The Macedonian Question
The decision taken at the Congress of Berlin
to leave Macedonia
within the borders of the Ottoman Empire
soon turned the Macedonian Question
into the apple of constant discord between Serbia
. Unlike most disputed territories, Macedonia
’s neighbouring countries contested not only the land but also the people, each regarding them as a subset of their own peoples, resulting in a ruthless propaganda war and numerous outbursts of violence, with the Great powers proving unable to come up with a satisfactory solution.
 Serbian propaganda
Ethnographic Map of Macedonia: Point of View of the Serbs. Author: J.Cvijic
Ethnographic map of the Balkans, J. Cvijic
Ethnographic map of Central Europe and the Balkan states from 1918
, French view.
19th century Serbian nationalism viewed Serbs
as the people chosen to lead and unite all southern Slavs into one country, Yugoslavia
(the country of the southern Slavs). The conscience of the peripheral parts of Serbian nation grew, therefore the officials and the wide circles of population considered the Macedonians as "Southern Serbs", Bosniaks as "Islamized Serbs", and Shtokavian
speaking part of today's Croatian populationas "Catholic Serbs". Generally, the Macedonian Slavs were considered Serbs, although some more liberal scholars defined the southern portion of Macedonian people as independent and different from both Serbs and Bulgarians. But, the basic interests of Serbian state policy was directed to the liberation of Ottoman Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Macedonia and Vojvodina were left "to be liberated later on".
The Congress of Berlin
of 1878, which granted Bosnia and Herzegovina
, redirected Serbia
’s ambitions to Macedonia and a propaganda campaign was launched at home and abroad to prove the Serbian character of the region. A great contribution to the Serbian cause was made by Croat astronomer and historian Spiridon Gopčević
(also known as Leo Brenner). Gopčević published in 1889 the ethnographic research Macedonia and Old Serbia
, which defined more than three-quarters of the Macedonian population as Serbian. The population of Kosovo and northern Albania was identified as Serbian or Albanian of Serbian origin (Albanized Serbs, called "Arnauts") and the Greeks along the Aliákmon as Greeks of Serbian origin (Hellenized Serbs).
The work of Gopčević was further developed by two Serbian scholars, geographer Jovan Cvijić
and linguist Aleksandar Belić
. Less extreme than Gopčević, Cvijić and Belić claimed only the Slavs of northern Macedonia were Serbian whereas those of southern Macedonia were identified as "Macedonian Slavs", an amorphous Slavic mass that was neither Bulgarian, nor Serbian but could turn out either Bulgarian or Serbian if the respective people were to rule the region. The only Slavs in Macedonia which were referred to as Bulgarian were those living along the Strymon
(Struma) and Nestos
(Mesta) rivers, i.e. present-day Pirin Macedonia and parts of northeastern Greece. Cvijić further argued that the name Bugari (Bulgarians) used by the Slavic population of Macedonia to refer to themselves actually meant only ‘rayah’ – peasant Christians – and in no case affiliations to the Bulgarian ethnicity.
 Greek propaganda
It was established by the end of the 19th century that the majority of the population of central and Southern Macedonia (vilaets of Monastiri and Thessaloniki) were predominantly of ethnic Greek population
, while the Northern parts of the region (vilaet of Skopje
) were predominantly Slavic. Jews and Ottoman communities were scattered all over. Because of Macedonia's such polyethnic nature, the arguments which Greece used to promote its claim to the whole region were usually of historical and religious character. The Greeks consistently linked nationality to the allegiance to the Patriarchate of Constantinople
. "Bulgarophone", "Albanophone" and "Vlachophone" Greeks were coined to describe the population of Slavic, Albanian or Vlach
Like the Serbian and Bulgarian propaganda efforts, the Greek one initially also concentrated on education. Greek schools in Macedonia at the turn of the 20th century totalled 927 with 1,397 teachers and 57,607 pupils. As from the 1890s Greece also started sending armed guerilla groups to Macedonia (see Greek Struggle for Macedonia
) especially after the death of Pavlos Melas
, which fought the detachments of IMRO.
The Greek cause predominated in southern Macedonia where it was supported by the native Greeks
, by a substantial part of the Slavic population and by nearly all Aromanians. Support for the Greeks was much less pronounced in central Macedonia, coming from local Aromanians and only a fraction of the Slavs; in the northern parts of the region it was almost non-existent.
 Bulgarian propaganda
Ethnographic Map of Macedonia: Point of View of the Bulgarians. Author: V.Kuncov
The Bulgarian idea made a remarkable comeback in the 1890s with regard to both education and armed resistance. At the turn of the 20th century there were 785 Bulgarian schools in Macedonia with 1,250 teachers and 39,892 pupils. The Bulgarian Exarchate held jurisdiction over seven dioceses (Skopje
), i.e. the whole of Vardar and Pirin Macedonia and some of southern Macedonia. The Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committee
(BMARC), which was founded in 1893 as the only guerilla organization established by locals, quickly developed a wide network of committees and agents turning into a "state within the state" in much of Macedonia. The organization changed its name on several occasions, settling to IMRO in 1920. IMRO fought not only against the Ottoman authorities, but also against the pro-Serbian and pro-Greek parties in Macedonia, terrorising the population supporting them.
The failure of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising
in 1903 signified a second weakening of the Bulgarian cause resulting in closure of schools and a new wave of emigration to Bulgaria. IMRO was also weakened and the number of Serbian and Greek guerilla groups in Macedonia substantially increased. The Exarchate lost the dioceses of Skopje and Debar to the Serbian Patriarchate in 1902 and 1910, respectively. Despite this, the Bulgarian cause preserved its dominant position in central and northern Macedonia and was also strong in southern Macedonia.
The independence of Bulgaria in 1908 had the same effect on the Bulgarian idea in Macedonia as the independence of Greece to the Hellenic a century earlier. The consequences were closure of schools, expelling of priests of the Bulgarian Exarchate
and emigration of the majority of the young Macedonian intelligentsia. This first emigration triggered a constant trickle of Macedonian-born refugees and emigrants to Bulgaria. Their number stood at ca. 100,000 by 1912.
 Slav Macedonian propaganda
Austrian view from 1892
The Slav Macedonian
idea in the second half of 19th century was at its inception stage. One of the first preserved accounts is the article The Macedonian question
by Petko Slavejkov
published 18th January 1871 in the "Macedonia" newspaper in Constantinople
. In 1880 Gjorgi Pulevski
published in Sofia Slognica Rechovska
, an attempt at a grammar of the language of the Slavs who lived in Macedonia. Although he had no formal education, Pulevski published several other books, including tree dictionaries and a collection of songs from Macedonia, customs, and holidays. In 1888 Kuzman Shapkarev
writes to Marin Drinov
with regard to the usage of the words Macedonian and Bulgarian:
"But even stranger is the name Macedontsi, which was imposed on us only 10 to 15 years ago by outsiders, and not as something by our own intellectuals.... Yet the people in Macedonia know nothing of that ancient name, reintroduced today with a cunning aim on the one hand and a stupid one on the other. They know the older word: Bugari, although mispronounced: they have even adopted it as peculiarly theirs, inapplicable to other Bulgarians".
The first significant manifestation of Slav Macedonian nationalism was the book За Македонските Работи
(Za Makedonckite Raboti
- On Macedonian Matters
, Sofia, 1903) by Krste Misirkov
. In the book Misirkov advocated that the Slavs of Macedonia should take a separate way from the Bulgarians
and the Bulgarian language
. Misirkov considered that the term "Macedonian" should be used to define the whole Slavic population of Macedonia, obliterating the existing division between Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbians. The adoption of a separate "Macedonian language" was also advocated as a means of unification of the Ethnic Macedonians with Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek consciousness. On Macedonian Matters
was written in the South Slavic
dialect spoken in central Bitola
. This dialect was proposed by Misirkov as the basis for the future language, and, as Misirkov says, a dialect which is most different from all other neighboring languages (as the eastern dialect was too close to Bulgarian and the northern one too close to Serbian). Misirkov calls this language Macedonian
While Misirkov talked about the Macedonian consciousness and the Macedonian language as a future goal, he described the wider region of Macedonia in the early 20th century as inhabited by Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs, Turks, Albanians, Aromanians, and Jews. As regards to the Ethnic Macedonians themselves, Misirkov maintained that they had called themselves Bulgarians until the publication of the book and were always called Bulgarians by independent observers until 1878 when the Serbian views also started to get recognition. Misirkov rejected the ideas in On Macedonian Matters
later and turned into a staunch advocate of the Bulgarian cause - to return to the (Slav) Macedonian idea again in the 1920s.
Volker und Sprachenkarte der Balkan - Halbinsel 1924, Leipzig
Other prominent activist for the ethnic Macedonian national revival was Dimitrija Čupovski, who is one of the founders and the president of the Macedonian Literary Society
established in Saint Petersburg
in 1902. In the period 1913-1918, Čupovski published the newspaper "Македонскi Голосъ" (Macedonian Voice) in which he and fellow members of the Petersburg Macedonian Colony propagandized the existence of a separate Macedonian people
which is different from the Greeks
, Bulgarians and Serbs, and were struggling for popularizing the idea for an independent Macedonian state.
The ideas of Misirkov, Pulevski and other ethnic Macedonian Slavs remained largely unnoticed until the 1940s when they were adopted by the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia
influencing the codification of the Macedonian language. Claims of present-day historians from the former Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Macedonia
that the "Autonomists" in IMRO defended a Macedonian position are largely ungrounded as IMRO regarded itself and was regarded - by the Ottoman authorities, the Greek guerrilla groups, the contemporary press in Europe and even by Misirkov - as an exclusively Bulgarian organization. The present-day historians from the Republic of Macedonia claim that there were two IMRO organizations - a Macedonian one and a vrhovistic one, which declared as a Bulgarian organization.
 Romanian propaganda
Map showing areas with Romanian schools for Aromanians and Megleno-Romanians in the Ottoman Empire (1886)
Attempts at a Romanian propaganda among the Aromanian population of Macedonia began in early 19th century. The first Romanian
school was, however, established in 1864. The total number of schools grew to ca. 40 at the beginning of the 20th century. Though the Romanian propaganda made some success in Bitola, Krushevo, the Aromanian villages in the districts of Bitola and Ohrid, the majority of the Macedonian Aromanians do regard themselves as an own ethnic group.
 Independent point of view
Independent sources in Europe between 1878 and 1918 generally tended to view the Slavic population of Macedonia in two ways: as Bulgarians and as Macedonian Slavs. German scholar Gustav Weigand
was one of the most prominent representatives of the first trend with the books Ethnography of Macedonia
(1924, written 1919) and partially with The Aromanians
(1905). The author described all ethnic groups living in Macedonia, showed empirically the close connection between the western Bulgarian dialects and the Macedonian dialects and defined the latter as Bulgarian. The International Commission constituted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
in 1913 to inquire into causes and conduct of the Balkan Wars
also talked about the Slavs of Macedonia as about Bulgarians in its report published in 1914. The Commission had eight members from Great Britain
and the United States
Distribution of races in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor, Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, New York (1923)
Distribution of races in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor in 1922, Racial Map Of Europe by Hammond & Co.
Distribution of races in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor in 1918, National Geographic
The term "Macedonian Slavs" was used by scholars and publicists in three general meanings:
- as a politically convenient term to define the Slavs of Macedonia without offending Serbian and Bulgarian nationalism;
- as a distinct group of Slavs different from both Serbs and Bulgarians, yet closer to the Bulgarians and having predominantly Bulgarian ethnical and political affinities;
- as a distinct group of Slavs different from both Serbs and Bulgarians having no developed national consciousness and no fast ethnical and political affinities (the definition of Cvijic).
An instance of the use of the first meaning of the term was, for example, the ethnographic map of the Slavic peoples published in (1890) by Russian scholar Zarjanko, which identified the Slavs of Macedonia as Bulgarians. Following an official protest from Serbia the map was later reprinted identifying them under the politically correct name "Macedonian Slavs".
The term was used in a completely different sense by British journalist Henry Brailsford
in Macedonia, its races and their future
(1906). The book contains Brailford's impressions from a five-month stay in Macedonia shortly after the suppression of the Ilinden Uprising and represents an ethnographic report. Brailford defines the dialect of Macedonia as neither Serbian, nor Bulgarian, yet closer to the second one. An opinion is delivered that any Slavic nation could "win" Macedonia if it is to use the needed tact and resources, yet it is claimed that the Bulgarians have already done that. Brailsford uses synonymously the terms "Macedonian Slavs" and "Bulgarians", the "Slavic language" and the "Bulgarian language". The chapter on the Macedonians Slavs/the Bulgarians is titled the "Bulgarian movement", the IMRO activists are called "bulgarophile Macedonians".
The third use of the term can be noted among scholars from the allied countries (above all France and the United Kingdom) after 1915 and is roughly equal to the definition given by Cvijic (see above).
 Development of the name "Macedonian Slavs"
The name "Macedonian Slavs" started to appear in publications at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1890s. Though the successes of the Serbian propaganda effort had proved that the Slavic population of Macedonia was not only Bulgarian, they still failed to convince that this population was, in its turn, Serbian. Rarely used until the end of the 19th century compared to ‘Bulgarians’, the name ‘Macedonian Slavs’ served more to conceal rather than define the national character of the population of Macedonia. Scholars resorted to it usually as a result of Serbian pressure or used it as a general name for the Slavs inhabiting Macedonia regardless of their ethnic affinities. The Serbian politician Stojan Novaković
proposed in 1887 to employ the macedonistic
ideas as they means to counteract the Bulgarian influence in Macedonia, thereby promoting Serbian interests in the region.
However, by the beginning of the 20th century, the continued Serbian propaganda effort and especially the work of Cvijic
had managed to firmly entrench the concept of the Macedonian Slavs in European public opinion and the name was used almost as frequently as ‘Bulgarians’. Even pro-Bulgarian researchers such as H. Brailsford
and N. Forbes
argued that the Macedonian Slavs differed from both Bulgarians and Serbs. Practically all scholars before 1915, however, including strongly pro-Serbian ones such as Robert William Seton-Watson
, admitted that the affinities of the majority of them lied with the Bulgarian cause and the Bulgarians and classified them as such. Even in 1914 the Carnegie Commission report states that the Serbs
classified the slavs of Macedonia as a distinct group "Slav-Macedonians
" for politcal purposes and this therm is "political euphemism designed to conceal the existance of Bulgarians in Macedonia"
Bulgaria's entry into World War I
on the side of the Central Powers
signified a dramatic shift in the way European public opinion viewed the Slavic population of Macedonia. For the Central Powers the Slavs of Macedonia became nothing but Bulgarians, whereas for the Allies
they turned into anything else but Bulgarians. The ultimate victory of the Allies
in 1918 led to the victory of the vision of the Slavic population of Macedonia as of Macedonian Slavs
, an amorphous Slavic mass without a developed national consciousness.
During the 1920s the Comintern
developed a new policy for the Balkans
, about collaboration between the communists and the Macedonian movement and the creation of a united Macedonian movement. The idea for a new unified organization was supported by the Soviet Union
, which saw a chance for using this well developed revolutionary movement to spread revolution in the Balkans and destabilize the Balkan monarchies. In the so-called May Manifesto of 6 May 1924
, for first time the objectives of the unified Slav Macedonian
liberation movement were presented: independence and unification of partitioned Macedonia, fighting all the neighbouring Balkan monarchies, forming a Balkan Communist Federation
and cooperation with the Soviet Union
Later the Comintern
published a resolution about the recognition of Macedonian ethnicity
. The text of this document was prepared in the period December 20, 1933 – January 7, 1934, by the Balkan Secretariat of the Comintern. It was accepted by the Political Secretariat in Moscow
on January 11, 1934, and approved by the Executive Committee of the Comintern. The Resolution was published for the first time in the April issue of Makedonsko Delo
under the title ‘The Situation in Macedonia and the Tasks of IMRO (United)
 The missing national consciousness
What stood behind the difficulties to properly define the nationality of the Slavic population of Macedonia was the apparent levity with which this population regarded it. The existence of a separate Macedonian national consciousness prior to the 1940s is disputed.
This confusion is illustrated by Robert Newman in 1935, who recounts discovering in a village in Vardar Macedonia
two brothers, one who considered himself a Serb
, and the other considered himself a Bulgarian
. In another village he met a man who had been, "a Macedonian peasant all his life", but who had varyingly been called a Turk, a Serb and a Bulgarian.
However anti-Serban and pro-Bulgarian feelings among the local population at this period prevailed.
Nationality in early 20th century Macedonia was a matter of political convictions and financial benefits, of what was considered politically correct at the specific time and of which armed guerrilla group happened to visit the respondent's home last. The process of Hellenization at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century affected only a limited stratum of the population, the Bulgarian Revival
in the middle of the 19th century was too short to form a solid Bulgarian consciousness, the financial benefits given by the Serbian propaganda were too tempting to be declined. It was not a rare occurrence for whole villages to switch their nationality from Greek to Bulgarian and then to Serbian within a few years or to be Bulgarian in the presence of a Bulgarian commercial agent and Serbian in the presence of a Serbian consul. On several occasions peasants were reported to have answered in the affirmative when asked if they were Bulgarians and again in the affirmative when asked if they were Serbs. Though this certainly cannot be valid for the whole population, many Russian and Western diplomats and travelers defined Macedonians as lacking a "proper" national consciousness.