Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ideology as a causational pattern for state behavior: the case of the Macedonian dispute

Dr. George Voskopoulos in American Chronicle
July 15, 2008

Samuel Huntington must have been rather optimistic when he talked about the end of history. That was the end of history of the bipolar world. Yet, in the case of the Balkans, history and perceived or misperceived historical grievances have long provided the motivational axis for state behavior thus setting the conceptual and interactive framework of inter-Balkan relations. Hindsight and scrutiny of past events may provide aspects of those qualitative elements that affect nominally and in essence the co-operation-conflict ratio among local actors.

The Macedonian Issue emerged with the desire of Balkan peoples and ethnic groups to liberate from the Ottoman rule. The oppressed peoples engaged in a liberating war against the Ottomans, a struggle that added to the creation of structural and surrealis-tic elements (factual and non-factual) of historical narratives. Indicative is the evalua-tion of Duncan Perry vis-à-vis the Ilinden rising. "In 1903 an uprising broke out on Ilinden, the effort of a liberation / terrorist group best known as the Internal Macedo-nian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). It failed to yield the desired goal of auton-omy for Macedonia, but it subsequently proved to be an organization around which Macedonian national myth-makers crafted a national history and from which they as-sembled a pantheon of national heroes. Nationalists argue that both IMRO and the revolt demonstrated the national will for the recognition of a Macedonian nation and the plea for a Macedonian homeland. Neither was true as no widespread Macedonian national identity existed and there was no discrete homeland"[1]. Yet, this was the first decisive step of the ethnogenesis process. Duncan Perry underpins that "the Macedonian national identity was first recognized by the Comintern in 1934 and then was promoted by Tito in 1942 at a congress held in Bihac, Bosnia"[2].

Although during this liberation process Balkan peoples faced a common enemy, the Ottoman conqueror, this did not prevent them from fighting one another. The Two Balkan Wars illustrated the desire for national liberation but also the degree of lack of cohesiveness of the Balkan subordinate system and the ephemeral nature of alliances in the Balkans. In the first Balkan War Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria faced the Otto-mans, in an effort to be free and create their own nation-states. Yet, this was not only difficult but also complicated, having in mind the ethnological map of the Balkans, where ethnic groups were scattered geographically and taking into account the expansionist dreams of the Balkan peoples. The First Balkan War had scarcely ended when Bulgaria confronted Greece and Serbia, resulting in its defeat in 1913. This put aside Bulgarian dreams for a Greater Bulgaria that would include Greek Macedonia, in order to expand to the Aegean. The changing of camps may be attributed first to regional strategic considerations and second to the influence of the intrusive system in the Balkans.

A less known aspect of the Macedonian issue is its Marxist element that turned it into a major class struggle. The ideological cleavage in the Balkans between pro-communists and anti-communists intensified the struggle for control over the territory where Greek Macedonia lies today. The main axis of this attempt was through imposing ideological homogeneity, a strategy that put ideology and class consciousness above ethnicity and national identity. The Greek communist party adopted this policy and tried to give it an anti-bourgeois character, emphasizing that emotional attachments to specific regions, as well as national ideals were "bourgeois ideology" and thus ought to be discarded. The ideological cleavage into bourgeois and communist blocks gave birth to an ideological polarisation between two conflicting blocks, which made geographical Macedonia the apple of discord. Balkan communists attempted to advance their ideology at the expense of regional security and stability and by means of eliminating national consciousness, in order to create a Balkan Communist Federation.

Dimiter Vlahov, editor of the Federation Balcanique, a journal funded by "partisans and friends" and Slav-Macedonians in the US, was the main proponent of a Balkan Communist Federation. It is speculated that Tito himself was contributor to the first issue of Federation Balcanique of 15-7-1924, as it contained an article entitled "The Salvation of the Balkans Lies in Federation" signed by a certain "M. Walter". It has been reported that "Tito´s earlier nom de guerre was Walter or Valter", therefore he may have been the writer of this article, which dealt with the issue of creating a fed-eration that would include Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. On 1 April 1926, Vlahov founded the United I.M.R.O, whose founding declaration was published in the Federation Balcanique on the same day and set the ideological, political and intellectual framework for the creation of a "united and independent Macedonia", which was to become the "Switzerland of the Balkans". The main statures of United I.M.R.O were the following:

Article 1. "United I.M.R.O has the task of conquering the liberty and independence of Macedonia in its geographical and economic frontiers and of forming of it an autonomous political unit belonging as a member with equal rights, to the future Balkan Federation".

Article 2. "The free and independent Macedonian state will be established on the basis of the entire equality of national, political, civil, and cultural rights for all the na-tionalities which inhabit it".

Article 3."To attain this the United IMRO will work for the formation of an organization of the revolutionary masses embracing the popular masses of the three parts of Macedonia, divided between Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria, and also all the Macedonian emigrants now outside Macedonia´s frontiers, and the preparation of these masses for a general popular insurrection…To unite all the Macedonian popular forces by attracting to its ranks all the groups, organizations, and persons of all social classes without distinction of nationality, citizenship, religion, or sex, who sincerely accept the aim, principles, ideas, and methods of action of United IMRO…To enter in close relations with all organizations and all national-revolutionary and social-revolutionary parties in the Balkans which support the principle of self-determination of the peoples and which are ready to collaborate in action for the creation of an independent Macedonian political unit…United IMRO takes it as its essential task to fight for the conquest of liberty of language and cultural instruction for all the nationalities in Macedonia, for the conquest political liberties and equality of rights, and to give land to the peasants and broad support to the economically weak classes".

Article 4. "The Organization declares itself, given these aims and this task, to be revolutionary in character. It acts conspiratorially. But it does not exclude the legal struggle in all its possible manifestations, according to place and circumstances. The legal struggle will contribute to the broad development of the propaganda and organizational activity of United IMRO, and will strengthen and deepen its ties with the popular masses".

As Communism was becoming the leading ideology of the more radical, militant and less privileged members of the local Balkan societies, Georgi Dimitrov, a stern proponent of the Communist Federation in the Balkans published an article on Federation Balcanique stating: "In the Balkans, just as in Russia, the very complicated national question can only be solved, territorial feuds settled, imperialist pressure overcome, and real peace among the Balkan peoples ensured, by the creation of a federation of Balkan peoples, after their liberation from capitalism. That is why the Balkan proletariat…is carrying on its fight for the Balkan Federation, for the Federation of the Balkan Workers´ and Peasants Republic…". This article set the ideological framework of the ambitious communist plan for a united Macedonia, resulting from the collapse of capitalism and "fascism" [3] and the political and ideological homogeneity of the Balkans.

Although Vlahovs´s relations to the Balkan Communists were turbulent, yet, the Stature of United IMRO corresponded closely and bore close ideological affiliation with the resolution of the Balkan Communist Federation (March 1924) that provided for the creation of a united communist Macedonia. If one compares Articles 2 and 3, there seems to be a contradiction between what IMRO was suggesting for the disputed issue of "Macedonian people". In Article 2 Vlahov refers to the "nationalities" that inhabit Macedonia, thus excluding the meaning of a single Macedonian identity within the borders of geographical Macedonia. This seems to contradict with Article 3 (paragraph d), where he first refers to the "Macedonian people", while later he refers to "all the nationalities in Macedonia". From this inconsistency, it may be inferred that the term "Macedonian people" had a geographical meaning, referring to those peoples living within geographical Macedonia, namely Greeks, Bulgarians, Slavs, Roma, Pomaks and Turks. [4]

According to the declaration, "United IMRO would fight against the Governments of Sofia, Belgrade, and Athens", as this would allow it to overthrow the bourgeoisie, re-sulting in the final victory of the revolution, which would materialise Stalin´s plans for the Balkans and the ideological homogeneity of the peninsula through borders changes, or rather border elimination, in order to provide a single "geographical setting", a geographical base to accommodate Balkan Communists. As noted, Stalin, in his Bolshevik article, seemed decidedly opposed to Yugoslavia´s existing frontiers". However, as noted, "there is no evidence that United IMRO had any real success in winning over the Macedonian popular masses, a fact that alarmed Comintern and proved that its plans for a Communist Balkan Federation were impossible to materialise", since, to control a territory, "it is not enough to dismiss a man´s own ethnic ideas". Yet, as the Party officials found it difficult to impose the Communist Macedonian policy on all its members, the Communist Federation was forced to make an attempt in 1929 "to enforce discipline, through the Comintern, on the member parties-that is probably the Greek and the Yugoslav parties". By default Macedonism became a revisionist ideology, a feature that depicts today´s logic of uniting geographical Macedonia.

To achieve this the decisions of "the Executive Bureau of the Balkan Communist Federation on Balkan questions were binding on all the Communist Parties of the Balkans. If there was to arise any difference between the Executive Bureau and the Individual Communist Parties, the Enlarged Committee of the Comintern would make a final decision". The Comintern did not fully trust Greek and Yugoslav communist leaders, some of whom eventually proved themselves unfaithful to Comintern´s line, as the Yugoslav communists wished to create a united Macedonia as a means of dominating in the Balkans outside Comintern´s framework, a policy enhanced by Yugoslavia´s gradual emancipation from the Soviet Union. On their part, Greek communists were rather reluctant to endorse the plan and allow their comrades to annex Greek Macedonia, yet, this policy found supporters even within the Greek communist party.

The reports of the time do not refer to a single "Macedonian" people but an amalgam of peoples residing in geographical Macedonia while pinpointing the destabilising ef-fects of the adopted policies. Navarre Atkinson, of the New York Times, reports in 1927 that, "the restless peoples who inhabit the rocky mountains and dry plains of Macedonia want another Balkan war. These Macedonians, who caused the two Balkan conflicts which preceded the World War, from which they emerged without any benefits, last week made another attempt to throw Yugoslavia and Bulgaria into war" [6]. His descriptive approach is clear about the ethnography of the region, as it makes reference to "peoples", while underpinning the threat to regional stability set by a militant nomenclature wishing to advance a cause to justify their leadership and political aims.

In 1929 the Balkan Communist Federation came up with the following resolution: "The national revolutionary movement in the Balkans remains one of the main streams of the general revolutionary movement. The Communist Parties of the Balkans stand for the right of self-determination for the oppressed nations up to their separation into independent states. Simultaneously with this they raise the slogan of a Balkan Federation as an alliance of the Workers´ and Peasants´ Republics of all Balkan countries, including the subjugated territories. With regard to Macedonia, which is divided between Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria, the Communist Parties raise the slogan of "independent and united Macedonia". The Balkan Communist Federation must formulate concretely for the Communist Parties of the Balkans appropriate slogans for the national self-determination of all oppressed nations in the Balkans and connect them with the general slogan of the Balkan Federation of Workers´ and Peasants´ Republics. These slogans, however, will remain simply words if the Com-munist Parties of the Balkans do not accord real support to the oppressed nations. The Balkan Communist Federation has the special task of coordinating the activity of the Communist parties of the Balkans in the sphere of the national revolutionary movement, of securing the connection and cooperation of the Communist Parties of the Balkans with the national revolutionary organizations which, as the Macedonian I.M.R.O, the Dobrudjan revolutionary organization, the Thracian revolutionary or-ganization, the Bessarabian League of Revolutionary Peasants, etc., stand for the cooperation of the oppressed nations with the revolutionary proletariat…Imperialist war will create in the Balkans favourable conditions for unchaining the national revolution in the rear of the ruling bourgeoisie".

From this resolution depicting an aspect of the ideological framework of the Macedonian dispute, it appears that the Macedonian Question had been a symbol for those non-privileged, who fought against the few privileged bourgeois. From this point of view, the creation of Macedonia would probably have been considered a victory over the fascists and the upper social classes, a fact that gave it a strongly ideological character, not making it simply a matter of territorial dispute. The methods used by IMRO were actually terrorist activities as described in Article 4 and its "revolutionary" character and conspiracy practices. This appears to be also the case with a communiqué, issued by United I.M.R.O on 3-11-1934, stating that "the overwhelming majority of the Macedonian people is convinced that its freedom can only be won in mass action in concert with the other victims of oppression and exploitation in Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria, the three countries which oppress Macedonia, and with the victims of exploitation and oppression all over the world. The masses in Macedonia are therefore rallying more and more round their real organization, United I.M.R.O., which is working for the overthrow of oppression by means of a mass insurrection…for the secession of Macedonia, and for the establishment of an independent republic of the working people".

An interpretative analysis of the communiqué, based on the semantics of the language used (victims of oppression and exploitation, overthrow of the oppression, mass insur-rection, self-determination, an independent republic of the working people) suggest that it was the communist ideology and the Marxist clash struggle that made the creation of a "united Macedonia" a must, in order to provide territorial base for the creation of a Balkan communist federation. The clash of the social classes became the common ground for the Balkan internationalists (communists) against the imperialist forces. Moreover, "the Balkan Communist Parties had in fact consistently opposed all attempts at collaboration between the Balkan bourgeois", who did not support wish territorial changes, that could become a threat to their privileged social status

The above constitute an indicative only approach to the Marxist foundation of the Macedonian dispute. Yet, it clearly depicts the ideological motives behind the establishment of a distinct but artificial Macedonian identity.


[1] Duncan Perry, "The Republic of Macedonia: finding its way" in Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrot (eds.), Politics, power and the struggle for Democracy in South-Eastern Europe, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 228
[2] Duncan Perry, p. 229.

[3] Fascism in those days was often defined in Marxist terms referring to the few privileged landowners in local societies.

[4] As noted by D. Perry, "the idea of a Macedonian nationality spread during the 20th century, but did not find official expression or acceptance anywhere until the creation of the second Yugoslavia", See D. Perry, p. 278 and his reference to Loris M. Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict, Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. 56-69.

[5] "Macedonia puzzles Balkan statesmen; Failure of Latest Attempt to Embroil Sofia and Belgrade Puts States on Guard", The New York Times October 16, 1927.

[6] Greece officially referred to the people living in Greek and Bulgarian Macedonia as Slav-Macedonians in 1918, in an ethnological map issued by the then Prime Minister E. Venizelos. According to the Carloff-Politi Protocol of 1924 they were acknowledged as Bulgarians, while the 1926 Greek-Yugoslav Protocol recognised them as Serbs.Excerpts in inverted commas are fully referenced in George Voskopoulos, Greek Foreign Policy, from the 20th to the 21st Century, Papazisis, Athens, 2005.

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