BAC - Sofia
IN THE POST 1989 DECADE
Balkans'21 / volume 2 - 2003
present paper seeks to put forward a number of connected claims related
to Bulgarian nationalism  regarding Macedonia.
It is argued that in the years of post-communist transition this nationalism
has been undergoing important transformations. The interplay of several
‘currents’ at both political and extra-political level helps explaining
those transformations and accounts for the appearance and development of
a marked non-confrontational trend in Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ nationalism.
In the present context, the understanding of nationalism builds on the insights of two authors. The one is Gelner’s view of nationalism as a principle of political legitimacy according to which political borders should match cultural ones (where ‘culture’ = ’nation,’ since the latter, unlike the state, is par excellence a culturally defined community). The other stems from Breuilly’s important differentiation of nationalism as mass sentiment, ideology and politics and his consequent claim that nationalism should be understood as a form of politics. Hence, nationalism here stands for politics, or concrete policies, or courses of political action related to (perceived) discrepancies, mismatches or faults in the overlap of cultural/national and political maps.
‘Non-confrontational’ here hints at the lack of nationalism-related confrontation and/or politically sponsored tensions. In post-1989 transition decade nationalism has not been established and used either as mobilization factor, or as policy justification factor in Bulgarian politics and especially in official state policy. That does not imply the absence of nationalist rhetoric (or even of nationalist motivation, for that matter). It rather comes to suggest that despite the existence of internal ‘background’ conditions and external incentives, in the course of transition, nationalism has been downplayed as a feasible political option both internally and externally. To use the language of game theory, ‘non-confrontational’ suggests that nationalism (if and when at play) does not turn politics into a zero-sum game.
The argument should be put forward against a two-fold background. One layer constitutes of historically accumulated confrontational potential on the ‘Macedonian question.’ The other builds on the more general Balkan perspective, where nationalism has been the prevailing ideological and political norm on the Balkans throughout the last two hundred years. Rather than exception, the last ten years of the post-Cold war period seem to be an eloquent affirmation of this long-established norm. In other words, at the onset of transition processes the Balkan environment has been hardly conductive for opting for non-confrontation and this fact only further distinguishes the non-confrontational trend of Bulgarian nationalism regarding Macedonia.
The paper, thus, starts with an indispensable historical tour elucidating the roots of pre-transition and transition national(ist) potential, the latter in a somewhat dormant form though still highly charged with confrontational potential. Taking the second layer for self-evident (the opposite would mean writing a separate paper on Balkan environment in 90s and of mutually inducing politics of confrontation at various levels), the paper proceeds in accounting for emergence, development, and fluctuations of the non-confrontational trend in the post-1989 years looking at the socio-political dynamics on the Bulgarian transition scene.
End XIX - beginning XX Macedonia (then only a topography designation for a Balkan region) turned into the most persistent ‘bone of contention’ and source of turbulence on the Balkans. Historically, ethnically, politically and in terms of national (people’s) psychology Bulgaria has been closely intertwined with the “Macedonian question.” One can outline three major periods in the development of Bulgarian attitudes and policies on the issue. The first one covers the creation of the Bulgarian state in the second half of the XIX century till the end of the WWII. The second one coincides with the Cold War period. The years since the outset of post-Cold war transition process mark the beginning of the third period.
The seeds of Bulgarian national question and consequent nationalistic grievances were sown with the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which covered all lands, defined after a plebiscite in 1870-1871 as inhabited by ethnic Bulgarians (Parvanov, 1995: 35). Following the Russian-Turkish 1877-1878 war, the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano outlined the borders of the newly established Bulgarian state, including almost all territories (considered) inhabited with ethnic Bulgarians: Thrace, Misia and Macedonia. Shortly afterwards at the Congress of Berlin (1878) the Great Powers’ revision of San Stefano terms reduced Bulgaria to a rump state North of the Balkan Mountain and the Sofia sandzak (district), thus turning San Stefano Bulgaria into “Bulgarian greatest irredentist sore” (Perry, 1995: 45).
Motivated and justified by the feeling of injustice done to Bulgaria, a powerful current for unification (irredentist trend) appeared in Bulgarian nationalism. The inability of the young Bulgarian state to solve the national question in its Macedonian part flavored Bulgarian nationalism with strong longing for Macedonia, seen as the ‘most Bulgarian land.’ In the struggles marking the dissipation of the Ottoman Empire, the longing for Macedonia rendered Bulgarian national perception and nationalism with a heroic-martyr aureole and national romanticism.
In the beginning of XX century, the attempts at solving the Macedonian question led to the division of Macedonia among Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. The ‘Macedonian Question’ turned into a redistribution of spheres of influence, while the partitioning of Macedonia “was reasonably designated in Bulgarian historiography as the First National Catastrophe” (Parvanov, 1995: 38).  That further enhanced and reinforced the feelings of suffered injustice and the longing for Macedonia. In an attempt to regain Macedonia Bulgaria entered both World Wars, every time on the losing side.
Following the WWI, the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly confirmed the partitioning of Macedonia and redrew further the Balkan borders at the expense of Bulgaria’s territory. That serious hit marked the Bulgarian nationalism with strong revisionism since Bulgaria felt compelled to be imminently seeking revenge against the imposed Versailles system. Along with the defeat, nationalistic feeling were also nurtured and enhanced by “Some 250 000 refugees from Macedonia and Thrace [who] brought with them the seeds of an aggressive expansionist dream which came as a sole possible compensation for their humiliated national dignity” (Ibid., 40).
Moreover, till the end of the WWII territorial changes on the Balkans served as a constant ‘reminder’ that borders had not been fixed yet, nurturing the views that a turnover in the situation around Macedonia was still an open possibility. Thus short periods of regaining Macedonia just made Bulgarian nationalism more fervent, while simultaneously it was rendered a distinct feeling of self-lamenting: Bulgarian nation has become to be seen as a victim. Macedonian issue has become a part of Bulgarian national psychology.
Between the wars the Bulgarian Macedonia-related irredentist nationalism institutionalized in the legendary IMRO. The quasi-military organization played a significant role in Bulgarian internal political life, causing considerable problems to the official state structures. At that time the Macedonian cause was marred with violence (eloquently exemplified by Stambolijski’s assassination) and its then-emerging ill fame mingled with the heroic-martyr aureole, thus providing the Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ nationalism with a certain emotional ambiguity.
The second period started already in the course of the WWII with the Yugoslav and Bulgarian Communist Parties (YCP and BCP) actively disputing the Macedonian question. Because of the stronger Yugoslav positions, it was the YCP settlement of the Macedonian question, which was adopted (Parvanov, 1995: 44). After the war Bulgaria had to withdraw from Vardar Macedonia and West Thrace back to the pre-war boundaries. Vardar Macedonia was included in the SFRY as one of the Federal Republics with an official “Yugoslavia’s recognition of Macedonian nationality [which] was meant to diminish, if not invalidate, the legitimacy of any Bulgarian claim on Yugoslav territory or people” (Perry, 1995: 58).
Under the then emerging new world order, the Bulgarian policy on the ‘Macedonian question’ had to undergo dramatic changes. Transformed into a Soviet satellite with severely restricted national sovereignty, on (what were considered) national issues, Bulgaria was bound to comply with the ‘powerful-of-the-day.’ In the first post-war years, BCP recognized a separate Macedonian nationality and launched an extensive policy of ‘Macedonization’ in the Pirin Macedonia.  The 1946 BCP Plenum declared the population there ‘Macedonian national minority’ and a part of ‘Macedonian nation.’ A ‘cultural-national autonomy’ was proclaimed; the official Party line course envisaged the development of a Macedonian consciousness in the population there. It was only in 1948, after the split between Tito and Stalin, when Bulgaria abandoned the policy of powerful Macedonization in Pirin Macedonia.
Though the policy of ‘Macedonization’ of Pirin region lasted for about two years only, it influenced immensely Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ policy and nationalism. The recognition of the existence of Macedonian nationality has had far-reaching outcomes; it seriously breached one of the corner stones of Bulgarian nationalism, namely that Macedonians are Bulgarians, thus putting Bulgarian nationalism in a defensive position. With the recognition of the People’s Republic of Macedonia within the Yugoslav Federation, Bulgaria had to accept (at least officially) the geographical denomination ‘Macedonian’ as a national one.
As a whole, the second period was marked by the absence of consistent official attitude to the Macedonian question, the policy sweeping from on extreme to another. Thus, after the recognition of Macedonian nationality and its imposition on the population in Pirin region in late 40s, the 1956 April Party Plenum revised the recognition of the existence of Macedonian nation. Ultimately, it appeared that in Bulgaria the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had been generally recognized as a political entity with a predominantly Bulgarian population, despite the claims for Macedonian identity.
Thus, a strange duality was established. On the one hand, far from expressing any territorial claims (Bulgaria had to comply with the discipline of the Cold War), officially Bulgaria preferred to keep mum. Externally, the ‘Macedonian question’ was not raised in any substantial way. Internally, there was no official propaganda on the issue; school textbooks provided scanty historical facts; cultural activities of Macedonian refugees’ organizations were constantly suppressed. Still, throughout the period historical researches on the issue were not banned. Though they remained largely unpopular, it was those scientific activities together with family histories of hundreds Bulgarian descendents from Macedonian refugees, which preserved and kindled the attention towards ‘Macedonian issue.’ In short, Bulgarian part of “Macedonian question” was ‘frozen’ rather than solved.
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1. In historical perspective, Bulgarian nationalism is pertinent to and stems from the Bulgarian national question. Being a family member of Balkan nationalisms, it has distinguishable though interrelated internal and external dimensions. Both have been linked to the extreme heterogeneity of the Balkan population in terms of ethnicity, religion, and/or language and to the exclusivist and “ethnic” understanding of “nation” and “nation-state” on the Balkans. The former is related to (the problems of) ethnic, religious and linguistic variety within the respective state boundaries, while the latter concerns states’ irrendeta, or the territories outside respective states, considered to be inhabited by ethnic co-nationals. back
2. Hence, though Bulgaria received a partial solution of its national question with the inclusion of some part of Macedonia, the Bulgarian national question itself was reformulated in terms of reunification of Macedonian land, again, how-ever, under Bulgarian jurisdiction. back
3. In the first post war years the YCP and BCP leaders Tito and Dimitrov (with the inevitable interference of Stalin) en-gaged in an extensive dialogue over Tito’s idea of creating a larger South Slav federation of the South Slavs, meaning Bulgaria’s incorporation into SFRY as one of the Yugoslav Republics. In 1947 a friendship pact was signed between the two countries that was intended to end the territorial disputes, notably that over Macedonia. The obvious ambition of Tito was the integration of the overall Macedonia within the Yugoslav borders. The first step was seen to be the autonomy of the Pirin Macedonia, based on active ‘Macedonization’ of the population there. The conflict between Communist In-formburo and the YCP leadership put an end to the project of South Slav Federation.back
4. See documents from the Central Party Archive, quoted in Parvanov (1995: 48). back
5. Though seeming totally incompatible with the core postulates of Bulgarian nationalism, the creation of a Macedonian nationality seemed to be a reasonable compromise for Bulgarian national cause. In the post-war situation, Bulgaria was unable to lay whatever claims to Macedonia. At the same time from a Bulgarian viewpoint it was important the population in Macedonia to remain distinct from the Serbs and ‘Macedonian nationality’ could also be seen as a barrier for Serbization and further de-Bulgarization of the population there. This type of reasoning follows the same logic as in the argument that in the time of its appearance Macedonism actually played a positive role for the Bulgarian national cause and in this sense was not in contradiction with Bulgarian nationalism. back
6. This zigzagging has been particularly obvious in the highly varying numbers of the ‘Macedonians in Bulgaria.’ In the 1956 Bulgarian census, 187,729 Macedonians were listed as living in Bulgarian/Pirin Macedonia. In 1965, however, this number shrank to 8,750. In the 1975 census there were no Macedonians listed (see Perry, 1995: 59). In the 1992 census people, who identify themselves as Macedonians, counted less than 10,803. It can be said that there is a widely-share contemporary view in Bulgaria, both on official and scientific, as well as on public level, that ‘Macedonians in Bulgaria’ are nothing else but a far reaching consequence of the 2-year policy of Macedonization of Pirin Macedonia. back