Kiril Kertikov
Institute of Sociology
Sofia, Bulgaria
Macedonia – Bulgaria:
From Confrontation Towards

Balkans'21 / volume 3 - 2003

I. Preliminary notes
This paper is a summary of some of the main conclusions and recommendations made by the “Bulgaria –
Macedonia: problems of the new type of interstate relationships” Program team, headed by the author of this text.
The paper does not purport to be exhaustive, as far as the processes are in a constant state of development and
the research team cannot take responsibility for any “hard” prognoses.
The facts, circumstances and hypotheses presented here are believed to have been proven in the work of the
research team.
II. Historical preconditions for the confrontation between Bulgaria and Macedonia
Bulgarian – Macedonian relationships are burdened with a heavy historical heritage.
It falls in the context of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the pretensions of neighboring countries like
Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria for a possible “redistribution” of Macedonia.
Wars have been waged in order to annex Vardar Macedonia to one of the three countries aspiring towards its
population and its territory: Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece (these wars are known as the “Balkan wars”).
III. “Bulgarophobia” and “antimacedonism”: obstacles on the road to Europe
On the basis of the facts referred to above, in the two sister countries there still exist two traditional
mental-psychological points of view, institutionalized through the respective political structures.
In the Republic of Bulgaria there are the so-called “anti-Macedonian” political parties and movements.
The main one amongst them is the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Movement (IMRM).
Paradoxically, such an “internal” movement (essentially a party) exists and functions outside of the confines of
It is not known whose interests exactly it defends: of the Bulgarian emigrants from Vardar Macedonia, of the
Bulgarians in Vardar Macedonia, of all ethnic Bulgarians in the country and so on.
The Bulgarian IMRM also legitimizes itself as a “Bulgarian national movement” and purports to present the whole
national spectrum. (This is in fact absurd, as tens of other parties make a claim to this same national spectrum.)
The party in question is essentially a political structure with an orientation at the right end of the political
spectrum, with an unclear political platform and which was a coalitional partner of the Union of Democratic
Forced (UDF) in the previous Bulgarian Parliament.
IMRM is the very mouthpiece of “antimacedonism” in Bulgaria. Through its activities it acts as an obstacle to the
process of euro integration of Bulgaria, as it firmly denies the right of the population of Vardar Macedonia of their
own ethnicicity, language and national self-definition.
In parallel with the pro-Bulgarian IMRM, a few other structures are engaged in alternative activities, which are
subject to legal proceedings – the United Macedonian Organization “Ilinden” (Independent); the United
Macedonian Organization “Ilinden – Pirin”.
These political structures define themselves as “separatist”.
It is curious to know that there exist their exact mirror images in Vardar Macedonia, or in other words, there exist
political structures that raise the same “separatist” claims. The two major ones among them are IMRM
Tatkovinska and the Party of Human Rights.
It is quite strange that in both sister countries (Bulgaria and Macedonia) the object of legal proceedings are the
so-called “separatist” political structures, which are analogous to each other: in terms of ideology, electoral
participation and activities those parties represent hardly a threat to the state order.
At the same time, the legislative, executive and judicial power in both countries remain indifferent to the main
problem, namely that “bulgarophobia” in Macedonia and “antimacedonism” in Bulgaria are serious obstacles on
the road to euro-integration for both countries.
IV. Rethinking the similarities and differences between the two
countries: pre-conditions for their euro-integration
A. Similarities between the two countries
1.The two peoples have a common ethnic origin: both are Slavic people;
2.They share a common religion – Orthodox Christianity;
3.They share a system of writing – the Cyrillic alphabet (with the exception of a few modifications and
several graphemes, introduced in the last decades of the previous century);
4.The two languages are almost completely identical. Essentially they are both dialect forms of “eastern”
and “western” phonetic modifications;
5.In certain historical periods they have been part of a common state;
6.They have a common historical development: for five centuries they have been subjected to Ottoman
7.They have jointly led national-liberation struggles against the Ottoman feudal oppression (which, even
though unsuccessful, eventually led to their ethno-national liberation after the intervention of external
8.The territorial borders of the two countries have been defined by agreements between the so-called “great
powers” (in both cases without taking into consideration the real ethnic diasporas; the decisions have
been taken mostly on political, opportunistic grounds, in favor of international interests and at the
expense of the interests of the newly liberated peoples).
9.It is emblematic, also, that under the conditions of dissolution of the former socialist order the two
countries have managed to acquire state sovereignty without foreign protection (Bulgaria refused to be a
satellite of the former Soviet Union; Macedonia severed itself from the former Socialist Federative
Republic of Yugoslavia through a legitimate referendum);
10.In spite of their substantial political activity, however, the two countries remain captive of foreign
geo-political interests, since as small countries both are unable to realize their own national doctrines:
economical, external-political and so on, and in that sense both countries are doomed to foreign
11.In the new conditions both countries have had to look for “a new powerful patron” in order to be able to
promote their economies and their survival as institutions. Because of this external constraint, the
countries have not been able to achieve military and political neutrality, which in the new positioning of
military powers would be (according to one of the alterative hypotheses at least) a more appropriate
solution for them.

B. Differences between Bulgaria and Macedonia
1.Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman feudal oppression nearly five decades earlier than Macedonia;
2.Macedonia’s liberation from Ottoman power did not lead to its establishment as an independent state: it
was included in the precincts of another “empire” (kingdom);
3.The dissolving Ottoman Empire had no territorial claims to Bulgaria (or later to Vardar Macedonia), while
neighboring Christian Orthodox states such as Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria raised territorial claims towards
Vardar Macedonia. It was these pretensions that caused the Balkan and the Inter-allies Wars.
4.The Slavic-speaking, Christian-Orthodox population on the Vardar Macedonian territory was divided into
three distinct groups after the liberation from Ottoman rule. The majority self-defined themselves as
Bulgarian; others as Serbian; still others as Macedonian.
5.As a result of the Balkan Wars and the First World War, huge waves of emigrants from Macedonia’s
Slavic population, self-defining as Bulgarians, left their homelands and migrated to Bulgaria (their
numbers rising to half a million people according to the estimates of Bulgarian experts);
6.A part of the population remaining in Macedonia was forcefully or voluntarily subjected to serbisation.
The majority of inhabitants, however, looked for new ethnic coordinates, and found them in the vision of
a Macedonian ethnos and nation.
7.During the period of the Second World War, when Bulgaria as an ally to fascist Germany entered the
territories of Aegean and Vardar Macedonia, a substantial part of the population re-orientated towards
Bulgarian ethnicity;
8.After the Second World War, when Bulgaria withdrew from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia and the latter
remained in the precincts of former Republic of Yugoslavia, there was a process of “re-definition” of
ethno-national belonging in the region, which eventually resulted in the institutionalization of a standard
Macedonian language and the formation of a Macedonian national consciousness. The final stage of the
process was the separation of Vardar Macedonia from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and the
self-proclamation of the Republic of Macedonia as a sovereign state entity.
9.These days the differences between Bulgaria and Macedonia are in their ethno-demographic
There are two major ethno-confessional communities in Macedonia: Macedonians and Albanians.
In Bulgaria there are three communities: ethnic Bulgarians, Bulgarian Turks and Bulgarian gypsies
(Roma). In Macedonia the relative share of the Albanian and other Islamic groups (Turks, Roma,
Vlach, etc.) rises to one-third of the population of the country. In Bulgaria the relative share of
Bulgarian Turks, Roma and other Islamic groups is about 12 – 15% of the population of the whole
The majority of the Albanian-Islamic population of Macedonia is centered mostly in the
north-western part of the country (and thus enters into immediate territorial contact with the
Kosovo Albanians, as well as with their ethnic compatriots from the Republic of Albania). The
Turkish-speaking Muslim community in Bulgaria is also concentrated in two regions (with centers
in the towns of Kardzhali and Razgrad), but in neither case does it have direct territorial contact
with the Republic of Turkey. In the former case it borders with Greece, and in the latter case with
The birthrate of Bulgarian Turks is roughly commensurate with that of ethnic Bulgarians (in
contrast to that of Macedonian Albanians, who have caused a real demographic “boom”).
Because of certain historical circumstances, the Bulgarian Turks exhibiting overt nationalistic and
religious aspirations have had the opportunity to leave the country. The majority of the remaining
population are loyal Bulgarian citizens. Conversely, in Macedonia there is a constant flux of
Albanian immigrants who keep entering the country even today.
Confessionally, Bulgarian Turks replicate more or less the atheist inclinations typical of the
Bulgarian nation. The remaining part follows the Islamic traditions without any forms of Islamic
fanaticism and even less forms of Islamic fundamentalism.
10.In summary, the main differences between the Bulgarian Turks and the Macedonian Albanians are:
A) The majority of the Bulgarian Turks have no pretensions to build a “new nation”;
B) They have no intentions (and it is practically impossible at this stage) to join a neighboring country;
C) They are not involved in criminal activities (such as drug trafficking, the trafficking of women, arms
dealing and so on, in the way this is done by some Macedonian Albanians);
D) They have no intentions (at least so far) as far as the federalization or “cantonization” of Bulgaria is
E) They do not organize para-military structures of the type of the few Albanian organizations currently
operating in Kosovo, Macedonia, South Serbia and so on;
F) They don’t cross the borders of Islamic traditionalism;
G) They seek consensus rather than confrontation with the state.

V. Some conclusions and hypotheses
First, the civil war on the territory of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia was not solely on an “ethnic” basis (as
proclaimed by the world media). In essence, the civil war was mostly led on a confessional (i.e. religious) basis: it
was a war between Slavic Catholics and Slavic Orthodox Christians - between Slavic Muslims and Slavic
Orthodox Christians.
Secondly, Macedonia was the only former Yugoslavian state that received its sovereignty in a peaceful way –
through a referendum.
There are certain grounds to hypothesize that such a development was not approved by certain international
powers. It is assumed that no such plan existed in their preliminary geo-political scenarios. The events in the
Yugoslav region of Kosovo and the drama in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia suggest that those
external powers had a different vision of the future sovereignty of the of the non-Serbian peoples (Albanians,
Macedonians, etc.). In the course of time it becomes more and more apparent that some of them must have
worked toward the creation of some new state institution or rather institutions which would unify the
Islamic-Albanian population on the territory of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia – Kosovo, Vardar Macedonia,
Montenegro and so on.
Third, there has been a complete refutation of the view which was widely supported by the world media, that in
Former Yugoslavia there was a “confrontation between democracy and Serbo-communism”. Events have shown
that the conflict lies elsewhere: it was not a battle of “democrats” versus “communists” (or the other way round),
but of nationalists versus nationalists, some of whom had Christian-Orthodox confessional self-identification,
and others who had Western-Orthodox or Islamic self-identification.
Fourth, the ethnic-religious conflict in Macedonia (with all the internal tensions of the situation or perhaps just
because of them) had a sobering effect on some traditional Balkan nationalists.
The Greek nationalists for example are almost inclined to accept the name “Republic of Macedonia” instead of the
discriminatory name “Skopje Republic” introduced by them.
The Serbian nationalists seem to have given up treating the Macedonians as “Southern Serbs”.
The Bulgarian nationalists are no longer opposed to the Macedonian language and the Macedonian nation (as
was the case up until the year 2000).
It is supposed that the three groups of nationalists have finally realized that:
A) Language and national self-definition cannot be imposed from outside;
B) Any attempt to question the existence of a Macedonian language and a Macedonian nation eventually favors
the Islamic-Albanian extremists and blocks the Slavic-Christian consolidation of the Balkan peoples.
Fifth, the Macedonian cataclysms gave rise to one positive consequence: the Slavic people belonging to the
Eastern Orthodox religion on the Balkans gradually came to realize that they ought to part with the historical
burden and prejudice, to break away from the traditional confrontations and to look for opportunities for
prospective euro-integration – economic, ethnic, religious, cultural and so on.
Sixth, in the conditions of imminent globalization and cosmopolitanism the Slavic people in the Balkans (in
particular the Bulgarians and the Macedonians) are facing a serious historical challenge: to preserve and promote
their own ethno-national identity or to ‘sink and drown’ in the wave of cosmopolitanism.
Seventh, there remains the question as to whether such a prospect is relevant to the processes of
euro-integration and globalization.
In Macedonia one of the possible “future scenarios” was enacted. The country was converted into a kind of
social laboratory.
The forthcoming events will show to the neighboring Slavic and East-Orthodox countries what the possible way
ahead is: euro-integration or “re-balkanization”.
This paper is an attempt at a synthesis of the main results from a social research project under the title “Bulgaria –
Macedonia: problems of the new type of interstate relations”. Because of their large number, all the references
have been left out but can be found in the main publications of the research team on the topic:
Kertikov, K., D. Arsenova. Bulgaria – Macedonia: together in Europe, Sofia 2000, 56 pp.
Bulgaria – Macedonia: the challenge of changes, Kertikov, K. (editor). Sofia 2002, 157 pp.
Bulgaria – Macedonia: problems of the Euro-integration (volume 2). Kertikov, K. (editor). Sofia 2002, 318 pp.
Dr. Kiril Kertikov is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
He is head of the Global and Regional Development section.
He is vice-chairman of the Scientific Council of the Institute of Sociology.
He is chairman of the Ethnosociology research committee at the BSA.
He is editior-in-chief of the Balkans 21 electronic journal.
He is head of the program team Bulgaria – Macedonia: problems of the new type of interstate relations.
He has lectured in Ethnosociology of the Balkans in five higher education institutions.
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