South Slavic immigration in America

George Prpic



The Present and Future


I. The Gulf between the Generations
II. Partial Revival
III. Ethnic Pride
IV. Conclusions


AMONG the Bulgarian and Macedonian anonymous immigrants the women deserve special recognition. They appeared on the scene considerably later than their husbands. Beset by innumerable hardships and grueling household chores, they lived in constant fear of industrial accidents, strikes, and violence.


Ever since the 1690s when the Bulgarians started to arrive in larger numbers, they — both men and women — have been giving their energy to the building of America. In America's wars of this century, as well as in steel mills, mines, and factories hundreds died or were maimed. This was their supreme sacrifice, their contribution in blood to America.


The earliest Bulgarian contributors in the late 1800s and in the early twentieth century were doctors and educators. They, were sponsored by the Protestant missionaries. Unfortunately, the names of these contributors fell into obscurity.


Stephen Panaretorff, a former professor at the well-known American-established Robert College in Constantinople, served as the Bulgarian Minister to the United States between 1914 and 1924. Others taught philosophy, history, engineering, biology, and other disciplines. George Dimitroff worked for years at the Harvard Observatory. Assen Jordanoff, a former Worid War I pilot, served as technical adviser to prominent aircraft manufacturers and airlines. The roster of the more outstanding Bulgarians includes scholars, inventors, sculptors and writers, a prominent architect, and a noted photographer among others.


Assen Nicoloff finished the American High School in Samokov, Bulgaria, came to America in 1927, earned degrees from Oberlin College and Northwestern University, and returned to Sofia in 1930. When he came hack to the United States, he received more degrees and worked as a librarian and scholar. He is the author of several books on Bulgarian history and literature.





Atanas Katchamakoff was a sculptor, illustrator, and writer who, under the pseudonym Monica Shannon, published the novel Dobry. It won the John Newbery Medal in 1935 "for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."


Of the Bulgarian singers in the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the best known was Ljuba Welitsch, a soprano who made her American debut in February 1949. Other "Met" stars were Lubomir Vishegonov and Boris Christov.


Among the most successul writers has been Stoyan Christowe mentioned elsewhere in this book. Besides This Is My Country, he published five other books. Me moved to Vermont to the late 1930s and served in its state legislature for twelve years (until 1972). Now 77, he lives with his wife in a house he built himself sixteen years ago. On the occasion of the U.S. Bicentennial he expressed in his statement for Nesweek (of July 4, 1976) his great love and belief in the future of his adopted country.


As educators and scientists the Bulgarians have contributed more than their share. Dr. Stefan Stojanoff is eminent in research in antibiotics. Others have excelled in business, sports, engineering, organized labor, and federal jobs. Their gifts to the folklore are varied and colorful. Nicholas Jordanoff is one of the leading men to the Duequesne University Tamburitzans, one of the best folklore groups in the country. Among the "Tammies" many young Bulgarians have over the last forty years helped in presenting, here and abroad, the Bulgarian folk dances, accompanied by Bulgarian music (including drums and flutes) and exhibiting beautiful national costumes of various regions of the homeland.


Many Bulgarians are today in the mainstream of American life. They can be identified if their last names end with "off" or "ov." However, others — like their other fellow South Slavs — are hidden behind their adopted Anglo-Saxon names. [1]


Because of the confusing way to which the U.S. Immigration Service classified entering immigrants, it is impossible to give an accurate number of the three generations of Bulgarians who live to America. According to some estimates, there are over 100,000 Bulgarians, born either in this country or in the Balkans, living to almost all fifty states. They are concentrated mostly in the Midwest and in Pennsylvania. A great majority of all





American Bulgarians came from Macedonia which is ruled now by Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria.


According to the official Immigration statistics, 67,250 Bulgarian immigrants were admitted between June 1920 and June 30, 1973. As our Immigration and Naturalization Service classifies the Immigrants by "the country or region of birth," it is difficult to count members of an ethnic or nationality group whose geographical origins vary. Between 1946 and 1974 under "Refugees Admitted by Country or Region of Birth" some 3,750 came from Bulgaria. [2]


In 1973 only 320, and in 1974 only 189 immigrants from Bulgaria were admitted, while in years preceding the 1970s there were usually less than 100. The number of immigrants from Bulgaria, all of Bulgarian nationality, is therefore one of the smallest of any nationality group in America. Apparently the People's Republic of Bulgaria does not permit any significant outflow of immigrants. Only a few hundred Bulgarians after a long struggle have been permitted to go to the United States, but even this number in the 1970s presents a considerable increase over the immigration during the quarter of a century between 1945 and 1970. The relations between the United States, and Bulgaria are much more relaxed in this decade than before, and the ties between the Zhivkov government in Sofia and that in Washington have been normalized. The Bulgarians are trying to attract American tourists and many American magazines advertise the beautiful beaches on the Black Sea and other scenic parts of Bulgaria. More American scholars now visit Bulgaria, attend the international Slavists' congresses in Sofia, while more Bulgarians are allowed to visit the United States. The American Bulgarians hope that progressive relaxation of conditions hi the homeland will result in more immigrants to America, especially those related to Bulgarians already here.


Some Bulgarian immigrants come from Greece, from Macedonian settlements in so-called Aegean Macedonia. The largest number of Bulgarian immigrants now come from Yugoslavia, from the Macedonian Republic and from the autonomous region of Kossovo-Metohija (Kosmet). From the annual average number of some five thousand immigrants from Yugoslavia, about ten percent are Bulgarian-speaking Macedonians. Because of the





impractical system of classification by our Immigration and Naturalization Service, all Bulgarian immigrants from Yugoslavia and other lands are not counted as Bulgarians but as Yugoslavs, Greeks, and others.



I. The Gulf between the Generations


The Bulgarian immigrants after the last war differed in many ways from their ancestors who came before the 1920s. While the old immigrants were predominantly peasants, during the last thirty years the newcomers included a large number of educated and skilled people. This is especially true of those who have come to the United States during the last ten or fifteen years. Inevitably, there is a gulf between the old and new generations. A whole new, young generation of these and other Balkan immigrants grew up under Communism and even though many may not believe in it, they were inevitably affected by it in many ways. This, of course, creates animosities that result in separation and conflict. Many newcomers either don't care about the church and observance of religious practices, or if they attend church, they opt for the faction in the church that supports the patriarch in the old country in the continuing split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.


A recent reference book lists four Bulgarian-language papers with a circulation of some ten thousand. Some appeared in recent years and were of short duration. [3] The Macedonian Tribune (Makedonska Tribuna) is still going strong after fifty years of publication. As evident from its columns, it is generously supported by the readers and political organizations with donations in money and paid advertisements. The large size format with special enlarged issues for Christmas, the New Year, and Easter, and many advertisements offers still the best chronicle of Bulgarian life its this country. To bridge the gap between the old and new generations the Tribune frequently prints special English-language sections.



II. Partial Revival


A fair number of Bulgarian immigrants and refugees — intellectuals, exiled politicians, professors, and other professionals —





have met with success in reviving Bulgarian culture end political life. The Macedonians are divided on the issue of Macedonia. There are certain animosities between those that came from Yugoslav Macedonia and those who came from Bulgaria and Greek-controlled southern Macedonia. The old Macedonian Patriotic Organization still holds very well attended yearly conventions with many political, social, and religious activities. The MPO is still against the regime in Belgrade and opposes the Communist regime in Sofia. The Macedonian Tribune as its organ still prints appeals, letters, and articles by the old leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Ivan Mihailoff. His memoirs (written in Bulgarian) are advertised by the paper and are avidly read. To many of the old and young, "Vanča" remains the symbol of the old revolutionary struggle and the guerrilla warfare in the mountains of homeland.


The policy of the Macedonian Patriotic Organization remains unchanged: liberation and unification of Macedonia as a sort of Switzerland of the Balkans. As the Bulgarian government under Premier Zhivkov continues to raise its claims to the Macedonian Republic in Yugoslavia, the goals of the Macodonian patriots in exile and those of the government in Sofia are pretty much identical.


In 1976 Bulgarians and Macedonians everywhere commemorated the centenary of their revolt of 1876 against the Turks and the beginning of the liberation of Bulgaria. This centenary also affected Bulgarian politics in the old country and in the migrant colonies abroad. In 1977 the American Macedonians continue to stress the role of Macedonia in the Balkan vortex. The old slogan that was inscribed on the flag of the fighting Macedonian komitadjis (guerrilla fighters) "Svoboda ili smert!" (Liberty or death) is still repeated in the most recent issues of Macedonian publications. [4]


In their political activities the Macedonians have cordial relations with the Croatians. Usually some Croatian political delegates attend the annual MPO convention or are main speakers. In their press the Macedonians frequently write about the Croatian problem while the Croatians often refer with sympathy to the Macedonian struggle. To inform the English-speaking





world of the problems of Macedonia, the Macedonians started in January 1967 the publication of a review in English called Balkania. It is an "International Quarterly on Balkan Affairs," printed in St. Louis and edited by Christ Anastasoff.


One individual who disappointed those Macedonians who are opposed to Belgrade's rule was the writer Stoyan Christowe. In 1953, when his compatriots lived in Macedonia under very harsh conditions, he went to Yugoslavia for a five months visit, was dined and wined by the authorities, and was received by Tito. [5] Macedonian patriots thought Christowe should have stayed away from such a visit. However, like him, many old immigrants, who have not seen the country for decades, visit the homeland. This does not necessarily mean that they condone Tito's rule in Macedonia. Trips to Macedonia as well as to Bulgaria are also undertaken by American-born Bulgarians and Macedonians.


A Yugoslav organization catering to returning emigrants, the "Matica," exists in the Macedonian republic. It publishes its monthly magazine and provides guided tours for American visitors through the republic and other parts of Yugoslavia. The authorities try to impress on the visitors the achievements of the Communist regime; the political activists in America denounce such trips as a betrayal of the national cause. They also abject to the help American tourists give by bringing their dollars to the Communist regime. The jet age did bring Skopje much closer to the American Bulgarian immigrants.


There exists in America a Bulgarian National Front whose recent president was Dr. Ivan Docheff. It held its eleventh congress on March 7-8, 1970 in Washington, D.C., dedicated to "the heroes of the 25-year resistance against Communism and for the liberation of Bulgaria" The invocation was said by the Bulgarian Diocesan Prelate in Exile, H. E. Bishop Kyril. Congressman John Murphy and other distinguished Americans joined some eight hundred Bulgarians who attended. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the BNF was celebrated on March 18-19, 1972, also in Washington, D.C. The Bi-annual Congress was held at the some time. [6]


The leading Bulgarian democratic politician in exile was Georgi M. Dimitroff (no relation to his Communist namesake). In the homeland he was the president of the Bulgarian Peasant





Party. After escaping from Bulgaria, where be was sentenced to death, he found asylum in Washington, D.C. Like several others he was accused by the Red rulers as an American spy. He died In Washington in November 1972. [7]


Dimitroff, the exiled agrarian, and other politicians from Bulgaria disagreed with some of the issues of the Macedonian Patriotic Organization. Disagreements seem to exist even within the ranks of the MPO itself, as evident from a letter by the leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Ivan Mihailoff, which was printed in the Macedonian Tribune, issue of April 1, 1971. Mihailoff refers to "Communist attempts in America to break the MPO." One of those attempts was made by George Pirinsky who — as we learn here — was later deported by the United States for his leftist activities.


Constant efforts are being made to preserve the Macedonian heritage, especially among the younger generation. This is evident from special English-language issues of the Macedonian Tribune dedicated to the young Macedonians. The Macedonian Patriotic Organization has a special Youth Section which stimulates various activities. The Ladies Section of the same organisatiin makes similar efforts. At its Fifteenth Annual Conference held in Indianapolis in May 1972, Mrs. Zhivka Tsafarova of Toronto delivered the main speech under the title "The Women in the Macedonian Liberation Movement, Past and Present." Indeed, the role of women in the MPO as well as throughout the Macedonian struggle has been very important. Some women died as revolutionary heroines with rifles in their hands or were tortured to death by enemy police. [8]



III. Ethnic Pride


Tho feelings of the young Macedonians are well described an issue of the Tribune, in a short article written by Suzy Repplogle, whose father is German and mother is Macedonian (maiden name Lebanoff). In her article "I am Proud," Suzy writes that she has always looked upon herseff "as being Macedonian." Her two brothers and she were "raised as Macedonians." She participates in a folklore group performing at annual conventions of the MPO. She likes the Macedonian Tribune





which arrives at their home every weekend. She cannot read Bulgarian, but she enjoys the English page. She is a member of the Youth Section of the MPO and thus keeps in touch wife her "blood brothers — Macedono-Bulgarians," as she calls them. In conclusion she adds: "Our family is proud to be called Macedonians! Even my dad considers himself a Macedonian at heart. My mother did a great fob indoctrinating us all. I still remember my brother Dan, crying is if his heart was broken when he realized that he was only half Macedonian. This is also the way I feel." [9]


This is the way many of the young generation feel. After a Ph.D. candidate from Fort Wayne, Indiana, gave a lecture on Macedonian folklore, a reporter of the Tribune wrote: "We discussed our Macedonian heritage with emphasis on our church beliefs, weddings, name days, and unique customs. It was a most enjoyable opportunity for us to freely express our pride in being Macedonians." [10]


This pride was also evident when on January 28, 1972 Ivan Argire Lebanoff was sworn in as the thirty-eighth mayor of the same city, Fort Wayne. He is a Democrat, a prominent member of the MPO, and has been active in the local Orthodox parish and entire community. "Fort Wayne Macedonians stand tall and proud" because of their mayor, stated the Tribune on March 30, 1972.


Pride was expressed by the same paper in one of its recent issues when it published (along with a photograph) the news that John S. Kostoff, age 36, son of Draga Teodoroff and the late Richard M. Kostoff, was recently promoted to full professor of mathematics at Delta College, Bay City, Michigan. To the members of a small ethnic group such an event is important; its reaction reflects tremendous respect for education. It has been a long way from the steel mills and mines, where illiterate Balkan peasants worked, to the halls of academe where their grandsons, some of them doctors of philosophy, teach young Americans. But the two generations — set opart by some fifty years of long and painful struggle — are faithfully and inevitably linked. The grandparents prepared the road to success for the grandchildren. [11]


Many old-timers who fled the oppression of the Balkan rulers





and brought with them the memory of the bloody risings and wars will soon completely disappear from the scene. The Bulgarian-Macedonian political leaders and activists are faced with the same problem that affects other South Slavs in this country: they are getting old while a new and, in many ways, different generation is emerging in the homeland as well as in their adopted country. Unlike other South Slavs whose number is augmented by a constant influx of thousands of immigrants, the Bulgarians — as already explained — are receiving few newcomers. If this very limited immigration from Macedonia and Bulgaria continues, within two or three decades, the Bulgarian ethnic group in America will dwindle down to a very small community.



IV. Conclusions


According to the U.S. Census of 1960, there were 448,503 Americans whose country of origin is Yugoslavia. These statistics do not specify their ethnic composition. The Census of 1970 indicates 447,273 in the same group. Of those, 154,000 were born in the old country. Those who have one foreign-born parent are considered individuals of foreign extraction.


There are reasons to believe that these census statistics are unreliable and much too low. Thousands of people of the third and even fourth generation still identify themselves as members of one of the six South Slavic ethnic groups. This trend is understandable in this era of ethnicity and signifies a search for "roots."


To the question of who were the most outstanding individuals from among the peoples who have come from the Balkans, the author would name three. One is the Slovenian missionary, Bishop Frederick Baraga. Another is Nikola Testa of Serbian nationality, the inventor and scientist. And the most recent one is the Croatian universal artist, Ivan Meštrović. Each of them was great in his own way. All three enriched America considerably. They left a memorable heritage to the descendants of the South Slavic peoples. Each one was of peasant background. They were similar in that they belived in the freedom and dignity of all men. Even though the Bulgarians and Macedonians did not produce





a giant comparable to these three, Stoyan Christowe, who is still alive, can be singled out as the best representative of his people. The most significant contributors, however, among these people — and among all South Slavs — are still the anonymous immigrants — men and women. They helped to build modern America. Their descendants, living between the Atlantic and Pacific, still regard it as a land of opportunity, a land of the future. Each year approximately six thousand South Slavs come here in search of freedom and bread. They emigrate in fast jet planes, not on ships as the generations have done before. For them the "Golden Gates" to America are not Ellis Island, but usually Kennedy International Airport. These modern-age immigrants arrive under more favorable circumstances than those encountered by their forefathers. And they assert themselves much sooner.


Thousands of their countrymen form very active and live ethnic communities. New ethnic awareness, close contacts with the homeland, and a steady influx of thousands of new immigrants will undoubtedly prolong the existence of distinct Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian communities for many years to come. However, the future of the Macedonian and Bulgarian community looks less optimistic if present trends continue.


The body of Bishop Baraga rests in the crypt of St. Peter's Cathedral in Marquette, Michigan. Thousands of American Slovenians come here each year to pray. Revered in his own day, Baraga's reputation for sanctity has been increasing. On September 19, 1970 the New York Times reported from Marquette that the Diocese of Marquette, having completed the long, prescribed proceedings, officially submitted the proposal to the Vatican's Congregation of Holy Rites for Baraga's beatification. After this the necessary steps will be undertaken for his canonization. If this ever happens, Baraga would be the first Slovenian and Slavic saint on American soil.


Shortly before his death, in the midst of a horrible war, Nikola Tesla stated in 1942:


Out of this war ... a new world must he born ... a world in which there shall be no exploitation of the weak by the strong, of the good by the evil; where there will be no humiliation of the poor by the violence of the rich; where the products of intellect, science





and art will serve society tor betterment and beautification of life and not the individual for achieving wealth. This new world shall not be a world of the down-trodden and humiliated, but of free men and free nations, equal in dignity and respect for man. [12]



If this dream of Tesla — and of his many fellow immigrants from the Balkans — has not yet become a reality, it is a worthy ideal for the future.


Ivan Meštrović, too, in his sculptures and in his writings expressed hope in the future and his respect for the freedom, and dignity of man. Unlike Baraga and Tesla he is buried in his native soil. There he rests surrounded by a people who firmly believe in his ideals and who, like their immigrant brothers in America, want to live as free men.


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