Bulgaria, Macedonia: Blog Wars Over History

by Yavor Mihaylov

The relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia are no less complex and incomprehensible than those between Greece and Macedonia, although lately the former get less media exposure than the latter. The main problem between Sofia and Skopje is, once again, history.

To Bulgarians, the Macedonians were part of the Bulgarian nation until the beginning of the 20th century, when a large part of Macedonia fell under Serbian domination after the Balkan wars. Then, due to Serbia’s policy in the region and the doctrine of Macedonism, changes in the mindset of the local population occurred, leading to the forming of the Macedonian nation. The Comintern and Stalin’s stance on the issue also contributed to this result.

Macedonians, on the other hand, consider themselves an entirely separate nation, heir to an ancient people. They accuse their Bulgarian neighbours of having been an occupation power in their land and claim that Sofia is trying to appropriate parts of the history of Macedonia, like, for instance, King Samuil, St. Kliment Okhridski, the revolutionary Gotze Delchev, etc.

Bulgarians address similar accusations to Macedonia.

Contention is even further exacerbated by fears on the part of Macedonia that Sofia seeks to “assimilate” the Macedonians, while Bulgarians suspect their neighbours in seeking to annex Pirin region, which is part of the so-called Greater Macedonia.

All these contradictions have spilled over into the virtual space and sparked a permanent “war” over history between Bulgarian and Macedonian bloggers – a war that often exceeds the rules of “bon ton.” And the Bulgarian blogosphere, too, is debating the question of what should be Bulgaria’s attitude towards Macedonia.

Blogger Peter Stoykov writes (BUL):

Some arguments about whether Macedonia is or has been part of Bulgaria, whether there exist a Macedonian language, nationality, the Macedonian question, and Bulgarian national interest in Macedonia… Historians, politicians and, most of all, internet morons are competing in speaking nonsense on the issue, as though their lives depend on that.

[…]

Is Macedonia Bulgarian?

No, it is not Bulgarian, it’s Macedonian. And I will tell you why, but I will first look back in time. In 2001, a regular census took place in Australia. Precisely then a Star Wars episode was released and as you know, there are many people crazy about this film. So, in the “Ethnicity” box in the census questionnaire some wisecracks wrote “Jedi”… […] What does this have to do with Macedonia? If Macedonians want to call themselves Macedonians, they have an indisputable right to do so.

[…]

So, what shall we do with the Macedonian question?

As a matter of fact, I am even glad that Macedonia is not part of Bulgaria and that a number of years ago it was torn away from Bulgaria and given over to Yugoslavia. Bulgaria, as our politicians have always been happy to say, “is a focus of stability on the Balkans” – unrest is boiling around us, there were fights and fission in Yugoslavia, Kosovo has been on the table, the Greeks fought with the Turks over Cyprus, Turks are fighting the Kurds, they have even crossed over the border into Iraq, five years ago Albanians made something which was very close to a revolution in Macedonia, fire was exchanged there.

If Macedonia were part of Bulgaria, we would be part of this madness.

Another renowned blogger, Peter Dobrev, responds (BUL):

“Macedonia is the cradle of the Bulgarian national spirit. And even if it is to become its grave, we will never give up the fight for its liberation.” This was the title with which the then large-circulation Outro newspaper appeared on the eve of the Balkan war. This used to be the dominant opinion until 1944 (when the communists took the power in Bulgaria). Today, however, regardless of the fact that Bulgaria in theory should have left the ideological constructs of totalitarianism, the memory of Macedonia has faded so much that it turns into polar extremes.

[…]

No wonder then that blogger Peter Stoykov thinks that there is no Macedonian question, that Macedonia is Macedonian, and whoever says the opposite is “an internet moron.”

[…]

Everybody has a God-given right of self-determination – as a Jedi, Eskimo or Macedonian. When, however, it’s a matter of general national significance, of causes that have cost the lives of thousands and matters that have changed the fate of a half of a people, it’s good to speak with a little understanding and knowledge. It’s necessary to separate personal opinion from the objective historical fact…

[…]

Just as everybody knows today that Alexander the Great was a Greek, so it is indisputable that all leaders of the Macedonian organisations after 1878 (the year of the Berlin congress and the subsequent liberation/emancipation of Bulgaria) were Bulgarians. These leaders, as well as the people as a whole, have always spoken of themselves as Bulgarians, and they have been seen as such by the foreign observers. All foreign observers, even the Serbian ones.

These two opinions sum up the main social attitudes in relation to Macedonia. The majority of Bulgarians have no claims to its neighbour, nor do they want to interfere in its domestic affairs, but many are irritated by the Macedonian blackmail to give up a part of their history and want the historic truth established. Similar voices are heard in Macedonia.

In the thick of one of the battles between Bulgarian and Macedonian bloggers, Macedonian blogger Ivica Anteski wrote in his ANTIblog (MKD):

If the Bulgarian and the Macedonian “truths” do not coincide, this means that they are not true (or at least one of them). Simple logic. And in court, when two eyewitnesses make contradicting testimonies, the case is solved by means of a confrontation. But historians don’t want to confront each other. It’s more likely that we, bloggers, slaughter ourselves first on the internet, than see the experts surpass the contentions through the power of arguments.

[…]

Scholars, historians, philologists, academics, Slavic studies experts (Macedonian and Bulgarian)!!! Sit down together and tell us where the problem is. Reach an understanding! Forget that you are Macedonian or Bulgarian – scholars have no nationality. The truth and the facts are their nationality. Clear out the problems.

In such an atmosphere, on March 31, several days before the NATO summit in Bucharest, Sofia-based Manfred Woerner Foundation and the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria introduced a brochure titled “Bulgarian Policies on the Republic of Macedonia,” which was written by a group of Bulgarian history, Balkan studies and diplomacy scholars.

The purpose of the publication is to be used in the process of defining Bulgaria’s Macedonia-related policies. Blogger Konstantin Pavlov, who attended the presentation, published the following report (BUL):

The Republic of Macedonia is about to join the EU and NATO. When exactly this will happen is not clear yet. The problem lies in the fact that, on the basis of the argument between Greece and Macedonia, the majority of independent politicians and observers take the side of Macedonia, without giving it much thought. (David against Goliath). And although the argument over the name elicits sympathy for Macedonia, the arguments that are being used – ancient Macedonia, that has survived down to the present day, the “autochtonal” Macedonian population, having been “enslaved” and “assimilated” by its bad neighbours, including the “bad Bulgarians,” gains ground with the people who sympathize with Macedonia. Those sympathies might lead to extremely negative consequences for Bulgaria, like, for example, “giving up” [May 24 as a national holiday] […]. It seems the book on the subject is not bad (I had no nerve to read it) and, unfortunately, is written in a complex, pseudo-scientific language with the purposes not all too clear. The result is nearly contrary to the objective sought – to write a clear, concise and unequivocally logical (right, winning) policy of the Bulgarian state towards the challenges coming from Macedonia. Well, it has not been achieved very well.

Having read the book and Pavlov’s report, Macedonian blogger Volan wrote (MKD):

The desire of Bulgarian politics – one people – two nations – is clearly discernible…

It is clear that the problems between Skopje and Sofia cannot be solved until the Balkan approach to history as property is not given up, and as long as it is being divided to “mine” and “yours” – in this case, into “Macedonian” and “Bulgarian.”