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World War II in Yugoslav Macedonia

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World War II in Yugoslav Macedonia
Part of World War II in Yugoslavia

Map of Vardar Macedonia during World War II. The area was divided between Albania and Bulgaria and the frontier between them run approximately along the line: StrugaTetovoGjilanVranje.
(3 years, 7 months, 1 week and 5 days)
Part of Vardar Banovina (Vardar Macedonia) became SR Macedonia as part of SFR Yugoslavia

Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Yugoslav Partisans

Bulgaria (from Sep. 1944)
Chetniks Chetniks

Commanders and leaders
1,000 (1941)
2,000 (1942)
8,000 (Sep. 1944)[9][10]
66,000 (Dec. 1944)[11]
110,000 (April 1945)[12][unreliable source?]
340,000 Bulgarian soldiers in Southern Serbia and Vardar Macedonia (October – December 1944)

~ 32,000 Bulgarian soldiers in Southern Serbia and Vardar Macedonia (May 1941 – September 1944)[13]
~300,000 (Army Group E in October 1944)[14]

~8,000 Chetniks
Casualties and losses
Total casualties: 24,000
By nationality:
7,000 Jews, 6,724 ethnic Macedonians, 6,000 Serbs, 4,000 Albanians
1,000 Bulgarians, Aromanians, Roma and Turks[15]
By affiliation:
2,000 Civilians, 1,000 Collaborationists, 11,000 Soldiers and Partisans
7,000 victims of Concentration Camps
  1. ^ Limited influence and control, de jure Commander
  2. ^ Link between Mihajlo Apostolski and Josip Broz Tito, Supervisor

World War II in Yugoslav Macedonia started with the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Under the pressure of the Yugoslav Partisan movement, part of the Macedonian communists began in October 1941 a political and military campaign to resist the occupation of Vardar Macedonia. Officially, the area was called then Vardar Banovina, because the very name Macedonia was prohibited in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.[16][17] It was occupied mostly by Bulgarian, but also by German, Italian, and Albanian forces.

Initially pro-Bulgarian feelings ran high among the Macedonian Slavs, as there was no organised resistance because the majority of the Macedonian Slavs.[18] However, even those Macedonians who felt that they were Bulgarians soon discovered that the Bulgarians from Bulgaria were suspicious of them and considered them second-class Bulgarians.[19] In fact, Bulgarian authorities began a process of Bulgarianization as they realised that only part of the Macedonian population felt Bulgarian or was pro-Bulgarian.[19]

Resistance started to grow in 1943 with the capitulation of Italy and the Soviet victories over Nazi Germany.[20][21] The role of the Bulgarian communists, who avoided organizing mass armed resistance, was also a key factor.[22] Their influence over the Macedonian Committee remained dominant until 1943, when it became obvious that Germany and Bulgaria would be defeated.

At that time Tito's special emissary Svetozar Vukmanović arrived in Macedonia.[23] Vukmanović had to activate the struggle and give it a new ethnic Macedonian facade. This led to the rise of younger generation anti-Bulgarian oriented partisan leaders, who were loyal to Yugoslavia.[24] They formed in 1943 the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia and the Macedonian Communist Party. In the western part of the area, the Albanian Partisans also participated in the resistance movement.

After Bulgaria switched sides in the war in September 1944, the Bulgarian 5th. Army stationed in Macedonia, moved back to the old borders of Bulgaria. In the early October the newly formed Bulgarian People's Army together with the Red Army reentered occupied Yugoslavia to blocking the German forces withdrawing from Greece. Yugoslav Macedonia was liberated in end of November when communist Yugoslavia was established. After the German retreat forced by the Bulgarian offensive, the conscription of Macedonians in the People's Liberation Army increased significantly.

The operation was commonly called by the Yugoslav Marxist historiography the National Liberation War of Macedonia (Macedonian: Народноослободителна борба на Македонија, Narodnoosloboditelna borba na Makedonija) in Yugoslavia, similarly to the greater Yugoslav People's Liberation War. Some of the combatants also developed aspirations for independence of the region of Macedonia, but were suppressed at the end of the war by the communist authorities. It marked the defeat of Bulgarian nationalism and the victory of the pro-Yugoslav Macedonism in the area. As result the new Communist authorities persecuted the former collaborationists with the charges of "Great Bulgarian chauvinism" and cracked down on pro-Bulgarian organisations that supported ideas of Greater Bulgaria and those which opposed the Yugoslav idea and insisted on Macedonian independence.


German ethnic map of Yugoslavia from 1940. Macedonians are depicted as a separate community, and described as claimed by Serbs and Bulgarians, but generally attributed to the last ones.
Macedonians in Sofia posing with German soldiers before the invasion in Yugoslavia. The poster praises the unification with Bulgaria with the slogan “One people, one Tsar, one kingdom”, and Independent Macedonia.[25] The invading Germans were greeted with the same posters in Skopje.[26]

The Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913, and the World War I (1914-1918) divided the region of Macedonia amongst the Kingdom of Greece, the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Serbia. The territory was up until that time part of the Ottoman Empire. In those days, the majority of the Slavic speakers in Ottoman Macedonia considered themselves to be a part of the Bulgarian community.[27][28][29]

From 1912 until 1915 the territory of Vardar Macedonia remained within the territory of Serbia. In the parts administered by Serbia the new authorities forced out most of the Bulgarian priests and teachers, and began implementing a forceful state-sponsored Serbianisation of Slavic-speaking Macedonians. It was occupied by Kingdom of Bulgaria during World War I between 1915 and 1918. Afterwards it was restored back to Serbia and consequently included as part of the Vardar Banovina in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During that period, there were two main autonomist agendas. The right-wing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) led by Ivan Mihailov, was in favor of the creation of a pro-Bulgarian Macedonian state under German and Italian protection.

The leftist IMRO (United) who was sponsored directly by the Comintern[30] favored a creation of an independent "Soviet Macedonia" within a Balkan Federation with a separate Macedonian nation and Macedonian language in accordance with the resolution of the Comintern on the Macedonian question. This option was supported by Pavel Shatev, Dimitar Vlahov, Metodi Shatorov, Panko Brashnarov, and others. However such Macedonian activists, who came from IMRO (United) never managed to get rid of their pro-Bulgarian bias.[31] After the organization was dissolved, most of the members ended up joining the Bulgarian Communist Party.[32]

During the interwar period in Vardar Macedonia, some young locals repressed by the Serbs, tried to find a separate Macedonian way of national development.[33] Nevertheless, the existence of considerable Macedonian national consciousness prior to the middle of the 1940s is disputed.[34][35][36] At that time anti-Serbian and pro-Bulgarian feelings among the local population prevailed.[37][38]

Occupation of Macedonia[edit]

Invasion of Yugoslavia[edit]

German 11th Panzer Division advancing into Yugoslavia from Bulgaria as part of the Twelfth Army.
Yugoslav POWs supervised by Bulgarian soldiers and German armored car.
Yugoslav Macedonian POWs in camp in Timișoara, Romania, May 1941, before their liberation. With the intercession of the Bulgarian administration more than 12,000 Macedonian POWs who had been conscripted into the Yugoslav army were released.

Fearing an invasion by the Axis Powers, Regent Prince Paul of Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact on 25 March 1941, pledging cooperation with the Axis. On 27 March, the regime of Prince Paul was overthrown by a military coup d'état with British support. The 17-year-old Peter II of Yugoslavia was declared to be of age and placed in power. General Dušan Simović became his Prime Minister. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia withdrew its support for the Axis de facto without formally renouncing the Pact. On 6 April 1941, the German armed forces (Wehrmacht), along with the armed forces of Italy and Hungary, launched the invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and quickly conquered it. The country was subsequently divided between the Germans, Italians, Hungarians and Bulgarians, who took most of Macedonia. When the Bulgarians entered Yugoslav Macedonia, the people greeted them with high enthusiasm. Crowds in Skopje flew banners that greeted the unification of Macedonia and Bulgaria.[39]

Division Macedonian region of southern Yugoslavia[edit]

Italian troops entering Ohrid on 12 April 1941.
Macedonian soldiers surrendering in Skopje, April 1941. The Germans scattered leaflets in Bulgarian, prepared by the BAC, which appealed that Macedonia is set free.[40][41] As result Macedonians mobilized in the Yugoslav army surrendered en masse.[42]
A crowd in Skopje on 20 April 1941 celebrating the entry of the Bulgarian Army and displaying banners praising the Axis invasion in Macedonia.
Bulgarian troops entering Bitola on 21 April 1941. In fact, they were greeted as alleged liberators from Serbian rule, while pro-Bulgarian feelings prevailed during the early stages of the occupation.[43]
Transfer of the city of Ohrid (today in North Macedonia) by the Italian fascist authorities to Bulgarian administration through German Nazis' intermediation under the acclamations of the local Slavic population (May 1941).

A division of Vardar Macedonia, then part of the Vardar Banovina, was drawn up on 19 and 20 April 1941. Bulgarian troops entered the central and eastern parts and seized most of the banovina, including parts of Eastern Serbia and Kosovo. The most prominent force which occupied most of the area was the 5th Army. The westernmost parts of Macedonia were occupied by the fascist Kingdom of Italy.

Collaborationist organizations[edit]

Bulgarian action committees – After the defeat of the Yugoslav army, a group of Macedonian Bulgarians headed by Spiro Kitincev arrived in Macedonia and started preparations for the coming of the Bulgarian army and administration in Macedonia.[44][page needed] The first of the Bulgarian Action Committees was formed in Skopje on 13 April 1941. Former IMRO[45][46] members in Vardar Macedonia were active members of this committee. On 13 April 1941, at a meeting in Skopje, it was decided that one of the first tasks of the newly formed organisation was to regulate the relations with the German authorities.[47] When the Bulgarian Army entered Vardar Macedonia on 19 April 1941, they were greeted by most of the local population as liberators, as anti-Serbian and pro-Bulgarian feelings among the local population prevailed at that time.[47][48][49][50][51] With the intercession of the committees and Bulgarian administration more than 12,000 Yugoslav Macedonian POWs who had been conscripted into the Yugoslav army were released by German, Italian and Hungarian authorities.[52] With the arrival of the Bulgarian army mass expulsion of Serbian colonists from Vardar Macedonia took place.[53] Once the region and administration became organized, the Action Committees became marginalized, and were ultimately dissolved.[54]

Balli Kombëtar forces in Debar

Balli Kombëtar in Macedonia – There were 5,500 Balli Kombëtar militants in Albanian occupied Macedonia, 2,000 of which were Tetovo-based and 500 of which were based in Debar.[55]

Ivan Mihailov's IMRO in Macedonia – After the military Bulgarian coup d'état of 1934 the new Bulgarian government banned IMRO as a terrorist organization. Ivan Mihailov fled to Italy, where he made contact with the Italian fascist authorities and with members of the German secret service (Gestapo). After the defeat of Yugoslavia, Mihailov went to Zagreb and spent the war there with Ante Pavelić. He revitalized parts of his old organisation and ordered them to enter Vardar Macedonia and infiltrate the local Bulgarian administration, waiting for an opportunity to take over control and create a pro-German Macedonian state. Although Nazi Germany gave Bulgaria the right to annex the greater part of Vardar Macedonia, the Gestapo had contacts with Mihailov and his men in Bulgaria and Vardar Macedonia. This was in order to have a "reserve card" in case of things going wrong in Bulgaria.[56]

Serbian Chetnik Movement in Macedonia – There were approximately 8,000[57][58] Serb Chetniks led by Draža Mihailović operating in Macedonia during the conflict. For a time, they were controlled by rival Chetnik leader Kosta Pećanac.[citation needed]

Counter-chetas – The Kontračeti were anti-partisan units organized and equipped by the Bulgarian police in the period between 1942 and 1944. Composed of former IMRO-activists, the first kontračeta was formed in Veles in the end of 1942 in order to limit partisan and Serbian Chetnik Movement activities in the region. The idea for the formation of these units came from Stefan Simeonov, chief of the Police in Skopje district, and former Internal Dobrujan Revolutionary Organisation četnik, and was approved by minister of the interior Petur Gabrovski.[44] Their peak strength was 200 units in August 1944.[58]


Local resistance under question[edit]

Occupation and partition of Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Bulgaria occupied the central and eastern parts of Vardar Macedonia, while the westernmost part was occupied by the Kingdom of Italy.

In 1941 the Regional Committee of the Communists in Macedonia was headed by Metodi Shatorov ("Sharlo") from Prilep a former IMRO (United) member. After the Bulgarian takeover of Vardarska Banovina in April 1941, the Macedonian communists fell in the sphere of influence of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) under Sharlo's leadership.[59] When the directive for the organization of an armed resistance movement in all regions of occupied Yugoslavia was issued, Sharlo disobeyed the order.[60][page needed] Sharlo answered the Central Committee (CC) of the CPY that the situation in Macedonia did not allow an immediate engagement with military action, but rather first propaganda activity should occur, and afterward formation of military units. On the other hand, he refused to define the Bulgarian forces as occupiers (contrary to instructions from Belgrade) and called for the incorporation of the local Macedonian Communist organizations into the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP). The Macedonian Regional Committee refused to remain in contact with CPY and linked up with BCP. While the Bulgarian Communists avoided organizing mass armed uprising against the Bulgarian authorities, the Yugoslav Communists insisted that no liberation could be achieved without an armed revolt.[61]

First attempts[edit]

Resistance in Yugoslavia in September 1941. No real partisan activity is observed in Macedonia.

Because of this conflict within the RC of CPY in Macedonia, in Vardar Macedonia there was no resistance movement. At the start of World War II, the Comintern supported a policy of non-intervention, arguing that the war was an imperialist war between various national ruling classes, this changed after the Axis invasion of Soviet Union. The RC, headed by Shatorov, immediately ordered the formation of partisan units, the first of which was formed in the Skopje region on 22 August 1941, and attacked Bulgarian guards on 8 September 1941 in Bogomila, near Skopje. At that time, with the help of the Comintern and of Joseph Stalin himself a decision was taken and the Macedonian Communists were attached to CPY.[62] Soon after this Shatorov lost his popularity within the CPY and was discredited.

The former Bulgarian police station in Prilep was attacked by Prilep Partisan Detachment on 11 October 1941. Today the object is memorial museum.

People loyal to the CPY were next appointed as leaders of the RC with Lazar Koliševski as a secretary.[63][page needed] He was sent in September in Skopje. The new leadership began formation of partisan detachments. Armed insurgents from the Prilep Partisan Detachment attacked Axis occupied zones in the city of Prilep, notably a Bulgarian police station, on 11 October 1941.[63][page needed] This date is considered to be the symbolic beginning of the Macedonian Resistance, which began at the latest compared to the other Yugoslav republics, where it began in July.[64] The Prilep detachment was active until December 1941, when it split in three groups – the first in Skopje, the second in Tikves, and the third in Bitola. However, in November the new leader of the RC - Koliševski was arrested and sentenced to death by a Bulgarian military court. He wrote two appeals for clemency to Bulgarian Tsar and to Defense Minister, insisting on his Bulgarian origin. As result his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and Koliševski was sent to a prison in Pleven, Bulgaria.


Local resistance still under question[edit]

Formation of the partisan detachment "Dame Gruev", June 6, 1942, near the village of Zlatari, Prespa.

While the Sharlo's leadership was terminated, the vestiges of his policy among part of the local communist activists were preserved. After the arrest of Lazar Koliševski in November, the new executive body of the Macedonian Regional Committee continued to share Shatorov's pro-Bulgarian ideas and re-established close contact with the BCP.[65] Bane Andreev of Veles, a new party secretary for Macedonia, expressed this same ideology. He thought that the Macedonian people believe in Bulgaria's role as liberator and that no Macedonian wants to fight against the Bulgarian soldiers. That the Macedonians should respond positively to the mobilization call being carried out by the Bulgarian authorities and join the Bulgarian army.[66] Tito did not agree with that. During the spring of 1942 Andreev was arrested by Bulgarian police.[67] As a result, a factionalist struggle between the pro-Bulgarian and the pro-Yugoslav lines exacerbated. Thus Cvetko Uzunovski created a provisional regional committee that tried to take over the pro-Bulgarian faction, but without much success.[68] This policy changed from 1943 with the arrival of Tito's envoy Montenegrin Serb Svetozar Vukmanović-Tempo.


Resistance in Yugoslavia after the capitulation of Italy, September 1943. In Macedonia the partisan activity is concentrated in the former Italian occupation zone ceded to Albania.
Public rally in liberated Kičevo after capitulation of Italy in Albanian zone, 26 September 1943.

Support from the CC of the CPY[edit]

Although several Macedonian partisan detachments were formed through 1942 which fought battles against the Bulgarian, Italian, German and Albanian occupation forces and despite Sofia's ill-managed administration, most Macedonian Communists had yet to be lured to Yugoslavia. Between 1941 and 1943, Tito have sent five emissaries to Macedonia, to persuade his ill-disciplined comrades, but their efforts had limited success, and the Regional Committee was de facto under the control of the BCP.[69] To change that, at the beginning of 1943 the Montenegrin Svetozar Vukmanović-Tempo was sent as an assistant to the HQ of the Macedonian partisan forces. Tempo tried to organize an energetic struggle against the occupying forces. He was supposed to set up a Macedonian Communist Party within the framework of the Yugoslav one. One of his objectives was to destroy the influence of the BCP in Macedonia and to fight against any form of autonomism. He would have to "Macedonianize" the struggle's form and content, and to give it an ethnic Macedonian facade.[70] One of his main achievements was also that the wartime pro-Bulgarian trend receded into the background of pro-Yugoslav one. Tempo was able to capitalize on the growing contradictions towards Bulgarian authorities, which during 1942 were involved into a policy of centralization, contradicting their initial agenda to respect Macedonian autonomy. Yugoslav communists proclaimed as their aim the issue of unification of the three regions of Macedonia – Yugoslav, Greek and Bulgarian, and so managed to get also Macedonian nationalists.

Formation of the Communist Party of Macedonia (CPM)[edit]

Svetozar Vukmanovic welcomes Macedonian and Greek Partisans in the Karadjova Valley (Greece) in 1943. Under his leadership, the pro-Bulgarian Regional committee of the communists in Macedonia was disbanded and they were bound up with the Yugoslav communists.
Albanian and Macedonian Partisans of the battalion "Mirče Acev" in liberated Kičevo, 11 September 1943 marching with a transparent. It reads: "Long live the fraternity of the Macedonian and Albanian people!"

The leadership of the Regional Committee of the CPY for Macedonia decided to establish a separate Macedonian Communist Party which would be representative of the will of the Macedonian people in the anti-fascist struggle for national liberation. The Communist Party of Macedonia (CPM) was formed on 19 March 1943 in Tetovo. The first Central Committee (CC of the CPM) was composed as of Yugoslav communists as Strahil Gigov, Kuzman Josifovski Pitu, Cvetko Uzunovski, Mara Naceva and Bane Andreev.[71][page needed]

After making a detailed analysis of the military and political situation in the country, the CC of the CPM decided to be directly involved in the fighting and to be stationed side by side with the troops on the battlefield. The territory of Vardar Macedonia was divided into five operative zones, and efforts were made to make direct contact with the liberation movements in Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.

Adding to the existing eleven, eight new Macedonian partisan detachments were formed in the summer of 1943 as more and more people entered the ranks of the partisans. They managed to create strongholds in the regions of Debarca, Prespa, Kumanovo, Tikvesh, and Gevgelija. This allowed for the expansion of the National Liberation Committees and the creation of larger military units, as decided at a conference in Prespa on 2 August 1943. Regular large military units (battalions and brigades) were created as part of the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia (MNOV). Preparations began for the formation of the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the People's Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), which governed Macedonia from August 1944 until the end of World War II.

Formation of the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia[edit]

Forming of the battalion "Mirče Acev".
Partisans of the battalion "Stiv Naumov", set up in November 1943 in Gorna Prespa.

The date of the creation of its first major unit, the Mirče Acev Battalion, is August 18, 1943 on Mount Slavej between Ohrid and Kičevo, then in the Italian occupation zone. On 11 November 1943, the 1st Macedonian Kosovo Shock Brigade was formed in western Macedonia by merging two Vardar Macedonian and one Kosovo battalion. The second — larger ethnic Macedonian military unit was the 2nd Macedonian Shock Brigade, formed on 22 December 1943 just across the border in Greek Macedonia.[72] On 26 February 1944 in the village of Zegljane, near Kumanovo, the 3rd Macedonian Shock Brigade was formed. These three brigades were the nucleus of the National Liberation Army of Macedonia, which after constant battles became stronger in numbers. In the middle of 1943, meetings were held between representatives of the National Liberation Front (Greece) and the Albanian resistance. Svetozar Vukmanović-Tempo put forward the idea of a joint Balkan Headquarters to exercise supreme control over the partisan movements in Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Tempo asked for recognition of the ethnic Macedonian people's right to self-determination, as well as permission for the partisans from Vardar Macedonia to extend their activity among the Slavic-speaking population in Greek Macedonia. As a result, the Slavic-Macedonian National Liberation Front (SNOF) was established in 1943 in Greek Macedonia by ethnic Macedonian communists, members of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). After passing through the whole of western Greek Macedonia, the main forces of the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia were stationed in the Almopia region in Greece close to the Yugoslav border. The Partisan detachments that were active in Gevgelia and Tikvesh also crossed the border into northern Greece and met with the main forces of the MNOV. Several meetings were held with members of ELAS and the Greek Communist Party. One of the decisions was the creation of wider partisan detachments composed of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. On 20 December 1943 in the village of Fustani in the Pella district of Greece, the Second Macedonian Assault Brigade was formed out of the 3 battalions of the 3rd operative zone. The Bulgarian Hristo Botev partisan battalion of the MNOV was formed out of captured and escaped Bulgarian soldiers. It was under the command of the HQ of MNOV. The rest of the fighters that were not included in the First Macedonian-Kosovo Assault Brigade and the Second Macedonian Assault Brigade (the Hristo Botev and Stiv Naumov battalion together with several smaller partisan detachments) were organized into the so-called "Third Group of Battalions".

Bulgarian actions in 1943[edit]

Greeting of the former IMRO chieftain Peter Lesev by recruits of Bulgarian Army, after his appointment as a governor of Kratovo Municipality in 1943.[73] Macedonian recruits formed up to 60% of the soldiers in Bulgarian Army in Vardar Macedonia.
Members of a Veles counter-cheta in 1943. Some locals formed anti-guerrilla detachments to support Bulgarian Police and Army in fighting Communist Partisans and Serbian Chetniks.

Bulgaria managed to save its entire 48,000-strong Jewish population during World War II from deportation to Nazi concentration camps, but under German pressure those Jews from their newly annexed territories without Bulgarian citizenship were deported, such as those from Vardar Macedonia and Western Thrace.[74] The Bulgarian government was responsible for the roundup and deportation of over 7,000 Jews in Skopje and Bitola. The Bulgarian authorities created a special Gendarmerie force which received almost unlimited power to pursue the Communist partisans in the whole kingdom. Harsh rule by the occupying forces and a number of Allied victories showing that the Axis might lose the war encouraged more Macedonians to support the Communist Partisan resistance movement of Josip Broz Tito.

Many former IMRO members assisted the Bulgarian authorities in fighting Tempo's partisans. With the help of the Bulgarian government and former IMRO members, several pro-Bulgarian paramilitary detachments (Uhrana) were organized in occupied Greek Macedonia in 1943. These were led by Bulgarian officers originally from Greek Macedonia and charged with protecting the local population in the zones under German and Italian control. Around this time Ivan Mihailov of IMRO had plans which envisaged the creation of a Macedonian state under German control. He was a follower of the idea of a united Macedonian state with a dominant Bulgarian element.[75] It was anticipated by the Germans that members of IMRO would form the core of the armed forces of a future Independent Macedonia led by Ivan Mihailov.

1944 and aftermath[edit]

February Campaign[edit]

Fighters of the 1st Macedonia-Kosovar Brigade during the February march of 1944.

The February march campaign of 1944 had a great political and moral impact. The whole Bulgarian 5th Army, all of the Bulgarian police, as well as the army regiments stationed in Kjustendil and Gorna Dzumaja were engaged in the battles. After the February march, the Bulgarian government was forced to change its strategy – organization of the fighting would no longer be the responsibility of the police but of the army, and all organizations would be obliged to help the army.

Destruction of the Vardar Chetnik Corps[edit]

At the end of January 1944, the High Command of the MNOV decided to launch an offensive, with the intention of destroying the VCC. On 29 February 1944 the partisans of the Third Macedonian Assault Brigade attacked the Chetnik flanks from north, west and south, while the Hristo Botev detachment hit the Chetniks from the east. In the battle for the village of Sejac, the Vardar Chetnik Corps was totally destroyed, suffering 53 casualties (46 shot by partisans and 7 drowned in the river Pčinja while attempting to flee). 97 Chetniks, including 5 officers, were captured in the action. On 3 March 1944 in the village of Novo Selo, Partisan fighters destroyed the remaining force, capturing 30 Chetniks and more than 100 rifles and ammunition. Various local Chetnik bands, decentralized and acting on their own accord, such as the Porech Chetniks, continued to operate in certain parts of Macedonia but they were generally scattered and disorganized.

Actions in northern Vardar Macedonia and south-eastern Serbia[edit]

After the operations which ended with the destruction of the Chetniks in Macedonia, the HQ of the MNOV, now acting as supreme commander of the partisan units in Vardar Macedonia, Kosovo and South Morava, decided to engage in three new attacks on the Bulgarian police and administration. On 26 April 1944 the Third Macedonian Assault Brigade together with the Kosovo detachment successfully attacked the city of Ristovac, where 130 Bulgarian soldiers were killed and 20 captured by the Macedonian partisans. On 3 April 1944 the 3rd Macedonian Assault Brigade attacked the mining town of Zletovo, where about 100 miners entered the ranks of the brigade.

Spring Offensive[edit]

Because of increased partisan activity, the main supply lines for the German Army group "E" stationed in Greece and Albania were constantly ambushed and at the same time, the HQ of the MNOV was making plans to liberate western Macedonia and sent the 1st Macedonian-Kosovo Assault Brigade there. Pushing towards Debarca, the 1st Macedonian-Kosovo Assault Brigade had clashes with the Bulgarians and Germans in Zavoj and Velmej. The Germans obtained reinforcements and on 8 May 1944 they counter-attacked. The fighting ended on 20 May 1944 with the Germans being pushed out of the region. After recapturing the Debarca area, more reinforcements became available, so the brigade was split in two brigades – the 1st Macedonian and 1st Kosovo Assault Brigades. In order to prevent the Germans and Bulgarians from taking total control of the action, the MNOV decided to make surprise attacks on enemy positions and to try to exhaust the enemy any way they could. The 2nd Macedonian Assault Brigade was sent to conduct several actions in Povardarie (central Macedonia) and Pelagonia near Prilep and Bitola.


Delegates arriving on the first plenary session of ASNOM in August 1944.

On 2 August 1944, on the 41st anniversary of the Ilinden Uprising, the first session of the newly created Anti-Fascist Assembly of the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) was held at the St. Prohor Pčinjski monastery.

In spite of Tito's hopes to the contrary, the presiding committee of ASNOM was dominated by elements that were not known for their pro-Yugoslav sentiments. To the displeasure of those preferring joining the Yugoslav Socialist Federation, Metodija Andonov-Čento was elected president and Panko Brashnarov (former member of IMRO) vice-president. The assembly tried to secure as much independence as possible for Yugoslav Macedonia and gave priority to the unification of the three parts of Macedonia.[76] Several sources state that Chento had made plans for creating an independent Macedonia which would be backed by the USA.[77]

А manifesto was written outlining the future plans of ASNOM for an independent Macedonian state and declaring the Macedonian language as the official language of Macedonia.

ASNOM was the governing body of Macedonia from its formation until the end of World War II.

"Maximalists" and "Minimalists"[edit]

Formation of the 41st Division near the village of Sheshkovo in August 1944.

The Manifesto of ASNOM eventually became a compromise between the "maximalists" and the "minimalists" – the unification of the Macedonian people was discussed and propagandized but the decision was ultimately reached that Vardar Macedonia would become a part of the new Communist Yugoslavia.

The proponents of the "maximalist" line were in favor of the creation of an independent United Macedonian state which would have ties with Yugoslavia, but not necessarily inclusion in a Yugoslav Federation. Proponents of this option included Metodija Andonov-Čento, as well as prominent figures of the former IMRO (United) such as Pavel Shatev, Panko Brashnarov, and others. They saw joining Yugoslavia as a form of Serbian dominance over Macedonia, and preferred membership in a Balkan Federation or else complete independence.[76]

Proponents of the "minimalist" line were also for the creation of a Macedonian state, but within the Yugoslavian federation.

These differences were visible in the ASNOM discussions, but they especially came into the open after the final liberation of Macedonia. It must be added that both "maximalist" and "minimalist" lines within the National Liberation Movement in Vardar Macedonia supported the existence of a separate Macedonian identity and were in favor of the creation of a separate state in which the Macedonian people would have their homeland. The greatest difference between the two lines was whether Macedonia should join Yugoslavia, or exist as an independent country.

Failed attempt to create Macedonian puppet state[edit]

Map of the Balkan military theater during September 1944 – January 1945.

By August 1944, the Soviet Army was approaching the Balkans. In a last-minute attempt to create a buffer state against the incoming Red Army, on 29 August, the Germans attempted to establish an 'independent' Macedonian puppet state,[78] led by Ivan Mihailov. Unlike the leftist resistance, the right wing followers of IMRO were pro-Bulgarian orientated, and did not support the existence of a future Yugoslavia.[79] The Bulgarian interior minister was put in charge to contact Mihajlov, who at the time was an advisor to Croatia's Nazi leader Ante Pavelić.[80] The state was to receive no military (troops or weapons) backing from Germany, because the Germans were running short on troops and weapons.[81] Telegrams from the time indicate that an orderly Bulgarian-German troop withdrawal would precede the formation of such a puppet state.[82] Bulgaria ordered its troops to withdraw from Macedonia on 2 September. In the evening on 3 September, Ivan Mihailov was flown in first from Zagreb to Sofia, to see what 'can be saved".[83] Two telegrams from 5 September at 1:7 and 6 September at 2:20 relay Hitler's reorder for the establishment of such a state.[83] Mihajlov was transported from Sofia to Skopje in the evening of 5 September.[84] Based on German telegrams from the time, Ivan Mihailov was offered the establishment of such a state, but by 18:00 (6 pm) on 6 September, he declined for inability to gather support.[85] The failure led to ordering German withdrawal from Greece on 6 September and appointing Senior-Field-Commandant for Greece Heinz Scheeuerlen as the new Senior-Field-Commandant for Macedonia.[86] Germany closed its Consulate in Skopje and evacuated its staff together with Ivan Mihailov and his wife out of Macedonia.[86] However, on 8 September, right-wing IMRO nationalists declared independence.[87] The self-proclaimed state was left "virtually defenseless" following the withdrawal of German troops.[88] The Germans did not support it as their forces withdrew from the region. In the chaos, they just tried to use the new-formed "Macedonian committees" as local police stations. Their members were former activists of Bulgarian Action Committees.[89]

Bulgaria switching sides[edit]

Bulgarian troops reentering Yugoslavia in October 1944.

In September 1944 the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and occupied part of the country. A coup d'état on 9 September led to Bulgaria joining the Soviets.[90][91] A day earlier Bulgaria had declared war on Nazi Germany. This turn of events put Bulgarian divisions stationed in Macedonia in a difficult situation. German troops had closed round them, while their command was being nonplussed by the high treason of some staff officers, who had deserted to the German side. The withdrawing Bulgarian troops in Macedonia fought their way back to the old borders of Bulgaria.[92] Josip Broz formed relations with the new pro-Communist authorities in Bulgaria.[93] After Bulgaria switching sides to the Allies negotiations between Tito and the Bulgarian Communist leaders were organized in September–October 1944, resulting in a military alliance between the Yugoslav forces and Bulgaria.[94][95] That was followed by demobilization of the Macedonian recruits, who formed as much as 40% – 60% of the soldiers in some Bulgarian battalions.[96] As a result, the Gotse Delchev brigade was set up and equipped in Sofia by the Bulgarian government providing the basis for the deployment of considerable Yugoslav troops in Vardar Macedonia.[97]

Final operations for the liberation of Macedonia[edit]

The main Bulgarian forces entering Skopje on 14 November. First Bulgarian units entered the city on November, 13.[98]
Macedonians lauding the liberation of Skopje in December 1944. The inscription on the poster praises the unification with Yugoslavia.

Bulgarian Army[edit]

Under the leadership of the new Bulgarian pro-Soviet government, four Bulgarian armies, 455,000 strong in total, were mobilized and reorganized. By the end of September, the Red Army 3rd Ukrainian Front troops were concentrated at the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border. In the early October 1944 three Bulgarian armies, consisting of around 340,000-man,[99] together with the Red Army reentered occupied Yugoslavia and moved from Sofia to Niš, Skopje and Pristina to blocking the German forces withdrawing from Greece.[100][101] In Macedonia the Bulgarians operated in conjunction with the fighters of the MNLA, but this cooperation did not proceed without difficulties.[102] The German Brigade Angermiler was positioned at the Kačanik Gorge. Skopje was defended by elements of the 22nd Infantry Division and parts of the 11th Luftwaffe Division (which was mainly involved in the fighting in eastern Macedonia), and units from other divisions. From 8 October to 19 November, the Stratsin-Kumanovo operation was held and Kratovo, Kriva Palanka, Kumanovo and Skopje[103] were taken. At the same time the Bregalnitsa-Strumica operation was led, and the Wehrmacht was driven from the villages of Delchevo, Kočani, Stip, Strumica and Veles.[104] In parallel, the Kosovo operation was also taking a place, aiming to expel the German forces from Kosovo. Southern and Eastern Serbia, Kosovo and Vardar Macedonia were liberated by the end of November.[105][106] The 3rd Ukrainian Front in collaboration with the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and Bulgarian People's Army carried out the Belgrade Offensive. The 130,000-strong Bulgarian First Army continued to Hungary, driving off the Germans, while the rest moved back to Bulgaria. On a series of maps from Army Group E, showing its withdrawal through Macedonia and Southern Serbia, as well as in the memoirs of its chief of staff, there is almost no indication of Yugoslav Partisan units, but only Bulgarian divisions.[107][108]

Macedonian partisans[edit]

Macedonian partisans marching through liberated Kumanovo on November 11.
Entry of the 42nd Macedonian Division into Skopje on November 14.[109]

After the German retreat, forced by the Soviet-Bulgarian offensive in Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo in the autumn of 1944, the conscription increased significantly. In October 1944 more new brigades were formed. By the end of October 1944 in Vardar Macedonia there were 21 Macedonian, one Kosovar, one Albanian, and the 1st Aegean Macedonian brigade (composed of 1500 armed former Slavic-Macedonian National Liberation Front (SNOF) members that crossed the border into Vardar Macedonia after ELAS ordered the dissolution of their unit). The 1st Macedonian Cavalry Brigade and the 1st Macedonian Automobile Brigade were formed using captured equipment, arms, vehicles, and horses. From August until the beginning of November three Engineering Brigades were formed which started repairing the roads. The new brigades were grouped in six new divisions, which made the total force of the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia three Corps composed of seven divisions, consisting of some 66,000 Macedonian Partisans.[110] By mid-November 1944 the Germans were completely dislodged from Macedonia, and organs of "People's Authority" were established. After the liberation of Macedonia the XV Macedonian corps were sent on the Syrmian Front with a personnel of 25,000 fighters and officers of which around 1,674 died, 3,400 were wounded and 378 went missing.[111]

XV Macedonian corps on the way to Syrmian Front in January 1945. The letters on the truck say: "For Berlin".


Shatorov was the leader of Macedonian communists in 1941. He disappeared under unknown circumstances in September 1944. There are indications that he was killed by Tito's agents as a politically inconvenient leader.[112]
Panko Brashnarov, the first speaker of ASNOM. He was arrested in 1950 and imprisoned in Goli Otok labor camp, where he died the following year.
Metodija Andonov, the first president of the ASNOM and of the People's Republic of Macedonia. After disagreement with the policy of new Yugoslavia he was arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Chronological composition by the number of the members of MNLA was as follows:[113]

Late 1941 Late 1942 September 1943 Late 1943 August 1944[9][10] Late 1944[114]
Macedonia 1,000 2,000 10,000 7,000 8,000 66,000

The total number of casualties in Macedonia from World War II was approximately 24,000, as follows: 7,000 Jews, 6,000 Serbians, 6,000 ethnic Macedonians, 4,000 Albanians and 1,000 Bulgarians.[115] This includes around 3,000 "collaborationists", "counter-revolutionaries" and civilian victims, 7,000 Jews exterminated in concentration camps, and 14,000 resistance fighters and soldiers. According to Bogoljub Kočović the relative number of war losses was the lowest among the Macedonians, compared to the other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia:[116]

Relative loss
Jews 77.9%
Roma 31.4%
Montenegrins 10.4%
Serbs 6.9%
Muslims 6.8%
Croats 5.4%
Germans 4.8%
Slovenes 2.5%
Albanians 1%
Hungarians 1%
Macedonians 0.9%

According to a Yugoslav census from 1966 on the casualties of the war, the ethnic Macedonian victims were 6,724.[117] They are result from different reasons as follows:

Reason for death
Number of victims
Paramilitary, military and police terror. (Possibly here is included also part from the victims of then communists' repressions.)[118] 1,427 (ca. 1,200)
Soldiers who died from October 1944 to May 1945. (Most of them on the Srem Front in 1945.)[119] 3,548 (ca. 2,500)
Victims of Allied air-raids and bombings 811
In internment 87
Prisoners 205
In deportation 70
In April War of 1941 266
Other reasons 49
Unclear circumstances 67
Partisans killed from October 1941 to October 1944. Most of them in Albanian zone.[120] 81
POWs 90
Forced labor 23
Total number 6,724

Despite Bulgaria's significant involvement on the side of the Allies at the end of the war,[99][102][104][106][121][122][123] the country was not cast as a co-fighting country at the Paris Peace Conference, 1946[124] and was ordered to pay Yugoslavia war reparations for the occupation of Macedonia and Southern Serbia, which Yugoslavia unilaterally abandoned in 1947.

After the war for the first time in history, the Macedonian people managed to obtain their statehood, nation and language. These events marked the defeat of the Bulgarian nationalism and the victory of the Macedonism in the area.[125]


Communist repressions[edit]

Lazar Kolishevski became in late 1944 the Prime Minister of the SR Macedonia. He started a policy fully implementing the pro-Yugoslav line and took hard measures against any opposition.

After the liberation the Presidium of the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the People's Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), which was the governing body of Macedonia, made several statements and actions that were contradictory to the decisions of the Anti-Fascist Council of the People's Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), the Yugoslav executive authority. Tito's General Headquarters sent orders asking the forces of the MNOV to participate in the fighting in the Syrmian Front for the final liberation of Yugoslavia. President Metodija Andonov-Čento and his associates debated whether to send the troops to Srem and help liberate Yugoslavia or to advance the troops under his command toward Greek Macedonia in order to "unify the Macedonian people" into one country.[126] On 16 December, the Gotse Delchev Brigade's artillery platoon stationed at the Skopje Fortress, and one of its infantry platoons at Štip revolted against the order to be sent to the Srem front.[127] They wanted to head to Thessaloniki as presumable capital of an imagined Independent Macedonia.[128] Svetozar Vukmanovic accused them of had fallen under Bulgarian influences.[129] After they refused to disperse on both places, dozens were shot down and many were arrested on his order.[130] Andonov-Čento and his close associates were trying to minimize the ties with Yugoslavia as far as possible, which was contrary to the decisions of AVNOJ.[131] As result Andonov-Čento was replaced by Lazar Kolishevski, who started fully implementing the pro-Yugoslav line. Čento himself was later imprisoned. The fabricated charges against him were of being a Western spy, a traitor working against the SR Macedonia as part of SFR Yugoslavia, being in close contacts with IMRO terrorist, supporting a pro-Bulgarian plan of an Independent Macedonia, etc.[132][133][134]

The new leadership of the People's Republic of Macedonia headed by Lazar Kolishevski confirmed the decisions of AVNOJ, and Macedonia joined Yugoslavia. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia eventually all became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia .[135][136] The Macedonian national feelings were already ripe at that time as compared to 1941. Subsequently, to wipe out the remaining bulgarophile sentiments, the new Communist authorities persecuted the right-wing nationalists with the charges of "great-Bulgarian chauvinism".[137] The next task was also to break up all the organisations that opposed the idea of Yugoslavia. So even older left-wing politicians, who were at some degree pro-Bulgarian oriented, were purged from their positions, then isolated, arrested and imprisoned on fabricated charges, as foreign agents, demanding greater independence, forming of conspirative political groups and the like.[138] Besides, many people went throughout the labor camp of Goli Otok in the middle 1940s.[139] The number of the victims is estimated from 50 000, up to 100 000 including those killed, imprisoned, deported, sent to forced labor, tortured, etc.[140][141]

Manipulation of historical events[edit]

Monument of the Bulgarian paratroopers fallen in North Macedonia in the autumn of 1944 (Sofia). Macedonian sources claim the Bulgarians didn't carry out any serious battles then.[142] Bulgarian sources insist 2,000—3,000 soldiers are fallen in North Macedonia at that time.

By their invasion in 1941, the Bulgarians were greeted by most of the locals as liberators from Serbian rule, through waving Bulgarian flags,[143] because pro-Bulgarian sentiments among them still prevailed.[144][145][146][147][148][149] Macedonian communists then also refused to define the Bulgarians as occupiers and incorporated their structures into the BCP. At the same time sizable part of the local administration, the soldiers recruited in the Bulgarian Army and the police officers stationed in Vardar Macedonia were native from the area.[150][151] Even the only victim of the attack on 11 October 1941, celebrated today as the day of the Macedonian Uprising against fascism, was a local man conscripted in the Bulgarian police.[152] Yugoslav Macedonian historians have accused the Bulgarian forces of several atrocities, most prominent among which is the massacre of 12 young civilians at the village of Vataša, but the officer commanding the operation was also a local staff.[153][154] However, after the war, the Yugoslav communist historiography did a lot to equate the term Bulgarians with "fascistic occupiers".[155] Today are some revisionist opinions in North Macedonia, this conflict was merely a civil war,[156] and the significant resistance movement against the Bulgarians is only a historical myth.[157] The number of ethnic Macedonian partisans killed from October 1941 to October 1944 in direct battles against Bulgarians is only several dozens. Indicative of the attitude of the locals towards the Bulgarians is a case which is still a taboo topic in North Macedonia. In October 1944, 25 Bulgarian soldiers captured by the Germans managed to escape and hid in the city of Ohrid. Despite threats that the city would come under artillery fire from the Germans, the soldiers were not handed over by the citizens. Subsequently, the Germans set a condition for a ransom of 12 kg. gold. To accomplish this, even a gold cross was removed from the roof of a local church. Strongly impressed by this act, the Germans refused to take the gold and to look for the fugitives further and left the city. Thus the soldiers were saved.[158]

On the other hand, the glorification of the Yugoslav Partisan movement became one of the main components of the post-war communist political propaganda. Despite that, before the autumn of 1944, the Macedonian Partisans were not significant military force. Their activity did not differ from the typically Balkan "hajduk" traditions as ambushes and lack of military planning. They were ill-equipped and did not have good training. The Partisans received more weapons after the coup d'état of 9 September 1944 as the Bulgarians withdrew from the area and part of their military equipment fell into Partisans' hands. Simultaneously they counted hardly ca. 8,000-man, based predominantly on then Albanian territory. It became clear in the autumn of 1944, that the Bulgarian army supporting the Belgrade Offensive of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, was the real force behind the driving the German Army Group E, counting ca. 300,000 soldiers, out of Southern Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Nevertheless, the official Yugoslav and later Macedonian historiography, has played down its role by political grounds, actually at the cost of historical deceptions.

Meeting of Bulgarian soldiers and Macedonian partisans in Prilep, on 9 September coup d'etat. The commander of the garrison, Colonel Dimitar Mladenov [bg], refused to withdraw and remained in the city with the guerrillas, managing to hold it for 12 days, blocking the movement of the German troops.[159]

For example, according to Macedonian sources Bulgarians did not participate in the operations for the capture of Skopje in the mid of November 1944, even as observers. Once the city was seized by the guerrillas, they were not even allowed to enter it. Nevertheless, the city was seized not without the decisive role of the Bulgarian troops.[160][161] Per German military historian Karl Hnilicka, the Bulgarians developed their advance towards Skopje into a large-scale offensive, which gave rise to the danger for Army Group E of being cut off. The situation was desperate and the town was evacuated urgently at the night of 13/14 November.[162] As result on 13 and 14 November parts of the First and Fourth Bulgarian Armies entered Skopje.[163][164][165][166] According to the British commissioner in the Allied Commission in Sofia — general Walter Oxley,[167] Skopje was seized after several Bulgarian attacks, while the partisans were waiting on the hills around, but they moved on in time to support the Bulgarian entry into the city.[168] Bulgarian sources maintain at first they entered the town, and namely Bulgarian detachments seized also its center at midnight.[169]

Subsequently, a lot of Partisan monuments and memorials were built in SR Macedonia. Meanwhile, ca. 3,000 Bulgarian victims buried in different cemeteries in Yugoslavia, were collected in two ossuaries – in Nis and in Vukovar. The rest from the military cemeteries, including all of them in North Macedonia, were obliterated. Some of the Bulgarian victims were returned and buried in Bulgaria.[170] In general 3,422 Bulgarian soldiers were killed and 2,136 were missing in the autumn of 1944 in Southern Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo.[171]

Modern references[edit]

Liberatiors of Skopje monument, by Ivan Mirkovic, 1955. The sculpture depicts a cluster of Communist guerrillas. The whole composition was influenced by the principles of socialist realism reminiscent of the respective Soviet propaganda style of art.[172]

According to the Bulgarian Association for Research and Development of Civil Society, the 2016 WW2 Macedonian film The Liberation of Skopje, is a propagandist piece against Bulgaria and breeds anti-Bulgarian hatred, sponsored by the Macedonian government.[173] Another Macedonian movie The Third Half was also controversial in Bulgaria over its depiction of Bulgarians in WW2. Bulgarian members of the European Parliament—expressed outrage over the film and claimed it was an attempt to manipulate the Balkan history and to spread hate against Bulgaria. They have insisted the Macedonian government has overdone with its nationalist activities.[174] In October 2019 the Bulgarian government set tough terms for North Macedonia's EU candidature and part of them are to remove the phrase "Bulgarian fascistic occupiers" from all World War II historical landmarks, as well as to begin the rehabilitation of all people who suffered under former Yugoslav communist rule because of their Bulgarian identity. Bulgaria insists also the two countries must "harmonize" historic literature "overcoming the hate speech" against Bulgaria.[175] In November 2020 Bulgaria blocked the official start of EU accession talks with North Macedonia.[176] In an interview with Bulgarian media in the same month, the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev acknowledged the involvement of Bulgarian troops in the capture of Skopje and other Macedonian towns, as well as that Bulgarians were not fascist occupiers.[177] The interview was a shock and was followed by a wave of hysterical nationalism in Skopje[178] as well by protests demanding Zaev's resignation.[179] According to the opinion of the former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubčo Georgievski, these reactions are organized by the post-Yugoslav deep state, and are the result of ignorance, hypocrisy or politicking.[180] On the other hand, another former Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, reacted that Macedonians and Bulgarians were a single people, finally separated intentionally by the Yugoslav policy after the WWII.[181]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ivan Laković, Dmitar Tasić, The Tito–Stalin Split and Yugoslavia's Military Opening toward the West, 1950–1954: In NATO's Backyard, The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series Authors, Lexington Books, 2016, ISBN 1498539343, p. 203.
  2. ^ Until the Soviet-Yugoslav rift in 1948, a trilateral military-political alliance between the U.S.S.R, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria dominated the strategic situation in the Balkans. As a direct consequence of the Moscow talks, Tito met with a delegation from the Bulgarian government's Fatherland Front on October 5, 1944, in Krajova, and on the same day, concluded an agreement on the participation of the new battles on Yugoslav territory. The three armies took part in the Belgrade Operation, which was launched in late September 1944, and Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations flourished with the patronage of the Soviet Union. Southeastern Europe's fate was effectively secured. For more see: Norman Naimark, The Establishment Of Communist Regimes In Eastern Europe, 1944-1949, Routledge, 2018, ISBN 0429976216, p. 60.
  3. ^ By the end of November, almost all of Macedonia and Serbia had been liberated and cleansed of German units. The Bulgarian army is largely responsible for achieving this goal. A military contingent of more than 450,000 troops participated in the campaign. Even though the Bulgarian offensive was undertaken with the cooperation of the Yugoslav Liberation Army, as all observers at the time noted, the latter's forces were absolutely insufficient and without Bulgarian participation, defeating the enemy would have been impossible. Another thing noted at the time was the wholly upright behavior of Bulgarian troops in Macedonia and Serbia. After conquering a given territory, the army turned over control to the new administration that was being formed from the ranks of the Yugoslav opposition. In contradiction to preliminary expectations, it was found that on the whole the local population, especially in urban areas, calmly accepted the Bulgarian military presence in the region. This generally positive attitude was connected to the idea of a future federation between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria that was beginning to be promoted. For more see: Ivaylo Znepolski et al., Bulgaria under Communism, Routledge Histories of Central and Eastern Europe, Routledge, 2018, ISBN 1351244892.
  4. ^ Military realities, however, made this incident look very ironic indeed, for Skopje was liberated by Bulgarian forces, while the Macedonian Partisans remained in the surrounding hills, and came down only to celebrate their entrance to the city. Similar scenes occurred in many other towns of Macedonia and Serbia, pointing to the fact that, from a military perspective the Russians were right: the Bulgarian army was the only force capable of driving the Germans quickly from Yugoslavia. Needless to say, the official Macedonian historiography, written mainly by Apostolski himself, understandably played down the crucial role of the Bulgarians. The glorification of the Partisan movement, an essential component of the post-war Yugoslav political culture-and more personal Partisan considerations left little room for such “technicalities”... For information on the military situation in Macedonia and Serbia and the role of the Bulgarian army see FO 371/43608, R17271, 24/11/1944; FO 371/44279, R16642,14/10/1944; FO 371/43630, R19495, 24/11/1944; WO 208, 113B, 12/9/1944. The sources, which contain intelligence reports from BLOs, confirm the decisive role of the Bulgarian army in the liberation of Skopje, Nis, Prilep, and the Morava Valley. For more see: Dimitris Livanios, The Macedonian Question: Britain and the Southern Balkans 1939–1949, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2008; ISBN 9780199237685, p. 134.
  5. ^ For a detailed description of the German withdrawal from Greece through Macedonia and the central Balkans to Bosnia... see the account by one of the participants, Erich Schmidt-Richberg, „Der Endkampf auf dem Balkan“. General Schmidt-Richberg was chief of staff of Army Group E, deployed in Greece... The Yugoslavs' main criticism of the book was that it did not mention the Partisan units that fought the Germans as soon as they entered Yugoslav territory in Macedonia. Schmidt-Richberg only mentioned Bulgarian divisions, which had changed camps and were now fighting the Germans. But the Yugoslavs claimed that the main burden of fighting the Germans was theirs and that the Bulgarians did not have their heart in fighting their erstwhile allies. The claim applies to Partisan operations in the area between the Greek frontier on the south and the Drina River on the northwest – Macedonia, Southern Serbia, Kosovo and Sndjak. It is interesting to note that in a series of maps from Army Group E on its withdrawal through Macedonia and Serbia toward the Drina River and Bosnia, there is almost no indications on Yugoslav Partisan units... The contribution of Bulgarian troops in fighting the Germans in the fall of 1944 in Macedonia and Serbia is still much debated between Yugoslav and Bulgarian military historians. For more see: Jozo TomasevichWar and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration. Volume 2, Stanford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0804779244, pp. 751-752.
  6. ^ Soviet arrogance was evident at all levels of the Red Army, beginning with its commander in chief. Stalin told Tito at a meeting that the Bulgarian army (which switched sides in the war in September 1944) was superior to Partisans, praising the professionalism of its officers. This was a pure provocation from the Soviet leader. The Bulgarians were Partisan wartime foes, and regardless of whether it was true, Stalin meant to put the assertive Yugoslav leadership in its place by insulting Tito's proudest achievement: his army. Furthermore, the Red Army's operational maps often excluded Partisan units, indicating the command's failure to even acknowledge that Yugoslavs played any role in the defeat of the Germans in the country. Further below in the chain of command, Partisan commanders had to appeal to the Red Army's political departments to include in their public statements the fact that Belgrade was liberated jointly by the Red Army and Partisans and not just by the Soviets, as well as to cease treating the Partisans as unknowledgeable and as a second-rate army. For more see: Majstorović, Vojin. “The Red Army in Yugoslavia, 1944–1945.” p. 414 in Slavic Review, vol. 75, no. 2, 2016, pp. 396–421. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5612/slavicreview.75.2.396. Accessed 24 Oct. 2020.
  7. ^ The eastern parts of Yugoslavia were the site of savage fighting between October and December 1944, as the German Army Group E tried to force its way out of an almost desperate situation it had found itself in following the evacuation of Greece. Against all odds, this huge German formation managed to best three Allied armies, rugged terrain, and autumn rains and reach the relative safety of the Independent State of Croatia, where it joined the remainder of the Axis front in the Balkans. Although this dramatic episode had been extensively written about in the former Yugoslavia and Germany, it received next to no attention in the English-speaking academic community. The article at hand will provide an overview and an analysis of military operations based on a wide plethora of primary and secondary sources of all sides. It will also argue that the ultimate success of the breakthrough was as much due to the unwillingness of the Soviet high command to devote more resources to the Balkan Front, and the structural weaknesses of the Bulgarian and Yugoslav Partisans' armies, as it was to the battlefield prowess of the Wehrmacht. For more see: Gaj Trifković (2017) 'The German Anabasis': The Breakthrough of Army Group E from Eastern Yugoslavia 1944, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 30:4, 602-629, DOI: 10.1080/13518046.2017.1377014 .
  8. ^ Stefan Troebst sees the Macedonian process of nation building as a perfect example of Gellner's theory of nationalism. Since the foundation of the Yugoslav Macedonia this construction was conducted in haste and hurry: "National language, national literature, national history and national church were not available in 1944, but they were accomplished in a short time. The south-east-Slavic regional idiom of the area of Prilep-Veles was codified as the script, normed orthographically by means of the Cyrillic Alphabet, and taken over immediately by the newly created media. And the people have been patching up the national history ever since. Thus, they are forming more of an "ethnic" than a political concept of nation. For more, see: One Macedonia With Three Faces: Domestic Debates and Nation Concepts, in Intermarium; Columbia University; Volume 4, No. 3 (2000–2001 One Macedonia With Three Faces: Domestic Debates and Nation Concepts, in Intermarium; Columbia University; Volume 4, No. 3 (2000–2001), pp. 7-8;
  9. ^ a b Bulgaria During the Second World War, Marshall Lee Miller, Stanford University Press, 1975, p. 202.
  10. ^ a b Who Are the Macedonians? Hugh Poulton, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2000. p. 104.
  11. ^ The Slavonic and East European review, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, 1991, p. 304.
  12. ^ Зимските операции на Македонска војска 1943/44 – Раде Гогов, носител на "Партизанска споменица 1941".
  13. ^ Александър Гребенаров, Надя Николова. Българското управление във Вардарска Македония (1941 – 1944). Кн. No. 63 от поредицата „Архивите говорят“ на Държавна агенция „Архиви“, 2011, .стр. 512.
  14. ^ Klaus Schönherr: Der Rückzug aus Griechenland. In: Karl-Heinz Frieser, Klaus Schmider, Klaus Schönherr, Gerhard Schreiber, Krisztián Ungváry, Bernd Wegner: Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 8, Die Ostfront 1943/44 – Der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten. Im Auftrag des MGFA hrsg. von Karl-Heinz Frieser. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, München 2007, ISBN 978-3-421-06235-2, pp. 1089–1099; (in German).
  15. ^ Zerjavic, Vladimir. Yugoslavia Manipulations With the Number of Second World War Victims. Croatian Information Centre, ISBN 0-919817-32-7 [1] Archived 5 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Donald Bloxham, The Final Solution: A Genocide, OUP Oxford, 2009, ISBN 0199550336, p. 65.
  17. ^ Chris Kostov, Contested Ethnic Identity: The Case of Macedonian Immigrants in Toronto, Peter Lang, 2010, ISBN 3034301960, p. 76.
  18. ^ "The Bulgarian occupation forces in the Serbian part of Macedonia were received as liberators and pro-Bulgarian feeling ran high in the early stages of the occupation. Neither the Communist position regarding a separate Macedonian nation nor the idea of a Yugoslav federation met with much response from the Slav population, which nurtured pro-Bulgarian sentiments. The local Communists, led by M. Satorov, splintered off from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and joined the Bulgarian Labour Party (which was Communist), with the slogan "One state, one party". The subsequent dissatisfaction with the occupation authorities was due to social factors, rather than national ones. This was also why Tito's resistance movement in Yugoslav Macedonia failed to develop." For more see: Spyridon Sfetas, Autonomist Movements of the Slavophones in 1944: The Attitude of the Communist Party of Greece and the Protection of the Greek-Yugoslav Border. Balkan Studies 1995; 36 (2): pp. 297-317.
  19. ^ a b Tomasevich, Jozo (2001). War and Revolution in Yugoslavia 1941 - 1945. Stanford University Press. pp. 163–164.
  20. ^ Bulgaria During the Second World War, Marshall Lee Miller, Stanford University Press, 1975, ISBN 0804708703, pp. 132–133.
  21. ^ Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Macedonia, Dimitar Bechev, Scarecrow Press, 2009, ISBN 0810862956 introduction Ixiii.
  22. ^ Viktor Meier, Yugoslavia: A History of Its Demise, Routledge, 2005, ISBN 1134665113, p. 181.
  23. ^ Dejan Djokić, Yugoslavism: histories of a failed idea, 1918-1992, Hurst, 2003, ISBN 1850656630, p. 120.
  24. ^ Roumen Daskalov, Diana Mishkova ed., Entangled Histories of the Balkans - Volume Two, BRILL, 2013, ISBN 9004261915, p. 534.
  25. ^ Иван Гаджев, Иван Михайлов: отвъд легендите, том 1, Унив. издателство "Св. Климент Охридски", 2007, ISBN 9540725860, стр. 472
  26. ^ When German troops advanced into Vardar (Yugoslav) Macedonia in April 1941, the Macedonians greeted the victors with great enthusiasm. Crowds in Skopie, the provincial capital, displayed a banner which, paraphrasing the German slogan (Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer), hailed the unification of Macedonia and Bulgaria: "One people, one Tsar, one kingdom". For more see: Bulgaria During the Second World War, Author Marshall Lee Miller, Publisher Stanford University Press, 1975, ISBN 0804708703, p. 123.
  27. ^ During the 20th century, Slavo-Macedonian national feeling has shifted. At the beginning of the 20th century, Slavic patriots in Macedonia felt a strong attachment to Macedonia as a multi-ethnic homeland. They imagined a Macedonian community uniting themselves with non-Slavic Macedonians... Most of these Macedonian Slavs also saw themselves as Bulgarians. By the middle of the 20th. century, however Macedonian patriots began to see Macedonian and Bulgarian loyalties as mutually exclusive. Regional Macedonian nationalism had become ethnic Macedonian nationalism... This transformation shows that the content of collective loyalties can shift.Region, Regional Identity and Regionalism in Southeastern Europe, Ethnologia Balkanica Series, Klaus Roth, Ulf Brunnbauer, LIT Verlag Münster, 2010, p. 127., ISBN 3825813878
  28. ^ "At the end of the World War I there were very few historians or ethnographers, who claimed that a separate Macedonian nation existed... Of those Slavs who had developed some sense of national identity, the majority probably considered themselves to be Bulgarians, although they were aware of differences between themselves and the inhabitants of Bulgaria... The question as of whether a Macedonian nation actually existed in the 1940s when a Communist Yugoslavia decided to recognize one is difficult to answer. Some observers argue that even at this time it was doubtful whether the Slavs from Macedonia considered themselves to be a nationality separate from the Bulgarians." The Macedonian conflict: ethnic nationalism in a transnational world, Loring M. Danforth, Princeton University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-691-04356-6, pp. 65-66.
  29. ^ "Until the late 19th century both outside observers and those Bulgaro-Macedonians who had an ethnic consciousness believed that their group, which is now two separate nationalities, comprised a single people, the Bulgarians. Thus the reader should ignore references to ethnic Macedonians in the Middle ages which appear in some modern works. In the Middle ages and into the 19th century, the term 'Macedonian' was used entirely in reference to a geographical region. Anyone who lived within its confines, regardless of nationality could be called a Macedonian...Nevertheless, the absence of a national consciousness in the past is no grounds to reject the Macedonians as a nationality today." "The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century," John Van Antwerp Fine, University of Michigan Press, 1991, ISBN 0472081497, pp. 36–37.
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  141. ^ Additionally, some 100,000 people were imprisoned in the post-1944 period for violations of the law for the "protection of Macedonian national honor," and some 1,260 Bulgarian sympathizers were allegedly killed. (Troebst, 1997: 248-50, 255-57; 1994: 116-22; Poulton, 2000: 118-19). For more see: Roudometof, Victor, Collective Memory, National Identity, and Ethnic Conflict: Greece, Bulgaria, and the Macedonian Question, Praeger Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0-275-97648-3, p. 104.
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  143. ^ In Macedonia, eyewitnesses recall and newsreel footage shows that the local Macedonian population went out to greet the Bulgarian troops who had helped remove the Yugoslav yoke, and that they waved Bulgarian flags. Keith Brown, The Past in Question: Modern Macedonia and the Uncertainties of Nation, Keith Brown; Princeton University Press, 2018; ISBN 0691188432, p. 134.
  144. ^ Initially welcomed as liberators by the local Slavic population, the Bulgarian military and civil authorities soon became unpopular, as they pursued an authoritarian policy of centralization. Raymond Detrez, The A to Z of Bulgaria, G - Reference, SCARECROW PRESS INC, 2010, ISBN 0810872021, p. 485.
  145. ^ At first, many Macedonians greeted the Bulgarians with enthusiasm. Hilde Katrine Haug, Creating a Socialist Yugoslavia: Tito, Communist Leadership and the National Question, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012, ISBN 0857721216, p. 105.
  146. ^ Many Slavs in Macedonia, perhaps the majority, still harboured Bulgarian consciousness... The initial reaction among the population was to greet the Bulgarians as liberators. Dejan Djokić, Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea, 1918-1992, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2003, ISBN 1850656630, p. 119.
  147. ^ Although a pro-Bulgarian inclination, fed by the Serbian assimilationist policy, has been always strong among the Macedonians, it reached its peak in 1941, at a time when the Bulgarian troops were welcomed as 'liberators. Dimitris Livanios, The Macedonian Question: Britain and the Southern Balkans 1939-1949, OUP Oxford, 2008, ISBN 0191528722, p. 179.
  148. ^ ...indeed, the incoming Bulgarian troops were hailed as liberators from Serb rule. (Miller 1975; Svolopoulos 1987a; Kotzageorgi-Zymari 2002; Crampton 2008, 258–62; Livanios 2008, 102– 27). Evanthis Hatzivassiliou and Dimitrios Triantaphyllou as ed. NATO's First Enlargement: A Reassessment, Routledge, 2017, ISBN 113479844X, p. 51.
  149. ^ "Most of the Slavophone inhabitants in all parts of divided Macedonia – perhaps a million and a half in all – felt themselves to be Bulgarians at the beginning of the Occupation; and most Bulgarians, whether they supported the Communists, IMRO, or the collaborating government, assumed that all Macedonia would fall to Bulgaria after the war." The struggle for Greece, 1941-1949, Christopher Montague Woodhouse, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2002, ISBN 1-85065-492-1, p. 67.
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  152. ^ Македонизмът и съпротивата на Македония срещу него, Коста Църнушанов, Унив. изд. "Св. Климент Охридски", София, 1992 г. стр. 206.
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  156. ^ Стенографски белешки от Тринаесеттото продолжение на Четиринаесеттата седница на Собранието на Република Македонија, одржана на 17 јануари 2007 година.
  157. ^ Chris Kostov, Contested Ethnic Identity: The Case of Macedonian Immigrants in Toronto, 1900-1996, Peter Lang, 2010, ISBN 3034301960, p. 109.
  158. ^ Петър Ненков, Спасяването на българските войници в Охрид през есента на 1944г. във Втората световна война. ноември 25, 2020, PRzone.
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  160. ^ Livanios, Dimitris, The Macedonian Question: Britain and the Southern Balkans 1939-1949, Oxford University Publishing, 2008, ISBN 0191528722, pp. 118-141.
  161. ^ Michael Palairet, Macedonia: A Voyage through History (Vol. 2), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016, ISBN 1443888494, p. 212.
  162. ^ Karl Hnilicka: Das Ende auf dem Balkan 1944/45 – Die militärische Räumung Jugoslaviens durch die deutsche Wehrmacht, Musterschmidt, Göttingen 1970. (Studien und Dokumente zur Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges, Band 13) ìn German; pp. 90-91; 95.
  163. ^ Crawford, Steve. The Eastern Front Day by Day, 1941-45: A Photographic Chronology, Potomac Books, 2006, ISBN 1597970107, p. 170: "November 13, 1944: Greece, land war. The Bulgarian First Army ejects Army Group E from Skopje although, as most Axis forces have left Greece, this does not trap the army group."
  164. ^ Stone & Ston; An online database of World War II, books and information on the Web since 1995: War Diary for Monday, 13 November 1944: German forces withdraw from Skopje as Bulgarian 1st Army advances. Bulgarian 1st Army captures Skopje. Southern flank of the Russian Front, 1944-1945; Balkan campaigns, the Aegean, and the Adriatic, 1942-1945.
  165. ^ Alexander Perry Biddiscombe, The SS Hunter Battalions: The Hidden History of the Nazi Resistance Movement 1944-45, History Press Series, Tempus, 2006, ISBN 0752439383, p. 155. ..."By the late autumn of 1944, however, the Germans could no longer hold their base in Macedonia and they had to evacuate Skopje on 13 November, bringing covert operations against "Old Bulgaria" to a momentary hold."...
  166. ^ Sfetas, Spyridon. "The Bulgarian-Yugoslav Dispute over the Macedonian Question as a Reflection of the Soviet-Yugoslav Controversy (1968-1980)". Balcanica. 2012. 241-271. 10.2298/BALC1243241S... "Indeed, the Soviets contributed heavily to Belgrade's liberation in October 1944, and Bulgarians, though undesirable for the Yugoslav partisans, fought in the battles for the liberation Skopje in November 1944."
  167. ^ Biography of Major-General Walter Hayes Oxley (1891 – 1978) on Generals.dk.
  168. ^ Per Oxley Skopje was seized after weak German resistance with Bulgarian Army concentric attacks, while the partisans stood waiting on the surrounding hills. They went just in time to support the Bulgarian entry into the city. The Bulgarians retained the POW-s, but they submitted the abandoned from the Germans weapons to the Tito's partisans. Georgi Daskalov, Bulgarian-Yugoslav political relations, 1944-1945, Kliment Ohridski University Press, 1989, p. 114; (in Bulgarian).
  169. ^ The first unit, which entered at 6.30pm Skopje, already left from the Germans under the pressure of the Bulgarian army, was the reconnaissance platoon of the Second infantry division of the 4th Bulgarian army. For the liberation of Skopje contributed also detachments of the Second infantry division of the First Bulgarian Army. They forced the withdrawing Nazi detachments to retreat the city and on November 13th at 11pm took under their control the southern and the southeastern areas of the city. At the midnight they seized also its center. Georgi Daskalov, Bulgarian-Yugoslav political relations, 1944-1945, Kliment Ohridski University Press, 1989, p. 113; (in Bulgarian).
  170. ^ Иво Антонов, началник на отдел „Военни паметници и военно-патриотично възпитание“ при МО: Гробовете на нашите войници в Македония са заличени съзнателно. В-к „Труд“, 05.11.2016 г.
  171. ^ Йордан Величков, България срещу Третия райх, 22 юни 2015, Епицентър.
  172. ^ Stavroula Mavrogeni, Public Art in FYROM: From Tito to Alexander the Great, pp. 66; in Macedonian Studies Journal - Volume 2, 2015, Issue 1, pp. 63-74.
  173. ^ Македония с нов филм против българската окупация (трейлър); OFFNews.bg 27.09.2016.
  174. ^ Macedonian film infuriates Bulgaria. EURACTIV.com 28.10.2011.
  175. ^ Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Bulgaria Sets Tough Terms for North Macedonia's EU Progress Skopje. BIRN; 10 October 2019.
  176. ^ Bulgaria blocks EU accession talks with North Macedonia. Nov 17, 2020, National post.
  177. ^ Зоран Заев: Договорът с България ще бъде закон. Меdiapool публикува интервюто на Любчо Нешков, собственик на информационната агенция БГНЕС. 25 November, 2020; Mediapool.bg.
  178. ^ Sinisa Jakov Marusic, North Macedonia PM's Remarks About History Hit a Nerve. BIRN, November 26, 2020.
  179. ^ VMRO-DPMNE leader Mickoski demands PM Zaev's resignation, announces more protests. MIA, 26 November, 2020 Archived 19 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine.
  180. ^ Любчо Георгиевски: Хората са шокирани от Заев, защото не познават миналото. Епицентър, 28 ноем. 2020.
  181. ^ Владо Бучковски: Македонците съществуват от 1944 година, българите са по-стар народ. 2 дек. 2020, Епицентър.


  • Bulajić, Danilo; Ćurčić, Jovan; Damjanović, Verica; Ilijev, Bogoljub; Ljumović, Pavle; Katanić, Petar; Kovačević, Stevan (1980). Leksikon Narodnooslobodilačkog rata i revolucije u Jugoslaviji 1941—1945. tom II. Belgrade and Ljubljana: Narodna knjiga—Partizanska knjiga.
  • Schubert, Gabriella; Otto, Harrassowitz Verlag (2005). Makedonien: Prägungen und Perspektiven. pp. 45–50.

External links[edit]

Comprehensive historic overview[edit]