EARLY 20th CENTURY – World War 1
World War 1 broke out in August 1914 with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Turkey) on one side and the Entante (England, France, Russia) on the other. Both sides made offers to the Balkan countries in exchange for their alliance. In 1915, under pressure from IMRO the Bulgarian government sided with the Central Powers, who gave them larger concessions in Vardar Macedonia. Bulgaria immediately moved in, as well as into eastern Greek Macedonia. In Greece, the Comitadjis show their true colors by collaborating with the Bulgarian army’s ethnic cleansing of the Macedonians. As stated by Elizabeth Barker in Macedonia Its Place in Balkan Power Politics:
“The Bulgarian occupation authorities in Greek eastern Macedonia had behaved towards the Greek population with brutality singularly inappropriate in supposed liberators.”
Further, according to an Allied Commission in 1919, 94 villages were demolished and 30,000 people died of brutalization, hunger and disease and 42,000 were deported. In the Vardar region the population accepted the Bulgarians as liberators and their annexation to Bulgaria. In fact many Skopjeans then joined the Bulgarian army- and the IMRO- in the official Bulgarization of the region. Apparently there was no ‘Macedonian’ national consciousness among the people, except for perhaps some communists. Where was the guerilla war waged by the IMRO in the name of Macedonia against this ‘Bulgarian occupation’? There was none, since they were too busy collaborating in the occupation.
In fact, one of the Bulgarian administrators sent there was Dimitar Vlahov, a latent communist and IMRO member, who after spending the 10 years in Moscow, returns as the first president of the Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Macedonia in 1945. Who is left for the Skopjeans to claim as Macedonian when their first president was part of the Bulgarian occupation army.
The war ended in 1918 with Bulgaria on the loosing side, and was forced to withdraw to its previous borders, as well as loosing the small piece of Vardar Macedonia she had before the war. Serbia- now the Kingdom of Yugoslavia moved in and retook the region as part of the post war settlement, and Greece finally liberated Thrace after the Bulgarian withdrawal. The postwar Greek- Bulgarian Treaty of Neuilly provided for a voluntary population exchange. About 30,000 Greeks left Bulgaria and 53,000 Bulgarians (or Slavophones) left Greece fearing possible retaliation for their wartime collaboration with Bulgaria. Although the postwar Greek and Bulgarian governments acceded to he terms, the IMRO, still imbued with Bulgarian irredentism reacted negatively. They felt that population transfers would weaken Bulgarian claims on Greece and sometimes threatened any slavs who repatriated to Bulgaria. After the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks from Anatolia by the Turks, they were repatriated to Macedonia, rendering any Bulgarian claims futile. The borders established after the war were accepted by Greece, Serbia and officially by Bulgaria. Unofficially the Bulgarian government used the IMRO to destabilize Vardar Macedonia (now Southern Serbia). The constant Comitadji cross border raids continued until Yugoslavia made a formal complaint to the League of Nations. The moderate Bulgarian government at the time lead by Stambuliski agreed to secure the border and crack down on the Comitadji raids, as well as favoring closer ties with Yugoslavia. This earned him the hatred of the IMRO and Bulgarian nationalists who conspired to his overthrow and murder in 1923. Again we see IMRO actively involved in Bulgarian politics and national causes more than anything ‘Macedonian’. This trend only increases until the Second World War.
The conclusion of the war left Yugoslavia as the main Balkan power. The first order of business in the region was to integrate it into the rest of the country, i.e. Serbia. The region was renamed South Serbia and the inhabitance recognized as Serbs while the church was placed under the Serbian Patriarch. Fearing the latent Bulgarophilia of the population, and Bulgaro-Comitadji attacks, Yugoslavia tried to alter the composition of the region by promoting Serbia settlement. This began a long policy by Yugoslavia, through the communist era to de-Bulgarize the Vardar Slavs. During Tito’s reign, the attempt to instill a ‘Macedonian’ identity was undertaken.
Unfortunately Greece never laid claims to the parts of Macedonia still occupied by other countries. Geographically, she had 51% of the generally accepted area of Macedonia (although historically inaccurate, ancient Macedonia never extended so far north). According to League of Nations statistics, by the mid 1920s had 1.34 million inhabitance (88.8% were Greek) and 77,000 slavophones who may or may not have been Greek. In any case no mention is made of a Macedonian minority there- or any place else. An attempted Greek-Bulgarian reconciliation of the minority dispute resulted in the Kalfov-Politis Protocol of 1924, where Greece was to recognize all the slavophones as Bulgars. The agreement ultimately failed since many did not want to label all Slavic speakers as Bulgarian, when they mite not be. It was also opposed by the Yugoslav government since the agreement implied that the inhabitants of south Serbia were Bulgarian as well.