On Macedonian Nationality by Horace G. Lunt

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  • TrueMacedonian
    Senior Member
    • Jan 2009
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    On Macedonian Nationality by Horace G. Lunt

    On Macedonian Identity
    La Dinamite E La Mezzaluna: Questione Macedone Nella Publicistica Italiana 1903-1908. by Marco Dogo; Lingua E Nazionalita in Macedonia: Vicende e Pensieri di Profeti Disarmati 1902-1903. by Marco Dogo
    Review by: Horace G. Lunt

    Slavic Review , Vol. 45, No. 4 (Winter, 1986), pp. 729-734

    Terrorist bombs, random assassinations, kidnapping of foreigners to finance arms for revolution-during the first decade of our century all this would at once be associated with the Macedonian question, which in turn was the heart of the Near Eastern Question. Historians and observers of current Balkan politics are continually drawn back to this chaotic period, for Macedonia is an early example of postempire communal conflicts involving intimately intertwined strands of religious and ethnographic elements. The seemingly senseless acts of violence were symptoms of the breakup of the five hundred year old polyethnic, multicultural Ottoman Empire in Europe. The crucial controversy involves the emergence of an individual Macedonian nationality, with its own separate language. Bulgarian scholarship stubbornly denies the existence of any such ethnic group or language, vociferously denouncing it as the scurrilous invention of a group of Titoist agents and traitors during 1944. Yugoslav Macedonians tend to push the origins back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century, if not to Phillip and Alexander of Macedon. The torrent of bitter polemics on the topic has tended to obscure rather than illuminate. Ordinary words and related assumptions about social arrangements have misled both observers on the scene at the time and later analysts attempting to understand the local societies and their relationships to neighboring groups. Prime culprits are the words nation and language. Nation (with its derivative nationality) has two major senses: the rather vague traditional meaning of a group united by awareness of shared kinship, language, and culture (like smaller groups called tribe or clan) and the post-1789 doctrine of nationalism that sees nation as a basic and natural subdivision of humanity, a political unit.I Neither language nor territory is necessarily a part of this kind of ideology, but frequently both are taken as part of the "natural" and self-evident peculiar characteristics of a proper nation. Thus Bulgarian ideologists, adhering to a particularly romantic national myth of this sort, have at least since 1870 taken for granted that nation = language = territory = state, whereby the terms nation and language are absolutely equal and pri- mary, while nation = language ordinarily equals territory, and finally nation = language = territory ought to correspond to state. Against this background, a definition of Bulgaria that includes all of Macedonia has motivated the irredentist policies of virtually every Bulgarian government of whatever hue during the past century. Because the territory is Bulgarian, the dogma goes, the people who inhabit it are Bulgarians. Because they are
    Bulgarians, they must speak the Bulgarian language and should all be in a single nation-state.2 This modern view of nationalities, which spread with the effects of the Industrial Revolution into European Turkey, clashed with the definitions of community that underlay the intricate social adjustments in the polyglot, multicultural Ottoman Empire. The primary criterion was religion; Moslems ruled, non-Moslems were subordinates. Beyond that, non-Moslems were subdivided in ways that allowed but did not require grouping by language. In Macedonia a region whose very name typifies mixture Slavs, Greeks and Albanians all could be Moslem or Christian, with a bewildering set of possible subgroupings, particularly among the Slavs. Greek, Serbian, and Bulgarian nationalists excluded Moslems, for the ideology put religion above language in the hierarchy of criteria for belonging to the nation.3 Language was important, however, and it was a major issue by 1890 and perhaps the chief bone of contention after 1918. Now, everyone knows that languages are divided into dialects, which by definition are less important than the superordinate language. Bulgarian scholars flatly declare all varieties of Slavic spoken within their dream frontier (established by means of historial and ethno- graphic definitions, often of dubious validity) to be "dialects of the Bulgarian language" and produce more or less reliable objective comparative lists of differences in phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon from selected villages to prove their point. But some of the same lists have been used by Serbs to demonstrate the thesis that these villagers speak Serbian. However, any competent linguist understands that the most meticulous classification, based on well-reasoned conclusions that speech type A is a dialect of B, but C is a separate language, is a scholarly artifact, a taxonomic decision that is useful in a specific heuristic framework. In the real world, the speakers decide what language they speak; linguists ought to respect their decisions. We know very well that the natives of one region may deem radically different dialect types to belong to one language (e.g., Germany-Switzerland-Austria, Italy, Slovenia), while elsewhere (e.g. Czechoslovakia, Byelorussia) speakers declare objectively very similar language types to be separate units. Such a declaration by Macedonians is labelled treason by Bulgarians and seems strange to outsiders who accept the "scientific" definition of Macedonian Slavic speech types as "Bulgarian dialects."
    Modern knowledge of south Slavic dialects has not changed the major controversies about the Slavic dialects spoken in Macedonia.4 Using at least twenty-five traits to provide approximate contrastive definitions, we can see that if one starts at any point in Serbia and moves south and east into Greece and Bulgaria, the local dialects form a gradual spectrum of differentiation.5 If we have only two points of reference, Serbian and Bulgarian, then every dialect has some degree of mixture. Slavists long ago found it convenient to set up Macedonian as a third point of reference, against the protests of both Serbs and Bulgars. The protests were even louder when Macedonians claimed that "neither Bulgarian nor Serbian" meant a third, independent, language. At this point I can only say once again that I accept the decision of the native speakers because I believe in the right to self-determination (see my discussion in the above cited article). Americans should not have to be reminded that both nationality and language are subjective; they are cultural matters subject to the choice of individuals. While one cannot change one's blood relationships, one may, under favorable political conditions, chose to change either language or nationality or both.6 The Macedonian problem has thus been largely a question of the recognition or nonrecognition of the existence of options and the right to make choices. The crucial sociohistorical question remains: Why did Macedonian Slavs insist on their separateness, at great personal cost? Further, since political separateness does not require linguistic separatism (compare Belgium, Switzerland, Austria), why insist on build- ing a new Macedonian standard language? Accepting the fact that Macedonians did insist, when did this linguistic separatism start and what sources help us explore the process? Marco Dogo, who teaches history at the University of Trieste (and thus presumably is aware of nationality conflicts involving the rearrangement of societal structures in the former polyglot polyethnic Habsburg Empire), has concentrated on Italian sources, and in Dynamite and the Crescent he focuses on the critically shifting scene in the period between the brutally suppressed armed uprising of July-August 1903 and the spectacularly successful Revolt of the Young Turks in the summer of 1908. Setting the stage, Dogo observes that in the 1850s western travelers perceived Macedonia merely as another pictur- esque Ottoman province (though particularly variegated and backward), but by the early 1870s tensions among Christian groups were seen as major problems for the Turkish administration and, more significantly, as undesirable complications for Austrian, Russian, and other European plans for the economic exploitation of the region. Dogo's great merit is that he does not simplify; he recognizes that the immensely complicated societal arrangements involved paradoxes and ambiguities. He refuses to accept the kind of reductionist, not to say procrustean, explanations that vitiate or nullify much of the voluminous journalism produced during the last century, as well as, sad to say, a good part of the work of professional historians. He is not mesmerized by labels, particularly Bulgar, Bulgarian, which are applied to heterogeneous quantities with bewil- deringly kaleidoscopic variations in meaning. (For example, a prominent Italian observer divides the inhabitants of Macedonia into five religious groups, Muslims, Bulgars [!], Orthodox, Catholics, and Jews; in the context of the Ottoman millet system of religious communities and the special position of the Bulgarian Exarchate at the time, Bulgar is perfectly comprehensible as "member of a particular subdivision of Christians.") Dogo is far too aware of the slipperiness of any definition of nationality to commit himself as to whether a Macedonian nationality existed at this time, but he clearly believes that the Bulgarian and Serbian claims to the Slavs of Macedonia were unjustified. He has a thorough command of the vast array of sources in English, French, and German that are known to authors of many general surveys, along with the more infrequently used materials in Serbian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian, and he skillfully separates out religious and social factors in the various political conflicts, presenting a convincing and balanced view of the whole situation in a series of different phases. The Italians had a specific interest because the Great Power imposition of reforms on Ottoman Macedonia placed Italians in charge of reorganizing the gendarmerie in Bitola- Monastir, the major urban center of Macedonia, after Salonika. Although Dogo quotes Italian diplomatic sources from time to time, he apparently found nothing really new or surprising. The body of his book shows that even the relatively informed journalists whose reports not only shaped Italian public opinion but strongly influenced foreign policy keep in mind that Italy was vitally interested in Albania were not able to provide the full materials that should buttress independent opinions. Unable to talk to the natives, or even to rank and file Turkish officials, they-like most of their European colleagues-relied on French, German, or English versions of biased and self-serving proclamations from the official and unofficial Balkan state propaganda bureaus. What mattered were the opinions and decisions of the Russian or Austro-Hungarian consuls, or of the Turkish governor. The observers heard what the Turks, Greeks, Bulgars, or Serbs wanted them to hear; their task was to choose among these conflicting assertions with virtually no input from the local inhabitants whose lives were involved. Dogo's book again demonstrates vividly how little the opinions of Macedonian Slavs had to do with political and economic decision affecting Macedonia. The prejudiced (and often uninformed) pronouncements of outsiders were far more influential. Dogo's discussion of the unreliability of the reputedly informed observers in Mace- donia surely has a lesson of current relevance. Even intelligent and generally experienced journalists can easily be misled if they cannot handle the local languages in polyethnic situations-particularly if they are too lazy to attempt to separate out conflicting labels for local social and political groups. How reliable, for example, are the reports we are currently receiving from Lebanon another area where old multicultural institutions inherited from the Ottoman Empire have finally broken down? Readers of this journal are, I hope, aware of the insensitivity of many American and European observers to the ethnic divisions in the Soviet Union, along with the potential problems that policy makers should know about. Dogo's second book, in spite of its title, does not really deal with language, but rather with Macedonianian attitudes toward language and its connection with communal and ethnic identity and therefore nationality.7 His "disarmed prophets" are the band of Macedonian advocates of local self-determination who struggled to make themselves heard in the din of Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian, and Great Power declarations about what was, and should be, proper for the region. The introduction (pp. 7-68) presents the evolution of Macedonian national self-awareness as a growing separatist feeling, as the Macedonian Slavs sought an answer to the question "separate from what?" In the eyes of outsiders, particularly the neighboring Slavic nationalists, it was a negative development, for the Macedonians denied being Moslems, Greeks, Serbs or Bulgars (not to mention Albanians, Jews, or Gypsies). Dogo cogently argues that this "act of ethnic repudiation" was the mark of emergent Macedonian nationalism. It puzzled, angered, and finally infuriated Bulgarians, whose definition of nation did not allow the right of self-determination.8 Indeed, a major stimulus for Macedonian separatism after 1870 was the insistence of Bulgarians on full control in Macedonia: the opinions of the local inhabitants were ignored, and they were expected to follow all directives from Sofia.9 Especially in matters of building a common standard written language, Macedonians were continually rebuffed and Mace- donian dialect features were disdainfully thrown out as unacceptable. Yet many Macedonian Slavs did choose to accept Bulgarian nationality, for the term Bugari had long been the indigenous label for these people and their ancestors; having made the decision, they were particularly upset by the separatism espoused by brothers and neighbors. A clear definition of and justification for a separate Macedonian nationality, including details of the proposed new standard language, is set forth unequivocally only in the works of Krste P. Misirkov (1874-1926), especially his short book On Macedonian Affairs, published in Sofia at the end of 1903 and immediately confiscated by the Bulgarian police. The one published work treating Misirkov's book seriously was a very long review by the linguistic scholar Alexander Teodorov-Balan, which appeared in the leading Bulgarian scholarly journal.? It starts with a detailed and generally fair minded resume, including long citations in Misirkov's Macedonian wording. Dogo points out that the availability of this review made Misirkov's ideas available to subsequent generations. Balan acknowledges the vagueness of the terms Bugari and bugarski and laments the lack of nationalist self- consciousness among Macedonian Slavs. He dismisses the syllogism that the non-Bulgarian non-Serbian character of the dialects justifies the establishment of a third language by attempting to show that the Bulgarian features predominate. Further, though he perceives Misirkov to be saying that history involves change and the rise of new elements, he denies the creation even of a brand-new Macedonian nationality by saying that the region has always been Bulgarian and the Slavic inhabitants Bulgarians." While it is understandable that emigres tend to remember in somewhat idealized pictures the land they left behind and are unwilling to admit that it may have changed in ways they might not like, it is sad that most Bulgarian historians refuse to recognize various stages of change that affected society in Macedonia again and again from 1870 to the present. Apart from Misirkov's suppressed book, and a single issue of a journal, Vardar, which was printed in Macedonian in Odessa but never distributed, we have little direct evidence about Macedonian nationalist ideology. It consists chiefly of records of the activities of a Macedonian student committee in St. Petersburg, of which Misirkov was a founder and leading member, along with scraps of information about some of the same individuals in Belgrade and Sofia. Yet the existence of like minded separatists is manifest from the impassioned denunciations by the Bulgarian authorities and agents whom Dogo appropriately calls irredentists, and the opprobrious term Macedonist appears for these "traitors" and "Serbian (or Austrian, Turkish, Greek) agents" as early as 1871. Their message, anathema to Bulgarian and Greek religious and secular authorities alike, was not particularly attractive to the Serbs and found limited approval only with a few Russian officials. It simply did not reach European opinion-makers, because it was not transmitted by journalists and official observers. The Macedonists, lacking funds and access to international public opinion, perforce fell silent. Their ideas survived, however, to be revived in post-1918 Yugoslavia and brought to fruition in 1944. Altogether, Dogo's background presentations, brief though they must be, provide the major points without slighting the difficulties outsiders have in defining the painful choices that faced the inhabitants of Macedonia between 1870 and 1910, and his distinctions among various points of view are generally clear. I am puzzled only that he fails even to mention the earliest native declaration of Macedonian separatist sentiment, Georgi Pulevski's Trilingual Dictionary of 1875, which was purposefully written in Macedonian for non-Serbian non-Bulgarian Macedonian Slavs.12 Dogo's judicious selection of "texts and documents" (pp. 71-161) illustrates his theses very well. He includes two anti-Macedonist letters of 1874, pro-Macedonist items produced by Macedonian students in Belgrade and St. Petersburg (1902), a long section from Misirkov's book (after the disastrous revolt of 1903), and an article from Vardar (1905), along with two particularly revealing letters by one of the active Macedonists, denouncing his comrades to the Bulgarian authorities (1903, after the failed revolt), and sections from Teodorov-Balan's review of Misirkov. Marco Dogo's books and related articles are solid, insightful scholarly contributions to a field greatly in need of careful and independent analysis. They surely will help Italian students to appreciate the social and historical questions of recent Macedonian history in all their complexity.


    1. To compress, at risk of oversimplifying, a definition of "core nationalist doctrine," nation in this sense further entails that each nation has its peculiar character; the source of all political power is the nation, the whole collectivity; for freedom and self-realization, men must identify with a nation; nations can only be fulfilled in their own states loyalty to the nation-state overrides other loyalties. This particular list is derived from Anthony D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism, 1971, and is treated more fully in my discussion of Macedonian and Bulgarian nationalism, in "Some sociolinguistic aspects of Macedonian and Bulgarian," Language and Literary Theory, Papers on Slavic Philology, vol. 5, ed. B. A. Stolz, pp. 83-132 (Ann Arbor, 1984).

    2. In 1985 this doctrine was applied to ethnic Turks in Bulgaria-something over 9 percent of the populace; they were required to take "Bulgarian" names, and the use of the Turkish language in public was restricted if not altogether forbidden. See e.g. Torsten F. Baest, "Neues von der 'einheit- lichen sozialistischen Nation': Die VR Bulgarien und ihre tiirkische Minderheit (1944-1985)," Ost- Europa Info, no. 61 (1985): 92-118. This is available in English condensation in "Bulgaria's War at Home: The People's Republic and its Turkish Minority (1944-1985)," Across Frontiers 2, no. 2 (1985): 18-27, and also in State Department Report to the 2nd Session of the 99th Congress, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1985, February 1986, esp. pp. 921-921, 930-934.

    3. Human Rights Practices for 1985, February 1986, esp. pp. 921-921, 930-934. 3. Note that the old view of nation, where the terms tribe and nation are essentially synonyms, became mixed up with the post-1789 political concept. The warm emotional closeness of the first sense (implied by traditional ethnic terms like Serb, Bulgar, Slav) was embodied in such works as the 1762 Slavo-Bulgarian History by Paisi of Hilendar or, with additional romantic nuances derived from Herder, the 1861 Bulgarian Folksongs of the martyred Macedonian brothers Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinov. The fiery political imperatives of newer "blood and soil" (Blut und Boden, sang et sol) doctrines are added, confusedly and confusingly, in nationalist Bulgarian literature (and politics) after about 1850, for example, by Petko R. Slavejkov. Contemporary Macedonians try to keep the senses separate, by no means an easy task, for geographical, ethnic, and political meanings blend too easily into one another. An example: Western European Slavists have been informed by irate Bulgarians that Yugoslav republications of the Miladinovs' collections are entitled "Macedonian Folksongs." This seems to be simple disinformation, for such a title is not used, and facsimiles of the original title page, including the epithet Bulgarian are routinely included. Macedonians, in turn, might accuse Bulgarian scholars of "Bulgarizing" the Miladinovs' language, for example, by changing od to ot (on the title page, twice). What is "up-dating" or "normalizing" for one party is vile falsification for the other.

    4. It should be noted that the geographical definition of Macedonia varies in time and also, in too many cases, according to the political bias of the definer.

    5. For specific details and pertinent literature, see Victor A. Freidman, "The Sociolinguistics of Literary Macedonian," International Journal of the Sociology of Language 52 (1985): 31-57.

    6. Unfortunately, political force may disallow change or impose it, compare note 2.

    7. Dogo's presentation is entirely compatible with the linguistic information detailed in my article (cf. note 1) and in Friedman's (cf. note 5).

    8. Note that, of all the Christian Slavic inhabitants of "Greater Bulgaria" (defined by the short lived treaty of San Stefano, 1878), only the Macedonians felt it necessary to repudiate the label Bulgarian, though they allowed the superordinate label Slav. The attitudes of Slavic-speaking Moslems and their roles in the conflicts of 1870-1945 are not dealt with in any of the literature I have seen.

    9. The Hitler-backed Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia in 1941-44 also announced in effect: "You are our brother Bulgarians, but you are junior and ignorant; shut up and do as you are told!" This authoritarian intransigence turned even pro-Bulgarian advocates into separatists.

    10. "Edna makedonska teorija," Periodieesko spisanie 64 (1904): 780-833.

    11. Bulgarian polemicists are forced to mention Misirkov and go to great lengths to denigrate his person and career and to ridicule his ideas; I find it odd that Teodorov-Balan's review is never cited and welcome Dogo's references.

    12. See my article, cited in note 1. For more details about nineteenth-century linguistic evidence of Macedonian individuality (including authors who do not necessarily reject the label Bulgarian), see now Trajko Stamatoski, Borba za makedonski literaturenjazik (Skopje, 1986).
    Last edited by TrueMacedonian; 11-06-2012, 04:06 PM.
    Slayer Of The Modern "greek" Myth!!!