The Ethnic and Historical origins of FYROM Part VI

The Balkan wars – Bulgarian defeat means Vardarska cedes to Serbian Kingdom – and WWI

Ottoman Empire and the Balkan wars

Ottoman rule was declining fast by that time and Austrian, Russian imperialist interests as well as Serb, Bulgarian and Greek nationalist interests, all wanting a peice of Ottoman Macedonia fuelled the turmoil from which the Macedonism first emerged.

Between the 19th century and 1913, the Greeks and the Bulgarians had their own respective struggles against Turkey with the ‘internal organisations’ uprisings centered Krushevo and Tsarevo and against eachother. The years between 1904 and 1908 saw the most violent period of Greek-Bulgarian fighting with the fighting all but coming to a standstill in 1908 with the Young Turks promising an amnesty and reforms. With the Young Turks showing however to be even more ruthless than the Sultan it was clear the situation couldnt endure. In 1912 Greece, Serbia, Montinegro and Bulgaria; to the surprise and disaproval of all the Great Powers, formed an entente and comprehensively defeated the Turks in the first Balkan War. Each of the nations took what share they had won in battle against the Turks. Bulgarian anger at their limited gains in the first Balkan war led to the second war were Greece and Serbia crushed the Bulgarian armies and the demoralised Bulgarians were quick to sign an armistice. From both wars Greece had gained the largest share of Macedonia and Thrace in the South which roughly corresponded to the areas where ethnic Greeks lived as well as corresponding to historical boundaries of anceint Greek Macedonia and the Serbs had gained the Vardar Valley region (modern FYROM); Bulgaria taking the smallest share: the Blaveograd region. The Bulgarians that did live in the territory won by Greece were exchanged with Greeks living in Bulgarian territory at the time. Hence whilst Greece and Bulgaria exchanged their nationals (96,000 Bulgarians and 46,000 Greeks were exchanged) the same was not done for Serbia which retained its Bulgarian nationals. This resulted in a need for Serbia to adopt an even more aggressive policy of Serbinization of the Slavs of Vardar and quite possibly a shot in the arm for the ideology of the Macedonists and their aim of gathering more popular support for an independent Macedonia. The Serbian Kingdom referred to what is now modern F.Y.R.O.M as ‘Vardarska’ or Southern Serbia.

Macedonia in World War One

The outbreak of WWI in 1914 meant Serbia was unavoidably thrust against the Central powers and overran by Austria and parts of Greek and Serb Macedonia was occupied by Bulgaria who had joined the Central Powers. Greece remained neutral due to much foreign turmoil and disagreement about involvment in the war until the end when it conducted several successful offensives against Bulgaria with the help of the British and French deplpyments. Both Britain and France had been heavily involved in Macedonia during the war; protecting against further Austrian or Bulgarian advance. In 1918, the defeat of the Central Powers and Bulgaria meant that all of what was the Serbian Kingdom and the other lands inhabited by South Slavs previously under Austrian control; Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Montinegro all formed the new Yugoslav (South Slav) Kingdom. Vardarska continued much as it had after the balkan wars as a Serbian province ‘Vardarska Banovina’ or just ‘South Serbia’. This great dissapointment for the Bulgarians meant the VMRO still continued some operations nominally out of Bulgaria.

A stamp showing the map of Yugoslavia with the Southern province called ‘Vardarska’ as it was before the red partisan take over of Yugoslavia and the creation of the ‘Socialist Republic of Macedonia’ at the end of WW2

1919-1944 – the Comintern and World War Two in Macedonia and Yugoslavia

The interwar period clearly gave Macedonism as an ideology a shot in the arm. The Serbinization policies of the Yugoslav kingdom and the Comintern’s adoption of the ideology for its strategic reasons meant that the movement went beyond struggling reactionism to Serb/Bulgarian geopolitics and gained the support of a superpower in the Soviet Union.

The vital importance of Thessaloniki warm water port, Russia and the Soviet Union

Although the first official declarations regarding the “recognition of the supressed members of the Macedonian nation” and calls for modifications to territorial boundaries were made during the 1920s, the Macedonian question was said to be in discussed in communist circles even earlier. To understand the Comintern’s policy one must consider that the Soviet Union saw itself as the expander of communism, similar to the expansive intentions of Imperial Russia before the 1917 revolution. Russia and Catherine the Great had supported the Greeks in the early years of nationhood, sharing a common religion, later the Russians supported the Bulgarians against Greek interests, with whom they shared common Slavic blood and religion as well. The statement of the Russian Tsar Nikolaos in 1854, while addressing to the British Ambassador of Petroupolis, Hamilton Seymour: “A strong Greek kingdom or Greek nation is against the interests of Russia’s southern gates”


“[In Macedonia] Bulgarian Bishops, under Russian protection, are still able to plan brigand bands to raid Serb and Greek villages, under the noses of the reform officers, and Greek and Serb organize rival bands to defend themselves. And while Austria subsidizes Albanian Beys in Kosovo Vilayet, Russian officers ride round Greek villages and swear they shall have no help unless they say they are Bulgar.”

-Edith Durham, ‘The Burden of the Balkans’ (1905), p 102.

On several occassions the Russian army threatened Constantinople (Istanbul) and Macedonia herself, always however being kept in check by the other great powers. In this way Imperial Russia used Bulgaria for its own expansionist aims. After the Turkey’s defeat in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78, Russia managed to have the treaty of San Stefano signed by the Turks, on March 3, 1878, which created a Greater Bulgaria was created with borders including the largest chunk of Macedonia, an outlet to the Aegean and on Thessaloniki’s doorstep; the Russians were thwarted by the great powers who rejected San Stefano and replaced it with the 1978 Treaty of Berlin the same year which deprived Bulgaria (and indeed Russia an outlet to the Aegean). In 1870 the Bulgaric Exarchate was founded with a Sultan’s Decree, and in 1872 the scism of the Bulgaric Exarchate occured. On 21/2/1878 (3/3/187 , Russia obliged the Othoman empire with the signing of the Saint Stefan treaty. Tsar Nikolaos had given his ambassador in Constantinople, Ignatiev, the order: “Not a span of earth to Greece”

Thus the Russians were deprived again of access to the Aegean as they were denied previously, by the Crimean war, access to the straights of Istanbul and the prospect of a warm water port. Throughout Russia’s history much of its efforts were concentrated on the aim of one day aquiring a warm water port (Vladivosktok in the far East freezes over completely in the winter as do all ports in the West as well). In the hey day of the Soviet Union the Russians tried to gain a warm water port on the Indian Ocean by invading Afghanistan but once again failed. The huge strategic importance of Thessaloniki and its port, once called the ‘dual capital’ of the Byzantine Empire and the hub of Balkan trade made it a target for the great powers and for Russia and the Soviet Union especially. Salonika port would have been a priceless possession for the communist bloc which never managed to possess a warm-water port during the length cold war.

In this way it can be said that the cloak of Russian imperialism in South East Europe was initially support of Greece and later Bulgaria and in much the same respect the cloak of Soviet expansionism was Slavic Macedonism. The Comintern adressed the age-old Macedonian question with its decision to promote the ‘plight of the Slav Macedonians as a suppressed people in Macedonia and the Slav speakers of Northern Greek Macedonia’ rather than the plight of the Bulgarians.

The beginning of communist involvment in the Macedonian question – the interwar period; the Comintern and Balkan communists

The Comintern, otherwise known as the ‘International Communist Organisation’ or the ‘Internationale’ was founded in March 1919, in the midst of the “war communism” period (1918-1921), by Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), which intended to fight “by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State.” The Comintern played a vital role in the establishment of communist parties all over Europe and in the Balkans as well during the interwar period. The Comintern funded and coordinated communist parties and even had the power to dispel people from a local Balkan party should they feel they are not acting in the revolution’s best interests. Thus the Comintern can be described as the foreign affairs organ of the Soviet Union.

The Balkan Communist Federation (1919-1939) was a communist umbrella organisation in which all the Balkan communist parties were represented. It was dominated by the Soviet Union and Comintern requirements. An important feature of the Federation was the Macedonian question. The Federation was the successor of the earlier Balkan Democratic Federation and the Balkan Socialist Federation. The Balkan Federation would have included Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey. The manifesto of the federation stated that, “The nations of southeastern Europe possess all the cultural conditions for autonomous development. They are related economically. They should be related politically. Socialism will therefore uphold with all its influence the idea of the solidarity of the Balkan nations. “. Already the Macedonian question was on the table at the first assembly in 1910 before the Balkan wars; The main platforms at the first conference were Balkan unity and action against the impending wars. In 1915, Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov wrote that Macedonia, “…which was split into three parts…”, would be, “…reunited into a single state enjoying equal rights within the framework of the Balkan Democratic Federation.” and that this was “important to settle outstanding national issues.” This independent and united Macedonia would have consisted of the corresponding geographical departments of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece. Naturally the Greeks and Yugoslavs were hesitant about the plan having much more to lose than Bulgaria.

1935 Resolution of the KKE in regards to a independent Macedonia and Thrace

Undoubtedly, with the Comintern now on the seen however it saw the Bulgarian’s ideas Macedonian question suited to its own strategic ambitions and with pressure from Moscow now the Greek KKE and CPY Yugoslav Delegation gradually came to accept the BCP (Bulgarian Communist Party). The Bulgarians, from the beginning, had assumed a leading role in the Federation. In Sofia, May-June 1922, the question of the “autonomy of Macedonia and Thrace” was raised by Vasil Kolarov and was backed by Dimitrov, the Bulgarian delegate who presided over the meeting. The Greek delegate asked for a postponement as he was reluctant to approve a motion that was not on the agenda. By June 1923, the BCP, under pressure from nationalist forces following a coup when the Agrarian National Union government in Bulgaria was overthrown and Premier Aleksandar Stamboliyski murdered, had to show to the rest of the country that it was strong and at the heart of things, so it campaigned for “a united and independent Macedonia” and pushed for the neighbours to endorse them. In December 1923, Balkan Communist Federation held its 5th Conference in Moscow. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) delegate Nikolaos Sargologos signed the motion for a “United Macedonia” as was wanted by the Bulgarians and the Comintern.

The KKE continued to find the Federation’s position on the Macedonian question difficult, knowing how firmly against the motion the Greek public would be given that it basically asked Greece to forfeit its two largest provinces of Macedonia and Thrace as well. In June 1924, at its 5th meeting, it recognised “the Macedonian people” and in December 1924, it endorsed the motion for “a united and independent Macedonia and a united and independent Thrace” with the perspective of entering into a union within a Balkan federation “against the national and social yoke of the Greek and Bulgarian bourgeoisie”. However, in 1928 it suffered a crushing defeat at the Greek elections, especially in Greek Macedonia. Disentions meant the KKE conference watered it down, just calling for “autodetermination of the Macedonians until they join a Balkan Soviet Socialist Federation”. The Yugoslav communists faced the same problems with Serbinisation in their country. During the war and after however, as the situation became more desperate for the Greek communists and the scene of the Greek civil war began to set, the communists were reliant of Yugoslav and Soviet aid and became more and more inclined to promote, and fight for, an independent Macedonia, inlcuding Greek Macedonia and Thrace.

WW2 and its ramafications for the region

In 1941 Yugoslavia (including Vardar) was overrun by Nazi Germany. After Yugoslavia fell the Germans then invaded Greece, captured Thessaloniki and later Athens. Bulgaria, an ally/ satellite state also took part in the invasion of Greece and its army was assigned by the Germans for the occupation of Vardar, Thrace and parts of Greek Macedonia.

Yugoslavia and Greece under German and Bulgarian occupation 1941-45

Historical consequences of World War Two

Ww2 had important and far-reaching consequesnces for the Slavs of Vardar and Macedonia. Since 1913 Vardarska had been subject to a policy of Serbinization and De-Bulgarianisation by the Yugoslav Kingdom and the Bulgarophone minority of Macedonia was viewed with suspicion and mistreated by the Metaxas dictatorship. So, the reaction to Bulgarian occupation of the Slavs population in Vardar and Macedonia, a population which had a substantially Bulgarian conscience prior to 1913, was mixed below the surface (at face value though many declared themselves Bulgarian to occupiers they loyalty to Bulgaria was questioned). The pre-Balkan war struggle between pro-Bulgarian Slavs in Vardar and pro-autonomists was revived. In this instance however, the Macedonists gained ground and comprised of more an element of a distinctly leftist streak reaction to Bulgarian fascist occupation.

Whilst many welcomed the Bulgarians as liberators; the forceful nature of the Bulgarian fascistic occupation inevitably prompted a reaction against it; in particular a reaction from the leftists of the region and this evidently aided the Macedonist cause. The occupation encouraged many Vardarskan Slavs to join the Yugoslav partisans and undoubtedly provided a shot in the arm for the Macedonists. The Communists aroused the part of the population in Macedonia who were not ardently pro-Greek or pro-Bulgarian and the appeal of an ‘Independent free Macedonia’ along Left wing lines grew. In 1944 Captain P.H. Evans, an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) said that many inhabitants, “were either uneasily neutral or else filled with a rather vague aspiration towards a free Macedonia run on Left Wing lines. Thus, when in May the Andartes of Vapsori sent a long-winded letter to Siderochori [Sestovo] telling them to come over to ELAS and the Allies, Siderochori replied: ‘If you (ELAS) were real Allies you would wear a Red Star on your caps'”

The Yugoslav Communist Partisans, led by Marshall Josip Broz Tito, the main force of resistance against the Germans in Yugoslavia, kept a close eye on Greek Macedonia. The foudning of SNOF (Slavo-Macedonian Popular Liberation Front) was a result of the general negotiations between Tito’s envoy in Yugoslav and Greek Macedonia, Svetozar Vukmanovic, and the military leaders of the Hellenic Popular Liberation Army (ELAS), and the political leaders of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in July and August 1943 to co-ordinate the resistance movements. The more specific discussions between Leonidas Stringos and the political delegate of the GHQ of Yugoslav Macedonia, Cvetko Uzunovski in late August or early September 1943 near Yannitsa also stepped up plans for the creation of SNOF. The Yugoslavs also sought to capitalise on any discontent among the Slavophone/ Bulgarophones in Greek Macedonia which arised as a result of persecution under the Metaxas dictatorship with the view of incorporating Greek territory into a Macedonian Republic under Yugoslav hegemony. Such plans were made by Tito long before the Germans were to leave Yugoslavia.

Eventually the Partisans began receiving substantial logistical support from the Soviets. Orders passed from Moscow to Belgrade and then onto the many sub-branched Partisan resistance groups in the region such as SNOF (See CIA documentation on the page: The collusion of the KKE, communist guerillas, Yugoslavs and Soviets – their role in Macedonian affair

The immediate result was Bulgarian occupation (but not accession) of Thrace and Macedonia, which Bulgarian troops took from Greece and Yugoslavia respectively in April 1941. Although the territorial gains were initially very popular in Bulgaria, complications soon arose in the occupied territories. Autocratic Bulgarian administration of Thrace and Macedonia was no improvement over the Greeks and the Serbs; expressions of Macedonian national feeling grew, and uprisings occurred in Thrace.…a/HISTORY.html

There was of course Slavs in Vardar who supported Bulgarian occupation as mentioned. In 1941 when Hitler’s army entered Skopje, there were thousands of Bulgarian flags there to greet them and the German army was welcome as liberators. King Boris of Bulgaria was received in 1942 in Skopje as a liberator and Western literature was read in Skopje in the Bulgarian language. Some Communists in Skopje even left the C.P. of Yugoslavia and joined the Bulgarian Communist Party.

Its also interesting to note that when the Allies persuaded Bulgaria to abandon the Axis in the autumn of 1944, the Germans were forced to reorganize the occupation of Macedonia—which hitherto had been under Bulgarian control—and to assume direct occupation themselves. German administration of Macedonia was short-lived, but the fact that Bulgarian postage stamps used in the area were overprinted “Macedonia” in Macedonian suggests that the Germans were consistent in their policy of encouraging local ethnicity in Macedonia, as they had in several other places in Europe.

Bulgarian Slavs in Vardar welcome the Bulgarians as liberators, holding frames of Adolf Hitler and Bulgarian King Boris:

The fate of the Comintern

The Comintern was officially dissolved on May 15, 1943, by Stalin. Membership of the Comintern gave national parties the reputation of being Soviet stooges. By abolishing the Comintern, Stalin hoped to alleviate this problem and facilitate the route to power of European communist parties after the end of the war. Usually, it is asserted that he wanted his World War II Allies (particularly Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill) to believe that the USSR was no longer pursuing a policy of trying to foment revolution. [Robert Service, Stalin. A biography. (Macmillan – London, 2004), pp 444-445] When the Soviet government abolished the Comintern it said that they did it to “Refute Hitler’s lie that the Soviet Union intends to interfere in the lives of others states and Bolshevise them”(Source Radzinsky, Edvard Stalin:The First In-Depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents From Russia’s Secret Archives). In September 1947, following the June 1947 Paris Conference on Marshall Aid, Stalin gathered the socialist parties and set up the Cominform, or Communist Information Bureau, as a substitute of the Comintern. It was a network made up of the Communist parties of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia (led by Tito, it was expelled in June 1948).

By Voulgaroktonos


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