The Macedonian Struggle
Ο Μακεδονικός Αγώνας
Most people who have knowledge of modern Greek history can definitely agree that the revolution of 1821 did not end with the birth of the modern Hellenic (Greek) Republic but rather, at the end of the First World War.
Between the years 1878 and 1908 the Macedonians faced great obstacles. They fought to liberate themselves from the "Sick Man of Europe" as well as the struggle to save Macedonia from the conniving Bulgarian VMRO (IMRO- Internal Macedonian Revolution Organization). Although it had Macedonia in its name its goals (and members) were anything but Macedonian.
The dastardly scheme to destroy the Greek consciousness of the Macedonians and create a new one (as we have in today’s FYROM) was spawned by the Bulgarian exarchist (separatist) church created by the Firman Decree of 1870. This act was a product of the Sultan Abdul Hamid, who at the time, realized that something had to be done with the Macedonians who were constantly revolting in order to reunite with their Greek compatriots.
With the help of the newly established Bulgarian kingdom the exarchists sent into Macedonia their Haidoutis (bands) where they would go from village to village forcing the natives to convert and forget their Greek heritage. At the same time the native Macedonians began to plead with the government in Athens that they were in dire need of aid, but the new Greek government, at that point was able to provide only limited help. The natives did not give up hope though.
By as early as 1870 Macedonian revolutionaries began to counter strike. People such as Kapetan Vasili Zourkas from Nimfeo had begun to organize bands (interesting note that they began to organize these bands nearly a quarter of a century prior to the inception of the IMRO) to combat the Turks and the exarchists. Many other local chiefs followed his example as well.
The Bulgarians at this point wanted to expand their territory into the heart of Hellenic soil. They knew that in order to achieve this goal they would need to expel, convert or even extinguish the Macedonians who had a Greek consciousness. With the exarchist priests they began to import bands strait from Sofia. This struck fear to the natives who now not only needed to defend their homes against the Turks, but the foreign Haidoutis as well.
Ironically, Bulgarian nationalism in the nineteenth century owed a great deal to the Greek revival of 1821. Greek culture had definitely set foot in the Bulgarian nation. The alphabet, the music, the foods, the costumes were but a few influences adopted by the Bulgarian people. Unfortunately, the generosity of the Greek peoples proved to be their own undoing. There never was a question of the Greekness of Macedonia but certain Bulgarian fanatics sought to change this. After the Russian-Turkish war which the Russians won (and nearly took Constantinople) the Turks signed a treaty at a village called San Stefano. This unjust treaty, signed in 1878, marked the beginning of Bulgaria’s expansionist ideas. The plans for "Great Bulgaria" were finally made public. Disregarding history, Bulgaria aimed to annex all of Macedonia even though the majority of the Macedonians despised the idea. Indeed, Greece had the worse of this treaty. Traditional Hellenic boundaries were to be taken by her neighbors.
Taking advantage of their newly established church they were able to take the first steps in denationalizing the Macedonians in order to make them Bulgarian. From there began a notion of a so called Macedonian people separate from the rest of the Greeks.
By declaring them as only Macedonians, Bulgaria knew that it would be easier to claim the whole region since so many of their nationals (although still a minority) now resided there. This was the result of centuries of migrations by the Bulgars into Macedonia. At the same time the Macedonians (Greeks) were powerless to put a stop to this since the whole Balkan region was under Ottoman occupation. The Greeks suffered the worse under the Ottoman Empire. They were forbidden to teach Greek in schools, and had limited religious freedom. Other minorities such as the Bulgars, Albanians, and Jews had much more freedom throughout Macedonia.
After being defeated in the 1897 war, the Kingdom of Greece needed to regroup its efforts. It was quite difficult to help its people in Macedonia. But the need to regroup had to be prompt. The exarchists along with the IMRO had already begun their campaign of terror in Macedonia. The aim of the exarchists was to convince the inhabitants of Macedonia that they belonged to Bulgaria. But the exarchists really had nothing new to offer in neither a religious aspect nor any new conception of salvation from what the Patriarchist church already preached. It was nothing more than a political instrument that Bulgaria hoped to manipulate.
The kingdoms of Greece and Serbia found this separatist movement disturbing. They quickly began negotiating in order to re-establish the union under the Patriarchal Church. Unfortunately, the Serbians at that time wanted control of the major part of Macedonia and this did not please the Greek government. The Greeks rejected this offer and justly so. If they had held to this agreement it would have definitely led to a Bulgaro-Turkish alliance. The Macedonians' goal of re-uniting with the rest of Greece would have been crushed. The Greek government chose to officially stay out of any conflict (another reason being that the government was on the verge of bankruptcy), but luckily the many volunteers continued its work. Thus, the Macedonians still had hope. Locals began to form bands that would defend against any attacks by the Comitadji.
In 1893, certain Bulgarian intellectuals by the names of Dame Gruev, Hristo Tartarchev and four others formed the most anti-Macedonian terrorist organization known as the IMRO (VMRO). These men swore to secrecy in order to avoid any conflict with the Macedonians (Greeks) and the Turks. Tatarchev (who clearly states in his memoirs that the IMRO's goal was union with Bulgaria) became the first president of the organization. They copied an old Greek freedom cry, "Liberty or Death" (Eleftheria I Thanatos) and used it as part of their official logo (in their language "Svoboda Ili Smrt"). This logo, which appeared on their seal, had the imagery of a crossed pistol, a dagger and a bomb. Although the organization's foundations were taking fold a certain naming issue did cause a problem which must be mentioned. This Bulgarian organization kept on taking up new names for the next four years. It went from being the Macedonian Revolutionary Committee to the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization to (unsurprisingly) The Bulgarian-Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization (Bulgarsko-Makedonsko-Ordinska revoliutsionna organizatsiia, in 1896) and eventually the Internal Organization. The cause of this constant name changing was for the obvious reason, the lack of a common belief. Some of the members professed that they were all Bulgarians living in Macedonia; others said that their goal was to unite with Bulgaria, and others even spoke of creating a separate Macedonian state with the Bulgarians running it. Two things they did agree on though; getting rid of the Ottoman Empire and more so, the Macedonians who had a Greek conscious. Hellenism to them had to be removed from Macedonia even if it meant using brainwashing and torture techniques.
The modern political history of Macedonia is agreed to have begun in 1870, while still under Ottoman occupation, with the formation of the schismatic Bulgarian Exarchate Church. The church was used as a cover for the Bulgarian Nationalist and Pan Slavic movement to steal Macedonia- its land and people from its future incorporation into a Greek state, and its annexation to Bulgaria. The Church was recognized by the Sultan, over the objections of the Patriarchate in Constantinople in the rightful belief it would divide the Christians and lead to internal national struggles amongst themselves. This new Church was then used as a weapon by Bulgarian nationalists to convert the Greek and Slavic speakers (slavophones) to Bulgarism. The majority of the people in present day FYROM (Vardar Macedonia) and Western Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia) either had no concrete national consciousness or professed to be Greek, even though they spoke Slavic. It is commonly accepted that their Slavic dialect is most similar to Bulgarian than to Serbo-Croatian.
Bulgarian dreams of conquering Macedonia were temporarily realized in 1878 in the aftermath of the Russian- Turkish war. The negotiated Treaty of San Stefano gave to Bulgaria all of Vardar Macedonia, most of present Greek Macedonia and part of eastern Albania! Luckily, knowing that Bulgaria would merely be a Russian satellite, the other European powers revised the Treaty at the Congress of Berlin and Bulgaria retreated to its pre-war borders. Beginning at this time, Bulgarian teachers and priests were sent into Macedonia with the mission of inculcating on the population a Bulgarian National Consciousness. The Task was most difficult since a majority of the people either spoke Greek or considered themselves Greek. The difficulty the Bulgarians had is exemplified in a report issued by the Secretary General of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1885, speaking in ethnological terms about the population of Macedonia states that if the population of Macedonia had to choose a nationality to which they identified, the vast majority would declare itself Greek. Further evidence of the strong Greek presence in Macedonia at the time is found in the book, The Turks in Europe by James Baker, 1878. Upon asking local Slavophone Macedonian peasants about their identity, they declared themselves as Rum, (Roman) a term used exclusively by Greeks.
The Bulgarians, realizing ‘peaceful conversion’ wasn’t working out as they had planned, formed in 1893 the Internal Macedonian Revolution Organization (I.M.R.O.), a terrorist organization whose mission was the expulsion of the Turks, as well as the conversion of the Macedonians to Bulgarians. Although founded by Bulgarian nationalists Damian Gruev, Goce Delchev, Petar Pop Arsov and other nationalist, its goals were often ill defined and changed according to current events and the personal beliefs of its leaders. Its true history runs counter to the claims of its supporters that it was a true ‘Macedonian’ liberation movement. It was always in a schizophrenic state in the service of other powers- i.e. Bulgarian, Yugoslavian or Communist- but a real Macedonian movement it was not.
In the early years of its operation IMRO only operated in Exarchist Church controlled areas in the north of Macedonia with a stronger Bulgarian presence. However, In order to gain support from non Exarchists and other nationalities, they changed their rallying cry to a Macedonian rebellion against the Turks- i.e. anyone who inhabited the area- not any specific Macedonian ethnic group. Due to little popular support their rebellions were easily crushed by the Turks. It is also of interest that during the 1920’s the same rallying cry for a Macedonian rebellion by Slavic communists was geared at the overthrow of ‘middle class oppression’.
The inability of the IMRO to agree on a common ideological goal- Macedonian autonomy or annexation by Bulgaria led to the establishment of a Supreme Committee in 1894, which brought the organization under direct control from Sofia. These divergent views were just the beginning in IMROs long schizophrenic history. Members were polarized between either supporting autonomy or annexation, and by loyalties to high ranking members who only temporarily and superficially united the organization. The ascension of the ruthless Boris Sarafov as leader in 1898 officially began the IMROs long history of murder, criminality, terrorism and intimidation. Armed bands called Comitadjs (Turkish for Committee Man i.e. rebel) were sent terrorizing the Macedonian population- even the slavophones who refused to convert to the Exarchate (Bulgarian) Church. Despite international calls for its disbandment, Bulgarian Premier Danev stated in 1902 that IMRO was a patriotic organization and had the support of the Bulgarian people. If IMRO was a nationalist ‘Macedonian’ organization fighting alleged Bulgarian (and Greek) oppression, as its supporters claim today, why would the Bulgarian Premier make such a statement? Further why would they attack ‘fellow Macedonians’ for the sole reason of belonging to a different church?
The Greek reaction to the Bulgaro- IMRO Comitadji raids was the creation of the National Society in 1894 which organized counter raids to protect the Macedonian population. Its also gave financial support to the Greek schools and institutions in the region. This continued until the 1897 Greek- Turkish war, when the Turkish victory forced the disbandment of the National Society and Greek withdrawal of financial and military aid to the region. The war’s outcome further played into the Bulgars hands by causing many Macedonians to convert to the Exarchate Church out of fear of persecution by the Turks.
Perhaps IMROs ‘crowning failure’ was the instigation of the failed Ilinden Revolt on August 2, 1903 in the Greek town of Krusovo. On that day Comitadji proclaimed the “Krusevo Republic”, independent from the Ottoman Empire, and the inhabitants forced to join the rebels or face persecution. The only clear winners were the Turks who quickly crushed the revolt and destroyed the town. It is also ironic that the events at Krusovo lead the Greek government to finally take decisive action to prevent the loss of Macedonia to the Bulgars. The years 1903-1908 are known as the Macedonian struggle.
Nikos Deja Vu