Krste Misirkov, On Macedonian Matters – Can Macedonia turn itself into a separate ethnographical and political unit, 1903!


Chapter 4

Can Macedonia turn itself into a separate ethnographical and political unit? Has it already done so? Is it doing so now?

In the three previous papers I turned my attention to what are the most important questions for me, and, I believe, for all sincere patriots. I think the reader needs no commentary to be able to understand what I meant by them.

But everything I have said would be groundless if we were not to consider certain theoretical questions which must be correctly formulated if we are to succeed in the work we are doing for our country and our people.

Many people will want to know what sort of national separatism we are concerned with; they will ask if we are not thinking of creating a new Macedonian nation. Such a thing would be artificial and short-lived. And, anyway, what sort of new Macedonian nation can this be when we and our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have always been called Bulgarians? Have the Macedonians in their history ever found any outward form of spiritual and political expression? What have been their relations to the other Balkan nations and vice versa?

In this section I shall attempt to give an answer to this and to many other similar questions and also attempt, as best I can, to explain the true foundations of national separatism and to point out the unjustness of those who criticise it, thereby compromising it as something artificial.
One of the first questions which will be posed by the opponents of national unification and of the revival movement in Macedonia will be: what is the Macedonian Slav nation? Macedonian as a nationality has never existed, they will say, and it does not exist now. There have always been two Slav nationalities in Macedonia: Bulgarian and Serbian. So, any kind of Macedonian Slav national revival is simply the empty concern of a number of fantasists who have no concept of South Slav history.

Macedonia, they will argue further, is not a geographical, an ethnic or an historical whole. It has never had any influence on the fate of the neighbouring peoples; on the contrary it has been the arena for political and cultural strife between the various Balkan nations. We may hear similar arguments from some of our fellow-countrymen, Macedonian Slavs who call themselves Bulgarians, once they have exhausted all other means of fighting against Macedonian national unification. There is no single language in Macedonia; instead there are several different dialects which have a close affinity to the Bulgarian dialects and they all together make up one language — Bulgarian. And the remaining Macedonian dialects are closer to Serbian, our opponents will conclude.

Even if these assertions were well-founded, even if there were an argument against the claim that the Macedonian Slavs exist and that they belong to an independent Slav unit, it still seems to me that one could argue the opposite and show that the national revival and the growth of self-awareness among the Macedonian Slavs is something very ordinary and understandable.

The first objection — that a Macedonian Slav nationality has never existed — may be very simply answered as follows: what has not existed in the past may still be brought into existence later, provided that the appropriate historical circumstances arise.

There was a time when all Indo-Europeans made up one people and spoke one common language, as has now been established by linguists through a comparison of the old and new Indo-European languages. But the old situation, in which all Indo-Europeans understood one another, gradually broke down and disappeared and a new set of circumstances arose in which there came about a splitting of the language, of the common national awareness, the common language, into various languages, beliefs, attitudes, traditions, etc. But this division took place on a large scale, involving national groups such as the Indo-Iranians, the Aryans, the Germano-Slavonic-Lithuanians, etc. According to the dictates of historical circumstances, these groups became divided into language families such as Tndian, Tranian or Persian, Armenian, Greek, Thraco-Illyrian, Italian, Celtic. Germanic. Slavonic and Baltic or Lithuanian. The Slavonic group, somewhere around the birth of Christ, was first divided into: the Eastern Slavonic or Russian. West Slavonic and South Slavonic groups; it was only from the last group that the Bulgarian Slav nation broke away, becoming known as Bulgarians, the name attached to them by the non-Slav Bulgarians.

If our opponents now admit that smaller ethnographic units have been formed from larger groups as a result of historical necessity, and if they have hitherto regarded Macedonians as Bulgarians why is it that they cannot and will not agree that from this larger ethnographic unit, which everybody including themselves describes as the Bulgarian nation, two smaller units might be formed: a Bulgarian and a Macedonian one? Historical circumstances at present demand that this division should be made, just as they once demanded that Bulgarians. Serbs. Croats and Slovenes should emerge from the South Slav group, or that Poles. Czechs, Slovaks and Lusatian Serbs should emerge from the West Slav group.

The emergence of the Macedonians as a separate Slav people is a perfectly normal historical process which is quite in keeping with the process by which the Bulgarian, Croatian and Serbian peoples emerged from the South Slav group.
Let us compare the two processes.

Certain historians and philologists claim that from the very time when the South Slavs first came to the Balkans differences existed among them, i.e. they were two separate peoples: the Slavs (Bulgarians and Slovenes) and the Serbo-Croats. This is the opinion of Kopitar73, Miklosic74 and Safarik75. Other historians, and particularly linguists, claim that all the South Slavs when they came to the Balkan Peninsula spoke different dialects (speech-forms) of a single language and that they were known by a common name: Slavs. The Serbo-Croats were also known as Slavs; the names Serb and Croat originated from the smaller South Slav groups and were tribal names which became national names only when the people who shared these names, i.e. the Serbs and the Croats, began to form larger states. All the Slavs who were subjects of the state of Serbia called themselves Serbs instead of Slavs, and all those who were subjects of the state of Croatia called themselves Croats. This is the opinion of Prof. Jagic76 and of many of his students. He regards the present South Slav languages not as three units strictly separated from one another but as a stream of individual speech-forms all running into one another, and forming, as it were, links in a chain.
If we are inclined to accept the first theory, i.e. that the Bulgarians and the Serbo-Croats settled in the Balkans as ready-formed, individual units, then we must ask how far these individual nations spread at the time when they were beginning to settle the land; we must also ask whether all the Bulgarians who came to the peninsula remained as they were or whether some of them became Serbianised. And did all the Serbo-Croats who came to the Balkans remain as they were. or did of them become Bulgarian ised? If we accept the claim that the South Slav nations came ready-formed to the Balkans we are left completely in the dark concerning the question of the boundary between Bulgarians and Serbs, and particularly the question of which peoples settled the Morava, Kucevo and Branicevo regions in the Middle Ages, in other words the present kingdom of Serbia. Safarik, basing his opinion on the works of Byzantine historians, particularly those of Constantine Porphyrogenitus77, claims that these areas were settled by Bulgarian Slavs who became Serbianised in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. If we accept this as a correct explanation it will be clear that a nation cannot always resist pressure from neighbouring foreign nations and that it will lose part of its territory to the stronger neighbour; furthermore, it can be seen from this theory that nations can be made up of two closely connected peoples and that historical necessity may weld them into one whole.
Why should the events of the Middle Ages not be repeated now? The Bulgarians have lost almost all of present-day Serbia to the Serbs and have come to accept their loss, indeed they no longer look on it as a loss. Why should they not then be able to reconcile themselves to the loss of Macedonia when it is as much an inescapable necessity as was the loss of Serbia? History remorselessly led Bulgaria into losing Serbia to the Nemanja dynasty and to the Serbian spirit, first in the political and then in the national sense; and the historical circumstances which arose from the Berlin Treaty required that Macedonia should be lost to Bulgaria first in the political and then in the national sense.
Yet another comparison with the history of Serbia: if Serbia had been dissatisfied with her fate in the state of the Nemanja dynasty she would have tried to gain her liberty by offering opposition and by attempting to unite with Bulgaria; but this attempt would have been made and would have had the desired result only if the historical circumstances had been favourable and allowed it to happen, which they did not and so Serbia became reconciled to the facts and was lost to the Bulgarians. The situation is the same and will be the same for Macedonia. Macedonia first attempted to gain liberation from Turkey but unfortunately the attempt was ineffectual. It might have been possible after such a liberation to think of unification with Bulgaria but this year has shown us that historical circumstances will never allow all of Macedonia to unite with Bulgaria. The Macedonians and Bulgarians are now left with a choice between two possibilities: either Macedonia will be divided among the neighbouring Balkan states, which would mean a loss of two thirds of Macedonia both for the Bulgarians and for the Macedonians, or else all relations with Bulgaria will be severed and the Macedonian question will be regarded on a purely neutral, Macedonian basis. When necessity phrases the issue thus it is clear that the second choice is the one which will always be preferred by everybody, for what honest Macedonian patriot would be prepared to sacrifice Kostur, Lerin*, Bitola, Ohrid, Resen, Prilep, Veles, Tetovo, Skopje, etc. for the unification of Macedonia up to the left bank of the River Vardar with Bulgaria? Is there a greater affinity between a Macedonian from Eastern Macedonia with a citizen of Ruse, on the Romanian border, or with a Macedonian from eastern, western, northern or southern Macedonia? When historical necessity categorically tells us: Macedonians, you must either unite and cut yourselves off from the other Balkan peoples or be prepared to see your country divided, all true Macedonian patriots will choose the former course. This will require humanity from the Macedonians; but can one describe as humane the situation which the propagandists have set up in Macedonia? In one and the same home the father belongs to one nationality, one of the sons to another, the second son to yet another, and God alone knows how long this will continue? Humanity requires that we should root out this abnormal situation from our land and reconcile brother with brother and father with child. This unification is a necessity and there is no need for us to tolerate enmity in our families for the sake of some unification with Bulgaria, which will never be countenanced either by the other small Balkan states or by the great powers.

Thus, under the present political conditions, the loss of Macedonia for Bulgaria is no less justifiable than was the loss of Serbia for Bulgaria in the Middle Ages. And just as the loss of Serbia in the political sense inevitably resulted in a loss in the national sense, so too the fragmentation of San Stefano Bulgaria will bring an ethnographic division in the train of the political division. Circumstances create cultural and national ties between people, but circumstances can also split close connections.

Such a comparison may well exist between the first theory, i.e. that of the settlement of the Balkan Peninsula by the South Slavs, their division into two nationalities, their strict separation in the ethnographic and geographic sense and the gradual alteration of the ethnographic map of the Balkan Peninsula, and the process of national differentiation taking place in Macedonia today.

Let us now see whether from the point of view of the other theory, i.e. that of Jagic, concerning the formation of the South Slav nations, the formation of a new Macedonian Slav nation can be explained in the present political circumstances?

Jagic tells us that the South Slav languages are. and have been, a chain of dialects; he also says that all the South Slavs, up till the formation of the Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian states, had been designated by the same name — Slavs. It seems that over the length of this chain of South Slav tribes and dialects, four strong units were formed, one might say four states with separate names, i.e. the Slovene. Croat, Serb and Bulgarian states. These units, or states, according to the strength they had when they were formed, divided up all the tribal and dialectical features of the South Slav ethnographic complex and called them by their own names. These units were centred round the people who bore the national name, and as their political power increased or decreased so the centre widened or narrowed. Thus the names Serb and Croat became national names after having been tribal names; thus the neighbouring tribes with their dialects mechanically attached themselves to these centres so that together they made up one people and gradually became assimilated by those who had subdued or incorporated them.

If the formation of the South Slav peoples was a mechanical and political process it would not be impossible that it might recur in present times. Within the South Slav language complex there arc several branches outside the Serbian and Bulgarian political units; these are the Macedonian dialects. These branches, since they are closely allied, naturally have some connection linking them more closely with Bulgarian in the east and Serbian in the north. These branches have been given various names at various times but it was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that these names overlapped so much as to displace one another. These various names did not properly catch on, and gradually they began to give way until finally they were replaced by the natural description ”Slav” with a “Macedonian” reflection from the geographical area in which they were distributed. The people who spoke these dialects had once been called “Slavs” and later either “Serbs” or “Bulgarians” until the rivalry between these two names made them both alien to the Macedonian Slavs, who started calling themselves after the old geographical name of their country. The name Macedonian was first used by the Macedonian Slavs as a geographical term to indicate their origin. This name is well known to the Macedonian Slavs and all of them use it to describe themselves. Since the formation of nationalities is a political and mechanical process, all the necessary conditions exist for Macedonia to break off as an independent ethnographic region. The Macedonians have a common country which is gradually, with the reforms, breaking off into an independent political whole in which there are “several branches of the South Slav chain of languages”: these branches can easily be united through a general recognition of the central one as the means of expression of the literary language of all intelligent people in Macedonia and as the language of books and schools. Thus all the conditions for the national revival of the Macedonians are clearly visible, and, even from the point of view of the other historical theory (concerning the formation of small ethnographic units from a larger unit on the Balkan Peninsula), this is completely logical.

Here is what one might say to those who claim that Macedonian as a nationality has never existed: it may not have existed in the past, but it exists today and will exist in the future.

Let us now ask another question: would it be correct to say that there are two nationalities in Macedonia or, if there is only one, can it be called Serbian or Bulgarian?
In Macedonia, as in all other countries, there are many dialects which are very close to one another. This similarity among the dialects of Macedonia can be seen on the one hand in their general phonetic, phonemic, morphological, formal and lexical features; and on the other hand each dialect is very close to its neighbouring dialects and shares with them common characteristics which do not occur in the dialects of more distant parts. The western dialects are closest to each other and, so to speak, flow together, as do the east-em dialects; these dialects are linked in the same chain.

Now the question arises: which of the branches of our language chain should be called Serbian and which Bulgarian, and on what basis?

In settling this question one should not forget the following consideration: which of the dialects of the Serbian and Bulgarian languages should be accepted as most typical of those languages and what are the qualities which are considered most characteristic of the one language or the other? Do these most characteristic features also exist in the Macedonian dialects? Do the Macedonian dialects have their own common features which do not exist in Serbian or Bulgarian? In the Macedonian dialects do the Macedonian expressions outweigh the Serbian and Bulgarian expressions, or is the reverse true? Finally, do the qualities of extreme or peripheral Macedonian dialects and speech-forms permit us to consider them closer to the central and most typical Macedonian dialect of Veles, Priiep and Bitola or are they closer to the central dialects of Serbian and Bulgarian?

The most typical and most extensive of the Serbian dialects is either that of Bosnia-Hercegovina or of southern Serbia, and it has been the literary language of the Serbs and Croats since the time of Vuk Karadic. The central Macedonian dialect, i.e. that of Veles and Prilep, can never in its essence be oriented towards Serbian because the difference between this language and the central dialect of Serbo-Croatian, i.e. the current Serbo-Croatian language, is as great as that between Czech and Polish. This is as much as to say that there are no Serbs in the central part of Macedonia. From the current acknowledgement that from the very beginning there were only three Slav nations in the Balkans — Slovenes, Serbo-Croats and Bulgarians — and from a denial of the presence of Serbs in central Macedonia, there is an indirect acknowledgement that there are Bulgarians there. But is this current attitude, that if there are no Serbs it means that there are Bulgarians, correct? Does the fact that there are no Serbs really mean that there are Bulgarians?

In the central Macedonian dialects the following phonetic features can be found: the old Macedonian sounds ъ and ь, have been turned into o and e in those places where the sound has been preserved, e.g. денот from the old Macedonian дьньтъ, through from дьнът; instead of the old тj and дj we have ќ and ѓ or јќ and јѓ, for example врејќа, туѓа, instead of нј we have јњ, e.g. којњ, instead of конј, instead of x – a, for example рака, etc. Not all these features are Serbian, nor are they Bulgarian. They do not exist in the main Bulgarian dialect, eastern Bulgarian, which serves as the literary language of the Bulgarians.
If the east Bulgarian dialect is taken as being the most typical Bulgarian speech-form, it is very clear that the distance alone which separates it from the centre of Macedonia is sufficient proof that the Macedonian tongue cannot be Bulgarian.

The east Bulgarian dialect is now considered the most typical Bulgarian tongue, free from all foreign influence. Its extent is greater than that of west Bulgaria. The west Bulgarian dialect is very different from that of the east and one can feel the influence of Serbian, despite the fact that it is an original dialect. The Macedonian dialects, however, also have their own characteristic forms, while the fact that they are close to Serbia means that they are not free from Serbianisms. These dialects, what is more, are found in the extreme west. For all these reasons, and above all because the Macedonians, up till the last Russo-Turkish war, had fought together with the Bulgarians, under the Bulgarian name, for their freedom from the Greek Patriarch and from Turkey, and because the sites of the battles were around Bulgaria, i.e. Istanbul, Wallachia, southwest Russia and Serbia, these places were mostly represented in the war of liberation by the Bulgarians and this helped to make eastern Bulgarian become the literary language of the Bulgarians and the Macedonians.

Let us accept for the moment that the Macedonians are Bulgarians and that the characteristics of the Macedonian central dialect are just as much Bulgarian as are the east Bulgarian ones; even then we cannot speak of an ethnographic unit existing between Bulgaria and Macedonia. Even if such a unit had once existed it would have had to be destroyed by the pressure…

(the missing part will be added shortly)

74 Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844) was a figure in the Slovene revival and a distinguished Austrian Slavicist. the author of the first scholarly and scientific Slovene grammar, publisher of old Slavonic memoirs and a significant helper in the philological work of Vuk. St. Karadic.
75 The Slovene Frank Miklosic (1813-91) was one of the most eminent 19″” century Slavic scholars, author of a Comparative Grammar of the Slavonic Languages, an Old-Slavonic-Greek-Latin Dictionary and an Etymological Dictionary of the Slavonic Languages.
76 The Slovak Pavel Safarik (1795-1861) was a distinguished Slovakian and Czech philologist and ethnologist, whose most important works are: History of the Slavonic Language and All Its Dialects. Slavonic Antiquities and Slavonic Ethnography.
76 The Croat Vatroslav Jagic was one of the greatest Slavonic scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For many years Professor of Slavonic Philology at Odessa, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Vienna, he is the author of numerous studies in Slavistics, editor of Old Slavonic texts and publisher of the periodical Archive of Slavonic Philology in Vienna, as well as of the unfinished Encyclopaedia of Slavonic Philology.
77 Constantine Porphyrogenitus (905-959). Byzantine Emperor and author of various historical documents including On [lie Rule of the Empire, where he provides much information about the settlemeni and life of the Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula.
* Today’s Castoria, Florina

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