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16-12 The Macedonian Question


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

16-12 The Macedonian Question

(by John Bell)
The "Macedonian Question" is actually a complex of questions, both
historical and current. Geographically, the term "Macedonia" has designated
different parts of the Balkans, a fact that often contributes to
contemporary confusion and controversy. Since the Balkan Wars, which
established today's political boundaries, the region of Macedonia is
generally understood to include the territory of the former Yugoslav
republic of Macedonia, the northern Greek province of the same name, and
the Pirin region of Bulgaria, whose provincial capital is Blagoevgrad.

The ethnic and linguistic identity of the Macedonians has a long and
controversial history. Until the late nineteenth century, to nearly all
investigators the term "Macedonia" designated a geographic area only; its
population was considered primarily Bulgarian along with an admixture of
Greeks, Serbs, and other nationalities. Many figures prominent in
Bulgaria's national awakening and in its later cultural, political, and
economic life were born in Macedonia and gave no evidence during their
lives of considering themselves anything but Bulgarian. Macedonians were
also active in the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870, and the
population voted overwhelmingly to join it. When Macedonia was restored to
Ottoman control by the Treaty of Berlin, Macedonian notables protested
their separation from their "co-nationals."

After the Balkan and First World Wars, however, Bulgaria received only the
Pirin region, while the bulk of Macedonia was divided between Greece and
Serbia. "Ethnic cleansing" and population transfers largely removed
Slavophones from Greek Macedonia and Greek speakers from the rest of the
territory. This, combined with Serbian efforts to denationalize the
population led to a vast number of refugees resettling in Bulgaria, so that
today approximately a quarter of the Bulgarian population traces its roots
to Macedonia. During the period between the two world wars, the Internal
Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) conducted a campaign of
terrorism against Serbian authorities, often abetted by the Bulgarian
government or by sympathetic Bulgarian citizens.

At the end of World War II, Tito's regime adopted the position that
Macedonians were a distinct nationality and recognized the former "South
Serbia" as the Macedonian Republic, one of the five republics of the
Yugoslav federation, and sought to transfer to it the Pirin region from
Bulgaria. Because Stalin favored this plan, the Bulgarian Communists
carried out a census in 1946 that forced nearly seventy per cent of the
Pirin region's inhabitants to declare themselves to be "Macedonian."
Although Stalin's break with Tito ended the plan of detaching the Pirin
region from Bulgaria, when Khrushchev sought a rapprochement with
Yugoslavia in 1956, Bulgaria again was pressured to find a Macedonian
nationality in the Pirin. This pressure disappeared by the early 1960s, and
in the 1965 census only .5 per cent of the population of Pirin identified
itself as "Macedonian."

In the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, authorities worked to foster a sense of
Macedonian national feeling, creating a literary language, emphasizing
orthographical, lexical, and syntactical differences with Bulgarian, to be
taught in the schools and developing an official history that projected a
separate Macedonian national identity into the past.

Following the break-up of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria welcomed the creation of an
independent Macedonia, and in January 1991 was the first country to extend
it full diplomatic recognition, despite the objections of neighboring
Greece. Bulgarians have been reluctant, however, to acknowledge the
existence of a Macedonian nationality or that the Macedonian language is
anything other than a dialect of Bulgarian, points that the Macedonian
government has insisted on emphasizing.

Some inhabitants of the Pirin region have asserted that they belong to a
separate Macedonian nationality and have created the "United Macedonian
Organization - Ilinden" to promote national consciousness. When the group
was first formed in 1990, Bulgarian authorities subjected its member to
harassment and blocked its attempt to publish a newspaper. Bulgarian courts
refused to register UMO-Ilinden on the grounds that its activities were
"directed against the sovereignty and territorial unity of the country" and
were thus unconstitutional. State Prosecutor Ivan Tatarchev, himself born
in the Pirin, was especially vigorous in using police powers to attempt to
suppress the organization, bringing down the condemnation of international
human rights organizations. Researchers at the American University in
Blagoevgrad, find a strong regional identity, but little sense of belonging
to a separate nationality.

In the Pirin Mountains /photo/

Linguists differ on the criteria used to distinguish a dialect from a
separate language. It is sometimes stated that "a language is a dialect
with an army and navy." When Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov recently
visited Bulgaria, he insisted on bringing an interpreter to his meeting
with Bulgarian President Zhelev; for his part, Zhelev insisted that he
understood everything without need for assistance. The signing of a
protocol on this meeting also had to be abandoned when the Macedonian side
insisted on a statement that it was written in "the Macedonian language."

President Zhelev has called for a solution to the Macedonian Question
through the establishment of open borders between the two states, and
Bulgarian assistance has been vital during the Greek economic blockade. In
a recent speech, Zhelev said that Bulgaria could not wish harm to Macedonia
any more than a mother could wish harm to her children. This was, perhaps,
less reassuring to the Macedonians than Zhelev intended.

For its part, the Macedonian Republic has not been sympathetic toward its
citizens who wish to express a Bulgarian ethnicity. The recently completed
census found only 1,547 Bulgarians in the country, and those for the most
part immigrants from Bulgaria outside the Pirin District.


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