Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ Nationalism in the Post 1989 Decade

The present paper seeks to put forward a number of connected claims related to Bulgarian nationalism [1] 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 to explain 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 the post-1989 transition decade, nationalism has not been established and used either as a mobilization factor or as a 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 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 in 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 as self-evident (the opposite would mean writing a separate paper on the Balkan environment in the 1990s, and mutually inducing the politics of confrontation at various levels), the paper proceeds to account for the 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.


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The period at the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century saw Macedonia (then only a topography designation for a Balkan region) turn into the most persistent ‘bone of contention’ and source of turbulence in the Balkans. Historically, ethnically, politically and in terms of national (people) 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 up until the end of the WWII. The second one coincides with the Cold War period. The years since the outset of the post-Cold war transition process mark the beginning of the third period.

The seeds of the Bulgarian national question and the consequent nationalistic grievances were sown with the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which covered all lands, and was defined after a plebiscite in 1870-1871 as inhabited by ethnic Bulgarians (Parvanov, 1995: 35). Following the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, 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 the 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 the “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 the XX century, 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). [2] 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, each time on the losing side.

Following 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 act marked Bulgarian nationalism with strong revisionism since Bulgaria felt compelled to be imminently seeking revenge against the imposed Versailles system. Together with the defeat, nationalistic feeling was 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, up until the end of WWII, territorial changes in 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-lamentation: the Bulgarian nation has start to be seen as a victim. The 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 Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ nationalism with a certain emotional ambiguity.

The second period began during the course of 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 that 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 the 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 Pirin Macedonia. [3] 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. [4] 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 the Pirin region lasted only for about two years, it influenced immensely Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ policy and nationalism. The recognition of the existence of Macedonian nationality has had far-reaching consequences; it seriously breached one of the corner stones of Bulgarian nationalism, namely that Macedonians are Bulgarians, thus putting Bulgarian nationalism in a defensive position. [5] 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 a consistent official attitude to the Macedonian question, the policy sweeping from one extreme to another. Thus, after the recognition of Macedonian nationality and its imposition on the population in the Pirin region in the late 1940s, the 1956 April Party Plenum revised the recognition of the existence of Macedonian nation. [6] 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 stay mum. Externally, the ‘Macedonian question’ was not raised in any substantial way. Internally, there was no official propaganda on the issue; school textbooks provided scant 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 the family histories of hundreds of Bulgarian descendants from Macedonian refugees which preserved and kindled attention towards the ‘Macedonian issue.’ In short, the Bulgarian part of the “Macedonian question” was ‘frozen’ rather than solved.

The image of ‘freezing’ applies also to the overall geopolitical situation around the ‘Macedonian question’ in the Cold war period. On the one hand, for the first time since the emergence of the Macedonian question a geopolitical stability was established on the Balkans, since to challenge the European territorial status quo could start a new world war. On the other hand, the problems, though not solved, had been transformed by important economic, political, cultural and demographic changes that had taken place during that period. The development of the Bulgarian transition position on the ‘Macedonian issue’ has been both a consequence and a part of those transformations. Against the above historical background, the analysis of transition developments seeks to track and explain the direction/s and extent of the reformulation of Bulgarian positions - official and public - towards Macedonia and the Macedonian question.

This concise-though-long historical tour attempted to point the historically established intricacy of the Bulgarian attitude and position towards Macedonia. The Macedonian question forms an intrinsic part of Bulgarian history and is an important factor in shaping Bulgarian national psychology. Though history provided a fertile soil for the appearance or continuity of various forms of confrontational nationalism regarding the Macedonian question, the development of the Bulgarian position in the post-1989 period has rather followed the non-confrontational line. At the same time, however, historical complexity often leads to a blurring of the distinction between ‘confrontational’ and ‘non-confrontational.’

Post-1989 Transition: THE Macedonian Question Back on the Scene

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At the very onset of the transition processes in Bulgaria, the preoccupation with the “Turkish issue” kept attention away from the “Macedonian question.” Indeed, in the dynamics of those turbulent times, the return of the “Macedonian question” on the Bulgarian political scene was far from dramatic or spectacular. It happened along two major lines, defined here as “internal” and “external.”

Internally, regime liberalization and rapidly growing freedom of expression led to a revival in the activities of Macedonian emigrant cultural associations; periodicals appeared that openly defended various versions of ‘the Macedonian cause’ (Ilchev, 1992: 81). Activities of a number of cultural organizations quickly acquired political overtones. Since its foundation in December 1990 IMRO-UMS, a descendant - in name, ideological-nationalist views, and not least, in property - of the controversial IMRO, has gained an increasingly important place in Bulgarian transition politics. Its influence on developments and understandings on the “Macedonian question” in transition has been rather ambiguous. There is a discrepancy between its public or extra-political performances both exhibiting and counting on passionate Bulgarian nationalism and patriotism on the one side, and its moderate, rather pragmatic and as a whole non-confrontational performance on the political scene on the other.

Another organization, UMO-Ilinden, established toward the end of 1989, expresses the extreme opposite of the views on the Macedonian question. No less nationalistic though far less influential in terms of membership and followers, it claims to represent a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria who speaks Macedonian language and has a distinct Macedonian culture. In its more moderate appearances, it claims recognition and protection of minority rights; there is also an extreme separatist current calling for the liberation of Pirin Macedonia from Bulgarian occupational armies and its unification with Macedonia. While IMRO is an important player on the Macedonian question, the importance of UMO-Ilinden is more that of a ‘provocateur’, for it nurtures the nationalistic undercurrent in Bulgarian politics and public opinion and renders Bulgarian position with ambiguity.

Externally, the end of the Cold War status quo brought back security concerns which, regarding the Balkans, were involved with nationalization, the homeland and minority nationalisms. Similar to Bulgaria, throughout the 1980s the Yugoslav leadership had increasingly resorted to nationalist rhetoric and policies as a means toward affecting the agenda and the course of the upcoming changes. In that context the anti-Bulgarian campaign from the beginning of the 1990s was only a segment of the unleashed ‘anti’-politics. Skopje became the center of the campaign. Historically a product of deliberate Yugoslav policies [7] , in the onset of the transition anti-Bulgarian nationalism in Macedonia intensified.

In mid-February 1990 the Yugoslav Skupshtina (the Yugoslav Federal Parliament) sent the Bulgarian National Assembly an official declaration, demanding the recognition of the Macedonian national minority in the Bulgaria and the protection of its rights in view of the democratization processes in Bulgaria. At rallies in Skopje, calls for the unification of all Macedonians within the borders of "United Macedonia" were raised, implying the annexation of Pirin Macedonia (Blagoevgrad region). The act raised concerns among Bulgarian politicians and reified the historically established position that “there are no ‘Macedonians’” and “the Macedonian nation is a creation of Commintern and the Great Serb chauvinism.” At a special session in March 1990, the Bulgarian Parliament voted a Declaration in answer to the Yugoslav one. The Bulgarian Declaration renounced Yugoslav claims as groundless and unsound, and retaliated with claims that the population of Macedonia had been deprived for decades of the right to national (presumably Bulgarian) self-determination. [8]

So, Yugoslav policies provided the other route for the political reification of the Macedonian question in Bulgaria. On the one hand, there has been an attempt to assist Macedonia’s separation both territorial and ideological from Serbia. On the other hand, following the independence of Macedonia, what used to be seen as an emanation of the Great Serbian/Yugoslavian nationalism, turned into a fervent and in its extremes strongly anti-Bulgaria oriented Macedonian nationalism. [9] No matter whether it was a long-term consequence of decades of anti-Bulgarian Yugoslav propaganda, or whether there were other reasons for its existence in the newly independent Macedonian state, throughout the 1990s Macedonian nationalism regarding Bulgaria has undoubtedly been a crucial interdependence with Bulgarian nationalism and politics on the Macedonian question.

Development of the Bulgarian-Macedonian Relations in the 1990s: An Overview

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A brief outline of the post-Cold War period leads to the following concise picture: In 1991 the explosive disintegration of SFRY began. In a move to break away from the Federation, parallel to that of the Northern Republics, in the fall of 1991 the SR of Macedonia held a referendum. The newly adopted Constitution proclaimed the Republic of Macedonia a sovereign and independent state. In early January 1992, the criteria of the EU Arbitrary (Badintaire) commission for the recognition of newly independent states became known. Among the splitting Yugoslav Republics, Macedonia and Slovenia were considered to meet the criteria. In January 1992, the EU recognized Slovenia and Croatia, but not Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. On January 15, the Bulgarian government recognized the four Yugoslav republicsen bloc, thus becoming the first (and for a time the only) country to recognize the independent and sovereign Republic of Macedonia. In an address to the Bulgarian nation President Zhelev officially supported the government’s decision. The recognition, though, was qualified: Bulgaria recognized the state not the nation. It was President Zhelev who voiced the qualification.

In the years to follow, controversies and stagnation marked bilateral relations. Bulgaria attempted to act as Macedonia’s advocate within the international community [10] . During the Greek “name” embargo (February 1994 to October 1995), Bulgaria granted Macedonia the possibility of using Bulgarian Black Sea ports; several attempts were made at invigorating the relations. Despite that, the relations - political and hence also cultural and economic - were in deadlock. The Bulgarian part blamed the anti-Bulgarian policy of the former Communist and then Socialist party in Macedonia (SDUM - Social Democratic Union of Macedonia), in power from 1991 to 1998. The Macedonian part was apprehensive and suspicious because of what it perceived as ambiguity in the Bulgarian position. Macedonia wanted Bulgaria to denounce all claims towards Macedonia - not formally, as already done by the act of recognition, but symbolically through explicit recognition of the current historical and cultural separateness of the Macedonian nation and language. What became known as the ‘language problem’ embodied the core of the controversy and was said to be the ‘stumbling block’ to the signing of some 25 bilateral agreements in different spheres.

Political change in Macedonia after the 1998 fall elections, when the Macedonian party VMRO-DPMNE came to power, led to a quick and noticeable thaw in bilateral relations. In February 1999, the Prime Ministers of the two countries signed a joint declaration, followed by a number of bilateral agreements, thus opening the door to extensive contacts and cooperation. During the NATO bombing on Yugoslavia in 1999, when Macedonia suffered under a huge wave of refugees, Bulgaria provided Macedonia with assistance. Given the economic hardships Bulgaria itself had been undergoing, the act was far beyond a mere gesture of goodwill.

Bulgaria, however, has had its share in the controversies and ambiguity of the bilateral relations. Nationalism of various forms and shades has informed the attitudes towards ‘the other’ in both countries and hence influenced policies and bilateral relations. In Bulgaria, after the introduction of the ‘state-yes, nation-no’ formula, the case of UMO-"Ilinden"-Pirin (elaborated in more detail below) makes another eloquent example of the complicated Bulgarian position. In February 1999, the Sofia City Court finally registered as a political party a branch of UMO, UMO-Ilinden-Pirin, considered moderate and non-separatist. Despite the marginal political importance of the new party, its registration was widely and vehemently rejected - both politically and publicly - mostly on the grounds of nationalist principles and fears. The opposition climaxed with sixty-one MPs petitioning the Constitutional Court (CC) on the matter. In February 2000, the CC banned the party as unconstitutional, thus making a concession to Bulgarian nationalist views and positions and feeding anti-Bulgarian nationalism in Macedonia.

Bulgaria’s Recognition of Macedonia: What Did It Mean and What Did It Not?

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The fact of Bulgaria’s recognition of Macedonia is of particular importance in the context of the evolution of bilateral relations. Against the complex historical entanglements, this political act profoundly reformulated both the understanding of the Bulgarian national question and the means to its achievement. With the mere act of recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria [11] clearly rejected any political claims to Macedonia in terms of territory or statehood. Despite the otherwise controversial and ambiguous character of the Bulgarian position towards Macedonia, there has been a stable renouncement of Bulgarian territorial claims towards Macedonia shared and upheld across the political spectrum in Bulgaria. It should be emphasized that Bulgaria had upheld that position towards Macedonia’s integrity already during the initial phase of the Yugoslav disintegration. [12]

The recognition took place under the UDF government, and the way it happened aroused some suspicions as to its heavy involvement in internal political struggles. Still, the attack was more against the way the decision was taken [13] rather than against its substance. All major political forces approved the recognition of Macedonia (the Parliamentary commissions on national security and on foreign policy had already reached a consensus on the issue before the government decision) [14] . None of the subsequent Bulgarian governments, regardless of their political coloring, has questioned or even been ambiguous about the renouncement of territorial claims towards Macedonia.

While the act of recognition had clearly denied any Bulgarian territorial claims towards Macedonia, it was not that obvious what that recognition implied regarding one of the corner stones of the Bulgarian “Macedonian issue,” namely that the population there is of Bulgarian national character. The Bulgarian formula for the recognition was “yes” to the Macedonian state, “no” to the Macedonian nation (Georgiev and Tsenkov, 1993: 18), i.e. Bulgaria recognized only the Macedonian state, and not the Macedonian nation. Thus, previous claims to territory and statehood over the geographical region of Macedonia were replaced by (or - depending on the background assumption - reduced to) claims over nationality, culture, language and history. Although the latter were not direct claims about Macedonia’s territory and the “non-recognition of state symbols, of language, nation, etc., is not an expression of an overt policy of aggression” (Popov, 1999: 6), the qualification rendered the Bulgarian position with ambiguity and caused apprehensions in the Macedonian part. It entailed a number of political implications and has been largely recognized as a political mistake with serious consequences for bilateral relations. [15] The important question is what can explain the formula itself as well as its place in Bulgarian policies towards Macedonia. The following section aims to provide an answer to this question.

Between Political Pragmatism and National Historical Romanticism

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The introduction of the ‘state-yes, nation-no’ formula could be given a two-fold explanation. On the one hand, it revealed the existence of powerful emotional undercurrents on the Macedonian issue, a complex heritage of turbulent Bulgarian and Balkan historical developments. On the other hand, it is related both to Yugoslav, and later Macedonian, claims for the protection of a Macedonian national minority in Bulgaria, and separatists’ calls for the unification of Pirin Macedonia with SR of Macedonia and later with the newly sovereign Macedonia.

Because of existing strong emotional undercurrents, at some instances the whole issue of Bulgarian-Macedonian relations and of Bulgarian attitudes and policies towards Macedonia seemed bogged down in an incomprehensible hodgepodge of historical references, linguistic assertions and national sentiments, looking rather illogical, irrational and even insane (especially for an outside Western observer). The ‘state-yes, nation-no’ formula thus was a reflection of the ‘passions’ over Macedonia on the extra-political level. It is exactly on this ‘extra-political’ level where one can find continuity with “previous attitudes towards Macedonia: sentiment; nationalistic romanticism, scientific-like inventions and ridiculous arguments [which] are still at work” (Popov, 1999: 4).

In those initial transition years several assertions regarding Macedonians seemed to be largely shared and characterized by the general understanding on the Macedonian question: Today’s Macedonians are former Bulgarians who had to live separately for a long time because of turbulent historic developments and thus have forgotten their “Bulgarian-ness.” The so-called Macedonian language is simply a dialect of the Bulgarian language. Macedonian identity, consequently, is ‘artificial’ and does not really exist. There is, therefore, no historical and ethnic Macedonian nation. In one of the versions, it is the pro-Serb and anti-Bulgarian regime which prevents Macedonians from clearly declaring their Bulgarian identity (especially while the SDUM was still in power in Macedonia). In another version, Macedonians have forgotten their Bulgarian-ness and are to remember it. Popular attitudes towards Macedonians exhibited marked paternalism. Since the beginning of transition changes, Bulgarian nationalism regarding Macedonia has established itself in ‘table-folk nationalism’ (Popov, 1999: 27) [16] with no strong political connotations.

Historical studies have played a considerable role in supporting and justifying those attitudes and understandings. The fall of the taboo on the Macedonian issue made it possible for many historical studies on the subject, until then confined only to a small circle of specialists, to become accessible to a larger audience. Due to that liberalization, Bulgarian popular perceptions on the Macedonian question became strongly scientifically burdened, especially in terms of knowledge of history. The ‘historization’ of the Bulgarian public position on the Macedonian issue has proved to be deeply mistaken. The confidence provided by historical evidence rendered the Bulgarian position with the glamour of impeccable rightfulness, [17] introducing the vicious mechanism of history: historical facts lead to implications about today’s reality. In other words ‘today’ is seen as ‘what it should be today because of what was in the past.’ Thus, science, and history in particular, were turned into the stronghold of nationalistic views and sentiments, making them insensitive to apprehend the changes that each social organism inevitably undergoes in time. It is indicative that today’s extra-political or public nationalism regarding Macedonia is to be found especially in contemporary scientific (or pseudo-scientific) works.

The existence of strong extra-political current on the Macedonian issue has undoubtedly exerted a profound impact on the development of Bulgaria’s political position towards Macedonia and contributed significantly to its ambiguity. Political positions and extra-political attitudes have been in constant interplay mutually inducing one another. The introduction of the ‘state-yes, nation-no’ formula both reflected and enhanced existing public sentiments and understandings. The political current influenced by the extra-political can be described as a ‘passionate’ or ‘romantic’ one. Because of its strong relationship with the extra-political, it accommodates traditionally national(ist) views and positions across the political spectrum and is particularly prone to adopting confrontational stances and positions on the Macedonian issue. Within this political current Macedonia is not seen as an object of rational politics but rather as a “sentiment, sometimes quite primitive and unrestrained” (Ibid: 26). Consequently, the issue of Macedonia could easily be turned into conspicuous, noisy (and subject-less) nationalism, employed as a tool in Bulgarian internal political and party fights.

Though powerful, the ‘romantic’ or ‘passionate’ current has never been dominant in Bulgarian post-1989 political space [18] where it has been balanced and countered by a strong pragmatic current. The pragmatic current favors solutions on a state and political level rather than a national one; consequently, it seeks to avoid putting forward and discussing questions of an historical or a linguistic nature. This pragmatic approach “eludes the question of the existence or non-existence of a separate nation…” (Georgiev and Tsenkov, 1993: 7-8). This is the current, which has potential for non-confrontation on the “Macedonian issue” and it is within this current that a non-confrontational trend has been developed and enhanced.

The notion of currents and how they interplay is complicated by the fact that there are no clear boundaries between them. First, there has been a great fluctuation of political actors across the currents. The same political actors fall into the pragmatic current with some of their political acts and performances, and in the ‘passionate’ with others. Thus, President Zhelev’s initial “state-yes, nation-no” position was subsequently replaced by a more pragmatically-oriented one, which “even if unable to conciliate the radically opposed positions on the question of a ‘Macedonian nation,’ allowed for a greater flexibility” (Ibid: 18). The new formula differentiated between “political nation” and “ethnic nation,” thus making it possible to claim that a “Macedonian nation” does exist but as a political nation, i.e. as a nation pertaining to the independent Macedonian state. [19]

Second, in terms of substance the two currents are not clearly separated but rather stand in a continuum. There is an ‘in-between-ness’ exemplified by the above-cited, reshaped formula. It denies the extreme view that there is no Macedonian nation and its subsequent implications that contemporary Macedonians are Bulgarians. It, however, also denies that the notion of a Macedonian nation could have any implications regarding Bulgarian territory or population. This is a largely defensive reaction stemming from the fact that “from the Bulgarian point of view conceives the concept traditionally promoted in Skopje on the existence of a Macedonian nation - which presumably inhabits the three parts of Macedonia, Pirin, Vardar and Aegean Macedonia - as completely inadmissible. This leads to the extreme arguments that Bulgarian Pirin Macedonia is inhabited by Macedonians who represent the Macedonian nationality in Bulgaria and live under Bulgarian occupation” (Ibid.: 10).

This is a kind of ‘in-between-ness’ because the purely pragmatic current would not address issues of nations, language and history, being aware that such issues could hardly be resolved (if at all). Part of the ‘pragmatic’ is exactly in shifting the focus away from confrontational issues. In this sense, the pragmatic current has been subjected to both external and internal constraints. Thus, the pragmatic current has been indispensably influenced by the interplay with the ‘romantic’ political and emotional extra-political currents. In its turn, the interplay qualifies the character of non-confrontational trend: what it should amount to and what are its limitations.

Thus, what can be defined as non-confrontational trend appears to be rather indefinite. The present section closes with a brief case-study on the “UMO-‘Ilinden’ case, which is of relevance for both the internal and external delimitation of the ‘non-confrontational.’

The Case/s of UMO-‘Ilinden’

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Since its (presumed) foundation in late 1989, UMO-‘Ilinden’ has undergone several transformations and internal splits. For years, none of those UMO-formations was registered as a political party on grounds of their separatist statutes and activities propagating secession of Pirin Macedonian from Bulgaria and its unification with Macedonia. Only in February 1999,[20] the Sofia City Court registered as a political party a branch of UMO, UMO-Ilinden-Pirin, considered moderate and non-separatist.

Considering that the Macedonianists did not have a sizeable membership and electorate, the new party was of marginal political importance, both in terms of membership and electoral basis.[21] In the 1999 local elections the party got 3,690 votes (0,04%) or three mayor offices in small villages in Pirin Macedonia, Blagoevgrad region. Moreover, the 1992 census proved that Macedonianism does not have a serious demographic basis in Pirin Macedonia. The figure of those who declared themselves Macedonians was 10,800, and around 3,000 of those appointed Macedonian language as their mother tongue. [22] Furthermore, the Statutes of the registered moderate wing were not unconstitutional; they identified UMO as a party for economic development and integration of the population in Pirin Macedonia, protection of the rights of religious communities, etc. The Statutes thus abided by the provisions of the Political Parties Act; no formal provision was included that the party would fight for the recognition of a Macedonian minority and a Macedonian language. [23]


Despite the marginal political importance of the new party and its moderate position, the act of registration met a stout opposition. Politicians from across the political spectrum (from the BSP and UDF included), senior members of the judiciary and public circles opposed the party's court registration. At the end of February 1999 sixty-one MPs petitioned the CC on the matter. The party was challenged on grounds of its ethnic basis and its separatist activities. The fears stemmed from UMO's overall image as a separatist organization. A year later, in February 2000, the CC decided in favor of the petition, declaring UMO-‘Ilinden’-Pirin unconstitutional. [24]Characteristically, the CC ban denied that there were any grounds for UMO-‘Ilinden’ for being banned as an ethnic party because “In the Republic of Bulgaria there is no Macedonian ethnos [ethnic group] formed. Because of this, the Court does not see reasons to accept that the creation of this organization breaches article 11/4 of the Constitution, which prohibits the creation of political parties on an ethnic basis.” The party instead was proclaimed unconstitutional on the basis of its assumed continuity and resemblance to other extreme branches of UMO-‘Ilinden.’

The CC ban entails several important implications to the existence of the pragmatic current and non-confrontational trend. Formally, the ban exemplifies a purported legal impartiality: there is a constitutional ban on separatist organizations; consequently, if an organization develops separatist activities or has separatist aims, it should be banned. On the surface, this seems to be a pragmatic decision. Yet, in nature the CC decision seems to be closer to the ‘emotional’ current. Hidden behind arguments of territorial integrity and territorial security, the decision in fact exemplifies the ‘emotional’ denial of the existence of separate Macedonian consciousness, especially within the borders of Bulgaria, neglecting those 10,800 people who declared their identity as Macedonian. Given that the separatist threat (assumed to be) posed by the small Macedonianist party was not serious, the deeper reasons for the ban are to be found elsewhere. The existence of the party, even in its moderate form and without any separatist inclinations, was perceived as an insult to sacred Bulgarian feelings and memories. Thus, the essence of the constitutional ban was a concession to national(ist) feelings prevailing at the extra-political level; it was an instance when the ‘emotional’ current within the political took upper hand.

It would be interesting to make a parallel with the CC decision on the MFR (1991). One can argue that in both cases the Constitutional judges made decisions in accordance with political expediencies rather than with the norms of constitutionalism. In both cases, some extra-legal reasons prevailed for the interpretations of norms, documents and facts. In both cases, the opposite decision could have been taken. Given that the CC has established itself as an apolitical institution (i.e. standing above the conjunction political controversies of the day), the above similarity harbors an important distinction. While in the “Turkish case” the CC decision has generally contributed to the non-confrontational trend, in the UMO case the court complied to and thus fuelled the opposite one. Similarly, while in the “Turkish case” an opposite decision would have amounted to endangering the ethnic peace in the country, in the UMO-case it would have lead to a strong nationalist outcry.

As the reactions to the recognition of UMO-‘Ilinden’-Pirin have shown, however, since the party is too small and too negligible, the passions over it are difficult to remain long in the focus of public attention. In this line of thought, one could argue that an opposite CC decision to the UMO-case would have contributed seriously to the non-confrontational trend in the long run. After the initial reaction (and provided that the party would persist in its moderate-ness), Bulgarian national feelings - extra-political and politically expressed – would have got accustomed to the political representation of that small group of people, who (no matter what the reasons) identify themselves as Macedonians. The difference (within the similarity of political expediency) is indicative for the limitations of the non-confrontational trend in the “Macedonian case,” which are more visible and stringent compared to the ones of the “Turkish case.”

The bearing of the CC decision on the non-controversial trend is ambiguous. On the one hand, unlike the case with the CC decision on MRF constitutionality, the case of UMO-‘Ilinden’ does not possess a strong internal confrontational potential. Because of the weak support for Macedonianists within Bulgaria, the CC ban on the UMO party did not entail any danger with regard to internal stability. One can even argue that it subdued the confrontational potential within the extra-political and the ‘emotional’ political currents. It is exactly because of this, however, that in the context of the present argument the decision is seen also as confrontational. Its nature opposes the essence of what is understood here as non-confrontational politics on nationalism-related issues. The CC decision builds on understandings and attitudes which are prone to confrontation, and which can enter a vicious circle of giving rise to nationalist policies and being further enhanced by them. The same applies also externally, and this is the other way in which the CC decision can be seen as clearly confrontational; it gave ground for anti-Bulgarianism in Macedonia, thus contributing to another vicious circle, presented by Rogers Brubaker (1996) in the form of triadic nexus.

Locked in a Nexus>

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It was indicated above, that apart from internal reasons and causes for the reification of the Macedonian issue on the Bulgarian political scene there were also external ones, in the face of Yugoslav-through-Skopje claims for recognition of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. The importance of the ‘external’ factor remained and even increased after the separation of Macedonia from SFRY. Bulgarian transition policy and position and the interplay between the three currents within the Bulgarian public and political space have been largely influenced by the Macedonian positions and policy towards Bulgaria and towards the Bulgarian transition position on the “Macedonian issue.”

The interrelations between the Bulgarian and Macedonian positions (and nationalisms respectively) are explained with the help of Brubaker’s account of transition nationalisms in terms of nationalizing nationalism, external homeland nationalism and minority nationalism. The first one involves claims and state-led practices made on behalf of an ethnoculturally-defined nation, which, despite being in “possession” of the state, is considered as having a weak position. Nationalizing nationalism comes to protect “the nation” and to promote its specific interests against those of the rest of population. The second type is a trans-border nationalism affirming the state’s right and obligation to protect the state’s co-nationals abroad. The minority nationalism is characterized by demands for the granting of certain collective cultural and/or political rights based on state’s recognition of minority’s ethnocultural distinctiveness. These three nationalisms constantly interact and reinforce one another in a triadic relational nexus.

Brubaker’s model helps seeing how Bulgarian and Macedonian positions have been mutually reinforcing one another. In the beginning of 1990s, the Bulgarian position (both the political, quasi-pragmatic and nationalist-patronizing, extra-political ones) as exemplified in the act of recognition, encountered strong ‘nationalizing’ nationalism of the part of the newly independent Macedonian state. Its strong anti-Bulgarian component has been an inheritance of decade-long Yugoslav anti-Bulgarian policies there. Since the extent of democratization in Macedonia was low, and both political and public life were largely controlled by the government, in Bulgaria expressions of anti-Bulgarian feelings were ascribed to the anti-Bulgarian inertia of the SDUM.

The triadic nexus helps in accounting for Bulgarian extra-political nationalism, which could be seen as a modification of the homeland nationalism. In Brubaker’s nexus, ‘homeland nationalism’ stands for the nationalism of a country, mostly promoted and explained by its elites who seek to protect minorities of co-nationals abroad. As Brubaker emphasizes (1996: 57-58) ‘homeland’ should not necessarily mean the actual homeland of the minority, but rather a construct made through political action. Bulgaria has never mentioned anything about Bulgarian minority in Macedonia (in Bulgaria the very idea looks absurd, at least as long as Macedonians are the majority in Macedonia). There is a prism, however, through which the Bulgarian position - particularly in its extra-political dimensions - corresponds to what Brubaker calls ‘homeland nationalism.’

According to the Bulgarian National Doctrine. Part 2 (1998: 23), there are only 1850 officially recognized Bulgarians in Macedonia. Since Bulgarian ‘homeland’ nationalism considers this figure to be severely underestimated because of the year-long anti-Bulgarian persecutions and repression in Macedonia, it rather prefers to treat the whole Slavic population of Macedonia as a part of the ‘Bulgarian body,’ i.e. ‘Macedonians = Bulgarians.’ [25] Hence, Bulgarian ‘homeland’ nationalism has been directed not to a minority within Macedonia but rather towards all Macedonians, the attempt being to protect them from their anti-Bulgarian governors. Building on Benedict Anderson’s apt definition of nation, Bulgarians ‘imagine’ Macedonians as being a part of a Bulgarian ‘imagined community’ which has been not shared across the border. Thus, while in Bulgaria those views were not considered insulting (on the contrary, in compliance with Bulgarian paternalism towards Macedonians they were seen as expressing fraternal feelings), in Macedonia they fuelled the SDUM anti-Bulgarian propaganda, providing it with proof of its claims about Greater Bulgarian chauvinist feelings and aspirations. (Perceiving this as an aggression, Macedonia, on its part, found in it “incentives for the preservation of its integrity in an aggressive foreign policy,” Georgiev and Tsenkov, 1993: 25).

With some further modifications, Brubaker’s nexus could inform the understanding of the Bulgarian-Macedonian situation in one more way. Regarding Bulgaria, it is not the ‘external minority’ (all Macedonians) who are assumed to have their homeland in Bulgaria, but rather the opposite. As shown above, due to historical circumstances there are many people in Bulgaria whose homeland is in (Vardar and Aegean) Macedonia in the sense that their ancestors came from there. [26] (This is a very strong argument in favor of the assertion that the feelings towards Macedonia - which may look like an expression of nationalism - have not been constructed by political elites.) On the one hand, this type of national feeling has the potential of self-reinforcing itself. On the other, it has proved to be particularly sensible to claims from the repertoire of Macedonian nationalizing nationalism, and regarded some of them as theft of Bulgarian history, heroes and cultural heritage. That was another and a more powerful way of the enhancement and invigoration of Bulgarian nationalism. Consequently, some of the most vehement appearances of nationalism and nationalistic feelings regarding Macedonia in Bulgarian public space were reactions to statements and actions on the Macedonian part. [27]

Brubaker’s triadic nexus applies also to the political relations between the two countries. Despite the difficulties in which the young Macedonian state found itself upon its declaration of independence, the SDUM incumbents refused cooperation with Bulgaria, bringing up to the fore what has become known as “the language problem.” The introduction of the “state-yes, nation-no” formula on the part of Bulgaria contributed to the Macedonian reaction. However, even after the subsequent moderation and qualification of the formula, the Macedonian government declined any pragmatic suggestions and ‘marred’ the bilateral relation with requirements clearly inadmissible by the opposite side. [28] For several years the socialist authorities in Skopje used the ‘language issue’ as a pretext not to sign about 25 bilateral agreements with Bulgaria (signing at the same time agreements with Greece in English, though Greece resolutely refused to recognized the Republic under its constitutional name).

Bulgaria’s sticking to the ‘state - yes, language/nation - no’ formula, however, could not be attributed to nationalism and nationalistic rhetoric only, though they did play role. From a pragmatic point of view the most serious reason for Bulgaria to refuse to recognize explicitly the existence of a Macedonian nation was rooted in Macedonia’s territorial aspirations towards Bulgaria, packed in the form of claims for protection of Macedonian minorities abroad. [29] As Georgiev and Tsenkov point out (1993: 19), “With the recognition of Macedonia Bulgaria further confirmed its renouncement of any territorial claims. The Bulgarian side however expected a similar unequivocal renouncement to be officially declared by (...) Macedonia.” Instead, in Skopje, Bulgaria’s recognition of Macedonia and the request for similar renouncement of territorial claims reinforced the campaigns against the self-expressions of Bulgarians (Ibid.: 20).

The 1999 Declaration: Breaking the Nexus?

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Brubaker’s nexus seemed to be somewhat overcome with the VMRO-DPMNE coming to power in Macedonia at end 1998. Given the strong interdependence between the three types of nationalism in the nexus, the change of one of the parameters in the model inevitably led to transformations in the others. However, not all changes in the so-called extra-political level (and its corresponding ‘passionate’ part of the ‘political level’ respectively) should be attributed only or predominantly to this change on the Macedonian political scene. One can discern a transformation, though slow and gradual, in the overall aggregate of public feelings and perceptions of Macedonia. Contrary to Popov’s opinion that because of the “popular emotion over Macedonia, we cannot talk about Macedonia neither in a neutral tone nor emotionally indifferent,” there has appeared a ‘sober,’ realistic and even distanced approach to the Macedonian issue, and the examples are growing. [30]

Undoubtedly the change of the incumbents in Skopje has had a considerable impact on both the political and public levels of the Bulgarian attitude towards Macedonia. The importance of the political change in Macedonia as regards the unblocking of the Bulgarian-Macedonian knot of problems was immense and, moreover, anticipated. [31]

Bulgarian ‘Macedonian’ nationalism in the face of the ‘passionate’ segment of the ‘political level’ and the greater part of the ‘public level’ awaited a kind of quick ‘Bulgarization’ of Macedonia because many of the media and even some politicians had long presented VMRO-DPMNE as a pro-Bulgarian party (an image also asserted by the accusations of the Macedonian Socialist Party against VMRO-DPMNE to this effect). Still the ‘sober’ part of the ‘public level’ that appeared warned against too high and unrealistic an expectation for a quick improvement in bilateral relations, not to speak about any ‘Bulgarization’ of Macedonia.

On the ‘political level,’ as expected, the change of the regime in Macedonia led to the breakthrough in the so-called ‘language dispute.’ The breakthrough materialized in a Joint Declaration [32] (signed on February 22, 1999), which cleared the way for the development of bilateral economic, commercial and infrastructure cooperation. (Part of it was unfortunately prompted by the deterioration of the Kosovo crisis and the war in Yugoslavia). The language dispute with the ensuing problem of Macedonian claims for protection of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria were solved by an intriguing compromise which can be described as “‘recognition’ (or rather acceptance) of the Macedonian language for a firm rejection of Macedonia’s ‘minority’ claims to Bulgaria.” [33] The officially incited dispute about history also ended with the change in Skopje regarding “VMRO-DPMNE’s ‘nationalism,’ insofar as there is such, it does not deny the historical community of Macedonians and Bulgarians. Since Bulgarian historiography upholds an identical stance (…), such common stands are seen to be an excellent basis for future cooperation” (Roussanov et al, 1999: 22). [34]

The signing of the bilateral declaration became a watershed in the flow of the alternating and often quite ambiguous official Bulgarian policy and attitude towards Macedonia in the 1990s. Against the background of official rejection of anything that can be described as ‘Macedonian language,’ the fact that the phrase ‘Macedonian language’ appears in an official document signed by Bulgaria cannot but be treated as a significant sign of change. Although the declaration refers to the Macedonian language as the official language under the Macedonian Constitution, it still can be seen as an official renouncement, though not an explicit one, of the political claims about the character of the present Macedonia, the Macedonian language and people.

An Open-ended Conclusion

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In a broader historical perspective the non-confrontational trend of Bulgarian transition policies regarding Macedonia seems to be quite obvious – compared to previous historical periods, the renouncement of territorial claims over Macedonia is a serious proof of non-confrontationalism. Historical accumulations and complex present-day realities make the trend highly ambiguous. A great part of this ambiguity is due to the current deep national feeling in Bulgaria towards Macedonia. There are sound historical reasons for the salience of this feeling, and it is not going to be eradicated but rather transformed and ‘up-graded’ to contemporary realities. In this sense, the appearance and political upholding of the non-confrontational trend is of considerable significance. The fact that confrontational, irrational nationalism is not endorsed as the official state policy towards Macedonia discourages and downplays the extreme views and positions at the extra-political level.

Because of this and under the influence of the changed realities Bulgarian extra-political understanding is leaving behind views and positions which (though not perceived as such in Bulgaria) bear implicit confrontation. The transformation can be exemplified by the view of a well-known Bulgarian historian (and historians, as suggested above, are among the strongest supporters of Bulgarian ‘romantic’ and historically-based nationalism) that “It is absolutely incontestable that historically Macedonia has been predominantly a Bulgarian one. Yet a long-lasting separateness cannot but result in, even if not alienation, then at least some difference. This difference on its part cannot but lead to another final product in terms of language, nation, statehood.” [35] There are questions from the large “Macedonian issue” which have the potential of dividing the two countries. Bulgarian non-confrontationalism regarding Macedonia is exemplified in the attempt not to focus on the “national issues,” which can create only confrontation in the bilateral relations. Thus, rather than solving or erasing the reasons for the clash between Bulgarian national/ist feeling and its contemporary Macedonian ‘counterpart,’ the non-confrontational trend is evading them. Because “national conflicts are seldom “solved” or “resolved.” …they are more likely to fade away, to loose their centrality and salience, as ordinary people – and political entrepreneurs – turn to other concerns, or as a new generation grows up to whom old quarrels seem largely irrelevant” (Brubaker, 1998: 280).


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Alexandrov, Evgeni et al. 1997. Vanshnata politika na Bulgaria sled 10.XI.1989. 1997. [Bulgarian Foreign Policy after November 19 1989]. Sofia: National Institute for International Studies. Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Brubaker, Rogers. 1996. Nationalism Reframed. Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Georgiev, Andrej and Emil Tsenkov. 1993. Bulgaria and the Recognition of Macedonia 1991-1992. ‘Ethnic Conflicts in Eastern Europe: Security and Human Rights Implications” Series. Sofia: Center for the Study of Democracy.

Georgievski, Lubcho. If Gotse Delchev Was Alive in 1945, He Would Have Finished up in Idrizovo, originally published in the Skopje newspaper “Puls” 7 July and 14 July 1995, at http://makedon.mtx.net/joint_d.htm.

Ilchev, Ivan. 1992. Makedonskiyat vazel. [“The Macedonian Knot”]. In Politicheski izsledvania, 1992 (2), 70-81.

Joint Declaration, Bulgaria – Macedonia, signed on February 22, 1999 at http://makedon.mtx.net/joint_d.htm

Kraglata massa - Stenografski protokoli (3.01-15.15.1990) [The Roundtable - Stenographic Protocols]. 1998. Rumyana Kolarova and Dimitr Dimitrov (compl.). Sofia: Biblioteka 48, Dr. Zhelyo Zhelev Foundation

Memorandum. 1997. On the Relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia (the language dispute). Macedonian Scientific Institute, Sofia. At: http://members.xoom.com/_XMCM/makinst/memorandum.htm.

Pantev, Plamen. 1995. Coping with Conflict in the Central and Southern Balkans, St Kliment Ohridski Press

Parvanov, Anton. 1995. “National Question in Bulgarian Foreign Policy (1878 - 1989). Historical Foundations and Contemporary Priorities.” In Comparative Balkan Parliamentarism, L. Grigorova-Mincheva (ed.). Sofia: International Center for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations.

Perry, Duncan M. 1995. “Bulgarian Nationalism: Permutations on the Past.” In Contemporary Nationalism in East Central Europe, Paul Latawski (ed.), Macmillan Press. 41-65.

Popov, Stefan. 1999. Makedonia: Gledni tochki [“Macedonia: Viewpoints”]. Sofia: CLS.

Poulton, Hugh. 1993 [1991]. The Balkans. Minorities and States in Conflict. London: Minority Rights Group.

Prevelakis, George. 1996. “The Return of the Macedonian Question.” In The Changing Shape of the Balkans, eds. F. W. Carter and H. T. Norris. The SOAS/GRC Geopolitical Series 5, UCL Press.

Velev, Grigor et al. 1998. Bulgarska natsionalna doktrina. Bulgaria prez dvadeset i parvia vek. Vtora chast[Bulgarian National Doctrine. Bulgaria in the 21 Century. Part two], Sofia: Bulgarian Academy of Science.

Zhelev, Zlelyo, 1997. Obrashtenia na presidenta kam naroda i parlamenta [Presidential Addresses to the Nation and Parliament]. Georgi Georgiev-Gesh (ed.) Plovdiv.

Zhelev, Zlelyo. 1998. V goliamata politika. [In Great Politics]. Sofia: Publishing House Troud.


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[1] In an historical perspective, Bulgarian nationalism is pertinent to and stems from the Bulgarian national question. Being a family member of Balkan nationalisms, it is 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” of 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.

[2] Hence, though Bulgaria received a partial solution to its national question with the inclusion of some part of Macedonia, the Bulgarian national question itself was reformulated in terms of reunification of Macedonian territory, again, however, under Bulgarian jurisdiction.

[3] In the first post war years the YCP and BCP leaders Tito and Dimitrov (with the inevitable interference of Stalin) engaged in an extensive dialogue over Tito’s idea of creating a larger 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 complete Macedonia within the Yugoslav borders. The first step was seen to be the autonomy of Pirin Macedonia, based on active ‘Macedonization’ of the population there. The conflict between Communist Informburo and the YCP leadership put an end to the project of South Slav Federation.

[4] See documents from the Central Party Archive, quoted in Parvanov (1995: 48).

[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 for the population in Macedonia to remain distinct from the Serbs, and ‘Macedonian nationality’ could also be seen as a barrier to 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.

[6] This zigzagging has been particularly obvious in the highly varying numbers of ‘Macedonians in Bulgaria.’ In the 1956 Bulgarian census, 187,729 Macedonians were listed as living in Bulgarian/Pirin Macedonia. In 1965, however, this number had shrunk to 8,750. In the 1975 census there were no Macedonians listed (see Perry, 1995: 59). In the 1992 census people who identified themselves as Macedonians numbered less than 10,803. It can be said that there is a widely-shared contemporary view in Bulgaria, both on an official and scientific, as well as on a public level, that ‘Macedonians in Bulgaria’ are nothing else but a far reaching consequence of the 2-year policy of Macedonization of Pirin Macedonia.

[7] As Hugh Poulton writes “In Yugoslavia since WWII the Yugoslav authorities have apparently successfully nurtured a Macedonian national consciousness separate from the Bulgarian one (…) by creating a literary Macedonian language as far removed from Bulgarian as is feasible, by retrospectively retracing the new nation back through history, and by using the full power of the state bureaucracy and education system to instill new consciousness into the population” (Poulton, 1993: 128). What Poulton misses is that it would have been impossible for Macedonian consciousness to get roots without further eradicating the Bulgarian one already existing among considerable parts of the population.

[8] For the text of the Declaration and preceding discussions, see Stenographic Diaries. XV Session. IX NA, Sofia: 1991.

[9] According to Prevelakis (1996: 142) after the end of the Cold War the structure of the Macedonian Question had changed from triangular to quadrangular: Macedonian nationalism has been added to the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian ones. It also is indicative that in Nationalism in the Balkans. An annotated bibliography, ed. by G. Miln, 1984, the chapter on Macedonian nationalism actually deals with the nationalism and respective activities of Macedonia’s neighbours.

[10] Some observers tend to credit Bulgaria for the recognition of Macedonia by Russia (Georgiev and Tsenkov, 1993: 20). In his ‘foreign policy’ memoirs Zhelev offers a vivid account of how Eltsin was talked to and convinced into recognizing Macedonia, and how this finally happened (Zhelev, 1998: 161-166).

[11] This recognition is of a different character compared to the recognition of SYROM within the SFRY. In the 1990s Bulgaria was first to recognize Macedonia with its constitutional name and besides without external pressure. (Moreover it was only April 1993 when the UN recognized Macedonia, but with a provisional name (FYROM) and without a flag, as Greece reacted to the use of the Star of Vergina - the symbol of Alexander the Great - on the flag of the new state).

[12] In late 1991, Bulgaria rejected an offer from Greece for trilateral Bulgarian-Greek-Serbian discussions on Macedonia in the absence of Macedonia (Georgiev and Tsenkov, 1993: 16). Zhelyo Zhelev, then the Bulgarian President, recalls that in mid-1991 Greece initiated a meeting among the Prime Ministers of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia to decide over the future of Macedonia. Upon his insistence, the then Bulgarian Prime Minister Dimitar Popov declined the offer. The initiative thus was brought to naught (Zhelev, 1998: 151-152). The fact that Bulgaria has twice rejected proposals on the parts of Serbia and Greece to take part in the partition of Macedonia as a part of a new Balkan Agreement is mentioned also in the article of Lubcho Georgievski If Gotse Delchev Was Alive in 1945, He Would Have Finished up in Idrizovo, originally published in the Skopje newspaper “Puls” 7 July and 14 July 1995, at http://makedon.mtx.net/joint_d.htm.

[13] The act of recognition occurred between the two rounds of the presidential elections. Hence, the accusations against the government and the president - both of the UDF - of hastening the decision and subjecting its timing to the internal political conjuncture and the UDF’s political objectives. Additional confusion, and consequent source of criticism, cause the fact that the decision was taken disavowing the foreign minister who was at that time abroad and learnt about the government’s recognition upon his arrival at Sofia airport. See the dramatic account of the events of the then UDF MP Slatinski quoted in Bulgarian Foreign Policy since November 10, 1989I (Alexandrov et al, 1997: 77-78). On the disregarding of the position of the Bulgarian foreign minister, see Zhelev (1998: 153) who qualifies it as a “misunderstanding.”

[14] On how the PM Dimitrov informed the Parliament about the decision and the reactions there, see theStenographic Diaries of Bulgarian NA, Book 8, first session, 28 sitting, January, 15, 1992, pp. 29-30.

[15] See, for example, Popov, 1999; Roussanov et al., 1999. In an interview conducted by the present author (May 15, 2000), Mihail Ivanov expressed the same opinion, qualifying the statement as ‘Zhelev’s gross political mistake.’ It is indicative that in his book about Bulgarian foreign policy in the years of his presidency, Zhelev (1998), does not make explicit references to that statement of his, but seeks to downplay it by citing subsequent qualifications and clarifications.

[16] Popov identifies a publicly dispersed, but extremely strong, viewpoint which does not comply with the politically defined and representative positions. “Regarding Macedonia,” he writes, “there is a strong popular understanding in Bulgaria, characterized with numerous variations. (…) [This is] a pile of emotions, pictures, memories, etc. (…) the invariant being in the sentiment and the nationalistic feeling, which occupy the whole spectrum: from innocent romanticism to aggressive nationalism. This mass stance does not have a definite social and political profile. Within it one can identify various social-political orientations” (Popov, 1999: 27).

[17] What Popov describes as an objectivity-related paradox of humanitarian science is particularly conspicuous in the case of the Macedonian question: “the science, the realm of objectivity, appeared to be most ideologically burdened, stuck with prejudices and highly politicized. (…) Similar to previous times, today’s scientists from different spheres can pile up various evidence and arguments in defense of theses like ‘Macedonian language is Bulgarian,’ ‘there is no Macedonian nation,’ ‘Macedonia does not have its own state history,’ etc. These statements are proved by means of a traditional scientific methodology: observation of facts and hypothesis-building. Later they are taken by the politicians and used for supporting a cause or a political course. Though on first sight this mechanism seems to be scientific, it is in fact deeply mistaken” (Popov, 1999: 8).

[18] In fact neither of the major political actors ever has explicitly articulated its upholding of the ‘romantic’ or ‘passionate’ view. The pragmatic approach has been generally accepted and adhered to. The problem is partly that for different actors pragmatism implies different policies and reactions. Furthermore, while pragmatism is predominant at institutional level, ‘romanticism’ is characteristic of individual politicians’ positions and views. Though these are largely mitigated at the institutional level, ‘romanticism’ can be still inferred as a current or, more correctly, undercurrent at the political level.

[19] The fluctuation stretches beyond the ‘political.’ As mentioned above, at extra-political level IMRO-UMS relies on and enhances ‘passions’ over Macedonia, while its performances in ‘high politics’ (official stances, positions in Parliament, etc.) have been moderate and pragmatic, and contribute the non-confrontational trend.

[20] The timing of the registration aroused speculations of possible political motivation behind the act. The registration was seen as a jest towards Macedonia because it took place days before the visit of Macedonia's Prime Minister, Ljubcho Georgievski, to Bulgaria (21 and 22 February 1999), during which the signing of a 'thawing' bilateral declaration had been expected. The interpretations, therefore, for the registration of the Macedonianist party pointed in the direction of showing good will on the Bulgarian part.

[21] It has weak influence in some villages on the right bank of the rivers Strouma and Mesta - for instance, a supporter of the organization was elected mayor of a village in the Western Rhodopi Mountains in the 1994 municipal elections.

[22] Due to the general Bulgarian ‘ostrich syndrome’ on the issue, the figures have never officially been made public. They were not included in the officially published results from the census, but only became known through Mihail Ivanov who was told the figure unofficially (from his manuscript, later on published in The Ethnocultural Situation in BulgariaEight Years Later, Sofia 2000).

[23] Nevertheless, just days before the visit of Macedonia's Prime Minister, Ljubcho Georgievski, to Bulgaria (21 and 22 February 1999), during which Sofia and Skopje signed a Bulgarian-Macedonian declaration resolving the language dispute by recognizing the constitutional languages in the two countries, one of unregistered UMO’s leaders, Ivan Singartiiski, declared that Macedonia's signing of such documents was tantamount to treason as it virtually disowned the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria (reported in all Bulgarian dailies).

[24] Judgement No. 1 of 29 February 2000 in the matter of Constitutional Case No. 3 of 1999, Official GazetteNo. 18 of February 2000, pp.2-5.

[25] The popularity of ‘Macedonians = Bulgarians’ equation is exemplified by the results of a sociological survey in Bulgaria of students aged between 13 and 18. The results show that “Most complex in the eyes of the students, though, is the image of the Macedonians in the Balkan cultural setting. The intricacy results from the reduction of the ‘otherness’ (Macedonian) to ‘sameness (=Bulgarian).” See The Image of the Other. Analysis of the high-school textbooks in History from the Balkan countries, Balkan Colleges Foundations, Sofia. 1998, p. 11. Various examples of expression of this ‘sameness’ can be found if the Macedonian section of the Bulgarian report in Balkan Neighbours Newsletter (issue 1-8).

[26] According to Mihail Ivanov the data on refugees and emigrants from Macedonia during the XX century, allows one to approximate at around 2,000,000 the figure of contemporary Bulgarian citizens who have their roots in Macedonia (including the people from Pirin Macedonia). That figure represents roughly one-fourth of Bulgaria’s population. The same figure is given for Macedonians in Bulgaria. Foreign sources give various figures varying from 250,000 Macedonians to ‘several thousands.’ (I am grateful to Mihail Ivanov for giving me his manuscript of a text to be published in The Ethno-Cultural Situation. Eight Years Later. The figures are from the manuscript.) Still, as Ivanov asserts, the greatest part of those with Macedonian roots possesses strongly pronounced Bulgarian self-identification. I would add that it is within them where various appearances of extra-political national feeling stem.

[27] Particularly indicative in this respect is the media analysis, provided in the Bulgarian reports of the Balkan Neighbours Newsletter (1 to 8 issues). The simultaneous monitoring of both Macedonian and Bulgarian mainstream printed media has revealed the so-called ‘intermedia dialogue,’ when an item in the press appears as a reaction of something from the other’s country press, the subject usually being related to the ‘hot’ bilateral issues – language issue and Macedonian nation. Sometimes there are even cases of ‘answer-to the answer-to the answer…’, the tone exacerbating with each answer and getting more and more nationalistic overtones. Another evidence of the strong impact of Macedonian ‘nationalizing’ nationalism could be found in the distinction between citizens of the country and its rulers (valid throughout the SDUM incumbency), which is not the case with the coverage of Bulgaria’s other neighbours where media generally identify people with the incumbents. Macedonia was quite unusual in this respect, for the Bulgarian press generally showed dual standards in its attitude to the Macedonians on the one hand and the rulers of Macedonia on the other. The image of the ‘state’ (the incumbents, the institutions, the media, etc.) and the ‘populace’ were diametrically opposed – because of its strong ‘nationalizing’ nationalism the former was seen as a constant source of anti-Bulgarian messages, while the latter, Macedonians – as Bulgarians’ brethren.

[28] Zhelev recalls the situation concerning the 1994 visit of Macedonia President Gligirov to Sofia, during which several important agreements were expected to be signed. The visit turned out to be a failure since the Macedonian part insisted on the inclusion of the phrase “the agreement is signed in the Macedonian and Bulgarian languages” and refused to compromise the formula “signed in the Constitutional languages of the two countries” or “signed in English.” It should be emphasized that Macedonia has applied the latter formula in its relations with Greece.

[29] Bulgaria’s apprehensions stemmed from the notorious Article 49 of the Macedonian Constitution, according to which “The Republic looks after the statute and protect the rights of persons belonging to the Macedonian people and who live in the neighboring countries.” In 1992, following official Greek protests, the Macedonian Parliament passed an amendment according to which “in exercising this responsibility the Republic will not interfere in the sovereign matters of other countries.” Still, the then Macedonian authorities attempted to lead a policy in accordance with the assumption that the Macedonian nation is based on the ‘Macedonian ethnos’ in Vardar, Pirin and Greek Macedonia. The former President Gligorov in particular used to identify the Republic of Macedonia with the whole historical-geographical region of Macedonia, which belongs to three independent states – the republics of Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria. (See Gligorov’s interview of 23 July 1997, cited in all Bulgarian mainstream papers; source Balkan Neighbours Newsletter, No 6, 1997).

[30] Popov’s analysis itself together with another of the books here referred to – Bulgaria and the Elections in Macedonia, are good examples of this tendency in the field of political science and expert opinion. This tendency, however, is best discerned in the development of media discourse on the issue. As the sections on Macedonia and the Macedonians in the Bulgarian reports of Balkan Neighbours Newsletter show, in the Bulgarian mainstream printed media this process was to be monitored already prior to the political change in Macedonia. Regarding the bilateral dispute in 1998, the media have been even more inclined to support a compromise ‘history for present’ ‘deal,’ which suggests that Macedonia should recognize the past while Bulgaria should accept (has already accepted, according to some) the present.

[31] In the 1995 interview of Georgievski mentioned above, he stated: “For VMRO-DPMNE Bulgaria is one of the four neighbouring countries with which we must have friendly relations. For the last few years her foreign policy has been the only correct one towards Macedonia. (…) She was the strongest advocate for the recognition of Macedonia.” See “If Gotse Delchev Was Alive ….” at http://makedon.mtx.net.luncho1.htm

[32] See the text of the Joint Declaration at http://makedon.mtx.net/joint_d.htm

[33] The Declaration is signed “in the official languages of both countries, Bulgarian language in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, and Macedonian language in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.” At the same time the Macedonian part explicitly “declares that nothing in its Constitution may or should be interpreted – now or ever – as a basis for interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria with the aim of protecting the status and the rights of persons who are not citizens of the Republic of Macedonia.”

[34] Indeed, in 1999, after years of protocol dispute, the Prime Ministers of the two countries paid a joint visit to the grave of St Cyril the Philosopher (one of the creators of the Slav alphabet) in Rome on May 24 (the Day of Slav Letters) for the first time. Both Bulgaria and Macedonia have previously claimed ‘historic rights’ on St Cyril. Therefore this act was of enormous symbolic importance for the development of bilateral relations, and demonstrates how on a ‘political level’ focusing on nationalistic claims can be mutually restrained.

[35] See interview with Prof. Andrei Pantev, published in Standard daily, November 24, 1998.