Interwar Communist Movements – Balkan Communist Propaganda
Macedonia was used by the Balkan communists as a rallying point to overthrow the existing social and political order. They hoped that the many restless nationalities in South Serbia could be used towards this end. In no instance- ever, is there any mention of a Macedonia ethnic group, only reference to the local inhabitants. For the communists, Macedonia was to be a political entity of various nationalities. As stated by Soviet revolutionary Zinoviev in 1920, referring to Yugoslavia:
“Against the rule of the Serbian bureaucratic and landowning oligarchy, there are rising up the Macedonian Bulgarians, the Albanians, Montenegrins, Croats and Bosnians.” (Elizabeth Barker reprint) Referring to Macedonia he specifically qualified them as Bulgarians i.e. Bulgarians in (Vardar) Macedonia oppressed by Yugoslavia. We can also infer the pro-Bulgarian bias of the Soviets as regards Macedonia; the use of the Bulgarian minority for revolution. The CPB took full advantage of this bias.
To further its goals, the CPB enlisted the support of the leftist IMRO “Centralists” Philip Athanasov, Dimitar Vlahov, Dimo Hadji Dimov who espoused autonomous views. They changed their name to “Federalists” and in 1918 outlined their policy in a manifesto. Its main points being the restoration of Macedonia to its original boundaries (whatever they were) including Greek Thessaloniki , and its organization similar to the Swiss canton system. Their autonomy policy led them into open confrontation with the IMRO Supremists of Todor Alexandrov and Alexander Protogerov who were old style Bulgarian Comitadji nationalists. There were frequent gun battles in Pirin and Vardar between the two. Ironically it should be noted that the Federalist autonomy solution was also used by Bulgarian nationalists such as Ivan Mihailov as proposed in his outdated 1950 polemic, Macedonia: A Switzerland of the Balkans. Although he supported Macedonian independence, he correctly knew that the people there are Bulgarian and not Macedonian in ethnicity. According to him, a Macedonian state would simply be run by Bulgarians.
At the Balkan Communist Conference in May 1922, the Bulgarian delegate Vasili Kolarov first raised the issue of Macedonian and Thracian autonomy. Knowing the proposal was a threat to their countries borders, the Greek and Yugoslav delegates were unable to endorse it at this stage. This is perhaps the official starting point of part of the Skopjeans idea of independence- by the Bulgarian Communist Party since the IMRO Federalists were powerless to affect any change without communist support. However in order for any chance of success, the communists needed the support of the IMRO Supremists- and they would get it in the typical IMRO opportunistic tradition.
As stated previously, in June 1923, the IMRO collaborated with a nationalist military clique and over threw the Bulgarian government. The government was condemned by the Communist International, as well as the absent communist resistance to it. When the communists did try to revolt that September they were quickly crushed by the government and its IMRO allies. The new president Alexander Chankov released the imprisoned IMRO chiefs Alexandrov and Protogerov who were arrested by the old regime as part of their IMRO crackdown agreement with Yugoslavia. However the thankless IMRO were quick to betray the government’s support.
During the spring of 1924, at the sixth conference of the BCF, they unveiled their Macedonian resolution, which not surprisingly had a pro-Bulgarian IMRO stance as the communists were attempting to win over the organization even though they had to take the leftist Federalist view for autonomy. The resolution states that an autonomous Macedonia can “assure right and liberty to all its nationalities”, and hails the. “…Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, the real leader of the Macedonian slaves…” Macedonian autonomy is portrayed in light of a class struggle of its inhabitants against the oppression of the middle class of the occupier countries, not an ethnic struggle.
The IMRO’s deep rooted schizophrenic condition is hard to conceal. That spring and continuing into 1924, secret negotiations between the IMRO Federalists, CPB, and official IMRO representatives were conducted to unite all groups under the same goal: The independence or autonomy of a Macedonian state. In May 1924 party leaders Alexandrov, Protogerov and the communist Chaoulev signed the ‘Vienna’ agreement and issued a new manifesto; The New Orientation of the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement. This communist influenced document reads as an excuse for a Macedonian state for the silliest of reasons: “…endowed with the most varied natural riches and a favorable climate; with its ethnically diverse population of upwards of 2,302,000 persons; with a strategic and economic position in the middle of the Balkans…has all the rights and conditions necessary for an independent political existence. Forming an independent and self governing state.”
All of this is merely political opportunism tailored to Bulgarian communist whims. The same case then could be made for any ethnic group anywhere. Once again the IMRO explicitly states ‘Macedonia’ is multi-ethnic. If the IMRO ever believed in a Macedonian ethnic group they would have stated it.
As regards Greece, the document states the IMRO will fight
“…against any government which supports the present partition of Macedonia, denationalizes the population of Greek Macedonia, and forcibly changes the ethnological character of the area by evicting the indigenous population in order to replace it by settlers from Asia Minor and Thrace.”
It also declares as a goal: “…the liberation and reunion of the separated parts of Macedonia in a fully autonomous and independent political unit within its natural geographic and ethnic frontiers” (Ethnic taken to mean Bulgarian)
These passages clearly reveal the hidden Bulgarian agenda of the document. If it was stated that Macedonia is multi ethnic, how can a ‘Macedonian’ be denationalized? In reality the passage is really referring to the slavophone Greeks who remained in Greece after the war and those who chose to leave as a condition of the Treaty of Neuilly. It is also curious that this “minority” is referred to historically as Bulgarian by Bulgaria and the IMRO and “Macedonian” by the communists- Bulgarian irredentism under a red mask. During World War 2 this same “minority” is referred to as Bulgarian by Bulgaria and Macedonian by the Yugoslav communists.
Referring the Bulgarian government, the IMROs duplicity is even more poignant:
As regards Bulgaria, the IMRO declares that in spite of all the sacrifices which the Bulgarian people has made and is ready to make for the independence of Macedonia, the present Bulgarian government of Chankov is following an openly anti-Macedonian and anti Bulgarian policy an openly Serbophil policy…” further: “IMRO proclaims that the policy of the Chankov government is hostile to the Macedonian and Bulgarian peoples and calls on all Macedonians and Bulgarians to start an energetic struggle against this government.”
We see once again the IMRO changing sides and favoring autonomy and not annexation to Bulgaria. Only six years before they were collaborating with the Bulgarian army in its occupation, and now they denounce it. But if only their hypocrisy ended here! They denounce the same Bulgarian government they themselves put in power less than a year before and even call for an uprising against it- an uprising that happened a few months before which they assisted in crushing. Now the IMRO is clearly conforming with the communist solution to the Macedonian question. As stated previously the IMRO was never a truly independent Macedonian organization but always in the service of other powers- and this time it’s the communists. However to their credit, part of their nationalist legacy lives on in the twisted self identity of the Skopjeans today.
The new position of the IMRO is identical to that of the Balkan Communist Federation and won for the CPB the endorsement of its policy by the Comintern (meeting of all communist parties in Moscow) at its fifth congress that summer. “The Congress considers the slogans formulated by the sixth Balkan Communist Federation Conference- United Independent Macedonia and United Independent Thrace wholly correct and truly revolutionary.” The meeting further strengthened Bulgarian views by encouraging the Greek and Yugoslav parties to support this independence.
The revelation that the formerly Bulgarian patriot IMRO officially sanctioned such a heretical document caused uproar in its ranks as well as the Bulgarian government. It was first published in Dimitar Vlahov’s communist inspired rag “Federation Balcanique”. Caught “red” handed, the IMRO officially rejected its support of the document and its leaders even denied endorsing it. This did not spare them from the wrath of the Bulgarian government and its hit man Ivan Mihailov. In August 1924 IMRO chief Todor Alexandrov was shot, as well as many high ranking leftist members Hadji Dimov, and Todor Panitsa. In 1928 Alexander Protogerov was killed by Mihailov at the Bulgarian government’s bidding, after which he took personal control of the organization. The only support it had left was due to its perceived anti-Serb activities in Vardar. The IMRO, unable after 30 years to establish its own identity became what it was essentially from the beginning: a gang of criminals, terrorists and extortionists.
As for Vlahov, together with the survivors of Mihailov’s purge, formed in 1925 the ‘United IMRO’, a socialist offshoot which took the official communist line (Comintern, BCF). Although it supported Macedonian independence it drew little popular support, (Barker p.69, Kofos p.89) and only added to the cacophony of Bulgarian contradictory voices on Macedonia. Part of its declaration states its resistance to “the leaders of the Bulgaro-Macedonian Organization (IMRO) , Protogerov, Mihailov…” In any case the United IMRO only lasted for nine years after which Vlahov disappeared in Moscow until the end of the Second World War.