Macedonia. Its place in Balkan power politics

Elisabeth Barker





1. Bulgarian-Yugoslav relations  21

2. Bulgarian-Greek relations  29

3. Salonika  34

4. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization  36

5. The communists and Macedonia  45





Relations between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia between the two wars, which were largely, though by no means entirely determined by the Macedonian question, may be considered in three phases. From 1919 until 1923, while the Agrarian, Stambulisky, was in power in Bulgaria, a real effort was made to reconcile the two countries and to forget the Macedonian issue, or even to solve it through South Slav Federation. The second phase, from the murder of Stambulisky in 1923 until the Military League coup in Bulgaria in 1934, was a period of strained relations and sometimes of dangerous tension, mainly as a result of the Bulgarian authorities’ toleration of I.M.R.O. From the suppression of I.M.R.O. in 1934 until early in 1941, relations were correct and at times even friendly, though the ghost of the Macedonian dispute still barred the way to full solidarity between the two Balkan Slav States.


Through most of the period between the two wars Italy, who wanted to weaken or disrupt Yugoslavia and so gain control of the Adriatic, tried with varying degrees of intensity to prevent any reconciliation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. She encouraged Bulgarian revisionism and subsidized I.M.R.O. From the early thirties onwards Nazi Germany was interested in preventing Balkan solidarity except under German control, but does not seem to have exploited the Macedonian dispute until she handed over most of Yugoslav Macedonia to Bulgaria in April 1941.


France consistently backed Yugoslavia, whom she regarded as her protégé; and both France and Britain tried at intervals to reconcile Yugoslavia with Bulgaria, to restrain Bulgarian, or Macedonian, excesses, and later to promote a Balkan bloc, including Bulgaria, against German aggression. Soviet Russia had very little direct influence on Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations, but through the Comintern kept a close grip on the Communist





Macedonia’s position in south east Europe



Parties of both countries. At the same time, through the Comintern, Russia took an especial interest in the cause of Macedonian autonomy, because of its revolutionary potentialities, and in 1924 made an abortive attempt to capture I.M.R.O. The Bulgarian royal house, for dynastic reasons, was at first hostile, and later reserved, towards any close co-operation with Yugoslavia.


In spite or because of all these conflicting influences, Bulgaria in 1941 made exactly the same choice as in 1915: she sided with Germany to obtain Yugoslav Macedonia.


The new Yugoslavia’s treatment of Yugoslav Macedonia, at least until 1929, was well calculated to play into the hands of Bulgarian revisionism and of I.M.R.O. The Yugoslav authorities eliminated the name ‘Macedonia’. Yugoslav Macedonia became





‘South Serbia’ or, after King Alexander’s administrative reforms, the ‘Vardarska Banovina’. All Slav Macedonians were declared to be Serbs, some of them perhaps regrettably and temporarily Bulgarized. The Church came under the Serbian Patriarchate, and Serbian was the official language in administration and the schools. The Government sent settlers, mainly Serbs, to colonize land taken from Turkish landlords or under-developed areas; and the Serbian settlers caused great resentment among the Macedonian population. Most important of all, in the early years the Belgrade Government tended to send its least competent and honest officials from Serbia to Macedonia, where service was unpopular and pay was bad. Little money was invested in Macedonia except for a few showy buildings in Skoplje, the provincial capital.


Yugoslavia was bound by peace treaty obligations to respect the rights of her minorities; but since she denied that the Macedonians constituted a minority, repeated appeals to the League of Nations by genuine or alleged Macedonian representatives (often resident in Sofia) were fruitless.


I.M.R.O.’s organization of komitadji attacks over the frontier from Bulgaria, and of terrorist acts in Yugoslav Macedonia, inevitably provoked the Yugoslav authorities to repressive measures and reprisals against the local Macedonian population. These heightened the resentment of the people of Yugoslav Macedonia; but in the end they grew tired of I.M.R.O. and accepted arms from the Yugoslav authorities to protect their villages against komitadji attacks.


After King Alexander instituted his dictatorship in January 1929, he genuinely tried to introduce reforms in ‘South Serbia’ and to send a better type of official there, or even to employ local officials and teachers. The Macedonians began to settle down and to accept Yugoslav rule passively, if without enthusiasm. But pro-Bulgarian feelings lived on and made it easy for the Bulgarians to secure willing initial acceptance of the Bulgarian occupation in 1941, and difficult for Tito to win the Macedonians back for Yugoslavia.


Between the two wars the population of Yugoslav Macedonia was not allowed to form any Macedonian political organization. In the first post-war elections in 1920, when all over Yugoslavia the Communists had big successes, the Macedonians elected





seventeen Communist deputies. But this was a protest against their new Government rather than an expression of genuine Communist sympathy. Later, when the Yugoslav Communist Party had been banned, they usually voted, of necessity, for one or other of the Serbian political parties or, after 1929, for the official government list. There is no evidence that Communism was strong or well organized inside Yugoslav Macedonia between the wars; the local Communist organization was obviously very weak in 1941.


In Bulgaria, Stambulisky seized power after defeat in the First World War with the reputation of being an advocate of South Slav union, of ‘an integral, democratic, and pacific Yugoslavia from Mount Triglav to the Black Sea’. He is said to have sympathized with the Macedonian Federalists and the idea of an autonomous Macedonia; he is even reputed to have said that he would surrender Bulgarian Macedonia to an autonomous Macedonia. [1]


Stambulisky was naturally hated by the I.M.R.O. leaders. In 1919 he even arrested the two chiefs, Todor Alexandrov and General Protogerov; but both escaped. The next year Alexandrov was busy reorganizing I.M.R.O. and instigating komitadji raids in Yugoslav Macedonia, and to a lesser extent in Greek Macedonia. Stambulisky, preoccupied with his own agrarian revolution at home, could do little to stop him.


By June 1922 things had reached such a pitch that the Yugoslav Government informed the Bulgarian Minister in Belgrade that they could not permit attacks by Bulgarian komitadjis in Yugoslav territory, that they would take no responsibility for the grave consequences that might ensue, and that they had drawn the attention of the Allied Governments and the League of Nations to the situation. On 14 June the Roumanian Foreign Minister, returning from a meeting in Belgrade with the Foreign Ministers of Yugoslavia and Greece, presented a collective note to the Bulgarian Minister in Bucharest accusing the Bulgarian Government of tolerating or even encouraging komitadji activities. Stambulisky’s Government replied by sending a letter to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations, drawing the attention of the League Council to these circumstances ‘as being likely to affect relations between Bulgaria and her neighbours’,



1. J. Swire, Bulgarian Conspiracy (London, Hale, 1939), p. 142.





and proposing an International Commission of Inquiry. The Bulgarian Note added that Bulgaria had done all she could to provide for frontier security, but as she had only 10,716 troops, her forces were inadequate; and stated that Stambulisky had never encouraged the komitadji bands and had in fact tried to strengthen frontier control on Bulgaria’s south-west frontier.


The matter was smoothed over by the League of Nations, since the Yugoslav, Greek, and Roumanian representatives took a moderate attitude. Perhaps they thought that Stambulisky’s Government was more well-meaning than any alternative Bulgarian regime was likely to be, and that he should therefore not be pressed too hard. No Commission of Inquiry was sent to Macedonia.


In spite of this diplomatic affray, Stambulisky pursued his aim of reconciliation with Yugoslavia. After negotiations conducted by his Minister in Belgrade, the Agrarian, Kosta Todorov, he concluded the Nish Convention which came into force in May 1923. This provided that Yugoslavia and Bulgaria should institute joint measures of frontier control to prevent raids. For 100 metres on each side of the frontier all trees and undergrowth were to be cleared, and suspected sympathizers of the komitadjis were to be banned from the frontier zones, but farmers owning land on both sides of the frontiers were to have special passes.


The Nish Convention naturally produced a violent I.M.R.O. reaction. Stambulisky attempted to fulfil its spirit by carrying out arrests in the Petrich and Kustendil districts, the chief I.M.R.O. strongholds. The I.M.R.O. leaders conspired with a military group, the Officers’ League (then led by Colonel Volkov) and with the former Socialist, Professor Alexander Tsankov (later Hitler’s puppet). In June 1923 these allies carried out a coup: Stambulisky was brutally murdered and many of the other Agrarian leaders fled to Belgrade. Tsankov became Prime Minister with Volkov as his Minister of War. The first inter-war phase of Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations, the phase of attempted reconciliation, was over. And for the next decade I.M.R.O. had an invaluable ally, or perhaps master, in Volkov, who managed to retain control of the Bulgarian War Office through all vicissitudes.


Tsankov, however, started his period of office by declaring that he would respect the Nish Convention. In October 1923 a mixed Bulgarian-Yugoslav Commission, appointed under the





terms of the Convention, met in Sofia, and in November signed an agreement on extradition, medical aid, and compensation for requisitioning carried out by the Bulgarian occupation authorities in Serbian Macedonia during the past war. The Bulgarian Parliament ratified the agreement in January 1924; but nevertheless komitadji attacks and terrorist action in Yugoslav Macedonia continued. In 1926, after the Tsankov Government had begun to talk of closer relations with Yugoslavia, Tsankov was defeated in Parliament. His successor, Liapchev, was himself a Macedonian, and, with Volkov as his War Minister, gave I.M.R.O. full protection.


In June 1927 the League of Nations rejected one of the periodic appeals by Macedonian organizations against alleged Yugoslav misrule. Early in 1928 it was reported that the British Legation in Sofia had presented the Bulgarian Government with a list of members of I.M.R.O. suspected of intending to cross the Yugoslav frontier to commit acts of violence. In July 1928 two things happened: the I.M.R.O. leader, Protogerov, was assassinated on the order of the rival leader, Ivan Mihailov; and an I.M.R.O. would-be assassin attempted unsuccessfully to shoot the Chief of the Belgrade Police, Mr Zhika Lazich. Britain and France seized the chance to make a joint demarche to Liapchev’s Bulgarian Government against an I.M.R.O. weakened by internal division. The demarche provoked a prolonged cabinet crisis in Sofia; the Foreign Minister, Atanas Burov, threatened to resign unless the pro-I.M.R.O. War Minister, General Volkov, were removed; but Tsar Boris supported Volkov, and Liapchev eventually formed a new Government with Volkov again as War Minister. So nothing was achieved.


The Italian Minister in Sofia had refused to join with his western colleagues in making this démarche, saying that his country did not wish to interfere in Bulgarian affairs on Yugoslavia’s behalf.


In 1929 Yugoslavia made a definite attempt to conciliate Bulgaria. In January King Alexander instituted his dictatorship, and presumably decided that he must strengthen his somewhat shaky position by easing relations with Bulgaria. In February the Yugoslavs partially reopened the frontier, which about a year earlier they had attempted to seal hermetically with a barbed wire barrier and a system of blockhouses. Also in February,





a Bulgarian-Yugoslav Mixed Commission met at Pirot and reached partial agreement on properties lying on both sides of the frontier, and on other lesser questions, but disagreed on the width of a proposed neutralized frontier zone from which all suspected Macedonian revolutionaries were to be banned. The Bulgarians insisted that 500 metres was sufficient, but the Yugoslavs wanted a much deeper zone.


In spite of this difference, a form of agreement was concluded at Pirot. But in April the Croat extremist, Ante Pavelić (later an accomplice in King Alexander’s murder, and later still head of the puppet Croat State created in 1941) paid a public visit to Sofia, as the guest of the National Committee of Macedonian Refugees. He was enthusiastically acclaimed—obviously as an enemy of Yugoslavia—and was even received by the Government. This visit caused great excitement in Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav Government protested in Sofia and postponed ratification of the Pirot Agreement. However, further meetings were held in Pirot in September, and a new agreement was concluded and came into force in November 1929, after which a Mixed Commission met in Sofia.


I.M.R.O. celebrated the Pirot Agreement by attacking the Orient Express between Tsaribrod and the Bulgarian frontier on 23 November. This provoked another Yugoslav protest. And, although I.M.R.O. was now devoting rather more energy to its internal blood-feuds than to terrorism in Yugoslavia, relations between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria remained strained until 1933.


King Alexander then made a fresh conciliatory gesture. When King Boris passed through Belgrade in September 1933, King Alexander greeted him at the station. It was the first time the two Kings had met since the First World War. Then at the beginning of October King Alexander visited Boris at his Black Sea home at Euxinograd. In December King Boris, with Queen Ioanna and the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Nikola Mushanov (who had taken office three months after Liapchev’s defeat in 1931, but had carried on the policy of tolerance of I.M.R.O.), were welcomed in Belgrade. Yet when the Balkan Pact was initialled in Belgrade by Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, and Roumania in February 1934, Bulgaria stood apart. To have joined the Pact would have meant abandoning her Macedonian claim.





There were probably two motives behind Bulgaria’s somewhat ambiguous foreign policy at this period. First, Italy was now preoccupied with her Abyssinian dream of conquest, and so less concerned with making trouble for Yugoslavia. On the other hand Nazi Germany was now beginning to plan her penetration of the Balkans, and so had an interest in keeping the Balkan countries divided and preventing their consolidation in a bloc which might eventually be hostile to Germany. Thus although in the six years preceding the Second World War Bulgaria developed a friendly attitude towards Yugoslavia, she always kept aloof from the Balkan bloc. The growing prospect of a fresh European upheaval helped to deter her from renouncing her claim to Yugoslav Macedonia and also to an Aegean outlet.


In 1933 I.M.R.O. was naturally alarmed at Bulgarian- Yugoslav rapprochement; and in the Spring of 1934 there were rumours in Sofia that it would carry out a coup against the Mushanov Government. For this, and no doubt also other reasons, the Military League, a group of reserve officers headed by Colonel Damian Velchev and Kimon Georgiev, together with Zveno, a group of progressive but authoritarian-minded intellectuals, carried out their coup on 19 May 1934.


The coup was executed smoothly and efficiently and a new Government under Georgiev was formed with the reluctant consent of King Boris, who was powerless to resist. The new Government wanted friendship with Yugoslavia; and almost their first act was to order the disbandment of revolutionary organizations, including both I.M.R.O. and the followers of the late General Protogerov. They sent troops to clear up the Petrich Department (Bulgarian Macedonia), which had been I.M.R.O.’s base and stronghold. The operation was carried out with surprising ease. The I.M.R.O. leader, Ivan Mihailov, fled to Turkey, and other prominent Macedonians were interned or arrested. Inside Bulgaria I.M.R.O. virtually ceased to exist as an organization, so that it could no longer poison Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations.


The suppression of I.M.R.O. led to an immediate improvement in the relationship of the two countries. In September 1934 King Alexander and Queen Marie paid a ceremonial visit to Sofia. Though elaborate precautions had to be taken to protect the king from assassination, the visit passed off smoothly. But





when a few days later, on 9 October, he drove through the streets of Marseilles, he was assassinated by Chernozemski, a member of I.M.R.O. who was in league with the Croat Ustashi and who had been preparing for the deed in Hungary. Italy protected Chernozemski’s Croat confederates from punishment.


Since I.M.R.O. had been put down in Bulgaria five months earlier, the killing of King Alexander did not produce a crisis in Bulgarian-Yugoslav relations. When 6,000 Yugoslav Sokols (the patriotic gymnastic organization) visited Sofia in July 1935, they were welcomed with great enthusiasm. In spite of Bulgaria’s aloofness from the Balkan Pact, in January 1937 she signed a Treaty of Perpetual Friendship with Yugoslavia—a development which caused considerable uneasiness to Yugoslavia’s cosignatories of the Pact. Also in 1937 Italy signed a Treaty with Yugoslavia; and Germany, with her growing interest in economic exploitation of the Balkans, seems to have used her influence at this period to prevent Bulgarian-Yugoslav quarrelling over Macedonia. The Macedonian question dropped out of international politics for the next four years.


It seems likely that right up until March 1941 Germany hoped to drive Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in harness together in spite of the traditional Macedonian barrier between them. To achieve this, Germany was willing to offer Yugoslavia an Aegean outlet in Salonika rather than offer Yugoslav Macedonia to Bulgaria. But the Yugoslav coup d’état of 27 March 1941 upset Germany’s plans, which had to be switched over rapidly to the invasion of Yugoslavia. In this Bulgaria was invited to participate, receiving in return the right to occupy Yugoslav Macedonia, except for a small area in the west which fell to Italian-occupied Albania, and the less welcome duty of occupying part of Serbia. Germany, however, did not allow Bulgaria formally to annex Macedonia, holding the card of Macedonian autonomy up her sleeve for future contingencies.





Greek feelings towards Bulgaria at the end of the First World War were very bitter. The Bulgarian occupation authorities in Greek eastern Macedonia had behaved towards the Greek population with brutality singularly inappropriate in supposed liberators.





An Inter-Allied Commission in 1919 reported that ninety-four villages had been entirely demolished, that 30,000 people had died of hunger, blows, and disease during the occupation, that 42,000 had been deported to Bulgaria, and that 16,000 had fled to Greece.


The Allied Powers realized that early reconciliation was out of the question. Accordingly, in addition to the Treaty of Neuilly, a Greek-Bulgarian Convention was concluded on 27 November 1919 providing for a voluntary exchange of population,


e. the Greeks of southern Bulgaria for the Bulgarian (or Slav Macedonian) minority of Greek Macedonia.


The Greeks had earlier proposed drafting a tripartite treaty for reciprocal emigration of racial minorities between Greece, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. But on 8 November the Yugoslav delegate at Paris had declined, saying that his Government preferred bilateral negotiation. [1]


Under the Greek-Bulgarian Convention, emigrants were to lose their old nationality and acquire the nationality of the country to which they had emigrated. They were to be allowed to keep their movable property and a League of Nations Mixed Commission was to liquidate immovable property.


Both countries, for different reasons, welcomed the Convention, but it was opposed by I.M.R.O., whose leaders presumably felt, rightly, that the exchange would seriously weaken Bulgaria’s ethnographical claim to Greek Macedonia. I.M.R.O. forbade the Bulgarians (or Slav Macedonians) of Greece to take advantage of the Convention. [2] The Greeks of Bulgaria, threatened by Stambulisky’s land reform, were more willing to move, but things progressed slowly. The Commission was set up in 1920 and only finished its work in 1932. By June 1923 only 197 Greek families and 166 Bulgarian families had filed declarations of emigration. [3] Then the Greek Government, claiming military necessity arising from the Greek-Turkish war, deported several thousand Bulgarian families from Thrace, and put Greek refugees from Turkey in their place. This started up a migration of populations



1. S. R. Ladas, The Exchange of Minorities: Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey (New York, Harvard University and Radcliffe College Bureau of International Research, 1932), p. 36.


2. C. A. Macartney, National States and National Minorities (London, Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1934), p. 439; Ladas, op. cit. p. 104.


3. Macartney, op. cit. p. 440.





in very strained conditions in the years 1923-4. Finally, about 52,000 Bulgarians (or Slav Macedonians [1]) of eastern Macedonia left Greece, and about 25,000 Greeks left Bulgaria. [2] The result was that Greek eastern Macedonia was virtually cleared of Slav Macedonians, while most of those living west of the Vardar chose to stay in Greece. There thus continued to be a ‘Slavophone’ minority in the region bordering on Yugoslavia, around Kastoria, Fiorina, Edessa, and other towns of the area.


In the Greek census of 1928, 81,984 persons registered as Slav-speaking. One Greek estimate of the present number is ‘about 100,000’. [3] (For an estimate suggesting a higher number, see above, p. 12.) On the whole the ‘Slavophones’, mostly small peasants living in remote villages, not in the towns, settled down fairly peacefully in Greece, at least until the Axis invasion of the Balkans in 1941, which revived old pro-Bulgarian or pro- Macedonian sympathies.


On 29 September 1924 Greece and Bulgaria signed a Protocol known as the Kalfov-Politis Agreement, placing the ‘Bulgarian’ minority in Greece under League of Nations protection. But the Yugoslav Government, which did not admit the existence of a Bulgarian or Macedonian minority in Yugoslavia and regarded the Greek precedent as dangerous, made strong representations and on 15 November denounced the Greek-Serbian Treaty of 1913, as a mark of displeasure. [4] On 15 January 1925 the Greek Government announced that they did not intend to put the Protocol into operation. [5] Thereafter the Greek Government treated the ‘Slavophones’ as Greeks without any special minority rights. Up till 1941, there was little indication that this policy caused resentment among the ‘Slavophones’ who, without the upheaval of the Axis invasion, might presumably in time have been peacefully assimilated.


The League of Nations Mixed Commission for the population exchange, in spite of great difficulties and delays, completed its task of liquidating immovable property. Ten per cent of the indemnities were paid in cash and the rest in State bonds. Both



1. Macartney, op. cit. p. 530.


2. A. A. Pallis, ‘Macedonia and the Macedonians’, p. 8.


3. Pallis, op. cit. p. 8.


4. ibid., p. 11, quoting P. Pipinelis, History of Greek Foreign Policy 1923-41.


5. A. J. Toynbee, Survey of International Affairs 1926 (London, Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1927), p. 165.





Greek and Bulgarian Governments complained of the burden laid upon them by the exchange. [1] What caused most indignation among Macedonians in Bulgaria was the Mixed Commission’s decision in 1927 to liquidate the ecclesiastical and scholastic property of the Bulgarian communities in those villages of Greek Macedonia from which the majority of Bulgarians (Slav Macedonians) had emigrated, either voluntarily or compulsorily. However, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister of the time, Mr Burov, who was not sympathetic to the Macedonian cause, said that to maintain them would only be ‘sentimental nonsense’, and the Prime Minister, Mr Liapchev, despite his own Macedonian sympathies, supported Burov’s stand. All the Macedonians of Bulgaria could do was to hold protest meetings.


In addition to the Greek-Bulgarian exchange, which was theoretically voluntary, there was the Greek-Turkish compulsory exchange of populations from 1923 onwards. This had an even more profound effect on the character of Greek Macedonia. Under the Lausanne Agreement between Greece and Turkey,


Greeks from Asia Minor were settled in Greek Macedonia. At the same time 348,000 Turks left Greek Macedonia. The newly-arrived Greeks were in general energetic and hardworking; they raised the productivity of eastern Macedonia and made it the main grain-producing area of Greece. Ethnographically, they made the population of Greek Macedonia, according to the 1928 Greek census, 88.1 per cent Greek. [2] Originally many of them showed sympathies with Communism, but these did not lead them in the direction of Macedonian autonomy. The Comintern had in 1922 come out strongly against the settlement of Greek refugees in Macedonia and Thrace, on the grounds that it would destroy the ethnological character of these areas; but the Comintern appears to have had very little influence in the matter.


In general the settlement of the Asia Minor refugees enormously strengthened Greece’s hold on Greek Macedonia, and made the old idea of a greater united Macedonia stretching down to the Aegean seem, in the inter-war period, no more than an outworn fantasy.


Perhaps it was for this reason that relations between Greece



1. Macartney, op. cit. p. 443.


2. Pallis, op. cit. p. 9.





and Bulgaria, though very far from friendly, were seldom as tense as were Bulgarian-Yugoslav relations. To operate successfully in Greece, I.M.R.O. would have required a friendly Slav population close to Bulgaria’s borders; but it could have no hope of gaining local support from Greeks. So although in the early years after the First World War I.M.R.O. tried to organize resistance in Greek Macedonia as well as in Yugoslav Macedonia, it soon concentrated on the latter.


In June 1922 Greece joined with Yugoslavia and Roumania in the joint representations made to the Stambulisky Government over komitadji raids.


A much more serious clash came in October 1925, when General Pangalos was dictator in Greece. After a frontier incident in which a Greek soldier was shot, Greek troops crossed the border at Kula and shelled the nearby Bulgarian town of Petrich. The local I.M.R.O. ‘militia’ mobilized, obtained arms from Bulgarian army depots, and resisted the Greeks. On 24 October, three days after the first clash, the League of Nations ordered the Greeks to suspend hostilities; after a little more firing the Greeks withdrew from Bulgarian soil five days later. [1] A League of Nations Commission of Inquiry found that Greece had violated the League Covenant and ordered her to pay £45,000 indemnity to Bulgaria. A scheme for neutral supervision of the Bulgarian- Greek frontier under Swedish officers was agreed.


In 1930, on the initiative of Venezelos, an attempt was made to draw Bulgaria into the orbit of talks which had then been proceeding for some time about the possibility of a Balkan Pact. A Balkan Conference of Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Yugoslav, Roumanian, and Turkish representatives met in Athens in October. The Macedonian problem was deliberately excluded from the agenda. However, outside the conference-room Venezelos told Bulgarian journalists, in an interview, that a settlement of the ‘minorities problem’ was one of the essential conditions for a Balkan Federation. [2] This unofficial half-promise was never followed up in practical terms; so that Bulgaria stayed outside the Balkan Pact when it was concluded four years later.


In the nineteen-thirties, attempts at rapprochement between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia almost inevitably caused nervousness in



1. Swire, Bulgarian Conspiracy, p. 202.


2. Survey of International Affairs 1930, p. 150.





Greece. The Greeks feared that the foundation of a South Slav bloc, or of a South Slav Federation, on her northern border would be a threat to her security. It might also pave the way for renewed demands on Greek Macedonia and a revival of the medieval Slav thrust to Salonika.





The subject of Slav access to the Aegean at Salonika was one which Greece found particularly delicate. Following the Greek- Serbian Alliance at the time of the Second Balkan War in 1913, a Greek-Serbian Agreement was signed in the Spring of 1914, assigning a free zone in Salonika port to Serbian commerce. The First World War postponed ratification of this Agreement. After the war, in November 1922, M. Politis visited Belgrade, and Greece ratified the 1914 Agreement on 21 November. A month later, however, Yugoslavia refused to ratify it on the ground that it offered insufficient guarantees.


Fresh negotiations were started and on 10 May 1923 a new agreement was signed in Belgrade to regulate transit through Salonika. By this Greece was to cede to Yugoslavia for a term of fifty years an area to be called the ‘Salonika Free Zone’. This was to be at Yugoslavia’s disposal and under her customs administration, although it was to remain an integral part of Greek territory and under Greek sovereignty. The officials within the Zone were to be Yugoslavs.


Ratifications of this 1923 Agreement were exchanged on 30 May 1924, and the Zone was handed over to the Yugoslavs on 6 March 1925.


In 1923 Greece also made a similar offer to Bulgaria. Private talks between Greek and Bulgarian delegates had taken place at the time of the Lausanne peace conference which started in November 1922. As a result on 23 January 1923 Venezelos offered Bulgaria a Free Zone in the port of Salonika on the same terms as Greece was then offering to Yugoslavia. However, M. Stanciov, the Bulgarian delegate, said that the terms of the proposal were inadequate and that he did not wish to reopen discussion of the question. Negotiations then ceased. [1]


In March 1926, during the session of the League of Nations,



1. Survey of International Affairs 1920-23, pp. 340 ff.





the Greek and Bulgarian delegates again had talks. Fresh Greek offers of a Free Zone at Salonika were made. Bulgaria, however, preferred to insist on her claim to an Aegean outlet in Thrace. [1]


Meanwhile a fresh disagreement had arisen between Greece and Yugoslavia over Salonika. The Yugoslavs considered the Greek freight rates on the railway from Djevdjelija, on the Greek- Yugoslav frontier, to Salonika too high and the existing transit facilities too slow and complex. At the beginning of 1925 the Greek Government therefore reduced the freight rates to about the same level as those in force on the Yugoslav side of the frontier. But when negotiations started in May 1925, the Yugoslavs made much more sweeping claims. They wanted the Greeks not only to enlarge the Salonika Free Zone but also to cede it definitively and without reserve. This would have meant that it would have become virtually Yugoslav territory. The Yugoslavs also asked that they should themselves administer the Djevdjelija-Salonika railway.


Relations between Greece and Yugoslavia had already been strained by Yugoslavia’s denunciation of the 1913 Greek-Serbian Treaty of Alliance a few months earlier. Now Yugoslavia’s claims on Salonika aroused alarm and indignation in the Greeks, who felt that they were a threat to the whole Greek position in Macedonia. They were unwilling to go beyond the grant of commercial facilities at Salonika and a provision for arbitration in case of dispute. On 1 June 1925 both parties decided to break off the negotiations; and the Greek press accused Yugoslavia of ‘imperialistic designs’.


Early in 1926, however, relations became less strained; and in March, during the League Assembly meeting in Geneva, discussions were resumed between the Greek and Yugoslav delegates. On 17 August a Greek-Yugoslav Treaty and a Technical Convention were signed in Athens. The Convention was designed to last for fifty years. In principle, it extended the area of the Free Zone by 10,000 square metres. Agreement was reached on freight rates and customs facilities. Greece was to remain the owner of the Djevdjelija railway but the Yugoslavs could collaborate in the administration of the line.


However, Pangalos was overthrown and Greece failed to ratify the Treaty and the Convention. Greek fears of Yugoslav



1. Survey of International Affairs 1926, p. 213.





‘imperialism’ revived, and in April 1927 Greece put forward objections to certain parts of the Convention. On 25 August 1926 the Greek Parliament decided against ratification. [1]


It was not until Venezelos returned to power in 1928 that a fresh start could be made on improving relations. Then agreement was reached fairly rapidly; six Protocols on the Yugoslav Free Zone in Salonika were signed on 17 March 1929, and a Pact of Friendship, Conciliation, and Judicial Settlement was concluded ten days later. [2] The Yugoslavs, however, continued to make relatively little use of the Free Zone except for exports from the Trepca Mines; and they appeared to remain discontented.


In March 1941, when Hitler was completing his plans for the German invasion of Greece, he tried to bribe Yugoslavia by offering Salonika to the Tsvetković Government. But two days later, on 27 March, came the Yugoslav coup d’état. Tsvetković was overthrown and replaced by General Simović, who failed to denounce the Tripartite Pact but was regarded with such suspicion by the Germans that they decided to invade Yugoslavia. General Simović, in a broadcast from London later that year, claimed credit for refusing to be tempted by the promise of Salonika. [3]


It was thus possible for the Greek and Yugoslav Governments in exile to sign a fresh treaty, in January 1942, in the presence of Mr Eden. This treaty, however, aroused small enthusiasm in either country; and the Yugoslav war-time revolution under Marshal Tito made it a dead letter. The advent of Communists in power in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria in 1944 once again made the Greeks intensely apprehensive of Slav designs on Salonika.





The only important revolutionary organization in Macedonia between the two wars was, as before, I.M.R.O. But I.M.R.O., once its struggle against the Turks was over and its main effort was directed against the Yugoslavs, quickly degenerated. It



1. Survey of International Affairs 1926, p. 167 ff.


2. Survey of International Affairs 1930, p. 148.


3. C. M. Woodhouse, The Apple of Discord (London, Hutchinson, 1948), p. 21.





ceased to be genuinely revolutionary. In the nineteen-twenties it became more of a financial racket, selling its services to the highest bidder—the Bulgarian Government, the Italians, possibly for a brief period Soviet Russia. It also became an extortion racket, forcing the Macedonian emigrants in Bulgaria and the inhabitants of the Petrich Department (Bulgarian Macedonia) to buy immunity from economic blackmail and terrorization at a heavy price, through ‘voluntary’ patriotic subscriptions on ‘taxes’. It also had its own considerable financial interests in the Petrich Department; the whole economic life of the area was in its hands. In the early nineteen-thirties it trafficked illegally in drugs: the League of Nations Opium Advisory Committee at one time reported that there were ten factories in the Petrich Department and Sofia manufacturing acetic anhydride. [1] When I.M.R.O. was formally suppressed in 1934, its property was estimated at 400 million leva. [2]


The chief basis of its existence was the "large number of Macedonian emigrants in Bulgaria, estimated at well over half a million by Bulgarian propagandists, but probably in reality little over 100,000. Some had fled to Bulgaria from Macedonia to escape from Turkish oppression, some had left at the time of the Balkan Wars, the rest were the emigrants who left Greece under the 1919 Convention. While a few intellectuals made brilliant careers in Bulgaria in politics, business, or journalism, many were peasants who had hated being uprooted from their original homes and who were not easily assimilated in Bulgaria. The upheaval in their lives had often left them thriftless and discontented and turbulent, and they were not particularly popular with the ordinary Bulgarian. So they provided a reservoir of man-power on which I.M.R.O. could draw for its terrorist cadres and its unofficial militia; and, since they had lost their roots, they could easily be browbeaten into obedience to I.M.R.O.


In so far as I.M.R.O. retained its revolutionary aims in the inter-war period, it no longer used its earlier methods of political and military organization and education among the ‘unliberated’ Macedonian population. At best, in the early nineteen-twenties it organized armed raids by small bands mainly in Yugoslav Macedonia. But, as it lost more and more support among the



1. Swire, Bulgarian Conspiracy, p. 50.


2. ibid. p. 287. At that date there were 405-435 leva to the £ sterling.





population in the areas in which it wished to operate, it turned more and more to terrorist acts, assassinations, and bomb outrages. Its political strategy, in so far as it had one, was to keep Macedonia in such a state of unrest that news of it constantly appeared in the world press. By this means it presumably hoped that the great Powers would eventually be convinced that unless they re-drew the Balkan frontiers, Macedonia would be the starting-point for a fresh war.


It is true that the obvious legitimate channel for any Macedonian complaint, through the League of Nations, was blocked by Yugoslavia’s refusal to admit the existence of a ‘Bulgarian’ or ‘Macedonian’ minority. But such appeals, even if heard, could never have been of profit to I.M.R.O.: if, through League of Nations intervention, the demands of the Macedonians of Yugoslavia and Greece had been satisfied, I.M.R.O. would have lost its reason for existence.


I.M.R.O.’s degeneration was above all due to the fact that though it was efficiently organized it lacked, in the inter-war period, any clear-cut political aims and had no serious economic or social ideas other than the catch-phrases of Macedonian revolution and liberation. So it had no very solid appeal to the Macedonian population; and it easily slipped into serving merely as a semi-official branch of the Bulgarian secret police. Above all, it suffered from a fatal ambiguity over the question whether it was aiming at Macedonian autonomy or at annexation to Bulgaria. All these factors facilitated its internal divisions and its self-destruction by gang warfare between rival groups. Its last leader, Ivan Mihailov, was in fact a killer and a gangster on a large scale, not a revolutionary.


These internal weaknesses meant that I.M.R.O., from 1918, or perhaps from 19x3, till 1934, derived its strength far less from its own resources than from its outside backers. First, it was useful to Italy, who wished to prevent the consolidation of Yugoslavia; second, it was useful to King Boris of Bulgaria, who had a strong dynastic interest in preventing a South Slav union which would either have swept away both the Yugoslav and Bulgarian royal houses, or, less probably, would have left the Yugoslav King as the sole survivor. Finally, given the bitter internal feuds and divisions of Bulgarian political life, it was easy for I.M.R.O. to find support in one or other political party or pressure group. So





I.M.R.O. was able to wield power quite disproportionate to its own real strength.


I.M.R.O. emerged from the First World War in a more or less disorganized condition, as a result of the partition of Macedonia in 1912-13 and of the later Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia. It had, however, a more or less undisputed leader in Todor Alexandrov. He was then thirty-eight years old, and had been a member of I.M.R.O.’s Central Committee since his youth. Associated with him in its leadership was the much older General Alexander Protogerov. Both had served in the Bulgarian Army in the occupation of Serbian Macedonia, and were regarded by the Yugoslavs as war criminals. Both, according to one account,1 had been present at an important meeting between the German Kaiser and King Ferdinand of Bulgaria at Nish during the First World War. They thus had close ties with the Bulgarian army and monarchy. The third of the leading members of I.M.R.O. at this period was Peter Chaoulev, another veteran revolutionary who had been Police Commandant of Ochrid during the 1915-18 Bulgarian occupation.


For six years after the end of the war, these three men stuck together, fighting their political enemies inside Bulgaria and their rivals in the Macedonian revolutionary movement, and organizing armed raids inside Yugoslav Macedonia.


On the first of these three fronts they won a decisive success in 1923, when together with the Bulgarian Officers’ League and the politician Tsankov, they succeeded in overthrowing the Agrarian regime and killing its leader Stambulisky. Although Stambulisky’s successor, Tsankov, pursued a half-hearted policy of reconciliation with Yugoslavia, in practice he left I.M.R.O. a fairly free hand inside Bulgaria. And I.M.R.O. was able to consolidate its administrative and economic grip on the Petrich Department, which became the territorial basis of its power.


On the second front, against rival Macedonian groups, I.M.R.O. was at first less successful. The most important of these was the Federalist group, which genuinely aimed at creating an autonomous Macedonia within a South Slav Federation. The Federalists thus represented the more truly ‘Macedonian’ tradition of the earlier I.M.R.O., in contrast with the ‘Supremist’ trend of the Alexandrov-Protogerov group. The leading members



1. Stoyan Christowe, Heroes and Assassins (London, Gollancz, 1935), p. 126.





of the Federalists, who formed their own organization in 1921, were Philip Athanasov and Todor Panitza, both old I.M.R.O. men. Neither of them had ties with the Communists, though their Macedonian programme was not far removed from that of the Communists in the nineteen-twenties.


Another prominent Macedonian who soon came to be associated both with the Federalists and the Communists was Dimiter Vlahov. Pie also was a veteran member of I.M.R.O. In 1908 he, together with Panitza, Hadji Dimov, and other more noted Macedonian revolutionaries, had joined in forming a ‘Popular Federal Party’, which advocated the use of the Macedonian Slav dialect in schools, to contest the Turkish elections. During the First World War, however, Vlahov had served as District Governor of Prishtina under the Bulgarian occupation. In the first years after the war he seems to have maintained his ties with I.M.R.O.; but by 1924, as Bulgarian Consul-General in Vienna, he had formed close contacts with Soviet representatives there; and from this time on, if not also earlier, he worked with the Communists. It is not, however, clear at what point he actually joined the Communist Party.


Hadji Dimov, another representative of the Federalist trend within the earlier I.M.R.O., became a Communist soon after the end of the First World War. There was, therefore, a definite tendency towards Communism within the Federalist group; and this led to internal divisions and finally, after 1925, to an open split.


Meanwhile, in the early nineteen-twenties, the Federalists had some success in organizing small armed bands in Yugoslav Macedonia, to operate both against the Yugoslav authorities and where necessary against the bands of Alexandrov’s I.M.R.O. They were thus at this period the hated rivals of the Alexandrov-Protogerov-Chaoulev group. But in 1924 there was a startling development: a momentary reconciliation between I.M.R.O., Federalists, and Communists, and the formation of a short-lived common Macedonian front against all the three Balkan Governments, including the Bulgarian, which had partitioned Macedonia.


It is not quite clear at what point the flirtation between I.M.R.O. and the Federalists, and the Comintern began. The I.M.R.O. newspaper, Freedom or Death, writing long after the





event in 1927, said that the I.M.R.O. leader, Alexandrov, had, in August 1923, sent Dimiter Vlahov to Moscow, where Athanasov, the Federalist, had already arrived. According to this account, Moscow was conciliatory in its attitude towards Alexandrov, but at the same time urged him to unite with the Federalists. [1]


Whatever the truth of this story, it seems clear that the third member of the I.M.R.O. triumvirate, Peter Chaoulev, who spent much of his time abroad on I.M.R.O.’s business, had at about the same time made contacts with Communist representatives; and he may well have acted as intermediary.


However the first contacts may have been made, early in 1924 I.M.R.O. received a definite incentive to seek outside support in a fresh quarter. This was the Italian-Yugoslav Pact of Friendship, which meant at least a temporary decrease in Italian backing for I.M.R.O. Also, there may have been certain differences of opinion within the higher cadres of I.M.R.O. about the degree of I.M.R.O.’s dependence on the Bulgarian War Office.


Whatever their complex motives may have been, Alexandrov and Protogerov went to Vienna in March 1924. There they conferred with their associate, Chaoulev, who proceeded to negotiate with Vlahov, Athanasov, and Panitsa, and probably also with authorized Comintern representatives.


The result of the Vienna negotiations was that at the end of April or in early May agreement was reached on the creation of a common Macedonian Revolutionary Organization combining all groups, and on a declaration of I.M.R.O.’s ‘new orientation’. This declaration had a strongly Communist flavour. It attacked not only the Yugoslav and Greek Governments as oppressors of the Macedonians, but also the Bulgarian Government, which it accused of secret negotiations with Yugoslavia aiming at I.M.R.O.’s destruction. (For a fuller account of this document, see below, pp. 54-7.)


Alexandrov, according to one version, [2] authorized his associates Protogerov and Chaoulev to sign the agreement on his behalf, while he himself left for a tour of western Europe. A pro-I.M.R.O. account [3] says merely that ‘it is difficult to say whether Alexandrov authorized his signature or not’. In any case, publication of the



1. Swire, Bulgarian Conspiracy, p. 184.


2. ibid. p. 185.


3. Christowe, Heroes and Assassins, p. 178.





declaration was withheld until July, after Alexandrov had returned to Sofia. It then appeared, possibly against Alexandrov’s wishes, in the first issue of Dimiter Vlahov’s new Vienna publication, Fédération Balcanique, which appeared on 15 July 1924.


The declaration, as published, bore the signatures of Alexandrov, Protogerov, and Chaoulev. Its appearance must inevitably have precipitated a crisis in relations between the I.M.R.O. leaders and the Bulgarian War Office, their traditional supporters. Probably Alexandrov and Protogerov received a stern warning, particularly from the War Minister, Volkov. In any case, they repudiated their signatures and declared that Vlahov and Chaoulev, who were still in Vienna, had acted without their authority.


That was the end of the flirtation between I.M.R.O. and the Federalists and Communists. An I.M.R.O. assassin killed Chaoulev in Milan at the end of 1924. Vlahov broke with Athana- sov, who did not stand as far to the left; he stayed on in Vienna and formed a new ‘United I.M.R.O.’, advocating an autonomous Macedonia within a Federation of Balkan Socialist Republics (which was in fact the Comintern policy of this period). He continued to publish Fédération Balcanique to preach this aim and to flay the old I.M.R.O. His semi-Communist ‘United I.M.R.O.’ never seems, however, to have had any very large following in Macedonia itself. Probably in 1936, Vlahov went to live in Moscow. He re-emerged in 1943 as a prominent member of Marshal Tito’s new regime in Yugoslavia.


I.M.R.O., meanwhile, returned to a closer alliance with the Bulgarian War Office than ever before. But it was rent by grave internal division. On 31 August 1924, the eve of I.M.R.O.’s first post-war congress, Alexandrov was murdered in the mountains of Bulgarian Macedonia. Three versions of the murder have been put forward: first, that it was instigated by the Communists and/or Federalists, in revenge for his repudiation of the Vienna Declaration; next (the version put out four years later by Ivan Mihailov), that his colleague Protogerov was responsible; finally, that Mihailov himself was responsible. According to this last version, Mihailov must have been instigated by the Bulgarian War Office, which could no longer trust Alexandrov after his flirtation with the Communists.


Whatever the true explanation, the murder gave I.M.R.O. the chance to assassinate a number of Federalists and Communists,





including Hadji Dimov and Panitza. Panitza was dramatically shot during a performance of Peer Gynt at the Vienna Opera, on 8 May 1925, by the girl who afterwards became Ivan Mihailov’s wife.


Protogerov succeeded Alexandrov as leader of I.M.R.O.; but the young Ivan Mihailov became a member of the I.M.R.O. Central Committee, and rapidly came to have more and more power in the Organization. His influence brought about the final degeneration of I.M.R.O. into a gangster organization.


During the four years that Protogerov and Mihailov nominally worked together, their association can never have been easy. Protogerov, with something of a military career behind him, and a reputation as a kindly if weak-willed man, was a very different type from the young, completely ruthless and completely unscrupulous Mihailov. However, Mihailov allowed Protogerov to survive until he had consolidated his own grip on I.M.R.O. He was helped by the replacement of the Tsankov Government by that of the Macedonian, Liapchev, who was remarkably tolerant of I.M.R.O. Mihailov also established close personal ties with Fascist Italy, whose interest in I.M.R.O. had now revived.


Thus by 1928 Mihailov was ready to grasp sole power. On 7 July Protogerov was shot dead in a Sofia street. The first rumour that went round was that he was the ‘victim of Italian imperialism’, because he had rejected a proposal by Mussolini for an Italian protectorate over Macedonia. But almost immediately three leading members of I.M.R.O. formed a pro-Protogerov group and publicly charged Mihailov with Protogerov’s murder. On 21 July Mihailov himself issued a communique stating that Protogerov’s assassination was an ‘execution’ ordered in conformity with the directive of the last I.M.R.O. Congress to punish all concerned in the murder of Alexandrov in 1924.


On 22 July the I.M.R.O. Congress met, without the pro- Protogerov group, and approved Mihailov’s conduct of I.M.R.O.’s affairs. Mihailov was appointed to a new Central Committee from which the ‘Protogerovists’ were excluded. The ‘Mihailovists’ at once began assassinations of Protogerovists.


It was at this moment that Britain and France made their unsuccessful démarche, urging the Liapchev Government in effect to liquidate I.M.R.O. At one point in the prolonged cabinet crisis which followed, the Government promised to make drastic





changes in the administration of the Petrich Department (Bulgarian Macedonia). But in practice nothing effective was done, and Liapchev and Volkov, with King Boris’s blessing, retained power.


As the Protogerovists began to fight back against the Mihai- lovists, gang warfare broke out between the two groups in the streets of Sofia and elsewhere in Bulgaria. Assassinations in broad daylight became frequent. Although this fratricidal war destroyed what remained of I.M.R.O.’s prestige as a genuine revolutionary movement, the Mihailovist I.M.R.O. remained very powerful inside Bulgaria, protected by the authorities and ultimately by the King. The Protogerovists received no such protection and sought allies among the surviving Federalists, the Bulgarian Agrarian exiles in Belgrade, and ultimately the Yugoslavs.


So things went on until 1933 when King Alexander made his first conciliatory gesture towards King Boris, which made the atmosphere less favourable for I.M.R.O. But King Boris was not yet prepared to abandon I.M.R.O. The blow came in May 1934. Following the Military League Zveno coup, I.M.R.O. was suppressed, leaving remarkably little trace inside Bulgaria. Many of its members fled abroad—Mihailov to Turkey, others to the Croat Ustashi in Italy, others to terrorists’ camps in Hungary such as Janka Puszta. It was from these bases that the murder of King Alexander by one of I.M.R.O.’s most skilful assassins, Chernozemski, was organized in October 1934. After that little was heard of I.M.R.O.; the Macedonian revolutionary movement—terrorist, Federalist, or Communist—was quiescent until war broke out again in the Balkans.


In 1941 the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia theoretically opened up fresh opportunities for I.M.R.O. There seems, however, no definite evidence that former members of I.M.R.O. were employed by the Bulgarian occupation authorities in Yugoslav Macedonia. It was frequently rumoured that Ivan Mihailov was in Zagreb, where his old associate, Ante Pavelić, was now in power in the puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’. According to a story current in Yugoslav Communist circles, Hitler held him in reserve as possible Gauleiter of an Independent Macedonia, should the Bulgarian occupation authorities fail to hold Yugoslav Macedonia. By this account, Mihailov was actually





sent by plane to Skoplje in the final phase of the war, but was forced by the Yugoslav Macedonian partisans to depart without setting foot on Macedonian soil. This story is, however, not substantiated.


Whether or not Mihailov outlived the war is still a mystery. But it seems clear that only the most scattered relics of I.M.R.O. can have survived the events of the fifteen years since 1934.


The quick collapse and disintegration of I.M.R.O. are perhaps to be explained by four factors. First, it would never come into the open over the question whether it really wanted Bulgarian annexation or Macedonian autonomy, and so created confusion and division among its followers. Secondly, after the First World War it had no constructive ideas of its own apart from the forcible overthrow of the existing political order in Macedonia. Thirdly, it failed to organize widespread popular support in Yugoslav Macedonia, its chief target, and relied increasingly on isolated terrorist action; once the terrorist cadres were broken up, little was left of the Organization. Fourthly, after the First World War I.M.R.O. relied far too heavily on outside support, especially from Fascist Italy; when this support was withdrawn or weakened, I.M.R.O. no longer had sufficient internal resources to make good the loss.


The collapse of I.M.R.O. in the nineteen-thirties left a vacuum which the Communists, who in the early nineteen-twenties had hoped to gain control of the Macedonian revolutionary movement, were surprisingly slow to fill.





The Bolshevik leaders, some years before the Russian Revolution, had taken an interest in the Balkans and Macedonia, partly, perhaps, because the region was a favourite target of Tsarist foreign policy, partly, no doubt, because of its revolutionary possibilities. Trotsky was a war correspondent in the Balkan wars. [1] Lenin at the same period wrote an article on ‘the Social Significance of the Serb-Bulgarian Victories’. Lenin said that these victories meant the undermining of feudalism in Macedonia



1. Leon Trotsky, Ma Vie (Paris, Reider, 1929), pp. 77-9. Characteristically, Trotsky denounced Bulgarian atrocities against wounded Turks and condemned the ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ in the Russian press on this subject.





and the creation of a more or less free class of peasants, and guaranteed the whole social development of the Balkan lands. [1]


Another Russian who in the pre-revolutionary era counted himself an expert on the Macedonian question, and who was later associated with the Bolsheviks, was Professor Nikolai Derzhavin, of Petrograd University. His book, Bulgaro-Serb Relations and the Macedonian Question, which appeared during the First World War, took a strongly pro-Bulgarian line on the Macedonian issue, and called on the Serbs, who were then fighting with the Russians, to modify the results of the Balkan Wars. (The book was in fact reprinted in Leipzig under the auspices of the Royal Bulgarian Consul.) Derzhavin claimed that a new day was dawning in the life of the Slavs; and his peroration was:


May this great historic moment of the triumph of right and justice banish from the lives of our brothers of the South those accidental barriers which have made irreconcilable enemies of two brother peoples, rupturing their good neighbourly relations and breeding hatred. May the heroic Serb people at last find the necessary moral force—and they have it, it dwells within them—to recognize spontaneously what has long and unanimously been recognized by history, science, and the national sentiment of the Macedonian population itself, which sees in the Bulgarians its brothers in language and blood, and which has fought hand in hand with them for religion, life, and liberty. And recognizing this truth, may the Serb people, with as much courage as they are showing in their fight alongside the Russian people against the enemy of Slavism, face the solution of this grandiose Slav problem, which is being decided in this moment, and for which the best sons of the generous Russian people are shedding their precious blood with so much abnegation, in the name of the liberty and happiness of all the Slavs. [2]


The phrasing, if not the substance, of the closing passage is of course strongly reminiscent of some Soviet propaganda during the Second World War. That is perhaps not surprising: Derzhavin represented a type of semi-romantic pan-Slavism which, although it fell from favour after the Russian Revolution, was revived forcefully when Russia was drawn into the war in 1941. At this point also Derzhavin himself reappeared on the scene at the war-time All-Slav Congresses held in Moscow.



1. Lazar Mojsov, The Bulgarian Workers’ Party (Communist) and the Macedonian National Question (Belgrade, Borba, 1948).


2. N. S. Derzhavin, Bulgaro-Serb Relations and the Macedonian Question (Lausanne, Librairie Centrale des Nationality, 1918).





In the first years following the Russian revolution the Bolshevik leaders, whatever may then have been their attitude to Derzhavin’s pan-Slavism, seem, like him, to have tended towards a pro-Bulgarian attitude.


When the Communist Parties of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece were formed shortly after the end of the First World War, the Bulgarian Party had the most solid foundations. It evolved in 1919 from the ‘Narrow’ wing of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, which already had considerable organizational experience and had such energetic and forceful leaders as Vasil Kolarov and Georgi Dimitrov. Perhaps for that reason, perhaps also because it had Soviet backing, it always took the lead among the Balkan Communist Parties, particularly over the Macedonian question.


The Yugoslav Communist Party was handicapped from the start by the complexities of Yugoslavia’s nationalities problem, which produced organizational weaknesses within the Party and which brought down upon it stiff rebukes from the Comintern and from Stalin himself. The Greek Communist Party was by far the smallest of the three; its chief strongholds were in the north of Greece; but, from its early days, it found the Macedonian problem a millstone round its neck. Whatever its policy of the moment, it was always suspected of plotting to cede Greek Macedonia to the Slavs.


Early in 1920 the Bulgarian and Yugoslav Communist Parties each claimed to have 30,000 members. The Greek Communist Party, which bore the name of the ‘Socialist Workers’ Party’, only claimed 1,300 members. [1] It had sections in several Macedonian centres, including Salonika, Seres, Kavalla, and Drama.


Each of the three Balkan Communist Parties was organized on the territorial basis of the three Balkan States as they emerged from the First World War (or the Balkan Wars). There was at this time no trace of any separate Macedonian Communist organization. In June 1920 a Macedonian, of Skoplje, called Dasan Cekić was one of the signatories of a manifesto issued by the Central Party Council of the Yugoslav Communist Party. The manifesto took a fairly centralist line on the nationalities problem; the Party’s attitude then was that the outside world was exaggerating the national differences within Yugoslavia; in reality the



1. Kommunismus (periodical journal, Vienna), 27 March 1920.





only struggle was between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. [1]


In this early stage, the Communist Parties in general kept to such innocuous slogans as ‘The Balkans for the Balkan Peoples’, without probing deeply into specific problems. The Bulgarians, however, showed an eager interest in promoting Balkan solidarity. In January 1920 the Bulgarian, Yugoslav, and Greek Communist Parties all sent delegates to Sofia, on Bulgarian initiative, to form the ‘Balkan Communist Federation’. This was a group which during the nineteen-twenties under Bulgarian leadership came to have a certain standing in the Communist world: decisions taken at its periodic meetings (usually in Sofia) were sometimes formally endorsed and supported by the Comintern.


The Comintern, in those early years, seems to have had somewhat hazy ideas about the Macedonian question. Zinoviev, as President of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, sent a message of greeting to the Communist Parties of Bulgaria, Roumania, Serbia, and Turkey, early in 1920, which was rather a muddled document. It was sent in preparation for the Second Congress of the Third International, and tried with doubtful success to make the best, or worst, of all worlds. Zinoviev said:


While the Paris Supreme Council has abandoned to the Serbian military clique, the Roumanian big landowner class, and the corrupt Roumanian bureaucracy, millions of foreigners—Bulgarians, Albanians, Germans, Ukrainians, and Russians—for them to devour, it has given the five great Powers the right, if needful, to use the national minorities as a means of exercising pressure on Serbia, Roumania, and Greece, with the aim of obtaining every kind of economic and political advantage. . .


The capitalists of France and England . . . will not be in a position to help the Balkan countries. On the contrary, they will in future exploit these countries still more fully as sources of raw materials and as markets for unnecessary goods. . .


The new national divisions, created after the defeat of Austria-Hungary and the disruption of Bulgaria and Turkey, have intensified the nationalities problem to an extent greater even than before the war. Many more elements of foreign nationality have come under the rule of the victors. And the policy of national oppression, of insatiable militarism, gives rise to a yet more powerful drive towards freedom. And the struggle for freedom takes on a yet wider scope.


Against the rule of the Serbian bureaucratic and landowning oligarchy, there are rising up the Macedonian Bulgarians, the Albanians, the Montenegrins, the Croats, and the Bosnians. . . Against the



1. Kommunismus, 1920.





rule of the Greek trading, speculating, and profiteering bourgeoisie are fighting the Albanians of Epirus and the Turkish and Bulgarian peasants of Thrace.


A new period of embittered nationalist agitation, national hate, and national-bourgeois wars threatens the Balkan and Danube peoples. Only the Proletariat can, through its victory, avert a new catastrophe... Only the victory of the proletarian dictatorship can unite all the masses of the peoples in a Federation of Socialist Balkan (or Balkan and Danube) Soviet Republics, and save them both from landowning- capitalist exploitation by their own and by the foreign bourgeoisie, and also from colonial enslavement and national disputes. The Communist Party is called by existing circumstances to play an even bigger role in the Balkan Peninsula than in capitalist countries where there are no nationalities problems. . .


In the present phase of preparation for the Socialist Revolution, the Balkan Communist Parties must, parallel with their work inside their own countries, pay the greatest attention to a firm association and co-ordination of the activities of the individual Balkan Parties. Victory is impossible without the closest mutual association of all the Balkan Parties. [1]



Zinoviev’s message provided the ideological framework for Communist handling of the Macedonian question in the early nineteen-twenties. It did not, however, as yet make any attempt to define the question. But it is of interest that Zinoviev referred specifically to ‘Macedonian Bulgarians’ in Yugoslavia, and that, perhaps by chance, he omitted any reference to ‘Macedonian Bulgarians’ in Greece. Whether this vagueness was due to ignorance or design is not clear; but it is clear enough that the Comintern quickly took note of the revolutionary possibilities of the various nationalities and minorities problems of the Balkans, and hoped to exploit them to undermine the new ‘bourgeois’ Balkan Governments and to weaken the position of the western Powers in Balkan affairs.


The Comintern’s attention was attracted to the Macedonian question, as such, by the influx of Greek refugees into Greek Macedonia and Thrace during and after the Greek-Turkish War. The Fourth Comintern Congress in 1922 decided to campaign against the refugee movement. The refugees, it said, must be convinced that they were the victims of Greek imperialism, and their settlement in Macedonia and Thrace was to be regarded as a capitalist attempt to destroy the ethnological character of the two regions.



1. Kommunismus, 5 March 1920.





This question was again taken up at the meeting of the Balkan Communist Federation held in 1924. [1] It directed the Greek Communist Party to fight ‘most bitterly’ against the attempt to hellenize the new territories by the expulsion of Turks and Bulgarians. The Greeks were asked to agitate for the annulment of the Greek-Turkish Convention for the exchange of populations, and also for the non-fulfilment of the Greek-Bulgarian Convention. (On this last point the Communist directive coincided with the I.M.R.O. directive). The Greek Communist Party was told that its slogan must be the self-determination of the minorities.


The Greek Communist Party Central Committee raised objections to this directive, and was presumably reproved by the Comintern. At the Fifth Comintern Congress, in 1924, the Greek delegate, Maximos, said that his Party opposed the Greek-Turkish population exchange but added: ‘the fact remains that there are 700,000 Greek refugees in Macedonia’. (See also below, pp. 61-2.)


The question of Macedonian autonomy, as such, first seems to have been raised formally in the Communist world at the Balkan Communist Federation conference in 1922. Vasil Kolarov, the Bulgarian, presided and called for discussion of the question. The Greek Communist Party representative, however, asked that discussion should be deferred until he had consulted the Greek Communist Party Central Committee.


In the following year, 1923, internal upheavals in Bulgaria put Macedonian autonomy temporarily in the background, though they had their Macedonian repercussions. In June came the overthrow of Stambulisky and the Agrarian regime by the Officers’ League, Tsankov, and I.M.R.O.; the Bulgarian Communist Party remained neutral and failed to support the Agrarians. For this failure it was strongly criticized, after the event, by Moscow; the exiled Hungarian Communist, Matyas Rakosi, wrote a scathing article pointing out the Bulgarian Party’s errors. [2]


The Comintern was also seriously worried at the part played by the Macedonians in the June coup. The Enlarged Executive of the Comintern declared in a special manifesto on Bulgaria [3]:



1. International Press Correspondence (Communist periodical issued in English and other languages, hereinafter referred to as I.P.C.), 1 May 1924.


2. I.P.C., 26 July 1923.


2. ibid., 23 July 1923.





Peasants of Macedonia! Revolutionaries of Macedonia! You have allowed the Bulgarian counter-revolution to use you for the coup d’état, although your interests, as shown by your past, are most closely interwoven with the interests of the working people, with the interests of the revolution in the Balkans and throughout the world. The Stambulisky Government delivered Macedonia to the Serbian bourgeoisie in order to gain their support. It persecuted you in bloody fashion. But do not believe for a moment that the counter-revolutionary movement will be able to liberate the Macedonian people . . . Only a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government in Bulgaria . . . will blaze the path for the establishment of a Balkan Federation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Governments, which alone can bring about your deliverance . . . For the sake of your own national freedom, you must join hands with the Bulgarian Workers and Peasants.



This appears to have been the Comintern’s first, still somewhat imprecise, formulation of its views on the Macedonian problem. Its appeal to the Macedonians to join hands with the Bulgarian Communists (without mention of the Yugoslav or Greek Communists), may betray a fundamental pro-Bulgarian bias; more probably, it sprang from the Comintern’s conviction that Bulgaria, alone of the Balkan countries, was then ripe for revolution. Presumably plans were already in existence for the September Communist insurrection in Bulgaria, and the Comintern hoped to enlist Macedonian support for it.


The Comintern appears to have had some grounds for this hope. According to one source, [1] negotiations had already started in the Spring of 1923 between the representatives of Alexandrov, the I.M.R.O. leader, and Vasil Kolarov and other Bulgarian Communists. Aleko, the local I.M.R.O. chief in the Petrich Department, favoured co-operation with the Communists. The negotiations were interrupted by the overthrow of Stambulisky in June, but were resumed in July 1923. And according to the same account, Alexandrov probably sent Dimiter Vlahov to Moscow in August. [2]


But these negotiations—assuming that they took place—must have been abortive. I.M.R.O. bands helped Tsankov and Volkov to suppress the September rising, and were denounced for it in the Communist press. The Bulgarian Communists in exile launched a violent propaganda campaign, which lasted for many months, against the Tsankov regime. But the Comintern’s



1. Swire, Bulgarian Conspiracy, p. 183.


2. ibid. p. 184.





attempt to drive a wedge between Tsankov and I.M.R.O. continued.


In March 1924 the Balkan Communist Federation, at its sixth congress, came into the open with a detailed Macedonian programme. It spoke flatteringly of the old I.M.R.O.; and it called for the setting up of a Republic of Macedonia within a ‘voluntary Union of Independent Balkan Republics’. Some passages of this long document1 are worth quoting fully:


The possession of Macedonia, by reason of the geographical position of the country, assures domination over the whole Balkan peninsula. That is why the country always roused the cupidity of the interested imperialist States, as well as of the neighbouring Balkan States. The varied ethnographical composition of its population has always served as a pretext for the interference of outsiders. All the nationalities which dominate in the neighbouring States are represented in Macedonia, but in such proportions that not one of them attains an absolute majority. Consequently the domination of any one of the Balkan States over Macedonia means national oppression of the majority of the Macedonian population and stirs up national struggles which are exploited by the other interested States for their schemes of conquest. . . The Serbian and Greek hegemony over this country, which was divided between them after the Balkan war, signifies national oppression for the majority of the population. . .


The Macedonian population has for years carried on a heroic and bitter struggle for national freedom. The rivalries stirred up by the bourgeoisie of the neighbouring States and the hatred between the various Macedonian nationalities have often led to mutually destructive wars ... but have never been able to destroy the conviction among the Macedonian slaves [sic] that only an autonomous and united Macedonia could assure right and liberty to all its nationalities.


The Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, the real organizer and leader of the revolutionary struggle of the Macedonian slaves, regardless of nationality, is working to strengthen this conviction. . .


A united and autonomous Macedonia is now the slogan of the Macedonians in all corners of their Fatherland, which is covered with ruins. It is under this slogan that they are organizing and conducting the struggle.


The duped Bulgarian bourgeoisie, which has only received the very least share of the spoils of Macedonia, is trying afresh to take advantage of the Macedonian revolutionary movement, and to take it under its control. But in spite of all the efforts of its agents among the Macedonian revolutionary organizations, it has not succeeded in winning the sympathies of the working masses of the Macedonian regions, and causing them to deviate from an ‘independent struggle’. The Macedonian



1. I.P.C., 10 April 1924.





people have been so severely tried in the past that they no longer have any desire to submit to the influence of their ‘friends’ and ‘patrons’ either near or far. . .


A section of the Macedonian emigrants has been made use of by the Bulgarian counter-revolutionary movement, to repress the revolt of the Bulgarian workers and peasants. The conduct of the duped Macedonians, who, in the guise of Macedonian revolutionaries, became the mercenaries of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie and the executioners of the Bulgarian working people, is a deliberate attack against the very cause of Macedonian liberation itself. The Macedonian workers must emphatically condemn this attack. . .


The bourgeoisie of the Balkan countries knows of no other method for the solution of the Macedonian and Thracian problems than pillage, terror, exile, and violent denationalization. This was the method of the Bulgarian nationalists, while they were masters in Macedonia and Thrace. The Serbian and Greek bourgeoisie follow precisely the same way. The Serbian bourgeoisie maintains in Macedonia a cruel terrorist regime, destroys or forces into exile the conscious part of the Bulgarian, Turkish, and Albanian population and substitutes for it settlers from other parts of Yugoslavia; it oppresses all the non-Serb nationalities, closes their churches and their schools, prohibits their press and suppresses their languages. Every revolt, every protestation of the peoples, reduced to despair, is followed by bloody repression on the part of the Serbian Government. We witness the same spectacle in the other part of Macedonia and Thrace, subject to Greek domination. . .


The Communists do not at all repulse the national Macedonian and Thracian organizations which group the working population around them in the name of their national and cultural interests. On the contrary, they maintain the closest relations with them, exert themselves in their leadership and activity to insure to the working masses a predominant position which is energetically opposed to the big agrarian bourgeois and adventurous elements, which would make use of the organizations to serve their class interests and which are always ready to betray the interests of the great working masses. The tactics of the united front with these organizations and even of the participation of the Communists in the same will render easier this task of the Communist Parties. . .


In setting up the ideal of a workers’ and peasants’ government, the Communist Parties and the Communist Federation of the Balkans declare that the Federative Republic of the Balkans will assure peace, independence, and liberty of development of all the peoples of the Peninsula, that it will be a voluntary union of independent Balkan Republics, including the Republics of Macedonia and Thrace.



A number of conclusions may be drawn from this document. It was obviously drafted by someone who had a good knowledge





of the early history of I.M.R.O. and of its current opposing trends. It was designed to exploit the differences within I.M.R.O. and win over the anti-Supremist elements, including the Federalists, and to bring pressure from below to bear upon the I.M.R.O. leadership so as to force it into the arms of the Communists. It showed that the Communists considered that they would have little success if they attempted to set up a Macedonian Communist organization, and that for this reason they were aiming at infiltration of Communists into key posts in the existing Macedonian revolutionary organizations, both I.M.R.O. and the Federalists. And for the same reason their plan was to use the later famous ‘united front’ or ‘popular front’ strategy.


On wider issues, the document showed a certain pro-Bulgarian trend, though negatively rather than positively. But to avert serious trouble between the Bulgarian, Yugoslav, and Greek Communist Parties, and presumably also on ideological principle, it plumped for Macedonian autonomy—a slogan which also fitted in with the anti-Supremist trend within I.M.R.O. And it skilfully side-stepped the question whether or not there was such a thing as a separate Slav Macedonian nation; though it is significant that it charged the ‘Serbian bourgeoisie’ with oppression of the ‘Bulgarian’, not the ‘Macedonian’ population. To sum up, it seems fair to conclude that the document was drawn up by a Bulgarian, or Bulgarian Macedonian, Communist, probably without prior consultation of the Yugoslavs or Greeks.


In any case, neither the Yugoslavs nor the Greeks received it with enthusiasm; the Greek Communist Party even refused to publish the document, and sent in a ‘reasoned protest’ against its issue by the Executive Committee of the Balkan Communist Federation. (See Manuilsky’s statement below, p. 60.)


The document had, however, some initial success in its main objective, to win over I.M.R.O. The Vienna negotiations in the spring of 1924 led to the agreement with the three I.M.R.O. leaders, Alexandrov, Protogerov, and the pro-Communist Chaoulev. They, or at least certain of them, signed the declaration on ‘The New Orientation of the Macedonian Revolutionary Movement’, dated 6 May 1924, which caused so much trouble. And this document bore many marked likenesses to the resolution of the Balkan Communist Federation, quoted above.


The declaration, purporting to issue from the Central Committee





of I.M.R.O., took the form of a ‘manifesto to the Macedonian people, to the Macedonian population organized in the Revolution, to Macedonian revolutionaries’. [1] The manifesto said:


Macedonia, in its natural geographical frontiers between the Mesta, the Shar mountains, Rila, the Rhodope range, the Drin, Lake Ochrid, Mount Grammos, the Bistritsa, and the Aegean Sea, covering an area of about 65,000 square kilometres, watered by the Mesta, the Struma, the Vardar, the Drin, and the Bistritsa; endowed with the most varied natural riches and a favourable climate; with its ethnically diverse population of upwards of 2,302,000 persons; with a strategic and economic position, in the middle of the Balkans between the Danube basin, the Aegean Sea, and the Adriatic, has all the rights and conditions necessary for an independent political existence, forming an independent and self-governing State. . .


The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization for thirty years waged an energetic revolutionary struggle for the freedom of Macedonia. This struggle, depending on the one hand on factors of international and Balkan politics, and on the other hand on the ethnic element preponderating in the Organization, has had to face differing tactical problems and has employed diverse methods.



The manifesto recounted the failure of I.M.R.O.’s attempts to invoke the intervention, first of the great Powers, and then of the Balkan States, to secure Macedonia’s liberation. It went on:


As long as these States are administered by governments which support the conquering and imperialist policy of the treaties, or in other words so long as these States are not directed by governments who base their internal and foreign policy on the right of the self-determination of the peoples, the Macedonian people cannot expect from them any aid in its liberation.


Deeply aware of this historic fact, I.M.R.O. arrives at the firm and decisive conclusion that in its revolutionary fight for the freedom of Macedonia, it can only count on the extreme progressive and revolutionary movements of Europe, fighting against the imperialist policy of their Governments, against the existing peace treaties, for the right of self-determination for their own people and for other peoples.


That is why I.M.R.O. declares that, in the interests of Macedonian liberty, it will give all its support to all those in the Balkans who are fighting against the European policy of conquest and imperialism, realized either openly or through the intermediary of the Balkan Governments. . .


None of the Balkan Governments thinks of the liberation and reunion of the divided parts of Macedonia; none of them thinks or acts on behalf of the right of self-disposal of the Macedonian people in an independent political unit. . . For these reasons I.M.R.O. finds itself



1. Published in Fédération Balcanique (Vienna), 13 July 1924.





forced to declare that the policy of all the present Balkan Governments is hostile to the political independent existence of Macedonia. The Organization will fight energetically, by all the methods permitted by the revolution, against the conquering policy of these governments towards Macedonia and the Macedonian people.


To avoid all obscurities and misunderstandings, I.M.R.O. also declares that it cannot disinterest itself in the foreign and internal policy of the Balkan States, especially of Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria, which dominate considerable parts of the Macedonian territory and people.


As regards Greece, I.M.R.O. will fight against every effort for the restoration of the monarchy . . . and against every Government which supports the present partition of Macedonia, denationalizes the population of Greek Macedonia, and forcibly changes the ethnographical character of the area by evicting the indigenous population in order to replace it by settlers from Asia Minor and Thrace.


As regards Yugoslavia, I.M.R.O. will fight determinedly against all the Belgrade Governments, without distinction of party, which support the present Serb policy of arbitrary centralism, the denationalization and oppression not only of the Macedonian people but also of the people of Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Kossovo, Voivodina, Slovenia, and Dalmatia. . . I.M.R.O. declares that it will stand resolutely, in the internal national struggles of Yugoslavia, at the side of all the oppressed people who are fighting against the Belgrade Governments for a democratic decentralization and for the federal reorganization of Yugoslavia.


As regards Bulgaria, I.M.R.O. declares that in spite of all the sacrifices which the Bulgarian people has made and is ready to make for the independence of Macedonia, the present Bulgarian Government of Tsankov is following, contrary to the interests of its own people, an openly anti-Macedonian and anti-Bulgarian policy, an openly Serbophil policy which not only perpetuates the partition of Macedonia but is also preparing fresh territorial changes at the expense of Macedonia. The Organization warns the peoples of Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Thrace that the Belgrade Government, relying on agreements with certain European States for the partition of Croatia, Albania, and Greece, is preparing to extend its conquering policy towards Scutari and Salonika, urging the Sofia Government towards Kavalla and threatening it, in case of opposition, with the occupation of the Bulgarian districts of Pernik and Kustendil.


And it seems that the Tsankov Government has been allured by these imperialist plans, whispered by the sirens of Belgrade. It is seeking to destroy I.M.R.O. and the Macedonian revolutionary movement, which are the most serious obstacles to the realization of its criminal intentions. . .


I.M.R.O. proclaims that the policy of the Tsankov Government is hostile to the Macedonian and Bulgarian peoples and calls on all Macedonians and Bulgarians to start an energetic struggle against this





Government. They should only give their support to a Bulgarian Government which, basing itself on the working masses of town and village, will have no need to use terror . . . and which will be able to give the people the means of fighting the policy of conquest of the neighbouring States without fearing to see these means turned against itself. It is only in the establishment of such a Bulgarian Government that I.M.R.O. sees the necessary guarantee both for the future development of the revolutionary struggle and for the political independence of the Balkan peoples. . .


I.M.R.O. declares that it is fighting and will fight with all the means permitted by the revolution:


(1) For the liberation and the reunion of the separated parts of Macedonia in a fully autonomous and independent political unit, within its natural geographical and ethnic frontiers:


(2) For the democratization of the States bordering on Macedonia and for their union in a Balkan Federation which alone can guarantee the political existence of an independent Macedonia and the independence of the other Balkan peoples. . .


A new Balkan and European war or an international revolutionary civil war for the liberation and the right of free self-determination of the peoples is inevitable. . . I.M.R.O. draws the attention of all Macedonian and Balkan revolutionaries to the fact that, in the fast-approaching struggle, the Balkans can play a still bigger and more decisive role if the revolutionary efforts of all the oppressed Balkan peoples are united and allied under the flag of Macedonian liberty and independence, under the flag of their own liberty and independence, and finally, under the flag of the Balkan Federation. . .



Desiring to give proof that it is directing its activity along this path, I.M.R.O. solemnly declares that it is putting a stop to all actions, all executive measures and all orders against detached Macedonian combatants, groups, organizations, and trends, provided that these base themselves sincerely on the true revolutionary struggle in the spirit of the present manifesto and that they stretch forth their hands to wage the common struggle under the flag of free and independent Macedonia, under the flag of the Balkan Federation. . .


This manifesto was clearly in line with the Balkan Communist Federation’s resolution of the previous March, and might well have been drafted by a Communist. As such, it represented a triumph for the Communist attempt to set up a ‘united front’ with the Macedonian revolutionary organizations. And it was in the flush of this triumph that the Comintern, meeting in the early summer (March-June) of 1924, endorsed and praised the Balkan Communist Federation’s resolution.


It was in this sense that the Fifth Comintern Congress passed its resolution on Macedonia and Thrace, which read:





1. The Macedonian and Thracian questions have for many decades been the cause of unending bloody conflicts between Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia, and an instrument of imperialist policy in the Balkans. The last imperialist war of 1914-18 in the Balkans, bringing with it economic ruin, political-national enslavement, and a new partition of Macedonia and Thrace between Yugoslavia, Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria, has made the national question in the Balkans much more acute and deepened national disagreements and hatreds. The partition of Macedonia between Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria has deepened the desire of the Macedonian people in all parts of their shattered homeland for unification and for the creation of a united independent Macedonia. The same desire for a united and independent Thrace unites the Thracian people, divided into three parts among Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria.


2. This situation makes the Macedonian and Thracian questions a single and basic revolutionary-national knot, the untying of which can and must be directed by the Balkan Federation of Communist Parties into the channel of proletarian revolutionary development in the Balkans. The Congress notes with satisfaction that the Sixth Conference of the Balkan Communist Federation by and large gave a correct answer to this most important question.


3. The Congress considers the slogans formulated by the Sixth Balkan Communist Federation Conference—‘United Independent Macedonia’ and ‘United Independent Thrace’—wholly correct and truly revolutionary. The slogan of autonomy for the separate parts of Macedonia and Thrace within the frontiers of one or another of the bourgeois States artificially created by the Sevres and other treaties, must be rejected as opportunist and as promoting agreement between the wealthy sections of the Macedonian and Thracian population and the ruling classes of the respective States, and the further social and national enslavement of the Macedonian and Thracian poor.


4. The Congress at the same time underlines that the revolutionary struggle of the Macedonian and Thracian peoples for their national and social emancipation can be successful only if it is conducted jointly with the revolutionary workers and peasants of each separate Balkan country.


5. The Communist Parties and the Balkan Federation must support to the utmost the national-revolutionary movement of the oppressed nationalities of Macedonia and Thrace for the creation of independent republics.


6. The Balkan Communist Federation is entrusted with the unification of leadership of the activities of the Communist Parties of the separate Balkan countries in regard to national questions, and particularly the Macedonian and Thracian questions. [1]



1. Piaty Vsemirny Kongress Kominterna, Stenogr. Otchet, Chast 11 (Prilozhenia), Moscow, Gosizdat, 1925.





This Comintern resolution not only gave its approval to the Balkan Communist Federation’s general solution of the Macedonian problem—and thereby indirectly to the I.M.R.O. manifesto—but also, in point 5, approved the Balkan Communist Federation’s strategy of the ‘united front’ with the ‘national-revolutionary movement’, which could only mean I.M.R.O.


At the same time the Comintern found it necessary to reprove both the Yugoslav and Greek Communist Parties for their recalcitrance in accepting higher ruling on the nationalities question. The Comintern’s resolution on Yugoslavia, though it does not specifically mention Macedonia and may have been more concerned with the Croat question, is obviously relevant to the Macedonian question. The resolution of the Fifth Plenum said:


The Yugoslav Communist Party must conduct a resolute and consistent struggle for the right of the oppressed nationalities to self-determination, up to political secession. This means, in the first place, that Communists must fight hard in all areas against the oppression of these nationalities by the Serbian masters. . . The Communist Party can and must support the various oppressed peoples in their demand for their own local self-administration, their own schools and independent courts, autonomy of provincial administration, etc. At the same time the Party must unfailingly emphasize that these are half-measures and try to extend each separate demand. The basic slogan must be the demand for the formation of a Balkan Federation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics. . .


The task of the Yugoslav Communist Party is to conduct an independent proletarian policy in the national question and to do so with such energy as to attract the Yugoslav peasant masses into becoming allies of the proletarian revolution. . . The opinion of Milioković, that the Communist Party must fight equally hard against any nationalism whatever, is not only opportunist, but objectively plays into the hands of Great Serb bourgeois nationalist policy. In their fight Communists must always bear in mind the difference between oppressing and oppressed nationalities. . . [1]


Manuilsky, in a long speech to the Comintern on the national question on 30 June 1924 directly reproved both the Yugoslavs and the Greeks for their attitude over the Macedonian question. He said:


The many mistakes made by the various sections of the Comintern in connexion with this question are due to the fact that many of our



1. 10 let Kominterna v resheniakh i tsifrakh, ed. by A. Tivel and M. Kheimo (Moscow, Gosizdat, 1929), p. 201.





comrades are not yet rid of social democratic ideology. These mistakes can be said to be of four fundamental types, all of which are survivals of the attitude of some Yugoslav comrades, especially of Comrades Marković and Milioković, who are now in prison. . . He [Comrade Milioković] asserts that in Yugoslavia there are no nations, but only linguistic differentiations. In his pamphlet, National Question in the Light of Marxism, and in a number of articles published in the organ of the Yugoslav Communist Party, Radnik, Comrade Marković brings forward, as a practical slogan for the Communist Party, the fight for the revision of the constitution, that is to say, he placed the whole question of national self-determination on a constitutional basis.


Very characteristic is Comrade Marković’s attitude towards the Macedonian question. You know that Macedonia plays at present, after its partition between Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgarians, the very same role in the Balkans that the Balkans play in Europe. A fierce fight is being waged around Macedonia, and especially around the question of an outlet into the Aegean Sea and the fight for the port of Salonika between the small robbers in the Balkans.


At the same time there is in Macedonia a strong national movement for the re-establishment of an independent State. What is Comrade Marković’s attitude to this national movement? In his articles he expressed the opinion that the Macedonian question is not by any means a Balkan but a European problem, which cannot therefore be finally solved before a victory of the European proletariat over the bourgeoisie has been achieved. If the question is put in this way, what will be the result? Only a passive attitude of the Communist Party to one of the most burning questions which is agitating the various Balkan nationalities at present. A careful study of the situation will show you that the origin of this kind of view is to be sought in the Second International. Marković holds the view that the proletariat must accept the bourgeois State such as it has been created by a series of wars and violations. . .


Similar mistakes are made by our Greek comrades in connexion with the Macedonian question. A few months ago, when an armed conflict seemed imminent in the Balkans, the Executive Committee of the Balkan Federation issued a manifesto which called upon the proletariat of the Balkan countries to stand up for Macedonian independence. The Greek Communist Party not only did not publish this manifesto, but even sent a reasoned protest against the issue of such a document by the Executive Committee of the Balkan Federation. . .


I know that in the commission on the national question that will be formed at this Fifth Congress we shall be able to find those practical solutions that will stimulate the national movements in different countries and impart to them a revolutionary character. The time for declarations of a general character has passed; we have now a period for creative revolutionary work in the colonies and among national minorities. If we fulfil these tasks we will have created half the chances





for the success of the international revolution to which we are devoted and which is guarded for the workers of the world by the Communist International. [1]



Thus the Bulgarian Communist Party was the only one of the three Balkan Communist Parties directly interested in Macedonia which escaped Comintern displeasure. It is hard not to conclude from this that the Balkan Communist Federation’s resolution of March 1924 was in fact Bulgarian-inspired, and that the Bulgarian Communist Party had failed to secure its acceptance by important elements in both the Yugoslav and Greek Parties. In pushing its Macedonian solution, the Bulgarian Communist Party may have had two motives. First, it may have wished to secure I.M.R.O. as an ally for the purposes of its own internal political activities inside Bulgaria, or at least to neutralize one of its most dangerous political opponents. Second, it may well have been infected, perhaps unconsciously, by the Bulgarian nationalist attitude on the Macedonian question.


The Comintern’s motives in backing up what was almost certainly the Bulgarian viewpoint against the Yugoslav and Greek Parties can equally be only surmised. But it is clear that the Bulgarian solution of the Macedonian problem fitted in well with the Comintern’s overall policy on the nationalities question at that time. And the Comintern may equally have been influenced by the belief, which apparently survived the failure of the rising of September 1923, that the Bulgarian Communist Party was the most efficient and most revolutionary of the three Balkan Communist Parties.


Nevertheless the Yugoslav and Greek Communist Parties did not swallow the Comintern ruling on the Macedonian question easily. The Greek representative, Maximos, answered Manuilsky’s strictures on 1 July 1924. He said:


The position of the Greek Party on the Macedonian question is not what Manuilsky says it is. Every national minority finds a defender in us, since the struggle of the national minorities is at the same time a struggle against the dominant class. In Bulgaria the Communists, under the leadership of Blagoev, defended the rights of the Greek minorities. . . For us the Macedonian question exists until the workers and peasants become their own masters. It is true that we sent a letter to the Balkan Federation protesting that in issuing the slogan of Macedonian autonomy it failed to take into consideration the conditions



1. I.P.C., 4 August 1924.





of its application to Greece. After the Treaty of Lausanne, all the Turkish inhabitants of Macedonia were obliged to leave, and the Greek bourgeoisie installed 700,000 refugees in their place. The Greek Communist Party opposed and will continue to oppose this violation of the Treaty of Lausanne. We would be glad if the Turkish comrades did so also. But the fact remains that there are 700,000 Greek refugees in Macedonia. The workers and peasants of Greece were therefore not prepared to accept the slogan of the autonomy of Macedonia. [1]



Reinforced by the backing of the Comintern, the Balkan Federation, or perhaps one should say its Bulgarian promoters, reasserted its authority at its seventh conference, held very shortly afterwards in Moscow (presumably in July 1924). Georgi Dimitrov, reporting its work, said:


The Conference declared that the position in the Balkans is not only revolutionary, but that the revolutionary crisis is reaching its acutest stage; that Bulgaria stands immediately before a fresh civil war; . . . that the struggle in Croatia, Slavonia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, and especially the fight of the Croatian peasant masses against the hegemony of the Serbian bourgeoisie and against Serbian militarism is developing in the direction of an armed rising; that the national movement of the Macedonian people is again reviving and assuming the form of an armed struggle. . .


The Conference pledged the Communist Parties of the Balkans to co-ordinate their actions and struggle, to render the fullest support to the national revolutionary movements, and to sever them finally from the influence of dependence upon the bourgeoisie and of the imperialists, and to unite them with the general struggle of the working masses against capitalism and imperialism for the rule of the workers and peasants, while at the same time they have to hinder in every possible way all counter-revolutionary intervention against any armed revolts in Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and anywhere else in the Balkans. . .


The Communist Balkan Conference has also discussed very thoroughly the inner situation and the activity of the individual Communist Parties of the Balkan countries. It condemned in a most decided manner the right and liquidatory deviation of many leaders and groups in these parties, and especially the opportunist standpoint of Comrades Sima Marković and J. Milanović in the Yugoslav Communist Party regarding the national question, which they regard merely as an ordinary constitutional question. The Conference condemned the attempt of the Comrades who had resigned from the Communist Party of Greece to form another Communist Party and



1. Fifth Comintern Congress, Abridged Report (published by the Communist Party of Great Britain), p. 205.





directed an appeal to all sincere revolutionary elements in Greece to rally to the ranks of the Communist Party of Greece.


The Conference adopted a number of decisions regarding the organizatory and political consolidation of the Communist Parties of the Balkan countries, as well as regarding the practical carrying out of the decisions of the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern in the Balkans. [1]



The Balkan Communist Federation therefore not only reasserted its policy of attempting to win over I.M.R.O., but also repeated in much stronger terms the Comintern’s strictures on the Yugoslav and Greek Communist Parties. Yet it must have been within a few days of its seventh conference that Alexandrov and Protogerov repudiated their signatures of the Vienna Manifesto, published on 15 July, and the whole structure of attempted collaboration with I.M.R.O. came tumbling to the ground.


This was of course a very serious blow to the Macedonian policy of the Balkan Communist Federation and the Comintern, who were thrust back on to the defensive. The I.M.R.O. leadership was lost to the Communists; so all that was left to them was to try to drive a wedge between the I.M.R.O. leadership and the ‘Macedonian masses’, and also between the Tsankov Government and the ‘masses’.


Already in August 1924, the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party issued a declaration attacking Tsankov on the Macedonian issue, as well as on other counts. Tsankov, it said, ‘is carrying on the old nationalist and conquering policy of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie against Macedonia and Thrace, and thereby forces the people into new and bloody conflicts with neighbouring States, and in particular with Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey’. It did not, however, as yet attack the I.M.R.O. leaders directly. [2]


But on 30 August Alexandrov was murdered; and his murder was the signal for the assassination of a number of Macedonian Communists and Federalists, at first inside Bulgaria and later abroad. The number included Aleko, local I.M.R.O. chief of the Petrich Department, who had approved the Vienna manifesto, and the Communist, Hadji Dimov. The Communists were therefore forced into an open campaign against the I.M.R.O. leaders whom they had been wooing only four months before.



1. I.P.C., 7 August 1924.


2. I.P.C., August 1924.





At the beginning of October 1924, a Communist writer attacked the ‘treacherous policy’ of Alexandrov and Protogerov. Dissatisfaction with their leadership, the writer said, had forced them to adopt a new policy and sign the Vienna Manifesto; but Tsankov in turn had forced them to repudiate it. The Tsankov Government was instigating conflicts within the Macedonian movement; and the Bulgarian bourgeoisie had always exploited the movement, as for example, through Alexandrov and Protogerov. The writer took no clear stand over Alexandrov’s murder, but lamented the fate of Aleko and Hadji Dimov. [1]


The Communists were now also careful to clear themselves of any possible connexion with I.M.R.O.’s activities. A statement issued by Kolarov and Dimitrov from Moscow in March 1925 said that the Bulgarian Communist Party was not responsible for the raids carried out by armed bands on the Yugoslav frontier. [2] They continued to attack the I.M.R.O. leadership and Tsankov for the repeated assassinations: Dimitrov, in Moscow, accused Protogerov of serving the Tsankov Government in carrying out death sentences on Macedonians abroad, for example, on Peter Chaoulev [3]; a Communist writer accused Tsankov of complicity both in the assassination of Chaoulev and also in that of Panitsa in Vienna. [4]


The failure of the Communist attempt to capture I.M.R.O. did not relieve the Greek Communist Party of the embarrassing dilemma in which it had been placed by the Macedonian ruling of the Comintern and the Balkan Communist Federation. Nor did it exempt the Yugoslav Communist Party from further reproofs in the Comintern and the Balkan Communist Federation in regard to its nationalities policy.


The Greek Party leaders accepted the ruling on Macedonian autonomy, supported it in their press, and risked their members’ lives in its cause. A later review of Fifteen Years of the Communist Party of Greece said of this period: ‘As a result of the fight waged by the Party for the right of self-determination of the Macedonian and Thracian minorities up to their separation from Greece, hundreds of Party members were imprisoned and exiled or



1. I.P.C., 2 October 1924.


2. ibid. 9 March 1925.


3. ibid. 12 March 1925. For Chaoulev’s earlier career, see pp. 39, 41, 42.


4. ibid. 14 May 1925. For Panitsa’s earlier career, see pp. 40, 41, 43.





prosecuted.’ [1] But this policy was only put through at the cost of a Party split.


Pouliopoulos, who had become secretary to the Party Central Committee in 1922, continued to oppose Macedonian autonomy in spite of the Comintern ruling. He broke away and started his own newspaper, The New Course. (It was presumably he whom the Balkan Communist Federation condemned in its declaration of July 1924.) In the spring of 1927, at the third Congress of the Greek Party, Pouliopoulos was, ‘with the aid of the Comintern’, subjected to severe criticism. This was intended to ‘isolate him within the Party, but by no means to bar his way back to Leninist principles or to activity in their midst’.


Pouliopoulos, however, chose to go his own way. The Communists continued to remember against him two, in particular, of his sayings. One was: ‘In my opinion our national policy was quite particularly mistaken; the principle of “united independent Thrace and Macedonia” has been catastrophic for the Greek Labour movement.’ The other was: ‘It is inadmissible that any international commando should autocratically decree that other Communist Parties should promulgate principles incompatible with the objective conditions of their countries.’ [2]


How many Greek Communists at that time followed Pouliopoulos is not known. But it is certain that then, as since, the ‘Macedonian autonomy’ ruling must have caused considerable disquiet even among those who remained loyal to the Party leadership.


Meanwhile the Yugoslav Communist Party’s attitude on the nationalities question, including the Macedonian issue, had been referred by the Comintern in 1924 to a special Yugoslav Commission. Comrade Semić [3] was the Yugoslav representative on the Commission. Stalin, addressing the Commission on 30 March 1925, made a pronouncement which sixteen years later may well have served as the ideological basis for Marshal Tito’s handling of the Macedonian question.


As the starting point of the national programme, we must postulate a Soviet revolution in Yugoslavia [Stalin said]. We must postulate that



1. I.P.C., 15 December 1933.


2. I.P.C., 20 October 1927.


3. ‘Semić’ appears to have been the cover-name of the Yugoslav Communist, Sima Marković, denounced by the Balkan Communist Federation for ‘opportunism’ in the summer of 1924. See p. 62.





without the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the revolution the national problem cannot be solved at all satisfactorily. . . Further, it is imperative to include in the national programme a special point on the right of nations to self-determination, including the right to secession. . . Finally, the programme should include a special point providing for national territorial autonomy for those nationalities in Yugoslavia which do not find it necessary to secede from that country. Those who think that such a contingency must be excluded are wrong. That is a mistake. Under certain circumstances, as a result of the victory of the Soviet revolution in Yugoslavia, it may well be that on the analogy of what occurred in Russia certain nationalities will not desire to secede. ..


Thus the right of secession must be provided for those nationalities that desire secession, and the right of autonomy for those nationalities that prefer to remain within the Yugoslav State.


To avoid all misunderstanding, I must say that the right to secession must not be understood as an obligation, as a duty to secede. A nationality may take advantage of this right and secede, but it may also forego the right, and if it does not wish to exercise this right, that is its business, and we cannot but take cognisance of the fact. . . We must not confuse a right with an obligation. [1]



During the ensuing discussion of the Yugoslav Commission’s report in the Enlarged Executive of the Comintern in April 1925 Kolarov, the Bulgarian, was one of the chief critics of the Yugoslav Party’s nationalities policy. Although the Yugoslav representatives seem to have accepted the criticisms, one, Popović, held out. [2]


Stalin, two months later, returned once again to the subject of ‘Semić’s’ attitude in the Yugoslav Commission. He had been guilty of making the Yugoslav nationalities problem a ‘constitutional’ problem, that is, of accepting the frontiers of the ‘bourgeois’ State of Yugoslavia. Stalin, writing in The Bolshevik on 30 June 1925, said: ‘Comrade Semić is divorcing the national question from the question of the general international situation, and, in consequence, the question of the right of self-determination, that is, of changing the frontiers of Yugoslavia, is virtually for him not a question of actual moment but an academic question’. [3]


In the light of the later development of Marshal Tito’s Macedonian policy, it seems doubtful whether, during the inter-war



1. J. Stalin, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1936), p. 204.


2. I.P.C., 28 April 1925.


3. Stalin, op. cit. p. 228.





years, the Yugoslav Communist Party ever fully and sincerely accepted Macedonian autonomy in the sense of an independent Macedonia outside Yugoslavia’s frontiers. Stalin, in his Bolshevik article, seemed decidedly opposed to Yugoslavia’s existing frontiers; nevertheless his earlier pronouncement before the Yugoslav Commission, quoted above, gave the Yugoslav Communists an invaluable escape clause. They could recognize that the Macedonians had a right, but not a duty to secede, from Yugoslavia. When, after the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, a fresh crisis arose over Macedonia, they could claim that the Macedonians chose not to exercise this right. And they could quote Stalin in their war-time dispute over Macedonia with the Bulgarian Communists.


After the fiasco of the Vienna Manifesto, the next positive move in the Macedonian struggle was left to Dimiter Vlahov, [1] who had remained in Vienna. Vlahov’s exact relations with the Communists at that time were still obscure. Either he was still no more than a benevolent well-wisher; or, more probably, he was already a Party member but had been allotted the role of appearing as a non-member.


In his Fédération Balcanique, on 15 July 1925, he went out of his way, in an editorial article headed ‘A Manoeuvre’, to disclaim any Bolshevik connexion. He set out to answer the question, where did Fédération Balcanique get its funds? He replied that, at the time of the agreement with Alexandrov and Protogerov, both I.M.R.O. and the Federalists had subscribed ‘important sums’ to the journal, which had constituted a ‘fund’. This had been supplemented by aid from ‘partisans and friends’ in Macedonia and also by Macedonian emigrants in the United States.


So why this charge of Bolshevism against us? [Vlahov asked]. Is it because we support the idea of a Balkan Federation? But is this a Bolshevik programme? Is it not a solution recognized by simple democrats? Or is it because in fighting for Balkan Federation, we do not attack the Russia of the Soviets in order to show that we do not envisage a Soviet Federation? This would be a strange demand, and we shall not, in order to please the Balkan satraps, belabour a Power which has solved, in its own country, in a rational and admirable fashion, the question of the minorities . . . and which for this very reason enjoys all our sympathies.



1. For Vlahov’s earlier career, see pp. 40, 41, 42.





In the following year, on 1 April 1926, Vlahov struck out and proclaimed the foundation of his ‘United I.M.R.O.The statutes of the new Organization, and its initial Declaration, were published on that date in the Fédération Balcanique. The statutes were:


Article 1. United I.M.R.O. has the task of conquering the liberty and independence of Macedonia in its geographical and economic frontiers and of forming of it an autonomous political unit belonging, as a member with equal rights, to the future Balkan Federation.


Article 2. The free and independent Macedonian State will be established on the basis of the entire equality of national, political, civil, and cultural rights for all the nationalities which inhabit it.


Article 3. To attain this end, United I.M.R.O. will work for:


(a) the formation of an organization of the revolutionary masses embracing the popular masses of the three parts of Macedonia, divided between Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria, and also all the Macedonian emigrants now outside Macedonia’s frontiers, and the preparation of these masses for a general popular insurrection.


(b) To unite all the Macedonian popular forces by attracting to its ranks all the groups, organizations, and persons of all social classes without distinction of nationality, citizenship, religion, or sex, who sincerely accept the aim, principles, ideas, and methods of action of United I.M.R.O.


(c) To enter in close relations with all organizations and all national-revolutionary and social-revolutionary parties in the Balkans which support the principle of the self-determination of the peoples and which are ready to collaborate in action for the creation of an independent Macedonian political unit.


(d) In the existing conditions of complete national, political, and economic oppression to which the Macedonian people is today subjected, United I.M.R.O. takes it as its essential task to fight for the conquest of liberty of language and cultural instruction for all the nationalities in Macedonia, for the conquest of political liberties and equality of rights, and to give land to the peasants and broad support to the economically weak classes.


Article 4. The Organization declares itself, given these aims and this task, to be revolutionary in character. It acts conspiratorially. But it does not exclude the legal straggle in all its possible manifestations, according to place and circumstances. The legal struggle will contribute to the broad development of the propaganda and organizational activity of United I.M.R.O., and will strengthen and deepen its ties with the popular masses.



Thus, whatever Vlahov’s exact relations with the Communists at that time, the Statute of United I.M.R.O. corresponded closely with the resolution of the Balkan Communist Federation of March 1924.





Vlahov’s accompanying ‘declaration’ recalled that Alexandrov and Protogerov had signed the Manifesto of 6 May 1924, but said they had been forced by the Tsankov Government to repudiate their signatures; and it accused the Tsankov Government, together with Protogerov, of responsibility for the murder of Alexandrov, ‘whom they could no longer trust’. The Macedonian masses, however, had accepted the principles of the Vienna Manifesto as a new creed, and the new United I.M.R.O. was based on these principles. United I.M.R.O., the declaration said, would fight against the Governments of Sofia, Belgrade, and Athens, and also against


the leaders of the Bulgaro-Macedonian Fascist organization, Protogerov, Mihailov, Bazhdarov, and Parlichev.


We turn to those Macedonians who continue to lend their moral and material support to the Organization of Protogerov and Mihailov, and say to them: the support which you give this Organization is support given, not to liberate Macedonia, but to enchain it still more. . .



In spite of this appeal, there is no evidence that United I.M.R.O. had any real success in winning over the Macedonian ‘popular masses’; and it remained to the end little more than a small emigre group based on Vienna, whose chief activity was to propagate its views in Vlahov’s Fédération Balcanique. This lack of success must in large measure have been due to the widespread belief, not eradicated by Vlahov’s disclaimers, that he was in fact a Communist agent. It was apparently for this reason that he lost the support even of old Federalists such as Philip Athanasov.


At the same time the Balkan Communist Federation was slow to give open support to United I.M.R.O., in spite of the identity of its aims with the Federation’s 1924 resolution. In November 1926 when the Enlarged Committee of the Comintern next met, there was only passing mention of the Macedonian question. Kolarov, in a very general speech, merely said: ‘Look at the names of a number of Balkan provinces: Albania, Macedonia, eastern and western Thrace, Bessarabia, the Dobrudja, etc. These provinces are certain to be talked of in connexion with the coming World War.’ The Yugoslav delegate, Nikolajević, criticized various aspects of Kolarov’s speech and pointed out differences between conditions in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, but





did not specifically mention Macedonia. [1] It seems probable that the Comintern, aware of the relative ineffectiveness of the nationalities policy which it had proclaimed in 1924, had decided to soft-pedal the subject.


An article on Balkan federation by Georgi Dimitrov, which appeared on 1 December 1927, again omitted specific mention of Macedonia. Dimitrov said:


In the Balkans, just as in Russia, the very complicated national question can only be solved, territorial feuds settled, imperialist pressure overcome, and real peace among the Balkan peoples ensured, by the creation of a federation of Balkan peoples, after their liberation from capitalism. That is why the Balkan proletariat ... is carrying on its fight for the Balkan Federation, for the Federation of the Balkan Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics. . . [2]



(Twenty-one years later Dimitrov was, of course, sternly reproved by the Moscow Pravda for advocating Balkan Federation).


It was not until 1929 that the Balkan Communist Federation recovered sufficiently from the 1924 setback over I.M.R.O. to tackle the Macedonian issue again. Then, in the spring, it passed a long resolution developing further the main themes of its 1924 resolution. The 1929 resolution said:


The national revolutionary movement in the Balkans remains one of the main streams of the general revolutionary movement. The Communist Parties of the Balkans stand for the right of self-determination for the oppressed nations up to their separation into independent States. Simultaneously with this they raise the slogan of a Balkan Federation as an alliance of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics of all Balkan countries, including the subjugated territories. With regard to Macedonia, which is divided between Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria, the Communist Parties raise the slogan of ‘independent and united Macedonia’. . .


The Balkan Communist Federation must formulate concretely for the Communist Parties of the Balkans appropriate slogans for the national self-determination of all oppressed nations in the Balkans and connect them with the general slogan of the Balkan Federation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics. These slogans, however, will remain simply words if the Communist Parties of the Balkans do not accord real support to the oppressed nations. . .


The Communists are in duty bound to work in the national revolutionary organizations. Their task in these organizations is to fight against the endeavours of the imperialist States and the Balkan Governments



1. I.P.C., 24 November 1926.


2. ibid. 1 December 1927.





to subjugate the national revolutionary movement and convert the national revolutionary organizations into instruments of their policy of conquest. . . The Balkan Communist Federation has the special task of co-ordinating the activity of the Communist Parties of the Balkans in the sphere of the national revolutionary movement, of securing the connexion and co-operation of the Communist Parties of the Balkans with the national revolutionary organizations which, as the Macedonian I.M.R.O., the Dobrudjan revolutionary organization, the Thracian revolutionary organization, the Bessarabian League of Revolutionary Peasants, etc., stand for the co-operation of the oppressed nations with the revolutionary proletariat. . .


Imperialist war will create in the Balkans favourable conditions for unchaining the national revolution in the rear of the ruling bourgeoisie. For the purpose of preventing and rapidly crushing the national revolution, the Balkan Governments will resort to extraordinary measures, of which the most important are: the mobilization of the whole of the enlightened and active part of the oppressed population which is capable of fighting, and its dispersal among the various groups of the army in the whole country, as well as the occupation of the enslaved districts by reliable troops. The inhabitants of many districts (Macedonia, Montenegro, Thrace, Bessarabia, Dobrudja, and others) who have already taken part in a number of national insurrections and have experience in armed struggle, will in the event of mobilization desert in masses and take up the armed fight for their national emancipation, favoured by the mountains which cover the greater part of their districts.


The Communist Parties of the Balkans must take this into consideration and issue at the right time the slogan of partisan fights in the above-mentioned districts in order to unchain national revolutionary insurrections; they must do everything necessary in order to unify the national struggle in the various districts and to link it up and coordinate it with the revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants of all the Balkan countries. The Balkan Communist Federation is faced with the task of establishing connexion and co-operation of the various really revolutionary organizations among themselves as well as between them and the Balkan Communist Parties, under the leadership of the latter and of the Balkan Communist Federation. [1]



This resolution is interesting for its early formulation of the theory of partisan warfare on the basis of the ‘national revolutionary’ struggle. It is also noteworthy that it did not mention Vlahov’s United I.M.R.O. by name—though it may have been covered by the phrase ‘really revolutionary organizations’—and that it did not attack the existing I.M.R.O. leadership.


Very shortly afterwards, however, at the end of April 1929,



1. I.P.C., 10 May 1929.





the Balkan Communist Federation repaired both these omissions. Incensed by Pavelić’s [1] visit to Sofia, on I.M.R.O.’s invitation, the Federation issued a declaration on the ‘Croatian-Macedonian Alliance’ which strongly denounced the ‘Fascist Macedonian organization of Ivan Mihailov’ and mildly boosted United I.M.R.O. The declaration said:


The Fascist Macedonian organization in Bulgaria which, on account of its terrible crimes against the fight for freedom of the Macedonian people, is now bankrupt and distracted, hopes through this ‘agreement’ to raise itself to a certain degree in the eyes of, and to mislead, the disappointed and dissatisfied Macedonian masses, who are tending more in the direction of the real national-revolutionary movement, with the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (United) at its head. . .


It is quite clear that the Macedonian Fascists who keep the Macedonian population of Bulgarian Macedonia under the most cruel of regimes, who have bestially murdered the best Macedonian revolutionaries, who are a tool of the Bulgarian bourgeoisie for the capture of Macedonia and act like bands of murderers against the workers and peasants who fight so heroically against the Fascist dictatorship in Bulgaria; it is clear that they cannot take the lead in the fight for the liberation of the Macedonians and Croatians from the yoke of the pan-Servian military-Fascist dictatorship.


The Balkan Communist Federation calls upon the Communists of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, as also of the whole Balkans, who are in the front ranks of the fight against national suppression, against the military-Fascist dictatorship in Bulgaria . . . who are fighting for the national freedom of the Macedonians, Croatians, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Albanians, Dobrudjans, Thracians, and for their unification— with the other Balkan peoples—in the Balkan Federation of Workers’ and Peasants’ Republics, to be on their guard and not to permit the national-revolutionary movement to be misused for foreign imperialist and fascist purposes. [2]



At this point the link between Vlahov and the Communists thus became open and unconcealed. Five years later Vlahov was writing in Communist publications as a leading spokesman not only on Macedonian questions but also on wider Balkan issues. In June 1934 he commented on the Georgiev-Velchev coup in Bulgaria, which placed him in something of a dilemma. On the one hand he attacked the Georgiev Government as a ‘Military- Fascist Dictatorship’, which had ‘dissolved all political parties,



1. For Pavelić and his relations with Mihailov, see also pp. 27 and 44.


2. I.P.C., 24 May 1929.





organizations, and associations’. On the other hand he admitted that its measures against the ‘Macedonian Fascists’ under Mihailov, who were ‘the tools of Italian imperialism’, had ‘aroused great discontent in Italian-German Fascist circles’. [1]


On the occasion of King Alexander’s murder, Vlahov also strongly attacked Ivan Mihailov, and said:


The overwhelming majority of the Macedonian people is convinced that its freedom can only be won in mass action in concert with the other victims of oppression and exploitation in Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria, the three countries which oppress Macedonia, and with the victims of exploitation and oppression all over the world. The masses in Macedonia are therefore rallying more and more round their real organization, United I.M.R.O., which is working for the overthrow of oppression by means of a mass insurrection, for the right of self-determination for the Macedonian people, for the secession of Macedonia, and for the establishment of an independent republic of the working people. [2]



At the same time, Vlahov naturally had to condemn the rapprochement between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia brought about by the Georgiev Government. ‘The working masses of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and the other Balkan countries’, Vlahov wrote, ‘can expect from this rapprochement as well as from the Balkan Entente only a closer tightening of their chains. Only the victory of the revolution can free the Balkan peoples.’ [3]


The Balkan Communist Parties had in fact consistently opposed all attempts at collaboration between the Balkan ‘bourgeois’ Governments, presumably because they tended to perpetuate the status quo and the existing frontiers. The Greek Communist Party denounced the Greek-Yugoslav Pact of 17 March 1929 and the Greek-Turkish Convention of January 1931. When the Balkan Pact was concluded in February 1934, the Central Committees of the Communist Parties of Roumania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey issued a joint declaration attacking it:


The ‘Balkan Pact’ is in reality one of the episodes in the feverish regrouping of imperialist forces throughout the capitalist world, regroupings which mark the increased preparation for military clashes. . .


The Balkan Pact, in trying to make permanent the Versailles [sic]



1. I.P.C., 29 June 1934.


2. ibid. 3 November 1934.        3. ibid. 17 November 1934.





frontiers in the Balkans, though they had torn into pieces the living bodies of a number of nations, violently forcing them into the artificial boundaries of the imperialist Balkan States, submitting them to a regime of fierce national oppression and increased exploitation, is a challenge to all these nationalities which are struggling for freedom, Dobrudja, Bukovina, Transylvania, Croatia, and Slovenia, Macedonia and Thrace, which remained in the hands of their oppressors, have become the victims of the false peace, the preservation of which is solemnly promised by the Balkan Pact. [1]



Thus up till 1934, Communist policy in the Balkans, and over the Macedonian question, was strongly revisionist. There are negative indications that by the following year, in view of the rise of Nazi Germany as the great revisionist Power, and also as the great anti-Communist Power, this policy was quietly placed in cold storage. As regards Macedonia, little was heard of Vlahov after 1934.


It is also interesting that there was little trace of the Balkan Communist Federation itself after 1930, when it issued an appeal for funds to the ‘Working Emigrants from the Balkans in Europe, America, and Australia’. (Although there are a good many Macedonian emigrants in the United States, the appeal made no mention of Macedonia). [2]


At its 1929 conference, the Federation had made what was perhaps a last attempt to enforce discipline, through the Comintern, on the member parties—that is, probably, the Greek and Yugoslav Parties. It declared that the decisions of the Executive Bureau of the Balkan Communist Federation on Balkan questions were binding on all the Communist Parties of the Balkans. In case of differences between the Executive Bureau and the individual Communist Parties, the Enlarged Committee of the Comintern was to decide the matter. [3] This was, of course, the type of procedure used in August 1941 to settle the dispute between the Yugoslav and Bulgarian Communist Parties over Macedonia, when the Comintern was called in to arbitrate. There seems no available evidence that it was used in the years following 1929; and it seems likely that the influence of the Balkan Communist Federation was then already waning, and that the Federation itself ceased to function sometime between 1930 and 1935.



1. I.P.C., 4 May 1934.


2. ibid. 23 January 1930.        3. ibid. 17 May 1929.





When the seventh World Congress of the Comintern met in the late summer of 1935 it was no longer, as in 1924, concerned with the revolutionary possibilities of the nationalities question, including Macedonia. It was preoccupied with the rise of Nazi Germany. Its leading spirit was Dimitrov who appeared, not in the role of a Balkan revolutionary, but as the hero of the Reichstag Fire Trial and the promoter of the strategy of the ‘United Front’ between the Communists and Social Democrats, or, in eastern Europe, between the Communists and the peasant parties, against German or other forms of Fascism. The emphasis of the Congress was on anti-Fascism and the preservation of world peace, not on social or national revolution. There is no evidence that the Macedonian problem, as such, was raised.


An indication of this change of emphasis was given by the Bulgarian delegate, Iskrov, who said:


The Communist Party of Bulgaria has stated and still declares that the Neuilly Treaty which was forced upon Bulgaria and which destroyed the national independence of Macedonia, Thrace, and Dobrudja, the burden of which the bourgeoisie placed upon the shoulders of the toiling masses, must be absolutely and completely destroyed. The Communist Party of Bulgaria, however, determinedly rejects war as a means of liquidating the Neuilly Treaty . . . Not war but peace— the struggle against Fascism and war, the struggle for equal rights and national self-determination including the secession of all the enslaved nationalities in the Balkan countries . . . that is the path to the complete liquidation of the Neuilly Treaty and all the consequences of the World War, the path to averting a new Balkan and world imperialist war. . . [1]



The Greek Communist Party was quick to take advantage of this shift in Comintern policy. At its sixth Party Congress, at the end of 1935, it declared the policy of a common front with the Agrarian groups in Greece, and also ‘laid down new lines for the national policy’. The Party declared:


At the time of the enforced dismemberment of Macedonia and Thrace, the main slogan of the Communist Parties of the Balkans was for a ‘united and indivisible Macedonia and Thrace’, but since the defeat of Greece in Asia Minor, and since the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, the Greek bourgeoisie has settled Greeks in Macedonia, and now the Greek population predominates there. In accordance with the principle of the Marxist-Leninist nationalities policy, and with the decision of the Seventh World Congress of the



1. I.P.C., 11 January 1936.





Comintern, the Party Congress therefore established that the slogan of a ‘united and indivisible Macedonia and Thrace’ no longer corresponds with the accomplishment of the aim of winning over the masses of the Greek people and of the national minorities. The Party Congress emphasized that the ultimate aim of the Party is the right of self- determination of the oppressed peoples, an aim which will be attained with the establishment of the Soviet power in the Balkans; under the present circumstances the Party must fight for the ‘complete equality of rights of the national minorities’. [1]



The Greek Communist Party therefore managed to free itself of the Macedonian millstone for about eight years, until the rise of the Macedonian Liberation Front in northern Greece in the Second World War. When it was again faced with the Macedonian problem in an acute form, at the beginning of 1949, it took refuge in a policy very similar to that of the 1935 declaration.


The real attitude of the Yugoslav Communist Party on the Macedonian question in the nineteen-thirties is not clear. But it seems likely enough that Tito [2] was already working out his solution of the Yugoslav nationalities problem on the basis of a federation of six republics, including Macedonia—a federation which would be within Yugoslavia’s existing frontiers but which might be extended to a South Slav union embracing Bulgaria. Presumably at one time Tito must have accepted the Comintern- Vlahov solution of an ‘independent Macedonia’ in a Balkan Federation [3]; but by 1941 he had certainly moved far away from it, and in fact by the end of 1943 he had secured Vlahov’s adherence to his own views.


Thus the Axis invasion of the Balkans in 1941 found Communist policy on the Macedonian question unsettled. The Greeks, and probably also the Yugoslavs, had remained unreconciled to the ‘Independent Macedonia’ formula; and the Bulgarian Communists were not sufficiently clear in their attitude to resist



1. I.P.C., 25 January 1936.


2. He became Secretary-General of the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1937.


3. It is just possible that Tito himself may have contributed to the first issue of Vlahov’s Fédération Balcanique, issued on 15 July 1924. This contained an article entitled ‘The Salvation of the Balkans Lies in Federation’, signed ‘M. Walter’. It is known that one of Tito’s earlier noms de guerre was Walter or Valter, so he may conceivably have been the writer. The article discussed various forms of federation, including the United States, the U.S.S.R., and Switzerland, and envisaged a Balkan Federation including ‘Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, Albania, etc. . . The ascription of this article to Tito is, however, purely a matter of speculation.





the temptation of exploiting the Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia.


The great weakness of Communist policy on Macedonia between 1920 and 1935 seems to have been that it was based on an abstract theory—wedded, in 1924, with unsuccessful opportunism—rather than on hard facts. In theory, the Bulgarian and Moscow Communists, at least, believed that the ‘Independent Macedonia’ formula had the greatest revolutionary possibilities of any. But they were not strong enough in Macedonia itself to act on their own; and so they became involved in the fiasco of their attempt to work through I.M.R.O., from which they never really recovered.


There was also a serious contradiction between their theory and their organization. They opposed the Balkan frontiers created by the 1920 Peace Treaties; but the Balkan Communist Parties were created, and continued to be organized, on the territorial basis of these frontiers. No attempt seems to have been made to create an independent Macedonian Communist organization to fight for Independent Macedonia—unless Vlahov’s United I.M.R.O. is to be regarded as an unsuccessful substitute.


When, on the rise of Nazi Germany as an aggressive revisionist Power, Russia switched to opposition to revisionism, this contradiction temporarily ceased to matter. But when the Axis invasion wiped out existing Balkan frontiers in 1941, it led to confusion and conflict between the Balkan Communist Parties. And this conflict rapidly revived the old suspicion, which the Greeks and Yugoslavs had clearly harboured in the nineteen- twenties, that the ‘Independent Macedonia’ solution was a cloak for latent nationalist aspirations within the Bulgarian Communist Party—aspirations which in the twenties had received the backing of Moscow.


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