Modern History – General Background History

The modern political history of Macedonia is agreed to have begun in 1870, while still under Ottoman occupation, with the formation of the schismatic Bulgarian Exarchate Church. The church was used as a cover for the Bulgarian Nationalist and Pan Slavic movement to steal Macedonia- its land and people from its future incorporation into a Greek state, and its annexation to Bulgaria. The Church was recognized by the Sultan, over the objections of the Patriarchate in Constantinople in the rightful belief it would divide the Christians and lead to internal national struggles amongst themselves. This new Church was then used as a weapon by Bulgarian nationalists to convert the Greek and Slavic speakers (slavophones) to Bulgarism. The majority of the people in present day FYROM (Vardar Macedonia) and Western Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia) either had no concrete national consciousness or professed to be Greek, even though they spoke Slavic. It is commonly accepted that their Slavic dialect is most similar to Bulgarian than to Serbo-Croatian.

Bulgarian dreams of conquering Macedonia were temporarily realized in 1878 in the aftermath of the Russian- Turkish war. The negotiated Treaty of San Stefano gave to Bulgaria all of Vardar Macedonia, most of present Greek Macedonia and part of eastern Albania! Luckily, knowing that Bulgaria would merely be a Russian satellite, the other European powers revised the Treaty at the Congress of Berlin and Bulgaria retreated to its pre-war borders. Beginning at this time, Bulgarian teachers and priests were sent into Macedonia with the mission of inculcating on the population a Bulgarian National Consciousness. The Task was most difficult since a majority of the people either spoke Greek or considered themselves Greek. The difficulty the Bulgarians had is exemplified in a report issued by the Secretary General of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1885, speaking in ethnological terms about the population of Macedonia states that if the population of Macedonia had to choose a nationality to which they identified, the vast majority would declare itself Greek. Further evidence of the strong Greek presence in Macedonia at the time is found in the book, The Turks in Europe by James Baker, 1878. Upon asking local Slavophone Macedonian peasants about their identity, they declared themselves as Rum, (Roman) a term used exclusively by Greeks.

The Bulgarians, realizing ‘peaceful conversion’ wasn’t working out as they had planned, formed in 1893 the Internal Macedonian Revolution Organization (I.M.R.O.), a terrorist organization whose mission was the expulsion of the Turks, as well as the conversion of the Macedonians to Bulgarians. Although founded by Bulgarian nationalists Damian Gruev, Goce Delchev, Petar Pop Arsov and other nationalist, its goals were often ill defined and changed according to current events and the personal beliefs of its leaders. Its true history runs counter to the claims of its supporters that it was a true ‘Macedonian’ liberation movement. It was always in a schizophrenic state in the service of other powers- i.e. Bulgarian, Yugoslavian or Communist- but a real Macedonian movement it was not.

In the early years of its operation IMRO only operated in Exarchist Church controlled areas in the north of Macedonia with a stronger Bulgarian presence. However, In order to gain support from non Exarchists and other nationalities, they changed their rallying cry to a Macedonian rebellion against the Turks- i.e. anyone who inhabited the area- not any specific Macedonian ethnic group. Due to little popular support their rebellions were easily crushed by the Turks. It is also of interest that during the 1920’s the same rallying cry for a Macedonian rebellion by Slavic communists was geared at the overthrow of ‘middle class oppression’.

The inability of the IMRO to agree on a common ideological goal- Macedonian autonomy or annexation by Bulgaria led to the establishment of a Supreme Committee in 1894, which brought the organization under direct control from Sofia. These divergent views were just the beginning in IMROs long schizophrenic history. Members were polarized between either supporting autonomy or annexation, and by loyalties to high ranking members who only temporarily and superficially united the organization. The ascension of the ruthless Boris Sarafov as leader in 1898 officially began the IMROs long history of murder, criminality, terrorism and intimidation. Armed bands called Comitadjs (Turkish for Committee Man i.e. rebel) were sent terrorizing the Macedonian population- even the slavophones who refused to convert to the Exarchate (Bulgarian) Church. Despite international calls for its disbandment, Bulgarian Premier Danev stated in 1902 that IMRO was a patriotic organization and had the support of the Bulgarian people. If IMRO was a nationalist ‘Macedonian’ organization fighting alleged Bulgarian (and Greek) oppression, as its supporters claim today, why would the Bulgarian Premier make such a statement? Further why would they attack ‘fellow Macedonians’ for the sole reason of belonging to a different church?

The Greek reaction to the Bulgaro- IMRO Comitadji raids was the creation of the National Society in 1894 which organized counter raids to protect the Macedonian population. Its also gave financial support to the Greek schools and institutions in the region. This continued until the 1897 Greek- Turkish war, when the Turkish victory forced the disbandment of the National Society and Greek withdrawal of financial and military aid to the region. The war’s outcome further played into the Bulgars hands by causing many Macedonians to convert to the Exarchate Church out of fear of persecution by the Turks.

Perhaps IMROs ‘crowning failure’ was the instigation of the failed Ilinden Revolt on August 2, 1903 in the Greek town of Krusovo. On that day Comitadji proclaimed the “Krusevo Republic”, independent from the Ottoman Empire, and the inhabitants forced to join the rebels or face persecution. The only clear winners were the Turks who quickly crushed the revolt and destroyed the town. It is also ironic that the events at Krusovo lead the Greek government to finally take decisive action to prevent the loss of Macedonia to the Bulgars. The years 1903-1908 are known as the Macedonian struggle.