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International Public and the Ilinden Uprising in Macedonia


In 1903, the Macedonian issue attracted the attention of diplomats and international public opinion. The event that contributed to the affirmation of the Macedonian cause was the Ilinden Uprising, the Macedonian revolution from August 2, 1903.

The Ilinden Uprising from 1903 represented the surfacing of the century-long strive of the Macedonian people, suffering under the five century long rule of the Ottoman Empire, to reach the pedestal of freedom.

In the course of the 18th century, important changes occurred in Macedonia: the Ottoman feudal system started to fall apart, transition from a barter economy to a monetary economy, growth of large Macedonian cities, creation of a middle class and beginnings of a cultural and national awakening, expansion of an education network, creation of a contemporary literature and publication of numerous books in Macedonian. This brought about a period of enlightenment and awakening of the Macedonian nation.

In the last decade of the 19th century, conditions were finally ripe for the creation of an organization that would channel the aspirations of the Macedonian people for freedom. In 1983, Macedonian revolutionaries met in Aegian Macedonia, in the city of Thessalonica (current day Greece) and created the organization named “Secret Macedonian-Odrin Revolutionary Organization” (TMRO). The organization would play a crucial role in uniting the people of Macedonia in their strive towards freedom and an independent Macedonian state.

In only one decade, this organization managed to unite all Macedonian forces, spread the network of the organization on the entire territory of ethnic Macedonia and channel the liberation movement in the right direction.

At the beginning of January 1903, the Central Committee of the Organization, in spite of the unfavorable domestic and international situation and against the better judgement of some prominent revolutionaries, decided to start an uprising that summer. That decision marked the beginning of a new phase in the development of the Macedonian national liberation movement, and represented a turning point in its history.

Once the decision to start an uprising was passed, serious preparations were undertaken to carry out the uprising within Macedonia’s historic and geographic borders. The uprising started on August 2, 1903, on St. Elia’s day, and it was therefore called “Ilinden Uprising”. The uprising encompassed all parts of Macedonia, but it was the best organized in the western parts, in the Bitola vilayet (province). The revolutionary forces there, numerous and well organized, showed most enthusiasm in protecting the Macedonian uprising. As a result in the liberated Macedonian mountain town of Krushevo, not far from the railroad Skopje-Prilep-Bitola, the leaders of the uprising established a free Macedonian Republic, the Krushevo Republic. It existed for ten days. There were similar actions for creating free territories in Ohrid, Kostur, Lerin and other regions in ethnic Macedonia. For three months, Macedonia was in a revolutionary wave of resistance and fight for freedom.

The Ottoman Empire mobilized large military forces and sent huge expeditions to the bastions of the uprising. As a result, the Macedonian Ilinden uprising was crushed in a wave of blood and destruction.

The struggle of the Macedonians in the Ilinden Uprising to attain their freedom, the unrivaled heroism and the indescribable massacres of unprotected civilians by the Sultan’s armies resulted in a wave of sympathy and solidarity among the international public. The epic fight of the Macedonians received wide publicity in the press, which increased the interest of the international public for the Macedonian uprising. A worldwide movement called “pro-Macedonian” or “phil-Macedonian movement” supporting the Macedonian cause sprung up, organizing all kinds of pro-Macedonian events in a number of countries in Europe and America.

The press played a large role in spreading the truth about Macedonia. Almost the entire world press commented the event to some extent. The larger newspapers and agencies sent special correspondents and reporters to Macedonia to report on the real situation in Macedonia. Most of the reports were supportive of the Macedonians, full of sympathy and solidarity for the Macedonian uprising, whereas most of the newspapers described the Ilinden Uprising as an all out uprising and an event of extreme significance for Macedonian liberation. Thus the world press became regulator and contributed to expanding the interest for the Ilinden Uprising.

The world public got acquainted with the battle of the Macedonians and within its abilities, started an action for indirect engagement in the Macedonian issue. In order to better organize this pro-Macedonian movement, special “Macedonian committees” started to appear aiming to promote the Macedonian struggle for freedom and to collect aid for the Macedonian population.

On the American continent, in the United States of America, Macedonian committees were formed in New York, Boston and Philadelphia between September and November 1903. Members of these committees were eminent individuals from American society and culture who sent an appeal to the American people, in which they described the struggle of the Macedonians for freedom and their sufferings after the uprising. The activities of these committees contributed to an increase of American sympathy for the Macedonian struggle for freedom, as well as an increase of American aid for the Macedonian people.

Significant pro-Macedonian activities also took place in Great Britain. The general public there was upset by the events in Macedonia and called for the organizing of pro-Macedonian events for helping the Macedonians. The British Parliament also showed interest in what was happening in Macedonia, dedicating several sessions of the Upper and Lower House of Parliament to Macedonia and the Macedonian uprising.

The “Balkan Committee”, formed in 1903 in London, coordinated activities to aid Macedonia. Its members were eminent members of British society and culture who worked on raising the interest of the people of Great Britain in the Macedonian issue. In 1903, 1904 and 1905, over 200 rallies were held in Great Britain in support of the Macedonian people and their struggle for freedom. On all those gatherings, the participants passed resolutions expressing their sympathy and solidarity with the fight of the Macedonians, and demanded the resolving of the Macedonian crisis with an intervention by the world powers and introduction of reforms that will result in a solution to the Macedonian issue. The resolutions demanded autonomy for Macedonia and appointing of a European governor under protection of the world powers.

Pro-Macedonian activities were also organized in France. The French public was very vividly interested in the events in Macedonia during the Ilinden Uprising, as was the French Parliament, which asked the Government to take a tougher stance on solving the Macedonian issue. The eminent tribune Jean Jauresse was particularly fiery in his defense of the Macedonian and Armenian cause.

The Macedonian committee, formed in Paris even before the Ilinden Uprising, carried out pro-Macedonian activities. This committee developed a campaign for promotion of Macedonia and a campaign to collect humanitarian aid for Macedonia. The committee also organized rallies for Macedonia in Paris and the French provinces. The Macedonian international meeting, held in the Paris Theater “Sara Bernhard” on October 25, 1903, attracted especially large attention. Eminent persons from a number of European and American countries took part in the meeting. During the meeting, in the name of “world conscience” a resolution was unanimously passed asking the world powers to put an end to the slaughter in Macedonia and to establish real control over the events in Macedonia.

The pro-Macedonian movement spread to Italy as well, where the committees for Macedonia and Armenia started activities even before the Ilinden Uprising. These committees organized a number of rallies and collected humanitarian aid for Macedonia throughout the country.

Russia expressed its sympathy for Macedonia through pro- Macedonian events organized by the “Slav Humanitarian Society”. The Great Russian authors Lav Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky took an active part in the cause, by starting an initiative for publishing an anthology on Macedonia.

Pro-Macedonian activities also took place in other European countries such as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Yugoslavia and other countries. Pro-Macedonian events were always followed by activities to collect aid for the people in Macedonia who suffered greatly in the uprising. Great Britain organized a special “Macedonian committee” which established a mission in Macedonia, which delivered aid to the people. This mission is remembered as playing an important role in improving the situation after the uprising.

The International Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations also participated in aid activities. The pro-Macedonian activities of the international public during and after the Ilinden Uprising in 1903 played an important role in raising awareness of Macedonia and the Macedonian struggle for freedom.

Source: Selected works, volume V, Hristo Andonov – Poljanski

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