Macedonian Slavs

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The Macedonian Slavs are an ethnic group which inhabits the geographical region of Macedonia in south-eastern Europe and speaks the Macedonian (Slavonic) language. They are generally associated with the Macedonian Orthodox Church and are the descendants of the Slavic and Bulgar tribes, possibly with an element of autochthonic groups such as Thracians and Illyrians. The Macedonian Slavs call themselves Macedonians, and many foreign sources also refer to them by this name. However, this is somewhat ambiguous, as several different peoples inhabit the region who can (and do) call themselves "Macedonians"; for the sake of clarity, this article uses the term "Macedonian Slavs".


Areas of settlement

The vast majority of Macedonian Slavs live in the valley of the river Vardar, the central region of the Republic of Macedonia. Smaller groups of Macedonian Slavs live in eastern Albania, south-western Bulgaria, northern Greece and southern Serbia and Montenegro, mostly abutting the border areas of the Republic of Macedonia

Populations of Macedonian Slavs by country

  • Republic of Macedonia: 1,297,981 (2002 census (
  • Serbia and Montenegro: 47,118 (1991 census)
  • Bulgaria: 5,071 (2001 census)
  • Albania: 5,000 (1989 census) (according to the CIA, they are Macedonians OR Bulgarians)
  • Greece: unknown (No census data exist for the Macedonian Slav population of Greece.)

Origins and identities

The geographical region of Macedonia, which is divided between Bulgaria, Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, is inhabited by a variety of peoples including Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Macedonian Slavs, Turks, Vlachs, Serbs and Roma (Gypsies).

The question of whether the Macedonian Slavs constitute a distinct ethnic group is controversial, as many Bulgarians and Greeks believe that they are merely a subset of another people, usually the Bulgarians. Their origins are equally controversial; while they undoubtedly have a Slavic heritage, the question of whether they are "immigrants" or the descendants of the ancient Macedonians remains disputed.

Most historians date the arrival of the Macedonian Slavs to the 5th or 6th centuries AD, when Slav tribes migrating from eastern Europe settled in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece. Some nationalist Macedonian Slav historians claim that their people were the descendants of the ancient Macedonians who supposedly mixed with Slavs when they invaded the Balkan peninsula, but this is a historically unsupported hypothesis.

The Macedonian Slavs had little or no political and national identity of their own until the 20th century, being ruled variously by the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, Serbia and the Ottoman Empire. Medieval sources traditionally describe them as Bulgarians, a definition which survived well into the period of Ottoman rule as attested by the Ottoman archives and by descriptions of historians and travellers, for example Evliya Celebi and his Book of Travels.

19th century ethnographers and travellers were also generally united in identifying them as Bulgarians until the period between 1878 and 1912 when the rival propaganda machines of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria succeeded in effectively splitting the Macedonian Slavic population into three disctinct parties, a pro-Serbian, pro-Greek and pro-Bulgarian one.

The key events in the formation of a distinctive Macedonian identity thus came during the first half of the 20th century in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and especially following the Second World War.

Origin of the name

The Macedonian Slavs were traditionally described as Bulgarians by external observers until 1878 when an opinion on a Serbian origin of the Macedonian Slavs gradually started to gain popularity. The Serbian push to the south was preconditioned by the clauses of the Congress of Berlin of the same year, which denied them Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Sandjak of Novi Pazar, as well as by the pro-Austrian policy of Serbian king Milan Obrenovich IV. In 1881, Serbia relinquished all claims to the two regions in a secret treaty with Austria-Hungary, which, in its turn, vowed not to obstruct the expansion of Serbia into the valley of Vardar.

As from the beginning of the 1880s, Serbia launched a wide-scale propaganda effort in Macedonia and abroad to prove the Serbian character of the region. Greece and Bulgaria soon launched similar campaigns, the Greeks claiming that the Slavs of Macedonia were Slavophone Greeks and the Bulgarians maintaining that they were nothing but Bulgarians. As the three-sided propaganda efforts escalated in the 1890s, the name "Macedonian Slavs" came into being as a way to designate all Slavs inhabiting Macedonia regardless of their national affiliations.

The first scholar to use the designation with a specific meaning was Serbian geographer Jovan Cvijic in 1906. In an attempt to put Serbian claims in Macedonia on an equal footing with Bulgarian ones, Cvijic argued that Macedonia south of Debar, Kichevo and Skopje and west of the present border between Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia was inhabited by Macedonian Slavs, an amorphous Slavic mass without definite national affiliations and culture. The Macedonian Slavs according to Cvijic oscillated between the Bulgarians and the Serbs both politically and culturally and could turn out either Bulgarian or Serbian if the respective people were to rule the region. In the years to the Balkan Wars Cvijic pushed the northern limit of the Macedonian Slavs twice more to the south thus almost doubling the portion which the Serbs, according to him, occupied in Macedonia. The view of Cvijic gained little recognition outside Serbia until Bulgaria's entry into World War I on the side of the Central Powers in 1915 precipitated the acceptance of the idea by the allied countries in Europe.

The Balkan Wars

The Balkan Wars resulted in drastic changes to Macedonia's demographics after the Ottomans were forced out of the region. Macedonia was carved up between the Balkan nations, with its northern parts coming under Serbian rule, the southern under Greece and the northeastern under Bulgaria.

Greece adopted strongly repressive policies towards the Slavs in its northern regions. Those that inhabited northeastern Greece were expelled to Bulgaria. Those living in northwestern Greece were regarded as potentially disloyal "Slavophone Greeks" and came under severe pressure, with restrictions on their movements, cultural activities and political rights; many were forced to emigrate, for the most part to Canada and Australia. For many years, the Greek government denied their existence as a national minority and many of the border villages were closed to outsiders, ostensibly for security reasons.

The territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia came under the direct rule of Serbia (and later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), and was termed "southern Serbia" or the "Vardar banovina" (district). An intense programme of "Serbianization" was implemented during the 1920s and 1930s, during which time the local population were forcibly assimilated into Serbian culture. Only the Serbian language was permitted and taught, while Macedonian Slav families found their names being modified into Serbian forms (e.g. Stankov becoming Stanković, Atanasov becoming Atanacković). Other ethnic minorities in Serbian Macedonia were also suppressed during the inter-war period, with thousands being arrested.

Tito and the Macedonian Slavs

After the Second World War, the Communist Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito decided that the policy of Serbianization in Macedonia had failed - it had led to strong resentment of Belgrade. In addition, the Macedonian Slavs had been strong supporters of Tito's Partisan resistance movement, fighting the occupying Germans, Italians and Bulgarians as well as opposing the Serbian royalist Chetniks, who were, until midway through the war, the West's favorite rebels in Serbia. The Macedonian Slav resistance had a strongly nationalist character, not least as a reaction to Serbia's pre-war repression. It was clear well before the end of the war that Tito would seek major changes to the region's political balance.

Following the war, Tito separated Yugoslav Macedonia from Serbia after the war, making it a republic of the new federal Yugoslavia (as the Socialist Republic of Macedonia) in 1946. He also promoted the concept of a separate Macedonian nation, as a means of severing the ties of the Slav population of Yugoslav Macedonia with Bulgaria. Although the Macedonian language is very close to Bulgarian, the differences were deliberately emphasized and the region's historical figures were promoted as being uniquely Macedonian (rather than Serbian or Bulgarian). A separate Macedonian Orthodox Church was established, splitting off from the Serbian Orthodox Church. Pro-Bulgarian sentiment was forcibly suppressed.

Tito had a number of reasons for doing this. First, he wanted to reduce Serbia's dominance in Yugoslavia; establishing a territory formerly considered Serbian as an equal to Serbia within Yugoslavia achieved this effect. Secondly, he wanted to sever the ties of the Macedonian Slav population with Bulgaria as recognition of that population as Bulgarian would have undermined the unity of the Yugoslav federation. Thirdly, Tito sought to justify future Yugoslav claims towards the rest of geographical Macedonia; in August 1944, he claimed that his goal was to reunify "all parts of Macedonia, divided in 1915 and 1918 by Balkan imperialists." To this end, he opened negotiations with Bulgaria for a new federal state, which would also probably have included Albania, and supported the Greek Communists in the Greek Civil War. The idea of reunification of all of Macedonia under Communist rule was abandoned in 1948 when the Greek Communists lost and Tito fell out with the Soviet Union and pro-Soviet Bulgaria.

Tito's actions had a number of important consequences for the Macedonian Slavs. The most important was, obviously, the establishment of a distinctive Macedonian Slav identity. It may be only the subject of speculations whether Tito forced the Macedonian Slav consciousness on the population of Yugoslav Macedonia or simply lifted the last restrictions to an already existing naional sentiment. There have been numerous accounts from northern Macedonia from the late 1940s that the policy of Bulgarisation during the Bulgarian occupation (1941-1944) was as abhorrent for the ordinary Macedonian as the policy of Serbisation until then. IMRO's leader in exile, Ivan Mihailov, and the renewed Bulgarian IMRO after 1990 have, on the other hand, consistently argued that between 120,000 and 130,000 people went through the concentration camps of Idrizovo and Goli Otok for pro-Bulgarian sympathies in the late 1940s, which has also been confirmed by former Macedonian prime-minister Ljubcho Georgievski [1] ( Whatever the truth, it was certainly the case that most Macedonian Slavs embraced their official recognition as a separate nationality. Tito's communist regime did not gave a choise. Many citizens of the area (Vlachs, Greeks etc.)were forced to accept a "Macedonian" nationality. Even so, some pro-Bulgarian sentiment persisted despite government suppression; even as late as 1991, convictions were still being handed down for pro-Bulgarian statements.

In Greece, the Macedonian Slavs faced considerably tighter restrictions as its government saw them as a potentially disloyal minority. Greeks were resettled in the region in 1923 as a result of the population exchange with Turkey that followed the Greek military defeat in Asia minor. After the second world war many of the Maqcedonian slavs who lived in Greece preferred to emigrate in Communist countries, in order to avoid punishment for the crimes committed during the Greek civil war (Most of them fought on the side of the Greek communists killing many civilians). Although there was some liberalization between 1959 and 1967, the Greek military dictatorship re-imposed harsh restrictions. The situation gradually eased after Greece's return to democracy. The Macedonian Slavs in Albania faced restrictions under the paranoid Stalinist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, though ordinary Albanians were little better off. Their existence as a separate minority group was recognised as early as 1945 and a degree of cultural expression was permitted.

As ethnographers and linguists tended to identify the population of the Bulgarian part of Macedonia as Bulgarian in the interwar period, the issue of a Macedonian Slav minority in the country came up as late as the 1940s. In 1946, the population of Pirin Macedonia was declared Slav Macedonian and teachers were brought in from Yugoslavia to teach the newly codified Macedonian language. The census of 1946 was accompanied by mass repressions, the result of which was the complete destruction of the local organisations of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and mass internments of people at the Belene concentration camp. The policy was reverted at the end of the 1950s and later Bulgarian governments argued that the two censuses of 1946 and 1956 were the result of pressure from Moscow. Western governments remained, however, mistrustful and contuinued to list the population of Pirin Macedonia as Slav Macedonian until the beginning of the 1990s despite the 1965 census which put Macedonian Slavs in the country at 9,000. The two latest censuses after the fall of communism (in 1992 and 2001) have, however, confirmed the results from previous censuses with some 3,000 people declaring themselves as Macedonian Slavs in Pirin Macedonia in 2001 (<1.0% of the population of the region) out of 5,000 in the whole of Bulgaria.

The situation today

The secession of the Republic of Macedonia from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 led to an intense nationalist dispute with Greece which has not yet fully been resolved. The position of the Macedonian Slavs has improved somewhat across the region, although significant problems do still remain.

  • Within the Republic of Macedonia, Macedonian Slavs comprise two-thirds (65.2%) of the population. Following a brief conflict with ethnic Albanians in 2001, a Macedonian-Albanian power-sharing agreement is now in place.
  • Albania continues to recognise the Macedonian Slavs as a legitimate minority and delivers education in the Macedonian language in the border regions where most Macedonian Slavs live. However, Macedonian Slav organizations complain that the government undercounts the number of Macedonian Slavs in Albania and that they are politically underrepresented - there are no ethnic Macedonians in the Albanian parliament.
  • Bulgaria maintains generally cordial relations with the Macedonian Slavs, recognizing them as a distinct ethnic group and last counting them in the 2001 census. However, Macedonian Slav groups in the country have reported official harassment, with the Bulgarian Constitutional Court banning a small Macedonian Slav political party in 2000 as separatist and Bulgarian local authorities banning political rallies.
  • Greece continues to deny legal recognition to any ethnic minorities other than Turks, and opposes the use of the term "Macedonians" to refer to the country's Slav minority, which is centred on the northern Greek town of Florina. The term "Slavomacedonians" is sometimes used instead, to distinguish them from the various other ethnic groups who inhabit Macedonia. Slavs in Greece have been the almost exclusive targets of a law to remove citizenship from anyone who "commit[s] acts contrary to the interests of Greece for the benefit of a foreign state." This, as well as other reported acts of official harassment, has earned Greece considerable criticism from international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch as well as foreign governments.
  • Serbia and Montenegro recognizes the Macedonian Slav minority on its territory as a distinct ethnic group and counts them in its annual census. The country has the largest officially recognised Macedonian Slav population outside of the Republic of Macedonia.

External links

See also


The use of the terms Republic of Macedonia and Macedonian(s) throughout this article is not meant to imply an official position on the naming dispute between Athens and Skopje. See Foreign relations of the Republic of Macedonia#Naming_dispute_with_Greece, Republic_of_Macedonia#Naming_Dispute and United Nations Resolution 817 (1993)groups (|Macedonian Slavs]]

de:Slawische Mazedonier


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