The Emergence of Macedonia
By Carl K. Savich
Bulgarian Comitadji Atrocities
The territory of present-day Macedonia was under the Ottoman Turkish Empire for over five hundred years, half a millennium. During much of this period a national identity was dormant and inchoate. But with the emergence of nationalism and the independence movements in Europe, following the Serbian Uprisings and the Bosnian revolution of 1875, nationalism emerged as the defining movement in the Balkans. In Macedonia, four major indigenous nationalist movements emerged. A Macedonian national/ethnic/linguistic identification emerged whose slogan was “Macedonia for the Macedonians”. The Macedonians sought a separate ethnic/national/linguistic identity that was distinct from the Serbian and Bulgarian identification. The Macedonian language, culture, and political and national/ethnic identity overlapped with the Bulgarian and Serbian. Moreover, there were Serbian and Bulgarian populations in Macedonia. Serbia sought to protect this Serbian population and to maintain a Serbian linguistic, religious, cultural, and national identity in Macedonia. To further this end, Serbian schools, institutions, aid organizations, and even guerrilla groups, were set up in Macedonia. Bulgaria sought to protect the Bulgarian population by likewise setting up competing Bulgarian schools, institutions, religious organizations, and guerrillas or para-military forces. A fourth movement emerged after the League of Prizren in Kosovo, a Greater or Ethnic Albania nationalist movement which sought to unite all Albanian inhabited areas in the Balkans, including Macedonia, Kosovo-Metohija, Southern Serbia, Chameria in Greece, and Montenegro. The four rival nationalist/ethnic/political movements in Macedonia—Macedonian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Albanian— were antagonistic and conflicted with each other.
Bulgarian Comitadji Atrocities
The conflict between the Serbian and Bulgarian populations in Macedonia was the most acute and approached genocide, entailing the total eradication of the rival group. Bulgarian school teachers, priests, bishops, and agents in Macedonia waged a campaign of genocide against the Serbian population. There is the case of the Macedonian Spira Crncevic of Prilep, who on April 10, 1881, declared himself to be of Serbian ethnicity along with 72 other Macedonians. The Bulgarian authorities accused them of treason and turned them over to the Ottoman Turkish authorities. Crncevic was subsequently executed, decapitated, and his head displayed in Kumanovo to deter others. The Bulgarian authorities sought to eradicate the Serbian population, culture, and history of Macedonia. Whenever a Serbian school was opened in Macedonia, Bulgarians demonstrated and attacked it. In 1899, two Serbian school teachers, Olga Vukojevic and Zlata Krstic, were attacked and assaulted in Krusevo. Krstic subsequently died from the attack. George Vojvodic, a Serbian student at the Serbian secondary school in Bitola, was attacked and injured. Serbian teachers and priests were targets of Bulgarian attacks. In i884 in Lukovo, Cvetko Popovic, a Serbian school teacher, was murdered. The Bulgarian attacks on the Serbian population intensified following the establishment of the Bulgarian Committee in Roumelia which sought to advance and propagate Bulgarian national interests in Macedonia. In 1894, the Bulgarian government formed the External Organization (Spolnja Organizacija) in Sofia following a general meeting of the Bulgarian Committees. The objective of the External Organization was to achieve autonomy for Bulgarian-inhabited areas from the Ottoman Empire. In 1896, the Internal Organization (Unutrasnja Oganizacija), an organizing committee in Macedonia, was established. The branches of the Internal Organization, the Bulgarian Comitadji, engaged in the murders and expulsions of Serbian villages.
In the chapter “Rambles in Macedonia”, Herbert Vivian reported about the crises regions of Macedonia. Vivian traveled to Skopje and to Tetovo and personally observed events there. Macedonia was an unstable region. Vivian described Macedonia as follows:
The French appropriately use the same word, Macedoine, for a holocaust of sodden fruit and for that Turkish province which remains the last cock-pit of Europe. As we have seen, nearly all the Powers, great and small, covet Macedonia, and there seems every probability of serious disturbances being renewed there before long.
Macedonia had a reputation for ethnic turmoil, kidnappings, and murders. Vivian noted: “To judge by the papers, you may only visit Macedonia if you are content to carry your life in your hand.” He described the basis for the turmoil as follows: “If the Albanians could be kept in order and Bulgarian anarchism could be suppressed, there would be no grievances in Macedonia today. The Albanians are turbulent sportsmen, engaging as individuals but intolerable as neighbours. They must be made to understand that no further nonsense will be permitted. The Porte would be quite capable of reducing them to order if they had not a powerful protector at hand.” He saw the Albanian population as the most unstable: “For the Albanians…who are the most turbulent persons in the region.”
Uskub—dreamy Uskub—the capital of Old Servia and of the vilayet of Kosovo, is a far less busy, practical pace, but entirely idyllic.