Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Social Cleavages and National "Awakening" in Ottoman Macedonia

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Social Cleavages and National "Awakening" in Ottoman Macedonia

Article excerpt

In early summer 1992 a lavish monograph was published in Skopje entitled Macedonia on old Maps.(2) In the first chapter of the book, which is called 'A History without a Geography,' Ilija Petrushevski states that:

These maps present the undeniable historical and scientific facts about the distinctness of the Macedonian nation, which differs from its neighbours not only by its territory, which has always belonged to it, but also by its language, folklore, traditions and all the other elements of significance in ethnic differentiation."(3)

Petrushevski's attempt to support the existence of a nation by stressing its connection with an age-old ethnic core is not a new task in Balkan historiography, nor is it the first time that the testimony of old maps is being employed to serve such a cause.(4)

It has been stated that the advent of the European Enlightenment in the Ottoman Balkans involved a rather slow procedure. Describing, however, pre-independence nationalist feelings of the Balkan peoples, especially the situation in the hinterland of the peninsula (Macedonia included), is a demanding exercise, which far exceeds the purpose of this paper.(5) In brief, modern Greek nationalism emerged in the 18th century and was affected by western ideas, but its actual roots lay in proto-nationalist phenomena noticed in 13th century Byzantium.(6) Under Ottoman rule these feelings were only partly preserved through the institutions of the millet system. The folk of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was the Rumi-i-millet, with a population which, in addition to the Greek-speakers, included large numbers of Slav-, Vlach-, and other non-Greek-speaking Orthodox subjects of the Sultan. In the 18th century a Greek-speaking mercantile elite started to split from the political and religious leadership of the Constantinople Patriarchate and to develop secular Hellenic nationalist attitudes.(7)

With the notable exception of the coastal line, where this Greek-speaking urbanized merchant class lived, and the Austrian imperial borderlands, most parts of the region, especially the central Balkan area, remained untouched by intellectual changes throughout the 18th century, evidently due to financial constraints which had retarded the consolidation of a middle class. Actually it was no sooner than in the early 19th century, in some cases even after the 1850s, that the Enlightenment got a firm grip on the Balkan peninsula in the favourable context which was shaped during the Ottoman reform period. Bulgarian nationalism, for example, started to make its presence felt only in the early 19th century in the regions adjacent to Russia.(8)

However, the assimilation of European ideas was not particularly smooth. The slow but steady collapse of the Ottoman Empire excited the Christian population, both inside and outside the Empire; especially outside, in the small and young Balkan kingdoms established in the 1830s, where quite often the struggles for the liberation of the unredeemed brethren were considered as a convenient alibi for political incompetence and financial underdevelopment. In theory, no less than in practice, Athens, Belgrade, and, later on, Sofia were exclusively concerned with irredentism and completely disregarded the option to consolidate their states by supporting the sense of citizenship.(9)

Especially in the second half of 19th century, when Ottoman collapse was imminent, the urgent need to redraw the boundaries required not only the supply of the necessary armaments but also the preparation of an ideological arsenal which was expected to facilitate foreign policy. In the absence of guns and financial resources, the importance of an offensive national ideology was overrated. Consequently national rights were conveniently considered as historical rights and not as natural, unlike west European trends of thought. The romantic quest for historical rights oriented Balkan intellectuals to the retrospective quest of their nations' distinctive ethnic core in the depths of history. …

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