Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The issue of a seperate 'macedonian' identity up the end of WWI

Before 1870 the literate Slavic-speaking inhabitants of Macedonia and Bulgaria were engaged in a common struggle against Greek cultural and linguistic domination in the Balkans. During this period the Slavs of Macedonia called their language Bulgarian.

They hoped to create a single Macedo-Bulgarian literary language based on some kind of compromise among the various dialects of Macedonia and Bulgaria (Friedman 1993).
It was not until after the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate and the increasing attempts by the Bulgarian intellegentsia to impose an eastern Bulgarian-based standard language of the people of Macedonia that efforts to establish a single Macedo-Bulgarian literary language were abandoned and the first signs of Macedonian linguistic separatism appeared. This is the period when dictionaries, grammars, and textbooks began to be published in what was specifically referred to as "Slavo-Macedonian" or "Macedonian language".

In 1892 the Kostur (Kastoria) parish school council adopted the proposal of a group of teachers "to eliminate both Bulgarian and Greek and introduce Macedonian as the language of instruction in the town school" (Andonovski 1985a, cited in Friedman 1993.) However, the Greek bishop and the Turkish governor of the city prevented this from taking place.

The careers of some of the important literary figures in Macedonia in the nineteenth century illustrate the degree to which the different languages and cultures of the Balkans had not yet become separated into bounded, mutually exclusive national spheres. They also poignantly reveal the dilemmas these writers faced as a result of the conflicting nationalist pressures that had begun to converge on Macedonia at this time.

Grigor Prlichev, who was born in Ohrid in western Macedonia in 1830, gained his reputation as a famous poet when his poem 'The Bandit' written in Greek, won a prize in Athens in 1860. He was described as a "second Homer."

When Greek officials offered him a scholarship to study in western Europe, however, he turned it down. He realized that even though he loved Greek literature, he was not Greek. Shortly thereafter he left Greece for Macedonia, and never wrote in Greek again.

After spending five months in Constantinople learning "the Slav language," Prlichev returned to Ohrid where he was imprisoned by the Greek bishop for opposing the use of the Greek language in the schools and churches of Macedonia. His translation of the 'Iliad' into the local Slavic language of Ohrid was dismissed by Bulgarian critics, who said he had poor knowledge of Bulgarian. Prlichev himself wrote, "In Greek I sang like a swan; now in Slavic I cannot even sing like a donkey." Even though he described himself once as "slain by the Bulgarians," toward the end of his life, when he decided to write his autobiography, he chose to write in Bulgarian.

The brothers Konstantin and Dimitar Miladinov confronted similar challenges. Dimitar was born in Struga on Lake Ohrid in 1810. He received a Greek education and taught Greek until a visiting Russian scholar encouraged him to teach his own language. As Dimitar became more interested in his native Slavic language, he developed a Bulgarian national consciousness (De Bray 1980:139),

His younger brother Konstantin, after competing his studies in Athens and Moscow, returned to Struga to work with his brother on a collection of folksongs in the local Slavic language. "I shall have these songs... published," Dimitar wrote, "so that they can always be sung, because these cursed Greeks will Craecize us and we shall no longer count for anything" (Nurigiani 1972:129).
Unable to find a publisher for his collection in Moscow, Konstantin finally obtained the sponsorship of a Croat bishop and patron of South Slavic culture in Zagreb. After Konstantin transcribed the six hundred songs he and his brother had collected in western Macedonia into the Cyrilic alphabet from the Greek alphabet in which they had originally recorded them, seventy-seven songs from eastern Bulgaria collected by a Bulgarian folklorist were added, and the total collection was finally published in Zagreb in 1861, under the title 'Bulgarian Folk Songs' (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences 1978:182).

Finally, Krste Misirkov, who had clearly developed a strong sense of his own personal national identity as a Macedonian and who outspokenly and unambiguously called for Macedonian linguistic and national separatism, acknowledged that a Macedonian national identity was a relatively recent historical development.

In 'On Macedonian Matters', published in 1903, Misirkov, referring to himself and other Slavs of Macedonia in the first person plural, admits repeatedly that "our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always been called Bulgarians" and that "in the past we have even called ourselves Bulgarians" (1974:27,150).

He describes "the emergence of the Macedonians as a separate Slav people" as a "perfectly normal historical process which is quite in keeping with the process by which the Bulgarian, Croatians and Serbian peoples emerged from the South Slavic group" (153).

The political and military leaders of the Slavs of Macedonia at the turn of the century seem not to have heard Misirkov's call for a separate Macedonian national identity; they continued to identify themselves in a national sense as Bulgarians rather than Macedonians..

The political goals of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) were the liberation of Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of an autonomous Macedonia, but VMRO's leadership of the revolutionary movement in Macedonia was challenged by the formation of the Supreme Macedonian Committee in Sofia, whose ultimate goal was the annexation of Macedonia by Bulgaria.

In spite of these political differences, both groups, including those who advocated an independent Macedonian state and opposed the idea of a Greater Bulgaria, never seem to have doubted "the predominantly Bulgarian character of the population of Macedonia" (MacDermott 1978:85).

Even Gotse Delchev, the famous Macedonian revolutionary leader, whose nom de guerre was Ahil (Achilles), refers to "the Slavs of Macedonia as 'Bulgarians' in an offhanded manner without seeming to indicate that such a designation was a point of contention" (Perry 1988:23).
In his correspondence Gotse Delchev often states clearly and simply, "We are Bulgarians" (MacDermott 1978:192,273).

After the failure of the Ilinden Uprising, the struggle for Macedonia continued. In the period leading up to the Balkan wars f 1912-13, Serbia became increasingly involved in what had until then been primarily a conflict between Bulgaria and Greece.

In their attempt to achieve the "ethnographic reclamation" of Macedonia (Wilkinson 1951:316-17), the Serbs first had to refute the Bulgarian claims that Macedonia belonged to Bulgaria because the Slavs of Macedonia were Bulgarians.

The Serbian position, which was effectively articulated by Jovan Cvijic, one of the most respected human geographers of the Balkans at the time, was that the Slavs of Macedonia were a transitional group located linguistically and culturally somewhere between the Bulgarians and the Serbs.

Cvijic gave this group the neutral name of "Macedo-Slavs". According to the Serbs, because the "Macedo-Slavs" did not exhibit any permanent national consciousness, they should be considered "incipient Serbs" (Wilkinson 1951:258).

In 1909 Cvijic published the first map to depict 'Macedo-Slavs" as a distinct ethnic group. His later ethnographic maps were extremely influential and were used as the basis for most postwar maps of the Balkans in both Europe and the United States. Through Cvijic's maps, then, the existence of a group of "Macedo-Slavs" became widely accepted, as did the right of the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia) to retain a large portion of Macedonian territory after World War I (Wilkinson 1951:148-203).

At the end of World War I there were very few historians or ethnographers who claimed that a separate Macedonian nation existed. It seems more likely that at this time most of the Slavs of Macedonia, especially those in rural areas, had not yet developed a firm sense of national identity at all.

In a revealing passage from 'Life in the Tomb', Stratis Myrivilis' novel about life on the Balkan front during World War I, a Slavic-speaking family from a village of Vardar Macedonia is described as wanting to be neither "Boulgar," "S'rrp," nor "Grrts" (1977:182). Significantly, there is no positive statement of what they do want to be, no assertion of any nationality that they do want to identify with.

Of those Slavs who had developed some sense of national identity the majority probably considered themselves to be Bulgarians, although as R.King (1973:217) points out, they were aware of differences between themselves and the inhabitants of Bulgaria.

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