Macedonia Then and Now: A Comment on Brown

By Phillipov, George | Antiquity, June 1995 | Go to article overview

Macedonia Then and Now: A Comment on Brown


Phillipov, George, Antiquity


Brown's recent article (ANTIQUITY 68 (1994): 784-96) characterizes the bias held by some contemporary anthropologists when dealing with the 'Macedonian Question'. The failure of objectivity leads Brown to misrepresent crucial events and overlook major historic themes where the Bulgarian nation is concerned. Through this subjective revisionism Brown sanctions untruths, whereby unequivocally Bulgarian early medieval history - like King Samuil and the Ohrid Archiepiscopate - is promoted as 'distinctively Macedonian'. This highlights Brown's prejudice with respect to the factual history of the region, which incidentally from the 9th to 19th centuries was not even called 'Macedonia', but 'Lower Land' - a part of the Bulgarian nation.

There are in fact numerous texts written by westerners who visited Macedonia for extended periods at the turn of the century - Protestant missionaries, adventurers, historians, etc. - and just like Brailsford they all report that the people had a Bulgarian self-awareness. Yet this does not deter Brown from re-labelling them as 'Slavs' and their language as 'Macedonian', the codification of which in 1944 must be seen as a political, not a linguistic process, decreed after a committee met for a mere six days. Perhaps this explains why a main policy of the VRMO-DPMNE political party is revision of the language based on its pre-1944 status.

While Brown mentions Goce Delchev, he neglects to inform readers that Delchev and his fellow revolutionaries self-identified as Bulgarians - in their speeches, letters and memoirs. Delchev's 'bones' were given to Skopje by the Bulgarian Communists during an era of national nihilism, in which Pirin Bulgarians were forced to become 'Macedonian' nationals to expedite formation of a Balkan Federation - thousands of Bulgarians chose prison instead. Chupovski, however, was truly a person who self-identified as a 'Macedonian', but he also collaborated with the Ottoman government, and spent almost all his life abroad in Russia, since Delchev's organization had him 'marked' for assassination. What a dilemma for the modern Macedonian state - its one national patron, who faithfully promoted 'Macedonism', had negligible support and was considered a betrayer by the Macedonian people of his time.

With respect to 'realpolitik', Brown's analysis of ethnic issues is incomplete. Muhamed Halili (coordinator of Albanian deputies in the Macedonian parliament) stated in Borba (November 1992) - 'Who guarantees that Macedonia will not be part of Bulgaria if VRMO wins the elections? We want to create a joint state that will not be either Bulgarian or Albanian.' Yet in today's Macedonia the 'Bulgarian' ethnic group still does not officially exist, and any group attempting to register as 'Bulgarian' faces innumerable obstacles and/or constant persecution by the authorities. The Gligorov Government's most vitriolic barbs are still reserved for Bulgaria, not Greece, and when Bulgarian parliamentarians proposed an 'open-border' between the two countries Gligorov's Ministry dismissed the proposal out of hand.

Yes, I agree with Brown that the situation is far more than 'two Balkan states squabbling over an empty symbol'; however Brown has failed to appreciate the true underlying currents, which mimic the Moldovan/Romanian paradigm, rather than that he has chosen.

K.S. Brown?(*) replies:

'Seeing stars', published in ANTIQUITY 68, provoked a reaction which appears to be part of a general pattern encountered by those anthropologists who presume to consider the Macedonian question.

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