How Macedonia became Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian

By Risto Stefov
April 4, 2010

War and the suffering in Macedonia did not end after the failed 1903 Ilinden Macedonian National Uprising. Shortly after the Uprising was suppressed Macedonia became the apple of discord between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria and to some extent Romania.

Unable to free itself from the Ottoman yoke, Macedonia became ripe for the plucking and whoever was able to muster enough strength and resources to drive out the Ottomans would have it in their possession. At that time Macedonia’s neighbours knew they could not possess Macedonia without the cooperation of the Macedonian people, so first they tried their luck at “convincing” the Macedonians that they were not “really” Macedonians but “Greeks”, on account of them being Orthodox Christians. Or they were “Serbians” on account of them supposedly speaking an “Old Serbian” language. Or “Bulgarians” because they supposedly spoke a dialect of the “Bulgarian” language and of course “Romanians” because many were Vlachs and spoke a dialect of “Romanian”.

Failing to convince the Macedonian people “that they were not Macedonians” by propaganda alone, the four then resorted to using violence through the application of illegal armed bands. However, in addition to serving their masters by doing their bidding and murdering those who refused their will, these bands, consisting mostly of thugs, also served themselves by robbing, raping, beating and murdering innocent civilians.

Now in addition to the dastardly deeds performed by the Ottoman army and the Bashibazuks (armed Muslim civilians), there were Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian armed bands roaming the Macedonian countryside preying on the Macedonian people.

The Ottoman authorities knew about them and so did the international peace keeping forces stationed in Macedonia but they did nothing to help the Macedonian population.

Unable to turn the general Macedonian population into Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, or Romanians to their satisfaction, by severe methods the four began to open more Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian churches and schools in Macedonia, offering Macedonian children “free education” but not in the Macedonian language. Education was offered in the Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, or Romanian language respectively. Unfortunately, along with the so-called “free education” came a heavy dose of foreign propaganda. Along with their “free education” children and young adults were also offered a glamorous lifestyle, something their families in the village could not give them. Being “educated” and convinced that they would be more cultured and better off as Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, or Romanians these children were then sent back home to “convince” others and also turn them into Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians or Romanians.

Many of these “educated children”, as young adults, became the new teachers and priests in the Macedonian village churches and schools. In addition to preaching and teaching they also unwittingly helped Macedonia’s enemies get a foothold in Macedonia. Those young adults who found their way back to who they really were or switched loyalties usually ended up dead because their benefactors could not tolerate traitors; a tradition Greeks practice to this day.

Almost the entire Macedonian population during these times, particularly in the villages, was uneducated and could not read or write. So, many people relied on the village teacher or village priest to help them with administrative matters and filling out travel forms etc. And while they were doing a public service for their illiterate, fellow villagers these teachers and priests were doing their benefactors a favour by registering the Macedonians as Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, or Romanians with a Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, or Romanian sounding name depending on who was their benefactor. That is why Macedonians who traveled abroad during the late 19th century and early 20th century, before Macedonia was partitioned, had Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, or Romanian sounding names. These names which exist to this day can be found in the United States, Canada and other places outside of Macedonia where Macedonians immigrated during Ottoman times.

Macedonians were never Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, or Albanians. They were simply made to look like that for “political” reasons which became obvious after Macedonia was illegally invaded, occupied, partitioned and annexed by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912 and 1913.

Looking at this another way, there are many Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians today who not too long ago had Macedonian ancestors!

In all this there was one organization which cared for the Macedonian population and fought to correct the injustices perpetrated and that was the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (MRO). Unfortunately because the MRO was a great threat to Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian ambitions in Macedonia its members were hunted down and killed. In addition to killing off its members, the various factions, particularly the Bulgarians, made attempts to infiltrate the MRO and pose as patriotic Macedonians. This caused much internal strife and mistrust, which is felt to this day in modern Macedonian organizations. I must also add that even though the 19th and 20th centuries are now in the past, Macedonia’s enemies have not ceased their attempts to infiltrate Macedonian organizations. So who can blame the Macedonians for being overly suspicious?

Greek political aims in Macedonia

Greek propaganda in Macedonia began in June 1903 when Greek military officers, Pavlos Melas and Georgios Tzontas, began to hire illegal armed bands and dispatch them in Macedonia to create havoc and spread “Greater” Greek propaganda. Immediately after the August 1903 Ilinden Uprising, the secretary of the Greek consulate in Bitola, Ion Dragoumis, established a secret Greek committee to work towards the assimilation of the Macedonian people and the annexation of Macedonia to Greece. Around about the same time the Greek bishop of Kostur, Germanos Karavangelis, created an illegal armed band. In the beginning of March 1904 two Greek armed bands were created in Thessaly. Six new illegal armed Greek bands in total were created and dispatched to operate in Macedonia.

Then in the fall of 1904 the Hellenic - Macedonian committee was formed in Athens whose job was to finance the Macedonian campaign and spread Greek propaganda in Macedonia. Most of the manpower for these illegal armed bands was hired from newly annexed Crete and manned by Greek officers.

Of all the illegal armed bands that operated in Macedonia, the Greek bands most closely cooperated with the Ottoman army and in many instances carried out missions for the Ottomans.

The goals and objectives of the Greek armed bands operating in Macedonia were regulated by a Rulebook entitled “General Instructions for the Macedonian Bands”, especially created for this purpose by the Hellenic-Macedonian Committee. The Rulebook contained three main points: 1. destroy the MRO insurgency and replace it with a Greek one; 2. eliminate all those who worked against the Greek cause; 3. convince the entire Macedonian population to join the Greek Patriarchate.

Macedonian intellectuals and leaders responded to the “Greater” Greek propaganda with appeals to the Greek population not to support the illegal armed bands in Macedonia and to oppose Hellenism, their mutual usurper.

Supported by the Sultan himself, the illegal armed Greek bands escalated their persecution of the Macedonian insurgency and of prominent intellectuals. In the eyes of the Macedonian population the entire MRO was labeled “Bulgarophile”, a false claim which is spread to this day.

According to Richard Oppenheimer, an Austrian civilian agent sent to Macedonia on April 18, 1908 who dispatched information to Aloys Aehrenthal of the Austrian-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Greek bands in Macedonia killed 531 and wounded 175 people in the period from March 14, 1906 to March 14, 1908. According to the same information, MRO insurgents fought 12 battles with the Greek bands in the period from October 26, 1904 to June 27, 1905 in Voden Region alone. From January to October 1905, MRO insurgents fought 22 battles with the illegal Greek armed bands that had infiltrated Macedonia and 3 battles with locally hired Greek bands. Most battles took place in the Kostur, Kajlari, Drama, Lerin, Bitola and other Regions of southern Macedonia.

Greek-Ottoman cooperation contributed immensely to the Greek campaign in Macedonia and as the Greek armed bands kept growing the number of Macedonian insurgents kept dwindling.

Serbian political aims in Macedonia

Serbian propaganda activities in Macedonia began before the 1903 Ilinden Uprising. In fact the foundations for Serbia’s Macedonian campaigns were laid in 1902 when a dedicated Committee for carrying out propaganda activities in Macedonia was established in Belgrade. Illegal Serbian armed bands began to infiltrate Macedonia while the Ilinden Uprising was still going on. In 1904 the number of Serbian armed bands operating in Macedonia increased significantly, especially in Ovche Pole, Azot and Poreche.

The Serbian sponsored armed bands in Macedonia also operated according to a Rulebook which listed the Serbian goals and objectives in Macedonia. According to the Rulebook Serbia’s main goal in its campaigns in Macedonia was to minimize MRO influence on the Macedonian population by eliminating its leaders and insurgents. While doing this the Serbian armed bands were to avoid contact and conflict with the Ottoman authorities, including the army and police. These goals and objectives were regulated by Articles 17, 18 and 32 of the Rulebook.

In order to achieve their goals the Serbian armed bands, like the Greek and Bulgarian ones, used terror tactics including robbing and torturing the Macedonian population. Almost every village had agents and collaborators who supported the illegal armed bands by offering them intelligence information, food and sanctuary.

Many Macedonian intellectuals tried to persuade the Macedonians, who were recruited by these bands in various functions, not to offer the foreigners assistance and to stop fighting amongst themselves, but without much success. There were many letters written to that effect which clearly demonstrated that Macedonia’s neighbours deliberately intensified fratricidal fighting and self-extermination in Macedonia. Their goal was to create conflict among the Macedonian people, invade and partition their country and destroy the essence of the Macedonian nation, as events proved true over time.

Bulgarian political aims in Macedonia

Immediately after the 1903 Ilinden Uprising was suppressed, Bulgaria officially refused to bear responsibility for the dire events created in Macedonia. But the Macedonian Question remained a part of Bulgarian foreign policy. Besides being supported by pro-Bulgarian factions within the Macedonian Liberation Movement, at the beginning of 1905, the Bulgarian government created a second political department within its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a single objective; to deal with the Macedonian Question. The long term goal of this department was to overcome all factors that hindered Bulgarian influence in Macedonia and work towards giving Macedonia autonomy as a Bulgarian protectorate. Other goals included waging war against all who got in the way including those promoting foreign propaganda in Macedonia. Bulgaria’s first priority was to infiltrate the MRO, kill off its leaders, insurgents and supporters and replace them with Bulgarian agents. This was to be accomplished through the assistance of the Bulgarian Exarchate churches and schools in Macedonia, which were financed and politically supported by the Bulgarian state and its various governments of that time.

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