Historiography in North Macedonia

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Monument of Alexander the Great ("Warrior on a Horse") in Skopje. In fact the town was capital of Dardanian Kingdom and never became part of Ancient Macedonia.[1]
Front cover of the Bulgarian Folk Songs collected by the Miladinov Brothers and published in 1861. In the early 2000s the Macedonian State Archive displayed a photocopy of the book, but the upper part showing "Bulgarian" has been cut off.

Historiography in North Macedonia is the methodology of historical studies used by the historians in the country. It has been developed since 1991 when the republic proclaimed its independence. According to Stefan Troebst it has preserved nearly the same agenda as the marxist historiography from the times of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.[2] In fact, in the field of historiography, Yugoslav communism and Macedonian nationalism are closely related.[3] According to Ulf Brunnbauer, modern Macedonian historiography is highly politicized, because the Macedonian nation-building process is still in development. There is no place of diverging approaches in it for several reasons as economic limitations; failure of academic career and stigmatization as "national traitor".[4] Recently a nation-building project has been promoted to impose the deceptive idea, Macedonian nation is the oldest on the Balkans, with unbroken continuity from the antiquity to the modern times.[5] Some domestic and foreign scholars have criticized this agenda, leading to the creation of a denialist historiography, whose goal has been to affirm the continuous existence of a separate Macedonian nation throughout history.[6] This controversial masterpiece is ahistorical, as it projects modern ethnic distinctions into the past.[7] Such an enhanced, ethnocentric reading of history contributes to the distortion of the Macedonian national identity and degrades history as an academic discipline.[8] In this way generations of students were educated in pseudo-history.[9]


The contemporary Macedonian historical narrative is rooted in communist groups active during the interwar period, especially in the 1930s, when the Comintern issued a special resolution in their support. Those circles were however not the first ones to develop separate Macedonian historical interpretations. In 1892 Georgi Pulevski, the first Macedonian national activist, completed a "General History of the Macedonian Slavs." It was only after the Second World War, however, that those writings were widely appreciated, as prior to the establishment of Communist Yugoslavia, the existence of a separate Macedonian nation was still not recognized.

The glorification of the Yugoslav Partisan movement became one of the main components of the post-war Yugoslav political propaganda. As result, the leader of the new SR MacedoniaLazar Koliševski, initially proclaimed that its history has begun with the start of the communist struggle during the Second World War, while early 20th century events and organizations as the Ilinden Uprising and the IMRO were mere Bulgarian conspiracies.[10][11] Following direct political instructions from Belgrade, those historical studies were expanded.[12] New Macedonian historiography held, as a central principle, that Macedonian history was distinctively different from that of Bulgaria. Its primary goal was to create a separate Macedonian national consciousness, with "anti-Bulgarian" or "de-Bulgarizing" trend, and to sever any ties to Bulgaria.[13] This distinct Slavic consciousness would inspire identification with Yugoslavia.

The Bitola inscription from 1016/1017 when the town served as capital of Bulgaria. Originally exhibited in the local museum, it was locked away when Bulgarian scientists became aware of its content, confirming the Cometopuli considered their state Bulgarian.[14]

The first national scientific institution in this field – the Institute for National History of the federate republic was established in 1948. The historiographic narrative in the first two decades afterwards was expanded to the early 19th century, in which, as it was believed then, was launched the history of the Macedonian people. However the personalities from the area included into the new masterpiece, played also significant role in the Bulgarian National Revival. Numerous prominent activists with pro-Bulgarian sentiments from the 19th and the early 20th centuries were described as (Ethnic) Macedonians. Because in many documents of that period, the local Slavic population is not referred to as "Macedonian" but as "Bulgarian", Macedonian historians argue that it was Macedonian, regardless of what is written in the records. They have claimed also that "Bulgarian" at that time was a term, not related to any ethnicity, but was used as a synonym for "Slavic", "Christian" or "peasant".[15]

Efforts were made since the late 1960s to include there also the Middle Ages. As result in 1969, the first academic "History of the Macedonian nation" was published, where many historical figures from the area, who lived in the last millennium as Samuel of Bulgaria, were described as people with "Macedonian (Slavic) identity". When the historians from the Skopje University published in 1985 their collection with documents on the struggle of the Macedonian people, they included into the excerpts of the medieval chronicles, a footnote for every use of the term Bulgarian.[16] Almost all of the new historical agenda was traditionally claimed by the Bulgarian national historiography and till today it disputes the Macedonian historical readings.[17]

After independence[edit]

The statute of the IMRO from the eve of the 20th century. Its membership then was restricted only for Bulgarians. For that reason most of today Macedonian historians reject its authenticity.[18]

After the Republic of Macedonia gained independence in the late 20th century, the picture has not changed significantly. Macedonian historiography has not revised much of the Yugoslav past, because almost all of its historical myths were constructed during the communist era. The reluctance for a thorough reevaluation of Yugoslav communist historiography was mainly caused by the fact that the very Macedonian nation, state and language were a result of Yugoslav communist policies, where this historiography had played a crucial role. For the mainstream local establishment, an attitude against Communist Yugoslavia is seen as anti-Macedonism.[19]

Macedonian historiography became urgent in the early 21st century in the face of an unsure reevaluation of the Yugoslav past and of an uneasy articulation of a new anticommunist narrative. It has sought a new horizon behind the mythological symbolism of ancient Macedon. For that purpose the borders of the ancient entity were extended towards the north, much further than the borders of the historical state. According to this history, most of the cultural achievements of the Ancient Macedonians were actually (ethnic) Macedonian and therefore, Hellenism's true name would be Macedonism. This new historical trend is called antiquization, making the Macedonian nationality a thousand years older. In this narrative Ancient Macedonians were not Ancient Greek people and it maintains a separate existence of Ancient Macedonians in the Early Middle Ages, 800 years after the fall of the their kingdom, as well as, their admixture in the Byzantine Empire, with the arriving at that time early Slavic migrants.

The Rosetta Stone dated as of 196 BC. During the 2000s the MANU, has promoted the deception "Demotic Egiptian" script on it is written in Slavic language close to modern Macedonian and that was the language of the Ancient Macedonians.[20][21][22]
Plate on the church Sveta Nedela in Bitola. The inscription reads: This holy church was erected with the contribution of the Bulgarians in Bitola on October 13, 1863. The part of the inscription that reads "Bulgarians" has been erased.
Bulgarian invasion in Vardar Banovina, April 1941. Bulgarians were greeted as liberators.[23] After the war, the communist historiography did a lot to equate the term Bulgarian with "fascist occupier".[24]

In 2009 the first Macedonian Encyclopedia was issued by the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. The issuance of the encyclopaedia caused international and internal protest because of its content and its authors have been subjected to severe criticism. Even some Macedonian academics criticised the book as hastily prepared and politically motivated. Soon the scandalous encyclopaedia was withdrawn from the bookstores. Macedonian Canadian historian Andrew Rossos has published in 2008 the first professional English language overview of the history of Macedonia, however Stefan Troebst suggests that his narrative is enough affected by the views in the R. Macedonia and thus is representing the latest developments in the Macedonian historiography as viewed in Skopje.

Alternative views[edit]

After the fall of Communism, historical revisionists in the Republic of Macedonia questioned the narrative established in Communist Yugoslavia. People such as Ivan Mikulčić, Zoran Todorovski and Slavko Milosavlevski tried to openly oppose to popular historical myths in the Republic of Macedonia. Mikulčić for example, proved through archaeological evidence that there weren't any ancient Macedonians when the Early Slavs arrived in Macedonia. He also found several Bulgars' settlements on the territory of the modern republic and argued the Slavs in Macedonia adopted the ethnonym Bulgarians in the 9th century. Todorovski has argued that all Macedonian revolutionaries from the early 20th century and beyond identified themselves as Bulgarians. Milosavlevski challenged the myth of the significant communists partisans resistance movement against the Bulgarian "fascistic occupiers" during the Second World War. Their studies became only exception for the new Macedonian historiography and most historians left loyal to the political elite with publications appropriating the Hellenistic part from the Macedonian past and that of the medieval Bulgarian Empire and Bulgarian national revival from the Ottoman period.

The policy to claim Ethnic Macedonian past during Ancient, Medieval and Ottoman times, is facing criticism by other academics and politicians in the country itself, as Denko Maleski, Miroslav Grčev, Ljubcho Georgievski and others. It demonstrates feebleness of archaeology and historiography, as well some kind of ethnic marginalization.[25] These intellectuals from Macedonian elite, admit the distinct Macedonian nation is a recent phenomenon developed in the years around the Second World War. Such views are spread among well educated citizens that search for the scientific resolution of the nation-building problematic. Despite the leading establishment strongly opposes the articulation of such views, some prominent members of the elite disclose their rational views.

Foreign historiographic studies[edit]

The mainstream European historiography maintains the idea of separate Macedonian nation was developed mainly during the Second World War and was adopted en masse immediately after it.[26] Whether in antiquity the Ancient Macedonians were originally a Greek tribe or not, is ultimately a redundant question, claims Loring Danforth, while with the ongoing hellenization of Macedonia, they came to be regarded as "northern Greeks".[27] John Van Antwerp Fine states that throughout the Middle Ages and Ottoman era today Bulgarians and Macedonians comprised a single people.[28] Per Bernard Lory the ethnic divergence between them occurred mainly in the first half of the 20th century.[29] Alexander Maxwell maintains that scarcely by the middle of that century, Macedonians began to see Macedonian and Bulgarian loyalties as mutually exclusive.[30] According to Eugene N. Borza, the Macedonians, who are recently emergent people, and have had no history, are in search of their past. This search is an attempt to help legitimize their unsure present, surviving in the disorder of the Balkan politics.[31] Ivaylo Dichev claims that the Macedonian historiography has the impossible task of filling the huge gaps between the ancient kingdom of Macedon, that collapsed in 2th cent. BC, the 10th-11th cent. state of the Cometopuls, and the Yugoslav Macedonia established in the middle of the 20th cent.[32] Despite the myths of national purity and continuity that came to dominate the official Macedonian historiography, what is usual on the Balkans, Ipek Yosmaoglu affirms there is not much to be gained from a search for Macedonian national lineage, because the Macedonian nationhood was shaped mainly in the decades following World War II.[33]

Recent development[edit]

Surveys on the effects of the controversial nation-building project Skopje 2014 on the perceptions of the population of Skopje revealed a high degree of uncertainty regarding its national identity. Following the results of a supplementary national poll they show that there is a great discrepancy between the population's sentiment and the narrative the state seeks to promote.[34] According to F.A.K. Yasamee the Macedonians are a striking instance of the mutability of national identity.[35]

Bulgarian forces entering Skopje in November 1944 after the ejection of the Germans.[36] Macedonian sources claim no Bulgarian troops participated in the capture of the city, even as observers.[37][38]

Recently Macedonian political elite seems interested in some debates about the national historical narrative with Bulgaria and Greece. With respect to the Macedonian narrative, both Greek and Bulgarian historiography have questioned its factual basis, because it was constructed to come into conflict with these older historiographies. Per Michael R. Palairet in the three-way dispute about Macedonia, the Bulgarian view is closer to the objective facts of the history than either the Greek or Macedonian, but the Macedonian historiographical version violates common sense and the historical record much more than the Bulgarian or the Greek ones.[39]

The governments of Bulgaria and Macedonia signed a friendship treaty to bolster the complicated relations between the two Balkan states in August 2017. On its ground a joint commission on historical and educational issues was formed in 2018. This intergovernmental commission is a forum where controversial historical issues will be raised and discussed, to resolve the problematic readings of history. In June 2018, Greece and Macedonia also signed an agreement to end their long disputes, which would result in Macedonia being renamed the Republic of North Macedonia. It also provides for the creation of a "historical" commission similar to that of the treaty signed with Bulgaria.

However, with nationalism in three countries rising, there are still Greek and Bulgarian scholars to attempt to claim a Macedonian nation did not exist until middle of the 20th. century and therefore, it could not exist at the present. In Skopje, meanwhile, there are growing concerns, that the negotiations with the country's neighbors over its history, may jeopardize the Macedonian government or, even lead to violence and internal clashes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elisabeth Kontogiorgi, Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia: The Rural Settlement of Refugees 1922-1930, Oxford Historical Monographs, Clarendon Press, 2006, ISBN 0191515558, p. 12.
  2. ^ Stefan Troebst, Historical Politics and Historical 'Masterpieces' in Macedonia before and after 1991, New Balkan Politics, 2003.
  3. ^ Roumen Daskalov, Diana Mishkova as ed., Entangled Histories of the Balkans - Volume Two: Transfers of Political Ideologies and Institutions, BRILL, 2013, ISBN 9004261915, p. 499.
  4. ^ Ulf Brunnbauer, "Serving the Nation: Historiography in the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) after Socialism", Historien, Vol. 4 (2003-4), pp. 174-175.
  5. ^ Klaus Roth, Asker Kartarı as authors and ed., Cultures of Crisis in Southeast Europe, Volume 2, LIT Verlag Münster, 2017, ISBN 3643907915, p. 169.
  6. ^ Sinisa Jakov Marusic, New Statue Awakens Past Quarrels in Macedonia. BalkanInsight, 13 July 2012, cited in War in the Balkans: Conflict and Diplomacy before World War I by James Pettifer, I.B.Tauris, 2015, ISBN 0857739689.
  7. ^ Kyril Drezov, Macedonian identity: an overview of the major claims in The New Macedonian Question with J. Pettifer as ed., Springer, 1999, ISBN 0230535798, p. 55.
  8. ^ Irena Stefoska, Nation, Education and Historiographic Narratives: the Case of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (1944-1990); Introduction In discussions of identities (ethnic, national, religious, gender, etc.), Fragments of the History of Macedonian Nationalism: An Introduction to the Research Problem, pp. 34-35.
  9. ^ The past was systematically falsified to conceal the fact that many prominent 'Macedonians' had supposed themselves to be Bulgarian, and generations of students were taught the "pseudo-history" of the 'Macedonian nation." For more see: Michael L. Benson, Yugoslavia: A Concise History, Edition 2, Springer, 2003, ISBN 1403997209, p. 89.
  10. ^ Мичев. Д. Македонският въпрос и българо-югославските отношения – 9 септември 1944–1949, Издателство: СУ Св. Кл. Охридски, 1992, стр. 91.
  11. ^ Initially the membership in the IMRO was restricted only for Bulgarians. Its first name was "Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committees", which was later changed several times. IMRO was active not only in Macedonia but also in Thrace (the Vilayet of Adrianople). Since its early name emphasized the Bulgarian nature of the organization by linking the inhabitants of Thrace and Macedonia to Bulgaria, these facts are still difficult to be explained from the Macedonian historiography. They suggest that IMRO revolutionaries in the Ottoman period did not differentiate between 'Macedonians' and 'Bulgarians'. Moreover, as their own writings attest, they often saw themselves and their compatriots as 'Bulgarians'. All of them wrote in standard Bulgarian language. For more see: Brunnbauer, Ulf (2004) Historiography, Myths and the Nation in the Republic of Macedonia. In: Brunnbauer, Ulf, (ed.) (Re)Writing History. Historiography in Southeast Europe after Socialism. Studies on South East Europe, vol. 4. LIT, Münster, pp. 165-200 ISBN 382587365X.
  12. ^ Stefan Troebst, "Die bulgarisch-jugoslawische Kontroverse um Makedonien 1967-1982". R. Oldenbourg, 1983, ISBN 3486515217, p. 15.
  13. ^ Stephen E. Palmer, Robert R. King, Yugoslav communism and the Macedonian question, Archon Books, 1971, ISBN 0208008217, pp. 6-7.
  14. ^ J. Pettifer ed., The New Macedonian Question, St Antony's Series, Springer, 1999, ISBN 0230535798, p. 75.
  15. ^ Blaze Ristovski, Istorija na makedonskata nacija [History of the Macedonian Nation], Skopje, 1969, pp. 13-14.
  16. ^ Chris Kostov, Contested Ethnic Identity: The Case of Macedonian Immigrants in Toronto, 1900-1996, Peter Lang, 2010, ISBN 3034301960, p. 109.
  17. ^ Tchavdar Marinov, Historiographical Revisionism and Re-Articulation of Memory in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Sociétés politiques comparées, issue 25, May 2010, p. 3.
  18. ^ Mishkova Diana as ed., We, the People: Politics of National Peculiarity in Southeastern Europe, Central European University Press, 2009, ISBN 9639776289, pp. 113-114.
  19. ^ Ulf Brunnbauer, "Pro‐Serbians" vs. "Pro‐Bulgarians": Revisionism in Post‐Socialist Macedonian Historiography, first published on 21 December 2005 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-0542.2005.00130.x
  20. ^ Tome Boshevski, Aristotel Tentov, Tracing the script of the Ancient Macedonians. This paper presents the results of research realized within the project "Deciphering the Middle Text of the Rosetta Stone", supported by Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2003 – 2005.
  21. ^ Tome Boševski, Aristotel Tentov, Rosetta Stone - The Monument of Ancient Macedonian Pre-Slavic Script and Language. This paper presents the results of research realized within the project "Deciphering the Middle Text of the Rosetta Stone", supported by Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2003 – 2005.
  22. ^ Comparative analysis of the results of deciphering the middle text on the Rosetta stone, Tome Boševski, Aristotel Tentov, MANU, Vol 31, No 1-2 (2010) DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.20903/csnmbs.masa.2010.31.1-2.23
  23. ^ Raymond Detrez, The A to Z of Bulgaria, G - Reference, SCARECROW PRESS INC, 2010, ISBN 0810872021, p. 485.
  24. ^ Carl Skutsch as ed., Encyclopedia of the World's Minorities, Routledge, 2013, ISBN 1135193886, p. 766.
  25. ^ Ludomir R. Lozny (2011). Comparative Archaeologies: A Sociological View of the Science of the Past. Springer, ISBN 1441982248, p. 427.
  26. ^ Naoum Kaytschev, Being Macedonian: different types of ethnic identifications in the contemporary Republic of Macedonia. No. 30, Macedonia in 20th and 21st century (2014), pp. 123-132, Księgarnia Akademicka, URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24919720 .
  27. ^ Danforth, Loring M. (1997). The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World. Princeton, Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04356-6, p. 169.
  28. ^ John Van Antwerp Fine, "The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century"; University of Michigan Press, 1991, ISBN 0472081497, pp. 36–37.
  29. ^ Bernard Lory, The Bulgarian-Macedonian Divergence, An Attempted Elucidation, INALCO, Paris in Developing Cultural Identity in the Balkans: Convergence Vs. Divergence with Raymond Detrez and Pieter Plas as ed., Peter Lang, 2005, ISBN 9052012970, pp. 165-193.
  30. ^ Alexander Maxwell, Slavic Macedonian Nationalism: From "Regional" to "Ethnic"' in Region, Regional Identity and Regionalism in Southeastern Europe, Part 1. with Klaus Roth and Ulf Brunnbauer as ed., LIT, Münster, 2008. ISBN 3825813878, pp. 127-154.
  31. ^ Eugene N. Borza, Macedonia Redux in The Eye Expanded: Life and the Arts in Greco-Roman Antiquity with Frances B. Titchener, and Richard F. Moorton as ed. University of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0520210298, p. 259.
  32. ^ Dichev, Ivaylo, Eros Identiteta, In: Dušan Bjelić, Obrad Savić (eds.), Balkan kao metafora: između globalizacije i fragmentacije. Beograd: Beogradski krug, 2003, pp. 269-284.
  33. ^ İpek Yosmaoğlu, Blood Ties: Religion, Violence and the Politics of Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia, 1878–1908, Cornell University Press, 2013, ISBN 0801469791, p. 16.
  34. ^ Muhić, Maja; Takovski, Aleksandar (2014): Redefining National Identity in Macedonia. Analyzing Competing Origins Myths and Interpretations through Hegemonic Representations. In Etnološka tribina 44 (37), p. 144.
  35. ^ F.A.K. Yasamee, Nationality in the Balkans: The case of the Macedonians in Balkans: A Mirror of the New World Order, Istanbul: EREN, 1995; pp. 121-132.
  36. ^ Crawford, Steve. The Eastern Front Day by Day, 1941-45: A Photographic Chronology, Potomac Books, 2006, ISBN 1597970107, p. 170: "November 13, 1944, ...The Bulgarian First Army ejects Army Group E from Skopje..."
  37. ^ Livanios, Dimitris, The Macedonian Question: Britain and the Southern Balkans 1939-1949, Oxford University Publishing, 2008, ISBN 0191528722, pp. 134-135.
  38. ^ Michael Palairet, Macedonia: A Voyage through History (Vol. 2), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016, ISBN 1443888494, p. 212.
  39. ^ Michael Palairet, Macedonia: A Voyage through History (Vol. 1, From Ancient Times to the Ottoman Invasions), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016, ISBN 1443888435, p. 16.