Macedonians of Bulgaria

Location: South-west of Bulgaria in the Pirin region
Population: 250,000 (est.)
% of population: 2.75%
Religion: Eastern Orthodox Christian
Language: Macedonian, Bulgarian

The Macedonians (a Slavic people, not to be confused with the subjects of Phillip of Macedón in antiquity) live in the south-western regions of Bulgaria. Successive censuses have given conflicting figures for the numbers of Macedonians in Bulgaria. The results of the 1946 Bulgarian census concerning the Macedonian population were never made public by the Bulgarian authorities. However, Yugoslav sources claim that 252,908 people declared themselves as Macedonians in that census. The census of 1956 recorded 187,789 Macedonians, over 95% of whom lived in the Pirin region where they made up 63.8% of the population. However, in the 1965 census the number of people declaring themselves as Macedonian had dropped to only 8,750 and in the district of Blagoevgrad which previously had the highest percentage of Macedonians the percentage was less than 1%.

Bulgaria has traditionally claimed that the Macedonians (including those living in Yugoslavia and Greece) are ethnic Bulgarians. However immediately after World War II when Georgi Dimitrov, both of whose parents were from Macedonia, was leader, the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) fully recognized a separate Macedonian nationality and allowed extensive contact between Pirin Macedonia and the newly formed Macedonian Republic in post-war Yugoslavia. Following his death and the break between Yugoslavia and the USSR, Bulgarian unease at this recognition became more apparent and the Bulgarians were prepared only to admit that the process of nationality for the Macedonians began in 1918. Later the date was changed to 1944 and at the April plenum of the BCP in 1956 when Todor Zhivkov cemented his power, it appears that it was decided to no longer recognize a separate Macedonian nationality. Since then the Bulgarian authorities and those of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in the post-war Yugoslav federation have engaged in mutual polemics over the history and language of the Macedonians.

Throughout the early 1960s the Bulgarian authorities, when renewing the compulsory personal identity cards, allegedly issued cards stating that the holder was Bulgarian by ethnicity to those who had previously held cards stating that they were Macedonian. Also from the early 1960s, there have reportedly been a number of political trials of people accused of activity based on Macedonian nationalism. For example, a group of inhabitants of Blagoevgrad were tried in 1962 by the District Court of Blagoevgrad on charges of creating a group whose aims were the secession of Pirin Macedonia from the People’s Republic of Bulgaria and in 1964 four people from Blagoevgrad were reportedly tried for writing “We are Macedonians” and “Long live the Macedonian nation” on a restaurant wall. Since the introduction of the latest Criminal Code in 1968, most of those accused of propagating such “anti-democratic and nationalist ideology” have

1The Macedonian language was only codified after the Second World War and shares nearly all the distinct characteristics which separate Bulgarian from the other Slav languages.

been charged under Articles 108 and 109 which deal respectively with “anti-state agitation and propaganda” and with forming or leading and membership of an illegal group. Article 39 (1) of the People’s Militia Law of 1976 (amended on August 12, 1983) also allows administrative punishment (that is without trial), which has reportedly been used to forcibly resettle members of the Macedonian ethnic minority in other areas of the country. According to Yugoslav sources, whole families were forced to move from the Pirin region to other regions in the north because of their affirmation of a Macedonian ethnicity distinct from Bulgarian. At the same time as this repression, the Bulgarian authorities have concentrated resources into the Pirin region, the health resort of Sandanski being a notable example, apparently so as to lessen any possible attraction from neighbouring Yugoslavia.

(See also ; Macedonians of Greece)