Remembering Ilinden

The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) calls upon all Macedonians to affirm what unites us during today’s 114th Anniversary of Ilinden and to remember the values that the Macedonian freedom fighters of 1903 have instilled in our national identity. Our rightful claim to Macedonia, our Macedonian culture, our language, and our heritage all stem from the 10 days and 10 nights that the Krusevo Republic stood as a nation-state.

On this day in 1903, a united force of Macedonians, Vlachs, Arnauts, Turks, Jews, and Moslems came together in an inspired rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to regain their freedom. Together, they formed the Krusevo Republic – an act that symbolizes the national reawakening that occurred amongst Macedonians and their desire to achieve independence. The Krusevo Republic greeted governance with an open mind and embraced diversity as it created a ruling body comprised of an equal representation from each ethnic group; an unprecedented act at the time.

The Ilinden Uprising is a reminder to all Macedonians about the struggle that our people went through and the sacrifices that they made for a sovereign and independent Macedonia. This revolt led by Macedonian freedom fighters – known as komiti – is regarded as one of the greatest moments in the history of the Macedonian people. The rebellion was soon answered by the Ottoman Empire who bombarded Krusevo until they bent the knee and submitted once more. The battles that occurred between the freedom fighters and the Ottoman empire resulted in nearly 5000 civilian deaths, the burning of over 200 villages, and the death of over 6000 soldiers. The Ottomans, as well as many others at the time, regarded the rebellion as a complete and utter failure. However, exactly 114 years later, Macedonians and members of the Balkans alike recognize the significance of their ancestors’ efforts and commemorate the Ilinden Uprising to show that their ideals have not been lost and will never be forgotten.

Since the rebellion, Macedonia has faced countless obstacles on the way to independence. In the years following the fall of the Krusevo Republic, Macedonia would be erased from the map and the Macedonian people would experience opposition from Greek, Bulgarian, and Serbian governments. But even through the Greek Civil War of 1948, the largest exodus of Macedonians in history, the spirit of Ilinden remained. These were times where speaking Macedonian was punishable by death and yet the language and culture lived on.

Even now, 114 years later, its neighbors who are still attempting to negate our identity are attacking Macedonia. They dangle our ambitions of joining NATO and the EU above our heads and veto our chances of joining these international bodies unless we comply with their antiquated views. The Greek and Bulgarian governments are picking battles based on ideals from the 1800s, rejecting Macedonia’s culture and heritage. Thus we find ourselves in yet another battle that revolves around the same virtues that our ancestors fought for many years ago. The spirit of the Ilinden Uprising lives on, and because of this, every attempt that is made to strip Macedonians of their heritage will be answered with “Long live Macedonia!”, an echo from our ancestors’ cheers that only grows louder with time.

Today, we also celebrate the 73rd Anniversary of the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the People’s Liberation of Macedonia, ASNOM, which acted as the executive and legislative representative body of Macedonia and Macedonians from August 2, 1944 to the end of World War II. Taking place exactly 41 years after the Ilinden Uprising, we commemorate this event because it represents a realization of Goce Delcev’s dream of an autonomous Macedonian state, where our culture, language, and heritage is preserved. The first assembly made significant decisions for the future of the Macedonian nation, and proclaimed that Macedonia is nation-state of ethnic Macedonian, that the Macedonian language is its official language, and that all citizens of Macedonia, regardless of their ethnic affiliation were guaranteed civil rights, as well as the right to use their mother tongue and confession of faith.

Recently, our country has yet again become subject to difficult times. A deepening political crisis that has been marked with scandals and violence has left many Macedonian citizens feeling uneasy. In a time where we should be moving closer to NATO and EU accessions – to fortify our identity and build external relations – we are letting internal quarrels take away from our progress. Put simply, in these times of great change to our government, we should look back on Ilinden to remind of us the ideals that our people have fought for. In 1903, Macedonia was on the forefront of a democratic movement – emphasizing diversity and unity, and now over 100 years later we should strive to exemplify those same ideals. Macedonia should once again stand at the forefront and highlight its commitment to the preservation of the rights of minorities; a commitment that is seldom seen in the countries that surround Macedonia.

Thus, in the wake of the turmoil that grips our beloved Macedonia, we must once again unite to bring about a better Macedonia, one that can stand the test of time and show the world that a full-fledged democracy is not just theoretical for the Balkans, but is practical. UMD knows that if all of our people unite again as they did for the Ilinden Uprising 114 years ago, Macedonia will become the state that its people deserve after all of their trials and tribulations. We will continue to promote a democratic and sovereign Macedonia that the Ilinden revolutionaries fought for.