“A good compromise is one where everybody makes a contribution.”

– Angela Merkel


In 2011, I got a merit-based scholarship to study in Thessaloniki, Greece for my undergraduate studies. It had been two months since I got back from my exchange program in America, where I shared my Macedonian culture, traditions, history etc. while attending high school. While in the US, I made presentations about my country, dressed in a traditional Macedonian clothing. I also did some volunteering, and my first time being at a Greek Orthodox Church while they had a Greek Festival. I loved helping out and had an amazing time there. They were delighted to have a “neighbor” from Macedonia coming there to help since I was very familiar with the Greek culture and food due to my many tourist visits.

Once I became a student in Greece, I realized I had to change many things. For starters, I deleted a picture of me wearing a T-shirt with the old Macedonian flag from facebook. I did not want to offend the Greeks, as I knew that they regard that symbol as theirs as well. Then, when people would ask me where I am from, I would usually say “from Skopje” – not wanting to cause any trouble. Sometimes, it would slip out,  I was used to saying that “I’m from Macedonia” when I was in America – because it was natural to me. Nobody questioned this in the US, people found it interesting and cool – most of them knew nothing about the country anyway. In Greece, I was told not to touch on this issue with students or professors since the name dispute is a touchy subject.

One of the Greek students was very interested in the whole Macedonia-Greece issue, and I was more than happy to discuss it with Giorgos, which is not his real name. When he applied for college in 2011, he was in a dilemma whether or not to accept the offer, even though he was offered a scholarship, in times of a bad economy due to the financial crisis. He felt uneasy because there were “Skopians” in this college. He didn’t want to study with someone like “us”, talk or let alone be friends with someone like us – but he made a rational and logical decision and accepted the offer. I would meet with him occasionally to discuss – he would share the Greek point of view on history, how they see things, and I would do the same from my side – the Macedonian one. Since we were college students we were trying to find reliable sources for our claims. We managed to agree on some things and agreed to disagree on other things. We managed to set the facts straight – facts from history that are correct for both countries.


We agreed that, despite these disagreements and different viewpoints, we have so much in common. We dance similar dances, drink the same coffee, eat the same baklava, having similar traditions. More importantly, we became friends through this process of debating. We respected each other, listened to each other, and learned a lot, broadened our horizons by trying to see through each other’s lenses. We even found history books that have lessons on the Greek, Turkish, Serbian, Macedonian and other nations’ perspectives of the historical periods around the Balkan wars – it was so interesting to go through this and to realize how much we knew only from one side, and that we should look at history from many perspectives. In 2014, Giorgos and I were dancing the traditional Macedonian “oro” together with friends, celebrating the end of our educational journey. I am proud and honored to be a part of the change he went through by being exposed to different cultures and education. We are still friends today, and I call Thessaloniki my second home, as I spent some of my best years there, having so many wonderful memories with my friends as a college student. I am more than certain that there are so many similar stories of friendship and mutual understanding.


It makes me sad to see many Greeks protesting against the name talks. Around 68% of Greeks don’t want the term ‘Macedonia’ to be in the name at all according to a recent poll. They want to protect their ancient identity. Many Macedonians feel that the name is not for sale, and fear the loss of their identity, so they protest as well. Nobody could take away how one feels, and the right to self-determination. An identity cannot be lost with an adjective next to the name of our country, and it cannot be sold or bought either. It can be lost through the massive brain drain happening in Macedonia – so many people flee to find a better future elsewhere. And although they would still feel like Macedonians abroad (even more strongly due to the nostalgia), I doubt that their grandsons or great-grandsons will too, if they stay abroad. I doubt that they will know the Macedonian language, traditions, culture, history etc. as well as they do themselves. An identity can slowly fade away – but it cannot be bought, sold, or determined by another nation. Therefore, the two country’s leaders need to establish a common-ground solution, outlining the history and name issues in order to protect both nation’s identities.


However, this is the first time that our government has made real strides to bring positive changes focusing to solve this dispute. The Macedonian foreign minister visited Greece on many occasions in order to show good neighborly relations and willingness to cooperate. Moreover, the prime minister announced the name change of the airport, as well as the main highway which will be changed from “Alexander the Great” to “Friendship”. I see pictures of thousands of Greeks protesting instead of showing good neighborly relations and willingness of our country to be part of the European family and NATO, although, Alexis Tsipras is ready to cooperate, shown by their lengthy discussions with Zaev in Davos. Macedonia has been a candidate for accession in the EU since 2005, signing the “Stabilisation Agreement” in 2004 – being the first in the Western Balkans that did that. More importantly, the Commission recommended an opening of accession negotiations since 2009, but not one chapter has been opened due to the name dispute. By becoming a part of NATO and the EU, I hope for a more prosperous future of my country, and eventually, even more, vacations to Greece which will add more revenue for Greek tourism. Macedonia is the country that brings the most tourists to Greece, and yet we need to travel with a separate paper and cover a part of our license plates because our passports are not recognized as well as the “MK” abbreviation.


Politicians, as well as the people, should learn how to compromise, discuss, and learn how to broaden their narrow horizons – just like Giorgos and I did, and get over that issue so that we can discuss many others which are way more important and pressing for both our countries: how can we improve our economies? How can we stop the brain drain? Both countries have enormous diasporas around the world, both countries have fragile economies. This is something that should be more important to the people instead of nationalism – employment and prosperity, good economy, and the possibility to pursue happiness.


In the words of the Macedonian president Gjorgje Ivanov to German newspaper Bild, “Macedonia is protecting Europe from itself.” It shouldn’t be.

Just weeks after using a battering ram in an attempt to storm the Greek-Macedonian border, stranded migrants have resorted to new means. Finding a weakness in the border by going through the Greek village of Hamilo, several hundred migrants have now illegally crossed into Macedonia, resorting to river crossings that have resulted in the deaths of three. Macedonian police officials have made statements saying that the plan is to return all of them to Greece, and as of March 15th, some 1,500 have been returned. Furthermore, reports indicate that Greek forces have made little attempt to stop the migrants from entering Macedonia illegally.

Macedonia has now gone above and beyond what is necessary to deal with a crisis that was not of its own making. The European Union has, time and again, proven itself to be feckless on this issue. Even with the promise of the admittedly idealistic  plan with Turkey, the facts remain; The European Union is balkanized in its decision making. The recent border closings and anti-immigrant backlash have taken their toll on support for Merkel’s plans. Merkel has clearly pivoted from her earlier stance even going so far as to having admitted recently that the closing of the Balkan travel passage has been beneficial for Germany. So, where does this leave Macedonia?

President Ivanov: “Macedonia had achieved nothing out of the European Union, no EU membership, no Schengen zone and no NATO”

In the middle of an EU tug of war.

The Balkan state, an EU and NATO hopeful, is having a baptism by fire on its path towards integration into both organizations. Bowing under pressure from EU countries such as Austria and Hungary, it has also recently severely restricted border crossings. It has been attempting to please key players in the inner-circle of these institutions , but has received nothing in return. Macedonia is no closer to receiving an EU invitation than it was five years ago. Now Macedonia finds itself torn between relieving pressure on Greece’s side (an EU and Schengen member state) and also keeping a low migrant flow as to not overwhelm countries like Germany, Slovenia, and Austria, where border controls have been put in place. This is a zero-sum game for Macedonia and the rest of Europe; any benefit Europe receives from the closing of the Balkan route, will be offset by the losses incurred by Macedonia from the instability on its border.

As President Ivanov said, “Macedonia had achieved nothing out of the European Union, no EU membership, no Schengen zone and no NATO,” he said. “Nobody wants us.” Except when they need us. Particularly in dumping the responsibility of protecting Europe on a tiny, non-member state.

Macedonia has jeopardized its own security and stability in the name of ensuring stability for the EU member states. Keeping the borders closed has not benefited Macedonia one iota. There have been frequent clashes with Macedonian police, ranging from protests to rocks being thrown. The benefit has been solely directed to Western Europe. For example, President Ivanov reports that some 9,000 forged passports have been confiscated, leaving the door open to the possibility of infiltration by extremists into Western Europe. The EU is using Macedonia at this point. Its aspirations to become a member have worked quite well in convincing it to also implement border controls.

Unfortunately, Macedonia’s leaders continue to believe that appeasing Europe’s demands put it one step closer to further integration into organizations such as NATO.  When this is all said and done, and the migrant situation is dealt with, Macedonia will be simply be thanked for its cooperation and be given another veto by Greece when it applies for EU and NATO membership.

At this juncture, Macedonia bears no responsibility to Europe. Macedonia is only a pass-through country for the migrants, as they do not hope to gain asylum there. Europe has not only alienated Macedonia, but also Greece. A reversal of Macedonia’s strict border policy can benefit both countries. If its goal is EU and NATO membership, the Macedonian leadership can leverage the threat of severely weaker border controls on Europe. Both Greece and the rest of the EU are at a precipice with their respective migrant situations. The connecting thread between them is Macedonia. The small landlocked country holds tremendous geopolitical value, and it is not using it to its advantage. Macedonia must now raise the stakes. By asserting itself and not being taken for granted, it can gain a tremendous advantage and show that Europe’s interest must work in tandem with Macedonia’s.

The politics have become messy, and Macedonia must play accordingly if it wants to gain its own voice. Macedonia must now force Europe to realize that it will not accept responsibility for the EU’s inane mismanagement of the crisis.  



Mario Hristovkski, Alkis Stephanopoulous and Kristijan Fidanovski discuss the Macedonian name issue with moderator Alex Pantich. Bios for the participants can be found below:

Mario Hristovski: Mario is a student at Ohio State University where he studies Business and International Studies. He is also a Board Member of the Macedonian youth initiative Generation M, where he serves as Chairman of United States Operations. His main interests include business, politics, and human rights issues in the Balkans.

Kristijan Fidanovski: Kristijan is an undergraduate student of Politics and East European Studies at the University College of London. He is Macedonian, but lived in Italy for two years before joining university. His primary interests are the sociopolitical affairs of the ex-Yugoslav countries.

Alkis Delinanos: Alkis is a 2014 graduate of the American Perrotis College in Thessaloniki in Political Science. He has studied Greek politics extensively and currently resides in Thessaloniki.

Just 9 months after teetering dangerously close into the abyss with Greece, Germany once again finds itself in the center of a storm with its favorite black sheep of the family.

The EU just released an aid proposal for struggling Greece that could amount to over 700 million Euros. It could not come at a better time. The situation on the Macedonian-Greek border is rapidly descending into chaos. A few days ago, migrants in the Greek village of Idomeni  took down a barbed-wire security fence en-masse that had been erected by Macedonian authorities in January. Incidents of migrants throwing rocks and retaliatory tear gas barrages were also reported. Meanwhile, the situation in Greece is just as bad, if not worse.  Some 13,000 migrants are living in temporary camps, with facilities designed to hold 3,000 people, and supplies are dangerously low. Nationalistic strife aside, both Macedonia and Greece agree it is in their best interest to limit the flow of migrants coming through their countries until the rest of Europe responds to the crisis.

Cue Chancellor Merkel.

After fighting tooth and nail to keep Greece in Europe, Merkel is now stuck with it, for better or for worse. Just recently, she quipped in a TV interview: “Do you seriously believe that all the euro states that last year fought all the way to keep Greece in the Eurozone, and we were the strictest, can one year later allow Greece to, in a way, plunge into chaos?” She is urging the rest of the European leaders to work towards a multilateral solution to the crisis, noting that individual reactions such as closing borders, cannot produce results. The reaction from the domestic German audience and the rest of Europe has been anything but positive, as criticisms have been pouring in left and right. Her approval rating has dropped from an October 2011 high of 75% to 46% in a recent poll, amidst internal dissent calling for a new direction grows in her own center-right Christian Democratic Union party. The far-right party “Alternative for Germany” has also seen a surge in popularity in response to increased criticism towards Merkel, having already gained seats in five state parliaments. Hungary and Poland have respectively painted a big nem/nie (no) on their borders. Even liberal Sweden imposed border controls in January. The pressure is starting to take its toll on the Union and its de-facto leader-Merkel.

In stark contrast to the warm welcome given in Berlin and Munich  in September, Merkel is now taking a more hands-off approach to migrants from Greece.Whereas before, migrants could register upon arriving in Germany, now they must go through the registration centers in Greece before they can move on. Greece’s borders are not easily defensible, and given that it is a transit point for many of the migrants, this change will cause an even larger build-up of migrants on Greece’s border with Macedonia. EU and Turkish leaders recently met to come to a new plan–migrants coming to Greece will be returned, and one Syria from Turkey will be given asylum in Greece for every one Syrian returned to Turkey. While still tentative, there is growing concern that such a plan can even be approved and many European leaders themselves are not hopeful–including Merkel herself.

Organizations such as the UN, Doctors Without Borders, and  Amnesty International have blasted the plan, claiming it violates international law. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Fillppo Grandi said,”I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law.” Amid the growing uncertainty regarding the proposed plan, it looks like it may not be passed at all. Hungary, in a second potential blow to Europe, has already threatened to veto the migrant deal. After all the smoke clears from another failed response to a growing crisis, the EU will set its sights to a particular state once more–Greece. Merkel’s increasingly cold responses to Greece will inevitably set the tone for many other European countries. As if it to relieve themselves of their own guilt and feckless nature on the issue, European leaders will unload it on Greece. They have already threatened Greece with more border closings if it does not meet a May 12th deadline for registering its migrants. Austria, backed by Germany and Sweden, have gone as far as to dangle expulsion from the Schengen Zone. Combine this with the already-occurring domino-like cascade of border closings in the Schengen zone, and Greece, an EU member, is in the middle of the second tsunami of its collective European Union experience.

Prime Minister Tsipras has wasted no time blasting EU countries. In face of the new plan, Tsipras remains skeptical about the future of the EU. : “The Western Balkans route has come to an end due to unilateral actions by certain countries. EU has no future if it goes on like that.” European division over extending a bailout to Greece already cast doubt in many Greeks over its role and future with the European Union. Now, with the many in Western Europe closing their doors to the migrants, to many, they are also closing their doors to Greece.


This is the second part in a series of articles which will focus on the claims of different nations in the Balkans to greater states. The previous part focused on Albania.

The origins of Greater Bulgaria start at България на три морета, or Bulgaria on the three seas. This is a reference to Bulgaria during the First Bulgarian Empire, which lasted from 681 to 1018, when it encompassed most of the Balkans and modern day Romania, reaching all the way to modern-day Ukraine. Today, it would be near impossible to find a Bulgarian interested in claiming that entire stretch of land as Bulgarian, but the memory of Bulgaria at its peak is a powerful nationalist symbol that deserves mention when discussing more contemporary ideas of Greater Bulgaria.

The modern idea of a Greater Bulgaria started in 1878 when Bulgaria was de facto free of Ottoman rule, though legal independence did not come until the 1908 declaration of independence. Russia and Turkey signed the Treaty of San Stefano, in which Bulgaria was given Macedonia and much of what is today northern Greece, along with some additional territory from each of its neighbors, including a strip of land in North Eastern Dobruja.

This was not accepted by other powers interested in influencing the Balkans in their favor who saw the treaty of San Stefano as making Bulgaria, and through that Russian influence, too powerful in the region. Within the same year, the Treaty of Berlin redrew the San Stefano borders, dividing what was supposed to be Bulgaria into three different territories; an Independent Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia, and Macedonia. Eastern Rumelia was left as an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire whose power within the region was quickly diminishing. However, Eastern Rumelia was mostly populated by Bulgarians who were not interested in autonomy but in Bulgarian unity, and within seven years Bulgaria bloodlessly annexed Eastern Rumelia on September 6th, 1885.

By TodorBozhinov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The territory of Macedonia, on the other hand, remained under Ottoman rule and has been separated from Bulgaria since. Claims of a Greater Bulgaria today largely rest of the reunification of Bulgaria with Macedonia, as Bulgarians see Macedonians as ethnically the same and Macedonian as a dialect of Bulgarian which has developed from years of separation and outside cultural influence. Bulgarians feel that the unique Macedonian identity has been used as a tool, particularly during the Yugoslavian era, to keep Macedonians from supporting Bulgarian unification. For this reason, Bulgarians reject the notion of a distinct Macedonian ethnicity. Instead, Bulgarians see Macedonia as a region and not a distinct identity, one that is inhabited by Bulgarians who have created their own identity after separation and are currently trying to revise history to fit their new identity. One such example is Tsar Samuel, who was the  King of Bulgaria from 997 to 1014. Since he ruled from Ohrid, Macedonia claims that he ruled an ethnic Macedonian empire. This is seen by Bulgaria as an attempt  by Macedonia to project its modern identity into very different historical contexts and is one of the  many barriers to healthy modern Bulgaria-Macedonia relations.

In 1912, the first Balkan War started. For nearly a year, the Balkan League worked together to fight the last remains of the Ottoman Empire in the region. The victorious Balkan states divided up the  former Ottoman territories and Bulgaria was given much of South Eastern Thrace, or the territory on its southern border that reaches down to the Aegean Sea. However, many in Bulgaria did not see this as enough as it had suffered the most from the Balkan side. Bulgaria was specifically interested in reunification with Macedonia and other regions which were controlled by Greece at the time.

The region before and after the Balkan Wars

This provoked the Second Balkan War in which Bulgaria lost territory on all sides, including territory in the South to Greece, East to Serbia, West to the Ottomans, and Southern Dobruja to Romania. It did keep its holdings in South Eastern Thrace as an outlet to the Aegean Sea and in Blagoevgrad/Pirin-Macedonia, but this was only a portion of what it desired. This led to Bulgaria entering WWI on the side of the Central Powers, as it still wanted to unify with Macedonia the way that it would have under the Treaty of San Stefano. Instead, it lost its outlet to the Aegean Sea, which is probably the most important part of Greater Bulgaria after the Macedonian region. During the interwar period, Bulgaria had various movements in support of integration into Yugoslavia as the only South Slav nation not yet in Yugoslavia, but they all failed because of Bulgarian interest in reviving Bulgarian glory and taking back lost lands and glory. Integration sentiment went as high as Aleksandar Stamboliyski, the Bulgarian Prime Minister from 1919 to 1923 who considered himself a Yugoslav, and included the failed project of the Balkan Federation.

For this reason, Bulgaria again sided with Germany in WWII in an attempt to conquer lands it felt it deserved. This led to the return of Southern Dobruja from Romania in the Treaty of Craiova and the temporary Bulgarian occupation of its former Aegean holdings and the Macedonia region. Bulgaria kept Southern Dobruja but returned the Aegean Sea strip and Macedonia after the war.

Today, Bulgaria’s borders remain as they were at the end of the Second World War. Nationalism is no longer the main driving force behind Bulgaria’s foreign policy, and so Bulgarian attempts to form Greater Bulgaria are unlikely. Most  Bulgarians still hold some feelings of kinship to the Macedonian region, but few aside from the  radical right wish to reclaim the territory. Even if reunification were to occur, bringing Macedonia into  the rest of Bulgaria would bring the Bulgarian economy to a halt. Also, most realize that much time has passed and that even if they feel that the Macedonian identity is based on a false interpretation of history, it is still an identity. For this reason, Bulgaria has chosen to build up relations with Macedonia, including being the first nation to recognize its independence in 1991 and trying to help Macedonia in its EU integration, a softer form of integration that Bulgarians feel will  only bring them closer to their kin. This process has not been as smooth as it could be, as there are many unresolved issues between the two nations such as Bulgaria not recognizing Macedonian as a separate language but only as a dialect of Bulgarian. Bulgarian claims to other parts of Greater Bulgaria are losing power as nationalist symbols. The Bulgarian population in both parts of Southern Thrace, Turkish and Greek, and in Northern Dobrujia left the regions and returned to Bulgaria during the region’s conflicts and various population exchanges between the countries. Revisionist claims based off historical territory can still be heard from ultra-nationalists, but few take them seriously.

Given the recent history of the Balkans, the idea of Pan-Balkanism or a Balkan state might sound ludicrous. However, the history of the region shows us that this has not always been the case. Because of a shared history and previous global trends, the Balkan nations have undergone various attempts at some form of unification following the demise of the Ottoman empire. These attempts were not successful as the forces of nationalism and imperialism trumped every Pan-Balkanist movement, but they should not be forgotten because they give us a good counterweight to modern fallacies such as deep rooted ethnic hatred and support the dangerous rhetoric of ethnic superiority.

The first of such movements came from the Christian church immediately after the Ottoman empire’s hold on the region started to weaken. During Ottoman rule, Christians were united in the respect that they were second class citizens. The Millet system, in which each religion’s adherents were considered the same caste, ruled all Christians under the Rūm millet or Roman Nation. While the Balkan population was allowed to keep their Christian identity as long as they accepted being second class citizens, the Ottomans suppressed individual ethnic identities.

After Greek independence in 1821, some social forces started to champion Balkan unity. The strongest was the Greek Orthodox church which had grown powerful in the region as the official representative of Balkan Christians. This meant that the upper classes of Balkan Christians were taught in Greek, which spread Greek language and culture throughout the region. This allowed them to create a cohesive identity which was left after the Ottomans left the region. After independence, the Greek Orthodox church wanted to build up the Rūm millet into one new nation headed by the church, but this ran into some problems. Other ethno-centric churches opened throughout the Balkans as different regions gained more and more autonomy, which caused rivalries over authority and followers. This competition led to religion being a divisive force within the Balkans. Another major issue with a religious Pan-Balkan state based off of Orthodox Christianity is that it would have inherently excluded the non-Christians within its borders.

Christianity was not the only force at this time pushing for Balkan unity. Rhigas Feraios was a Greek independence fighter who was also interested in greater Balkan liberation. He is best known for his text “New Political Constitution of the Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia” which was an attempt to inspire the Balkans to rise up together, as well as for creating the flag that would later be associated with Balkan unity. The extent of how far the average Greek was interested in the liberation of Bulgarians and Serbians is unknown, but Rhigas is just one example of how the early struggles for independence were not strictly ethnical.

This solidarity over a shared Ottoman rule continued after Rhigas, with various groups working to rid the Balkans of the remains of Ottoman occupation. There were cases like the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, formed in 1893, which fought for Macedonian independence in its earlier years, but later on in its history was very connected to Bulgaria and served Bulgarian interests. Because it worked for liberation with the goal of integrating it into another nation as opposed to self rule, it cannot be seen as an example of Pan-Balkanism.

However, there were multiple other groups which championed Pan-Balkanism. In the early 20th century, many other left leaning groups emerged which were not focused on national interests of individual states but on the liberation of the Balkans as a whole. The Macedonian Secret Revolutionary Committee was one such group. It had strong anarchist leanings and was against nationalism, instead favoring a Balkan Federation much like Feraios. Its main functions were agitating the public against the Ottomans and for the liberation of Macedonia, and its legacy is limited to that.

Shortly after, a more militant group with ties to the MSRC emerged and had far more influence in terms of direct effect on the region. The Boatmen of Thessaloniki (or the Gemidzhiite) used terrorism within Thessaloniki in order to catch the attention of European empires to the region, with the hope of bring attention to the plight of those still living under Ottoman rule. Their short lived bombing campaign ended with no positive effect on the region; Ottoman soldiers massacred many civilians as punishment. This only exacerbated tensions in the region, which shortly after erupted into the Ilinden–Preobrazhenie Uprising.

Some of the Boatmen
Some of the Boatmen of Thessaloniki

There is a debate between Bulgarian and Macedonian scholars about whether the Boatmen were ethnic Bulgarians or Macedonians. If they are seen as ethnic Macedonians, the Pan Balkan motivations behind their actions could be ignored in favor of a national liberation interpretation. However, a few things must be considered.

First, the Boatmen were a very small group. They were not like the IMRO, which controlled a large fighting force interested in liberating and then holding territory. The Boatmen had the ability to join such a group with more resources if their goal was based on ethnic leadership as opposed to adhering to a common ideology they believed in. Instead, the boatmen acted through propaganda of the deed to encourage rebellion against the Ottomans. Second, anarcho-nationalism had a sizable following within the anarchist community during this time. Simply assuming that because they were anarchists they were against nationalism would be imposing modern anarchist thought into their actions from over 100 years ago. However, there were many prominent members of the Balkan anarchist community at the time (such as Tinko Simov, a Bulgarian anarchist who actively fought against the Bulgarian government) that rejected nationalism and ethnic ties in favor of anarchist style autonomy. The majority of the anarchist movement of the time favored anarcho-syndicalism or anarcho-communism, which were worker based movements that disregarded nationalism as a whole unless it could be used as a tool to provoke revolutionary sentiment. Therefore even if we accept the Boatmen were ethnic Macedonians as a fact, this most likely had no major effect on their anarchist ideology. Third, the Boatmen were graduates of the Bulgarian Men’s High School of Thessaloniki, where they were taught by members of the MSCR who strongly supported a Balkan federation and are seen as a major influences on the Boatmen. It is hard to imagine that students taught by strong advocates of Balkan unity and opponents of nationalism would be following a complete opposite form of thought. Therefore the debate of whether the boatmen were Macedonian or Bulgarian is not very relevant, at least for the purposes of Pan-Balkan history. This focuses simply on their actions when the focus should be on the ideology behind their actions, which was removing the last remaining traces of Ottoman rule from the region.

Following these events, the influence of anarchism on the Balkans waned. The next forces to work towards a Balkan federation were the communist, socialist, and agrarian parties of the region. The socialist parties in the Balkans had ties to the Second International, which was an organization formed to create unity between leftist movements beyond borders. This led to more localized attempts at creating cross-border socialist movements, the first major one being the Balkan Socialist Conference in 1910 which openly supported a Balkan Federation. Under their platform, this federation would have even included Turkey because “The Ottoman proletariat is united in agreement with the universal proletariat to fight against war in general” and “Only a Balkan Federation will enable the nations of the Balkans to ensure their total development of culture and political independence.” During the two Balkan wars, the Balkan communist, socialist, and agrarian parties engaged in a powerful anti-war campaign. They were unsuccessful but their effort was connected with a surge in electoral support for each, particularly the socialist parties.

When the first World War came, the Balkan left became very divided. The socialists were split between pro-government socialists who supported their respective nations and the far left socialists who encouraged turning the war into a class war, much like the Bolsheviks. This schism led to a radicalization of politics that Balkan communists most benefited from, resulting in the Balkan Communist Federation which held its first conference in Sofia in January 1920. This culminated in the May Manifesto four years later which promoted establishing a Balkan communist federation, an independent and reunified Macedonian state, and closer ties to the Soviet Union. This schism showed the divide between the moderate socialists against the radical socialists and communists, the former wanted gradual unification between the Balkan states while the latter wanted a complete overthrow of the present governments in order to create a Balkan Socialist Soviet Republic. To make tensions worse, the two sides became bitter rivals over who would be the true voice of the limited recruitment pool of Balkan workers.

The idea of closer ties to the Soviet Union or even a hypothetical Balkan Socialist Soviet Republic state remained for decades as the far left of the time believed in a global, united proletarian which would be needed to advance a global marxist revolution. But had a Balkan Socialist Soviet Republic arisen, its connection to the Soviet Union would have been very problematic. This could have resulted in a Balkan state largely subordinate to Soviet interests as opposed to its own.

Agrarian parties also advocated for a Balkan federation and the creation of a Green International which would have tried to unite farmers and agrarian parties of the world in a way that the Socialist International was able to for socialists.

The Bulgarian agrarian party was in power from 1919 to 1923. Aleksandar Stamboliyski, a strong supporter of Bulgarian integration into Yugoslavia as well as a greater Balkan state, was the Bulgarian prime minister during the agrarian party’s rule. Stamboliyski was famous for identifying not as a Bulgarian but as Yugoslavian during a parliamentary hearing in 1914. He was also arrested for opposing Bulgarian intervention in World War I because he saw Bulgaria’s Serbian front as fratricidal. After being freed, Stamboliyski organized Bulgarian troops and forced King Ferdinand to abdicate the throne, later leading the agrarian party to power in the same year.

The Croatian agrarian party was the second most powerful agrarian party of the region.  The Croatian Peasant Party was founded by Stjepan Radić in 1904. Radić was not originally interested in a Balkan or South Slav union but instead empowering Croatian peasants through land distribution. However, when Yugoslavia was established, he and the party started advocating for a decentralized federation which would expand to Bulgaria, eventually taking in Romania and Greece. For Radić, this was a way of making sure that Yugoslavia did not become Serb dominated. The Slovenian People’s Party of the time agreed with this sentiment, originally supported Slovenian independence, but then shifting to autonomy in and expansion of Yugoslavia in order to have more decentralized power which would ensure Slovenian autonomy within a greater union.

This greater-Serbian/Balkan Federation debate was at the time framed as a “Radić-Stamboliyski against Pašić-Davidović” conflict (Pašić and Davidović being the first two prime ministers of Yugoslavia). It is no wonder that both Radić and Stamboliyski were assassinated, the former by a Serbian nationalist and the latter in a far right coup which included IMRO who saw Stamboliyski as a traitor to Bulgaria for his views on an independent Macedonia. Stamboliyski supported this as a national concession to show his commitment to ending the Bulgarian claims over Macedonia and instead support for a Balkan Federation.

In the 1920s, political repression eventually took the force out of pro-federalization parties who were struggling but still able to maintain relevancy during events such as King Alexander’s dictatorship in Yugoslavia and the white terror in Bulgaria which targeted both communists and agrarians. La Fédération Balkanique was a bimonthly magazine which took up the mantle of promoting a Balkan Federation. It was published from 1924-1931 in all of the Balkan languages, but it did not have the same effects on the region that the former left wing movements held.

La Federation Balkanique
La Federation Balkanique

Though the movement’s leaders were killed, the efforts continued through the first Balkan Conference which was proposed by a former Greek Prime Minister, Alexandros Papanastassiou. Delegates from all over the region met in Athens in October, 1930 and then again in the following year in Istanbul, Romania in 1932, and Thessaloniki in 1933. The first meeting had more to do with theoretical peacebuilding, with agenda items such as utilizing the Hague International Court of Justice and the issue of minorities. The later meetings went further into establishing mutual organizations such as a Balkan postal union and health bureau. These meetings were much more serious than the earlier attempts by socialists and communists as they weren’t hypothetical ‘after the revolution’ plans but instead were attended by the foreign ministers of the Balkan countries, even though they were not empowered to act on behalf of their governments. They were also not organized by leftists, but instead in politicians that saw the practical benefits of a unified and decentralized state. This attempt could be attributed to the fact that the previous decade had many cases cooperation necessary to prevent further conflict, such as the Greco-Bulgarian Agreement of December 9th, 1927 to deal with repayment over confiscated property during population exchanges.

Following this, the Balkan states drifted away from the forces of unity and towards another ‘fratricidal’ period. In 1934, Bulgaria suffered another brief right wing military regime which was soon reversed, but the country remained on track to cement closer ties with the Axis powers. Interestingly enough, some of the forces in this coup were interested in Bulgaria entering Yugoslavia. The Little Entente, a military alliance between Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia fell through in 1937 when Romania and Yugoslavia refused to help Czechoslovakia when it was threatened by Nazi Germany. Italy slowly started to force its influence into Albania following World War I, until the military invasion and resulting occupation of 1939. Greece had suffered from the national schism during World War I which resulted in two coup attempts during the interwar period (one successful in 1922 and one not in 1935) so its foreign policy and support on Balkan integration was shaky and dependent on both internal peace and whoever was in power at the time. Yugoslavia was attacked by Germany in 1941, which resulted in Bulgarian forces occupying part of Yugoslavia in the latter stages of the conflict (particularly Macedonia), which it returned after the war as a token for peace between the two new communist countries.

Following World War II, the communists managed to take power in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and Yugoslavia. However, Yugoslavia soon became suspicious of both the West and the Soviet Union, so it was weary of Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania as they had strong ties to the Soviet Union. Any credible interests of incorporating Bulgaria into Yugoslavia as the last South Slav nation not yet in Yugoslavia died with the Tito-Stalin split. Albania also later left the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence while seeking greater ties with the People’s Republic of China. Greece was stuck in a civil war which ended with an anti-communist regime taking power. The communist regimes in Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia all worked together to assist the communist rebels of Greece, but this cooperation was unsuccessful. This all resulted in a wide variety of interests and ideology clashing in the region, ending the closest the Balkans ever got to a unified federation.

After the cold war, new ideas related to a Balkan state emerged. From a neoliberal perspective, the Balkans are potentially more united they have ever been through membership or possible expansion into the EU. However if one looks at the Schengen Area where European borders are internally eliminated, it is clear that the Balkans and the EU are two very separate entities. Depending on one’s outlook, this can either mean that the Balkans have to continue progress until they are ready to join the EU, or that the Balkans are not yet seen as equals to the rest of the EU.

Map of the Schengen area
Map of the Schengen area

There are some parties in the Balkans, and the rest of the EU, that are opposed to the idea of a European Union, particularly because of the requirements made on the member states and austerity measures that particular countries have accepted. These measures and structural adjustment programs have been compared to requests that the great powers had of their Balkan protectorat states just over 100 years ago which landed the Balkan countries further in debt and at the mercy of the great powers. While it is foolish to think of this as a significant threat to the EU, it is still worth mentioning as certain protest parties, such as EPAM in Greece, are supporters of scrapping the EU in favor of a state with the ability to more directly advocate for the interests of the Balkans.

The prospect of a future Balkan federation is bleak. For one, it would require the end of the EU.  While there is talk of the EU falling apart under economic pressure from its poorer states (particularly Greece) and the current refugee crisis, there is little reason to believe that the EU is going to go away anytime soon.  Similarly, the bloody wars that followed the end of Yugoslavia could be used to claim that the idea would never work. This may be true, but it is worth remembering the fact that the original Balkan Wars were not a barrier to the spread of the original calls to a Balkan federation.