Macedonia and Bulgarian National Nihilism
Ivan Alexandrov


The third question concerns the nature of the wars, or more correctly, the essence of Bulgaria's participation. In the Bulgarian literature there are many differing resumes of these wars, yet not one can be described as entirely correct. While there were four wars this century, only the first (Balkan War 1912) is generally regarded as justified and liberationist, and this is mainly due to Lenin's description. By analogy the others are judged unjustified and conquering without any form of objective analysis relating to the participants or the aims of the Bulgarian state.

How can it be rationalised that of successive wars, each concerned with same Bulgarian ethnic lands, only one of them (during which Macedonia was partitioned and Greek and Turkish districts were appropriated in Thrace) could be declared honourable and liberationist? Furthermore, how is it possible that a war fought between Bulgaria and Serbia for a territory which was ethnically Bulgarian, can be labelled expansionist for both sides? Here we describe the inter-allied war of 1913, which certainly could be designated as politically and militarily opportunist but not as unjust. In fact was it not chauvinistic and unjustified of our allies (Serbia and Greece), whose sole aim was to appropriate Bulgarian territory within Macedonia, and ultimately to occupy Sofia and dictate a humiliating treaty in which the Bulgarian Nation would have been decimated. However the common Bulgarian soldier met this unprecedented threat to the Nation and saved it from what can only be termed a total rout.

While at that time we cannot denounce the patriotism of the ruling-class leadership, their adventurism and short-sightedness is open to severe criticism, for Bulgaria could have been a country of 150,000 km2. Only the patriotism of the people, and the ability of the army to rally after the first dehabilitating Balkan War, saved the country when they routed one of the Allied armies and sent the other into full retreat. Bulgaria was in truth defeated diplomatically, not militarily [19]. The expression "national catastrophe" fully describes this war, where we apply the phrase "catastrophe" not to indicate a military, diplomatic or some other form of defeat but to signify that the Bulgarian people's ultimate goal, national unification, was gambled and lost.

Consider the situation in WWI: the Bulgaria army was at both fronts (South and North), but on its own ethnic lands in Macedonia and Dobrudja. The Bulgarian army in fact entered Bucharest and advanced to the River Prut, but did not leave the Balkan peninsula. This was despite the most unusual circumstances where Bulgaria


was opposed to its liberator (Russia), allied with its centuries-old oppressor (Turkey), and was almost isolated against the Entente in the Balkans where it confronted the combined armies of the three Great Powers as well as the neighbouring states. The performance of the Bulgarian army to endure so long can only be described as outstanding. Yet in the midst of this titanic struggle the Bulgarian soldier could always see in front of him, to his right and to his left, Bulgarian villages and towns, his people. The remarkable heroism and endurance of the Bulgarian army and people during these bitter years can only be explained within the context of the people's desire for national unification. In this matter the psychological motivation of the Bulgarian soldier was clear and he had no need to ponder whether the cause was just.

The ruling-class interests, as exemplified by the Monarchy, coincided with the national aspirations of the people. That is why the people also chose war, although not with the enthusiasm of 1912. A terse account of the true Bulgarian position is available from German Field Marshall Makenzen's subdued criticism of Bulgaria's narrow political outlook

"the Bulgarian has shown that in battle he is a heroic soldier ... He possessed the most fervid patriotism but was only concerned with realization of nationalistic objectives. His vision did not extend beyond those regions inhabited by his countrymen"

Here the different nature of Bulgaria's participation is corroborated by the Germans who viewed the Wars as the beginning of a global imperialistic campaign. All this information is poignantly summarised in the late Professor Simeon Damyanov's astute text "Bulgaria and the Balkan States 1912-1918" published in 1986.

The foregoing discussion of the Balkan Wars should not be interpreted as condoning the Bulgarian ruling-class and Monarchy, who with the Great Powers and their vassals, are responsible for the two Bulgarian national catastrophes. Bulgaria's leaders, instead of focussing on the national purpose, indulged themselves in games of power politics where they were completely outmanoeuvred and the nation suffered the consequences.

The assertion that Macedonia was ethnically Bulgarian, and therefore should be united with Bulgaria was opposed by the "Narrow-Socialists" [20] on the grounds that there was heterogeneity within the Macedonian population. They were also against Macedonian autonomy preferring the concept of a Balkan Federation. The Narrows declared that the policies of the ruling-class would not lead to national unification but instead to the enslavement of Bulgarian lands. Accordingly they were firmly opposed to the Wars, and the partition of Macedonia, the latter an attitude obviously held by IMRO as well. However while there were deficiencies within the Bulgarian ruling-class stance, the Narrows must have also been aware of, but chose


to ignore, the fervid ambitions of the neighbouring Monarchies towards our Bulgarian lands.

Again we need to re-emphasize the two mutually exclusive themes - on one side the justified struggle for unification, on the other side the choice of Allies and defeat. It cannot be envisioned that just causes will always triumph. Defeat is neither an indictment nor an arbiter of the righteousness of the struggle. Were the April Rising [21] (1876), Kresna-Razlog Rising [22] (1878), Ilinden-Preobrazhenski (1903), September Rising [23] (1923) and many others before and after that unjust? Defeat is not an indication of unjustness nor a reason to accuse the vanquished. It is irrational to imply that acknowledgment of the liberationist character of the wars sanctions territorial claims towards foreign lands. Firstly, the lands in question are ethnically Bulgarian and not foreign, and secondly, stating the factual historic evidence cannot be construed as expansionist! Bulgarian Tsars from Khan Krum (803-814) to Tsar Simeon (893-927) controlled the lands of present-day Romania, a large part of Hungary as well as Albania, yet we do not pursue those claims today.

In Yugoslavia they still ridicule and repudiate our contributions towards not only Macedonia, but also Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. They accuse our Army of poor conduct with respect to the local population. Behind these allegations they fail to reveal two important facts. Firstly, that many villages and large towns were liberated by the Bulgarian National Army only as part of the Third Ukrainian Front. Secondly, that Bulgaria annexed neither foreign, nor her own ethnic lands (Vardar Macedonia and the Western Provinces). We must not forget that the Bulgarian National Army liberated Vardar Macedonia twice, nationally in 1941, and as part of the social revolution in 1944. The Greater-Serbia ruling-class however conceal their injustices, such as how after WWI they imposed a boundary between Bulgaria and the Serbo-Croatian-Slovenian Kingdom (in fact Greater-Serbia). In a territory smaller than 2 districts, 25 Bulgarian villages and their fields in Tsaribrod and Bosilegrad districts, with the same population were partitioned in two. It is doubtful whether a State boundary exists anywhere in Europe which so clearly exposes the fanaticism of the Ruling-class leaders. This type of injustice continues to this very day.

The failure to comprehend Bulgaria's motives in the wars described hampers a proper understanding of why Bulgaria was in Vardar Macedonia during WWII. Bulgaria did not participate in this theatre as a primary combatant but rather in a policing role. In Serbia, as elsewhere, its main action was directed against the partizan units. Consider that both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in an effort to secure influence and allies, attempted to resolve some national issues (Slovak, Croatian, Albanian, Bulgarian and even the Hungarian). For Bulgaria the question


had become much more complex because some of the new lands had substantially changed their ethnic composition. Here we are talking about Morava and Belomorieto (Aegean Macedonia). However we are wrong to presume the same situation existed within Vardar Macedonia and the Western Provinces. Accordingly we must analyse thoroughly and critically the Party documents of that time. Bulgaria's role in the war is usually rationalized as follows

"Since Bulgaria is a fascist country, its army is one of occupation and fascist enslavement, which appropriates foreign lands such as Serbian, Greek and Macedonian"

For the correct interpretation of Bulgaria's involvement we need only to examine the actions of the District Committee of the MCP in Vardar Macedonia headed by Metodi Shatorov (Sharlo), which immediately transferred its allegiance to the BCP [24]. For once the MCP Committee had thoroughly investigated the situation in Macedonia and then evaluated the YCP's demand for an armed uprising against the "Bulgarian occupiers" it reached a simple conclusion - the Bulgarian army was not one of occupation. In April 1941 the committee of the MCP realized that the Bulgarian army represented national liberation for the local Bulgarians from the oppressive and despised Serbian bondage. Accordingly the Committee, headed by Shatorov, disregarded the YCP's demands for a mobilization of the masses against the Monarcho-fascist regime. Shatorov, a dedicated anti-fascist, is credited with the slogan

"One people, one Country, one Party"

in which he unreservedly approves and promotes the national unification of the Bulgarians.

Therefore, we may all take special notice that 47 years ago our patriot and Internationalist, Metodi Shatorov (later known as Uncle Panayot, the Bulgarian partizan leader executed by the YCP), demonstrated to us the difference between a struggle for national unification on one side and fascism on the other. It is tragic that this object lesson is still not understood by most Bulgarians to this very day. That is why Shatorov's supporters in Vardar Macedonia, called Sharlisti, were systematically exterminated by the YCP in the autumn of 1944, while the BCP looked on.

South Dobrudja was reunited with Bulgaria in 1940, at a time when a fascist regime was in power. No Bulgarian regarded this event as expansionist. Why, therefore, in Vardar Macedonia, is the Bulgarian army one of occupation to its own people? In Dobrudja the unification happened by agreement of the Bulgarian and Romanian governments in realization of the prevailing ethnicity of the region. Why was not the same type of understanding possible between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia?


The installed communist regime in Yugoslavia was considerably more barbarous to the population than the so-called fascist Bulgarians present earlier. Within Bulgaria there was no wholesale slaughter of non-Bulgarians, but in Yugoslavia countless Bulgarians, who were in fact designated Serbs, were massacred. That is why over 70% of the Serbian police forces were stationed in Macedonia, to control only 10% of Yugoslavia's geographic area. Their purpose was not only to ensure the Bulgarians were kept in servitude, but to facilitate their Serbianization by force. However, when we examine the most important indicator, that of ethnicity, we note that in South Dobrudja almost 50% of the population are Mohammedans, who we regard as mainly Turkish. In the unified part of Vardar Macedonia, by comparison the Bulgarians predominate at the 90% level.

Resolution of the Bulgarian national question, that is unification, could not be achieved with the ruling-class-democratic revolution at the time of Liberation. Similarly it was not realized after each of the four wars in which Bulgaria participated. The question, therefore, still remained to be resolved by the Socialist revolution. However it was not. While the BCP assumed a leading role in the antifascist struggle, it sacrificed its obligation towards national unification. The BCP hierarchy was lacking in individuals with the vision to seek the dual goals of national unification and Socialist revolution. The banner of national unification was therefore eliminated from the BCP's objectives. And this is where the tragedy and hypocrisy emanates, when we in the BCP label it as a middle class and fascist manifestation to speak of Greater Bulgaria. The fascists however are also responsible for their role in "gambling" away the national unification cause. Further they destroyed the campaigning committees in Macedonia (work of IMRO) because they were democratic organs, they split up the cadres, they conducted themselves badly towards the non-Bulgarians and thus made the national and class struggle more difficult. Unresolved by the Socialist revolution, the national question persists today as an antagonistic issue between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. This predicament is a direct result of both Bulgarian national nihilism and Greater Serbian chauvinism!

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19. Young G. Nationalism and War in the Near East. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, London, p. 268-270 (1915).

"It seems quite possible that, if left to itself, the campaign would have ended in favour of the Bulgars"
20. This was Blagoev's political party in which he broached no deviation from the rigid Marxist ideology of preparation for a full-scale socialist revolution.

21. Occurred on 19th April 1876 in the town of Koprivshtitsa. In the ensuing Turkish retribution some 40,000 men, women and children were massacred.

22. Took place in the Kresna and Razlog areas of Eastern Macedonia, as a reaction to the dismemberment of San Stefano Bulgaria.

23. Organized by the BCP on 23rd September 1923, with limited support from the Agrarians. The uprising was completely crushed by 28th September, with most of the BCP's leadership, including G Dimitrov (1882-1949) and Vasil Kolarov, departing to Moscow.

24. Clissod S. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union 1939-1973: a Documentary Survey. Oxford University Press. London, p 31-32, 153-156 (1975). The following is an excerpt from a message Tito sent to Moscow (4th Sep 1941)

"The Macedonian Regional Committee refused to remain in contact with us and linked up with the Bulgarian CP as soon as tha occupation of Macedonia started. Sarlo refused to answer the CC's thrice repeated summons to come to Belgrade for a meeting in which the Macedonian question could be thrashed out. He refused to distribute the proclamation of the YCP CC calling for military actions, issued a directive that all arms should be surrendered to the authorities and adopted a stance in favour of a Soviet Macedonia and of waiting for the Red Army. He adopted a hostile attitude towards the Serbian comrades in Macedonia. Sarlo has been making speeches to the members against the leadership of the YCP and its Secretary, dubbing him pro-British because it was stated in the proclamation that Yugoslavia has been enslaved [ie that Macedonia was not liberated, as the Bulgars claimed]"