INTERVIEW: Bulgaria asks us to make the executioner a victim says Nikola Minov, Professor at the Institute of History

Source: Sloboden Pecat

By Marina Damceska, translated by UMD Team

We have now been asked to spit on facts, to jump to conclusions of someone’s pre-set thesis, and to forget what Macedonian historiography has achieved in the past 77 years.

We spoke with associate professor, Nikola Minov, at the Institute of History at the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje in regards to the political aspects of the Macedonian-Bulgarian dispute, concerning Bulgaria’s request of revision to parts of Macedonia’s history. We also discussed the implications that historical revisionism would have on Macedonia’s national history.

What in the historical context is the rehabilitation of a historical figure, what does that process look like, and how long can it take, given that, I guess, more extensive documentation should be researched and studied in order to reach possible new conclusions for the persons subject to rehabilitation in national history. In the past period of recent Macedonian history, which historical figures were subject to rehabilitation and how did such processes end?

– A distinction should be made here between the political and scientific rehabilitation of the historical figures, although, at least in the Balkans, one often goes hand in hand with the other. By political rehabilitation we usually mean Soviet-type rehabilitation, when after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet government rehabilitated (mostly posthumously) those individuals who had been unjustly convicted. Something similar happened in our country in the 90s when Metodija Andonov-Čento and a number of other political convicts were rehabilitated. This is about political rehabilitation and rehabilitation by court decision. Scientific rehabilitation is different and requires an academic consensus and a solid foundation. I will explain with a few examples. Čento’s scientific rehabilitation followed a political one. Without exception, all scientific papers on Čento’s life and work were written after 1990. In 1993, a collection of materials from a round table held in Prilep in 1991 were published on topics of Čento as a man, revolutionary and a statesman. This followed publications of several dozen scientific papers about him, and in 2003 the book “Metodija Andonov-Čento:” documents and materials” was published. There may be differences and disagreements in various papers regarding a date, or a word uttered by Čento, but the position of Macedonian historians on the meaning and the role of Cento in the creation of the Macedonian state is unified. Or, for example, Metodija Šatorov-Šarlo, who in Yugoslavia was labelled as a traitor to the Macedonian people, but in Macedonia was rehabilitated in the 21st century by scientific consensus. Keep in mind that, no matter how much our Bulgarian colleagues think so, there is no mould by which a Macedonian historian is produced. We are different. Some do not have political sympathies with the parties, some sympathize and support the right, some the left. But in the case of Cento and Sharlo, even after 10 or 20 years of their scientific rehabilitation, after several governments of the right and left, none of us disputes the justification of such rehabilitation, because it is the result of many years of research and is based on solid facts. Sometimes it takes a long time from the political rehabilitation to the scientific rehabilitation. Such is the case with Petre Piruze-Majski, who was politically rehabilitated in the 60s, but scientifically only in the 90s of the last century. Sometimes, however, political rehabilitation is not accompanied by scientific, or at least academic, consensus. After 2007, we witnessed the popularization of certain historical figures who, due to their activity, were criticized unfairly or ignored by Macedonian historiography in the 20th century. The Ministry of Culture financed monographs, and monuments were built for them. There have been several attempts for their scientific rehabilitation, but even today, the scientific community is divided, and I would say that the scientific consensus is more critical than supporting of the attempts for the “new interpretations” of the life and work of a Boris Sarafov, or Todor Aleksandrov.

Once again – scientific rehabilitation in our country follows the political one. If it is sustained, there will be a scientific consensus on it, it will last and it will be upgraded; if it is the result of political pressure, then it will collapse like a tower of cards as soon as the political party exerting pressure loses power.

In order to promote the Macedonian-Bulgarian dialogue and good neighborliness, the Bulgarians sent a request for rehabilitation of the victims of communism who had Bulgarian self-awareness. What are the views of the Macedonian historians about this part of Macedonian history, were there really victims of communism, about whom and how many people, events and historical contexts are we talking about, how much are they researched by Macedonian historians and what would be the consequences of such a process after this chapter in the national history that coincides with the creation of the modern Macedonian state within the former Yugoslavia?

– I would like to see the list of victims of communism in Macedonia who had Bulgarian self-awareness, and I would like to see the evidence that all those people were convicted because they had Bulgarian self-awareness. Whenever I try to find out who those thousands of victims are – and the Bulgarian side constantly emphasizes that they are thousands – they always offer the same example: the events at the Skopje Fortress on January 7, 1945, or, as it is called in Bulgaria: ” “Macedonian bloody Christmas.” Macedonian historiography has long ago concluded what happened on the fateful January 7, and Bulgarian science, although it had 25 years to scientifically challenge the facts we have offered and are offering, has not come up with at least one piece of evidence (I emphasize the word evidence) that we are not right. Briefly about the event: on January 7, 1945, soldiers from the artillery unit composed mostly of Macedonians who were stationed at the Skopje Fortress, under the influence of provocations by two Serbian soldiers, left the barracks and went down to Skopje Square to meet with General M. Apostolski and to express dissatisfaction with the rumors that the army will advance towards the Srem front. They started shouting slogans: “We do not want Berlin, we do not want Srem, we want Solun.” The general calmed them down and sent them back to the barracks, but due to the expressed military indiscipline, thirteen soldiers (according to their own statements – 11 Macedonians and two provocateurs from Serbia) were sentenced to death by a military court, and some of the soldiers were sentenced to prison. This event is elaborated in detail in the book “The Events of the Skopje Fortress on January 7, 1945 – Documents”, published in 1997 by the State Archives and the Institute of National History in Skopje. When I say in detail, I mean, among other things, the original archival documentation and facsimiles of the original hearing documents. The following year, probably in response to this monograph, the Bulgarian historian Dimitar Gocev published a book in which, on the very first pages, he wrote about the “Macedonian bloody Christmas”, i.e. the same event at the Skopje Fortress. Without quoting or enclosing a single document, Gocev constructed a story that the soldiers rebelled against the return of Vardar Macedonia to Yugoslavia (implying that the Macedonians wanted to remain under Bulgarian rule), that there was an armed uprising, that on the orders of Svetozar Vukmanovic – Tempo, Serbian soldiers who were on the square killed 70 officers on the spot because they were “Bulgarians” and “fascists”, that then about 1,000 Macedonian soldiers went back to the center of Skopje, where they were intercepted by Serbian partisans and Chetniks ( ?!), who mercilessly shot at the “Bulgarians”, killed dozens of them, and about 1,000 soldiers were imprisoned (without food) for about a month at the Fortress and all died as a result of starvation and beatings. I emphasize again – this is claimed without a single piece of evidence, not even an isolated testimony of a random passer-by in the square. Gocev’s construction was later upgraded and beautified with larger figures, so today in Bulgaria the number of 25,000 Bulgarians who were killed and thrown into Macedonian lakes and 130,000 imprisoned Bulgarians is reached. Or perhaps the victims of communism with Bulgarian self-consciousness are the collaborators of the fascist occupier, who, as everywhere in Europe, were not condemned because of their ethnicity or self-consciousness, but because of collaborationism. I really do not know. I would like to see the list of those people, so that one by one they can thoroughly consider and analyze the justification for their potential rehabilitation.

How do you, as a historian, assess this request from the Bulgarian side and can we talk about victims of communism only with Bulgarian nationality and in that context exclude other individuals or groups who were also repressed by the Yugoslav security services due to their different views about Macedonia’s full independence outside the Federation?

– The demands from the Bulgarian side are a classic blackmail with a hidden, yet obvious goal. Most of the political prisoners in Yugoslavia and Macedonia were convicted of accepting the Inform Bureau Resolution condemning the leadership of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. Stalin before Tito. The political convicts from Macedonia, or the victims of communism as it is now said, had various ethnicities, and most of them were Macedonians. Bulgaria puts us in a situation to accept that anyone who had different views on the independence of Macedonia, anyone who wanted an independent Macedonia outside the Federation, anyone who thought of uniting the Vardar, Aegean and Pirin parts of Macedonia, was a Bulgarian.

In fact, it is clear what Bulgaria is looking for. To admit that Tito and Yugoslavia persecuted all those who had Bulgarian self-awareness. With that, they instilled fear in the “Bulgarians”, who in order to protect their lives and the lives of their loved ones, stopped saying that they were Bulgarians and began to declare themselves as Macedonians. Fear and education took their toll, and the new generations were already Macedonians. With that, we would prove the constructed thesis that the Macedonians are “children” of Tito and the Comintern. I guess you will not insist on a number. They know that there weren’t thousands of victims of communism with Bulgarian self-awareness, as they know that even today there are not even 5% of the alleged 100,000 Bulgarians in Macedonia. They know that they will easily find someone who had a Bulgarian consciousness, just as they can find one, two, or ten people belonging to different ethnicities. If we ask for concrete evidence about the “Bulgarian victims”, they will not reach a number that justifies their request. That is why no number will be given and there will be room for speculation.

If we are talking about a long-term sensitive process of combing the archives and the available documentation that would be in the hands of historians and not politicians, what is your position, should we work with deadlines and under pressure only because the political dialogue between RSM and Bulgaria is open, and should Bulgarian historians eventually take part in such a process, or should they only deviate from their archives on this issue if they have such archives?

– You reminded me of a research I did last year. Did you know that the most quoted foreign authors in the works of Macedonian historians are their English and Bulgarian colleagues? On the contrary, the works of Macedonian historians are among the least quoted by Bulgarian historians. We read our colleagues from Sofia. We know what they write. We appreciate, quote and promote what is quality, but we also know how to criticize the works of Bulgarian historians who deviate from the scientific methodology and have a propagandistic character. There is silence on their part. If we find here and there a quote from a Macedonian historian, these are mainly works from the 50s to the end of the 70s of the last century, from the period when Macedonian historiography took its first steps and, as is expected for every young historiography, gaps and unexplained things remained. They do not read us. Or, if they read, then they are silent, and that says a lot. Now you ask me if we should look through archives and documents together with Bulgarian historians. We should, but with colleagues who know exactly what we are writing, follow the development of Macedonian historiography in the last three decades, and who will not patronize and blackmail. We know who they are, we read them, but, according to the composition of the joint Macedonian-Bulgarian commission for historical issues, it seems that that profile of Bulgarian historians is put on the sidelines, and is dominated by those who completely ignore our works and ones who no one can convince that Macedonian historians were not “Serbs” or “Serbo-Communists” working under the dictatorship of Belgrade.

Regarding the part about deadlines and pressures, I share the position of my Macedonian colleagues and every sane person. Setting deadlines – often outrageous ones – and pushing for a faster end to the political dialogue and the whole process, are nothing but blackmail and in the end, they will give birth to a fat child… with a Bulgarian self-awareness.

What is your personal position on the attempts to revise the Macedonian history in specific periods, the medieval, Ottoman rule and the resistance movement as well as the fight against fascism, what will be the consequences for the statehood and independence of the Macedonian nation and what will the wording “common history” with Bulgaria mean in a broader context and the change of narrative that has so far prevailed in history textbooks based on facts researched by generations of prominent Macedonian historians?”

– History is not an exact science. This means that it is constantly being revised at the micro level. I do not know a historian whose scientific works are the Pythagorean theorem. But I say on a micro level, because I myself have found myself in situations when under the pressure of new knowledge, which was not available to me in the past, I will realize that in a footnote I could add additional information and then incorporate it into another work on the same or a similar topic. In the case of Bulgaria, we are required to have an almost complete revision. I am constantly teaching postgraduates that theses and conclusions should come from the facts and that we must not twist the facts to fit the previously set theses and conclusions. We are now required to spit on the facts, to jump to the point where they fit into someone’s pre-set thesis, and to forget the results that Macedonian historiography has reached in the previous 77 years. The executioner is required to become a victim and the victim to have a brain transplant. It is clear what consequences this would have on the Macedonian statehood and the independence of the Macedonian nation.

I am glad that there is a consensus among Macedonian historians regarding the wording “common history” with Bulgaria. A common history is that in the period when Macedonia was part of the Bulgarian state in the Middle Ages and when it was occupied by Bulgaria during the First and Second World Wars. The rest, when we were part of the Roman Empire, Byzantium, or the Ottoman Empire, when the same laws and rules applied to us and them, or when we removed the same torments, can only be a shared history, which, in fact, a bunch of other nations in the world have as well. But with Bulgaria we interpret the term “common history” differently. For them, the term means that before 1944 we were the same people, who spoke the same language and had the same history.

On the negotiating table, apart from the rehabilitation of the victims of communism there are also the deletion of “offensive words” from the cultural-historical monuments as well as the deletion of determinants of the origin of the Bulgarians from the Macedonian history textbooks, is there room for “more decent” formulations which won’t destroy the dignity of both peoples?

– In a Macedonian history textbook for seventh grade it is written that the Bulgarians were a Mongol-Tatar tribe. This formulation is offensive to our Bulgarian neighbors. Not from yesterday or today, but from at least 151 years ago. In 1871, one of the most important cultural and educational figures in Bulgaria, Petko Slavejkov, who, among other things, played a vital role in the codification of the Bulgarian language, wrote: “Some Macedonists are separating themselves from the Bulgarians in another manner, they believe that they are pure Slavs and that the Bulgarians are Tatars.” This hurt him so much that he further accuses the “Macedonians” in the same text of being stupid children. If we change this determinant in this textbook, which is obviously offensive to the Bulgarians, we will not only do an act of goodwill, but also do the service of truth, because the Bulgarians were not a Mongol-Tatar tribe, or a “Tatar horde” as which was said in our older textbooks. The Bulgarians who came to the Balkans in the 7th century were the Proto-Bulgarians, a semi-nomadic Turkic tribe that had previously lived along the Volga. The Tatars and the Mongols came to the area where the Proto-Bulgarians lived only in the 11th and 12th century and we cannot talk about their mixing with those Proto-Bulgarians who came to the Balkans in the 7th century. Hence, this determinant should be changed, not only because it violates the dignity of the Bulgarian people (although Bulgarian historiography is still not clear on the question of the origin of the Proto-Bulgarians), but, above all, because it is not true.

Regarding the “offensive words” of cultural and historical monuments, the situation is more complicated. If we erased them, we would do an act of good will, but the sacrifice of our good would be the truth. It is about the term “Bulgarian fascist occupier”, i.e. the crimes against Macedonian fighters and Macedonian civilians committed by the Bulgarian army. From what I could conclude from the statements coming from the Bulgarian side and from the previous Macedonian Prime Minister, the adjective “Bulgarian” is problematic, which in turn assumes that no one has a problem with the term “fascist occupier”. You ask if a more decent wording can be found, and I ask: which one? The crimes were committed by the Bulgarian army, which occupied the territory of an internationally recognized state. Perhaps we could debate the term “fascist” because, although there were strong elements of fascism and although until the beginning of the 21st century Bulgarian historiography claimed that Tsar Boris’s regime was monarchist-fascist, fascism was not an officially accepted ideology in Bulgaria. Would the “Bulgarian occupier” then be a more decent wording? Difficult, because the adjective is problematic for the neighbors. Would “Bulgarian fascists” be a more decent wording? With it we make a clear distinction between the Bulgarian fascists on the one hand and the Bulgarian communists, liberals, farmers, textile workers, ordinary peasants, peaceful citizens on the other. The students would know that not all Bulgarians committed crimes in Macedonia, but only one Bulgarian group. And is the “fascist occupier” a decent wording? If so, then what would a student think who, after learning the lesson of fascism in Europe and associating fascism with Italy, would automatically associate himself with the fact that the Italians committed crimes against the Macedonians? Should our children start hating Italy at the expense of truth and good neighborliness? But here, let’s show good will and find a “more decent formulation”. Will the Bulgarian side be satisfied with the finger? Will they not continue to search for the hand, the head, and finally the heart? Where will we stop, here, or will we continue to show good will even if they consider the adjective “Macedonian” in “state”, “revolutionary organization”, “language” offensive?

In Bulgaria, especially in academia, the thesis that the “Bulgarians” in Macedonia became Macedonians with beatings and textbook forgeries is popular. Bozhidar Dimitrov died, but his thesis that the Bulgarians in Macedonia lost their Bulgarian self-consciousness with a bullet, imprisonment and inhumane torture is still alive. The thesis that the brains of tens of generations in Macedonia were brainwashed with complete forgeries in textbooks is still strong. Bulgaria condemns what Serbia and Yugoslavia allegedly did to the “Bulgarians” in Macedonia, but is so convinced that it really happened, and that it was a successful mission, that it is now trying to do the same. The bullet, the prison and the inhuman torture are now figurative and can be described in one word: veto. But the attempts to brainwash the students are real and that is one of the main goals of this insistence on “burning” the existing ones and writing new textbooks.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of UMD. 

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