The Macedonian Question

In the heart of the Balkan peninsula, stretching from Lake Orchrida, which washes the Albanian frontiers, to Drima on the Aegean Sea; from Salonika to Mount Shar north of Skoplje, lies Macedonia, a beautiful country nearly three times as large as Belgium and inhabited by two and a half million people who possess the same language, the same culture, and with few exceptions, the same religion. Of this people, seventy per cent, are pure Bulgars.
Behind this country lie twenty centuries of tumultious and tragic history, Rome, the Barbarians, the Crusades, Venice, the Ottoman, Alexander and the Empire of the Old World. On of the most powerful efforts for liberty of the Turks; always crushed, always regenerated, up to the victory of the Balkan Allies in 1912. A first dsitribution of Macedonian lands between Belgrade and Athens after the first Bulgar defeat in 1913. A second in 1918 after the World War and the second Bulgar defeat.
Today, a heavier servitude than the old one rests upon Macedonia, because the new master are stronger than the Turks, and more violent, and Europe, this time, supports and approves them. Five to six hundred thousand Macedonians (an entire people) have sought refuge in Bulgaria since the annexation of their country by Greece and Serbia.
Those who were able to leave have left, since the peace of July 1913, and since the Armistice of October 1918, rather than suffer foreign domination. All the intellectuals, all the teachers, all those whom their antecedents or their relations rendered undesirable or suspect, have been expelled since the installation of the conquerors. Thousands more, before the frontiers closed, fled and abandoned all their property, often leaving behind them all or a part of their family.
Of the same blood, the same language, the same traditions as the Bulgars, they have been received by them as brothers.
Finally, the Greek authorities expelled thousands of Macedonian families en bloc after the disaster of Smyrna, in order to install the Hellenic population of Asia Minor on their lands and in their homes, which they had confiscated without indemnity. The outcasts of Macedonia were shepherded by the Bulgarian Government, with the aid of the League of Nations, towards Bourgas, on the Black Sea and towards Dobroudja.
There they transformed what was before only broken stones and swamps into a flourishing country. Nothing distinguishes these Bulgars of Macedonia from the Bulgars of Bulgaria in the midst of whom they live. They are neighbours in the same villages, a number of them have won high social positions, some have become ministers, even Presidents of the Bulgarian Council.
Yet all have remained Macedonian. They look incessantly towards their beloved Fatherland, towards the obscure hamlets, the little white-and-rose cities of the frontier. There they were born and there most of them lived for so long that, if the barriers were removed tomorrow, every one of them would return to his native land.
"But your fields, the lands which the Government of Sofia have given to you and which your children and you have worked for fifteen years," I asked a Macedonian labourer near Belica, "would you abandon them?"
"My lands?" he replied. "They are over yonder in Macedonia. They are waiting for me. I hope to live long enough to return and sit on the stone bench which my father had placed under the apricot-trees before the door. He, also, is waiting for me."
Five hundred thousand Macedonians in Bulgaria, where they are at home, where they have married, where they have nothing to fear from anyone, still think and speak as this old peasant of Belica.
Fifteen hundred thousand Macedonians, in the annexed land under Greek or Serbian domination, live and have their children in the hope of this return, and in the expectation of it.
What a tremendous pressure is here! What a colossal weight of desire waiting only for the right moment to take shape in action.
Soon after the annexation, attempts were made to "Hellenise" or "Serbianise" the Macedonians who remained in their country, and when they attempted their first gestures of revolt, they had the breath knocked out of them by the crushing violence of their new masters. The gendarmes, the prison, the certainty that they had no chance of help from anyone, has taught them in the past fifteen years to walk straight along the road indicated to them. They have become docile, respectful, obedient. They have learned to smile through their tears.
I have seen them, and the memory of the decay into which these free men have fallen makes my blood boil still.
The Macedonians in Bulgaria are waiting also. But they are free, and for fifteen years they have pursued an obstinate dream that they will liberate their lost brothers. All the resources they have are consecrated to this task. There is not one among them, wherever the hazard of exile has placed him, who does not belong to a society, an association, a group of some sort destined to keep up among its members, and especially among the youth, the sentiment of national solidarity and the cult of a native land momentarily lost.
These organisations have their form in associations of Macedonian women;student associations; organisations for the assistance of old people, orphans, sick; associations for propaganda abroad; all form a network that lets nothing pass between its meshes.
Not a Macedonian in Bulgaria! Not a Macedonian in foreign countries! That is the national slogan. And the apex of this organization is a handful of men working in broad daylight with legal methods and means; the Macedonian National Committee, which commands its energies, centralises its resources, and directs its activities.
In the shadow, beside the National Committee, but absolutely distinct from it, absolutely foreign to its work and actions, is another group of men, directed by other chiefsm the ORIM. We shall meet with it again.
The Macedonian question has existed for half a century. The desire for Macedinian liberty has become a burning obsession. This determination for liberty cost the Turks their possessions in Europe. Initial cause of the two Balkan wars, it was in order to liberate Macedonia that Bulgaria prepared the coalition in 1912, and it was in order to seize her fro the victtorious Bulgars that the Serbs and the Greeks, in turn, joined against her in 1913. Macedonia was indirectly, but certainly, at the origin of the World War. A hot spot, Indeed!
Since the peace of 1918 the question of Macedonia has become like a worm in the brain of Yugoslavia. To pretend to reduce the Macedonian question, as the propagandists of Belgrade try, to the proportion of an absurd struggle between a great modern state and a few handfuls of bandits, is an absurdity.
A latent insurrection which has lasted fifteen years and which will surely excite a new European conflagration unless things change drastically, merits more than two or three thousand lines of trite nonsense in certain recent news stories.
Whence comes the danger?
From the Macedonians themselves? From legal organisations such as the National Committee, or extra-legal as the ORIM?
Not at all!
The peril comes from the fact that the Serbs have annexed, thanks to France's support, territories and populations which they have declared Serb when they were, and intended to remain, Bulgarian. They have been able to subject them, but they have not been able to assimilate them, and Macedonia, always ready for the insurrection, weighs upon Serbian politics like a ball and chain.
In order to free themselves from this impediment, the Pan-Serb directors of Belgrade have decided to use the activity of the Macedonian nationalist organisations as an excuse for attacking Bulgaria. The Pan-Serbs have calculated in this way that they would kill two birds with one stone, and that they would compel the Macedonians to renounce all hope of liberation by destroying their support in Bulgaria. By destroying Bulgarian independence, also, they would reach Salonika and the Aegean.
Pan-Serbism has been working with all its force for several years to carry out this design. The violent campaign conducted by the Pan-Serb Press Bureau in France within the last few years, by means of books and newspapers, and by faked documents has had no other object than to prepare French opinion for a Bulgaro-Yugoslav conflict.
History has shown them the need for this. In June 1914, assured of the support of Russia (whose Pan-Slav party, directed by Sazonov, pushed them to action), the Pan-Serbs risked their all. French public opinion accepted the denials of the Serb Government that it had organised the double assassination at Sarajevo. It was because of the Serbs, and in order to defend their rights, that France went to war.
Today, since the publication of the debates which ended in the condemnation of the assassins of the Austrian Archduke, it is no longer possible to deny that these men acted at the formal instigation of certain Serbian officials. The Provision of money, arms, forged passports, and guides for crossing the frontier as far as Sarajevo in order to ascertain the most favorable spot for the attack, the act of Gavrilo Princip and the Tchabrinovitch, has all been shown to be the work of men depending directly on the Government of Belgrade.
France must not be duped by another Sarajevo staged to save the Yugoslav dictatorship.

During my visit to Bulgaria I took the opportunity of visiting Dr. Stanicheff, the President of the Macedonian National Committee.
I have rarely encountered a more engaging personality than this "revolutionary." Little over fifty years of age, tall, with steel-grey hair, clear of eye, a long, fine face lengthened still more by a pointed beard, he has incarnated the determined strength of his people. I saw him last on a fine morning of August 1932, at the Committee, in Alexandra the First Street in Sofia, a few steps from the National Bank.
The great Macedonian organisation has chosen for its headquarters an old bourgeois house with a ramshackle facade occupied on the ground floor by a coiffeur de dames. It is a peaceful street where lovers, because of the near-by garden, have their rendezvous. Nearly opposite, at the corner of the street leading towards the Central Post Office and the Opera, is the most important pavement shoe-shine rank in Sofia. I have often thought that they were the men whom a young colleague of mine must have taken for the sentinels who, he alleged, were posted around the National Committee. From a distance, the shinning brushes which they carry at the belt might, indeed, give the illusion of hand-grenades or Browning pistols.
This place has been described as a mysterious and terrible fortress, with cellars encumbered with bombs and infernal machines, rooms barricaded and transformed into laboratories, manned by a garrison armed to the teeth, and always on the watch. This description, written in between two glasses of slivovitza on a cafe table and published last year in great Parisian journal, made thousands of honest men shudder!
Yet in reality, what does one find: not even a doorman at the street door; no one on the stairs; not the shadow of a doorman in the lobby at the end of which, in a little side room, sits a simple smiling old man, scribbling addresses and keeping ledgers. Nothing which might prevent the first comer, should it suit his fancy, from entering the office of the president and shooting him down like a rabbit.
Dr. Stanicheff greeted me cordially and asked my business. My answer was a follows: "I have come to the Balkans to investigate by myself, in my own manner, where and how I please. I do not want to be a machine for registering the voices of those whose opinions I like. I want to be a photographer who chooses his viewpoint and his personages for himself. I want to operate the camera and develop the negatives myself. I have NO other mission than to 'photograph' things and people at the right angle and under a good light, and to present them to the public without retouching."
My host with a sign of his head showed his appreciation of my attitude.
"The Macedonian question," I asked. "Will you explain to me as if I knew nothing about it. I have read all the books that your friends have written about it. All the replies from Belgrade and Athens, also. If I have made an opinion, I want to forget. Give me yours."
I still hear the laughter of Dr. Stanicheff:
"My opinion?" he said. "It is the opinion of a man with a Serbian price on his head? But you know it in advance! It is very simple. There is no Macedonian problem!"
I started. Everyone from one end to the other of the Balkans has given me the same answer! "There is no Macedonian question" was just what Dr. Radovanovitch said to me in Belgrade not eight days before.
Dr. Stanicheff continued. "The word 'problem' stands for a very doubtful, controversial thing. Whereas the Macedonian question is clearness itself. To men of good faith it possesses the accuracy of a geometrical or algebraic theorem.
"The vast majority of Macedonians are Bulgars, at least in the proportion of four to one. They are Bulgars by origin, by custom, and by language. And all the geographers, all the philologists, be they German, Russian, English, French or Swiss, are all of the same opinion. Not fifty years ago all the Serb specialists said so too.
"The celebrated orientalist and historian, Louis Leger, professor at the College of France, whom the savants of the entire world recognised as their master in all Slav questions, wrote in 1917 in Le Panslavisme et l'Interet francais: 'Macedonia is almost entirely peopled with Bulgars in spite of the affirmations to the contrary of the Serbs and the Greeks whose pretensions cannot prevail against the precise declarations of independent ethnologists, such as Lejean, Kiepert, Rittich, Grigorovitch, Helferding and MacKenzie. It was only when Serbia lost Bosnia and Herzegovina by the treaty of Berlin that certain statesmen had the idea of seeking a compensation on the Macedonian side and claiming the existence of Serbs in this country, which is solely peopled with Bulgars."
"M. Ludovic Naudeau, former war correspondent of the Journal in the Balkans, declared on 7th February, 1927, to the Comite National d'etudes sociales et politiques de Paris: 'Before the War, when one traveled about Macedonia, one encountered Bulgars, and not Serbs. Now Macedonia today has been baptised Serb.'
"It is not necessary to be a great savant in order to substantiate our claims. We do not need to rummage in archives, to compare phonetics and to follow the migrations of races across the ages. It suffices to see, one beside the other, a Bulgar from Bulgaria and a Macedonian from Geuvgueli, from Veles or from Skoplje. Try it yourself."
"The Serbs say the Macedonians are Serbs, Serbs torn from Serbia by the Ottoman conquest, five centuries ago," I told him.
"The Serbs said that to you, did they? Naturally! The unfortunate part of it is that they waited to make this magnificent discovery until they had need of pretext to justify their political designs on Macedonia, and that up to then there was not a single Serb to deny the exclusively Bulgarian character of Macedonia.
"Today, thanks to your Frenchmen who won the War for them, the Serbs have achieved their ends. They are installed in Macedonia. And they have made haste to declare solemnly, peremptorily, to the world that all the population of Macedonia are purely and undisputably Serb. As for the five hundred thousand Macedonians refuged in Bulgaria since 1913, the Serbian statistics soon reduced them to a few tens of thousands of Bulgar immigrants returned to their country of origin.
"Why this lie, which is so clumsy that it has become an insult even to those who use it? Thousands of Europeans of all nationalities who have come to Bulgaria in the past fifteen years have been able to verify with their own eyes the presence of Macedonian refugees and to give an account of their numbers.
"Why the Serbs find themselves bound to deny the evidence, you know as well as I. They have done it to avoid the application in Macedonia of the stipulations of the treaty of Saint-Germain which organised the protection of ethnic minorities in the annexed territories. In order to accomplish this it was necesary to make the Great Powers admit that the Macedonians were not Bulgars (to whom the special statutes of the treaty were applicable) but Serbs subject to all the laws of Serbia. It was also necessary, consequently, to deny the existence of the immense Macedonian emigration into Bulgaria.
"The move has succeeded perfectly, thanks to the support lent by certain of your statesmen to the men of Belgrade. Not one of the Macedonian requests for frontier revision has ever been examined by the League of nations. When they arrive at Geneva Belgrade says : 'No!' France supports her, all the friends of France say 'Amen!' and the trick is done.

"For the League of Nations there are no Macedonians; hence there can be no Macedonian question! And today fifty thousand Serb soldiers, gendarmes and irregulars, fourteen years after the so-called return of Macedonia to her pretended country, occupy our country and impose upon her a regime which you will be able to judge when you have seen it. "They told you at Belgrade that the violences and the abuses which we denounce exist only in our imagination and that Serbian Macedonia lies satisfied and happy under the administration of Belgrade? Naturally! Well, since you count on leaving shortly for Macedonia you will be able to judge for yourself- at least to the extent which they will permit you to do so. Over there you will see who lies, we or Belgrade. Don't try to be discreet with me. For us you will never be too outspoken. In the battle which we are waging alone, against all, for the liberty and the life of our people, there is one weapon which we never employ: the lie. "When you come back from over there, on the condition, however, that you have been able to see behind the curtain, you will think as I do! There you will see a horror that exceeds all imagination. You will find a whole people crushed without pity, tortured cruelly, assassinated by the most abominable means."
"Let us forget about that, my dear Doctor," I interrupted him. "The Serbs have replied to all of the accusations made against them by your friends by categorically denying them. You pretend that they lie. They declare that it is you and your firends who lie. Well, I shall see for myself! Let us come back for a little while ago. How do you expect Belgrade, after fourteen years of uninterrupted Serb occupation, to consent, with a good will and without being constrained by force, to give up Macedonia? The independence of Macedonia? The hypothesis of the Dantzig corridor to Germany."
"I know it!" agreed Dr. Stanicheff. "Today it is impossible. Too many interests are leagued against right, our right. To give satisfaction to Macedonia would be to open the door to a general revision of all the peace treaties. Unless France, without whom they cannot live, compels them to do so, they will never consent. So we must learn to wait. We know that a day will come when our legitimate aspirations will be satisfied. We shall be patient. We have waited for such a long time that we can wait still longer.
"But what do we demand today? Only that the Government of Belgrade gives to our misarable annexed compatriots, loyally and without reservations, all the rights and all the liberties which they agreed to give them by the treaty of Saint-Germain. That, in other words, it stops treating them like outlaws. Nothing more!
"If Belgrade did that, loyally and without reservations, if property, honour, and individual liberty were guaranteed in Macedonia as they are in all civilized countries, all conflict between Yugoslavia and us would cease. Our refugees would return to their old homesteads. They would agree to be Yugoslav subjects- which does not mean Serbs!" "And Belgrade knows all this very well. They know we are ready to admit Macedonia as a sister nation with Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia, all going to form a Yugoslav Federation in which all its members would have equal rights- with a common army, common diplomacy, public finance and Parliament. This Federation, these United States of the Balkans, would form that Union of all the Southern Slavs of which the Serbs dream." "And the ORIM, my dear Doctor?" I asked. "What are you going to do with the ORIM in all these fine projects?"
"What programme and what intentions do you attribute to the ORIM?" he asked in reply. "The men who direct the ORIM think as do those who direct the National Committee. Many times they have publically declared that they were ready to lay down their arms if Belgrade would cease to maltreat the annexed Macedonians and give them the legal guarantees and the liberties to which they have a right. The ORIM added, however, that until then they would continue the struggle.
"Unfortunately, I admit, we are still a long way from this solution of justice and good sense! The Serb administration is nowhere near abandoning the methods of violence which have raised all the Macedonians up against her. She will not modify her methods. She will even aggravate them and, besides, look what is happening in Croatia." "Doctor," I said, "confess that your organisation does all it can to exasperate the Serbs. Three months ago at Nisch two bombs killed or crippled twenty people. A month ago at Chtip a gendarmerie was burned; not fifteen days ago the train I was on was dynamited in the station at Geuvgueli."
Dr. Stanicheff looked straight into my eyes.
"If you knew me better," he said, "you would know how horrible such violence is to me. But there are cases where violence is just, where violence becomes a sacred duty. They reproach our revolutionary organisations for reprisals against the Serb administrators and police, their terrorist attacks in annexed Macedonia, but they say nothing of their deeds which have inspired our attacks.
"Tell me how your public opinion would have received the following facts if they had taken place in Alsace-Lorraine during the German occupation? I cite them to you among a thousand others- and I could cite worse.... "At Souchitza, which is a hamlet between Skoplje and Veles, four women, Raina Nalzev, Miyana Paneva, Victoria Andreeva and Vassa Mitreva, who refused to reveal where their husbands had fled, were whipped until they bled by Serb gendarmes who then poured petrol on their armpits and loins and set them on fire.
"At the village of Debrevo, a young girl of sixteen, Kostadine Miladin Tatcheva, was declared guilty of having hummed a Bulgarian song. She was stripped naked, strapped to a bench, given sixty blows of a club on her back, and then was violated by the chief of the detachment and his six men. "At Katchanik, the peasant Eftine Athanassof, suspected of having sheltered agents of the ORIM, was clubbed to death with rifle-stocks after having been crucified by the irregulars of the Serb White Hand. His neighbor in agony, Manassi Antoff, had thorns buried under the nails of his hands and feet by his executioners.
"At Yastermnik, by the order in the presence of the Chief of the State Police, Jika Lazitch (the man who is today Minister of the Interior of Yugoslavia) three peasants, Kostadin Demianoff, Ivan Angeloff and Georgui Stoicheff, and three peasant women Llinka Ivantcheva, Mita Dimitrieva and Mirsa Valinove, all of whom were denounced for having given refuge to revolutionists, were whipped to death before all the village. The women were first outraged in a dreadful fashion. *

* I have since verified these things for myself. I saw the scars of the two victims at Souchitza, and heard with my own ears from the mouths of three witnesses (whose names and addresses I had obtained from a responsible source) the story of this abominable thing. The truth of the atrocities of Dobrevo and Yastremnik has been certified to me by a diplomatic representative of France. T have held in my own hands the reports of our two agents who related them. One of these reports ends with the following words: Such facts, which would stir public opinion to horror if they were known, justify, unfortunately, all the reports of the Macedonian revolutionists and are absolutely without excuse. They maintain sentiments of hatred and a desire for revenge in the population which only await the occasion to manifest themselves. "A country which employs a Lazitch," said the French diplomat whose testimony I have mentioned, "dishonours herself. This minister is a man of blood...I have seen him at work!" I, too. I was at Belgrade, in July 1932, dinning at the Excelsior Restaurant behind the royal palace, with my old friend Dragomir Stefanovitch, former charge d'affaires of Serbia at Paris during the War. Lazitch came to sit down next to us. Stefanovitch who knew him introduced us. I noticed his intelligent, hard eyes and brutal jaws. His nails were black, but he talked well. He had just returned from Macedonia where he had been organising the State Police. I noticed one thing particularly, all the while he was animatedly telling us risque stories about women, he did not stop picking little flies from the table cloth which he would hold for a moment struggling between his fingers. Then, without stopping his flow of talk, gently, one by one, he tore off their wings, and with the end of his cigarette, tapping lightly, unhurriedly, he forced them to crawl by burning their abdomens. "With the Macedonian women also," he said to us, "in order to render them amorous, when they are insensible, we place hot irons on a good spot."

"These abominations," went on Dr. Stanicheff, "against which nothing protects our unfortunate compatriots, make it impossible to find a peaceful solution in Macedonia.
"Since the Serbs have occupied her, Macedonia has become a hell. Hundreds of homes and farms, entire villages, under the pretext of punishing their inhabitants because of their alleged sympathies for revolutionary organisations, have been burned by gendarmes or Serb irregulars. All our cemeteries have been profaned, all the monuments to our dead have been destroyed, all the riches of our churches, of our libraries, of our monasteries have been stolen. Innumerable women and young girls have been sullied; countless Macedonians have been tortured, beaten, imprisoned and put to death without trial. Our priests have been insulted, and our teachers too: our children have no longer the right to bear their names unless it has a Serb termination. An entire people has been deprived of the right to think, to speak or to pray, other than as their masters wish. They can no longer come and go, even from village to village, without permission; they can no longer go out in the evening after certain hours, they are crushed by taxes have no justice, have no recourse against the pleasure or the crimes of administrators and police to whom they are subjected.
"That is the Macedonian question, sir. The agony of a martyred people who yet do not wish to die.
"Imagine a man who has succeeded in finding a refuge in Bulgaria after weeks of hiding himself in the mountains, and who learns that his wife has served as a plaything, before all the terrified neighbours, for the police come to search her home. Imagine the feelings of the father whose daughter has been treated as a prostitute. Imagine the feelings of a brother whose dishonoured sister has drowned herself in despair. Do you dare call their vengeance assassination?
"The Carnegie Commission, which included besides the Belgian Minister Vandervelde, two Frenchmen, M. d'Estournelles de Constant and M. Justin Godart, published a report on the Macedonian atrocities that is more overwhelming than any of our accusations.
"I defy you, sir, to find a single copy of their report. Belgrade has somehow succeeded in making them vanish."

We talked until the office closed. I left Dr. Stanicheff at the corner of the avenue Marie Louise. My eyes followed him as he made off among the crowd jostling each other on the burning sidewalk. He walked with head held high and with a rapid step, as unmindful of the sweltering sun as of the assassins who were perhaps waiting for him at his door, as they waited for his friend Dimitri Mihailoff in June 1932; and as they waited for Simeon Evtimoff - one of the most noble and most upright young Europeans.
The Macedonian question is not solved by a long, long chalk.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]