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The Bulgarian Educational Politics in Vardar Macedonia, 1941 - 1944

Spas Tashev


"Tell me, please, what would England do, if just like Bulgaria had population not bigger than six million and if the Channel was not broader than the Danube?"

Mr. Earl, American Minister in Sofia to Mr. Rendel, the English Minister on the occasion of Mr. Rendel's accusation to the Bulgarian alliance with Germany.

The events in the Balkans, connected with the German invasion of 6 April 1941 and the subsequent collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia had been barely treated objectively and impartially. People who were interested in this problem were compelled to draw their conclusions on the basis of ideologically biased Cold War Eastern and Western publications. Due to the shortage of previous objective analyses in early 1990s the world public opinion was unprepared to understand the nature of the "sudden" break-up of bitter intra-Yugoslavian conflicts . In general it failed to react promptly to the erupted violence in Bosnia and some Serbian-claimed parts of Croatia not the least because of the misleading and bias generated and successfully spread by the exceptionally active Serbo-Yugoslavian propaganda abroad. Yet presently there is a growing interest in South-East European affairs, demonstrated by the increasing number of publications on the region.

The books and articles by the Amnesty International investigator Hugh Poulton on the Macedonian question could be singled out as the indicative example of the recent tendencies. In 1991 he wrote: "Pro-Bulgarian sentiment had meant that the partisans, the Yugoslav … [Communist resistance movement lead by Tito, initially had some difficulties in spreading to Macedonia, but the situation changed after the visit in Skopje of the Tito's assistant Vukmanovich-Tempo, and after te end of 1943 the partisans increased their popularity because of the Bulgarian repressions which allienated the population. In 1944 the Bulgarian troops began to retreat before the partisans, and in the September 1944 Bulgaria changed the system and joined the victorious states. The Bulgarian occupation of 1941-1944 destroyed the illusions of many, but] not most Yugoslav Macedonians, but there remained a residual pro-Bulgarian sentiment" [1]. However, even this objective analysis was to a certain extent influenced by the Yugoslavian literature spread in the West (and by the deficiency of the available Bulgarian sources): the introduction of his book was written by the famous former Yugoslavian communist - Milovan Gilas. Hence, the careful and informed reader would be hardly surprised not to find a singe line on the post-1945 fate of the people with Bulgarian ethnic consciousness in the Yugoslavian region that was labelled as the "Socialist Republic of Macedonia". Four years later Poulton wrote a second book - "Who are the Macedonians ?" Now he had consulted not only Yugoslavian but also Bulgarian literature, published after the democratic changes of 1989. Therefore he was able to present more objective and balanced analysis of the Macedonian question; e.g. the post-1945 repression against people with Bulgarian consciousness was illuminated. [2]

Hence, this publication should be understood as part of the outlined tendency. It is aimed to expound an aspect of recent history which was either unknown or treated in line with the Skopie-Belgrade history writers and their distorted Serb-Macedonist version. The following pages are supposed to inform the general reader interested in Balkan affairs and contribute to a more balanced views and opinions on questions that are - paradoxically enough - both controversial and unknown.


The problem of the Bulgarian Educational Policy as an element of the Bulgarian State Presence [3] in the region along Vardar river in 1941-1944 has been treated only by the Skopian Historical School [4]. So far the most voluminous (and both fact-rich and biased) is Rastislav Terzioski's [5] book. In addition, it is possible to find some relevant information in the illegally published Macedonist pro-Yugoslavian communist periodicals of the time [6], in some Serb-oriented literature [7], in memoirs of distinguished Tito's lieutenants and so on.

The memoirs of Bulgarian communist leader Tzola Dragoitcheva, printed in communist period were the most detailed source, though partial and silent on many facts (due to the obvious purpose not to undermine the "prestige" of the Bulgarian communist party) [8]. In recent years several interesting studies were presented to the Bulgarian reading public [9]. However, neither of the authors had paid any special attention to the educational policy of Bulgarian Kingdom towards Vardar Macedonia in 1941-1944. Yet this is precisely the most apt issue that could help us to reveal the real attitude and mechanisms of the action of the Bulgarian state. In this study the Skopie culture club and the national social clubs are not discussed because they were neither part of the state policy nor did they enjoy any official support [10]. All the data in this work is revised to coincide (completely or approximately) with the figures published by Mr. Terzioski. This is done with the sole objective to avoid the useless disputes with the Skopie history writers: the primary concern of the historian should be not the establishment of the pointless array of numbers and facts but their correct and logical structuring and explanation. [*]

The present author is keen to suppose that the present publication will not cause admiration among the supporters of pre-1989 regime or among those figures home or abroad who benefited from the regime. To Marxist critics I am tempted to remind Lenin's words: "The war is non-party-coloured, varied, complicated thing. It must not be approached with common pattern... Even in an imperial phenomenon there may national-liberation, progressive elements might exist ".


We find the violation of the human right to freely express your views in the case of Hristos Sideropolus /Hristo Siderov/ and Anastasios Bulis /Tase Bulev/ for what they said for the Greek magazine ,,Ena" in March 1992, concerning the ethnic belonging of Macedonian Slavs. They said the following:
,,Siderov: Where have we reached? The Turks are our enemies, the Bulgarians are enemies, the Albanians are enemies ... In Greece there are one million people that speak Macedonian ... We want to have the rights to unite, to have schools, churches ... I am a Greek citizen with all the responsibilities as such, only with one difference: I belong to an ethnic minority, which my country does not recognize... "

,,Bulev: We are citizens of a country from Lerin to Crit and from Evros to Korfu. We will defend this country if we are recognized as an ethnic Macedonian minority and „I am not Greek, I am Macedonian!".

For these statements the prosecutor accused them of "spreading fake information, that Macedonia is not Greek and that a Macedonian minority exists on Greek territory and that these activities lead to confrontation between those that speak Slavic and others /Greeks/." What is called for is years in jail and fines. The case was heard twice. IMRO - SMD wanted to send its own defender, which was made impossible. Then it turned to the International Organization ,,Amnesty International" in London, which sent an observer to the trial. The case was tried twice and was postponed twice, the second time till 1995.

This case represents a clear violation of par. 10 of the European convention from 1974, as well as art. 30 to art. 35 of Vol. IV of the Convention signed by Greece in 1990 in Copenhagen and par. 9 of the Preambule of the Human rights Conference of CCCE from 1991 in Moscow /facsimile No. 11 of ,,Macedonia" newspaper from 1993/.


On April 18, 1990 17 people, citizens of Lerin decided to form an association called "Macedonian Cultural Center", with the following aims, as per its Code.

Article 2 The aims of the Association are the following:

a) cultural, spiritual and artistic advancement of the members, as well as development of the will for collaboration, solidarity and love;
b) cultural decentralization and care for the spiritual and artistic displays and traditions, for the cultural monuments and national traditions;
c) preserving the cultural and natural identity of the district.
Article 3 The above mentioned aims are materialized by legal means, and more precisely through lectures, publications, opening of clubs, book stores, printing newspapers, magazines, books, exhibitions, theatre performances, picture and sculpture exhibitions, musical events, film making sections, .... youth club.
This Application No. 73/296/26/1990 for registering the association was given to the local authority to be registered. The prefect rejected it and did not allow the registration. The founders filed a complaint to the Court of Appeal in Thessalonika, registered under No. 54/1990. 

Greek newspapers opened deadly fire against the initiative. ,,Elinikos voras" from 12.5.1991 says among other things:

1. The initiative of Sideropolus and the others endangers the unity of the country.
2. The founders of the Macedonian Cultural Center in Lerin execute imperialist directives.
3. This is an attempt to mobilize young Macedonians.
The Court of Appeals in Thessalonika decides that the wish of the 17 Lerin citizens was by creating of this Macedonian Cultural Center to endanger the unity of Greece through secession of Greek Macedonia. This is the Troyan horse of Scopje.

,,Nea Ikologia" newspaper from June 1990 writes: ,,Although Slavo-Macedonians do not exist, officially, they separate themselves from the rest of the Greek citizens. They speak a different language, have other names, customs and songs, a different famity structure, a different religion Ithey are orthodox, hut go by the old calendar!. Since 1912 when Macedonia was incorporated in the Greek state, force against it has been displayed at various levels. It was brutal during the time of Metaxas, immediately after the civil war and during the Junta. Different were also the results of the violence: some Slavo-Macedonians were assimilated, others left the country, many of them declared that although they were Greek citizens, they did not feel such and would preserve their roots. This is so, because if they speak in their dialect in public places they are either fired from work or sent somewhere else. Like for instance last year's fair in Melitis was cancelled because the prefect forbade the local band to play Macedonian songs."

The "Elinikos Noras" newspaper from 22.5.1991 under the headline ,,Betrayal in Macedonia" writes: ,,The creation of the Socialist republic of Macedonia at aiming an opening to the Aegean Sea. To reach this end various ways are used to win the bilingual Greeks in Macedonia. The creation of the Macedonian Cultural centre aims at the creation of a Macedonian question with world-wide dimensions."

The initiators for the creation of the centre appealed against the Thessalonika Court of Appeals decision before the Supreme Court in Athens. The case is still pending and so far there is no decision. An example of the different ways of deciding is that the Athens Court with decision No. 2413/90 allowed the registration of an Arnaut Cultural centre, which intends to spread the Arnaut culture through language, songs and dances...

The activities of the Greek justice and government breach the international conventions, which they have signed. The minorities right to display their own culture and to create their own societies is accepted by the UN in its Declaration of human Rights approved by the General Assembly on February 3 1993. "People belonging to... minorities have the right to express their own culture... at home or publicly, freely and without interference or whatever kind of discrimination /Art. 2 par.1/. People belonging to a minority have the right to create and support their own societies /Art. par.2/.

The CCCE decision /Geneva 1991/ also signed by Greece includes similar protections:

"People, belonging to nationalminorities, have the right to freely express, support and develop their cultural identity and to support and develop their culture in all its aspects and without whatever tries for assimilation against their will /Section III, par. 41/. The freedom of association is also protected by international laws, included in the European convention /Art.11/ and the United Declaration for human Rights /Art.20/."
The Vienna Declaration from 9.10.1993 is clear: ,,States must create the necessary conditions for people, belonging to a national minority to develop their own culture, preserving religion, traditions and customs, their language as privately, as well as publicly... and in their relations with the public authorities, /addition II - National minorities/"


On December 10 1992 Michail Papadakis - 17 years old, was arrested in downtown Athens, because he was giving away leaflets with the following content: ,,Do not let yourselves be poisoned by nationalism. Macedonia belongs to its own people. There is no pure race. We are all of combined origin".
Because he tried to ,,incite people to divide between themselves" he was sentenced to one year in jail. The conviction of Papadakis is one of the last displays of suppression towards the citizens that oppose the chauvinistic policy of the Greek leaders against Macedonia /source Amnesty International - EUR 25/01/93/.

Six people - Teodorus Pagomenos, Dionisis Gurnas, Rula Adamopulu, Stergios Giumakis, Anna Stal and Kostas Kutlos were convicted on January 27 1992 because they attached posters on walls with the text: ,,Recognize Slavic Macedonia."

In both cases mentioned the international organization reckons it is a breach of the freedom of expressing personal view, which contradicts Art. 10 of the European Convention for Protecting Human Rights, signed by Greece.

,,There is a Macedonian national minority" - insists H. Florakis.

On 26.. 1960 in Athens there was a trial against 42 members of the Greek Communist Party. The accused Harilao Florakis, Secretary General of GCP, in his defending speech said according to ,,Avgi" newspaper from 10.5.1960: ,,The accusation act states that we want to separate Macedonia from the Greek State and to split Greece. There is no such thing. The word is about a minority and the rights it lacks. Terrorizing it should be stopped, persecuting this minority and its members because they speak their mother tongue... "


,,Human Rights Watch" was founded in 1978 in order to determine the state of human rights and their observance according to the Helsinki agreement from 1975. As it is well-known with that agreement the final borders of the European countries and their inviolability were acknowledged. In exchange for this acknowledgment the countries that signed the agreement were obliged to observe the human rights on their territory, including the rights of the persons representing an ethnic minority in the country.

In April 1994 the organization published its report on the situation of the Slav population in Northern Greece under the title "Denying ethnic identity". By using the assistance of three fact determining commissions the organization studied the state of the human rights in Northern Greece and collected data, which helped it to reach the respective conclusions.

As it is well-known the definition ,,macedonian" is a geographic definition, used for all Greek citizens living in the Macedonian region of Northern Greece. The government denied the existence of ethnic Macedonians in Greece as a minority group and calls them officially ,,Slav Greeks" or ,,bi-lingual Greeks". The Greek government admitted that only one minority group existed in Greece and this was the Muslims in Western Thrace. Their existence was adopted with the Lozana agreement in 1923, which determined the rights of the Muslim minority in Greece, and the Greek minority in Turkey.

The ethnic Macedonians use the word ,,macedonian" for persons of Slav origin, whose ancestors have spoken a Slav Macedonian dialect and who have different culture and habits from the Greek community. According to the Greek court sentence on Hristo Siderov and Tasko Bulev (above mentioned) case, they were sentenced because they had claimed to the ,,Ena" magazine the existence of 1 000 000 Macedonians in Greece According to the Greek Law the number of the minority is a state secret. When the commission asked the local citizens they claimed themselves to be Macedonians, saying that their parents were Bulgarian.

It was the first time when an officially accepted international organization succeeded to collect the needed proofs, used in the above mentioned report. The organization reached the followine conclusions:
1. A Macedonian minority with own language and culture exists in Northern Greece.

2. The Greek government denies the ethnic identity of the Macedonian minority and abuses the international laws and agreements for the protection of human rights. That was proved by the official governmental acts... by the existence of Macedonian language, by the denial of the Greek government to permit the establishing of a ,,Macedonian Culture Center" as well as by the prohibition for performing of the Macedonian songs and folk dances.
3. The right of expression is limited for the ethnic Macedonians in violation of the international humanitarian agreements. The active members are pursued and sentenced for peacefully expressed opinions.

4. The ethnic mcedonian political immigrants (refugees), that fled Northern Greece after the Greek Civil War as well as their descendants, calling themselves Macedonians are discriminated against and are not permitted to visit Northern Greece in contrast to the political immigrants calling themselves „ Greeks" that could return to their home towns.

5. The education in the Macedonian language is prohibited.
6. The ethnic Macedonians are discriminated again when participating in public services.
7. The ethnic Macedonians and the human rights activists in particular are harassed by the government, pursued and threatened by the security forces and are subject to economic and social aggression.
At the end Human Rights Watch recommends to the ,,government of the USA to acknowledge and to confirm that the Greek Republic violates human rights. The organization recommends needed measures to be taken and in particular the Supreme Commissioner for the minority issues of. CCCE to be asked to study the issue and to take measures to stop all discrimination against the Macedonian ethnic minority in Greece. "

The report was published in April 1994 in the USA - USA Congress Library, catalogue number 4-75891 - J.S.B.N. 1-564432-132-0. 

1. Professional courses and secondary education.

In 1913-1915 and 1919-1941, during the periods of Serbian rule the vast network of Bulgarian educational institutions was completely destroyed. Furthermore, even the instruction in Serbian style was not encouraged. In inter-war Yugoslavia "the education was compulsory for fourth grade in these places where schools were built. There were schools - here and there - not all over as in Bulgaria. For instance, there was only one four grade school in Kriva-Palanka region: one for more than 40 000 inhabitants. In fact, the common peasant could hardly send his child in a town far away to have better education. Small wonder that people remained illiterate and indifferent to the book, that they have not community cultural centres, libraries at their homes". [11]

After the end of 1920s Serbian authorities didn't establish new schools, they even deliberately closed down some schools already existing in the town of Prilep. "The Serbs realized that the education encouraged strong moral as well as understanding of the brutal deprivation from basic human rights.. That was the reason why the school was closed; when it became private, pupils invariably failed on their matriculation mainly because school teachers and inspectors established insufficient knowledge of Serb language." [12]

The Bulgarian administration inherited the same situation: "The Serbian colonial authority supported only 462 schools in Macedonia, 157 of them have more than 2 classrooms, 230 have 2 classrooms and only 106 have only 1 classroom [13]. In the first days of Bulgarian administration the new authorities paid special attention to the teachers that had finished pre-1913 Bulgarian pedagogical schools. Status quo teachers, Bulgarian by birth, were also specially honoured. In its first issue from May 24, 1941 the newspaper "Tselokupna Bulgaria" informed that: "The Ministry of Education knows about the peculiar difficulties of local Bulgarian teachers; their position will be regulated soon" [14]. In 15 towns [15] for them were organized special refreshers courses in Standard Literary Bulgarian in the beginning of May 1941. For example, the Skopie course was attended by 95 primary teachers. Twenty of them were Bulgarian Exarhist ones from the pre-1913 Ottoman period. On July 1941 more than 300 teachers were sent to a two-month course in Sofia [16]. Bulgarian government insisted in the next school year to be opened possibly "larger number of schools, including all towns and larger villages. To this end, the existing Yugoslavian school building proved insufficient; other public and private buildings were adapted for educational purposes" [17]. These actions were commented in length by the post-war Skopie history writers: "Using the dissatisfaction of the Macedonian People towards the former Serbs Educational policy in Macedonia, Bulgarian government wanted to attract this nation with promises for wide school network; in fact, it worked in this way for one and only Bulgarian nation". [18]

The reparation of school buildings supports the assumption that the Bulgarian rule in Macedonia was not based on a power of invasion. The Skopie history writers were compelled to find that "only in Macedonia were opened 800 primary schools, 160 junior high school and 10 secondary schools and 7 named secondary school's branches. There were two boy's and girls high school in Skopie and mixed schools in Bitolia, Ohrid, Veles, Kumanovo, Prilep, Strumitza and Shtip. Secondary school branches existed in Berovo, Gevgelija, Kavadartzi, Kochani, Kratovo, Radovish and Resen... Parallel to real high schools openings the Ministry of Education brings a decision to create classical grades in several schools for the school year 1941/42. They were created in Skopie, Shtip, Bitolia, Veles, Ohrid and Prilep towns all of them ... After the situation was considered, it was decided to open two commercial high schools - in Skopie and Britola" [19]. For the school year 1941/42 it was open a music school [20], which was transformed during the school year 1943/44 in a 5th years Music high school. [21]

In accordance with the educational ministry's policy 15 agricultural and 3 practical schools operated in the school year 1941/42 to meet the economic needs. A number of short and long duration agricultural courses was organized as well [22]. A secondary agricultural school was opened in Bitola on 15 September 1942. In 1941 a state school for national handicrafts it was opened, with an aim "to carry on the traditions of the Bulgarian Ohrid school from the past".

The state school for nurses opened its doors in the Autumn 1941 in Skopie [23]. And more significantly, on January 1, 1942 the town of Skopie witnessed the opening of the State Police School, which recruited its gradates only among the population of Macedonia [24]. In other words, the Bulgarian authorities had confidence in the majority of Macedonian population and recruited from it the rank and file of the police.

The dynamics of pupil's enrolment during the Bulgarian rule could serve as other major indication. Pupil numbers in the school year 1941/42 ran up to 95.579 scholars, 79.191 in the Primary schools, 19.319 in secondary schools and 3.157 in the high schools. There are 450 learners in the vocational and special schools. With the purpose of stimulating the education in Macedonia, Bulgarian Government granted 2 mln. lv. for scholarships in 1941. A project was personally prepared by prime-minister Bogdan Fillov for granting scholarships to the value of 6.mln. lv in the school year 1941/42. As the same time the ministry established funds for gifted children and poor pupils. Two hundred and eight talented children were supported by the state in 1943/44. The allowances for the poor pupil were also substantial: for example, in Skopie district it was as much as 190.258 lv. Two years later, in 1943/44 school year it increased to 303. 634 lv. [25]

The post-war Skopie histories had no difficulties to compose a suitable comment: "There was an enrolment in large numbers; the reason for this was not the sentimental feeling to the Bulgarian schools, as the Bulgarian educational authorities usually interpreted. That took place because of the people's desire to get their education" [26]. The applications such as that of Dragan Milanov Strezov - a pupil from 6-th grade of the Resen secondary school illuminate precisely the ethnic attachment to the Bulgarian community: "I'm asking you for your kindness to grant me with a scholarship for continuation of my education... My mother's father was a fighter for liberation of Macedonia and he perished as a victim of his patriotism. I inherited the Bulgarian legacy from him and I would like to continue his deeds as an educated citizen of United Bulgaria". [27]

It worths noting that in 1941 the schools in district of Bitola were daily attending by 111 Bulgarian pupil from these areas of Greek (Aegean) Macedonia, which were not included in the Bulgarian administrative zone. The Skopie history writers are once again prompt to offer their explanation: "There was a runaway on a mass scale of children from the region of Aegean Macedonia, because of a drastic denationalization that have been done by the previous Greece schools towards the Macedonians. The proposal - pupil to learn their subjects in Bulgarian, a language close to Macedonian - was more acceptable" [28]. The Skopie writers acknowledge that the number of Bulgarian scholar from Greek Macedonia increased ceaselessly. "The number of scholars from Aegean Macedonia rose later. Several proposals were made in order to achieve further enrolment: firstly, an opening of school in Bitola, secondly, of schools in Aegean Macedonia itself (Lerin, Voden, etc.); the third was an everyday transfer of about 2.000 children to Bitola and back with the help of a special transports, permitted by the German commanders in this area". [29]

Bulgarians from the areas under Italian administration came to schools in the Bulgarian zone of in Vardar Macedonia . Thus the number of pupils in the district of Skopie increased with 10.414 persons (or 12%). This was due to attitude of the Italian authorities which "made the Bulgarians send their children in Serbian schools, which were established there under Italian orders" [30]. The Bulgarian authorities set up free canteens and boarding attached to the most of schools. In the Autumn of 1942 they amounted to 500 with 20.000 children fed in. According to one report by the governor of the district of Skopie the state spent 44.500.000 lv for these initiatives till February 1942. [31]

The impartial analysis of these data, acknowledged by the Skopie historians, points that in spite of the war difficulties, the Bulgarian government allocated large funds to strengthen the educational system in Vardar Macedonia. The number of schools during the Bulgarian rule increased in 110 % as compared to the numbers from the previous years of Yugoslavian rule. Nowadays the Skopie historians admit that "the Bulgarian authorities were committed to such organization in Macedonia which was not a separate occupation regime but was integrated in the Bulgarian state administration." [32]

11. Good Health, issue 4, Sofia 1941.
12. One hundred years from the founding of the New Bulgarian School in Prilep, Skopje 1943, p.200-201.
13. Bulgarian central state archive, f 177, op. 2, N 1603 f. 15
14. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 1, Skopje 1941.
15. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 6, Skopje 1941.
16. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 32, Skopje 1941.
17. R. Terzioski, Denationalization... , p. 29
18. Ibidem.
19. Again there, p.30
20. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 67, Scope 1941.
21. Ordinance of the MNP N 4737 from October 1943.
22. Tselokupna Bulgaria issue 145, Skopje 1942.
23. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 255, Skopje 1942.
24. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 536, Skopje 1943.
25. A letter of MNP N 5391 from July 1943
26. Dr. R. Terzioski, Denationalization... , p. 46.
27. A copy of the application is a personal possession of the author.
28. Dr. Terzioski, Denationalization... , p.46.
29. Ibidem, p. 46-47
30. A letter of BCACM to Bogdan Filov, Skopje, 26 May 1941, a photocopy possessed by the author.
31. Tselokupna Bulgaria, issue 218, Skopje 1942.
32. History of the Macedonian people, Skopje 1988, p. 312. 

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