Slavic populations (Bulgarians and Slavmcedonias) in Macedonia were in 19th century, a people with confuse sense of distinct national identity, leading a passive existence for centuries in the area between the Danube and the Haemus mountain range. The Russians discovered this Slavic people during their drive to Adrianople in 1828—29 and found them similar in language, appearance, religion and character. The most important thing about them, however, was that they did not have an especially strong sense of national identity. Moreover, they did not hold liberal ideas, as did the Serbs, They were very near the much longed for Dardanelles Straits, and away from Austrian influence, to which the Serbs could easily fall because of their proximity. Thus, the Russians preferred the Bulgarians to the Serbs as a check against Greek ambitions and decided to make them a dependent satellite state.
In the three sanjaks of Vidin, Nikopolis and Silistria there lived a Bulgarian people, with its distinctive churches, folk songs and folk art. The Bulgarian hajduks even though they did not possess such a high level of national consciousness as their Serb and Greek counterparts, preserved a tradition of hostility towards the Turkish administration. In these three areas, the Bulgarian expression of Panslavism was maintained, despite the domination of the Greek element in the European part of the Ottoman Empire.
Limited Bulgarian revolts took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; however, there was no indication of a national revolt among the Bulgarian populations in the early nineteenth century. When a revolt eventually did take place, it was the work of Russian Slavophiles, it followed those in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was planned and funded by the Russians. Somewhat earlier, in 1772, Paisius (Paisi), the Athonite Bulgarian monk had composed, in a crude Slavic idiom, a Slavonic-Bulgarian History of the People, Tsars and Saints of Bulgaria. This compendium aimed to awaken Bulgarians patriotism. It was published in 1844, having circulated for a long time in manuscript form, but with limited impact either on the Bulgarian people or on Russian foreign policy.
In 1829 the ardent Slavophone Venelin from Lemberg (1802—1839) published in Russian a history titled Ancient and Modern Bulgarians. The book coincided with the Russian drive to Adrianople and gained the attention of the Russian Academy, which invited the author in 1830 to travel through Bulgaria and the European territories of Turkey. Since that time Russian gold began to flow abundantly in Bulgaria, in order to accelerate the awakening of Bulgarian nationalism, and to restrain the growth of dangerous Hellenism. Following his tour in the areas inhabited by Bulgarians, Venelin published his findings, and the material he had collected, not hesitating to distort it in order to suit his wily purposes. In particular he claimed that Bulgarian Slavs existed in Rumelia, Macedonia, Albania, Thessaly and Asia Minor. He further claimed that the Bulgarians brought the Cyrillic alphabet to the Russians and proselytized them to Christianity. In a study on the origin of the Bulgarians, Veselin's disciple Rakovski (1818-1868) claimed that the Olympian Zeus, Demosthenes, Alexander the Great and the Souliot Markos Botsares, hero of the Greek War of Independence, were all Bulgarians. He also claimed that the ancient Orphic festivals were Bulgarian and that the Apostle Paul spread the Gospel in the Balkans in the Bulgarian language.
Ilija Garashanin (1812-1874) was a distinguished Serbian statesman and the main architect of Serbian state policy between 1843-1868. In 1844 he published a blueprint, known as "Nachertanije" (Outline), describing future Serbian territorial ambitions. A plan modelled directly on Dushan's medieval empire - that is including both Macedonia and Old Serbia. But, at the same time Garashanin also encouraged a diplomatic policy of strong support for Bulgarian revolutionary activity against the Turks. In fact it was 1848 Garashanin who arranged for the Bosnian Croat, Stefan Verkovich (1821-1893), on the pretext of completing Karadjich's linguistic research, to tour Macedonia and covertly collect ethnographic data ultimately be used as support for long- term Serbian hegemony.
After him, Stefan Verkovich (1827-1893), another Bosnian-Croatian nationalist and propagandist, wrote a work in Russian titled On Macedonian Ethnography, and became one of the protagonists of Russian propaganda. He discovered "Slavo-Macedonian folk songs" on Alexander the Great. Animosity against the Greeks was obvious and unrestrained. Whatever was Greek had, at all costs, to be presented as Bulgarian. Hristovich went so far as to claim that Aristotle spoke Bulgarian, but wrote in Greek in order to civilize the barbarians to the south. Other Bulgarians included Emperor Constantine the Great, Saints Cyril and Methodius, and Georgios Karaiskakes, another hero of the Greek War of Independence.
However in 1860, when the Serbian Academic Society published Verkovich's first volume of "Folk Songs of the Macedonian Bulgarian" awarding him the Serbian "Uceno Druzestvo" (Scholar's Society), in his preface Verkovich said:
I call these songs Bulgarian and not Slavic, because if someone today should ask the Macedonian Slav "what are you?" he would be immediately be told: "I am Bulgarian" and would call his language 'Bulgarian'.
All these crude fabrications seem laughable today, but during that period their dissemination made a mark upon the simple, illiterate Slavo-phone villagers of Macedonia. Until then, the term "Bulgar" was deemed an insult, however, there appeared those who assured these simple people that they ought to feel proud about this designation and history, since all the great men in history were like them. It followed that those, easily swayed by these lies, would fall prey to Slavic propaganda.
The Russian efforts had a remarkable impact on the Bulgarians before influencing the Slavophone peasants of Macedonia. The first Bulgarian primer appeared in 1824; in 1828, the New Testament was published in Bulgarian; and, in 1836 Rijlski published a Bulgarian grammar. By 1849, 31 Bulgarian schools operated in present-day Bulgarian territory, 4 in Macedonia and 18 in Thrace. At that time, many Bulgarian graduates of Greek schools, who had heretofore appeared Greek, started to become conscious of their ethnicity and to serve the Bulgarian cause efficiently, with the special help of Russian gold. Russian efforts began to bear fruit. More important, they were not limited to the spread of a written Bulgarian language, but were extended to important church matters.
The Eastern Greek Orthodox Church, led by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, was the main guardian of the Balkan peoples survival. Had it not been for the existence of Church, Islam would have prevailed in the Balkans and would have eliminated every national identity, except the Turkish one. The Ottoman Empire divided its subjects in the Balkans between Muslims and Christians. The only authority the Ottoman Empire recognized over its Christian subjects, besides its own, was that of the Orthodox Church, a privilege granted by Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror right after the fall of Constantinople (1453). Thus, the Patriarchate enjoyed the boundless respect of the Balkan peoples and its authority was uncontested. It continued to retain its Greek character, and preserved Hellenic culture, despite the fact that the Greek patriarchs did not discriminate among the faithful on the basis of ethnicity. The Russians were aware of this and considered the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate a great obstacle to their designs. The attacks against the Patriarchate began as soon as the first signs of a resurrection of Bulgarian ethnic identity became apparent.
Since 1840, the Russians advised the Bulgarians to ask the Greek Patriarch to allow the use of the Bulgarian language in churches existing in Bulgarian areas. Their request was rejected and, in 1853, they appealed to the Russian ambassador to Constantinople, Count Mentzikoff, who eagerly undertook to support their claim. Following the Crimean War, the sultanic rescript (Hatt-i-Hiimayiin) of February 1856 promised equality for all Ottoman subjects, regardless of religion. The Bulgarians, supported at that time by the English and the French, requested the consecration of Bulgarian bishops and the use of Bulgarian language in their churches. These requests were not accepted, nor were they after another effort with the Patriarch, in December 1858
It was not only the Russians who noted the power of the Church, as a means of imposing the Ottoman administration on the Christian population. The Church of Rome created the Uniate church after 1555. It was an invention that aimed cunningly to draw into its fold the Orthodox Christians. To entice the Orthodox and convert them into Uniates, that is to persuade them to beak away from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and to recognize the bishop of Rome (pope) as supreme head of the Christian Church. The Roman Catholics thus permitted the converts to retain certain forms of Orthodox worship, showing a measure of respect for their ancestral religious customs.During the time the Russians attempted to create a Bulgarian nation, the French ambassador to Constantinople Lavalette realized the potential usefulness of the Uniate church as a counter to their schemes. Without delay he made use of it in order to undermine Russian influence on the Bulgars.
- Douglas Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913, Thessalonica: Institute of Balkan Studies, 1966
- Spyridon Sfetas, Formation of the Slavmacedonian Identity, Vanias, 2003, Greek edition
- Hellenic Army History Directorate, The Struggle for the Macedonia and the events in Thrace(1904-1908), 1988, Greek edition
- Djoko Slijepcevic, The Macedonian Question-The Struggle for Southern Serbia, 1958
- Anna Aggelopoulou, The moovement of the Macedonists, 2006, Greek edition