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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter V. Regionalism, autonomism and the minority identity-building narratives

On Macedonian matters

Krste Petkov Misirkov
Traduction de Nikola Iordanovski

Texte intégral

1Title: Зa мaкeдoнцкитe paбoти (On Macedonian matters)

2Originally published: Sofia, Печатница на „Либералний Клубъ,” 1903

3Language: The language Misirkov used is a result of his own efforts to promote a Macedonian literary language. It is basically a combination of several Macedonian dialects. It is not quite identical, though, with the post-1944 Macedonian literary language, although the creators of the latter declared Misirkov’s linguistic principles to be their main guideline.

4The excerpts used are from Kpcтe Пeткoв Mиcиpкoв, Зa мaкeдoнцкитe paбoти (фoтoтипнo издaниe) (Skopje: Koчо рачин, 1953).

About the author

5Krste Petkov Misirkov [1874, Postol (present-day Pella in north Greece) – 1926, Sofia]: politician and journalist. After finishing primary education in a Greek school in his own village, he continued his education in Belgrade, Šabac (Serbia) and Sofia. He graduated from the school for teachers in Belgrade and the Seminary in Poltava. While in Serbia, he was a member of the association of Macedonian students in Belgrade named Vardar (banned by the Serbian authorities in 1895). Between 1897 and 1902, he completed his studies at the Faculty of History and Philosophy at the University of Saint Petersburg in Russia. There, he was accepted as a member of the ‘Macedonian Association for Science and Literature’ (1902–1905). His first attempt to write in the Macedonian language with an adapted alphabet can be dated to in 1900, and his most famous book, ‘On Macedonian matters,’ was published in Sofia in 1903. In 1905, he became the editor and the only author of the magazine Vardar (printed in Odessa), in which he elaborated his views on the national particularity of Macedonians. In 1913 and 1914 he published articles in the magazine Makedonski golos (Macedonian voice), issued by the above-mentioned Macedonian association in Saint Petersburg. After the First World War he settled in Bulgaria. Between 1922 and 1925, Misirkov published articles dealing with national and cultural issues as well as with conflicts in the Balkans (especially concerning the triangle of Serbia–Bulgaria–Macedonia), albeit without an explicit separatist agenda. His articles appeared in the periodicals Ilinden (St Elijah’s day), Mir (Peace), 20 Juli (20 July) and Pirin.

6Main works: Зa мaкeдoнцкитe paбoти [On Macedonian matters] (1903); Paнитe paкoпиcи нa Кpcтe П. Миcиpкoв нa макeдoнcки jaзик [Early manuscripts of Krste P. Misirkov on the Macedonian language] (1998); Днeвник 5 VII – 3 VIII 1913 [Diary 5 July – 3 August 1913] (2008).


7Krste Misirkov belonged to the generation of young men who helped define and popularize the ‘Macedonian question’ through the revolutionary zeal of the organization they had created in 1893, the ‘Secret Macedonian- Adrianople Revolutionary Organization,’ better known by its later name, the ‘Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization’ (IMRO). Within a single decade, the organization went a long way from conspiracy to armed resistance, terrorist acts and an (ill-prepared) uprising. The fanatical commitment of its members and the violence associated with its name brought a wider publicity to the whole set of problems connected to Macedonia. This became more accentuated after 1903, when the abortive Ilinden uprising provoked reactionary terrorist violence, in which all groups with national and political affiliations took part, turning Macedonia into a notorious domain of fear and despair. IMRO’s credo of strict political separatism, based on the idea of patriotic solidarity amongst various nations in Macedonia, became almost the only and dominating voice on Macedonia coming from the Slavic Macedonians themselves. The group’s ambiguous attitude towards problems of nationality, identity and religion, informed by socialist and anarchist ideals, did not change the dominant public discourse about Macedonia as a ‘mixed salad’ of various nations caught together in a vicious circle of tribal violence. Despite all the efforts of IMRO to preserve autonomy of action and authentic self-representation, the dominant international perception of the Macedonian struggle was still that of mutually exterminating irredentisms. Apart from the titular common enemy, the Turks, the first impression that an outsider had of Macedonia was that of Bulgarians, Greeks and Serbs killing each other, fighting even against their own fractions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the image of the murderous Turkish tyrant killing innocent Christians, prevalent amongst the European liberals only a generation earlier, was transformed into a discourse about aggressive nationalists that should better be separated instead of being liberated.

8Within this context, the program of Krste Misirkov and the group of Saint Petersburg-based students and scholars was destined to be marginalized, and even become a subject of international contempt, since their aim was to build a separate Macedonian identity based on religious unity, a common, standardized language, as well as a common past and historical mythology. Nevertheless, their ideas were not just an extravagant invention of young academic émigrés. Collections of ethnographic material from Macedonia in the local Slavic dialects and adapted orthographies had already been published in Sofia and Russia. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, several studies on Slavic philology started, for the first time, to question the dominant assumption about the Macedonian vernacular being a mere dialect of the Bulgarian, or, to a lesser extent, Serbian languages. Misirkov’s academic (re)considerations of the ‘Macedonian question’ basically deprived the ongoing inter-ethnic war (and its combatants) of a logical sense and ultimately of moral justification. The book under discussion was largely ignored when it appeared in Sofia 1903. To make things worse, its distribution was obstructed, and in some cases, copies of it were destroyed. The book presents the first explicit and scholarly elaborated claim about the distinctiveness of the Macedonian Slavs. Misirkov reproaches the revolutionaries for being engaged in uprisings without even defining unitary aims for the national struggle. His point was that fighting for freedom (or autonomy) would have meaning only if the people in whose name the struggle was being pursued were perceived by the revolutionaries to be distinct from the surrounding peoples. If not, he argued, the concept of homeland would lose its meaning, and the division of the territory would become unavoidable.

9A strongly pursued agenda in the book is the need to use the Slavic- Macedonian vernacular, that is to say, its central dialects, as a core for an imminent and standard literary language. Misirkov claimed that the progression from a dialect to a literary language was a matter of practical reasoning and decision making, and not of aesthetic objectives. Finally, he also argued for the renewal of the Ohrid Archbishopric as an autochthonous church. The idea sounds as if it were taken from a nation-building text-book. Misirkov advises against having three Orthodox religious-educational systems for virtually one and the same people—a situation that would produce different religious, linguistic, and consequently national affiliations (Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian).

10After the Second World War and the constitution of the autonomous Socialist Republic of Macedonia within the boundaries of federal Yugoslavia, a newborn Macedonian historiography installed the person of Krste Petkov Misirkov upon a high pedestal. Зa мaкeдoнцкитe paбoти is being constantly re-edited and commented on, and is considered to be one of the cornerstones in the emergence of national self-consciousness. The Institute for Macedonian Language and Literature in Skopje bears Misirkov’s name.


On Macedonian matters

12Many Macedonian readers will be surprised by the appearance of this book. There is a lot to be surprised about. Some would say: why separate from the Bulgarians if we have called ourselves Bulgarians until now, and it is unification, not separation, that gives us strength. Others will claim that full separation will please our enemies, who make every effort to weaken the Balkan Slavs and prepare the ground for the division of Balkan lands amongst themselves. Some would claim that separation will force the Macedonians to renounce their first goal—to fight for political freedom—ruining everything done so far and starting all over again from scratch. Others will argue that I preach some kind of hope for the improvement of the conduct of the Turks towards us and for the institution of European reforms in our fatherland, while allegedly it has been proven that Turkey never wanted, wants or will want reforms in Macedonia and that the states will not be inclined to force Turkey to implement even the smallest reforms. The states, many say, are only playing a diplomatic game using the reforms in order to persuade us to give up our armed struggle against Turkey, something which endangers their own peace. Once we abandon the struggle, they will stop pressuring Turkey for reforms in Macedonia.

  • 1 Misirkov refers to the so-called Ilinden uprising that broke out in the summer of 1903 and was org (...)
  • 2 A reform project drawn up to address the deterioration of the living conditions in Macedonia after (...)

13These would be the main points of reproach I expect from many of my compatriots. It seems to me that they are wrong and here is why: in my new book there is, indeed, a discussion about separation and unification, but about separation from those from whom we are already separated and with whom we should never be allowed to unite. There is a discussion about unification with those with whom we are morally obliged to unite, and unification with those with whom it is possible for us to unite. If, through separation from the Balkan Slav peoples, we attain the unification of the entire Macedonian Slav population into one whole, we will not get weaker but stronger. So the fulfillment of the ideas developed in this book will only justify the saying that strength lies in unification. Now the question: will our enemies benefit from our separation from the Balkan peoples, and who are those enemies? Now in Bulgaria it is fashionable to claim that the greatest enemies of the Balkan Slavs are the Russians and Austro-Hungarians. These forces arguably want to use the Macedonian question as a means for continuing the struggle between the Serbs and Bulgarians, thus draining the forces of both to such a degree that an intervention in Balkan matters on the part of Russia and Austria- Hungary will become a necessity. Hence the former will occupy Bulgaria and Istanbul, and the latter Serbia and Thessalonica. I will allow myself to disagree with this type of deep political ‘visioning.’ Maybe Bulgarians are right when they think that Russia cannot exist without Bulgaria, neither politically nor economically, but this is Bulgarian politics, and I have no intention of engaging in politics on Bulgarian terms. I am a Macedonian and the interests of my fatherland lead me to reason as such: The enemies of Macedonia are not Russia and Austria-Hungary, but Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. Only an energetic fight against these three countries will save our fatherland from annihilation. The fight against the three Balkan states does not contradict our aims, which could be attained by revolution and evolution or by a gradual development of our people in moral and religious terms. The revolution had already happened,1 and, although it had the most terrible consequences for us, it also yielded some useful results, with which our fighters for national liberation could be satisfied: these are the Mürzsteg reforms which will be implemented according to needs arising in time.2 The ideas about the full separation of our people from other Balkan peoples do not contradict the ongoing efforts of our people for gaining freedom, but only continue its efforts on an evolutionary axis. Until now our people were interested only in full political autonomy, allowing uninvited guests, such as the Bulgarians, Greeks and Serbs, to interfere ruthlessly in our national interests. Political struggle is followed by the national one, though. Yet, the fight against propaganda in Macedonia is not a step back, but forward, because what we deal with here is a struggle for freedom, a struggle against dark forces that would not let our fatherland view its national interests with its own eyes. The dark forces provide eye-glasses instead, which darken the truth and give it a Bulgarian, Greek or Serb color. It is time to get rid of the cobwebs put over our eyes by national and religious propaganda in Macedonia. […]

14If we are logical, we should admit that the autonomy of Macedonia, for which the revolutionaries were fighting so far, makes sense, since the revolutionaries perceive qualities and characteristics in our people that are lacking in other Balkan peoples, and define these as our own characteristic features. The comprehension of these specific features regarding the character, traditions, customs, life, myths and language of our people constitutes an important reason to resist the division of our fatherland and plead for its autonomy, because an eventual division will uproot everything that is dear to us and impose many things that are contrary to our popular spirit. Only a separate Macedonian national self-awareness gives us the moral right to fight against the demands of the small Balkan states determined to divide our country, and to fight against the propaganda activity that prepares the ground for such a division. And if it is impossible to gain autonomy, should we indifferently observe the work of propaganda and resist the new trends that oppose it only because that new trend would weaken the strongest propaganda? Not at all, because none of the propaganda sources, however strong they might be, could provide us with what we expect. They are all propagating their own interests, definitely not ours, and nothing special or good for the people can come from them. The liberation from various propaganda fronts will not come on its own, because if today one front seems stronger, tomorrow the other one will get the upper hand at the expense of the former. They will eventually reach their final goal—division, something that even those opposed to national separatism do not desire. Therefore, the latter (national separatism that is) is not inappropriate under the present conditions, and could only yield favorable outcomes instead of damaging us.

15National separatism is a unique approach, defined by love for everything belonging to the people and, more importantly, by love for the popular language.


1 Misirkov refers to the so-called Ilinden uprising that broke out in the summer of 1903 and was organized by IMRO. In many ways the whole book engages in a polemic with the ideology and methods of the organization. In both ideological and methodical terms, Misirkov finds the revolutionaries to be wrong, ineffectual and harmful.

2 A reform project drawn up to address the deterioration of the living conditions in Macedonia after the 1903 uprising and to diminish the chances for new outbursts of violence in the province. This joint venture of Russian and Austro-Hungarian diplomacy (named after the town in which the emperors and their foreign secretaries met) prescribed numerous administrative improvements and the reorganization of the Ottoman security forces, providing help to the population affected by the revolt. These reforms, starting in February 1904, were implemented through joint participation by the international community.


Nikola Iordanovski (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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