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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

Is unitary and integral Yugoslavia possible?

Dimitar Mihalchev
Traduction de Zornitsa Dimova-Hristova

Texte intégral

1Title: Bъзмοжнa πu e euòннa u uяπocmнa Юƨocπaeuя? Ha ƨpaнuyama мeжòy noπumuκama u фuπocoфuяma (Is unitary and integral Yugoslavia possible? On the borderline between politics and philosophy)

2Originally published: in the magazine Фuπocoфcκu npeƨπeò, IV, 1932, vol. III, pp. 197–227.

3Language: Bulgarian
The excerpts used are from the original, pp. 213–214, 220, 221–223.

About the author

4Dimitar Mihalchev [1880, Lozengrad (Tur. Kirklareli, present-day Turkey) – 1967, Sofia]: philosopher and diplomat. Appointed a professor at Sofia University in 1920, Mihalchev was also a member of the Academy of Sciences starting in 1919. Mihalchev served as the academy’s president between 1944 and 1947. As a philosopher, he was influenced deeply by the German philosopher Johannes Rehmke. After the publication of Mihalchev’s first book in German (Philosophische Studien, 1909), Rehmke called him filius ante patrem. The main goal of Rehmkean philosophy was to go beyond subjectivism, or, similar to Husserlian phenomenology, neo-realism and neo-positivism, to go back to the objective world and to have its starting point in the given. Rehmke and Mihalchev appealed for a scientific approach and accordingly for a re-evaluation of the Cartesian legacy. Mihalchev was the founder and director of one of the most influential cultural periodicals in Bulgaria, Фuπocoфcκu npeƨπeò (Philosophical review, 1929–1943). The journal was at the center of some of the most important intellectual debates of the 1930s. In the journal, Mihalchev wished to represent the whole political spectrum, although personally he tended towards a leftwing position, espousing a liberal version of Marxism. Among the most fervent critics of racial theories, nationalism and totalitarianism, Mihalchev was often accused of being a Marxist by his opponents (among them Petar Mutafchiev), while, at the same time, was criticized by the leaders of mainstream Marxism (such as Dimitar Blagoev and Todor Pavlov). Mihalchev was also an important political figure, especially in the field of international affairs. In 1913, he joined a delegation of Bulgarian intellectuals visiting European capitals with the purpose of advocating the ‘Bulgarian cause’ after the Balkan wars. He met the future Czechoslovak president Tomáš G. Masaryk in Prague. In 1923, he was sent as an ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and succeeded in involving Masaryk in the negotiations between the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and Bulgaria, thereby preventing a possible military conflict. Mihalchev served as the Bulgarian Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1934 to 1936, and from 1944 to 1946. He participated in the negotiations over the peace treaty with the Soviet Union in 1944. After 1945, Mihalchev was marginalized by the communist regime, but was nevertheless tolerated as a ‘progressive’ thinker.

5Main works: Philosophische Studien [Philosophical studies] (1909); Фopмa u omнowнue [Form and relation] (1914); Фuποсοфuяma κamo нayκa [Philosophy as science] (1933); Pacuзm κamo фиπocoфcκo-иcmoричecκa meoрия [Racism as philosophical-historical theory] (1938).


6The idea of a Balkan federation was already part of Bulgarian public debate even before the foundation of an autonomous Bulgarian Principality. It was advocated by some of the leaders of the movement for national liberation (Georgi Rakovski, Lyuben Karavelov and Hristo Botev) and was an alternative to the dualist project. The project for a Balkan federation at the time had a clear anti-Ottoman orientation, which was also visible in its most concrete political manifestation: on 5 April 1867, an assembly of eighty Bulgarian social and political activists in Bucharest voted for a program for creating a Serbo-Bulgarian Kingdom. On 22 May, the Serbian prince Mihajlo Obreno-vic declared that he “fully accepted the conditions of the Bulgarians.” His support for the federalist idea was also implicated in his backing the so-called ‘Bulgarian Legion,’ which was formed in Serbia by Georgi Rakovski with the purpose of ‘liberating’ the Bulgarian lands from the Ottoman Empire.

7After the creation of an autonomous Bulgarian principality, and especially after the Serbo-Bulgarian war in 1885, the federalist idea was naturally compromised for a long period. It was revived again after the radical reconfiguration of the political scene following the Balkan wars and the First World War, which had been a veritable catastrophe for Bulgaria. Undoubtedly, the most significant change on the political map of the Balkans after the creation of the Bulgarian state at this period was the foundation of the unified state of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, which, in 1929, was re-baptized as Yugoslavia. The new Yugoslav ideology, in its radical tendencies, was promoting the project for the unification of all southern Slavs under a single state, implying the integration of the Bulgarian state into Yugoslavia. In Bulgaria, this claim was viewed extremely negatively and interpreted as a new version of Serbian chauvinism. However, in the late 1920s and the early 1930s, a period of profound political, economic, and cultural crisis in Europe coinciding with the rise of totalitarian regimes, the project of a Yugoslav Federation acquired new dimensions. It is exactly in this context that Dimitar Mihalchev’s article ‘Is unitary and integral Yugoslavia possible?’ should be approached.

8The article starts with a short resume of the diplomat Nikola Antonov’s pro-federalist essay, published in the previous issue of Фиπocoфcκи пpeгπeπд, which had provoked an intense debate. Mihalchev tries, on the one hand, to advocate Antonov’s position and to develop it further, while, on the other hand, articulating it with a profound analysis of the problem in terms of political philosophy and collective psychology. His polemics address, at the same time, the Bulgarian critics of Antonov and the radical Serbian ideologists, who supported the idea of an ‘integral Yugoslavia.’ The main opponent in this respect was the group formed around the journal Narodna odbrana, whose views were best expressed by the texts of Vladimir Vujić and Živko Topalović. The latter’s essay Za balkanski sporazum (About the Balkan agreement) was severely criticized by Mihalchev.

9Mihalchev’s politico-philosophical analysis (as it is termed in the sub-title of the essay) of the federalist problem proceeds from the question: “How can we understand the notion of an ‘integral Yugoslavia’?’’ The philosopher argues that this term has two different meanings: the first, promoted by the Yugoslav ideologists, implied the existence of a ‘unique Yugoslav nation.’ In this perspective, the ultimate raison d’être of the integral Yugoslavian state is to embody the integral Yugoslav nation. Mihalchev provides an extended analysis of the concept of nation in order to prove that to speak of Bulgarians, Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as one nation is nonsense. Accordingly, he severely criticizes the project of Yugoslavian statehood as a ‘national’ state. One could rightly add that in fact, such a project discredited the very federalist idea, substituting it with just another national ideology. On the other hand, Mihalchev states, the notion of an integral Yugoslavia could be understood as an ‘integral federation’ of all southern Slavic states, which would mean the creation of a powerful supranational political unity, in which autonomous national cultures would be preserved and respected. Mihalchev declares himself to be in favor of such integration and provides pragmatic political and economic arguments in support of his claim. In political terms, the integral federation of the southern Slavs could create not only a new European ‘great power’ capable of resisting the aggressive external forces and enjoying an autonomous statehood, but would also resolve the ‘Macedonian problem,’ which had been turning Serbs and Bulgarians against each other for decades. Moreover, he claims that there exist strong economical arguments in favor of such an integration.

10Mihalchev’s views remain moderately optimistic. He does not suggest immediate political action for the achievement of a federation between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Being aware that there was a strong negative psychological legacy to be overcome first, Mihalchev comes up with a project for cultural reform: to introduce the Serbo-Croatian language as obligatory in the Bulgarian educational system and vice-versa. Thus, he claims that getting familiar with each other’s culture and point of view would stimulate empathy between the southern Slavs, which was a necessary condition for the common existence of these fellow-nations.

11Mihalchev’s article provoked an intense debate. The response from the nationalist circles, especially the newspapers of the pro-Bulgarian ‘Macedonian Revolutionary Organization,’ a splinter group of the IMRO, was ferocious: Antonov and Mihalchev were accused of being national traitors conspiring with Serbian nationalism (see for instance the article of Dr. Hristo Tatarchev, one of the founders of the ‘Macedonian Revolutionary Movement,’ ‘Criminal and dangerous propaganda,’ published in the newspaper Maκeдoния [Macedonia]). Mihalchev responded to the criticisms with a short book entitled ‘Response to my critics in the debate on an integral Yugoslavia. The future of our nation and the high task of the Bulgarian state’ (1932), in which he further developed and clarified his arguments.


Is unitary and integral Yugoslavia possible?

13How shall we interpret this integral Yugoslavia? This was the guiding question of our exposition. “Integral” means “undivided.” Undivided Yugoslavia! The meaning of this, however, is twofold. On one hand it means a genuine, complete Yugoslavia, i.e. a union of all South Slavs, including the Bulgarians, in a single state. In other cases, though, “integral Yugoslavia” would be taken to mean a state which not only brings together all South Slavs but is also based on a unified Yugoslavian population: a unified Yugoslav people with a unified Yugoslavian culture, which, as Vladimir Vujić puts it, can have many ingredients but only one final product. In the writings of various Yugoslav authors on the subject of “integral Yugoslavia” these two meanings are not always distinguished.

  • 1 Joseph (Yossif) Fadenhecht (1873–1953): Bulgarian professor of law and politician (member of the D (...)
  • 2 Lyuben Karavelov (1834–1879): influential writer, poet and journalist, leader of the ‘Bulgarian Re (...)
  • 3 Nikola Furnadzhiev (1903–1968): one of the so-called ‘September poets’, an avant-garde leftist gro (...)
  • 4 Andrej Nikolov (1878–1959): one of the most important early modernist Bulgarian sculptors.
  • 5 Ilya Beshkov (1901–1958): influential painter and cartoonist, and a member of the Poдн Изκуctbo (N (...)
  • 6 Momčilo Ninčić (1876–1949): Serbian economist and politician.

14The issue of what comprises nationality is very complicated and could not be discussed in detail within the scope of this article. Some authors emphasize the primary role of long-lasting shared fate in the formation of any nationality and therefore define the nation as a “fateful community” (Schicksalsgemeinschaft). Others stress the importance of shared character traits for the understanding of nation and nationality (Charaktergemeinschaft). Yet others maintain that there is no nation outside the shared language, bridging ages to bring together the generations that we take to comprise one people. What, then, would be the things that make a multitude of men a nationality? 1) Religion? Obviously not. There are nationalities, such as the Germans, who have two religions and yet are one and the same nation. 2) Territory, maybe? Again not, because as important as the initial settlement can be for the emergence of the nation, it gradually loses its authenticity: a community can be ousted from its territory and still remain “the same people.” It is true that the particular features of the country are not irrelevant to the character and history of its population. Still, territory cannot explain the nation as an antecedent historical category. 3) If we speak of shared fate, we should note that it befalls every political party, every city, every association, etc.; yet they are not and cannot be a nation or nationality. 4) Should we take shared culture, many people would jump to remind us that a Bulgarian and a Turkish artist living and working in Paris for many years would be culturally much closer to one another than the Bulgarian artist resident in Paris and the Bulgarian peasant grazing his sheep high up the Balkan mountain. 5) Sharing one language is still not a sure sign of a shared nationality, as I could speak German fluently (like a German) and still be an ethnic Bulgarian. Besides, in North and South America, in Denmark, Norway, etc. you would find different nationalities speaking the same tongues, even the same literary languages. 6) As for the so-called blood relationship (blood or racial origin”)—no way. Because a man like Prof. Dr. Joseph Fadenhecht1 has no “racial kinship” to us, true-bred Bulgarians, yet is he not an excellent Bulgarian, considering himself and being esteemed as one of us? People like Lyuben Karavelov,2 Peyo Javorov, Ivan Kirilov, the poet Nikola Furnadzhiev,3 the sculptor Andrey Nikolov,4 the cartoonist Iliya Beshkov5 or the musicologist Stoin may have some Gypsy blood in them: this fact does not stop them from being genuine creators of the new, the newest Bulgarian culture. Dr. Nincic6 undoubtedly has Semite blood; so what? Is he not an excellent Serb and a prominent Yugoslav public figure?

15Still, there is no nation in the world without a shared historical fate or a common lot. There is no nation (except the Jewish, where things are more complicated and disputable) without a common language and a common culture. And finally there is no nation where the shared historical circumstances, the shared fate and the common culture have not more or less defined some similarities in the character of its people. This proves that it is not language alone that creates the nation and unites the people in one and the same nationality. All we who consider ourselves Bulgarian are connected by more than just the language of our fathers and forefathers. There is more to it. Each one of us has felt the influence of a certain culture.

  • 7 Serbian historian.

16The single Yugoslav culture (having many ingredients but a single final product) that Vladimir Vujić7 talks about, is yet another misunderstanding. If Serbs and Bulgarians are two nationalities and if there is no nationality outside autonomous culture, any shared Yugoslavian culture is completely out of the question. As a goal, be it realistic or utopian, it might make some sense, but as a “historical reality” it is a self-delusion built upon the indubitable kinship of some ingredients of the spiritual fabric we call Bulgarian or Serb national culture. Identical cultural “elements” and “cultural values” can be seen in all sorts of cultures, but the idiosyncrasy of any national culture is contained not in the separate elements but precisely in the peculiar unity of these values or elements.

17This, however, is merely one side of the story. For if “integral Yugoslavia” in the sense of a unified Yugoslavian state with a unified Yugoslav people is the doomed offspring of utopian hopes, the idea of an undivided Yugoslavia stretching from the Adriatic to the Black Sea is quite plausible.

18I have no doubts that such a genuine Yugoslavia is not only possible, desirable and economically sensible, but that it is the historical position we are currently approaching.

19There are some factors that must be understood and taken into account. I set aside the fact that the Serbs fought for Macedonia three times in a single decade, suffering great human losses. There is something even more important than the transient social attitudes this has bred. It is the fact that for today’s Yugoslavia the valley of the Vardar river has already become a primary economic necessity capable of motivating a state no less than the national interest of its population. Keeping in mind its geographical location vis-à-vis the export markets, the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia (even had Fiume been Yugoslav) would always be only locally relevant and could never replace the Vardar route, whose end point is the crux of importunate Belgrade appetites. In other words, we are in the midst of a deep contradiction. Macedonia, which has no substantial significance for the economic life of Bulgaria, is nationally ours but economically already Serbo-Croatian! Excising the Vardar valley from today’s Yugoslavia means no less than choosing to destroy the Yugoslav state. It is time to realize that the Serbo-Bulgarian dispute cannot be solved by the destruction of either Yugoslavia or Bulgaria. The only broad historical solution is the synthesis of states: when Bulgaria and Yugoslavia come together under the same confederate roof, only then will Macedonia be nationally ours and economically Serbo-Croatian. Not the petty shortsighted thoughts of mutual destruction but a broad configuration of a greater Yugoslavia—this is the historical position we are striving towards. Serbs and Bulgarians, fighting for the particular interests of their countries and nationalities, are unwittingly moving away from what sets them apart to what will bring them together. Quite befitting Mephistopheles’s line: “Du glaubst zu schieben und du wirst geschoben” (“You think you are driving, yet in fact you are being driven.”).

20What we mean is an all-encompassing Yugoslavia. She alone can bring a lasting and final solution to political, national and economic disagreements and problems of the South Slavic peoples. It is the only thing capable of balancing Serbian vanity and the real significance of Bulgarians. The day after it becomes reality, the Balkans will bear the hallmark of the South Slavs. The population of today’s Yugoslavia and Bulgaria share this idea. They are mostly driven by the mutual respect built on both sides of the border throughout these severe wars. They are driven by various economic, political and cultural incentives. We have seen that even now, the Yugoslav country and its government, despite the animosity towards Bulgaria, feels a serious and irresistible need for good will and deep understanding, with the latter to ensure its peace and proper development. Even the post-war economic evolution of both countries started reigning in political impulses, trying to burst the dikes of national frontiers. All those projects for pan-European customs unions, Danube federations, etc. are nothing but the echo of that brutality of economic needs, something which is always stronger than the national vainglory of smaller and bigger states clinging to their old political shells. It seems to me that even if the Soviet economic and political system stays encapsulated on the territory of the Old Russian State, in less than 50 years the small countries of Europe will inevitably fall within the limits of greater economic and political entities. In this vein we, the South Slavs, are pushed closest to that new stage by the post-war reality. As Hegel has taught us, the only free man is the one who sees through historical necessity and walks its course. Or, to put it in historical terms: freedom means conscious necessity. This great thought should be the motto of Bulgarian-Yugoslav relationships.


1 Joseph (Yossif) Fadenhecht (1873–1953): Bulgarian professor of law and politician (member of the Democratic Union since 1924). He was member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and he was five times elected as member of the Parliament. In 1918 he served as Minister of Justice in Alexander Malinov’s government.

2 Lyuben Karavelov (1834–1879): influential writer, poet and journalist, leader of the ‘Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee’, close ally of Hristo Botev.

3 Nikola Furnadzhiev (1903–1968): one of the so-called ‘September poets’, an avant-garde leftist group which emerged at the beginning of the 1920s.

4 Andrej Nikolov (1878–1959): one of the most important early modernist Bulgarian sculptors.

5 Ilya Beshkov (1901–1958): influential painter and cartoonist, and a member of the Poдн Изκуctbo (National art) movement.

6 Momčilo Ninčić (1876–1949): Serbian economist and politician.

7 Serbian historian.


Zornitsa Dimova-Hristova (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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