THE Macedonian Organization has again made itself talked about, both by its terrorist activities and by the manifestoes which it has been issuing frequently to the European and American press. But very few people know the history of this Organization or understand its real political tendencies and objectives. I therefore purpose explaining briefly its past and present activity in relation to the general problem of Balkan peace, which, as we have seen during more than a century, is an integral part of the wider question of world peace.

The fight for independence against Turkish oppression makes up the whole history of the Balkans during the Nineteenth Century and the first dozen years of the Twentieth. First of all, in 1805, the Serbs under the leadership of Kara George rose against the Sultan; then, in 1822, it was the turn of the Greeks. Two small new states were formed -- modern Serbia and modern Greece. Later (1875-76) the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina revolted at the same time as the Bulgars; but in spite of the armed assistance of Serbia and Montenegro these revolts failed, though not without having stirred up western opinion and provoked the intervention of the Russian Army. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 liberated Bulgaria and reduced the possessions of the Ottoman Empire in Europe to Albania, Old Serbia, Macedonia and Thrace (Bosnia-Herzegovina came under the protectorate of Austria).

Only the rivalry of the different European powers allowed Turkey still to keep a part of the Balkan peninsula. Everywhere it was recognized that the solution put forward by the Congress of Berlin was to be of short duration and that Turkey-in-Europe was headed towards final liquidation. In consequence, a struggle commenced in Macedonia and in Thrace where the Slav population was under Bulgarian influence. The first Balkan insurgents called themselves haidouci in Slav and kleftis in Greek. Later the Turks began to call them comitadjis because they were under the orders of a revolutionary committee. The Bulgarian comitadjis in Macedonia took up arms almost immediately after the liberation of Bulgaria, but their action became systematic and organized only in 1894 when the Internal Revolutionary Organization for Macedonia and the Vilayet of Adrianople (Thrace) came into being. Its avowed aim was the autonomy of the Turkish provinces in Europe, especially Macedonia and Thrace, but a certain number of its leaders inclined to the idea of attaching these provinces to Bulgaria. The two currents were not long in coming into collision. The pro-Bulgar tendency naturally found encouragement in the Palace at Sofia, while the autonomists worked to lay the basis for eventual self-government in the territories still subject to the Red Sultan.

At the head of the movement aiming to attach Macedonia to Bulgaria were officers of the Bulgarian Army such as General T. Zontcheff, Colonel Jankoff and Captain Protogueroff. The purely internal movement had as leaders the men whose names are venerated by all Macedonians -- Deltcheff, Groueff, Sandanski. The tendency personified in this latter group had its way during the first ten or twelve years, and the Internal Organization became a very powerful body, with a well organized administration and a secret militia operating in nearly all parts of Macedonia and in certain parts of Thrace.

The Organization was making successful preparations for a general insurrection, of which the exact date was to be fixed by a congress, when, on the eve of this congress, Gotze Deltcheff, the spirit and brains of the movement, was killed in a skirmish. This precipitated matters and in the autumn of 1902 the pro-Bulgarian military group, thinking the moment auspicious for taking charge of the whole movement, started an insurrection in the frontier districts. Thus warned, the Turks at once began making wholesale arrests, and the Internal Organization was forced to order the revolt before the preliminaries were really completed. It began on July 20, 1903, and ended that same autumn after a heroic but fruitless struggle.

This was the finest flowering of the Organization. Soon afterwards the internal split became more marked. The Serbs and the Greeks saw the importance of the movement, and created similar committees which operated, the one in northern, the other in southern Macedonia. The Internal Organization's task became much harder for it had to contend not only with the Turks but also with the vrhovistes of Sofia and the irredentists of Belgrade and Athens. But it was still supreme, and at the moment when I myself became a comitadji (in 1905) the majority of the Macedonian population remained faithful to it.

Apart from its patriotic aims the fighting in Macedonia attracted our young men by its extraordinary romance. Armed detachments -- tchete -- slipping about by unknown mountain paths, attacked the Turkish troops and gendarmerie and protected the population against their efforts to retaliate. The chiefs -- voivode -- meted out justice and punished every deviation from revolutionary virtue. What an enticing picture for a young man, to engage in warlike adventures and at the same time support justice and liberty! I was hardly sixteen years old when I went off into this mysterious Macedonia and took up the wild and poetical life of a comitadji. Even at that time there were two sorts -- the idealists and the professionals. Little by little the idealists perished in the fighting, but the professionals survived. . . .

Every great movement has its periods of splendor and of decadence. The Macedonian Internal Organization was at its height in the decade up to 1904. From 1904 to 1908 it made tremendous efforts to maintain its authority and keep its forces intact. But one by one its chiefs fell and little by little the sinister figure of King Ferdinand of Bulgaria threw its dark shadow more completely across the romantic epic of the Balkans.

In 1908 came the Turkish revolution. It awoke very diverse echoes in the ranks of the comitadjis. Those of the left wing, who were becoming more and more determined enemies of the official Bulgar policy, saluted the dawn of Turkish liberty with enthusiasm. The right wing, which had come into close relations with official circles at Sofia, saw in the Turkish revolution a danger for the Bulgarian national cause. But the Young Turk Revolution was not to change the policy nor cure the vices of the old régime. The Young Turk officers soon showed themselves as harsh as the Pashas of the Sultan had been towards all the subject races of the old empire. So it was that in 1910 the struggle broke out again, though with much less enthusiasm and in an atmosphere of confusion and doubt. The people had lost their bearings; the new chiefs were inferior; the moral basis of the revolution seemed to have crumbled. On the eve of the Balkan War the Internal Organization, cleft by the two tendencies which I have described, was nothing but a tragic shadow of its past glory.

During the Balkan Wars the comitadjis acted as auxiliary troops in the belligerent armies, and certain of them committed regrettable acts of violence and brutality against the Turkish population. After the First Balkan War, the Macedonian Organization lost all pretense of independence and became an official instrument of Bulgarian nationalism. The old avowed objective -- an autonomous Macedonia where various races might live together on a democratic basis -- gave way to purely annexationist tendencies. So it came about that on the eve of the Second Balkan War the new chiefs of the Organization, Todor Alexandroff and Alexander Protogueroff, were demanding that the Bulgarian Army and Government settle their territorial differences with the Serbs and the Greeks by resource to arms. They had their way. As a result, Macedonia was divided by the Treaty of Bucharest (August, 1913) between Serbia and Greece, the only exception being certain unimportant districts which were left to Bulgaria.

The Balkan Wars changed the whole face of the Macedonian problem. Under the Turks it had been a question of forming the province into an autonomous state. The Balkan powers did not accept this principle and in their pre-war pacts with each other divided Macedonia. The greater part of Macedonia was scheduled to go to Bulgaria; but, as I have said, the upshot of the Second war was that most of it went to the Greeks and the Serbs. While still proclaiming their adherence to the principle of autonomy, the Organization had really given it up in favor of the principle of national unity. But the Serbs and the Greeks were also invoking this same principle, the Greeks on the basis of historical rights as inheritors of Byzance, the Serbs on memories of the reign of Tsar Dushan the Great. In its efforts against the Serbs and the Greeks, the Organization did not disdain the support of foreign factors. King Ferdinand's Government after the Second Balkan War definitely oriented itself toward Austria; the Macedonian Committee followed suit. Bulgarian policy and Macedonian policy, following the same path, led Bulgaria into intervention in the Great War on the side of the Central Powers.

Just preceding this event, during the period of Bulgaria's armed neutrality, the principal aim of the Organization was to push the country into the war, and almost the moment hostilities began on the Danube in August, 1914, bands of comitadjis appeared on the scene as allies of Austria.

Many diplomatic documents of the period mention this fact. Among them may be noted the dispatch from the Bulgarian Minister at Petrograd, dated November 19, 1914, in which he says: "The Serbians complain of the activity of Macedonian bands. The destruction of a bridge at Strumitza and the wiping out of an entire Serbian post furnish them with the opportunity of accusing the Bulgarian Government of complicity. . . ." The President of the Bulgarian Council of Ministers, Mr. Radoslavoff, wrote on this dispatch: "Everything which is happening in Macedonia is done by the comitadjis, who are defending their rights against unprecedented and illegal acts." He replied officially to Russian protests, in a conversation with the Russian Minister at Sofia, that, "It is the Austrians who give the money to Macedonian committees for the formation of bands."

Towards the end of March, 1915, strong detachments of comitadjis issued from Bulgaria and attacked the railway bridge at Valandovo with the object of depriving Serbia of her only source of supply, the railway to Saloniki. They killed more than three hundred Serbian soldiers and cut the line. As a result of these grave facts, Sir Edward Grey, on April 1, 1915, declared to the Bulgarian Minister in London that he was in possession of positive information that semi-official Bulgarian circles were directing the activities of these comitadjis and that he considered it a violation of Bulgaria's neutrality in favor of Austria and Germany.

I have cited these documents from the Bulgarian "Orange Book" in order to emphasize the responsibility of the Macedonian Organization in the events which led up to Bulgaria's intervention on the side of the Central Powers, as also in the game played by the Bulgarian Government, which, while supporting the comitadjis' action, refused to assume responsibility for it until the day when the Bulgarian armies once again attacked the Serbs, September 25, 1915.

During the Great War, the Macedonian Organization placed all its forces in the 11th Division of the Bulgarian Army, called the Macedonian Division. At the same time it took over the administration of Serbian Macedonia and of a part of the district of the Morava, then occupied by Bulgaria. The Macedonian leaders, once revolutionaries, became the most intimate friends of King Ferdinand and even of the German Kaiser, who paid the expenses of the 11th Division out of his own private funds. In addition, as shown by the judicial inquiry conducted after the end of the war, Protogueroff received from the Kaiser the sum of 30,000,000 marks; but as he kept them in paper, they lost most of their value!

The débacle of 1918 seemed to have put an end to the Organization. Discredited by acts of violence in the occupied regions, deprived of its royal protectors, disliked by the great majority of the Bulgarian people who held it responsible for many of their misfortunes, the Organization virtually ceased to exist in the period between 1918 and 1920. But the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Neuilly (November 27, 1919) revived Bulgarian nationalism, and with it the Macedonian movement. The absolutely unjustified territorial losses, such as Thrace and part of the Dobrudja, gave Protogueroff and Alexandroff the opportunity of once more posing as champions of justice. They succeeded in escaping from the prison where they had been incarcerated by Premier Stambuliski, along with others responsible for the war, and, aided by reactionary chauvinists, re-formed some of their armed bands in 1920 and re-commenced their action against Serbia, now part of Jugoslavia.

The Bulgarian Government, however, was in the firm hands of Stambuliski, who had just emerged victorious from the elections. Peasant that he was, and thoroughly democratic, he was opposed in every particular to the tendencies of the Macedonian Committee and believed that the interests of Bulgaria, no less than the interests of Europe in general, demanded a policy of peace in the Balkans. Towards Jugoslavia he professed warm fraternal sentiments, frankly rejoicing in its new-found national unity, and considering that an eventual union between Bulgaria and this new Slavic state represented the only durable solution, not only of the Macedonian problem, but also of the whole Balkan question. This broad conception, consonant both with Slavic ideals and with the best hope for real peace, was an added reason for him to be hated by all the old guard of Bulgarian politicians. In this battle between two completely different conceptions of Bulgarian policy the Macedonian Organization ranged itself on the side of Stambuliski's enemies, though this did not prevent it from trying several times to get subsidies from him. Its leaders also looked for new allies abroad. The Kaiser had disappeared; Austria was a small and pacific state; only Italy continued to carry on a policy of intrigue looking toward territorial expansion in the Balkans, where she was already in collision with the new Jugoslav state over Fiume and the control of the Adriatic. It was on Italy, then, that the Organization based its new hopes of revenge, and it was from Italy that Protogueroff and the other Macedonian chiefs, under sentence for the atrocities which they had committed in occupied Serbia during the war, obtained the passports with which they escaped abroad; this fact was established during the inquiry conducted by the Bulgarian police.

At about this time the official representative of Italy at Sofia, Baron Aliotti, broached to Premier Stambuliski the subject of an Italo-Bulgarian alliance against Jugoslavia. I was present at the private interview between Stambuliski and Aliotti in April, 1920, in order to translate for Stambuliski, who did not speak French; and I had the pleasure of transmitting to the Italian diplomat the categorical refusal of the head of the Bulgarian Government to accept the proposals of Rome. Later, the Italian Government tried on several occasions to re-open conversations on this same subject, not only through Count Aldrovandi, the new Italian Minister at Sofia, but also during the Genoa Conference in 1922.

In spite of promises and menaces, Stambuliski remained faithful to his ideals. He wished to prevent the frontier districts of Bulgaria, above all the district of Petritch, from being made a base for incursions into Serbian Macedonia, and to achieve this object he did not hesitate to have many comitadjis arrested and imprisoned; and one of the leaders, Simeonoff, was killed. The Organization replied by assassinating Stambuliski's Minister of War, Al. Dimitroff (October, 1921); the Prefect of Petritch, Kozlovski; and a number of others. It also sent bands into Serbian Macedonia, though these were not received any too warmly by the disillusioned population. These incursions having provoked energetic protests from Belgrade, a note which I myself wrote and transmitted to the Jugoslav Government proposed the establishment of a joint frontier guard, to be composed of Bulgars and Jugoslavs who should act in common against the comitadji bands. This note, dated May 19, 1922, did not lead to any immediate results. However, after the easing of the diplomatic conflict, during which Greece and Rumania had joined with Jugoslavia in representations at Sofia, the Council of the League of Nations took notice of the question and on July 22, 1922, made my note the basis for pourparlers. The Treaty of Nish which regulated this question was concluded in April, 1923. It was the first practical step towards a Jugoslav-Bulgarian rapprochement, so much desired by both these Slavic peoples.

Although this Treaty did not formally bind Bulgaria to take repressive measures against the turbulent Macedonian elements, the Bulgarian Government did so of its own accord. Troops were sent into the frontier regions and a number of persons were arrested at Sofia and at Kustendil. These measures were not as efficacious as one would wish, because many Bulgarian officers were already engaged in the plot to overthrow our democratic peasant regime and were in negotiation with the comitadjis. Nevertheless, comitadji activity on the other side of the frontier diminished considerably and did not again assume important proportions until after the coup d'état of June 9 when the bands of Todor Alexandroff joined forces with the Bulgarian military to destroy the régime which was thwarting their program. During and after the coup d'état, the followers of Todor Alexandroff and Protogueroff played a large part in the various punitive measures carried out against the Bulgarian Peasant Party. The actual assassins of Premier Stambuliski were Captain Harlakoff and certain comitadji henchmen.

As in the past, and as in the period just after the Great War, so today there still exist Macedonian groups hostile to the Macedonian Internal Organization, to its policy and its methods. The Macedonian federalists who preached a free Macedonia in a federated and republican Balkans were even more numerous in Bulgaria than the adherents of Todor Alexandroff. But they were without money, and little by little were wiped out by agents of the official Organization, who killed them in the streets. The extreme left wing of the federalists eventually made common cause with the communists and formed a propaganda group at Vienna, centering about the newspaper, La Fédération Balkanique. Others preferred to escape into Serbia and to do what they could, under promises of safety from the Jugoslav Government, to help the population in the menaced regions.

The official Macedonian Organization did not triumph in its factional struggles without losing its chief, Alexandroff. He was killed during the extensive conflicts which took place between two different comitadji factions in September, 1923, in the regions of Djoumaja, Nevrokop and Petritch (in Bulgarian territory). These conflicts turned out to be really massacres, for the Organization was openly aided by the Bulgarian police and military. Three hundred persons were killed.

What really have been the objectives of the Organization since the war? It declares that it is fighting for Macedonian autonomy. But during the World War, when it was acting as the agent of the Bulgarian army, then master of practically all Macedonia, it did not ask for autonomy; it preached outright annexation under the sceptre of King Ferdinand. As for the population of Macedonia, the vast majority want nothing but peace and the chance to work quietly at restoring the productivity of their exhausted land. It is symptomatic of their feelings that in all the frontier regions they have been given arms by the Jugoslav authorities and that they have been making good use of them against the very comitadjis who pose as their liberators. This more than any other single factor has led to the failure of the armed bands and to the Organization's recent change of tactics. Under the new scheme the bands have been replaced by groups of two or three terrorists -- dvoïka or troïka -- who carry out isolated attacks. Latterly, too, it has been sending out single persons, both men and women, to execute individual assassinations.

Formerly, when I was myself a comitadji, the villagers protected the insurgents, fed them and hid them, braving gladly the risks of Turkish reprisal. From the Bulgarian frontier up to the region where my detachment used to operate, we were guided from village to village by little groups of peasants armed and ready to fight for us and with us. We went back and forth across the mountains and the forests, escaping the ambuscades of the Turkish gendarmerie mainly because of the exact information with which the peasants always furnished us. In the Kavadar region we used to distribute arms, collect taxes and punish enemies without awakening any feeling among the people except love and devotion. Would the Turks at that time -- 1905 -- have had the idea of arming the population against us? It is easy to guess against whom those arms would have been used had such a proceeding been dreamt of.

Today the peasants of Macedonia refuse food to the comitadjis who penetrate into the country and whenever possible denounce them to the authorities. Their one and only wish is to be with the rest of their brothers in a peaceful, orderly state -- a state composed of the majority of their race: for whether Bulgar or Serb, Macedonia is above all and will be always "South Slav."

In 1920, when I was Bulgarian Minister at Belgrade, an old Macedonian from Kavadar, affiliated with the Organization in which I served in the old days, came to obtain a visa to go to Bulgaria to visit his son. He expressed the feelings of the Macedonians who remain on their farms and are trying to work. "For God's sake," he said, "don't liberate us any more. We have been liberated of everything we possessed. If anyone begins liberating us again, we shall be the first to take up arms against him."

The upshot of all that I have written is that the present action of the Macedonian Organization does not and cannot serve the interests of Macedonia itself nor the real interests of Bulgaria. It can only serve the objectives of interested third parties. I am sorry to have to mention Italy in this connection. Italy's assumption of a protectorate over Albania makes the whole plan o Signor Mussolini as clear as day. Albania borders Macedonia on the west. From the Albanian frontier to the Bulgarian frontier it is only 150 kilometers as the bird flies; the appearance of comitadjis on the lines of communication between Jugoslavia and the Ægean would at a given moment facilitate the operations of Italian troops using Albania as their base, just as it facilitated the operations of the Austro-Hungarian armies in 1915. Another analogy is worth reflecting upon -- namely, that the present Bulgarian Government uses the same arguments that the Radoslavoff Government used in 1915 in refusing to admit that the Macedonian terrorists are utilizing Bulgarian territory as the base for their operations.

History has not traced the frontiers of Macedonia fairly. But by creating a powerful Jugoslav state the peace treaties have made possible a peaceful union between that country and Bulgaria, with Macedonia acting as the bridge. Only in the atmosphere of Bulgar-Jugoslav fraternity can the Macedonian question be solved. It is the Macedonian Organization which today stands as the chief stumbling block in the road to a settlement.

At the beginning the Macedonian Organization was a powerful and useful factor in the struggle for Balkan liberty. It has finished that rôle. In 1915 it was a mere cog in the military plans of Austria against Serbia; it helped the entry of Bulgaria into the war against the Allies; and, if it had had its way, it would have brought the Balkans under the sway of a new alien master in the place of the Turk. Today it keeps Jugoslavia and Bulgaria from achieving their natural union. It also facilitates the adventures of schemers outside the peninsula, though I am in hopes that, as has happened before, the wisdom learnt by the smaller Slavic peoples from long and sad experience will cause these new plans to fail. Then, deprived of its last excuse for existence, the Organization of General Protogueroff will pass naturally into the domain of historic memories.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • KOSTA TODOROFF, member of the Bulgarian delegation to sign the Treaty of Neuilly, delegate to the League of Nations, and Bulgarian Minister at Belgrade until the death of Premier Stambuliski in 1923
  • More By Kosta Todoroff