Macedonia 1946-1987: Why Greece overslept.

Fig 1

Authored by John D. Pappas in March 2016.
Downloadable in pdf file from the author's academic site here:

In the aftermath of the defeat of Bulgaria by the triple alliance of Greece, Serbia and Romania in the second Balkan war (June-July 1913), the region of geographical Macedonia—as outlined in maps drawn in the Ottoman era (Fig. 1)— was partitioned primarily between Greece (51%), Serbia (less than 38%), and Bulgaria (10%) by the Treaty of Bucharest (August 1913).

After World War I (WWI), Serbia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was officially renamed in 1929 as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and was divided into provinces called «banovinas». So-called «Southern Serbia», including all of what is now fYROM, became known as «Vardar Banovina». Similarly, both Bulgaria and Greece avoided systematically to use the words «Macedonia» or «Macedonian» in official administrative documents pertaining to their respective regions: The (geographical Macedonian) region of southwestern Bulgaria was named «Blagoevgrad province», while Greek Macedonia was referred to as part of the so-called New Territories («Nέες Χώρες») or Northern Greece («BόρειαΕλλάδα»). That inter-Balkan «name equilibrium» as to Macedonia, was in line with the letter and spirit of the treaty of Bucharest and the principle of good neighborly relations: In general, right after the division of the Macedonian region by the above two treaties, none of the Controlling Powers (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria) permitted the use of that name in the portions of Macedonia each had incorporated in its sovereignty.(1)

In the interbellum though, the concept of a United Macedonia or Greater Macedonia was the rallying cause of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), whose leadersTodor Alexandrov, Aleksandar Protogerov and Ivan Mihailovaimed at independence of the entire Macedonian territory. In 1918 the Bulgarian government of Alexander Malinovoffered to contribute the region of Blagoevgrad (Pirin Macedonia) to that end. Furthermore the Comintern (Third International) issued a resolution in 1934, whereby for the first time political directions were provided for recognizing the existence of a separate Macedonian nation and a distinct Macedonian language.

Still, a decade later, in May 1943, Stalin dissolved Comintern in order to bring the  Soviet Union in full wartime alignment with the Western Allies against their common enemy, Nazi Germany, in World War II (WWII): The realities of the Great Patriotic War had rendered Comintern an anachronistic geopolitical backlog that was hardly conducive to Stalin's endeavors to induce his Western Allies at the time (1943) to open a second critical (western) front in continental Europe against Germany. As consequence, along with Comintern, the «Macedonian issue»«withered away» in WWII, at least at a geopolitical level, although, at a tactical level, part of Greek Macedonia, as well as the southern region of Yugoslavia, were both under joint German-Bulgarian occupation in 1941-1944.

After WWII though, the aforementioned post-WWI official inter-Balkan «name
Fig 2
» as to geographical Macedonia, was disturbed rather irreversibly, due to initiatives taken by the leader of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito: On 11 October 1945, in the buildup of the Greek Civil War, Tito referred to the Greek Macedonian region by his term «Aegean Macedonia». Next year, 1946, Tito granted federal status to Yugoslavia's southern region (Vardar Banovina), renaming it to «People's Republic of Macedonia», within the People's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As of that time, Tito had already started pushing his agenda of Macedonist separatism with a maximalistic view towards the creation of a large South Slav Federation, although the Winning Powers, including the Soviet Union, opposed that unrealistically grand idea. Much later, in the new Yugoslavian constitution of 1963, he renamed that region again as«Socialist Republic of Macedonia», in order to bring the name in line with the other Yugoslav republics and with the new name of the Yugoslav federation (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia).

Tito’s policies of Macedonist separatism aimed incidentally, if not primarily, to counterbalance and eventually neutralize Bulgarian irridentism, which emanated from Bulgars’ collective«San Stefano Trauma» after their diplomatic failure to bring to bear the San Stefano treaty (1878), whereby Russia imposed then on Turkey the so-called Greater Bulgaria (Fig. 2) that included the entire Geographical Macedonia (Rusinow 1968, CIA declassified document):(2)

  “          An autonomous republic might also prove tactically useful, incidentally, in weakening the position and appeal of those Macedonians, including most IMRO and not a few leading Communists, who still preferred either incorporation in Bulgaria or an independent Macedonian state. [...] During the first years of the war [WWII], the Bulgarian and Yugoslav Communist parties had competed, like good bourgeois nationalists, for control of the Communist movement in the Vardar Region, and for a time the Bulgars had the best argument. [...] There is also evidence that as late as 1946 some Macedonian separatists, Communist or otherwise, were still active in the region.
At least for a time, it was now Tito, and not the Bulgarians (or even the Greek) Communists, whose solution enjoyed the support of Stalin and even of Georgi Dimitrov, the aging Bulgarian former head of the Comintern, who returned after the     war to become Prime Minister of his homeland; and on this basis Tito projected a larger design: It was only natural that an autonomous Macedonia should include all members of the Macedonian nation, and therefore natural that VardarPirin, and eventually Aegean Macedoniashould be reunited, but this time within a federal Yugoslavia. It would be equally natural that the Bulgars, linked to the Yugoslavs by blood and now also by ideology, should also join the federation, realizing at last the Land of (all) the South Slavs that nineteenth century advocates of the Yugo-Slav idea had originally had in mind. Then perhaps one could think in terms of the wider confederation, including all the Communist republics of the Balkans. [...]
The history of this grand design, and of its failure, is the central theme of the well-known history Tito-Stalin quarrel. For present purposes it is only important to note that for four years, from 1944 to 1948, the Bulgarian Communist regime was forced to accept the Yugoslav argument that the Macedonians constitute a separate nation. They also actively, if reluctantly, prepared Pirin Macedonia for unification with Vardar Macedonia inside Yugoslavia, although they sought to postpone the evil day by insisting that unification could come only after federation between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. This was the substance of a Tito-Dimitrov agreement signed at Bled, in Slovenia, in August 1947, and reaffirmed in a Yugoslav-Bulgarian Treaty of Friendship signed at Sofia when Tito returned the visit the following November. Whenever the Bulgars have subsequently raised the ghost of San Stefano, the Yugoslavs reply by exhuming the Bled Agreement.

In effect, Macedonist irredentism, as concocted by Tito, aimed to undercut the ground of two rival irredentisms, one internal (Serbian) and the other external (Bulgarian), which posed a combined long-term threat to the integrity of Yugoslavia as a federation: According to Tito’s version of Macedonist irredentism, the Macedonians are neither Serbs nor Bulgars but members of a distinct historical nation, that allegedly has not been liberated yet, at least to its entirety. In response to Tito’s aspirations, Bulgaria’s position as to the ethnicity of Macedonians was rather inconsequential, fluctuating remarkably every few years in reflection to diplomatic oscillations in the Soviet-Yugoslav relations (Kofos, 1964):(3)

  “          In less than twenty years since liberation, the Bulgarian communists five times adopted totally contradictory views on the Macedonian issue. Thus, in 1944-1948 not only did they relinquish in favor of the Yugoslavs their territorial claims over Macedonia, but even accepted the Yugoslav theory that the Slav inhabitants of Macedonia as a whole were «Macedonian», i.e. a new ethnic group. Following the Tito-Cominform splitfrom 1948 to 1954the Bulgarians passed to the offensive by advocating the establishment of a Bulgarian-sponsored Macedonian state within a Balkan communist federation. By the official act, the «Macedonians» became Bulgarians again. Only when the new Soviet leadership thought it expedient to try to bring Tito back to the communist fold in 1955, did Bulgaria drop her pretensions over Macedonia and acquiesced to recognition of the existence of ethnic «Macedonians» even inside Bulgaria. But this was only a short-lived retreat which lasted  only  for  the  duration  of  the  new  Soviet-Yugoslav  rapprochement.  In  1958, amidst sharp criticism of the Yugoslav «revisionists» by the entire Soviet bloc, the Bulgarians lost no time to declare their independence on the Macedonian issue, welcome back the «Macedonians» as «Bulgarians» and do away with the theory of the «Macedonian nationality». But Moscow's new international orientations brought about a new reconciliation with Belgrade.  As a result, Sofia found itself abandoning the polemics of the Macedonian issue. There were indications that following the  Tito-Zhivkov meeting in Belgrade in January 1962, the Bulgarians might harden their position to Yugoslav demand. However, Soviet-Yugoslav relations have not apparently reached perfection to compel the Bulgarians to decide definitely whether «Macedonians» do exist outside the People's Republic of Macedonia.

Still, in the post-WWII era, Bulgaria has not followed suit as to institutional use of the name «Macedonia» in the portion of geographical Macedonia within Bulgarian sovereignty:Blagoevrand province has retained its name as such erga omnes for a century now. Greece though did use that name («Macedonia») institutionally after many years, in 1988, by renaming then the «Ministry of Northern Greece» to «Ministry of Macedonia-Thrace», as a belated response (42 years after 1946) of the Greek government to the constitutional name of Yugoslavia’s southern region («Socialist Republic of Macedonia»).

An important aspect of the present name issue of fYROM (since 1990s) is that for 45 consecutive years (1946-1991) Bulgaria and Greece had not formally raised any issue (in the UN etc.) as to the inclusion of «Macedonia» in the constitutional name of Yugoslavia's southern region, each country for its own different reasons, i.e.:
·        BulgariaThe collusion of Bulgaria with Tito's policies as to the inclusion of «Macedonia» in the constitutional name of Yugoslavia's southern region after WWII, may be attributed partly to communist solidarity and partly (if not mainly) to the alliance of Bulgaria with the Axis in WWII: The devastating defeat of Yugoslavia by Germany in 1941, was primarily due to the fact that Wehrmacht was enabled to invade Yugoslavia from all sides, including Yugoslav borders with Romania and Bulgaria, due to alliance of these two counties with Axis at the time. Consequently, in the post-WWII era, Bulgaria had neither the moral standing nor the geopolitical clout to confront Marshal Titoa renowned military leader of the Allies and a national leader of world statureespecially on (internal) issues within the federal jurisdiction and national sovereignty of Yugoslavia.

·        Greece. On the contrary, Greece, having fought fiercely on the side of the Allies, had both the moral standing and the geopolitical weight to raise formally an issue after WWII as to the name of Yugoslavia's southern federal region. Still, Greece opted for colluding with Tito on that matter due to strategic considerations: During the Greek Civil War (1944-1949), what was of critical military importanceand consequently a matter of diplomatic focusfor the anti-communist regime of Greece, was to exert diplomatic pressure on Tito to close the Yugoslav-Greek border to the leftist Greek rebel forces. Thereafter, at a geostrategic level of Cold-War discipline, Greece (a member of NATO) did not raise any considerable issue against non-allied Yugoslavia, because the latter was perceived by NATO as a buffer state against Soviet expansionism. Moreover, throughout the Cold War, national reasons induced Greece to collude with Yugoslavia as to the name of the latter's southern region, at least to the degree that such name aimed to counterbalance Bulgarian irredentism, which had been traditionally considered by the Greek Armed Forces a prime issue of national security. Metaphorically, from a Greek perspective, the name issue of the «...Republic of Macedonia»was kind of an expediently useful genie that was kept by Tito safely inside the bottle (the Yugoslav federation).

In such context, the idea of putting the genie («...Republic of Macedonia») inside a similar (although quite smaller) bottle, that would be effected by a constitutional restructuring of fYROMinto a federal republicwith 3-4 autonomous regions, one of which to be named «...Republic of Macedonia»reappeared to the fore in 2010s. To some extent, that rather anachronistic idea calls virtually for a return to status quo ante (1946-1991), whereby the name «...Republic of Macedonia» was attributed to an autonomous federal region rather than an independent state.

In any case, the historical fact is that the people in that region (fYROM) had been self-identifying themselves for long, for almost half a century, as citizens of the «People's Republic of Macedonia» (1946-1963) and thereafter of the «Socialist Republic of Macedonia» (1963-1991). In sum, they had been doing so, as citizens of a federal entity of Yugoslavia, for almost half a century legally (according to international law) and indisputably (due to collusion of both Bulgaria and Greece with Tito's constitutional provisions on the issue), while Greece has been sleeping on the issue: Due to Cold-War discipline but also to strategic perceptions of the Greek political establishment as to assumedly Bulgarist irredentismi.e. obsessive perceptions(4)counter to the fact that Tito, not the Bulgars, was the juggler of (Macedonist) irredentism in the Cold War—the Greeks failed to realize that the Bulgars were their natural allies as to the Macedonian issue: It was the linguistic heritage of Bulgaria and the Macedonian legacy of Greece that Tito was hijacking back then as building blocks of Yugoslavia's Macedonist irredentist policies. So the Greeks kept sleeping.


(3)     Kofos, Evangelos, 1964. Nationalism and Communism in Macedonia (Institute of Balkan Studies: Thessaloniki, Greece), ch. II.

(4)     Greek perceptions as to (assumed) Bulgarist irredentism during the Cold War, paralyzed not merely the foreign policy of Greece as to Tito's (real) Macedonist irredentism throughought that period (1946-1991), but also the defense policy of Greece during the (real) Greek-Turkish War on Cyprus in 1974: The Greeks did not dare to escalate their military response to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (July 20, 1974), because they had been overwhelmed then by what they perceived as (assumedly) imminent or highly probable invasion of Greek Macedonia by communist Bulgaria at the time. It could be argued reasonably, though, that those anti-Bulgarian Greek perceptions were rather obsessive at the time, because they were barely substantiated by (real) evidence during the Cold War and ever since. 


"Encompass worlds but do not try to encompass me..."

Walt Whitmann

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