Daily Archives: 14 December 2009

Bulgarian Macedo-Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Terrorism

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 247-252:

Once an autonomous Bulgarian state emerged in 1878, Macedonia became a battle-ground for insurgent bands. Secret guerrilla units, supported from Sofia, were formed by intellectuals aiming to restore the greater Bulgaria of the San Stefano Treaty. Kidnapping rich foreigners now provided a way of bringing much-needed cash into revolutionary coffers while simultaneously shining the unwelcome spotlight of international attention on the deficiencies of Ottoman administration.

In 1901 the new political brigandage made international headlines in the so-called Miss Stone affair when a redoubtable American missionary was kidnapped in a narrow valley north of Salonica. Ellen Stone was, in fact, the first American victim of twentieth-century terrorism. Her kidnappers had spoken Turkish when seizing her in order to throw the weight of suspicion on the Ottoman authorities, and to encourage Western opinion to believe that the latter could no longer guarantee law and order in their European provinces. But the ring-leader was a young Bulgarian-Macedonian activist, Yane Sandanski, and his profile in no way fitted that of the typical brigand of yesteryear: literate, a socialist, and a schoolteacher, he was a leading figure in an underground political grouping called the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization. Violence was no longer merely a means to a livelihood; in the hands of activists, it was becoming an instrument of nationalist politics in what the world came to know as the Macedonian Question.

IN SALONICA A SMALL NUMBER of Bulgarians broke away from the Greek community and joined the Exarchate in 1871; by 1912 they numbered about six thousand. They were stonemasons, traders, shopkeepers and teachers—practical men drawn from the Macedonian hills—with no one of any great wealth to lead them and little influence in municipal affairs. They were supported, however, by the Russian consul, and once a Bulgarian state was founded, by its representatives as well. They were greatly heartened by the remarkable outcome of the 1876 uprising against Ottoman rule, and encouraged further by the territorial provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano which would—had it been allowed to stand—have handed over most of Salonica’s hinterland to Bulgaria. Schooling was one of their priorities, and in 1880 they founded a gymnasium—many of whose pupils soon found their way into the ranks of new pro-Slav political movements.

To be “Bulgarian” initially meant to support the Exarchate: it was a linguistic-religious rather than a national category. But after the creation of an autonomous Bulgarian principality in 1878, irredentist politicians in its capital, Sofia, started demanding autonomy for “the Macedonians” as well. Meanwhile, in Salonica itself, a militant new organization was incubating: in November 1893 the “Bulgarian Macedo-Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Committee” was founded by a group of men reared on the ideas of Russian anarchism, and proclaimed open to any who wished to fight for liberation from the Turks and autonomy for Macedonia. Sofia-based activists regarded it with suspicion and did not trust its commitment to Bulgarian interests. Eventually the committee dropped any reference to Bulgaria from its name, and it became known simply as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) with the slogan “Macedonia for the Macedonians.”

Most of IMRO’s youthful members were not much bothered about the old disputes over dead sacred languages. What was the difference between the Greek of the liturgy and Old Church Slavonic? After all, hardly anyone understood either of them. Between these youthful secularists—whose motto was “Neither God nor Master”—and the devout supporters of the Bulgarian Exarchate a gulf emerged. Even within its own ranks, IMRO was deeply factionalized…. It might be going too far to say that IMRO was a more coherent and efficient force in the minds of its enemies than it was in reality but it certainly made little impact on the Ottoman state.

Politically IMRO was no more successful. Autonomy for Macedonia—which was the name Balkan Christians (and Europe) gave to the Ottoman vilayets of Salonica, Monastir and Uskub (Skopje)—was the goal: a “Bulgarian” governor would rule the province from Salonica, all officials would be “Bulgarian” Slavs, and Bulgarian would be an official language on an equal footing with Turkish. But faced with such a prospect, Greeks lent the support of their intelligence networks to the Ottoman authorities, and in Salonica itself Greek agents in the Hamidian police helped track IMRO sympathizers. Even more important an obstacle was the opposition of the Great Powers. Russia was now focused on central and east Asia—the conflict with Japan was only a few years away—and Britain and Austria saw the Balkans as one area where they could all work in harmony to support the status quo. They pushed—as Great Powers often will—for incremental reform rather than revolutionary change, and merely urged the Porte to take steps to improve the administration of the province.

Frustrated with the impasse which faced them, and believing that targeting the symbols of European capitalism might force the Powers to intervene, some young anarchists in Salonica took matters into their own hands, and decided to blow up the Ottoman Bank, in the European quarter. Under the influence of their beloved Russians, they called themselves the “Troublemakers,” and later adopted the term “the Boatmen”—by which they identified themselves with those “who abandon the daily routine and the limits of legal order and sail towards freedom and the wild seas beyond them.”…

The two surviving members of the plot, Shatev and Bogdanov, returned to Macedonia in the amnesty of 1908: Bogdanov died a few years later, but Pavel Shatev lived until 1952, becoming a lawyer in interwar Bulgaria and then minister of justice in the postwar Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

IMRO sputtered on, although the bombers had dealt a near-fatal blow to the organization in the city. The better-known Ilinden uprising which took place on St. Elias’s Day a few months later was the IMRO leadership’s own anxious attempt to arouse a peasant revolt against Turkish rule. But its chief consequence was that several thousand more Christian peasants were killed by Ottoman troops in reprisal. The only success IMRO could claim after this series of bloody failures was a further diplomatic intervention by the Great Powers—their last significant involvement in the tangled Macedonia question before the Balkan Wars. The Ottoman authorities were forced to swallow the appointment of European officials to supervise the policing of the province. Among the younger army officers stationed there, resentment and a sense of humiliation led to the first stirrings of conspiracy against the Porte. On the other hand, Macedonia remained part of the empire and Hilmi Pasha continued as inspector-general. The one conclusion to be drawn from the rise and fall of IMRO was that ending Ottoman power in Europe would not come that way: the use of terrorism to embroil and involve the Great Powers was futile when the Powers upheld the status quo.

There is nothing new under the sun! This will have to be the last of my many excerpts from this fascinating book. I have too much else to do over the coming weeks (and months).

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