Macedonia and Bulgaria in World War II by Marshall Lee Miller

Modern historyMacedonia and Bulgaria in World War II by Marshall Lee Miller

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Today we dedicate ourselves, once again, to the Second World War and the occupation of Macedonia by Bulgaria, which at that time were allies of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

The modern Bulgarian historiography interprets this period of World War II as “the liberation of Macedonia and the Macedonian-Bulgarians”, but we read statements in the work “Bulgaria during the second World War” by Marshall Lee Miller that contradict this absurd interpretation.

But not only the Bulgarian propaganda is invalidated in his work, also Greek standpoints with regard to Aegean Macedonia (or South Macedonia nowadays). It also shows that Tito had huge concerns about Macedonia.

The following conclusions can be drawn as key points from his work:

  • The Bulgarian occupier was afraid of the Macedonian autonomists.
  • Fascist Bulgaria had to spread propaganda in Macedonia in order to Bulgarize the Macedonians.
  • The Bulgarian occupier used education as propaganda interfaces, the displacement of the Macedonian language by the Bulgarian led to the Macedonians becoming defiant.
  • The leader of the communist partisans Tito was also afraid of the Macedonian autonomists.
  • Due to the displacement and execution of the population during the Second World War, Aegean Macedonia (the part of Macedonia in what is now northern Greece) became predominantly Greek. (One should not forget that after Greece was occupied by the Germans, Greece was led by a Greek puppet government that cooperated with the Germans!)
  • In 1940 the British Vice Consul in Skopje reported that the majority of Macedonians were in favor of autonomy rather than union with Bulgaria.

We now take a look into Lee Miller’s work. Here are some excerpts of “Bulgaria during the second World War”:

Page 51:

The coup was acclaimed throughout Yugoslavia by crowds of demonstrators who displayed Allied flags and chanted anti-Nazi slogans. [38] Although General Simovich refrained from renouncing the Tripartite Pact, Hitler was enraged by the coup and decided “to destroy Yugoslavia militarily and as a national unit.” [39] The Macedonian question, Hitler told von Ribbentrop, could now be settled in Bulgaria’s favor.

Note: The coup relates to the coup in Yugoslavia. The then King Paul of Yugoslavia entered into an alliance with Hitler. On the night of March 26-27, 1941, a group of Serb officers staged a British-backed coup against Crown Prince Paul.

Page 53/54:

Although Bulgaria had refused to participate in the campaign, Yugoslavia claimed that Bulgarian troops were fighting alongside the Germans and asked Turkey to fulfill its obligations under the Balkan Entente. Numan Menemenchoglu, the General Secretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, replied that his government had been assured that Bulgarian troops were not participating in the German operation but promised to take action if the situation changed. [11] Despite the fact that Bulgaria was not participating militarily in the campaign against Yugoslavia, it did encourage the pro-Bulgarian Macedonians to undermine the vanishing authority of the Yugoslav government. A committee had formed in Skopje espousing the union of Macedonia with Bulgaria, and the Tsar decided on April 11 to send Danial Krapchev, the editor of the influential pro-government newspaper Zora, to meet with the committee to coordinate propaganda for Macedonia. At the same time, he sent Professor Yaranov to German-occupied Salonika on a similar mission. [12] What the Bulgarian leaders apparently feared most were the autonomist tendencies among some of the Macedonian groups; therefore they made every effort to encourage those favoring union with Bulgaria. [13]

Some important differences between Macedonia and the rest of Bulgaria nevertheless remained. Macedonia was an ethnic patchwork, with many inhabitants who did not regard themselves as Bulgarians; as a result, the occupiers made energetic efforts to “Bulgarize” them, either by propaganda or—especially in Aegean Macedonia, where the population was overwhelmingly Greek—by expulsions and executions. In addition, the boundaries of the “new lands” were not permanently fixed; as the Germans reduced their own forces in the Balkans, the Bulgarian occupation zone expanded on several occasions—and Bulgaria expected that Germany would formally recognize the annexations at the end of the war. The occupation of Macedonia also touched off a bitter internecine conflict between Bulgarian and Yugoslav Communists over control of the Macedonian Party, and this conflict had considerable postwar significance.

Note: The “predominantly Greek population” in Aegean Macedonia during the Second World War only came about after 1923 with the population exchange. From then on, Greeks from Anatolia were settled in South Macedonia.

Page 124/125:

Even if the officials had been better, the conditions they encountered would have severely tested their endurance. A leading opposition member of the Narodno Subranie, Petko Stainov, complained in June 1942, “What outlook and spirit do you expect from officials who for five months have eaten only bread and beans?” [7] The occupation troops had adequate food, sent from Bulgaria proper, but they acted just as harshly and arrogantly toward the local population as did the officials. Instead of acting as “liberators,” the troops behaved as conquerors. This was remedied somewhat after higher authorities became aware of the problem, but the bitter impression remained. The army that had been greeted with such enthusiasm became an object of disgust. [8th]

Those Macedonians who had expected cultural and linguistic autonomy were especially disappointed. The authorities rejected all claims to Macedonian cultural uniqueness and “treated the natives as somewhat backward Bulgarians.” [9] Heavy emphasis was placed on education as a means of Bulgarization. (Prime Minister Filov was also minister of education.) Delegates to a teachers ’conference in Skopje were told that their highest duty was the“ preservation of the territorial unity and independence of the Bulgarian state. ” [10] The new curriculum in the Macedonian schools strongly emphasized Bulgarian topics and discouraged the use of the Macedonian language, which the Bulgarian authorities regarded, rightly or wrongly, as only a dialect of Bulgarian. A typical weekly schedule included seven hours of Bulgarian, three hours of Bulgarian history, and one hour of Bulgarian church history. This compared with only three hours for mathematics, three for a modern language, and one hour for Russian (which was available only in grades five and six). [11]

The Bulgarians, to their credit, did enact a series of laws providing for tax relief and economic assistance in the new territories, including Southern Dobruja. They also established 800 new schools in Macedonia and presented Skopje with a library, a museum, a national theater, and, in December 1943, a university named after the recently deceased Tsar Boris. [12] Many Macedonians, however, regarded these endowments as further evidence of Bulgarization. The use of the Bulgarian language in schools aroused increasing opposition and became a rallying point for dissident Macedonians irritated by other aspects of the occupation. In 1943 and 1944, the opposition reached such a level that in many areas attendance was maintained only by coercion, and some schools were unable to operate at all. [13]

Page 125:

Bulgarization was not limited to secular institutions. On May 3, 1941, the Bulgarian Holy Synod assumed control over the Orthodox churches in occupied Yugoslavia and Greece. Four new eparchies were established, and several new bishops and metropolitans were designated. [14] Under government direction, the Synod brought in priests from Bulgaria proper, ordered services conducted in Bulgarian rather than Macedonian, and appointed a church commission to remove all vestiges of non-Bulgarian culture. [15] On June 10, 1942, the Narodno Subranie imposed Bulgarian citizenship on all persons of “Bulgarian” descent living in Vardar and Aegean Macedonia. All others still residing in these areas on April 1,1943, would become citizens unless they declared themselves otherwise, in which case they would be required to leave the country. Those who made this choice would have to leave penniless because the Bulgarians froze all bank accounts in Macedonia. On the other hand, those accepting Bulgarian citizenship were promised exemption from all taxes and levies. [16]

Page 130:

Hitler raised the problem at a meeting with Tsar Boris in August 1943, urging the Bulgarians to occupy northeast Serbia and an additional section of Greek Macedonia. The Tsar agreed in principle but postponed a decision pending “consultations,” during which he vacillated between territorial avarice and the fear of further involvement in partisan-infested areas to which Bulgaria had little valid claim. His death left to his successors the task of expanding the Bulgarian occupation zone in Serbia. [38]

[The net result of the Bulgarian occupation of both Macedonian areas was misery and bitterness. In Vardar Macedonia, these feelings were caused by the emphasis on giving Macedonian Slavs a sense of Bulgarian identity, even if unwanted. In Aegean Macedonia, it was the policy of extermination and expulsion that only increased the hatred Greeks felt toward Bulgarians. And the Greeks blamed the Germans for inflicting the Bulgarians on them. [39]

Page 132/133:

Until late 1942 the partisan movement in Macedonia had few successes, although the continued sabotage acts in German-occupied Serbia were a frequent topic of conversation in Sofia. The Bulgarians feared that unless this unrest was put down swiftly, it could spread to their occupation zone in Macedonia. Partisan activity was therefore discouraged by the tactics of the Bulgarian Fifth Army, which took vigorous action against the partisan units by acting “without mercy, not respecting military law.” [49] Armed resistance, as well as popular passive opposition, increased during 1943, but less so in Macedonia than in adjacent regions. By January or February 1943, partisan units had grown strong enough to attack in company strength. On September 20, 1943, a serious revolt broke out in Lerinsko and Kichevo, near the Albanian border; a soviet republic was proclaimed and the red flag raised throughout this area before the revolt was crushed by Bulgarian troops. [50] This was one of the first partisan incidents in Macedonia serious enough to merit the attention of the government in Sofia. [51]

The year 1943 also marked the reemergence of Tito in the Macedonian Communist debate. On January 16 he sent, a note to the Macedonian Communist Party in which he condemned autonomist tendencies and declared that the Macedonian Communist Party could attain success only in association with the Yugoslav Party. At the end of February 1943, he sent Svetozar Vukmanovich (“Tempo”), a Montenegrin well acquainted with Macedonia, to assume control of the Party organization. Tempo immediately made a number of changes that improved the partisan situation: he transferred the center of operations from the strongly occupied eastern portion of Macedonia to the western area near the Albanian border, established a working relationship with the Albanian and Greek Communist partisans, and reorganized the partisan units to take full advantage of the growing popular discontent. [52] From then on, the Bulgarian Communists had little or no influence on Macedonia. Boyan Bulgaranov, the chief BKP representative in Macedonia, returned to Bulgaria in early 1944 to command the First (Sofia) Resistance Zone. The meeting of the Yugoslav Communist Party at Jajce in November 1943 recognized Macedonia as one of the six Yugoslav republics—an arrangement the Bulgarians did not like but were powerless to change.

Page 243:

4. Interview, Macedonia; the British vice-consul in Skopje, however, had reported in 1940 that the majority of Macedonians were for autonomy rather than for union with Bulgaria. British Foreign Office Research Department, “Macedonia”, RR IX.40.i, 8.i.44

Source: “Bulgaria during the second World War” by Marshall Lee Miller

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