Krste Misirkov, On Macedonian Matters – Preface, 1903!


Preface

Every man, as a member of some community or association, has certain obligations and certain rights. The people of a nation are nothing other than a great association founded on blood kinship, on a common origin and on common interests. In order that this kinship, this origin and these interests should be preserved it is necessary for the individual in any nation to renounce some of his personal rights and interests so that he may devote part of his energy to the common good. This is an obligation, which is designed in the interests of the people, because in any nation the personal interests of the individual are protected when he himself does not have the strength to do so. This obligation towards the people is closely bound up with obligation towards the country because the concept of the people is closely linked to that of the country. The individual’s obligation towards the people and the country depends on the historical circumstances prevailing over the country and the people; and the obligation is fulfilled according to these circumstances. The obligation towards one’s country and people on their way to independence is called a national ideal, and every man of conscience should work for the attainment of this independence. The national ideal is formed according to historical circumstances, so that what today was the national ideal may, once it has been attained, give way tomorrow to another ideal which had previously been given little consideration. It often happens, however, that the historical situation enforces a radical change on the national ideal, deflecting it in quite a different direction or else endangering it to such an extent that it may be completely destroyed. The national ideal, or the obligation towards one’s country, is usually interpreted in various ways by the various individuals of a nation. One can best judge which concept of the national ideal is the most reliable, by the unanimity with which it is, accepted by all individuals in, the nation. In order to attain this unanimity and to assess the diverse concepts of the national ideal, the ideal just be expressed in words or in writing. And it is by no means a vain task to voice ones opinion of these ideals and one’s criticism too – for they are an expression of the general spirit of the nation, and it is on the health of this spirit that the health and success of the entire nation’s work depend. Popular ideals, improperly understood, simply add to the misfortunes of the people and bring no advantages.

Since it was in this light that I regarded my own obligation towards my country, I decided to present my concept of the ideal of the Macedonian people through a series of lectures delivered to the St. Petersburg Macedonian-Slav Literary Society Sv. Kliment, and later to have them printed in book form as they are here, to allow for the inclusion of those reflections which could not be incorporated into the lectures given to this Society. And in so doing, I felt that I had, to the best of my ability, fulfilled, at least part of my obligation towards my people and my country.

Most Macedonian readers will be delighted at the appearance of this book. There will be much in it to surprise them. Some will ask why I speak of breaking away from the Bulgarians when in the past we have even called ourselves Bulgarians and when it is generally accepted that unification creates strength, and not separation. Others will argue that, by breaking away completely on the one side, we run the risk of rousing our enemies who are striving with all their might to “weaken” the Balkan Slavs in order to prepare the ground for the partition of the Balkan lands, which would be divided among them; furthermore, we Macedonians would be forced to renounce our prime obligation – the political battle for freedom – to destroy all that has been achieved in the past and go back, so to speak, to square one. Others will feel that I am claiming that Turkey will become better disposed towards us and towards the European reforms in our country when it has been plainly shown that Turkey never wanted and never will want reforms in Macedonia, and that the other countries are not prepared to press Turkey to offer us any reforms, even the meanest. Many people consider that the foreign states are playing a diplomatic game with the reforms only to trick us into giving up the armed battle against the Turks, for this is disturbing their peace. But if we were to give up, this battle they would give up their demands to the Turks for reforms in Macedonia.

Such are the main reactions I expect from most of my fellow-countrymen. I feel, however, that these reactions are not correct. Let me explain why: my book, it is true, does speak of separation and unification, but this is separation from those from whom we have already broken away, from those with whom we will never be able to unite, and this is unification with those whom we are morally bound to join and with whom unification is possible. If we Slav peoples, by breaking away from the other Balkan nations, manage to unite our own Macedonian Slav population into a whole we will not become weaker, indeed, we will grow stronger, and thus the realization of the ideas expounded in this book will be justified by the saying “Unity is Strength”.

Now we must ask whether our enemies could make use of our separation from the other Balkan peoples, and determine who these enemies are. It is fashionable at present in Bulgaria to say that the greatest enemies of the Balkan Slavs are Russia and Austria-Hungary, both of whom wish to use the Macedonian question to stir up a battle between the Serbs and the Bulgarians and, by keeping this battle going, weaken the strength of these two nations to such an extent that they would be able to step into the Balkans, Russia taking over Bulgaria and Constantinople, and Austria-Hungary moving into Serbia and Salonica. I should like to take the freedom of disagreeing with this deep political “farsightedness”.

The Bulgarians may be right in thinking that without Bulgaria, Russia can exist neither politically nor economically, but this is Bulgarian politics and I have no intention of politicizing in the Bulgarian fashion. I am a Macedonian and this is how I see the position of my country: it is not Russia or Austria-Hungary that are the enemies of Macedonia, but Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. Our country can be saved from ruin only by struggling fiercely against these states.

Fighting against these three Balkan states does not run counter to our interests, which may be realized either through revolution and evolution or through the gradual moral and religious development of our people. Revolution we have already seen, and, although it left dreadful consequences in its wake, it also had valuable results, with which those who fought for our national freedom may well be satisfied: I refer to the Mьrzsteg reforms which will be implemented when the time and need arises. Nor does the idea of the complete separation of our people from the other Balkan nations run counter to previous struggles for freedom in Macedonia, for it is simply a continuation of those efforts on the basis of gradual development and evolution. Hitherto our people have been most interested in simply gaining full political autonomy; however, while still pursuing our national interests, they allowed various uninvited guests to make their way in, such as the Greeks, the Bulgarians and the Serbs. The political battle, then, is followed by the national battle. But the battle against various forms of propaganda in Macedonia is a step ahead, and not behind, for this too is part of the battle for freedom, a battle against the dark forces which will not allow our country to look at its own interests with its own eyes and force it to see through glasses which darken the truth and color it in Greek, Serbian or Bulgarian shades. The time has come to cast off the blinkers of religious propaganda forced on Macedonia.

Concerning our relations with the Turks, I have only this to say: we are bound to do all that is asked of us to assure Turkey that her continued presence amongst the states of Europe will be locked upon with understanding by us. We are bound to remain loyal subjects of His Imperial Excellency the Sultan. But in so doing we shall demand from his administration, and continue to demand, a number of reforms to secure the main interests of our national and cultural development. I feel that we should be loyal to the Turks but with the understanding that the Turkish government and people should finally realize that their state interests in Europe coincide with ours, on which they are most dependent, that these interests are not contradictory and that therefore the Turks should first evince a true desire to maintain peaceful relations with us, so that they might earn our support for their interests.

If, however, they mean to deceive us by fobbing us off, and Europe as well, with promises they have no intention of keeping, then they can hardly complain if we turn towards Europe to bring about these reforms by force in our country, since the European powers hold them necessary for the successful religious, national and cultural development of the Macedonian Christians. Europe will pay heed to our demands, for she is bound to do so on the grounds of two international acts: the February Project for Reform in Macedonia and the Mьrzsteg Project. These two international acts guarantee that reforms will be gradually introduced in Macedonia and that we shall have the right to turn in other ways to the two states which were signatories to the reform act, in order to indicate our national-religious and economic needs and to show what has been done by Turkey to meet all our requirements.

I know full well that many will look ironically upon my faith in the European reforms. But I should answer their irony thus: there is no truth in the claim that the efforts of Russia and Austria-Hungary to settle the situation in Macedonia will come to nothing. The reform projects and the efforts to implement them are not, as many think, merely a ploy to let time pass and, leave everything as it was. For Russia and Austria-Hungary the reform projects are an international act which it would be ridiculous for Turkey not to honor and which gives full right to the states enforcing the reforms to take reprisals against any state that undermines international law. If it were so easy to break international law without fear of punishment many states would undertake obligations one day only to forswear them the next. But it is not so.

The Russian and Austrian reforms are an international act which will always give the Macedonians the right to call upon the Great Powers to ensure that the reforms are enforced. There is no need to think that this act will be buried like the Berlin Treaty with its 23 Articles relating to Macedonia. The Berlin agreement was indeed buried, though not by Europe; it was Bulgaria who brought about the unification of Eastern Rumelia by force, without the consent of the states, which were signatories to the Berlin agreement. And the violation of one article was sufficient to render the entire agreement null and void. The present Russian and Austrian reforms differ greatly from the Berlin agreement because they are simply an international act concluded between three states. We, the Macedonians, are the only other factor of importance besides them. Opposition to the wishes of the two states in league, Russia and Austria-Hungary, can come only from the Turks or from us, but it is most likely to come from us because the reforms lay down obligations not for us but for Turkey, and if we show ourselves to be dissatisfied with the obligations laid down for the Turks we will thereby make it possible for the Turks not to carry out any of the reforms required of them. Turkey will claim that she did everything required of her and that she was unable to do more because the Macedonian guerillas would not leave the people in peace, and in a country where a state of war prevails all good intentions are ruined by the resistance of the disquieted people. And if the state of war continues for more than a year the reforms will become outdated through our own fault, and end up by being shelved. We have already performed a similar service for the Turks – after the announcement of the February reforms. Besides, if we did not want any reforms whatsoever, we could have performed the service in advance. Afterwards, as in the past, we could have thrown the blame on the Great Powers, who are always made responsible for our mistakes.

The development of events thus far has clearly shown how easy it is to foul one’s own pitch, in the firm belief that one is doing the right thing. In order to avoid the casualties which inevitably follow a widespread uprising, the Russian and Austrian February Reform Project was worked out, not to absolute perfection it is true, but with indications that it might be expanded. One month passed, two, five, seven months – but nothing came of it. Why – we wonder. Our people will answer that it is because Turkey and Europe do not want serious reforms. But this is not so. Turkey may not want reforms, but those who worked out the project certainly do. The question, then, was simply: who would come out on top? In those circumstances we were the most important factor. If only we had yielded to the will of Europe, and if only the rebel detachments had surrendered or fled to Bulgaria, if there had only been some negotiations with the states behind the reforms, who could simply have been told that the detachments would go over to Bulgaria or give themselves up provided the Turks did not torture the ordinary civilians on the grounds that somewhere guns might be hidden, if only it had been made clear that peace would come to Macedonia only when Turkey introduced complete reforms and withdrew its army from Macedonia – but this did not happen. And what did the Revolutionary Committee do? It decided to carry on, as though waiting for the outcome of the reforms, and then launched the uprising with a “clear conscience”. When the Uprising was declared, the Committee was able to say that it had not been forcing the state to introduce the reforms. But this is not true. It is a fact that the rebel detachments avoided clashes, but this does not mean that they did not press for the reforms to be introduced. They avoided armed clashes but the Turks sought them, and were more successful than the Committee. The Committee claimed it had no detachments, that there was no resistance to the reforms on their part, but the Turks declared that there were rebel detachments, that the people were armed and preparing for an uprising, that their troops were often engaged in skirmishes with the rebels, that the rebel detachments were killing civilians who would not obey and who were not faithful servants of the Sultan. If we glance through the newspapers dating from the time when the February Reforms were published – up to and after the declaration of the Uprising in the Bitola District on 20th of July* – and if we read the telegrams from Constantinople, we will see that the Grande Porte (the Turkish High Command) was constantly drawing the attention of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian ambassadors to the lists enumerating the clashes between the Turkish troops and the rebel detachments, the number of arms found amongst the inhabitants, and the murders committed against civilians by the rebel detachments. And finally they pointed to the lists of the reforms introduced. It is quite clear what Turkey wanted to prove by these lists: “I want to bring reform to
Macedonia, but instead of reform I shall, for the present, bring in the army, and suffering,
because the country is preparing for a revolution which is the result of the mistaken work of
the Committee that represents a state within the state; allow me first to quiet down the
country and establish peace, then the necessary reforms will be introduced.” In other words:
the Committee has made it possible for me to find an excuse for not bringing in the reforms
for a year, and after that I shall not introduce them because they will be outdated. This is the
service we rendered Turkey by regarding the Austro-Russian reform project with mistrust.
Will we once more render Turkey a service, only to end up again blaming others for our
mistakes? I think the only course now left open to us is to place full faith in the efforts of
these two interested powers to introduce reforms, and so provide them with the incentive to
implement them as soon as possible.
In these few words I wished to explain how the book treats some of the most
important questions for the Macedonian reader for whom it is intended. As a further mark
of my support for the idea of completely separating our interests from those of the other
Balkan peoples and independently continuing our own cultural and national development, I
have written the book in the central Macedonian dialect, which from now on I shall always
consider the Macedonian literary language. The irregularities, which may occur in the
language are quite natural, and they could be removed only through a deeper acquaintance
with the central Macedonian dialect than I can claim to have. However, things being as they
are, I hope that Macedonians will find this language pleasanter to the ear than the languages
of our neighbors, which have served us in the past.

* In the new calendar, 2 nd of August, 1903. Editor’s note.

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