Greek history.

To be continued...


Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov publications, 2005

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