Krste P. Misirkov

The Founder of Modern Macedonian Language
18 November 1874 Postol - 26 July 1926 Sofia, Bulgaria

18 November 1874 Postol – 26 July 1926 Sofia, Bulgaria

One of the most outstanding names in the recent history of Macedonian culture is undoubtedly that of Krste Petkov Misirkov, whose work was a valuable contribution to European culture and also to European science. But, owing to the perverse fortunes of the Macedonian people’s history the most important work of the new history of Macedonian culture, Misirkov’s Za makedonskite raboti (“About Macedonian Matters”), published in 1903, was not recognized at its proper worth until 20 years after his death. During his lifetime, this work was regarded as the greatest threat to the realization of the plans of those who aimed at keeping Macedonia under subjugation. For this very reason, he was forced to spend his life in exile, as he relates in his “Memories and Impressions,” “a wanderer in other lands, from which I tried to be of use to my oppressed country.” He died in poverty in Sofia on 26th July 1926.

Tracing the unhappy wanderings of Misirkov’s eventful life means at the same time relating the thorny path followed by the Macedonian people from the last quarter of the last century up to the Balkan wars. Misirkov was the founder of the modern Macedonian literary language and orthography, and the editor and publisher of the first scientific, literary and political journal to appear in the Macedonian language. For the 30 years that are considered the stormiest period of Macedonian history because the national revolutionary struggles were going on then, Misirkov served his country with unflagging zeal and won for himself an immortal name in her annals.
Misirkov began life during the most troubled period in the Balkans. He was born in 1874 at Postol, the former capital of Alexander the Great, in the part of Macedonia under Greek rule. When he had completed the second grade of the Greek pre-grammar school, he began to feel a bitter resentment against the unscrupulous methods of Greek propaganda. Being without money to continue his studies, he worked in the fields with his father; but when Serbian propaganda began to preach its variant of “Macedonianism,” and to recruit young people throughout Macedonia (which was then under Turkish rule) in order to “Serbianize” them, Misirkov left for Belgrade, full of joy and hope, where his odyssey began.

When Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek nationalistic propaganda were coming into violent collision on Macedonian soil, and Macedonian students were going from one school to another and from one church to another, a new ferment began among the students in Belgrade who had fled from Bulgarian and Greek schools in Macedonia. They realized that they had been deceived because they were forced to declare themselves Serbs and their language was treated as Serbian. But the students, who had only just arrived in Belgrade, insisted on the recognition of their nationality. When this was refused, they left Belgrade en masse as a demonstration of protest and went to Sofia. Misirkov was one of these students. This was his second flight, and he found himself caught up in the toils of the third propaganda in Macedonia.

This protest by the students was a real blow to Serbian propaganda and policy, and it caused a serious conflict between the Serbs and Bulgarians. But the triumph of the Bulgarian authorities was short-lived. Once across the Bulgarian frontier, the students realized they had been deceived again and were pawns in a new struggle for power at their expense. Accordingly, they had to extract themselves from a regrettable situation as best they could. Some of them wished to return to Belgrade, and those who remained in Sofia were subjected to a special regime. Most of them were sent to various colleges in the interior of Bulgaria.

In spite of all the precautions taken, most of the refugees returned to Serbia; among them was Misirkov, who was admitted as a student in the third grade of a grammar school in Belgrade. He did not stay there long, however since he was admitted as a student in the first grade of a theological college where young Macedonians were studying. In this semi-military college, future Serbian priests and teachers were trained for propaganda in Macedonia, as well as military cadres which were to serve as the basis for the forthcoming subjugation of this province of the Turkish Empire.

The circumstances which brought Misirkov from Salonica to Belgrade and Sofia and then back to Belgrade showed him clearly that Macedonians could no longer allow themselves to be pawns in their neighbours’ struggles for power, and that it was no longer possible for them to be treated as Greeks in one place, Serbs in another place, and Bulgarians in a third place, while they regarded themselves only as Macedonians.

At the end of the academic year the students went on a tour of the Kingdom of Serbia. This gave Misirkov the opportunity to study on the spot the various Serbian dialects and compare them with the Serbian literary language, and, having done this, to compare them with the spoken language of the Macedonians and of the Bulgarians. All this later served as material for his scientific researches into the Macedonian language. When the time came for them to enroll in the second grade of the grammar school, a group of Macedonian students rebelled against the assimilating policy and military regime of the Serbs. Misirkov was one of the group. As a result of the uproar, the Serbian Foreign Minister closed the schools and the students were scattered among the various towns of Serbia. After this rebellion, Misirkov continued his studies at Shabats, a small town not far from Belgrade. Not long after he was back in the Serbian capital.

In 1892, some friends and fellow students of Misirkov’s founded a literary society and began to bring out their own publication: Loza (Vineyard – one of the most difficult plants to uproot, as a symbol of the Macedonians). At that time a campaign was launched in the Bulgarian press against the national ideology of the Lozars (those who were associated with the publication Loza). Then everything possible was done to neutralize the action of Bishop Teodossie of Skopje, who aimed at separating the Macedonian Church from the Bulgarian Exarchate and even at entering into communion with the Holy See of Rome. The young Macedonian intellectuals Petar Pop Arsov, Dame Gruev, Gotse Delchev, Gjorche Petrov, Georgi Balashchev, and others took an active part in all those movements.

All this had repercussions on the Macedonian students in Belgrade, who, in 1893, founded their own student society — Vardar. Its charter included, among other things, the aim of studying and spreading a knowledge of their country as regards its geographical, ethnographic and historical aspects. The founder of this society was Misirkov. A cardinal principle of its program was that Macedonia should belong to the Macedonians. The Serbs were opposed to this thesis of the young Macedonians, so their society did not last very long: it was disbanded in 1895. The Serbs, not trusting the Macedonians, began to send real Serbian priests and teachers to Macedonia. In these circumstances it is not surprising that Misirkov, after completing his studies at the Belgrade teachers’ training college, refused to go to Prishtina, where, having been the best student of his class, he was appointed as a Serbian teacher. Instead, he left secretly for Odessa in order to continue his studies for the benefit of his country.

His academic qualifications obtained in Belgrade were not recognized in Russia, so he had to study for a further two years in the Seminary at Poltava, and then in 1897 he was able to enter the Faculty of Philological and Historical Studies at the University of St. Petersburg. When he enrolled at this university, Misirkov did not state that he was Bulgarian, Greek or Serbian, as Macedonian intellectuals of that time usually did when declaring what studies they had completed. He stated that he was a Macedonian Slav. Thanks to the research on the ethnography and history of the Balkan Peninsula he had carried out during his stay in Serbia, Misirkov was able to give his first scholarly lecture before the members of the Russian Imperial Geographical Society. This first scholarly work shows with what keen interest the young student had addressed himself to the studies he would specialize in for the next thirty years. Still as a student, Misirkov gave lectures on various subjects including, among others: “Marko Krale as a national hero” and “The ethnic pattern of the population in Macedonia.” In 1901, for reasons of health, he removed to the University of Odessa, where he worked on his degree thesis: “The problem of nationality and the reasons fm the popularity of the Macedonian Marko Krale.”

Of great importance in the work done by Misirkov for his beloved country was the founding of the secret Macedonian Society at St. Petersburg. The aim of this was to give moral and material aid to the Macedonian cause, and to follow its development. Misirkov soon became president and an active member of this society. Since this society was a branch of the Macedonian Secret Organization, Misirkov corresponded with the other two committees of the Organization: the Supreme Committee at Sofia and the other at Salonica. He was thus kept informed about events in Macedonia and in the lives of Macedonian emigrants. As president of this society, Misirkov had fruitful contacts with eminent men in Russian political, cultural and scientific circles, and so was able to obtain adequate aid from the Slav Charitable Society for the Macedonian refugees.

When the new Macedonian Society recently founded in Belgrade began publication of the journal Balkanski glasnik (The Voice of the Balkans), in which the fundamental principles of the Macedonian literary language and orthography were set forth, Misirkov was able to take part in the struggle for Macedonian national independence by getting in touch with Macedonians residing in Belgrade. But soon after, the Macedonian Society in Belgrade was closed, the journal was suppressed and the editors were disbanded. Then Stefan Jakimov Dedov and Diamandi Tirpkov Mishaikov, who were the chief founders of this Society, left for the Russian capital. There, together with Misirkov, Chupovski, Konstantinovich and others, on the 28th of October 1902 they founded the Society of Macedonian Students, afterwards called the “St. Clement’s Macedonian Scientific and Literary Society,” which became the most important Macedonian national institution abroad. In the same year this Society sent a Special Memorandum to the Great Powers, in which the Macedonian problem was examined at length from the national point of view, and the problem of the Macedonian language was solved by making it the Macedonian literary language. The question was also examined of establishing a Macedonian national Church under the Bishopric of Ohrid. The aim of this Memorandum was that the Macedonians should be recognized as a separate nation and that Macedonia should be granted full autonomy within the Turkish Empire.

In the expectation that freedom would be granted to Macedonia, Misirkov abandoned his university studies and left for Bitola, where he was appointed assistant master at the classical academy. There he became friendly with the Russian consul Rostkovski, who made him tutor to his children. This post gave him the opportunity to enter into friendly relations with various representatives of the diplomatic corps, which enabled him to follow closely Balkan and European politics regarding Macedonia. With some of his friends he began to pave the way for opening Macedonian schools also for publishing textbooks in the Macedonian language. But the Ilinden Uprising (1903) and the assassination of the Russian Consul in his presence changed everything for the worse for Misirkov. Life in Macedonia became so unbearable for him that he felt obliged to leave his native land and return to Russia. There he published a great many articles informing the general public of the causes of the Ilinden Uprising and the reasons why the Russian Consul was assassinated.

Misirkov soon resumed his activity in the “St. Clement’s Society,” giving various lectures and writing his book “For the Macedonian Cause.” This book, written in the Macedonian language, was published in Sofia, where he later founded a new society of Macedonian emigrant intellectuals. In 1905, because his life was in jeopardy, he left for Berdiansk in Southern Russia, where he was given a post as assistant master in a grammar school. There he resumed publication of the Macedonian journal Vardar. As a result of this activity, he received threats warning him to give up his struggle for Macedonia, but he ignored them and continued his patriotic work with undaunted zeal.

When the first Balkan war was declared, Macedonians flocked home from all parts of the world to take part in the struggle for liberation from the Turkish yoke. Misirkov was in Macedonia then as a Russian war correspondent so that he could follow the military operations on the spot. He suffered another disappointment in Macedonia when he found that the “liberators,” the various Balkan monarchies, were each aiming to gain possession of a large part of Macedonian territory. Accordingly, he published a series of articles in the Russian press pointing out the cruel destiny of the Macedonian people as a result of the tripartition of Macedonia; he also wrote some violent articles demanding that the Turks should be driven out of Macedonian territory.

In 1913, on the initiative of the Macedonian colony in Petersburg, of which Misirkov was a member, the journal Makedonski glas (The Voice of Macedonia) was founded, which was published in Russian and Macedonian. This journal dealt openly and courageously with the most important problems connected with the destiny of Macedonia. The Macedonian colony in the Russian capital sent a series of memoranda to the London Conference and the Balkan Governments; it also addressed appeals to the Russian and Macedonian peoples pointing out the troubled history of this small but heroic people, which, after five centuries of oppression, instead of gaining its freedom was now subject to a new domination; the tripartite domination of the Bulgarians, Serbs and Greeks, which made its situation even worse. In an article which appeared in 1914 in the journal Slavianskia izvestia, Misirkov cleared up the question of the participation of Macedonian regiments in the struggle against Turkey in 1912, stating that four armies, Serbian, Greek, Macedonian and Montenegrin, had fought, in Macedonia, and two, Bulgarian and Macedonian, had fought in Thrace. All these armies except the Macedonian were subsidized.

In this article Misirkov wrote:
“The Russian public forgot Macedonia, but although she is in a disastrous plight, she is still alive. She suffered the tremendous oppression of the Turkish yoke for five centuries, and yet kept her national spirit. If Malorussia was able to bear the Polish yoke in the 16th and 17th centuries, Macedonia, too, will be able to survive the sufferings, of 1913. The Slavs freed themselves from their misfortunes, overcoming the bitterest disappointments, and began to heal their wounds and lay the foundations of a lasting peace in the Balkans in virtue of the national independence of all the Balkan peoples. So Macedonia, too, will be able to obtain what is her due.”

In order to be able to say what he thought with absolute freedom, Misirkov began to write articles under the pseudonym of K. Rilski. These articles appeared in the Makedonski glas and were marked by their combative spirit. In them Misirkov defended the Macedonian national ideals, which were in contrast to those of the Bulgarians, and emphasized the struggle for the independence of Macedonia during the course of history. In these stormy days of 1913 when attempts were being made in the Balkans to prove that the Macedonians were Serbs, Bulgarians or Greeks, Misirkov declared:

“The time has come for all the world to know that the people living in Macedonia are Macedonians and not Serbs, or Bulgarians or Greeks; and that the Macedonian people has its own history, its own national dignity, and its own important contributions to the cultural history of the Slavs… Macedonia is a land of old Slavonic culture, and no one will succeed in rooting out this old Slavonic culture… Macedonia will survive all misfortunes because the giants of Macedonia are not yet dead. The figures of SS. Cyril and Methodius, and St. Clement and St. Naum of Ochrid are shining examples to the sons of Macedonia, whom a glorious future awaits on the day that Macedonia, united and free, takes her place as a member with equal rights of the family of the Balkan peoples.”

When he returned from the Balkan front, Misirkov gave up his post at Odessa and was appointed assistant master of the grammar school at Kishinev. At that time Bessarabia became a republic, and he was elected the first member of its Parliament. However, the pro-Rumanian party was dominant and the Rumanian army brought strong pressure to bear on the young republic so that the Parliament was forced to declare the annexation of Bessarabia to Rumania in November 1918. Then Misirkov was expelled and, not being able to return to Macedonia, he went to Sofia. Misirkov’s arrival in Sofia coincided with the serious disorders that broke out immediately after the First World War over the Macedonian question, and every Macedonian emigrant was compelled to sign the various resolutions and petitions in favor of the Bulgarian cause in Macedonia. In this state of affairs, Misirkov was distrusted by the Bulgarians because of his ardent defense of Macedonian nationhood.

After working for a year at the Ethnographic Museum in Sofia, Misirkov was appointed assistant master of the grammar school at Karlovo, where he was always suspected on account of his fervent Macedonian nationalism.

In 1921 Misirkov wrote a letter to the Serbian Minister Plenipotentiary at Sofia asking him to use his influence to secure his appointment to a teaching post at the grammar school in Skopje, or else in some other Macedonian town, or failing that in Belgrade or Zagreb. After being kept waiting for two years, he was informed that his application had been rejected and he realized he would have to stay in Bulgaria indefinitely. Accordingly, he resumed his journalistic activity and published articles on the Macedonian question in the Bulgarian press. In all, he wrote some thirty important articles, which will remain as his testament for future generations of Macedonians. In one of his articles published at that time, he affirmed:

“There are no solid grounds for pessimism for us or for optimism for our oppressors… Are we Macedonians a people without a class of intellectuals, without glorious traditions, without strong energy, without national ideals, without a literature, and in general without culture.” On the contrary, “a real, original Macedonian culture has always existed, and has been the most powerful weapon of the Macedonians for preserving their cultural identity and for enduring all the vicissitudes of their country’s history: neither Byzantium, nor Bulgaria, nor Serbia, nor Turkey were able to change the character of the Macedonians so as to separate them from their Slav forbears.” Misirkov declared that the new oppressors would obtain nothing by terror: “Terror can only create martyrs for an idea; it can never obtain the victory of lies and oppression. Our work is sacred, and therefore it will obtain the support of the civilized peoples of Europe, particularly of the Italians.”

Misirkov’s assertion of the existence of a separate Macedonian culture aroused a storm of angry comment. In one of the many articles he wrote on the subject, he did not hesitate to say:

“Yes, Macedonian culture and history are quite separate from Bulgarian and Serbian culture and history; they have never been the object of an impartial and detailed study. The Serbs and the Bulgarians most unfairly took from Macedonian culture only what they could make use of for the glory of their own national names; ignoring facts of capital importance either because they did not concern them, or because they contradicted their own national aspirations. Unfortunately, the Macedonians themselves are only now beginning to study Macedonian history, having realized, towards the end of last century, that they could no longer trust the historians of Belgrade or Sofia…”

In articles written at that time, Misirkov frequently dealt with the situation of the Macedonians in the Yugoslav Kingdom, and was profoundly convinced that the Macedonian minority in that kingdom was the most unjustly treated of all the minorities. He also said that the kingdom was the Austria of the Balkan Peninsula, and concluded:

“Only by the unification of all the Macedonians and a common program for the creation of Macedonia in a Balkan Switzerland will it be possible to end rivalry within the Balkans and in Europe for the hegemony of the Balkans.”

He also wrote: “Only Serbian and Bulgarian shortsightedness is responsible for the unhappy plight of the Macedonians and therefore of their serious international situation.” In this connection, Misirkov painted out that “the Serbs and the Bulgarians must know that we Macedonians have suffered, and still suffer, more than anyone else as a result of the disagreement between them and for this reason we, more than anyone else, could con- tribute to a reconciliation between them and to the prosperity of all the Southern Slav peoples.”

What, according to Misirkov, did the Macedonians want from their oppressors? “Give us our rights and our freedom,” he declared, “so that we can respect our language and our past as you respect your past and your present, and we will build a firm bridge between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.” After the tripartition of Macedonia, in a message to his people Misirkov wrote: “Macedonians are tested by struggle and, if to armed struggle is added that for a real Macedonian culture and science, and if these are intensified, Macedonia will not be lost and Macedonians will accomplish their historic mission…” The agreements with Greece for the emigration of Macedonians from Aegean Macedonia, as well as the agreements between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, were strongly condemned by Misirkov for the harm they did to the Macedonian people.

He wrote: “I hope I may be forgiven but, as a Macedonian, I put the interests of my country and my compatriots first and then those of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. I am a Macedonian with a Macedonian conscience, and as such I have my opinion about the past, present and future of my country and of the Southern Slavs; I therefore demand that we Macedonians should be consulted on all questions concerning ourselves and our neighbors, and that agreements should not be made between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia about us over our heads. They may be sure that Macedonia will show the necessary tact, the necessary insight and spirit of self-sacrifice for the achievement of a general improvement in the Balkans, provided their personal and national dignity are respected.”

In his article entitled “Macedonian Nationalism,” Misirkov explains what he means by this: “A boundless and unalterable love for Macedonia, continual thought and toil for the interests of Macedonia, and an absolute manifestation of the Macedonian national spirit: the language, poetry, life and customs of the people – here in broad outline is what I mean by Macedonian nationalism…” All these articles, published in the Bulgarian press, aroused a storm of opposition to Misirkov, and in September 1925 he was removed from Karlovo and sent to Koprivchitsa, threatened with death if he continued to write articles of this kind. Furthermore, the publishers and editors of the papers Mir and Ilinden, in which his articles appeared, were formally warned to cease publishing them. This was the end of the public life of a great Macedonian patriot. Soon after he fell ill, and his physical life, too, came to an end in a hospital in the Bulgarian capital.

One of the most important points constantly maintained by Misirkov was that the Macedonians, as a Slav people who for centuries had shared the fate of all other neighboring Slav peoples, had their own national history and a rich, essentially national culture. For the achievement of their independence, Macedonians had to get rid of foreign names, introduced by various propaganda campaigns and pseudo-histories at Macedonia’s expense, and restore the Macedonian national names. Politically, Misirkov preferred that Macedonia should remain within the Ottoman Empire when she was under Turkish rule, and later, when this was ended, he wanted a free and independent Macedonia. Misirkov was a Slavonic scholar of broad views who had tackled the most difficult philological, linguistic, ethnographic, historical and other problems of Macedonia and the Balkans. He was a student of folklore who had collected and studied the epos of the Southern Slavs; be had also made a careful study of past and contemporary ethnography, and compiled the first ethnographic statistics, in which the Macedonians appear under their national name. As a publicist, Misirkov expounded the ideas that he believed should govern Macedonian national development and the organization of the struggle fm the national and political independence of Macedonia. As a philologist, Misirkov was the founder of the modern Macedonian language and orthography, which he gave the status of a literary language, separate from the Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek languages, which the Serbs, Bulgarians and Greeks had tried to impose on the Macedonian people.

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