Political views on the Macedonian language
The existence and distinctiveness of the Macedonian language is disputed in Bulgaria and the name of the language was disputed in Greece. With signing the Prespa Agreement, Greece accepted the name Macedonian for all uses.
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Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, most of its academics, as well as the general public, regard the language spoken there as a form of Bulgarian. However, after years of diplomatic impasse caused by an academic dispute, in 1999 the government in Sofia solved the problem of the Macedonian language by signing a Joint Declaration in the official languages of the two countries - in Macedonian, pursuant the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, and in Bulgarian, pursuant the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria.
Macedonian dialects form a continuum with Bulgarian dialects forming the Eastern South Slavic sub-group; they in turn form a broader continuum with Serbo-Croatian through the transitional Torlakian dialects. The Macedonian language was standardized in 1945 based on the central-western dialects of the region of Macedonia.
Bulgarian ethnos in Macedonia existed long before the earliest articulations of the idea that Macedonian Slavs might form a separate ethnic group from the Bulgarians in Danubian Bulgaria and Thrace. Throughout the period of Ottoman rule, the Slav-speaking people of the geographic regions of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia referred to their language as Bulgarian and called themselves Bulgarians. For instance, the Serbian researcher St. Verković who was a long term teacher in Macedonia, sent by the Serbian government with special assimilatory mission wrote in the preface of his collection of Bulgarian folk songs: "I named these songs Bulgarian, and not Slavic because today when you ask any Macedonian Slav: Who are you? he immediately answers: I am Bulgarian and call my language Bulgarian...." The name "Bulgarian" for various Macedonian dialects can be seen from early vernacular texts such as the four-language dictionary of Daniil of Moschopole, the early works of Kiril Pejchinovich and Ioakim Kurchovski and some vernacular gospels written in the Greek alphabet. These written works influenced by or completely written in the Bulgarian vernacular were registered in Macedonia in the 18th and beginning of the 19th century and their authors referred to their language as Bulgarian. The first samples of Bulgarian speech and the first grammar of modern Bulgarian language were written by the leading Serbian literator Vuk Karadžić on the basis of the Macedonian Razlog dialect. In those early years the re-emerging Bulgarian written language was still heavily influenced by Church Slavonic forms so dialectical differences were not very prominent between the Eastern and Western regions. Indeed, in those early years many Bulgarian activists sometimes even communicated in Greek in their writing.
When the Bulgarian national movement got under way in the second quarter of the 19th century some cities in Macedonia were among the first to demand education in Bulgarian and Bulgarian-speaking clerics for their churches. By the 1860s however, it was clear that the Central Balkan regions of Bulgaria were assuming leadership in linguistic and literary affairs. This was to a large extent due to the fact that the wealthy towns on both sides of the Central Balkan range were able to produce more intellectuals educated in Europe than the relatively more backward other Bulgarian regions. Consequently, when the idea that the vernacular rather than Church Slavonic should be represented in the written language gained preponderance, it was the dialects of the Central Balkan region between Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv that were most represented.
Some prominent Bulgarian educators from Macedonia like Parteniy Zografski and Kuzman Shapkarev called for a stronger representation of Macedonian dialects in the Bulgarian literary language but their advice was not heeded at the time and sometimes met with hostility. In the article The Macedonian Question by Petko Rachev Slaveykov, published on 18 January 1871 in the Makedoniya newspaper in Constantinople, Macedonism was criticized, his adherents were named Macedonists, and this is the earliest surviving indirect reference to it, although Slaveykov never used the word Macedonism.The term's first recorded use is from 1887 by Stojan Novaković to describe Macedonism as a potential ally for the Serbian strategy to expand its territory toward Macedonia, whose population was regarded by almost all neutral sources as Bulgarian at the time. The consternation of certain Macedonians with what they saw as the domineering attitude of Northern Bulgarians towards their vernacular was later deftly exploited by the Serbian state, which had begun to fear the rise of Bulgarian nationalism in Macedonia.
Up until 1912/18 it was the standard Bulgarian language that most Macedonians learned (and taught) in the Exarchate schools. All activists and leaders of the Macedonian movement, including those of the left, used standard Bulgarian in documents, press publications, correspondence and memoirs and nothing indicates they viewed it as a foreign language. This is characteristic even of the members of IMRO (United) well into the 1920s and 1930s, when the idea of a distinct Macedonian nation was taking shape.
From the 1930s onwards the Bulgarian Communist Party and the Comintern sought to foster a separate Macedonian nationality and language as a means of achieving autonomy for Macedonia within a Balkan federation. Consequently, it was Bulgarian-educated Macedonians who were the first to develop a distinct Macedonian language, culture and literature. When Socialist Macedonia was formed as part of Federal Yugoslavia, these Bulgarian-trained cadres got into a conflict over the language with the more Serbian-leaning activists, who had been working within the Yugoslav Communist Party. Since the latter held most of the political power, they managed to impose their views on the direction the new language was to follow, much to the dismay of the former group. Dennis P. Hupchick, American professor of history, states that "the obviously plagiarized historical argument of the Macedonian nationalists for a separate Macedonian ethnicity could be supported only by linguistic reality, and that worked against them until the 1940s. Until a modern Macedonian literary language was mandated by the socialist-led partisan movement from Macedonia in 1944, most outside observers and linguists agreed with the Bulgarians in considering the vernacular spoken by the Macedonian Slavs as a western dialect of Bulgarian".
After 1944 the communist-dominated government sought to create a Bulgarian-Yugoslav federation (see Balkan Communist Federation) and part of this entailed giving "cultural autonomy" to the Pirin region. Consequently, Bulgarian communists recognised the Macedonian language as distinct from Bulgarian on 2nd Nov 1944 with a letter from the Bulgarian Workers' Party (communists) to Marshal Tito and CPY. From January 1945 the regional newspaper Pirinsko Delo printed in Bulgaria started to publish a page in Macedonian language. After the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, those plans were abandoned. This date also coincided with the first claims of Bulgarian linguists as to the Serbianisation of the Macedonian language. Officially Bulgaria continued to support the idea of a Macedonian unification and a Macedonian nation but within the framework of a Balkan Federation and not within Yugoslavia. However, a reversal in the Macedonisation policy was already announced in the secret April plenum of the BCP in 1956 and openly proclaimed in the plenum of 1963. 1958 was the first time that a "serious challenge" to the Macedonian position was launched by Bulgaria. These developments led to violent polemics between Yugoslav and Bulgarian scholars and sometimes reflected on the bilateral relations of the two countries.
According to the Macedonian view, now prevalent and official in the books in Republic of North Macedonia, Macedonian was the first official language of the Slavs, thanks to the St. Cyril and St. Methodius's introduction of Slavic literacy language through the Glagolitic script, that was based on Southern Macedonian dialect from the neighbourhood of Thessaloniki, the home of the two saints. Later on, Macedonia fell under the rule of Bulgarians, and the Byzantines regarded all Slavic Macedonians as Bulgarians. According to a minority view, supported in the Republic of North Macedonia, Tsar Samuil's realm in the early Middle Ages was allegedly the first Macedonian Slavic state. However, Krste Misirkov, who allegedly set the principles of the Macedonian literary language in the late 19th century, stated: "We speak a Bulgarian language and we believed with Bulgaria is our strong power."
During the time of the Ottoman Empire, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Greece were all under Ottoman reign. During the nineteenth century, the primary source of identity was religion. Because Slavs in the geographical regions of Macedonia and Bulgaria were both Orthodox Christian and the Greek Orthodox Church was attempting to Hellenize the population, Macedonian and Bulgarian intellectuals banded together to establish a Slavic literary language in opposition to Greek. Two competing centers of literacy rose at the beginning of the nineteenth century: southwestern Macedonia and northeastern Bulgaria. These centers were different enough at every linguistic level to be competing to become the literary language. When the Bulgarian Exarchate was recognized as a millet on par with the Greek millet (on religious grounds), the designation Bulgarian was still a religious term, in opposition to Greek, and the language began to be standardized on the basis of the Bulgarian center of literacy. Intellectuals from the Macedonian center of literacy felt that their dialects were being excluded from the literary Bulgarian language. By the time the Bulgarian state gained independence in 1878, the population of Macedonia and Bulgaria was subjected to conflicting claims from the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek states and churches, which provided education, and a distinct Macedonian national identity was written about in print. By 1903, a separate Macedonian identity and language is solidified in the works of Krste Petkov Misirkov, who advocates for a distinct Macedonian literary language.
In 1946 Elections for a constituent assembly in October gave the Communists a majority. The new authorities officially recognized the Macedonian language, but it lasted only until the Tito-Stalin split in 1948. However, from 1948 to 1963 some Bulgarian linguists still continued to recognize Macedonian as a separate Slavic language. The first big "language scandal" between Bulgaria and Macedonia happened in November 1966 when the president of the Bulgarian Association of Writers Georgi Dzagarov refused to sign an agreement for friendship and cooperation that was prepared in both Bulgarian and Macedonian language. In 1993 Bulgarian government refused to sign the first bilateral agreement with Republic of Macedonia because the Macedonian language was mentioned in the agreement in the last clause: "This agreement is written and signed in Bulgarian and Macedonian language". That started a dispute that was resolved in February 1999 when the governments of Bulgaria and Macedonia signed a Joint Declaration where in the last paragraph both governments signed the declaration in: "Bulgarian language according to the constitution of Bulgaria and in Macedonian language according to the constitution of Macedonia." The denial to recognize the Macedonian language though persisted in Bulgarian society, so in August 2017 both governments signed another Agreement for Friendship with a clause that mentions the Macedonian language again. In the Bulgarian society there still exists a perception that Bulgaria did not and does not recognize the Macedonian language.
Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, most of its academics, as well as the general public, regard the language spoken there as a form of Bulgarian. However, after years of diplomatic impasse caused by an academic dispute, in 1999 the government in Sofia solved the problem with the Macedonian Language under the formula: "the official language of the country (Republic of Macedonia) in accordance with its constitution".
Most Bulgarian linguists consider the Slavic dialects spoken in the region of Macedonia as a part of the Bulgarian dialect area. Numerous shared features of these dialects with Bulgarian are cited as proof. Bulgarian scholars also claim that the overwhelming majority of the Macedonian population had no consciousness of a Macedonian language separate from Bulgarian prior to 1945. Russian scholars cite the early references to the language in Slavic literature from the middle of 10th century to the end of 19th century as "bulgarski" or "bolgarski" as proof of that claim. From that, the conclusion is drawn that modern standard Macedonian is not a language separate from Bulgarian either but just another written "norm" based on a set of Bulgarian dialects. See dialect and dialect continuum to assess the validity of these arguments.
Moreover, Bulgarian linguists assert that the Macedonian and Yugoslav linguists who were involved in codifying the new language artificially introduced differences from literary Bulgarian to bring it closer to Serbian. They are also said to have resorted to falsifications and deliberate misinterpretations of history and documents in order to further the claim that there was a consciousness of a separate Macedonian ethnicity before 1944. Although the original aim of the codifiers of Macedonian was to distance it from both Bulgarian and Serbian, Bulgarians today view the standard Macedonian language as heavily Serbianised, especially with regards to its vocabulary. Bulgarian scholars such as Kosta Tsrnushanov claim there are several ways in which standard Macedonian was influenced by Serbian. Venko Markovski, writer, poet and Communist politician from the region of Macedonia, who in 1945 participated in the Commission for the Creation of the Macedonian Alphabet and once wrote in the Macedonian language and published what was the first contemporary book written in standardized Macedonian, stated in an interview for Bulgarian National Television only seven days prior to his death, that ethnic Macedonians and the Macedonian language do not exist and that they were a result of Comintern manipulation. Part of Bulgarian scholars and people hold the view that Macedonian is one of three "norms" of the Bulgarian language, the other two being standard Bulgarian and the language of the Banat Bulgarians. This formulation was detailed in 1978 in a document of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences entitled "The Unity of the Bulgarian Language Today and in the Past". Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia, it has refused to recognise the existence of a separate Macedonian ethnicity and a separate Macedonian language. This was a major obstacle to the development of diplomatic relations between the two countries until a compromise solution was worked out in 1999.
From the Greek point of view, there can be only one meaning for the term Macedonia, and that is in reference to ancient Macedon and the modern Greek region of Macedonia. Therefore Greeks were objecting to the use of the "Macedonian" name in reference to the modern Slavic language, calling it "Slavomacedonian" (Greek: σλαβομακεδονική γλώσσα), a term coined by some members of the Slavic-speaking community of northern Greece itself.
Demetrius Andreas Floudas, Senior Associate of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, explains that it was only in 1944 that Josip Broz Tito, in order to increase his regional influence, gave to the southernmost province of Yugoslavia (officially known as Vardarska banovina under the banate regional nomenclature) the new name of People's Republic of Macedonia. At the same time, in a "political master-stroke", the local language - which was until then held to be a western Bulgarian dialect - was unilaterally christened "Macedonian" and became one of Yugoslavia's official languages. Greece similarly rejects the former name "Republic of Macedonia", seeing it as an implicit territorial claim on the whole of the region.
In 3 June 2018, the Greek Minister of Shipping and Island Policy Panagiotis Kouroublis, acknowledged that Greece fully recognizes the term "Macedonian language" for the modern Slavic language, since the 1977 UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, a fact confirmed on 6 June by the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who stated that the language was recognized by the New Democracy-led government of that time. Kotzias also revealed classified documents confirming the use of the term "Macedonian Language" by the past governments of Greece, as well as pointing out to official statements of the Greek Prime Minister Evangelos Averoff who in 1954 and 1959 used the term "Macedonian language" to refer to the South Slavic language. New Democracy denied these claims, noting that the 1977 UN document states clearly that the terminology used thereof (i.e. the characterization of the languages) does not imply any opinion of the General Secretariat of the UN regarding the legal status of any country, territory, borders etc. Further, New Democracy stated that in 2007 and 2012, as governing party, included Greece's objections in the relevant UN documents. On 12 June 2018, the Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, announced that the recognition of the Macedonian language by Greece is reaffirmed in the Prespa agreement.
Linguists outside of Macedonia and Bulgaria subscribe either to a pro-Macedonian or a pro-Bulgarian view.
Illustrating the pro-Macedonian view is Horace Lunt, a Harvard professor, who wrote the first English language grammar of the Macedonian language in the early 1950s: "Bulgarian scholars, who argue that the concept of a Macedonian language was unknown before World War II, or who continue to claim that a Macedonian language does not exist look not only dishonest, but silly, while Greek scholars who make similar claims are displaying arrogant ignorance of their Slavic neighbours"; (Lunt 1984:110, 120). Similarly, Loring Danforth, a professor of anthropology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, addresses the stance of linguists, who attribute the origin of the Macedonian language to their will, stressing that all languages in the standardisation process have a certain political and historical context to them and the fact that Macedonian language had a political context in which it was standardised doesn't mean it is not a language.
Illustrating the pro-Bulgarian view, Italian linguist Vittore Pisani stated "the Macedonian language is actually an artifact produced for primarily political reasons". German linguist Friedrich Scholz argues that the Macedonian national consciousness and from that conscientious promotion of Macedonian as a written language first appears just in the beginning of the twentieth century and is strengthened particularly during the years between the two world wars. Austrian linguist Otto Kronsteiner states that the Macedonian linguists artificially introduced differences from the literary Bulgarian language to bring Macedonian closer to Serbian, jesting that the Macedonian language is a Bulgarian one, but written on a Serbian typewriter.
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- Although acceptable in the past, current use of this name in reference to both the ethnic group and the language can be considered pejorative and offensive by ethnic Macedonians. In the past, the Macedonian Slavs in Greece seemed relieved to be acknowledged as Slavomacedonians. Pavlos Koufis, a native of Greek Macedonia, pioneer of ethnic Macedonian schools in the region and local historian, says in Laografika Florinas kai Kastorias (Folklore of Florina and Kastoria), Athens 1996:
"[During its Panhellenic Meeting in September 1942, the KKE mentioned that it recognises the equality of the ethnic minorities in Greece] the KKE recognised that the Slavophone population was ethnic minority of Slavomacedonians. This was a term, which the inhabitants of the region accepted with relief. [Because] Slavomacedonians = Slavs+Macedonians. The first section of the term determined their origin and classified them in the great family of the Slav peoples."The Greek Helsinki Monitor reports:
"... the term Slavomacedonian was introduced and was accepted by the community itself, which at the time had a much more widespread non-Greek Macedonian ethnic consciousness. Unfortunately, according to members of the community, this term was later used by the Greek authorities in a pejorative, discriminatory way; hence the reluctance if not hostility of modern-day Macedonians of Greece (i.e. people with a Macedonian national identity) to accept it."
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