This is a story about one of the biggest tragedies in Bulgarian history, and the key Bulgarian figure associated with it.
The person is Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949), from Kovachevtzi, Bulgaria. He was the Bulgarian Prime Minister who was the first Communist leader of Bulgaria, from 1946 to 1949.
At the time of his leadership, the leader of the Soviet Union was Joseph Stalin and as you probably know, after the Second World War, Bulgaria (who fought on the side of the Axis) became a country in the so called Eastern (or Soviet) bloc. In other words, most of the political decisions concerning Bulgaria were dictated from Moscow.
(Joseph Stalin and Georgi Dimitrov, Moscow, 1936)
One such decision was the creation of a new republic - the People’s Republic of Macedonia, which would be an autonomous republic as part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. Stalin’s idea was to make the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia stronger, so that it can act as a barrier against the “imperialist aggressors”. He though the way to do this was to create this new autonomous republic on the Balkans. Stalin wanted Dimitrov to work on the creation of a Macedonian national consciousness in the Pirin region (in the southwest part of Bulgaria).
So how was a whole new nation created in the middle of the 20th century and how centuries of history were rewritten in just one night? Georgi Dimitrov received considerable political pressure from Stalin and did not have much of a choice, but the fact is that on the 10th plenum of the Communist Party (July 1946), he just repeated the words ordered to him by Stalin for the creation of the new People’s Republic of Macedonia. This new autonomous republic was built in 1946 on a territory which was previously mostly owned by Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians and Greeks.
Now they had the territory, where did the nation and the “Macedonians” come from? Well, they came from people who lived within the borders of the new country and were forced to take on the Macedonian citizenship. The new borders literally ran through towns, villages and even houses. There were many cases where people who lived in the same house and were born by one mother suddenly became people from two different nations. In addition, there were around 10,000-20,000 Bulgarians from Aegean Macedonia who after the war sought refuge in Bulgaria as Bulgarians, so they would not become Hellenized and guess what… They were denied permission to stay in Bulgaria. Instead, they were forced to go and settle in the newly created People’s Republic of Macedonia which was “hungry” for population. Thousands of letters were written by some of these refugees to the office of Georgi Dimitrov. These letters were all requesting one thing: to be given permission to go back to their homes. They remained unanswered.
For those who awoke to discover they no longer lived in Bulgaria, but now lived in the People’s Republic of Macedonia, there were consequences which were often tragic, bordered on the ridiculous. In many cases, people began life as one nationality and now had to immediately adopt another:
When the first school teachers in the new republic went to the Pirin region they were instructed to say to the students that they were Macedonians, but until then they did not know it, because before that there was no one to tell them that.
Students in school were Bulgarians in, for example, third grade and Macedonians in fourth grade.
Young men went into the army as Bulgarians and came back as Macedonians.
One of the strangest things was that no one knew the “Macedonian language” that had to be taught to students in class - such a…