The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Dejan Azeski is Macedonian historian, journalist and publicist, member of the IFIMES International Institute. In his article entitled “Why we are only Macedonians and nothing else?” he is analyzing the problems with history that North Macedonia and Bulgaria are currently facing. The article is published here in its full version.
Member of the IFIMES International Institute
Bulgarian historiography is decisive that before 1944 there was no Macedonian national feeling and that 99% of the Orthodox population on the territory of geographical Macedonia felt like Bulgarian. Given that Bulgaria has much more state experience than Macedonia and given that I highly value their science, I would like to believe in this. But every time I follow this logic, I come across the fact that my great-grandmother was called Makedonka or Donka, and she was born and baptized around 1910. So, the question arises: if there were no Macedonians and a sense of belonging, why would some of my great-grandparents baptize their daughter- Makedonka in the period of Turkish slavery?
To this, my Bulgarian colleagues would probably answer me that the term Macedonia and the term Macedonians has always had only a geographical meaning, and not a national one. And that may be true to some extent. But that's only true to some extent because geographical affiliation has often been crucial to awakening national feeling in almost all nations.
To explain this to you, I will have to take you back to the Middle Ages. A period when the map of Europe was the most fragmented. At that time, literally every village had its own feudal lord who behaved like a king on that mini-territory. He also had his own castle, his own army, and he divided the land for processing according to his wishes and free conviction. But all those feudal lords (and their subjects) on the territory of geographical France, and later Italy and finally Germany, were aware that they belonged to the same language group and that they were united by some common interest.
And so, on the basis of a similar language and on the basis of the geographical affiliation of a certain territory, they were formed as a nation at a certain point in their history. So, they separated from the Anglo-Saxon or Latin group of nations and formed nation-states. So, what is different with the Macedonian people and the Macedonian nation? Why can Bulgaria claim that the Shops of the Northwest, the Thracians of the South and the Dobrudjans of the North-East are completely identical Bulgarians, and we cannot claim that the population of Ohrid and Stip belongs to one nation because it has a national feeling.
It is true that our national unification took place a hundred years after the Italian one. But the Bulgarian nation-state is certainly several centuries younger than the French or Russian. It is simply not our fault that the conditions for the formation of a modern state were created only in 1944. After all, there are several thousand nations in the world, and only a few hundred states. And there are those like the Kurds, who are more than 30 million people and are not yet able to form their own state. So, absolutely, the Macedonians should not have any complex that they formed a state late and that it puts them in a subordinate status to one of the neighbors.
According to the official data of the last Macedonian census from 2002, in addition to the national declaration as Albanians, Turks, Roma, Bosniaks, you can also find people who declare themselves as Yugoslavs, Brazilians and even Martians. All of them are placed under the paragraph: the rest - which consists of a total of 20,000 inhabitants. The point of this is that each of us has a legitimate democratic right to feel the way we want to.
In fact, it is the basis of the American political nation or the Australian one. There, everyone has the right to feel like an American or an Australian on the first day they settle on their territory. This begs the question, if someone wants to declare himself a Macedonian who speaks Macedonian, where does the right of someone in Sofia or Plovdiv to challenge it? Under international law, no one can forbid even those Bulgarian citizens in the region of Pirin Macedonia (which territorially belongs to the Bulgarian state) to feel and declare themselves as Macedonians, normally if they do so of their own free will and good intentions.
Indeed, at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, it seems illusory to discuss such issues, which by any democratic logic should be understood from the very beginning.
In the last 20 years, due to a series of circumstances generally related to world geopolitics, the Bulgarian passport has been more valuated than the Macedonian one. Thus, official Sofia tacitly began to abuse it by dividing Bulgarian citizenships and passports of Macedonians who would be able to prove that their ancestors declared themselves Bulgarians or served in the Bulgarian army. Although there are no official statistics, it is probably a number of tens of thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands of citizens of Macedonia who took a Bulgarian passport.
Now these people, who in most cases have taken Bulgarian citizenship for economic reasons (to be able work in Western Europe), the Bulgarian state represents them as Bulgarians on the territory of Macedonia. But the reality is not like that. The 2002 census showed that very few Macedonians feel like Bulgaria (less than 1%), and the unfinished 2012 census also unofficially confirmed this situation. So, one thing is for me who is currently living in Italy to acquire Italian citizenship tomorrow, and another thing is to really feel like an Italian and raise my children tomorrow to be Italian.
Secondly, in the last few years, several parties, movements and associations have appeared on the Macedonian political scene that openly advocate more active cooperation with Bulgaria, and can even declare themselves as pro-Bulgarian. It is their legitimate right and I support them in some way, as long as they express their views in a democratic way / But the fact is that none of those parties, organizations, or associations have any greater political weight and popularity among the citizens. If these organizations are representing the authority that Bulgaria enjoys among Macedonians, it is almost non-existent.
And at the end of this part we should honestly say that the wrong policy that Bulgaria is pursuing towards the Macedonians results in that - from 1912 until today, the perception of the Macedonians towards this country to completely changed. If only a century ago, many of our ancestors in Sofia saw one and only ally, brotherhood and salvation - now it is almost impossible to find a larger group of Macedonians who elicit such illusions.
That is why such a policy from Sofia must stop, otherwise the gap between the two fraternal nations will reach a point from which there is no going back.
With Macedonia's entry into NATO, for the first time since 1948, Macedonia and Bulgaria are in the same military alliance. This fact does not seem to be noticed by any of our intellectuals and the broad masses, who are currently engaged in constant quarrels with Bulgaria. In addition, we hope that soon for the first time since 1944 (but this time on an equal footing) we will be able to visit Bulgaria without a passport and ID card and get there quickly and efficiently on a new road or high-speed railway.
This is how I personally see the future of the Bulgarian-Macedonian brotherhood, and not in the historical commissions and the endless negotiations that will not bring anything good to anyone. There is a saying in the bureaucracy, if you want something not to be done then form a commission that will work on that issue. So we should not have high expectations of what our and Bulgarian fellow scientists will agree on. Last but not least, we need to let scientists deal with science, and not mixed that whit day-to-day politics. More precisely, to abuse it from the daily politics as it is currently being done.
Otherwise, on the territory of today's Bulgaria live at least a few hundred thousand people who feel like Bulgarians but who come from the territory of Macedonia. In the future, they and their descendants should be used as the best possible basis for improving Macedonian-Bulgarian relations, not for deterioration. Because two peoples who speak a very similar language without cases, who for the most part share the same religion and who are very similar in mentality, food, and culture, must not have so little contact and know so little about each other.
Ljubljana/Trieste 16 May 2020
 IFIMES - The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018.