Mirjana Maleska
Full Professor at the Doctoral School of Political Science, University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius”, Skopje.


In this issue of the magazine, we publish articles by the Bulgarian historians and sociologists Kiril Kertikov, Mihail Ivanov, Vrban Todorov and Marija Bakalova (all from Sofia), as well as the text of Stefan Troebst, an anthropologist and historian from Leipzig, Germany.

I believe that many people in Macedonia may experience this selection in “New Balkan Politics” as a provocation or, even worse, an insult. Yet, possibly in that way, by facing unpleasant, even very painful things, we can begin thinking more soberly about us and our future, especially from the aspect of the stability and security in the Balkans.

Why have articles by Bulgarian authors been selected when it is well known that for a long time, and even today, some circles in Bulgaria dispute our language and identity, and that here, in Macedonia, we are very sensitive about this issue and have a tendency to argue if the “other” does not think like us?

Times have changed. Since 1989 there is no more official ideology, there are no longer external prohibitions, there is no censorship; yet, we did not find in ourselves the strength to discuss with understanding and tolerance some “taboo” issues, such as the more just “power-sharing” between the majority and the minorities in Macedonia, or Macedonian-Bulgarian relations, which is undoubtedly one such topic. This inherited habit to wait for someone else “from above” to start the debate, usually from some political power centre, that weakness to be dependent marginalizes the intellectual elite and social thought. To take as an example the crisis from 2001, for about ten years prior to it, clear overconfidence had dominated in debates about the internal stability of the country, so that the society was unprepared for the dramatic changes that followed. When the crisis started, it was already too late. Expelled on the periphery of events that were taking place with enormous speed, members of the domestic academic community experienced the Ohrid Peace Agreement no only as one imposed by a greater force, but also as an offence to their own intellectual dignity.

In Macedonia, post-war generations grew up “overdosed” with strong anti-Bulgarian sentiment, leading to the creation of mainly negative stereotypes for Bulgaria and its nation. The anti-bulgariansim (or bulgarophobia) increased almost to the level of state ideology during the ideological monopoly of the Communist Alliance (SKM), and still continues to do so today, although with less ferocity. Part of that anti-bulgarianism is due to the dark and tragic moments that Macedonians have experienced in the past, and which have been caused by some nationalistic and chauvinistic circles within Bulgaria, although it should be stressed that in the history of the Balkans national-chauvinism in some circles in Sofia was incited and encouraged by similar circles in Belgrade and Athens, and vice versa.

However, it is more important to say openly that a great deal of these anti-Bulgarian sentiments result from the need to distinguish between the Bulgarian and the Macedonian nations. Macedonia could confirm itself as a state with its own past, present and future only through differentiating itself from Bulgaria.

In the enthusiasm with which the new state was built after 1945, things were often exaggerated. This is especially true for the part that S. Troebst calls nation-building “from above”, through the “belts”, such as the party, ideology, schools, historical books, etc., although it is indisputable that there were strong autochthonous aspirations for integration [of the nation] “from below”(fierce industrialisation, etc.) some time ago. Macedonians paid a high price in that process of nation-building and are very proud their achievement.

“Throughout Eastern Europe, historical science was politicised in order to produce loyalty of both an ideological and national kind, but in Macedonia there happened a specific phenomenon of an interdependence of history and politics. The role of the historians was not just to follow orders that came from politics”, Gunter Schtakel emphasized in his research project 2.

Certainly not! The greatest part of the left-oriented members of the intellectual and political elite participated in the building of the young nation-state because it was in accordance with their beliefs. If historians didn’t tell the whole truth, it was mostly due to the honest conviction that it had to be that way, that it could not be otherwise, and that that way it was the best for everyone. Nevertheless, that does not mean that there was no political repression, or that some people who expressed themselves differently were not isolated in a corresponding manner. Here, we don’t touch upon the issue of those who were killed, tried or imprisoned after the Second World War for their separatist ideas for the secession of Macedonia from the Yugoslav Federation, and for creating a united or greater Macedonia (Aegean, Pirin and Vardar).

“Identities are not inherited like skin colour…, but constructed as an art object”, David D. Laitin writes (“Identities in Formation”). There is truth in the claim that contemporary Macedonianism is “constructed”; however, it is too coarse and does not correspond to the truth to say that it is a “Serbian ideological term” or “a creation of the Comintern”. That was a complex process of the building and consolidation of a new nation, a nation which had to survive and to withstand, not only economically but culturally and politically, especially opposing the constant attempts at the ethnic assimilation of the Slave language population in Vardar Macedonia by the national (even chauvinist) circles of neighbouring countries. “The Macedonians know what they do not want to be”, S. Troebst writes in his article.

Why do we avoid facing some dark holes in our historical remembrance?

Memories of the political violence with which the process of forming the Macedonian nation-state was accompanied are still fresh. Tame and hospitable on the outside, Macedonia hides many incredible, complex and fiercely tragic stories, which make the Balkan “Balkan” in the eyes of curious foreigners. In just a few years between the World Wars, in Takovska Street and in other streets in Sofia, hundreds of Macedonians died in fratricidal assassinations amongst opposing political fractions. It was the interests of others that stood behind this fierce political violence, violence that sent many Macedonian families into mourning, and that knowledge became a significant part of our collective memory. National reconciliation is impossible without understanding and forgiveness through sincere and tolerant dialogue. But we haven’t opened it yet. The victims of repression are still the victims, although the world meanwhile has turned upside-down.

The liberating war of 1941-1945 in some dimension had the tragedy of civil war because members of the same family joined one or the other warring side. The separatism of the Macedonians in Tito’s Yugoslavia, directly after the war, was also strongly enunciated, creating deep divisions, fear and mistrust among the people. At a “round table” held a few years ago on the subject of post-war dissidence, several former political prisoners for the cause of an independent (united) Macedonia came in uninvited. The frustration some of them expressed in their speeches was heart-rending. They disclosed that they could not get either recognition or public rehabilitation even today.

Yet, the fear of history repeating itself, when the territory and the population of Macedonia were divided among the neighbouring countries, is not totally founded.

The situation in the Balkans today, in comparison to the situation in the first half of the 20thcentury, has changed greatly. Greece is interested in Macedonia remaining independent, a buffer state between itself and Serbia and Bulgaria. Serbia also has an interest in a status quo with reference to the existing border with Macedonia. Albania is pressed by its underdevelopment, the overcoming of which depends on Western support, while the pragmatic political elites in the region are expending great effort towards becoming members of the EU and NATO and to follow their “rules of the game”, in which there is no place for violent change of the borders. Following this trend, there have been significant changes in Bulgarian politics towards recognition not only of the state, but also of the Macedonian nation and language. The turning point came during the crisis of 2001. While in Macedonia some political personalities suggested Bulgaria take sides in the conflict or at least flirt with pro-Macedonian sentiments, Bulgarian officials gave clear statements that the citizens in Macedonian had to solve their problems by themselves!

Since 1913 the Bulgarian Government has been displaying, as Myron Weiner writes in “Macedonian Syndrome”, “an uncanny instinct for engaging in losing wars and allying with the losing side. In the First World War, Bulgaria sided with the Central Powers against Russia, with the expectation that a German-Austrian victory would lead to its acquisition of Macedonia. The persistence of the claim to Macedonia was a decisive factor in Bulgaria’s decision to join with Austria, Hungary and Germany in the Second World War against Yugoslavia, Romania, Czechoslovakia and the Allies. To the very end, Bulgaria’s revisionist goals dominated its foreign policy, even when it meant becoming a supporter of Germany’s efforts to occupy all of the Balkans militarily. Bulgaria had literally cut off its own nose to spite its face. Moreover, Bulgaria’s alliances with Germany ran counter to deeply felt historical, religious and cultural associations with Russia, thus demonstrating the overwhelming role that irredentist sentiments have played in the choice of allies”.3

If we go back further in history, it should be realised that Bulgaria experienced the placing of Macedonia within the borders of the Ottoman Empire previously, with the Berlin Agreement from 1878, as a great injustice inflicted on it by the Great Forces. If we knew the poems of the great Bulgarian poet Pejo Javorov, we might understand how painful the loss of something you love is. But we do not know him, we don’t know his poetry, we don’t know that he left comfortable Sofia to join the Ilinden Uprising and we can therefore be arrogant and sneer at those sentiments.

The articles in this issue of the magazine analyse the changes in Bulgarian society and politics during the last decade concerning the “Macedonian issue”.

Marija Balalova calls this change ‘a turn from a passionate or “romantic” current of Bulgarian society (and politics) towards a“strong pragmatic current”’. Vrban Todorov is much more direct. Talking about Bulgarian politics towards Macedonia during the last decade, he says: “The permitted mistake, which was on the highest level of mixing modern policy with historical, ideological and emotional arguments, was paid for by Bulgaria with substantial political and economic losses. It was amended, although silently, not before 1999”. Mihail Todorov raises the issue of the rights of those citizens in Bulgaria who declared themselves as Macedonians and speak Macedonian.

Such turning points in a society do not happen accidentally. They are a result of individual research efforts, autonomy and, above all, courage of the people in the scientific circles in Bulgaria. That is not so simple, and they pay a price for it because in their own environment those people are often accused of making a compromise with the state interests and betraying their national ideals. It is very similar with the situation here in Macedonia, having also in mind the fact that we are much more strict when we condemn!

The Ohrid Peace Agreement (from August 2001) has for now closed the military aspect of the conflict between the central authority in Skopje and the Albanian guerrilla (ONA), and made official ethnic and confessional pluralism. The strengthening of the national identity, equality of the religions, languages and cultures of the ethnic communities in Macedonia has been raised on a level of state consensus, reinforced with guarantees from the international community. One consequence of the conflict was a general agreement that a more just society should be built. On a general declarative level that may not be so difficult, but in conditions of general poverty, a very high level of unemployment, a reduction in state revenues and the redistribution of the public resources, the Macedonian community can experience it as a threat to its social security. On the other hand, if the political leaders do not fulfil what they had promised in the Ohrid Agreement, a new wave of discontent can be expected by the other ethnic communities and, above all, the Albanian one. The problems are before us, and if they come down to someone losing and another one winning (zero-sum-game), then old hostilities may be revived.

Still, some optimism may be traced in the fact that on the Macedonian political scene there are pragmatic politicians among the Macedonians and the Albanians, as well as among the others, who this time are more prepared to work in the interests of the European future of Macedonia.

The opening of the issue of the Macedonian identity and the painful historical memories of Macedonians and Bulgarians can undoubtedly “add fuel to the fire”. It could encourage those political currents that are against the unity and independence of Macedonia, and introduce additional suspicions in the fragile interethnic confidence.

However, that does not mean that this sensitive issue cannot be viewed differently; that if all of us in Macedonia – Macedonians, Albanians and others – want a better future for ourselves, we not only have to count mainly on each other but also to lean mainly on each other.


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1 The articles by Kiril Kertikov, Mihail Ivanov, Vrban Todorov and Marija Balkova are part of the scientific project “Bulgaria-Macedonia: Problems of the Euro Integration”. The results of this project, published in a publication with the same name from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 2002, would not have been possible without the enthusiasm of PhD Kiril Kerikov, director of the project.
Kiril Kerikov is one of those people, who, after they get attached to some idea, work persistently and with self-sacrifice in order to realize it. With little money and much effort, he organized round tables on this topic and published two scientific treatises.
In the publication: “Bulgaria-Macedonia: Problems of the Euro Integration”, apart from the texts published in this issue of the magazine, are also published the articles of Nikolaj Genov: “Conceptualising Social Transformation: Lessons from Eastern Europe”; Dolores Asenova and Kiril Kertikov: “Bulgarian Ethnic Model and the Constitutional Crisis in Macedonia”; Mirjana Maleska: Painful Facing: The Reasons for and the Consequences of the Security Crisis in Macedonia; Zivko Nedev: “Bulgaria and Macedonia in the Context of Euro Integration and Globalisation”; Petko Gancev: “Integration of the Balkans in the Epoch of Globalisation – Suppositions for Integration in the European Union”; Tanja Nedelceva: “Transformations in the Bulgarian Identity and the Appearance of Macedonia”; Marina Zaharieva: “The Social Situation in Bulgaria and Macedonia: Comparative Analysis”; Ana Mantarova: “Ethnic Aspects of Criminality in Bulgaria and Macedonia”; Anton Prvanov: “The Conflict Situation in Macedonia during 2001”; Elisaveta Ignatova: “Bulgaria and Macedonia in the Beginning of the 21st Century”; Vera Ganceva: “Macedonia: Media and Myths”; Petko Petkov: “The Army and the Crisis in Macedonia”.

2 quoted according to Stefan Troebst’s text.

3 Myron Weiner:“The Macedonian Syndrome“, New Balkan Politics, 2-3/2002