Views of the Bulgarian Exarchate about the population of Macedonia

One of the main events that helped increase the Bulgarian influence in the part of the Ottoman empire to be called ‘San-Stefano “Macedonia” eight years later was the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870 which took over responsibility for the orthodox Bulgars living in the Ottoman empire.
The Greek War of Independence in the first half of the nineteenth century had its repercussions among the natives of Macedonia. Many Macedonians of joined their compatriots in Southern Greece in that War. Simultaneously a national awakening was observed among the Bulgars living at that time in Macedonia. It should be noted that the term “Bulgar” at that time was used to denote the labouring and illiterate masses living in Macedonia irrespective of ethnic origin. That awakening was mainly due to the Russian Panslavists. Russia supported the subsequent uprising of the Slavs against the Turks in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Around 1830, a scholar, Venelin explored Bulgaria and collected material but also invented other. He claimed that the Bulgars had taught the Russians the (Cyrillic) alphabet and were responsible for the conversion of Russians to christianity. One of his followers, Rakowski claimed in 1859 that Zeus (the ancient Olympian God), Demosthenes (yes, the Athenian orator), Alexander the Great, and the Souliot hero of the Greek War of Independence Markos Botsaris were all Bulgars. He also claimed that St Paul preached Christianity to Bulgars first and not to Greeks. Such claims quickly spread among the Bulgars living in Macedonia and beyond.
Verkovic who wrote an ethnography on Macedonia and became the top Russian expert on Macedonia claimed that he had `discovered’ Bulgarian (ancient) songs about Alexander the Great. Krstovic claimed that Aristotle spoke Bulgarian but wrote in Greek in order to educate the southern barbarians [Note:Krstovic seemed to believe that Aristotle, a Bulgar to him, was civilized, while the southern barbarians, i.e. the Southern Greeks such as the Athenians were not during the classic period. Such claims were made despite the obvious fact that Bulgars first appeared in the Balkans sometime in the 7th century AD]. Krstovic also considered Bulgars Constantine the Great, Cyril and Methodios, the hero of the Greek War of Independence, Karaiskakes and many other Greek and Serbian national heros. Such ideas were believed not only in Russia (among the Bulgars were a fact of life) but also in Western Europe, especially after the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1878 as it can be seen in the opinions expressed by various European politicians, scholars journalists and some scholars of that time also reflected in their belief that Macedonia was Bulgarian.

The Exarchate had the blessings of Count Ignatiev of Russia, who in 1878 would lead the Russians in their negotiations with the Turks leading to the San Stefano Treaty. The Bulgarian exarchate also became responsible for the education of the Bulgarian population and at the same time tried to strengthen the Bulgarian consciousness of those Bulgars living under the Ottoman rule. At the same time, through underground activities and the use of force, the Bulgars tried to force the Bulgar-speaking Greek population to declare themselves Bulgars and not Greeks.
In [9] the following excerpts appear from a report prepared in 1885 by the Secretary-General of the Bulgarian Exarchate describing the situation in Macedonia: [the writer of the report interprets Macedonia as the “Macedonia” of the San Stefano Treaty]

” It is a sad fact but we must admit that the largest part of the Bulgarian population of Macedonia does not have a Bulgarian national conscience… If Europe were to demand today that the Macedonian people decide on their fate and say to which nationality they belong, we are certain that the largest part of the Macedonian people and of Macedonia would slip away from our hands. If we exclude two or three regions of Northern Macedonia, the inhabitants of the other regions are ready to declare that they are Greeks. If the Great Powers were to intervene and demand a plebiscite to solve the Macedonian problem the Greeks would come out as winners.”
[D. Missev-Obreikov “Report on the Present Situation of Bulgarism
in Macedonia”]

The Bulgarians had thus realised that if they were to increase their influence in Macedonia they had to deal not with the Turkish or Serbian influence but with the Greeks. Many foreign travelers who journeyed Macedonia during the 19th century have attested the existence, not only of a Greek-speaking population but also a Slav-speaking (Slavophone) one which considered themselves Greek even though they did not speak Greek, except possibly a few words.