The Berlin Treaty
On March 3, 1878, the Russo-Turkish war ended in the Peace Treaty of San Stefano. Russia tried use the war to settle the "Eastern Question" to its own advantage. Victorious, Russia sought to turn the Balkans into a sphere of influence, paying due respect to Austro-Hungarian interests in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Under the provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania grew at the expense of the Ottoman Empire: Serbia extended as far as Rashka, Novi Pazar in the Sanjak and Sitnitsa and Laba in Kosovo; Montenegro occupied Plav, Podgoritsa, Nikshich, Gadsko, Zhablyak and Bar; Romania obtained the northern part of Dobruja.
By the Treaty of San Stefano a new, autonomous Bulgarian state was created, possessing its own government and army. The boundaries of San Stefano Bulgaria would include not only present-day Bulgaria, but also the Vranye district in Serbia (including the towns of Nish, Pirot and Vranye) and Macedonian territories encompassed within a boundary lying along Mt. Shar, Mt. Korab and the Crni Drim River to the town of Gramos (today, in Greece): encompassing Macedonia as far as Prespa and Ohrid Lakes and the town of Korche (currently, in Albania). The southern border would run from the border marked by Gramos and the Vardar River to the mouth of the Mesta River, leaving Thessaloniki and Chalcidice under Ottoman Rule, then on to the Rhodopes, across Lule Burgas to the Black Sea. Accordingly, a large part of ethnic and geographical Macedonia would be incorporated within San Stephan Bulgaria. Russian armies were to stay in Bulgaria in order to assist the solidification of the newly-established authority.
The San Stefano treaty and its proposed alterations of the Balkan balance of power alarmed Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, the German Empire, Serbia and Greece. The Great Powers, particularly Austria-Hungary, disliked the extension of Russian power into the Balkans, and Britain feared the consequences of a truncated Ottoman Empire. Serbia and Greece feared the creation of a Greater Bulgarian state which could endanger their independence and future designs on Ottoman territory. Faced by wide resistance to the provisions of San Stefano, Russia was forced to accept revision of the treaty.
Meanwhile, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, a powerful weapon of the Greek government, was used to organize protests opposing the inclusion of Macedonia within the new Bulgarian state. The Patriarchate was further used to support Greek annexation of Macedonia, or at the very least its continued existence as part of the Ottoman Empire (leaving open the possibility of future Greek annexation). Throughout Serbia, similar protests were conducted against the inclusion of "Serbian" territory in the newly-created principality. Serbia, however, did propose that if Macedonia could not be incorporated within the framework of the Serbian state, it should granted an autonomous administration with a Christian governor.
In the midst of this turmoil Dimitar Robev, a former member of the Ottoman parliament from Macedonia, arrived in Belgrade in May. He condemned the actions of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria to annex Macedonian territory, and stated that "the best solution for Macedonia is to remain independent" and that the Russian delegate in Constantinople, Count Ignatiev, had allegedly, told him that "Macedonia can not belong to any of the three main peoples of the Balkan Peninsula".
Exhausted by the war, Russia agreed that a congress be organized in Berlin whereby the Treaty of San Stefano could be revised. Negotiations between the Great Powers in Berlin lasted for an entire month (June 13 to July 13, 1878). The basic decisions reached by the Congress of Berlin were that Macedonia would remain under Ottoman rule, Bulgaria would extend from the Danube River to Mt. Stara Planina, and the region of Eastern Rumelia would remain autonomous but not part of the Bulgarian state. Bosnia and Hercegovina were annexed by Austria-Hungary, and an expanded Montenegro and Serbia were granted full independence from Turkish authority. The San Stefano fiction of Great Bulgaria-never realized, and "living" on paper for only three months-was to be a rallying cry for future Bulgarian ambitions and a serious factor of instability in the Balkans.
Article 23 of the Berlin Treaty was of particular importance for Macedonia: "The Sublime Porte is obliged to carefully implement the Organic Statute in the island of Crete, introducing changes which would be assessed as justified. Analogous statutes adapted to local requirements, with the exception of the tax exemption approved to Crete, will be equally introduced in the other parts of European Turkey as well, which are not subject of particular drawing up in this Treaty. The Sublime Porte is to engage special commissions, composed to a great extent of local members, which are to work out the details of the new statutes for each province. The organization projects to be worked out by the commissions will be submitted for examination to the Sublime Porte, which in turn, before passing any of the acts, will request the opinion of the European commission established for Eastern Rumelia." Article twenty-three was one of two basic documents which defined the concept of Macedonia in this period-the second being the 1878 constitution of the Macedonian insurgents.
Article twenty-three reveals clearly both the interests of the Great Powers concerning Macedonia and the compromises made in that respect between the Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire. The key article provides for Macedonia, as an Ottoman province, to have its own constitution and a special legal status similar to that of Crete within the framework of the Ottoman Empire. Accordingly, Macedonia was to have its own governor and military commander, who would be entrusted with commanding the army. By putting the principles of the territorial division of Crete into effect, Turkey was obliged to divide the territory of Macedonia into sanjaks (districts), the number of which was to be determined in the future. These administrative units would be governed by mutasariphs, half of whom would be Moslem and the other half Christian, but all would be officers of the sultan's government. The assistants of the Moslem mutasariphs would be Christians, and those of the Christian mutasariphs Moslems. The sanjaks would be further divided into kaazas, governed by kaymakams.
The Organic Constitution of Crete and the future constitution of Macedonia alike provided for the establishment of special administrative councils in each geographic-administrative area, consisting of three Moslems and three Christians. It was prescribed that such councils would be established in lower, local administration as well, and in areas where the entire population was Christian or Moslem such councils would be respectively composed of six Christian or Moslem representatives. These councils would be administered by the mutasariph or kaymakams.
More detailed elaboration and analysis of Article twenty-three of the Treaty of Berlin reveals that Macedonia was to gain political autonomy and the Macedonian people were to have increased possibilities to express their national individuality than under previous Turkish rule. Since that time onwards, the idea of autonomy of Macedonia was the leading idea which motivated the revolutionary and national movements in the region. It took various forms under various conditions, but it was always present as a goal of the Macedonian people. For the Macedonian themselves, autonomy became an ideal to which they dedicated their future struggle for national and political freedom, finding impetus in the fact that the establishment of an autonomous legal status for Macedonia was set out in an international agreement. The Treaty of Berlin represented international recognition of an autonomous status for Macedonia for the first time since Samuil's Empire, and Macedonians were treated as a separate ethnic community and territorial unit, recognized as "an ethnic territorial unit having elements of its independence and self-management". The Treaty of Berlin, containing within it recognition of an autonomous Macedonia, overturned the provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano and its proposed inclusion of Macedonia within a Greater Bulgarian state. Article twenty-three's provisions for self-government in Macedonia were not mirrored in the Treaty of San Stefano, suggesting that under the first treaty the Macedonian people would have merely traded Turkish overlords for Bulgarian overlords, remaining under foreign and alien rule.
Unfortunately, the signatories of the Treaty of Berlin left implementation of the treaty to the he Sublime Porte. The Porte, obliged to determine when the international commissions regarding reform in the empire would be created, never initiated the implementation of the treaty. Consequently, Macedonia's promised self-government did not materialize.
Yet, it does not mean that spiritual or armed resistance against the Ottomans in Macedonia ceased, in expectation of action by the Great Powers.
In April, 1880, the troops of the priest Kostadin Buvski and Leonid Vulgaris met at Gremen (Ostrovo). Discussing the situation in Macedonia, the two voivodes (commanders) came to the conclusion that the Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia were to blame for Macedonia's continued misery under the Turkish yoke. Accordingly, "the future of Macedonia lied in the creation of an independent Macedonian state."
The voivodes also concluded that the diversity of the population in Macedonia was the main factor hindering a mutual agreement to begin a rebellion. Unity of the nationalities in Macedonia might lead to a general and successful fight against the Ottomans.
At their initiative, in the period from May 1 to June 2, 1880, 32 delegates gathered in Gremen as representatives of the Macedonian, Vlach, Serbian and Albanian peoples (the Turkish representatives were left out). After discussing the platform of Vulgaris and Buvski, this National Assembly drew conclusions on the measures to be taken in order to accomplish "the national aim of the Macedonians". Among other matters, they stated that Macedonia, which had suffered for centuries under the Ottomans, had no possibility to liberate itself in a peaceful manner. The neighboring Balkan states destroyed the national unity of Macedonia through their religious and national propaganda and shrouded the Macedonians away from the eyes of European public opinion. Putting an emphasis on action was the only way that Macedonians would liberate themselves from Turkish slavery.
In reviewing the situation, the National Assembly stated that Turkish authorities had not implemented the programs set by the Great Powers at the Congress in Berlin. For that reason, the National Assembly decided to inform the Sublime Porte that the Macedonian people requested speedier implementation of Article twenty-three of the Treaty of Berlin. The Assembly was also to contact all representatives of the signatory Great Powers in Macedonia with a request for their intervention with the Porte in putting Article twenty-three of the Berlin Treaty into effect. If the existing situation remained and nothing was changed, the National Assembly would summon the Macedonian people to take up the arms under the slogan "Macedonia to the Macedonians for the re-establishment of Ancient Macedonia!" On that occasion, the National Assembly elected a Provisional government of Macedonia from among its members under the name "Unity".
On May 21, 1880, the Provisional government of Macedonia contacted the Russian consul general in Thessaloniki, N. Ulyanov, advising him that "at international congresses of the Great Powers, Macedonia has been left an orphan... only Macedonia, which had had its own civilization in ancient times and had given birth to Aristotle and Alexander the Great, is deprived of any help" and that, that, if the Sublime Porte did not take any steps to implement the Article twenty-three, "the Provisional government of Macedonia will summon the Macedonian people to take up the arms under the slogan: 'Macedonia to the Macedonians, for Macedonia, for re-establishment of ancient Macedonia!'"
This statement was signed by Vasil Simon, president of the provisional government, and the Kramontov, commander-in-chief of the rebel forces.
Nearly a year later on March 23, 1881, the provisional government sent a manifesto to all diplomatic representatives: "Foreign and distrustful peoples want to occupy our country and destroy our nationality, which shines with a high splendor and can not and will never disappear." The manifesto opined that "by being shifted from one yoke to another, the regeneration of the Macedonians will become impossible and our nationality will vanish. This moment is critical for Macedonia: it is a question of its life or death!" Addressing the Macedonian people as "True Macedonians, the faithful children of the fatherland!", the signatories of the manifesto, President Vasil Simon and Secretary Nikola Traykov exclaimed: "Do your best, for the words 'Unique and United Macedonia!' are written on the flag we are going to raise... Then, gather yourselves under the flag of Macedonia, being your unique national symbol, raise it high and make that glorious flag ready for writing on it: Long live the Macedonian people, long live Macedonia!"
Macedonian emigrants in Bulgaria were active as well. These included veterans from the Russo-Turkish War and the 1878 Macedonian Uprising who could not reconcile themselves to the suppression of Macedonia. About 1,800 veterans of battles against the Ottomans lived in Sofia; deciding that the struggle should continue until the final liberation of Macedonia, a Bulgarian-Macedonian League (later shortened to Macedonian League) was formed, founded on the motto "Freedom for Macedonia or death!" The League upheld the political independence of Macedonia and the creation of a Macedonian state. In order to be able to accomplish this objective, the League began to organize its own army and work out its own strategy to wage a war of independence in Macedonia. Declaring itself a people's front for the liberation of Macedonia, the League established a provisional administration for Macedonia with unitary political and military authority, to operate until the independence of Macedonia and creation of a Macedonian state was at hand. This provisional administration was headed by a chief voivode and composed of three senior voivodes and commander of headquarters. The military units of 180 soldiers each were formed, headed by voivodes.
The provisional administration of Macedonia, as the highest legislative body, worked out a constitution of Macedonia which contained a detailed elaboration of the status of the future Macedonian state. The constitution consisted of 103 Articles and was similar to the 1868 constitution of Crete, providing for political and cultural autonomy. According to its provisions, Macedonia was to remain part of the Ottoman Empire but possess the status of a federal unit within the empire. The Macedonian government would be headed by a governor-general and twelve ministers, ruling from Thessaloniki a federal territory based on the borders of the three Macedonian vilayets of Thessaloniki, Bitola and Skopje (minus Kosovo and Metohia).
In determining the borders of the future Macedonian federal province, the constitution of the provisional administration of Macedonia established elements which would "play a long-term, important role in the struggle of the Macedonian people in formulating the actions of the Macedonian revolutionary movement." The borders were based in part on knowledge of the complexity of economic and political interests, and the unifying factors of the "strengthening process of economic, political and national integration." Vlado Popovski notes that in such a context there would be the increasing presence of "the people's, national and, implicitly, political history" of the most numerous population on this territory, the Macedonian Slavs. "Naming themselves by the territorial name... [they] exerted influence and attracted other, less numerous national groups." In such a way, argues Popovski, members of diverse ethnic groups "accepted and felt Macedonia to be their common homeland and at the same time a separate whole, and hence a separate community." This was the beginning of the development, growth and affirmation of the awareness of an individual "social and political constituting of Macedonia" as an independent state.
It can be stated with certainty that the prospect of an autonomous Macedonia, even within the framework of the Ottoman Empire, stimulated the development of the concept of an independent Macedonia. "By creating a realistic attitude towards the fact that the Macedonian people and other nationalities in Macedonia were linked by fate, the idea of an autonomous Macedonia incorporated in itself their need for integration, based on the increasingly mutually-accepted social, political, economic and national interests. It was on such a basis and on such conceptions that the idea of a joint struggle of the Macedonian people and the other nationalities developed," concludes Aleksandar Hristov. In the process of assimilating the population of Macedonia, the idea of autonomy was present as a core element.
All this influenced the armed struggle of the Macedonian people, directing it toward establishing a form of political organization which would "...guarantee the creation of a separate political structure of power and relations." This leads to the conclusion that the idea of the autonomy of Macedonia incorporated in itself the concept of the Macedonian people as an individual people, having their own individual, national, political, economic and cultural interests differing and distinguished from those of other Balkan peoples. This, in turn, meant that the more the idea of an autonomous Macedonia was affirmed, the more the Macedonian people were identified as a nation.
It was the dispelling of the idea of an autonomous Macedonia that created new, complex relations in the Balkans and led to institutionalizing of the "Macedonian Question". The more Macedonians affirmed their national individuality and right to self-determination through the idea of Macedonian autonomy, the more other countries (Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia in particular), grew afraid that their territorial ambitions would be thwarted. Hence "the retained right" of the three countries to dispute the legitimacy of the Macedonian national movement or the right of the Macedonian people to their own state.
The documents of the Macedonian League and provision administration of Macedonia clearly show that it was the concept of an autonomous Macedonia that was the basis for the decision to embark on an armed struggle to win Macedonia's ethnic and political liberation. These ideas grew into the program of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, less than 13 years later.
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