Sunday, July 03, 2005

In Defence of Multi-Ethnic Bosnia 1995

War in Bosnia and the Australian left
Comment by Michael Karadjis

The war in Bosnia seems to be causing widespread confusion on the left.
To cite a few examples, a wildly inaccurate article in the June 7 1993 issue of the Guardian claimed that the US and other Western powers “encouraged secessionists in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia” and “set out to destroy the united Yugoslavia”. The article claims it is only “the resistance of the Bosnian Serbs” that prevents the complete break-up of Yugoslavia, and this is why they are being “demonised in the west”. Among other fantasies in the unsigned article, the Serbs have the backing of a section of the Muslim population, and it is claimed that Muslims are only 33% of Bosnia's population (they are in fact 43% while Serbs make up 30%).

This confusion is replicated in a letter to (Green Left Weekly (June 28) by C.M. Friel which asserted that GLW supports “the dismemberment of Yugoslavia” like reactionaries such as Reagan. Friel is apparently caught in a time warp, claiming that the “international ruling class” is imposing sanctions on Serbia “so as to prevent the normal functioning of a socialist economy”.

A more “balanced” view is represented in the June 2 Workers News, which claims that “all sides have blood on their hands”. The genocide against Bosnia's Muslims is equated to the desperate attempts by the Bosnian government to regain some of the territory that has been conquered by the fascist forces.

Just in case anyone thought this head in the sand approach was truly even handed, the article states that Croatia and Bosnia have no right to self-determination, because their existence is unviable (like East Timor?) outside a united Yugoslavia. The alleged “rush” to recognise these new republics by the West is blamed for the war. The Guardian article cited above also makes the false claim that these new republics were granted “immediate recognition by western countries”.

These papers point to the “extreme right-wing nationalist” regime in Croatia while failing to mention the similar extreme right-wing nationalist regime in Serbia, and duck the issue of the far more progressive multi-ethnic Bosnian government, which includes the former Bosnian Communist Party, merely parroting the Western media's frame-up of it as a “Muslim” government.

Here I want to take up six points at the heart of this confusion.

1. That the secession of Croatia and Bosnia led to the break-up of a united Yugoslavia.
In fact it was the right-wing nationalist regime of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic which set out in 1987 to destroy the multinational Yugoslav federation and replace it with a “Greater Serbia” by uniting all lands where any Serbs lived (even in a minority) and forcing out everyone else.
The Kosovo region, inhabited by Albanians, had its autonomous status abolished and has since suffered under horrific occupation. Before the coming to power of Tudjman in Croatia, and long before Bosnian independence, the Serbian regime was encouraging and arming fascist forces among the Serbian minorities in these two republics and setting up armed “states within a state” which were already expelling non-Serbs. Years of this impossible situation led to Croatia and Slovenia declaring independence in 1991; even then, Bosnia still held on to its ideas for a looser Yugoslav federation until April 1992, when the pressure of Greater Serbia made this dream impossible.
Genocide was openly talked about. Bosnian Serb fascist leader Radovan Karadzic (head of the pro-Chetnik Serb Democratic Party which leads the war to destroy Bosnia) stated as early as late 1991 that if talk of Bosnian independence continued, one of the three peoples there (i.e. the Muslims) would “disappear from the face of the Earth”. His colleague in Serbia, Vojislav Seselj from the Chetnik Serbian Radical Party, a coalition partner in government with Milosevic, suggested in parliament the best way to solve the Croatia problem was to “cut the throat of every Croat.”

2. That the Serbian regime and its Bosnian Serb allies are defending a united Yugoslavia against the secessionists.
The Yugoslavia of 1918-41 was a Serb-dominated tyranny that no-one on the left supported. However, postwar Communist Yugoslavia, led by Tito, was, for all its imperfections, an attempt to create a union of six autonomous republics (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia), to which Tito added Kosovo and Vojvodina in 1974.
Milosevic and his fascist allies have destroyed this Yugoslavia in favour of an ethnically pure Greater Serbia and completely revived Chetnik ideology as state ideology. The Bosnian government has been fighting to defend the last remnants of multinational Yugoslavia: Bosnian cities such as Sarajevo and Tuzla where Serbs, Croats, Muslims and mixed Bosnians struggle side by side to preserve such a society against the fascist forces trying to wipe out its last embers.

3. That the West is trying to destroy “socialist” Yugoslavia.
Even long before Milosevic, Yugoslavia had a peculiar form of “market socialism” which gave it the distinction of having more unemployment than anywhere in capitalist Western Europe.
But it was Milosevic who completely “opened up” the Yugoslav economy, launched privatisation, leading to massive inflation, unemployment and slashing of living standards. The largest capitalist empire in the Balkans is owned by a Serb, Boguljub Karic, who owns mining, oil, banking and telecommunications interests, and built his house next door to his best friends, Milosevic and his wife. Serbia was in the vanguard of East European capitalist restoration. This was before the equally pro-capitalist regimes were elected in other Yugoslav republics.

4. That the Bosnian Serbs are fighting for their land in Bosnia and have their own right to self-determination.
The forces led by Karadzic occupy 70% of Bosnia, yet Serbs make up only 31% of Bosnia's population. Despite this, the fascists control less than half of Bosnia's Serbs. The rest live either in the big cities together with Muslims and Croats, under government control, or have fled to Serbia proper in order to avoid the filthy war. The Milosevic regime has often forced these people back to Bosnia to join the militias.
These Serb nationalist militias call themselves “Chetniks” after the right-wing Serbian monarchist forces which fought against Tito's partisans during the Nazi occupation, and often collaborated with the Nazis. Even then they were known for their grisly slaughter of Muslims. They were the mirror image of the Croatian Ustasha, which collaborated with the Nazis and massacred Serbs, Jews, Muslims and Roms (Gypsies). In fact, the “pro-Serb” and “anti-Croat” wing of the left ought to meditiate on the fact that these Chetnik Serb forces are allied to the right-wing chauvinist Bosnian Croat forces in their joint attempt to carve out ethnically pure ‘Serb’ and ‘Croat’ states and destroy multi-ethnic Bosnia.

5. That the Western powers “immediately recognised” the new republics.
In fact the rivalry among imperialists led to conflicting views of what to do. Before the outbreak of the Serb-Croatian war in July 1991, no western country supported independence of the republics, including Germany. Although the Croatian referendum in June 1991 saw a 94% vote for independence, and although this was followed by six months of massive bombing of Croatian cities by the Serbian army and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Croats from one third of Croatia, still there was no recognition of Croatia.
However, given its links to Croatia and Slovenia, Germany recognised earlier than others that the enormous war and killing taking place would make it impossible for any ‘Yugoslavia’ to be forced together again, so began advocating recognition of the two republics. Finally, 6 months after the Croatian referendum and 6 months after the largest slaughter in Europe since World War II, Germany recognised Croatia and Slovenia 3 weeks before the EU was due to recognise them. It is debatable whether or not this was ‘rapid’ recognition.
Meanwhile, the US, right through the Serbo-Croatian war and into the first few months of 1992, steadfastly opposed self-determination and stated that it recognised “only one state within the boundaries of Yugoslavia.” Even Russia had recognised Croatia and Slovenia at the same time as the EU, several months before the US.
In recognising Bosnia in April 1992, the Western powers attempted to make a condition the ethnic “cantonisation” of the republic, which played perfectly into the hands of the Serb and Croat nationalists in Bosnia. Clearly, Yugoslavia had ceased to exist long before the recognition of Bosnia.

6. That the imperialist powers have openly intervened on the side of Serbia's opponents in the Yugoslav “civil war”.
For all the bluster and the UN troops, now standing by calmly observing the “ethnic cleansing” of Srebrenica, the West has essentially not raised a finger to help the Bosnian victims of genocide. Normally, when the US wants a war because imperialist interests are threatened, it can whip up enough horror stories; in the case of Bosnia, it would only need to tell the truth. Compare three years of fumbling to the US rapid holocaust against Iraq when the right-wing regime there, for its own reasons, did in fact threaten imperialist interests.
While Serbia does not threaten imperialist interests, there are certainly differences between the imperialist powers and the Bosnian Serb fascists: above all, every Western plan to dismember Bosnia along ethnic lines has given the Serb nationalists 50% of Bosnia, whereas Karadzic and his forces want to keep the 70% they have conquered by force of overwhelming military superiority.
The West wants some stability for investments, and they see a balance between Serbia and Croatia as the best bet, hence basically support their aim to partition Bosnia between them. However, if the Karadzic forces keep 70 percent, there will be little left to both please the Croat nationalists and also allow a minimum of living space for the Muslim majority. The West knows there will be no stability if the Bosnian Muslims are forced into such a small area that a Gaza would be created in Europe. Nevertheless, the West also recognises that the Serbian regime will be the main force in the future stable order.
That is why the most effective forms of Western intervention favour the Serb nationalists. All the Western plans to dismember Bosnia along ethnic lines have been opposed in principle by Bosnia's government but supported in principle by the Serb and Croat militias and Milosevic and Tudjman. The Serb nationalist militias only demand more territory from the plans. Notably, Milosevic, who some leftists think is some kind of ‘socialist’, is in complete agreement with the West on this; it is the most openly right-wing and Chetnik forces in Serbia and Bosnia that oppose the plans from a chauvinist-extremist point of view.
Secondly, the West imposed a criminal arms embargo against Bosnia's government, despite the fact that Serbia inherited all the massive weaponry from the former Yugoslav army, the fourth largest in Europe, and that Serbia makes its own arms.
Every Western power at every step of the way has refused to end this real intervention. They know that with around 120,000 troops, a properly armed Bosnia would easily clear up 70,000 fascist militia.
Every other people in the world has the right to defend itself, yet no-one on the Australian left except GLW, the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance, has called for ending the imperialist arms embargo, ie the major imperialist intervention in Bosnia.
With 200,000 Bosnians killed and 2 million expelled from their homes, the left cannot afford confusion about attempted genocide. And to mislabel the perpetrators of that genocide as defenders of socialism is both tragic and absurd.

In Defence of Multi-Ethnic Bosnia 1993

Bosnia: who are the guilty parties?
(late 1993)
by Michael Karadjis
Two million Bosnians have been driven from their homes, and hundreds of thousands are dead. Nearly ninety per cent of Bosnia is under occupation by militias sponsored by Serbia and Croatia which openly aim to split the republic between them. This is despite the fact that Serbs only account for 30 percent of the population and Croats a mere 17 percent, while Muslims make up some 43 percent and the remainder are so completely mixed that they can only be called ‘Bosnians’. Further, many Serbs and Croats are still fighting together with their Muslim and mixed brothers and sisters against this apartheid and genocide launched by Serb and Croat chauvinist militias.
In other words, the Serb and Croat chauvinist forces have only been able to conquer such a large proportion of the country due to overwhelming military superiority. Yet the western powers continue an arms blockade against the Bosnian government.
Western governments are also still pushing various apartheid schemes to split the republic on ethnic lines. Following the collapse of the Vance-Owen plan to split Bosnia into ethnic cantons in early 1993, the western powers concluded that even more extravagantly pro-Serbian schemes were necessary.
The first was the idea to allow the Serbian and Croatian chauvinist militias to keep all the land they had conquered, while Bosnia's Muslims, around half the population, would gain UN “protection” in “safe havens” in a number of isolated, bombed out, besieged, overcrowded cities.
These “safe havens” then underwent weeks of further siege, bombardment and strangulation by Serbian Chetniks while the UN sat and watched.
The de facto alliance between the Serbian and Croatian militias came out into the open, with a western-backed initiative by these forces in mid June 1993 to split Bosnia into three ethnic states. This was known as the ‘Owen-Stoltenberg’ Plan after the chief EU and UN negotiators. Britain’s Lord Robert Owen continues to represent the most extravagantly pro-Serbian nationalist positions, reflecting the policy of the Tory government.
Bosnian President Izetbegovic refused to attend a partition conference in Geneva organised by Serbia, Croatia, their local thugs in Bosnia and the European Community. Chief negotiator Lord Owen and other European leaders pressured the Bosnian government to “accept reality” and agree to the partition of the country. Even without the participation of the legal Bosnian government or anyone representing the Muslim and mixed communities, this European-Serbian-Croatian self-appointed team proceeded to draw up a plan to dismember the country anyway.
Bosnia's various communities are scattered in every part of the republic. The Bosnian government is completely correct to claim that the borders of such ethnic states would be “drawn in blood” and that ethnic cleansing would be stepped up.
Sarajevo professor Naza Tanovich-Miller wrote in a recent letter to US President Clinton: “Divide what Mr President? Divide houses and apartment buildings, divide streets and villages, divide towns and cities, divide homes and bedrooms? By the 1990 census 25% of Bosnian marriages are mixed, i.e. 1.2 million people are families of mixed faiths. Where should they live Mr President?”
According to Ilhana Nurkic from the Australian Bosnian and Herzegovinan Community Association, even the talk of three states is a farce. She points out that Serbian and Croatian nationalists have launched joint operations and captured a number of towns in the very heart of Bosnia, such as Zepce and Maglaj, which were never in any Serbian or Croatian zone on any of the partition maps.
US and Europe
Two years ago, the UN Security Council banned arms sales to all sides in the Yugoslav conflict. This affected everyone except Serbia, which inherited the massive military arsenal of the former Yugoslav People’s Army, the fourth largest military force in Europe, in the ‘Vance Plan’ to end the Serbo-Croatian war of 1991 (named after former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who negotiated this plan). Serbia also produces its own weapons. Factories in Serbia and Serbian-occupied Bosnia are still pumping out arms and ammunition.
When Germany, which has a special economic relationship with Croatia and Slovenia, broke US-European ranks and recognised these two republics at the end of 1991 following 6 months of massive bombardment of Croatia by the by-then exclusively Serb ‘Yugoslav People’s Army’, the US was opposed, seeing a strong Serbia as a counterweight to German-influenced Croatia.
Britain and France were also wary of German ambitions. Hence it is hardly surprising that these two governments have maintained the most steadfastly pro-Serbian policy throughout the Bosnian war. An indication of the rivalry was a major article in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine in early 1993, which revealed that before the war in Bosnia began, “Great Britain and France had notified Serbia that they would not intervene”.
Meanwhile, a number of well-publicised “secret” meetings between the Serbian and Croatian governments and their militias in Bosnia in early 1992, following the end of Serbo-Croatian hostilities, produced a deal to partition Bosnia between them. In fact, Serbian leader Milosevic and Croatian leader Tudjman had met as early as April 1991 to discuss the partition of Bosnia. It was in the same spirit that the European Union insisted that Bosnia be divided into ethnic cantons in early 1992 as a condition for recognition – the first EU partition plan, known as the Carrington-Cultheiro Plan, was thus drawn up even before ethnic cleansing began, so cannot be called an attempt to “recognise reality” as the later plans have attempted to be sold.
This inter-European dealing between UK- and French-backed Serbia and German-backed Croatia, just after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, was increasingly leaving the US out of the picture. This further came to a head with the announcement in May 1992 by Germany and France of plans for a 35,000 strong “Eurocorps”, a European army independent of NATO. A 180 degree change in the US position, with fierce new anti-Serbian rhetoric, began straight after this announcement.
However, this rhetoric did not lead to any actual US support for Bosnia, or even a US lifting of the criminal arms embargo. As the purpose of the rhetoric was more related to the emerging US-EU rivalry of the post-Cold War than to any real concerns with defending Bosnia, US policy then underwent about a dozen policy shifts -- as one European UN diplomat put it, “US policy on Bosnia consists of a perpetual policy review.”
Before coming to power, Clinton criticised Bush for not taking action on Bosnia, and then proceeded to take an even softer approach for several months. Suddenly in April 1993, he again upped the rhetoric, pushing for air strikes and, for the first time, the lifting of the arms blockade against the Bosnian government. Both were opposed by the European states, who were trying to push through the Vance-Owen partition plan.
Since when, however, does the US need European permission to do anything?
Arms blockade
The arms blockade, preventing the besieged victims from defending their own cities, has been the most consistent form of US-European intervention in the Yugoslav conflict for the last two years.
According to Ilhana Nurkic, Bosnia could easily raise an army of 200,000, the only problem being lack of weapons. Discouraging any influx of volunteer fighters from the Islamic world, Miles Ragnz, an adviser to Bosnia's UN mission, declared, “We certainly don't want any foreign force to come into our country and fight, because we are ready to fight for ourselves. In Sarajevo alone we have 200,000 ready and able men and only 3000 rifles.”
By contrast, according to Ian Traynor in the Guardian, “the Bosnian Serb army is about 70,000 strong, with 300 tanks, 180 armoured vehicles and up to 40 combat aircraft and helicopters. It has a vast array of heavy artillery and weapons ... If it runs short, there are abundant supplies in Serbia.” As for the Bosnian Croat militia, Traynor estimates they have “some 50,000 troops, amply supplied with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, a few dozen tanks, at least two aircraft, and some heavy guns. Zagreb keeps the Bosnian Croat forces well-stocked with modern machine guns and ammunition.”
Even these figures for the sizes of the nationalist militias include large numbers of fighters from Serbia and Croatia. If Bosnia's borders with Serbia and Croatia were sealed, and the arms blockade on Bosnia were lifted, it would easily be able to deal with the nationalist militias.
For the western mass media, there is no Bosnian government, merely “Muslim forces” and a “Muslim-led government.” Yet according to Nurkic, Serbs still make up 17% of the Bosnian army, and estimates range up to 30% (and 15% Croats).
As Nurkic points out, it is hard to make such estimates because most people call themselves Bosnian, whether their religion is Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim or whatever.
Right-wing militias
Likewise, the forces fighting against the Bosnian government are not merely “Serbs” and “Croats” but rather militias based on extreme right-wing political parties. The Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), whose fighters call themselves Chetniks after the fascist forces who fought against the partisans in World War II, is the main force responsible for the genocide in Bosnia. Its constant shelling of Sarajevo and other cities kills Serbs as well as Muslims and Croats.
In Serbia itself, young people are no more interested in fighting for the Chetniks than are most of the Bosnian Serbs. Despite the atmosphere of repression and hysteria, only 24% of young men obeyed conscription orders in 1992 -- only 12% in Belgrade. Meanwhile, half the Serb population of the part of Bosnia controlled by the reactionary SDS have fled to Serbia to try to escape being drafted into that party’s genocidal war against their neighbours.
The policies of the similarly reactionary nationalist Croatian Democratic Forum (HVO), linked to the Tudjman regime in Croatia, in joining the Chetniks to carve up Bosnia, are a stab in the back of the thousands of Croats ethnically cleansed by the Chetniks -- but then the HVO has been responsible for similar cleansing against both Serbs and Muslims. A smaller militia has also emerged explicitly modelled on the Ustashe, the World War II brutal fascist regime installed in power by the Nazi occupiers.
After declaring its own “state” in Bosnia in mid-1992, the HVO rapidly moved to ethnically cleanse Muslims in western Hercegovina and central Bosnia, as it tried to wrest control of these regions from the Bosnian army. Three thousand Muslims were expelled from the town of Prozor. A more concerted wave of HVO ethnic cleansing was launched in early May 1993, with thousands of Muslims being expelled from Mostar and Novi Travnik.
While the Bosnian government has rejected all attempts to split Bosnia along ethnic lines, it is hardly surprising that some Muslim-dominated sections of the army have sometimes responded with their own ethnic cleansing. Aside from the desire for revenge, thousands of Muslim refugees have created a pressure to gain as much territory as possible before any “peace” is imposed over their heads.
In response to HVO ethnic cleansing, a unit of the Bosnian army recently launched an ethnic cleansing operation against Croatian villages around Travnik in central Bosnia, leaving many dead and forcing thousands to flee. While this gained prominent coverage, Nurkic reports that Bosnian President Izetbegovic called on the army to punish those responsible for any attacks on Croats, and called on the villagers to return. None of this was reported in the media.
Professor Naza Tanovich-Miller lays the blame for the situation squarely where it belongs: “By not lifting the arms embargo and by supporting apartheid [the plans to split Bosnia ethnically] ... by calling all sides equally guilty, [the western governments'] guilt is as great as the aggressor's.”

Sarajevo paper rallies the resistance
By Michael Karadjis
“It is now a year since the first shells fell on Sarajevo, marking in an explosive manner the beginning of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. At that time, very few thought that this war would expose Europe's impotence in imposing its own principles. But over the past 365 days, Bosnia-Hercegovina passed from the fire and was drowned in blood. For us in Sarajevo, it was also the great international myth of justice and truth that collapsed.”
So writes Zlatko Dizntarevits, journalist of the biggest and oldest newspaper still operating in Sarajevo after 14 months of siege of this heroic multi-ethnic city by the Chetnik-fascist forces of Radovan Karatzic, who are trying to impose an ethnically pure “Greater Serbia” on the city.
The newspaper, Oslobodenje (“Liberation”) was first published on August 30, 1943, giving voice to the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation of the region. Fifty years later, it finds itself playing much the same role.
Last June 20, Chetnik bombs hit the newspaper's building. Editor Kemal Koursbahits explains what happened: “... the flames were not extinguished before 6 a.m. However, the newspaper was ready for printing at five past six. The journalists struggled alongside the fire brigade to save the copy. The residents of Sarajevo had seen on television our building in flames. On the morning of June 21, everyone considered the appearance of the newspaper a personal triumph against the aggressors.”
Since then, the paper has been produced underground in an anti-nuclear shelter, without electricity, water or telephone, and with a dramatic shortage of paper. Before the war, it had a circulation of 60,000; now it is down to 4000. The number of pages has fallen from 20 to eight.
Despite this incredible situation, the paper lives on thanks to the dedication of the journalists and the support of the people. Koursbahits explains the
importance of this struggle: “This newspaper is one of the few institutions of Bosnia which has maintained the prewar image of the country: pluralist, with different cultures and nationalities in its bosom. Here we may be Serbs, Muslims or Croats, but above all we are journalists united by our work and by respect for the traditions of the newspaper.”
This struggle was rewarded when its April 6 issue was reprinted by 33 newspapers around the world, marking a year since the beginning of the siege. In addition, many newspapers have sent paper: a number of left-wing Greek journalists, for example, are trying to gather 100 tonnes of paper to send to Oslobodenje.
The newspaper further comments on various myths about the war, as expressed by Dizntarevits: “It is wrong to say that Serbs, Croats and Muslims are clashing in Sarajevo. It is equally wrong to believe that it's a clash of a religious character. And further wrong to talk of a civil war. The truth is that the population of Sarajevo is united against all those who aim to destroy a civilisation and to place the nation above humanity. For these people, nothing counts but the voice of blood and the fraudulent logic of genes. Their place is not in Sarajevo, a city- symbol of respect for personal freedom, independent of origin, opinion and national or religious discrimination.”
Referring to the imperialist-backed Vance-Owen “peace” plan to dismember Bosnia, Dizntarevits says, “The plan for the carving up of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Hercegovina along ethnic lines will provoke new clashes, equally bloody, which no-one will be able to control. Further, this chopping up will mean that borders in the future will be drawn by weapons, and that might will predominate over justice.”
The plan hands over 43% and 25% respectively of ethnically mixed Bosnian territory to right-wing Serbian and Croatian nationalist militias. Both aim to establish ethnically pure cantons, eventually to be annexed to neighbouring Serbia and Croatia, just as Serbia previously annexed a third of Croatia. Hence the plan recognises these conquests which have been made over the last 15 months, due to the West's arms embargo on the besieged Bosnian republic.

The Historical Development of the Macedonian Nation: A Reply to Greek Nationalist Orwellianism

During the Balkan Wars Macedonia was divided between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, who insisted they had legitimate claims to the territory, based on history or ethnic make-up of the region. Were these claims valid, or were these conquests a small-scale mirror of the colonial division of the world at the time?

When discussing the relative merits of Greek, Serb and Bulgarian claims that Macedonia’s population was largely Greek, Serb or Bulgarian, another question arises: was there also an independent “Macedonian” national identity? This question is one of the most complicated, with wild contradictions in the historical record.

In 1906, John Foster-Fraser claimed:

“You will find Bulgarians and Turks who call themselves Macedonians, you will find Greek Macedonians and it is possible to find Romanian Macedonians. You will not, however, find a single Christian Macedonian who is not a Servian, a Bulgarian, a Greek or a Romanian. They all curse the Turk and they love Macedonia but it is Greek...or Bulgarian Macedonia ...” (Foster-Fraser, John, Picture from the Balkans, 1906)

However, according to Edmond Bouchie, travelling in the region in 1918:

"In all the Macedonian countryside one meets peasants of a single nationality...What makes someone Bulgarian, Serb or their national identity and their participation in organised national life. However, this people having neither national identity nor national life. Asked what he is, nine times out of ten a villager will reply "Macedonian." But this does not have the character of a patriotic declaration...but simply that the villager lives in Macedonia...Therefore an honest observer will classify this people separately, the name "Slav-Macedonians" or simply "Macedonians" being the most applicable" (Bouchie, Edmond, Macedonia and the Macedonians, Paris 1922, pp 40-44. This was written in 1918 following a long presence in the region).

To grapple with this contradiction, we will look at the ethnic make-up of the region. Macedonia was famous for its ethnic mix of Greeks, Turks, Slavic Moslems, Albanians, Vlachs, Gypsies, Serbs and Jews, but the largest single group were Christian Slavs. Were these Christian Slavs Bulgarians, Serbs, “Slavophone Greeks” or a separate “Macedonian” nationality?

Firstly, what were the relative numbers of the various groups? If only a small minority were ethnic “Macedonians”, perhaps the neighbouring states did have valid claims. But we again come across very contradictory figures, such as these below from the turn of the century (the Turkish census is quoted from Lithoxou, Dimitis, Minority Issues and National Consciousness in Greece, Leviathan, 1992. The other figures are from Cvijic, J, Balkan Questions, European War pamphlets 1.v.238, Paris, 1916).

The total number of people was around 2.8 million. The two estimates that show far less, the Greek and the Bulgarian, excluded significant parts of the Slavic north or the Greek south. For example, the Bulgarian figure excludes the Greek regions of Pieria (around Mount Olympus) and the island of Thassos (Wilkinson, H.R., Maps and Politics: A Review of the Ethnic Cartography of Macedonia, London, 1951).

The Turkish census shows 307,000 Greeks, 11 per cent of the population. This is consistent with other figures if examined carefully, as this is the only census that distinguishes language and religion, hence the above figure refers to Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians.

Except the small number of Serbs, all other Slavs in this census are called “Bulgarian” by language. They are then distinguished between those who were Greek Orthodox (320,000) or Bulgarian Orthodox (575,000). Christian Macedonians belonged to both, as the legal Christian churches under Ottoman rule. These Slavic Christians number around 900,000.

The Greek view showing over 600,000 Greeks, combines the 300,000 Greek speakers with the similar number of Slavs loyal to the Patriarchate (the Greek Orthodox church). The Bulgarian view, showing over a million Bulgarians, simply calls all Slavs “Bulgarians” regardless of language or religion. The Turkish census does not distinguish language among Moslems, so the large figure of 1.5 million Moslems includes Turks, Albanians and Moslem Slavs.

Presumably, the German view found 2 million Macedonians by assuming over half of these Moslems were Slavs, and added them to the million or so Christian Slavs, hence finding no Bulgarians or Serbs and very few Turks. Likewise, the Serbian census called all Moslem and Christian Slavs “Serbs” and found no Bulgarians or Macedonians.

Ironically, the Greek view is the only Balkan view that finds a category of “Macedo-Slavs”. This highlights the fact that ethnographic “science” often relates to national interests - around that time certain Greek and Serb propagandists were open to the idea of a “Macedonian” identity in order to fight Bulgarian influence, whereas most Greek and Serb nationalists, then and now, saw such a development as a threat to their own influence (eg, Greek Professor George Soteriades from the University of Athens published an ethnographic map in 1918, marking out Macedonians as a separate people in northern Greece; the Serb Jovan Civjic, in Remarks on the Ethnography of the Macedonian Slavs, London 1906, had a similar view. Similarly, much later, in 1925, when southern Macedonia had been incorporated into Greece, the Greek government asserted the “Macedo-Slavs” were a distinct group, to fight Serbian and Bulgarian claims to the minority. A primer in their language was produced for schoolchildren.)

Hence if we examine these figures, there is some degree of consistency. The national identity of the 300,000 Greek speakers was not in question. The 50-100,000 Vlachs were a distinct group, who were partly under Romanian influence. Unlisted above were small numbers of Jews and Gypsies.

There were probably about a million Moslems, of whom the Albanians were another distinct group of up to 300,000 people, depending on where the border was drawn. The Turks and most Moslem Slavs were largely under the influence of the oppressor Ottoman regime.

This leaves about a million Christian Slavs, about 35 per cent of the total, or over two-thirds of the Christians, ie of those identifying with resistance to Ottoman occupation. Of these, the Ottoman census showing 100,000 Serbs, based on allegiance to the Serbian Orthodox Church, probably accurately reflects Serb national consciousness of those living closest to Serbia, and hence again are a distinct group.

For the bulk of this group, the questions remain. To what extent did the 600,000 loyal to the Bulgarian Exarchate consider themselves “Bulgarians” or Macedonians”? To what extent did the 300,000 loyal to the Patriarchate consider themselves to be “Greek”, “Bulgarian” or part of this separate “Macedonian” group? And what defines a modern “nation” anyway: language, religion, geography, national identification, or a mixture of the above based on concrete historical development?

Here we should distinguish between many entities in history under the rule of a sovereign which perhaps encompassed many different language and cultural groups, such as the Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman empires. Despite the oppressiveness of Ottoman rule, there was more tolerance of people of different languages and cultures than in the national states that succeeded it. Rather than “Turkifying” people, the Ottomans were happy as long as they paid their tribute - often collected by leaders among the subject population, such as the Greek Orthodox Church.

Modern nations should also be distinguished from loyalties of “tribal” groups united by language and a particular lifestyle but without any tendency to form a national state structure. Nations are also distinguished from the various collections of principalities which in medieval Europe were ruled by emperors, kings, dukes etc.

Modern nations may be defined as having a common economic existence, territory, language, nation state and national identity. Such nations emerged in Europe during the transition from a largely feudal agricultural world to a capitalist commercial-industrial world. Hence the rise of western European nations occurred between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, while most east European and Balkan nations remained captive to multi-national empires until the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

However, previous to the consolidation of a nation around a clear nationalist ideology, propagated by writers, intellectuals, teachers and others as commercial interests try to create a uniform national market, these new middle class layers often base their national campaigns on some form of vague identity already existing in a group, whether based on language, religion or some vague historical view of themselves. This precursor to modern nationalism has been called by the historian E.G.Hobsbawm “popular proto-nationalism” (Hobsbawm, E.G., Nations and Nationalism Since 1870, Cambridge 1990) and remains at this level for longer among the rural masses. The quote at the beginning by Bouchie, that most people in the region call themselves “Macedonians” but not as a “patriotic declaration,” appears to fit in well in this category.

The main difference between the development of the modern Macedonian nation and others in the region is that it developed later. This meant that “popular proto-nationalism” was evident far longer, and such vague identity, especially among rural dwellers, was less likely to reach the ears of official and diplomatic circles than the more fully formed national identities around them, who also had the advantage of powerful state machines and legal churches to spread their influence. This also explains much of the confusion, when someone would find “Macedonians” and someone else “Bulgarians” and why most official correspondence made no mention of a distinct group of Macedonians. Clearly there was a process of development, with all the usual stops and starts, that nevertheless followed a similar pattern to other nations, which do not suddenly appear on the scene fully developed.

This was the case earlier with the origins of the Greek nation. In the 1790s, when what was later Greece was populated by Greeks, Slavs, Albanians, Vlachs and Turks, the ideological father of the Greek revolution, Rigas Fereas, spoke of the entire Christian population of the Balkans being “Greek.” In a sense, being Greek as an ideology of resistance to Ottoman oppression.

This Greek consciousness was initially strongest among new middle class elements, and especially among the diaspora. The mass of peasants, who as in other cases lag behind in national identity, called themselves "Romioi," after the East Roman (Byzantine) empire which the Ottomans had destroyed (Kordatos, Yanis, The Social Significance of the Greek Revolution of 1821, Athens 1989, see ‘Introduction’ especially pp 33-36, 52). The terms Romios and Romiosyny were used by many of the common people even into the twentieth century.

Rigas' revolutionary view of "Greeks" as all the oppressed was aimed at uniting the peoples of the region. However, the spread of ``Greekness'' to these non-Greek people was led by the Greek Orthodox Church, the main agency of Ottoman oppression among its Christian subjects. The Patriarchate pressured its Ottoman allies to suppress the Serbian Patriarchate of Pek and the “Bulgarian” Archbishropic of Ohrid (which may later have developed into a rival “Macedonian” power centre) in 1766-7. The Ottomans had suppressed the Bulgarian Archbishropic of Trnovo 400 years earlier.

Hence for the next century, Greek was the only language used in church throughout the Balkans. When Greece gained independence in 1829, church and state worked together to set up schools to Hellenise the population, not only in Greece but throughout the Ottoman held Balkans. Hellenisation progressed together with the march of commerce in the hands of the nascent Greek capitalist class.

This came up against resistance from sections of the Slavic population. Initially, it was difficult to distinguish separate Bulgarian and Macedonian elements in the national renaissance in the 1840s. The closeness of their languages was combined with their common struggle against Ottoman oppression and the Greek Patriarchate. But what gave this movement momentum was the new power centre developing based on the Bulgarian commercial class on the Black Sea coast and Istanbul, giving it a distinctly “Bulgarian” national character.

However, in the 1850s the ``Macedonist'' movement, led by teachers and others, reacted to this, claiming the Macedonians were a separate people. This apparently echoed some widespread, if unclear, feelings. As Russian researcher V. Grigorovich observed in 1844-5, “In all the areas I visited I heard no names but those of Alexander the Great and Marko Kralevich. They both live in the national memory as figures of general significance.” Now, of course, Greek nationalists complain that Alexander the Great was ‘Greek’ and so how dare ‘Slavic’ people now living in Macedonia claim his heritage. But this is the point, unless we consider all these people in the areas visited by Grigorovich to be part of a sinister anti-Greek plot: the fact that these Slavic speakers identified with Alexander, a great ‘Macedonian’, is evidence that they viewed themselves as distinct from Bulgarians and had a kind of consciousness based on the history of the area they lived in.

However, this identity was weak and confused. This is reflected in “Macedonist” literature. For example, the Milandinov brothers published a collection of poems from the Macedonian regions, consciously using local dialects, yet called “Bulgarian Folk Poems”. On the other hand, Macedonian resistance fighter George Pulevski, who in 1879 published the “Macedonian Song Book”, claimed “thus the Macedonians are a nation and their home is Macedonia” (Pulevski, Gorgi, Dictionary of Three Languages, Belgrade, 1875, p49). There was a rising emphasis on using central Macedonian dialects, rather than Bulgarian, in textbooks and in literature.

In 1870 the Ottomans legalised the Bulgarian Orthodox church, called the Exarchate, followed by Bulgarian autonomy in 1878. Now, like the Greeks, church and state could work together to spread Bulgarian schools, language, culture and identity in the Macedonian region.

The bulk of Macedonian Christian Slavs initially joined the Exarchate, due to the similarity of their language to Bulgarian. Bulgarian bishops and priests were appointed to run Macedonian churches, standard Bulgarian language was imposed in church, and the pro-Bulgarian wing of the Macedonian intelligentsia was strengthened.

It is largely on this basis, church affiliation, that most late 19th century official commentary referred to the Slavs of Macedonia as Bulgarians. Does preferring the Bulgarian church to the Greek mean the development of a Bulgarian national consciousness? Certainly, religion would be one element of national consciousness, and Bulgarian nationalism was pushed by the church. Yet the fact that we can quote some sources claiming they called themselves “Bulgarian” and others that they called themselves “Macedonian” probably means neither was yet a developed national consciousness.

Indeed, others were satisfied calling themselves “Christian.” For example, after describing how within one family there may be a “Servian” father, a “Bulgarian” son and “Greek” or even “Russian” daughters, G.F. Abbott continues: “The old mother is generally content to embody her national convictions in the declaration that she is a Christian”, Abbott, G.F., The Tale of a Tour in Macedonia, London, 1903, pp 80-81. Meanwhile, many other sources emphasise the lack of any national identity - the Bouchie quote also claims the Macedonians have no real national identity. Likewise Abbott (p 80) claims “the Macedonian peasants can hardly be said to possess any national soul...” According to English author Henry Brailsford in 1906 the Macedonians “have even yet no highly-developed consciousness of race, and what little they possess is of recent growth. Their passion is not for their race but for their country. They are a people of the soil fixed in their immemorial villages, with a limited range of sentiments which play piously around their mountains, their rivers and their ancient churches” (Brailsford, Henry, Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future, 1906, p 121).

Hence while a distinct Macedonian national identity was restricted to elements of the intelligentsia, it does not follow that the ordinary people were Bulgarians. The Bouchie quote (and others below) that most called themselves “Macedonians” comes from the peasants, as do other examples which show them calling themselves “Bulgarians” or having no national identity. Like all clear national identities, both Macedonian and Bulgarian identities were brought in by sections of the intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie; the difference being that Bulgarian (like Greek and Serbian) identity had the advantage of a powerful outside state and legal church behind it.

State and church could set up schools, and instil a national identity into this people largely without one. Traveller G.F Abbott reports that within some families the different members consider themselves different nationalities. “If they are caught young by the Bulgarian propaganda, and reared in its schools, they are imbued with the idea that they are Bulgarians. If the Servians are first in the field, they become Servians” (Abbott, G.F. op cit, p 80). Brailsford even reports a villager who told him his village “is Bulgarian now, but four years ago it was Greek,” because the Bulgarians offered a cheaper priest and teacher. “The passion for education is strong...if a father cannot contrive to place all his sons in a secondary school belonging to the race which he himself affects, the prospect of a bursary will often induce him to plant them out in rival establishments...a boy who is educated at the expense of one or other of these peoples must himself adopt its language and its nationality” (Brailsford, Henry, op cit, p 102).

Evidently, some resistance to the imposition of standard Bulgarian in church arose quite swiftly after the Exarchy was legalised. For example, among those who joined the Exarchy there even occurred the widespread ``Uniate'' movement of 1873-74, when Orthodox Macedonian eparchies requested the patronage of the Vatican in order to be able to use their own language in church!

Bulgarian leaders understood the threat. Addressing the Exarch in 1874, leader of the Bulgarian renaissance Petko Slaveykov wrote: “In conversation with some Macedonian patriots, I realised that this movement, a mere word only a few years before, is now a clearly defined thought...on many occasions (he heard that) they are not Bulgarians but Macedonians, heirs to ancient Macedonia...they are pure Slavs” (ie unlike the originally Turkic Bulgars) “and they are persisting in an effort to establish their own church.” We need not worry about this contradiction (ie being both ancient Macedonians yet pure Slavs!): all such nationalist ideas were myths, like the concurrent one that the Greeks were pure descendants of the ancient Greeks.

What of the 300,000 Macedonian Slavs who stayed with the Patriarchate, due to force of tradition, or the relative strength of the Greek and Bulgarian church in their regions? Again, can we equate religion with national consciousness? Can we equate all those loyal to the Patriarchate with those who later fought on the Greek side against Bulgaria or those who developed a Greek national consciousness, the “Slavophone Greeks”?

Greek church and state devoted enormous educational and military resources to Hellenise these people, and it is clear that significant numbers did become “Greek”, even aggressively so. However, according to French diplomatic representative M. Stegue, of the 130,000 Slav members of the Greek church in the Salonica Vilayet, "only about 20,000 could be considered to have been Graecised or to have been gained by the Greek party.”

There is much evidence that Patriarchist Slavs called themselves “Macedonians”, because, ironically enough, Greek propaganda at the time used precisely this identity to infer they were Greek! In the ‘Ethnographic Map of European Turkey and Greece’ published in Athens in 1877 to express maximum Greek claims, we read “and the traditions of the Bulgarian speaking Greeks are Greek, as well as the identity of the nation, because they call themselves Thracians and Macedonians...the word Bulgarian is never heard, it is insulting to them” (Ethnographic Map of European Turkey and Greece, Athens 1877, p 15).

Just how ``Greek'' were even those Macedonian Slavs who fought on the Greek side against Bulgarian bands during the armed interventions of 1897-1908? Famous Greek warrior in Macedonia Pavlos Melas visited one such village in 1904, in the presence of pro-Greek Slav Macedonian guerilla leader Kottas. According to Melas:

“...Kottas spoke in Macedonian. The teacher got the children to sing something. We couldn't tell if the language was Macedonian or Greek. All the schoolchildren know how to read and write (Greek), but hardly any know how to speak it...I learnt a few Macedonian words...” (Melas, Natalia, Pavlos Melas, Athens 1964, pp 239, 241, 244).

The extract makes clear that at that time, it was no problem for Greek nationalists to call the local Slavic-speaking language and people ‘Macedonian’, no matter how much Greek nationalists would protest this was impossible today. Kottas believed his ‘Macedonian’ people should support Greece as the only alternative to Bulgaria. Did this make him a "Greek"? Kottas also led his people to join the uprising for Macedonian independence of his fellow Exarchate Macedonians in 1903, despite opposition from the Greek church, state and Greek ‘Macedonian fighters’. Indeed, Kastoria and Krusevo districts, where the uprising was most widespread, included large numbers of Macedonians loyal to the Patriarchate. Kottas was betrayed by Greek Bishop Karavangelis to the Ottomans and executed.

This practice by Patriarchist bishops was apparently one reason many Slavs remained with the Patriarchate, despite the Exarchate’s obvious advantage of being able to worship in a language very close to their own. “Until the peasants can show an official paper signed with the seal of the village”, claims Brailsford, they cannot join the Exarchate. “But the headman, the priest and the teacher are “Greeks”, ie Slavs who belong to the Greek faction.” They oppose such agitation and appeal to the Greek bishop, who threatens to denounce the whole village to the Turks as “seditious”, “which would often condemn a whole Bulgarian hamlet to the flames” (Brailsford, Henry, op cit, p 130-32). Such practices were also a major cause for reprisal assassination of Greek notables by IMRO (see below) or Bulgarian bands.

In 1890 the Ottomans legalised the Serbian Orthodox Church, which then worked with the Serbian regime to spread churches, schools and armed bands into the region to convince the Macedonians they were Serbs! For the next twenty years Macedonia was overrun by competing Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian armed bands, at war with each other and with the local Macedonian struggle, all at war with the Ottoman rulers.

The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO) was set up in 1893 by Macedonian fighters and intellectuals. Ten years later, it led a mass revolt for a free Macedonia. Was this a “Bulgarian” or a “Macedonian” organisation and rebellion? To determine this, we need to look at the aims of the movement and how the participants viewed it and themselves.

The 1903 uprising was regarded to be a Bulgarian uprising in most official correspondence, ie it was called a “Macedonian” uprising only insofar as it occurred in Macedonia, but its participants and leaders were usually called “Bulgarians.” For example, “official reports state that Bulgarian bands have occupied Krushevo and are besieging other villages...,” The New York Times, August 8, 1903, which would be a fairly typical report.

The aims of IMRO were indisputably for an independent Macedonia and opposed to any “Greater Bulgaria.” At the first Revolutionary Congress in Resen in 1894 IMRO set three basic tasks: (i) to destroy the Ottoman social system, (ii) to remain an independent organisation, (iii) to seek Macedonian autonomy (from Radin, A.M., IMRO and the Macedonian Question, Kultura, Skopje, 1993, p 58). The extent of the armed conflict with the Bulgarian bands is evidence enough of their sincerity. Likewise the revolt was indisputably for an independent Macedonia, reflecting an overwhelming desire among the Macedonian Slavs for independence rather than domination by the neighbouring rivals. “The insurgent movement is a genuine Macedonian movement, prepared by Macedonians...and assisted by the passionate sympathy of the vast majority of the Slav population. There is hardly a village that has not joined the organisation” (Brailsford, op cit, p 113).

Seeing IMRO’s direction, Bulgaria set up the “Supreme Council” (the Supremists) to destroy it and fight for Macedonia as part of Bulgaria. Yet the feeling for Macedonian independence was so strong that even the Supremists hid their aims behind an official line of Macedonian independence.

But does this tell us that a national consciousness was developing, or that the people were merely Bulgarians who believed an independent Macedonia was the preferable solution, perhaps for other reasons?

Again looking at what the IMRO leaders thought of themselves is not very helpful, because of the blatant contradictions. For example, in a letter by IMRO leader Delchev to his comrade Nikola Maleshevski complaining about IMRO divisions, he says “but what can we do, since we are Bulgarians....” (Andonov-Polyanski, Hristo, Gotse Delchev, Prepiska, Skopje, 1972, pp 68-9). Elsewhere, however, he states “Whoever works for unification with Bulgaria or Greece may consider himself a good Bulgar or Greek, but not a good Macedonian” (Visinski, B, Macedonian Review, Skopje, Volume 1, No 1, p 23).

Other leaders were unambiguous that Macedonians were a separate nation, such as Krste Misirkov, who wrote extensively about it, including elaborating on the distinctiveness of the Macedonian language (Misirkov, On Macedonian Matters, English translation, Alan McConnel, Skopje, 1974). On 12th November 1902, the Macedonian Scientific and Literary Brotherhood presented a national program, demanding “Recognition by Turkey of the Macedonians as a separate nation with its own literary language, which should become the official language along with Turkish...and recognition of an autocephalous church.”

These contradictions suggest that apart from those who felt clearly Macedonian or Bulgarian, most leaders probably had an ambiguous Bulgarian/Macedonian consciousness, as can be expected when national consciousness in Macedonia was a developing thing and the two peoples had similar languages and bordered on each other.

Regardless of the identity of the leaders, what does the movement and revolt for an independent Macedonia tell us? Why did the masses rally to this call, why was there little support for union with Bulgaria? Compare this to the situation in Crete at the same time, where the masses fought for union with Greece, despite geographic separation, as did, decades later, the Greek Cypriots, despite a 20 per cent Turkish minority and a long distance from Greece.

These examples indicate that the “Bulgarians” of Macedonia had a clearer idea of their own separate identity than the Greeks of Crete and Cyprus. The reasons for this might include:

(a) geographic separation - but then the examples of Crete and Cyprus are of much greater and more distinct (as islands) separation;

(b) separate development following Bulgarian independence in 1878, but then this would again apply to Crete and Cyprus, and also to many other cases (eg the separate German and Italian states before 1870) where unity of the nation was precisely the rallying call;

(c) due to the mixture of peoples in Macedonia and the fact that this created rival claims, a “realistic” view that one unit for all Macedonia would be preferable to division and war;

(d) a significant degree of actual difference in language, culture and history;

(e) an already existing “popular proto-national” view of themselves as “Macedonian”, which a developing real nationalism could build on;

(f) a different centre of economic development, sufficiently distant and different to the Bulgarian economic heartland, to want to go its own way.

Reasons a, b and c could imply that Macedonians and Bulgarians were the same people who separated for other reasons, but a and b would be unlikely to stand on their own. Reason c is more realistic - there is no doubt that the depredations of the three neighbours in 1904-08 and then the experience of the Balkan Wars and division did further promote the idea that an independent Macedonia was the best option. But it already appears to have been the preferred option before 1904. While such calls for multi-ethnic co-existence are often raised, they are often unsuccessful: dominant sections of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in 1955-74, and of Bosnian Serbs and Croats in the 1990s, fought for incorporation into the neighbouring “fatherland,” attracted precisely by its strength. However, while in Macedonia the actual Greeks rallied for Greece, the mass of “Bulgarian” Slavs did not rally for Bulgaria.

This indicates some degree of national uniqueness along the lines of reasons d, e and f. In terms of actual differences, many linguists believed that Macedonian and Bulgarian were not the same language. Professor R A Reiss, entrusted by the Greek government to do an ethnographic survey, reported:

“Those who you call Bulgarian speakers I would simply call Macedonians. You call them Bulgarian speakers because their language resembles Bulgarian...but is it the same language they speak in Sofia? No. Macedonian resembles both Serbian and Bulgarian...but is not spoken either in Sofia or Belgrade. It is a separate Slavic language...My researches show that the Macedonian language is the result of all the successive conquests the country has undergone...We find in the language Bulgarian, Serbian, Turkish elements. In my opinion we cannot call the Macedonians either Bulgarians or Serbs, but simply Macedonians” (Reiss, R.A., Report on the Situation of the Bulgarophones and the Moslems in the New Provinces of Greece, Paris, 1918, p 6).

In terms of an existing vague view of themselves as “Macedonians” before conscious national development, the Bouchie quote at the beginning and other indications above from the 19th century are not exceptional: other examples show ordinary peasants, whether loyal to the Patriarchy or the Exarchy, simply calling themselves “Macedonians” in a way that, while not “a patriotic declaration,” distinguished them from their neighbours. For example, in 1924, famous Greek writer Stratis Myrivilis reported from Bitola in Yugoslav Macedonia:

“These people speak a language that both Serbs and Bulgarians understand. They hate the first because they mistreat them as Bulgarians. They hate the second because they took their children to war. They accept us Romious (ie Greeks) with some sympathetic curiosity, but only because we are the authentic spiritual subjects of Patrik, ie the Patriarchate...However, they don't want to be either Bulgarian, Serb or Greek. Simply ‘Macedonian Orthodox’” (Myrivilis, S, Life in a Tomb, Athens 1924 (edition ‘Estia’ 1991 pp 104-105).

However, as other examples show the Slavic peasants calling themselves “Bulgarians”,
any absolutist theories that they were “all” one or the other can be discounted. Clearly, some were under greater influence of the Bulgarian church and state than others. Just as likely, however, many thought of themselves as in a way “Bulgarian” (religion and closeness of language) and in a way “Macedonian” (geography, different traditions, elements of national uniqueness). Before the crystallisation of clear Bulgarian or Macedonian national identities, by respective wings of the middle class and intellectuals, this would not have seemed too great a problem to the peasants going about their lives as they always had.

However, there is evidence that in some cases it was the interpreters with the travellers, or the states commissioning reports, that told the story they wanted to hear. An example of this is the extraordinary conversation with a Macedonian peasant reported by English author Allan Upward:

“I asked what language they spoke and my Greek interpreter carelessly rendered the answer Bulgar. The man himself had said Makendonski...” (Upward, Allan, The East End of Europe, London, 1908, p 204).

As for having a different centre of economic development sufficiently distant from the Bulgarian heartland, this was clearly in the western Macedonian region, which is the region whose dialect became the basis of modern Macedonian. Economic traffic along the Vardar river, connecting the central Balkans to Thessaloniki, was early dominated by a Greek and Jewish trading class, who lived in the cities. However, this economic growth and resulting migration of the Slavic peasants to the cities led to the growth of a Slav Macedonian middle class (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974, p 628) distant both geographically and culturally from the Bulgarian bourgeoisie on the Black Sea coast. Yet while this urban middle class led the Macedonian nationalist movement, its weaker position compared to the entrenched Greek-Jewish bourgeoisie was also the reason for its relative weakness.

Aside from the question of the self-identity of peasants, intellectuals or fighters, the fact is that a struggle for Macedonian independence took place. Even if they all considered themselves “Bulgarian”, still the very struggle for an independent Macedonia, for whatever reason, would be a crucial stage in the development of a new nation. If the 1903 uprising was a "Bulgarian" uprising, why did large numbers of Slavs in the Greek church join in, despite active opposition from the Greek leadership?

The development of national consciousness precisely through the independence struggle was described well by Brailsford, even though he offhandedly uses the term “Bulgars” to refer to them. After describing the lack of real national consciousness among the peasants, he continues: “A nation of peasants with these conservative qualities will readily develop a genuine local patriotism. And this has happened despite adverse circumstances. Their ballads of revolt, in which the word “Macedonia” recurs in every chorus, prove that they have already a fatherland” (Brailsford, Henry op cit, p 122).

What if an independent state had been won? This generally means a new nation, whatever it was before. In the process, we would expect to see different stages of clarity of national identity. When Cyprus became independent in 1960, this began a process of developing a separate national identity. Again we can describe an ambiguous Cypriot/Greek identity, as with the ambiguous Macedonian/Bulgarian identity of sections of IMRO. When Australian gained independence in 1900, it was essentially Anglo-Australians involved, and many would have had an English or an ambiguous Australian/English identity. The process of becoming independent has led to them over time simply regarding their nationality to be Australian.

IMRO often spoke of Macedonians meaning all ethnic groups in Macedonia (indeed it struggled for such a Macedonia), even though it was only among the Slavic “Bulgarian” element of the population that Macedonian “nationality” was a growing force. But then, that's precisely how a new nation is built. ‘Australians’ may have originally meant largely Anglo-Celtic Australians, but it has come to mean all people living here. ‘Cypriots’ refers to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. People in Switzerland speak German, French and Italian, yet they regard themselves to be ‘Swiss’.

It was precisely the weakness of the local Macedonian bourgeoisie vis a vis the neighbouring ruling classes who already had powerful states which prevented a nationalism based on “national purity” like among their neighbours. Point (c) of IMRO’s 1894 constitution states “any Macedonian citizens might be allowed membership, irrespective of nationality or religion.” That is not to romanticise the IMRO leaders or imagine there were no examples of chauvinism, merely that the fact of this weakness and the goal of creating an independent state where many ethnic groups lived necessitated this more multi-ethnic policy. This is very similar to the fact that as multi-ethnic Yugoslavia broke up into largely national states, and the new bourgeois leaderships among Bosnian Serbs and Croats rallied to join the new “fatherlands,” the Bosnian Muslim bourgeois leadership almost unanimously remained in favour of preserving multi-ethnic Bosnia, in alliance with the Titoist-influenced multi-ethnic working class in the big cities: a ‘Muslim state’ was in practice impossible, without losing vast chunks of territory.

Following the crushing of the 1903 uprising, tens of thousands of Macedonians fled their homeland and the movement was devastated. In these conditions, the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian intervention forces got the upper hand and terrorised the land for half a decade. It was in these conditions that the opening Foster-Fraser quote (from 1906) found mostly Macedonians fighting for Greek or Bulgarian Macedonia.

Despite the military prowess of these intervention forces, however, the crushing of the uprising and the terror imposed by these forces was in itself another stage of the development of a Macedonian identity, as a people undergoing a collective experience. According to Greek historian Stavrianos:

“The overall effect of this struggle for Macedonia was catastrophic, and the victims were the Macedonians themselves. This explains why IMRO attracted so much popular support with its slogan ‘Macedonia for the Macedonians’. The miserable peasants were torn this way and that, and retribution was sure to follow whatever decision they made. If they declared for the exarchate they could expect a visit from the Greek bands. If they remained under the Patriarchate they were hounded by the Bulgarians as traitors. And the Turkish troops that marched back and forth were almost as great a curse” (Stavrianos, L.S., The Balkans Since 1453, USA, 1961, p 521).

Similarly, English journalist Dr E J Dillon interviewed Dobre Daskalov, a participant in the uprising, just after it was crushed:

“The ‘discord’ in Macedonia came from without, was fostered by interested agents of this government or that, desirous of making a claim for territory... But now that we have been abandoned by them all to our fate, we feel ourselves one. We are no longer Bulgarians or Serbs, Romanians or Greeks, exarchists or patriarchists, but Macedonians condemned to death...” (Dillon, E.G., Contemporary Review, vol LXXXIV, July-December 1903, p 741).

The end result of this was the conquest and division of Macedonia by these three states in 1913. A regime of forced assimilation was imposed by all three regimes. According to the Carnegie Commission, many towns and some 200 villages were completely destroyed. The common experience of oppression across all three states was a further stage in the consolidation of a Macedonian consciousness. The 1914 "Appeal of Macedonian Patriots to National Representatives Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece" declared:

“We hereby declare that we, the Macedonians, are not Serbs, not Bulgarians and not Greeks, but our hearts are open to love and eternal friendship to all of you...”

At the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I, Macedonian intellectuals from many countries presented a Memorandum calling for an independent Macedonia, running in the south from lake Kostur to the Vardar estuary, notably leaving overwhelmingly Greek areas such as Halkidiki and Pieria to Greece (The National Archives - Washington, General Record of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace 1918-19, volume 517, Macedonia, F.W. 867 C 00/34, The Macedonian Question).

The Bulgarian Communist Party condemned the Bulgarian occupation of part of Macedonia. BCP leader Blagoev declared: “If you are convinced there are Bulgarians in Macedonia, then carry out a referendum, and we shall see what it tells us!"

While Tito is usually credited by modern Greek, Bulgarian and Serb nationalists with renaming the “Bulgarians” in southern Yugoslavia “Macedonians” to win them away from Bulgarian influence or to push territorial claims on Greece, it is important to distinguish between his alleged motives and his power of persuasion. Clearly, the ground was ripe: it is unlikely the population there, as well as related minorities in Greece and Bulgaria and emigrants around the world would have so instantly switched from one nationality to another with no evidence of resistance, just because Tito so desired it for some evil communist plot.

Of course, the oppressiveness of the pro-Nazi Bulgarian occupation in World War II further helped remove any lingering Bulgarian sympathies, but the process had begun a century earlier: the growth of Macedonist literature, resistance to the Exarchate’s imposition of standard Bulgarian, the struggle for an independent Macedonia, sabotaged by Bulgaria, the oppressiveness of the triple occupation after 1913. That the masses were distinctly “Macedonian” rather than “Bulgarian” long before World War II is evident from the account of a British officer in Greek Macedonia in 1944, controlled by the Greek anti-Nazi resistance, EAM-ELAS:

“...The obvious fact... that the region is Macedonian by nature and not Greek cannot be overemphasised...the inhabitants, just as they are not Greeks, are also not Bulgarians, Croatians or Serbs. They are Macedonians... The Greeks always call them Bulgars and damn them accordingly...If they were Bulgars, how is it that while they are spread over part of four countries, one of which is Bulgaria, they consider themselves a single entity and describe themselves as "Macedonians?" Those, moreover, who do claim to be Bulgars are proved in every case I have been able to verify, to have been under the direct influence of Bulgarian propaganda.”

So did the Balkan states have valid claims to the conquest of Macedonia in 1912-13? The answer needs to separate geographic and ethnographic Macedonia. Greeks always lived in the far south of Macedonia, in Thessaloniki, Chalkidike, Pieria and generally the Aegean coast. These people had every right to join Greece, just as those close to the Bulgarian and Serbian borders, if they so desired and had such consciousness, had the right to join those states. However, whether or not it is accepted that a “Macedonian” nationality was developing, it can hardly be denied that the bulk of the population supported the struggle for an independent state, which would have encompassed the bulk of territory conquered by all three states. “Historic” claims to all or part of Macedonia, if not based on ethnic realities, are excuses for conquest. Of course this is no more satisfying to some extreme Macedonian nationalists today than to supporters of the neighbouring states. Their claim to a “Macedonia” that takes no account of who lives in each region, hence claiming Thessaloniki as a future capital, mirrors the justifications of the Balkan states in 1912 and the new reactionary national chauvinism in the states of their oppressors which would re-enslave them if it could.