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0 Ivan Mihailov

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Ivan Mihailov

Ivan Mihailov also known as Vancho or Vanche Mihailov was born on August 26, 1896, in the village of Novo Selo near the city of Štip in the Ottoman Empire, in what is now the Republic of Macedonia.
Died in
Rome on September 5, 1990.

Mihailov studied at the Bulgarian Secondary School "St. Cyril and Methodius" in Solun/Thessaloniki until the Second Balkan War when the school was closed by the new Greek administration and he was forced to continue his studies at a Serbian school in Skopje. He was offered a scholarship by the Serbian Ministry of Education to pursue a degree at a European university but declined and enlisted instead in the Bulgarian army. After the end of World War I, Mihailov settled in Sofia and started to study law at the Sofia University where he was contacted by activists of the IMRO and offered to work as a secretary for IMRO’s leader at that time, Todor Aleksandrov.

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After the death of Aleksandrov on August 31, 1924, Mihailov was elected member of the Central Committee of IMRO and shortly afterwards became leader of the organisation. The election of Mihailov as leader of IMRO marks a period of intensification of the armed struggle of the organisation in Greek, and especially in Serbian Macedonia. A total of 63 terrorist acts and attacks on bridges, warehouses, Serbian police stations and military targets were undertaken between 1922 and 1930, the number of the assassinated Serbian officials and collaborators of the regime in Belgrade numbered some 1,000.

In the late 1920 s, Mihailov got into contact with the leader of the Croatian Ustase movement, Ante Pavelic and the two organisations started to co-operate in their struggle against the Yugoslav regime. The most obvious result of that co-operation was the assassination of the arch-foe, King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, on October 9, 1934 in the French city of Marseilles. The assassination was carried out by the personal driver of Mihailov, Vlado Chernozemski.

The events in 1934 prompted the Bulgarian government to take action against the IMRO and expelled Mihailov from Bulgaria. Mihailov had 9 life-sentences and 3 death-sentences in Bulgaria.

Although IMRO's goal was creation of an independent Macedonian state, some previous Bulgarian governments tolerated it as its goal was the liberation of the Macedonian Bulgarians as well from the Greek and Yugoslav occupation. As a result of this, IMRO had built an extensive network in Pirin Macedonia and Sofia, which was used to provide financing for the organisation and an operational base from which the incursions into Yugoslavia and Greece were conducted.

After 1934, Mihailov lived in Turkey, Poland and Hungary to finally settle in the capital of the Independent State of Croatia, the Ustaša puppet-state between 1941 and 1944. In 1941, Mihailov refused to return to Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia and stayed in Croatia until the end of the war. In September of 1944 he was offered by the Germans to head a future semi-independent Macedonian state but he declined favouring the occupation of Vardar Macedonia by Bulgaria. In 1944, he was forced to flee again, this time to Italy where he lived for the rest of his life.

Although IMRO was no longer active, Mihailov remained the leader of the Macedonian Liberation Movement and was supported by the Macedonian Patriotic Organization of US and Canada, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He wrote 4 books of memoires and regularely wrote articles for The Macedonian Tribune, the oldest continuously published Macedonian emigree paper. Until the end of his life Mihailov continued his interest in the fate of the Macedonian Bulgarians and was committed to a free, independent and united Macedonian state.




Storia Illustrata, 1990 p. 46-51


He was among the bitterest enemies of that Yugoslavia which was born after the First World War and of its king, Alexander I Karadjordjevic. And he was the head of one of the most powerful irredentist organizations in the Balkans: the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), which led the struggle of the Macedonians against the Turks after 1893, and, after 1913, that against Serbia which had annexed Macedonia to itself at the expense of Bulgaria after the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 and had imposed with violence the Serb way of life there. In Macedonia the IMRO had a popular basis while in Bulgaria it had its sanctuaries, and there it was strong enough to become a State within the State during the Twenties, with branches in the Administration, in the Army and in the Government.

His name is Ivan Mihailov, known as "Vance". He led the IMRO in the period between the two wars. In Serbia he was considered a criminal. The Bulgarian-Macedonians of Serbia held him to be their defender against Serb supremacy. In Bulgaria he was deemed a patriot, in the Twenties more than two hundred lawyers spontaneously offered to defend him when the Assizes in Sofia wanted to try him for terrorism in his absence. So the trial went by the board. Mihailov was one of the internationally best-known Balkan revolutionaries of the period, leading a fight to the bitter end for the secession of Macedonia from Yugoslavia. Together with Ante Pavelic, head of the Croatian nationalist movement of the Ustashe, who was seeking the same objective for Croatia.

Mihailov and Pavelic's struggle against Belgrade was carried forward with all means, including terrorism, nothing excluded. Up to the assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, killed in Marseilles in 1934 by a trusted follower of Mihailov's, "lent" to Pavelic's Croats who had "condemned" King Alexander back in 1928 after the killing of the Croat leader Stjepan Radic in the Belgrade Parliament by a Montenegrin MP, a chauvinist Serb close to Court circles. Wounded by the police and lynched by the mob, Mihailov's man took with him to the tomb the secret of his true identity. He went down in history as Peter Kelemann, the last of many false names used to put the European police forces off the track, among which was his own, then rendered public by the Bulgarian police. The Marseilles regicide made Europe fear another Sarajevo. Fascist Italy and Horthy's Hungary where the Ustashe had training camps were involved. And as it happened at the moment of Mussolini's renewed approaches to France, the protectress of Yugoslavia, the shadow of Hitler's Germany also stretched out to Marseilles.

Mihailov had disappeared from the Balkan scene since 1934 when the Bulgarian military forces had taken power in Sofia and had outlawed the legal Macedonian Revolutionary Committee and the IMRO, connected with it. Not even the Second World War and the immediate post-war period, which in the Balkans provided the opportunity for a tragic rendering of accounts of the Croats and the Bulgarian-Macedonians with the Serbs, had brought him back to the scene again. By then he was thought to be dead. Instead of which, Mihailov has been living for more than forty years in a West European city, where we met him. This is the first interview he has given since the regicide of Marseilles. In exclusive for Storia Illustrata. Ninety-three years old, used to a life of conspiracy, he answered us alternating between half-admissions and tremendous truths, accomplished Balkan revolutionary as he is.

Q: Mr. Mihailov, let's start straight away with the Marseilles attack The man who killed King Alexander of Yugoslavia was one of your men. He was 'identified' by the French police as Peter Keleman. That was one of his many pseudonyms. What was his real name?

A: His real name was that made public by the Bulgarian police, and that is Vladimir "Vlado" Gheorghiev Tchernozemsky. For me and for our companions he has always only been "Vlado".

Q: Between you and Ante Pavelic's Croats there was a "unity of action pact' anti-Serb and anti-Yugoslav. When you "lent" Tchernozemsky to Pavelic, did you know what action he was to undertake?

A: A written and undersigned pact for a common struggle between Bulgarian-Macedonians and Croats does not exist and never has. But there was, and there still is, the same state of defence and offence against the actions and machinations of the Serbs at the expense of the Croats and Bulgarians in Macedonia. Self-defence is a powerful instinct. When the Serbs shot at Croat MP's in the Belgrade Parliament, Ante Pavelic presented himself a few days later, by instinct, as a guest of Macedonian emigration in Sofia and was welcomed by a real explosion of joy. Then the representatives of the great Bulgarian-Macedonian emigration and Pavelic announced to the whole world that the Bulgarian-Macedonians and the Croats would together march against Serb tyranny. Straight afterwards, Belgrade condemned Pavelic to death. It must be remembered that on that occasion Pavelic did not come to an agreement with the IMRO but only with the legal Macedonian National Committee, some of whom were also people of consequence as members of the Bulgarian Parliament.

Q: You have not answered the question: did you know what action Tchernozemsky was to undertake?

A: Tchernozemsky was placed at the disposal of Pavelic's Croats for any action directed against Yugoslavia, within the limits of the common fight for the liberation of the two peoples from Belgrade's hegemony. King Alexander was by axiom one of the possible objectives.

Q: But did you and Pavelic discuss the death of Alexander of Yugoslavia?

A: Between Pavelic and myself there was no specific talk of the death of Alexander. But for the two of us it was a natural assumption that Alexander should end up as he did.

Q: You said that there was no written pact between you and Pavelic. But IMRO men were training Croats in the Hungarian base of Janka Puszta.

A: The IMRO never delegated its men as instructors of the Croats at Janka Puszta or anywhere else. I can affirm that, because if I did not know of it, no-one else could have known. If some young Macedonian students in Hungary went to visit that camp, it is not within my knowledge.

Q: Where were you on the day of the attack?

A: About thirty days before the death of the Serb king, I was in Constantinople. I stayed there three or four weeks. In the meantime I realized that Turkey seemed to have accepted some request on the part of Belgrade to create difficulties for my departure for the West. We had to leave Constantinople on the advice of the Turkish police for the town of Kastamonu, seeing that, they told me, there were lovely woods, so good for the health of my wife. As soon as we arrived at Kastamonu, a policeman notified us that King Alexander had been killed in Marseilles. I immediately thought: the King has done everything to impede my departure for the West, but, as we saw, a superior power had stopped him from thinking and doing anything more. After that event, we were transferred to a place about ten kilometres from Ankara. We stayed there for more than two years. Then we were transferred to the island of Prinkipo, near Constantinople. From there, a year later, we finally left for Poland, and successively we moved through five different European countries, until in 1949 we settled in one of them. The Yugoslav government was highly irritated at the freedom allowed me, and was even more so when the Government of Ankara refused to extradite me to Yugoslavia.

Q: You have mentioned a "superior power". That superior power was called Tchernozemsky. And the death at Marseilles was in any case a murder.

A: I have already had occasion to write that the act of Vlado Tchernozemsky cannot be called murder. That was clear to whoever knew anything of King Alexander's regime and of the plans devised by Belgrade. Vlado was the instrument of the punishment decreed by the curses, the rivers of tears and blood of the Bulgarian-Macedonians, of the Croats, of the Albanians and of the other city and country-dwellers of the other nationalities of Yugoslavia, among whom were many Serbs. The Bulgarian-Macedonians and the majority of the other Yugoslav nationalities exulted at the news of the Serb King's punishment. My mother, who lived in Serbia, got my brother to take her to Belgrade to see the pistol with which he was killed, on show in a museum. Looking at it, she exclaimed: "May his hand flower!" Obviously, her blessing was on he who had killed the king. Behind the killing of Alexander there are numberless crimes, his and his regime's. As to the Serb people, I have nothing against them.

Q: One of the hypotheses regarding the Marseilles regicide, unproven on a documentary basis, is that behind it all there was Nazi Germany. Is there any truth in it?

A: A number of years ago, the Macedonian Tribune, the journal of our emigration in America, denied the report in a newspaper stating that I had met a German in Paris to decide on the assassination of the Yugoslav king. I don't remember all the details they invented. I don't know who put about that lie, nor why. I never met any German in Paris or elsewhere. I never had any such discussion regarding the matter you mention. Ever since 1912, at the time of the first Balkan war, when he entered Skopje from which the Turks had withdrawn, Alexander Karadjordjevic, at that time still Crown Prince of Serbia, gave proof of his very bad character and his occupier's instinct in front of the population and the notables representing all the nationalities of Macedonia. [Ed: here Mihailov is reflecting on the incident immortalised in Vazov's poem]





That gesture, shameful and tragic, was the starting signal for a long series of moral and material abuses of power, of humiliations and continuous attempts to enforce the Serb way of life on the Bulgarian-Macedonians of Vardaska-Macedonia. The IMRO was the only moral and material support for the Macedonian people. The IMRO reached right into the Belgrade office of the highest representative of the Serb terror against the Bulgarian-Macedonians, Jika Lasic. A subordinate of his, whom he considered loyal, shot him as he was sitting at his desk. He survived. And when the Communists came to power they gave him a pension for his services to Serbanism. Not knowing how to justify their regime, the Serbs decided that the criminals were not they-themselves, but whoever opposed them. Out of revenge, the Serb police killed my father and my brother, two of the most peaceable people in the town of Shtip. At that time, I told a journalist that the IMRO would never sink to the level of the Serb intelligentsia which was behind the murder of so many Macedonians.

Q: It has been historically ascertained that the Pavelic Ustashe movement was supported by the Italian Government. Were you Macedonians so supported too?

A: The IMRO was supported by our people, and sometimes, but more rarely, by the Bulgarian-Macedonian emigrants. I have never seen or heard of any help to IMRO, not even on the part of Bulgaria or of any other State. The IMRO has never had any base on Italian soil, as the Croats did. I never had any connection or any contact with Mussolini's government, either personally or through third parties.

Q: Macedonian independence, like that of Croatia, meant the disintegration of Yugoslavia And the triumph of Mussolini's foreign policy in the Balkans. Was that what you wanted?

A: The crumbling of Yugoslavia was ardently wished for by all the peoples annexed to it, except by the Serbs.

Q: The Italo-German attack of 1941 led to that disintegration Yugoslav Macedonia was annexed to Bulgaria. But with the victory of the Resistance led by Tito, Macedonia remained Yugoslav. And it became a Republic of the Federation. For the first time since the liberation from the Turkish yoke, the Macedonians have their own State. The Macedonian question has been solved. Don 't you think that certain periodical irredentist references to Yugoslav Macedonia on the part of Bulgarian circles, especially academic circles, are by now historically out of place?

A: The Bulgarian-Macedonians, the majority in that country, wish for either an independent Macedonia, on the lines of Switzerland, or the reunification with Bulgaria because of their majority. However, Bulgarian-Macedonians continually invite the other Macedonian minorities to fight for an independent Macedonian State. I approve one of the solutions mentioned above. None of the nationalities of Yugoslavia has ever wanted or has ever fought for this "Yugoslav" State. No Yugoslav nationality exists. On the other hand different nationalities do exist with centuries of history: Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, Bosnian Moslems, Roumanians, Montenegrins etc. Tito was sent to Yugoslavia by others to take a part imposed from without. The latest events testify to that. And with regard to the Bulgarian-Macedonians of Macedonia, they are not all to be found within the frontiers of today's Yugoslavia. There are just as many who have emigrated to Bulgaria, then another three hundred thousand in Pirinska Macedonia, then those in America, in Australia and elsewhere. Therefore Bulgarian academicians are not outside history, on the contrary they are right in the centre of it, with their interest in Macedonia. Alter 1945, when the Bulgarians in Macedonia realized that they were to remain subject to Belgrade, an organization made up mainly of young high school students secretly prepared a petition to the United Nations requesting an independent Macedonia. They were discovered, arrested and condemned to from 6 to 14 years in prison. To impose the Serb culture on the Bulgarian-Macedonians, the Communist regime in Belgrade created "the Macedonian language and nationality", defined by the French sociologist Guy Heraud in 1966 as "non-existent and created to confuse people's ideas".

Q: It has been written that in the IMRO you represented the nationalist wing, opposing the faction favourable to a federation of Bulgaria with the USSR. So much so that you killed its leader, General Alexander Protogerov.

A: Within the IMRO no such two factions as you mention ever existed. Protogherov was a colleague of mine of the same rank in the central committee of the IMRO. He was ambitious, aspiring to power in the IMRO and in the country, but he did not have revolutionary status. And he was untrustworthy. After a certain point he was excluded from the political and combat decision-making undertaken by the central committee. These decisions came to his knowledge only later, from the newspapers. Protogherov was punished by the IMRO above all because he had inspired the killing of Todor Alexandrov, promoter of the IMRO. It was not I who killed Protogherov. But it was I who ordered his elimination.

Q: The history of Bulgaria has been different from what you desired. It has become a Communist country. Bulgarian-Macedonian nationalism has been defeated. This has been a defeat for you also, don't you think?

A: I have not stayed on the outside of history. I live in the free world, and I continue to work for my people, Communism has been imposed, as you know, by force on our freedom-loving people, as on other peoples. If anything of importance must remain on the outside of history, that thing is Communism itself. In America we have organizations that continue to work for an independent Macedonia, where the Bulgarian nationality is recognized.

Q: In the post-war period your name appeared frequently in publications relating to Balkan and European history. But since the Forties, you have not been heard of You were believed dead by now. How and where have you lived?

A: I spent one year, before the War, in Poland. I saw the Germans enter Warsaw. I remember Hitler's praise for the Polish soldier. Then I went to Hungary. When Croatia became an independent State, I was the guest of my old Croatian friends. I stayed there until the end of the War. Towards the end of the fighting, the Germans proposed to proclaim and to place me at the bead of a Macedonian State. I went to Skopje, and there I refused, declaring that I did not wish to assume before my people a responsibility that presupposed the eventuality of probable blood-shed which was likely to happen with communism lying in wait. That answer did not please the Germans very much, although they believed that Mihailov had done his duty correctly towards his people. We saw how many innocent victims Communism caused after the War.

Q: The armed struggle and the terrorism you headed threw Bulgaria and Yugoslav Macedonia into confusion for years. But it hasn't paid off. At this distance of years, what do you think of terrorism, of all terrorism?

A: You say that the terrorist actions we prompted against the oppressors have been without results. In many parts of the world terrorist activities are still undertaken today, in the name of various causes. By terrorist actions many peoples try above all to open or to keep open national or political questions. A specific national cause can be sustained at one and the same time by means of varying types of propaganda. As to the IMRO, it has never resorted to terrorism. It has tried to punish those who have erred, only individually.

by: and IT.

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