On April 20, 1995, when President of Bulgaria was Zhelyu Zhelev, I was allowed by the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the first ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia in Bulgaria to lay a wreath at the tomb of Jane Sandanski at the Rozhen Monastery on the Pirin Mountains. The delegation, which included the then-correspondent of “Nova Makedonija” from Sofia, Branko Trichkovski, and a group of journalists from Macedonia, who arrived only to mark this historic event, I laid a wreath made of flowers in the colors of the Macedonian flag, without being disabled by the small group of activists of the VMRO-SMD, who only disturbed the event from a distance and called out “srpsko chenge”.
After the laying of the wreath, which read “To Jane from the Macedonian people”, accompanied by the local priest, we also visited the Rozhen Monastery in which we lit candles for Jane Sandanski’s soul, and I also held a brief press conference for the Bulgarian journalists who arrived .in the meantime. One of the Bulgarian journalists asked me: “Why are you laying a wreath at the grave of the Bulgarian revolutionary Jane Sandanski?” My answer was: “I lay a wreath because I consider that Jane Sandanski has great merits for the creation of the independent Macedonian state and the awakening of the Macedonian national consciousness. The Macedonian people are grateful for this and we acknowledge it by laying a wreath on his grave. All who respect him for their own reasons should have the opportunity to lay wreaths on his grave.”
I said that everyone who has their own reason to respect Jane Sandanski should have the opportunity to lay wreaths and to light a candle on his grave, because even then, when a different understanding of the relations between the two countries and nations has begun, the activists from the Macedonian organization OMO “Ilinden” were not allowed that day to organize a visit to Jane Sandanski’s grave and lay flowers. A group of their activists were stopped by the police several kilometers before arriving to the Rozhen Monastery, and they were waiting to meet with me in front of a village restaurant on the way back.
As I arrived with the diplomatic vehicle in front of them on which the Macedonian flag was waving, a beautiful “chalgija” appeared which played and sang the beautiful song “When Jane fell on the Pirin”. I went out with the delegation, started dancing the traditional oro with the activists from OMO “Ilinden” and in a loud voice, under the watchful eye of the police, we sang and danced to the song in which Jane says: “You three falcons / I am wounded in my chest / Leave me here to die / I cannot be cured / Mother Macedonia will give birth to others to liberate her”.
In the short speech that I gave later, I said “Today I laid a wreath on Jane Sandanski’s grave on behalf of the Macedonian people. It would have been nice if you could have attended that event. But let’s hope that this is also a progress in improving the relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria, and that soon the day will come when no one will forbid laying flowers and lighting candles on the graves of those we consider deserving of the creation of the independent Macedonian state and nation”.
Nowhere did I mention to whom Jane belonged and what was his nationality. I said that his revolutionary work respects the Macedonian people and the Macedonian state celebrates them for its own reasons, and if any other has their own reasons to celebrate and respect him, then it should not be forbidden.
After Kiro Gligorov’s visit to Bulgaria, during which no deal was reached on signing the agreements between the two countries, I was called to hold a press conference at the Sofia Journalists’ Club. I went without an interpreter from Macedonian to Bulgarian and answered all questions in Macedonian. One of the questions was: “How come you, Mr. Ambassador, do not need an interpreter, and your President Kiro Gligorov recently came with an interpreter?” I answered that in countries with which we have related languages, such as Serbia and Bulgaria, I speak the language of mutual understanding. I understand your questions, but if one of you does not understand my answers, I am ready to translate it to Bulgarian. And there were no more questions.
Very soon after that, the Bulgarian Academy published a paper that first mentioned that the Macedonian nation was formed as a result of the fact that the Bulgarian literary norm in the 19th century was created using eastern speeches in Bulgaria, and Vuk Karadzic for the literary norm of Serbian language chose speeches from northwestern Serbia. In the vacuum created between these two literary norms in the Balkans, the literary norm of the Macedonian language was created around which the Macedonian nation was formed. An increasing number of historians in Bulgaria began to talk about history not as dogma and as a “once-and-for-all established truth”, but about history as a process of constant reassessment and the need for tolerance of different views. During the presidency of then-President Zhelyu Zhelev, there was a liberalization of the Bulgarian society in which there was a process of liberation from dogmas, and different interpretations of history, nations and events could be heard without any problems.
During that time I got Atanas P. Stoev;s book “Javorov Vojvodata (Yavorov the Duke)”, with a letter asking me to fulfill the last wish of the Duke. In his farewell letter to Todor Aleksandov, Yavorov, who was part of the Goce Delchev’s company, published a biography of Goce Delchev and dedicated his entire life to the fight for liberation of Macedonia in which he believed that a Bulgarian population lived, he wrote: “Tell Macedonia, when you go there, that her son (I think of myself as hers) died in a free Bulgaria, crowned with one of the worst slander. When she (Macedonia) is also free, send a comrade to my grave to tell me: greetings from my mother martyr – she is happy now.”
One day, without anyone knowing, I went to Yavorov’s grave in the city of Chipran and laid a bouquet of flowers that read: “Macedonia is happy now”. I did not want the journalists to make a story out of it. But I felt the need, without anyone knowing, to do it. I wanted to understand why so many Bulgarians consider the fights for free Macedonia as the most romantic period in the history of Bulgaria.
It was not easy then to explain why we think we are a separate nation and why our language, which in Bulgarian nationalist circles is considered only a dialect of the Bulgarian language, that is, “Bulgarian language typed on a Serbian typewriter”. But I had to explain it in a Darik Radio broadcast, in which listeners asked direct questions. A woman from Blagoevgrad asked me: “How can I explain the fact that she and her mother from Macedonia understood each other so well, but with her current sister-in-law from Skopje does not understand her, because her daughter-in-law allegedly used a lot of Serbian words?” I answered that in our country Macedonia mothers with daughters understood each other very well, but there was a problem of communication when it came to daughters-in-law. And it had nothing to do with language.
Bulgarian historians at that time were encouraged to talk about the Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia during World War II and quoted Bogdan Filov, who wrote in his memoirs that Hitler allowed Bulgaria to occupy Macedonia. The bravest of them even got to the point where they said that not recognizing the occupation of Macedonia in World War II is the same as relativizing the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria, and in the name of “good neighborly relations with Turkey, start calling it a period of Turkish presence in Bulgaria as if they were tourists”.
Many of Paisius of Hilendar’s texts began to be published and republished, in which he reprimanded the Bulgarians for slow forming of their national consciousness and the need for their national awareness that they were neither Russian nor Tatars. They also started republishing the beautiful texts of Hristo Botev, who said that “in conditions of poverty, national self-awareness is clouded.”
On the basis of all this information and that process of de-dogmatization of the Bulgarian society, there was an awareness formed that the nations, even the Macedonian nation, are a historical category and that in the struggle for free Macedonia in the 19th century many revolutionaries, independent of their declaration, helped to create today’s independent Macedonian state, but also to develop the Macedonian national specialty and language. And that fact should not divide us, but unite us.
The Bulgarians also went through a difficult period of building their national consciousness and uniqueness. They have a series of their revivalists. The revivalists in Bulgarian are called “national awakeners”. Almost every day in Bulgaria, a reporter (national awakener) is celebrated. As a people gifted with a sense of humor and making jokes on their own account, a Bulgarian satirist had noted: “A nation that has had so many awakeners must have been very sleepy”.
Another Bulgarian satirist, on the occasion of the many claims that the Macedonians have become Bulgarians, said: “Bulgarian science has proven that all people in the world evolved from primates, except for Macedonians who evolved from Bulgarians”.
Even nowadays, after the signing of the Treaty on Good Neighborly Relations and Cooperation with Bulgaria, after the whole Balkans enters a new phase and with a new hope for their own future, the questions such as “Whose is Goce?” or “To which nation does the Ilinden Uprising belong to?” seem outdated. They belong to the revolutionary history of the Balkans, which is the foundation of the creation of today’s free Macedonia and the creation of the contemporary Macedonian nation.
Bulgaria must not allow the process of its own liberalization and de-dogmatization to be questioned under the influence of “dzambas logic”.
The Macedonian nation was created in historical circumstances, just like the Bulgarian and Serbian, in addition to all denials of its uniqueness. In the battles for independent Macedonia there were many who declared themselves Bulgarians, or considered the independence and the liberation of Macedonia as the first step towards its affiliation to Bulgaria. But there were also those who, regardless of their national declaration, considered that the liberation of Macedonia could only be the work of the Macedonians without the interference of the servants of the Bulgarian court or the Serbian king. Those were the ones who fought for a free and independent Macedonia and asked themselves as the British Prime Minister Gladstone (“If Bulgaria belongs to the Bulgarians, Serbia to the Serbs, why not Macedonia to the Macedonians”). With their struggle for freedom and justice, they inspired the fighters in the anti-fascist struggle in Macedonia that led to the creation of the state in which the Macedonians, as a separate nation, finally got the opportunity to speak their language and develop their own national culture and history. And it’s not so complicated to understand it, if you wanted to.
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik