Macedonia passed under Turkish domination more than five hundred years ago and remained a part of the Turkish Empire until 1912, when a military coalition of the small Balkan powers drove the Turks out. During that long period of foreign rule, the various nationalities inhabiting Macedonia became almost inextricably mixed. Greek, Latin, Slav, Turanian, and Albanian lived side by side in the dozen larger towns, while Greek villages lay near Slav villages and Albanian hamlets were found just across the gully or around the mountain from Turkish hamlets. Naturally the claims of the various nationalities egregiously overlapped and ambitious states aggressively backed one or another of the conflicting claims. No similar area has been the center of more irreconcilable, irredentist longings.
The principal modern claimant, or perhaps one should say the most aggressive claimant, was Bulgaria and the Bulgaro-Macedonians. Up until 1912, a majority of the inhabitants of Macedonia were Slavs. The second largest group was Greek. Naturally the Slavs were in conflict with the Greeks. But they were also engaged in a furious internecine Slav fight, because the Bulgars claimed the Slav Macedonians as Bulgarians, while the Serbs claimed them as Serbs. Consequently, there was a fierce, five-cornered struggle among Turks, Albanians, Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians, with Bulgarians often pitted against the field, and with Turkey playing one Christian group off against another. And above these bloody combats were the Great Powers, frequently intervening to restore harmony and each trying to protect its own interest. The Teutons and Russians both wanted to dominate Salonika, Macedonia's chief port, while Great Britain and France were determined to prevent them from doing it.
The rival local claimants maintained conspiratorial organizations for the purpose of realizing their aims by force. These organizations and the Balkan states supporting them provoked revolutions, wars and many acts of terror. For fully fifty years Macedonia has been a scene of violence, a classic stage for political murders, plunder, treachery, and the burning of villages. Helpless, homeless peasant refugees have constantly fled across Macedonia, with mothers car rying babies on their backs and with burning homes lighting midnight skies. In 1903 there was a major revolution and during the following decades frequent raids, assassinations, massacres, and bomb outrages. There were wars about Macedonia in 1912, 1913, 1915, 1924, 1941-1945. Wherever Macedonia appears on the pages of history, the word is written in letters of blood.
And the recent cause of much of the blood was Bulgaria. It was the chief aggressor because it believed Macedonia was inhabited by Bulgarians, whom it must free. "Freeing Macedonia" was the main aim of Bulgaria's foreign policy and was considered the holy duty of almost every Bulgarian patriot. Macedonia was imprinted deeply in Bulgarian hearts, it echoed in Bulgarian songs, and gleamed bright or grim from Bulgarian poetry. At one time or another, almost every modern Bulgarian boy has dreamed of being a Macedonian revolutionist or chetnik. "Freeing Macedonia" has also been almost as vital an element in Bulgaria's internal politics as in its external politics. Many a Bulgarian government has been overthrown because of the Macedonian question.
The strongest, bloodiest, ablest, and most famous--or notorious-Macedonian revolutionary society was a Bulgarian creation called the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization or IMRO, which came to be a symbol of terrorism. Its greatest revolutionary act was the uprising of 1903, beginning on August 2, or "Ilin Den." This was a bold attack on the Turks and was accompanied by many brave deeds. However, in the course of a few weeks it was suppressed with characteristic Turkish cruelty, which left burned villages and nameless graves and sent thousands of Macedonian refugees rushing toward Bulgaria. Nevertheless, in spite of all the suffering, frustration, and defeat, Ilin Day came to be an almost holy date among Bulgaro-Macedonians. They consider the leaders of the uprising, especially Gotse Delcheff, the greatest of the great. He is the Macedonian Patrick Henry, while Ilin Day is the Macedonian Fourth of July--which failed.
And the most significant aspect of these vital but sad events, indelibly imprinted in the hearts and spirits of Bulgaria, is that IMRO, Ilin Day, and Gotse Delcheff were Bulgarian. They are part of Bulgaria's drive toward Salonika and beyond. They are a symbol-the most explosive symbol--of Bulgarian expansion and Bulgarian irredentism. They have been synonymous with Bulgarian antipathy toward Serbs and Greeks.
As a result of the wars and revolutions that took place after 1903, Macedonia was repeatedly divided and when Hitler attacked Greece through Bulgaria in 1941, 50 per cent of the area was in Greece, 40 per cent in Serbia or Yugoslavia, and 10 per cent in Bulgaria. Naturally, these were contiguous areas. By that time, because of purges, massacres, and exchanges of populations, most of the inhabitants of Macedonia in Greece were Greeks; all of the inhabitants of Macedonia in Bulgaria were Bulgarians; and most of those in Yugoslav Macedonia were Slavs or Albanians, with some Turks. Until the middle of the 1930's, most Bulgarians claimed the Slavs in Yugoslav Macedonia as Bulgars and IMRO continued to work for their liberation--not from Turkey now, but from Yugoslavia, or more specifically from Serbia. However, IMRO's terrorist activities gradually dwindled and by 1941, the terrible Macedonian problem had been tentatively settled by cutting the Gordian knot. Bayonets had established the borders. The Serbs were coercively making Serbs of the inhabitants of their Macedonia, and the Greeks had settled Greeks in their Macedonia.
I am not pretending that from the ethnological point of view this was the right solution. I have followed Macedonian developments intently and on the spot for a third of a century and believe that in 1912 most of Bulgaria's ethnological claims were just. Most Macedonians were Slavs, most Slav Macedonians were more nearly Bulgars than Serbs. However, vast changes took place during the three decades after 1912 and the forcible solution of the Macedonian problem by Serb and Greek swords, along with the diplomatic de cisions of the Great Powers, had been accepted, even by the Bulgarian government.
Many Bulgarians had grown tired of fighting all their Balkan neighbors because of Macedonia and were inclined to let bygones be bygones, in spite of the great sadness in their hearts. They still sang and talked of Macedonia and they cried and prayed about it. They felt as the Jewish exiles in Babylon and they reverently watched grand Ilin Day processions which were annually held throughout Bulgaria, but by 1941 most Bulgarians did not want to provoke a war for Macedonia any more than Mexico would provoke a war for southern California. The Macedonian question was more nearly closed than it had been for half a century.
But Hitler opened it up again. When he attacked Yugoslavia and Greece in the spring of 1941, he used the Bulgarian state as a base of operations and the Bulgarian nation as an ally. In payment for this help he gave Bulgaria all of Yugoslav Macedonia and much Greek territory. The Bulgarians immediately occupied the areas, formally annexed them, set up civilian administrations, re-established Bulgarian civilians there, and built roads to connect the "liberated provinces," permanently, with the Bulgarian "motherland." When the Germans were expelled from the Balkans late in 1944 and Bulgaria capitulated, Greece and Yugoslavia received back their lost territories. Consequently Macedonia's boundaries were re-established as they had been at the beginning of 1941. Thus, at the beginning of 1945, Macedonia, which had changed hands many times and been the scene of countless battles, was back about where it was in 1918 and the situation appeared once more to have been stabilized.
But that appearance was deceptive because an extremely dynamic new element had entered the situation. It was the creation of "Free Macedonia," a federal unit in Tito's Federative Yugoslavia. This new creation is a political bomb--time bomb, not atomic one. "Free Macedonia covers 10,230 square miles of territory, which makes it a little larger than Massachusetts. It has about one million inhabit ants, most of whom are Slavs, but beside them is a large Albanian minority. Free Macedonia has a government of its own and claims for itself the attributes of a sovereign state. Its capital, the city of Skoplje, or as the Bulgarians call it, Skopie, is rather pleasantly situated on the Vardar River, about one hundred miles from Sofia and two hundred from Belgrade.
In it is a new radio station which is said to be one of the most powerful in the Balkans. And its function is not merely to serve the peasants in the narrow valleys and on the rather barren mountains of Free Macedonia in Yugoslavia but to serve the whole of Macedonia, including both Greek and Bulgarian areas. Indeed, it is to keep all Balkan Slavs daily and nightly aware of Macedonia, its problems and its aims. A daily paper called New Macedonia appears, a university functions with Macedonian professors, schools flourish with new Macedonian textbooks, a Macedonian army fills the barracks, the Macedonian language is in official use, and a rigid control is exercised over all economic activities. Skoplje or Skopie and the Macedonia of which it is said to be the queen, are undergoing a revival unique in the history of that area. A dream has come true. For decades Macedonians have shouted, "Macedonia for the Macedonians," and now at last the vision is a reality. Macedonians run Macedonia--that is, the part in Yugoslavia.
This is an exhilarating sight! One is thrilled to see dreams come true and is inspired to see a people freed. But even in one's exhilaration, he must not fail to study the situation carefully. Who are the Macedonians that now run Macedonia and whither are they directing it? Among them are old revolutionists. They have revived the spirit of IMRO and are trying to complete the old Ilin Day uprising. They are turning Macedonia toward Salonika. They want an integral Free Macedonia. And in this they are backed by the Yugoslav Communists.
Free Macedonia is doubly revolutionary. Its leaders are rabidly nationalistic and fanatically Communistic. This is a mighty com bination. Macedonia offers an unusual opportunity for the study of social dynamics. Its government is a combination of IMRO, Communism, Bulgarian nationalism, Yugoslav expansiveness, and all-Slav solidarity. Every one of those elements is notoriously explosive. Combined, they constitute a political block-buster ever ready to go off.
Note for a moment the IMRO ingredient in this explosive mixture. The President of Free Macedonia, Dimiter Vlahoff, is the most famous old Macedonian revolutionist alive, and a number of his colleagues have also been active Macedonian conspirators, shooting guns and throwing bombs. They consecrated their lives long ago to the liberation of Macedonia in solemn, mysterious night meetings, before a Bible. They signed their oaths with their blood and went into the hills to kill or be killed. They have repeatedly demanded an "integral Macedonia." They have promised the liberation of all Macedonians. They have stressed the necessity of "freeing Macedonian Salonika, of restoring to Macedonia her God-given seaport." And they have often told eager young Macedonian admirers how they once threw bombs and blew up buildings in Salonika. They and their friends have sent Macedonian revolutionary songs tingling down every glade and reverberating through every mountain cluster.
These men are now attempting to complete that old "sacred task." They have made the chief official day of new Macedonia that glorious old "Ilin Den," which they are now determined to avenge --as the American defeat at Bunker Hill was eventually avenged.
The Macedonian State Printing Office in Skoplje is named "Gotse Delcheff," in honor of the famous revolutionist. An army brigade is named "Sandanski" after another noted member of IMRO.
And Macedonia's Communist banners burn as hot and red as its old revolutionary flags. Vlahoff came to his post of President direct from Moscow. He and the "great George Dimitroff," both Bulgarians, worked side by side in Russia for years and they are working side by side now. Practically every member of the Skoplje government is a crusading Communist, as are most members of local city or district governments in Macedonia.
Nowhere in the Balkan Peninsula is Communism more openly, ardently, and proudly proclaimed. Tito has constantly tried to convince the Western world that his regime is liberal-democratic. Tsola Dragoicheva in Bulgaria tries to convince the Bulgarians that she tolerates non-Communists. But the government of Free Macedonia stoops to no such "pussyfooting." They are as outspoken as their Moscow Comrades. They are Communists and glory in it. They have set up a Communist regime and tell the world to take it or leave it. They want Communist officials, Communist teachers, Communist officers, and Communist editors. They pour out Communist words over the radio and send them streaming from their presses. They follow Russia's line and make no apology for it. They consider themselves a Russian outpost, serving Russia's interests, and feel strong in that role. They tell the world that they're with Russia and Russia with them.
They exult in the reforming fury that moved Lenin and Trotsky. Of course, they're going to turn things upside down. That's why they're there. That's what a revolutionist is for. They have put their hands on practically all the little factories, many of the farms, every promising enterprise, and use them for the glory and aggrandizement of their regime. They confiscate what there is to be confiscated and control whomsoever is left to be controlled. They feel that time is short and there is much to be done to get the Communist conflagration spreading from Skoplje.
Also the Bulgarian fire in Macedonia burns very brightly. The official Macedonian language is essentially Bulgarian, not SerboCroatian. The Macedonian radio speaks largely in Bulgarian, the Macedonian papers print largely in Bulgarian, the new schoolbooks are written in the Bulgaro-Macedonian tongue.
The Macedonian army contains many Bulgaro-Macedonians who long lived in Bulgaria and some Bulgaro-Macedonian officers trained in Bulgaria. As a matter of fact, the Bulgarian government officially gave Free Macedonia a fully equipped Macedonian brigade, sent from Sofia. When in Bulgaria in 1945, I saw Bulgaro-Macedonian refugees from Greece returning to Yugoslavia from Bulgaria, whither they had fled in 1944. They told me they were going to Free Macedonia to help in the fight against Greece.
New Macedonia's attitude toward Greece is that of Sofia in its most nationalistic moods, or of IMRO in its moments of greatest revolutionary fervor. Free Macedonia considers Greece an imperialistic Fascist oppressor, crushing the Slav Macedonians in Greece. The Macedonian government cries to the world of Greek terror, just as Sofia long shrieked of Turkish terror. The Skoplje papers report atrocity stories directed against the Greeks, just as Sofia papers for years seethed with stories of atrocities perpetrated by the "unspeakable Turks."
From Skoplje run underground lines of conspiracy into Greece, just as they used to run from Sofia into Turkey. And into Free Macedonia flee Macedonian refugees from Greece, just as Macedonian refugees used to flee into Bulgaria from Greece. Free Macedonia is a Bulgarian revolutionary station for operations against Greece. And not without importance is the fact that the President of Free Macedonia is from Greek Macedonia. This Communist revolutionist is from the very same town as Bulgaria's last Fascist Minister of the Interior. The Fascist Stanisheff was hanged as a war criminal, but the Communist Vlahoff is carrying out Stanisheff's Bulgarian irredentist policy, with Yugoslavia and Russia behind it.
There also functions in Free Macedonia a semi-autonomous Holy Eastern Orthodox church, which is endeavoring to free Macedonia's ecclesiastical activity from the control of Belgrade. That would make cooperation with Sofia easier and would increase Macedonia's prestige and feeling of independence. Such a Macedonian church would strongly appeal to Macedonia Slavs in Greece. It would be an ideal vehicle for Bulgaro-Macedonian irredentism.
Pan-Slavism, also, intensifies Free Macedonia's expansionist ardor. The Macedonian nation is the world's most enraptured Cinderella. It has emerged from a fearfully long sojourn in Turkish and Balkan kitchens and is now given a place of honor beside marshals and rulers. It has been brought into the all-Slav family amid booming cannon, blaring radios, and thunderous applause. Macedonia and Russia sit side by side. Macedonia, Bulgaria, Poland, and Czechia march hand in hand. Macedonia, the Ukraine, and Slovakia dance together, with newly emancipated Macedonia honored as the belle of the ball.
This all-Slav solidarity is a thrilling experience. It makes a Slav feel even stronger than an American or Britisher. Hard-pressed, long-tortured Macedonia no longer fears any big, bad wolf. The domain of its great comrade and champion extends from Port Arthur and Archangel direct to Skoplje. The Russia, "before which America trembles and England bows low, leads Macedonia by the hand!"
When there's a Pan-Slav Congress in Sofia, Macedonia is there. When the Slavs are all called to Moscow, Macedonia is there. Why, the Slavs from Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Sofia, Zagreb, and Bratislava gather in Skoplje as Macedonia's guests! In all-Slav choruses you hear Macedonia's voice, in all-Slav orchestras you detect Macedonia's violin--even bass drum. Macedonia has no fear from poor little orphan Greece. Free Macedonia feels its soldiers are the vanguards of a stupendous Slav host, directing the sharp point of a gigantic Slav spear.
Naturally, Tito and the Yugoslav government are not indifferent to all this. They realize the dynamic force of Macedonia, its value as an imperial channel and as an instrument for South Slav aggrandizement. Tito joins with Bulgaria in nurturing and strengthening Macedonia's independence and irredentism. In Yugoslav periodicals and papers, Free Macedonia is presented as part of integral Macedonia including Greek territory. And when, because of provocative Bulgaro-Macedonian activity in Greece, the Greeks get rough with Slav Macedonian agents, Tito issues vehement anti-Greek threats over all his senders.
In view of that, the question as to whether Tito Free Macedonia will bring harmony to the Balkans is self-answering. It is already causing constant friction. It may eventually exacerbate Serbo-Bulgarian animosity. It hangs as a Damocles sword over Greece. It is a Soviet dagger directed at an artery of the British Empire. It could be a Croatian instrument in the Croat-Serbian fight. It is a charge of dynamite with many fuses in a very delicately balanced world.
In an ordered Balkans or a Balkans moving toward stability, a Free Macedonia might be an ideal solution of an old and bitter problem. But in the extremely unstable Balkans of the present time, it is an element of disruption.
R. H. Markham, Tito's Imperial Communism (Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1947), 220-230.