Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ilinden the Underlying Historical and Ethnological Background, Part 1

by Constantinos Vavouskos
Meletimata, Society for Macedonian Studies, 2006

The Ilinden Uprising of July 20, 1903 (O.S.), often cited as the culminant “Macedonian” insurrection, was anything but an insurrection of “native” “Macedonians”, nor did it achieve its goal of proclaming an independent Republic of Macedonia. This insurrection, in fact, was the work of I.M.R.O., a Bulgarian organization which, in its struggle for supremacy in Macedonia, eventually proclaimed as its goal (and raison d’κtre) the ostensible autonomy of that area as a first step towards its annexation by Bulgaria. In keeping with its treacherous aims, the epicentre of this uprising, described –and not only by Greek writers– as a “fraudulent insurrection”, was at Krushevo, that northern bastion of Hellenism (and the birthplace of my parents), which as a result was destroyed by both regular and irregular units of the Turkish army. This insurrection “just happened” to break out in other Greek centres as well, including Nymphaion, Klisura and Stromnitsa, and by August of that year had collapsed.

The so-called “Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization” (V.M.R.O. in its Bulgarian acronym and I.M.R.O. in other European languages, though more generally known by its popular designation of “Macedonian Committee”), which, as Skopjian circles never fail to point out, was founded in Thessaloniki towards the end of 1893 by the “native Macedonians” (as they called themselves) “for the purpose of freeing themselves from the Turkish yoke” and with the slogan “Macedonia for the Macedonians”, was, unfortunately for today’s “native Macedonians”, not founded by their (“native Macedonian”) ancestors but by Bulgarians (which these same ancestors evidently were, as will be shown later). This was the first Macedonia-oriented Bulgarian organization; and its goal was clearly stated: to proclaim the independence of Macedonia, according to the precedent set by Eastern Rumelia (which was declared an autonomous State by the Congress of Berlin in 1878) so as to pave the way for its subsequent annexation by Bulgaria, exactly as was the case with the autonomous State of Eastern Rumelia, which in 1885 was seized by the then Principality of Bulgaria and incorporated into its territory. This shows that in Bulgarian circles the so-called Centralists had prevailed over the Verhovists, for the rejected Verhovist opinion was that the stated goal should be the direct annexation of Macedonia by Bulgaria. In 1895 the Verhovists founded their own “Committee” in Sofia: since the goal of this organization was the immediate annexation of Macedonia, the direct result was the outbreak of civil war between the former and the latter groups. It is not surprising that the Verhovists should have reappeared in Sofia today, nor that they should have extended their activity into the Skopjian Republic, with a purpose very similar to that pursued formerly. In my opinion, the bulletin broadcast by Skopjian radio on February 3, 1993 leaves no room for doubt on this head. Here is the text of that item:

The initiatives committee of the “Great Bulgarian” organization “V.M.R.O. - Union of Macedonian societies” intends to found a Bulgarian cultural and educational society in Skopje, reports “Tanjug” from Sofia. The principal purpose of this society will be –and we quote– “the unimpeded dissemination of literature and comprehensive information on Bulgaria and on the unity of the Macedonians, who have no hesitation in calling themselves Bulgarians”.

This society will publish bulletins, and it also intends to open a reading room in the capital of the “Republic of Macedonia”. According to the Sofia daily Trud, the proponents of this scheme (whom it hails as “a small band of fearless Bulgarians”) declared that “They cannot prevent us from founding this society”. I.M.R.O’s goal, as set out above, as well as the capacity of those who inspired and founded it, was admitted many years later by the organization’s first president Hristo Tatarchev in the following statement:

It was not possible for us to adopt the slogan of direct Bulgarian annexation of Macedonia, because we saw that that would encounter serious difficulties, owing to the reactions of the Great Powers and to the designs on Macedonia entertained by its small neighbouring states as well as by Turkey. We reasoned that an autonomous Macedonia would be easier to absorb into Bulgaria. [Anonymous study entitled “The Macedonian Issue”, published by the Bulgarian Academy of Science’s Institute of History (November 1968) and translated by the Slavic Department of the Institute for Balkan Studies (I.B.S.), Thessaloniki May 1969, pp. 38].

This organization (I.M.R.O.) was late in coming to birth (it was not founded until late in 1893, although the Bulgarian Schism had taken place in 1872), because the watchword of Bulgarian policy at that time was “first an independent Church and then an independent Nation”.

In pursuit of this goal, as has already been noted, they proclaimed the slogan “Macedonia for the Macedonians”, for the significance of which I refer you to the Archives of the French Foreign Ministry [Minister des Affaires Ιtrangθres. Documents diplomatiques. Affaires de Macιdoine. 1902. Paris MDCCCCII No 23 (Sofia 13 aoϋt 1902)], where we find:

The (Bulgarian) Committee has recently published a declaration, which has been distributed to all diplomatic bureaus and which contains an expose on the situation in Macedonia and the programme of reforms proposed by the Committee. This programme is expressed as “Macedonia for the Macedonians”. It is absolutely certain that what the Committee wants is for Macedonia to be given to the Bulgarian.

Irrespective of these irrefutable official documents, conclusive proof can be adduced from the fact that when Bulgaria, which had launched this slogan via the aforementioned Committee, occupied Macedonian territory in 1916 and in 1941 (in the course of the First and Second World Wars respectively), it immediately proceeded to annex it to Bulgaria, forgetting its lofty propositions on Macedonian autonomy. In other words, it acted exactly as it had in 1885 in the case of Eastern Rumelia, just as I.M.R.O’s first president, Hristo Tatarchev, had intended. Consequently, the description of the Uprising as an insurrection of “native Macedonians”, as it should be superfluous for me to note, is not found in any official (diplomatic or other) source, for the simple reason that at that time no one recognized the existence of “Macedonians” as a distinct ethnicity. All this, and especially in the sense prevalent in Skopje today, is nothing more than a favourite but frivolous attempt at a history lesson on the part of the Skopjian Republic, which has discovered half a century late that it can dispute the famous Ilinden Uprising with the Bulgarians on the completely unproven grounds that it was a “Macedonian” insurrection.

The purpose of these claims is obvious. They are intended to provide –retrospectively– an historical foundation for the Republic of “Macedonia” first created by “Marshal” Tito in 1944. In view of this the Skopjian protest that “they claim that the term Macedonian Nation was invented by Tito, whereas we know that the term Macedonians was used by our ancestors, despite all the misleading propaganda they were bombarded with” is completely unfounded and thus –if not purposely misleading– meaningless. Because the “ancestors” on which the Skopjians base their conclusions never called themselves Macedonians, either before Ilinden (i.e. before 1903) or afterwards, because the Macedonian Struggle took place between Greeks (Makedonomachoi, or Macedonian warriors) and Bulgarians (Comitadji, i.e. members of the Committee mentioned earlier), and because nowhere (neither in international treaties nor in war correspondence or other writings nor in any other documents) is the term “Macedonian” found with the meaning assigned to it by the Skopjians today.

The purpose of the misleading propaganda referred to was exactly the opposite: it was not intended to persuade them (the ancestors) that they should not consider themselves “Macedonians” but on the contrary to convince them that they were!

I would refer any who are desirous of learning more about this to my dissertation “The contribution of the Greeks of Pelagonia to the history of modern Greece” (Prologue by Stilpon Kyriakidis, Thessaloniki, I.B.S., 1959, p. 18 ff), where they will find a detailed description of the scenes that took place in the wholly Greek city of Krushevo during this rising, and full proof, in my view, of the Bulgarian origin and prosecution of this insurrection (this was in fact also confirmed by the meeting of the “Vlachs of Macedonia” which was held in May of 1992 in that same city of Krushevo, which is now in the State of Skopje).

It is clear, then, that the Skopjians, as is apparent from the arguments used, are applying themselves to the falsification of both Greek and Bulgarian history: Bulgarian, with regard to the origin and nature of the Ilinden Uprising, and Greek, with regard to the ethnic identity of the Macedonians, not only of those who took part in the Greek Revolution of 1821, but also of the Macedonians of the years 1871-1908 who, although for the most part Slavspeakers, like the famous chieftains Kotas, Gonos, Mitrousis, Kyrou, Dalipis, etc., were the cornerstones of the fighting wing of Macedonian Hellenism during the Macedonian Struggle.

This being the case, it can hardly be seriously contended that the Ilinden Uprising of 1903 led to the foundation of a “Macedonian State”, unless that phrase describes the ten day occupation of Krushevo by the Bulgarian comitadjis, the unfurling over that city of Bulgarian flags, the plundering of its Greek citizens, the proscription of the Greek tongue and the constant playing of the hymn “Macedonia Old Bulgaria” [For a brief account, see “The sack of Krushevo” (with an expose by the British Consul in Thessaloniki, Mr A. Billiotis, published in the Blue Book of the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in Hellenismos, 1907, p. 81 ff; and for more detail see my dissertation on “The contribution of the Greeks of Pelagonia to the history of modern Greece”, which was published in an expanded version, in German, by the Institute for Balkan Studies, Thessaloniki 1963]. In view of all this, there is no foundation whatsoever for views like those of Yannis Kordatos (the Marxist historian) on I.M.R.O. and its slogan “Macedonia for the Macedonians” as presented in History of Modern Greece, vol. V, Athens 1958, p. 42 ff.

To be the part 2


  1. Doria my grandfathers horseAugust 2, 2008 at 3:06 PM

    you greeks never give up!
    now the macedonians are stealing bulgarian history?
    there was a time when people listened to the greek voice,that time is now over.
    the Macedonians are speaking up.
    we are no longer afraid of you,the bulgarians or any one else who would try to discredit us.
    greek slurs do not go un noticed.
    the greek tradition of lies, and the perpetuation of untruths and historical falsification continues.there is no greater hate than that which is in all your are disgusting.
    i dont think you realise this, but you have commited youselves to continuing these lies forever.
    Macedonians will never again be oppressed enough to remain silent.
    Macedonia for the Macedonians.

  2. You know what is the problem with you guys and girls ?

    That you adopted a extreme ideology and this lead you in the edge.

    The kernel of the problem is that FYROM´s policy has long been based on old agendas, eventually the oldest issue on the national priorities of the states in the region, namely irredentism and great idea aspirations. These were once again exposed recently in slogans over "liberation of Thessaloniki", provocations that aim at formulating a zero sum policy framework in both sides.

    You are Macedonian as I am Macedonian. My Macedonian ethnical identity is part of the Greek national and cultural identity.

    Greek side has made a rather generous offer by accepting the use of the name Macedonia by FYROM with a geographical prefix that will distinguish it from Greek Macedonia. Its true that the most people in both states do not want to back down on the name issue. But while Greece’s political leaders have pushed for a reasonable and fair compromise, FYROM’s newly elected premier has veered in a blatantly nationalist direction.

    And since we speak for history I agree that Ilinden was a Macedonian(Greek, Bulgarian,Slavmacedonian, Serb, Vlach) Uprising but theirs leaders and the motives were Bulgarian.The prooves are MANY.


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