The last interview with the legendary leader of VMRO Ivan Michailov in the 20. century 1989: Macedonia - Switzerland of the Balkan.
Ivan Michailov – I AM A BULGARIAN FROM MACEDONIA
newspaper 'Democratsia', Sofia, January 8, 2001, pp. 10-11
Click on the flag for Bulgarian language
Unpublished interview of IMRO’s legendary leader IVAN MIHAYLOV, done 14 years ago by the Skopje journalist Boris VISHINSKY
(Photos: 1. Ivan Mihaylov’s birthplace, Novo Selo, the Shtip region; 2. Ivan Mihaylov in the 1920s; 3. Facsimile of the original interview, containing Ivan Mihaylov’s signature; 4. Ivan Mihaylov in his home in Rome in 1990).
In September 1989, Boris Vishinsky, a Skopje journalist, asked for an interview with the leader of the Macedonian liberation movement Ivan Mihaylov. He expressed his hope for such an interview to the Radio Vatican circles, which contacted Anton Popov, a journalist in the same radio. For many years he was the editor of Makedonska Tribuna, a newspapers that is published in the United States. Popov was one of the persons abroad Ivan (Vanche) Mihaylov trusted most. Radko, as we called Ivan Mihaylov, sensing the closing end of the so-called Yugoslavia, consented on such an interview, but he preferred to answer the questions in written form. This is what happened. The journalist Boris Vishinsky presented his written questions and Anton Popov sent them to Ivan Mihaylov.
Eleven years have passed since then. Yugoslavia, the mosaic republic, came to
an end. Now the “Republic” of Macedonia is a state and for the past two
years it has enjoyed democracy. We believe that the people will be able to read
this interview freely.
As far as the journalist Boris Vishinsky goes, we should acknowledge his insight. Due to him our history will keep the last political deathbed last will and testament – if we could call it this way – on the future of Vardar Macedonia. It is also an acknowledgement by the Macedonian Vardar intellectuals that Ivan Mihaylov alone was the leader whose words are and will be valid for the future of our suffering Macedonia.
May his memory live forever.
Vida Boeva Popova
December 19, 2000
B.V.: Mr. Mihaylov, you were born at the end of the nineteenth century. You are a contemporary of the people who created the organized national liberation movement in Macedonia. Soon you will be 93. Therefore you are Macedonia’s living history. In this century Macedonia went through many mishaps. When it was a part of the Ottoman Empire, it was one whole; then it was broken and almost deleted from history. It was not until World War II that it returned to history again. But Macedonia’s crucifixion still continues. You as a leader of the Macedonian movement had the historical chance to proclaim the independent Macedonia as a Macedonian state, equal to all the other Balkan states. Why did not you do it?
I.M.: In short, on this issue I could say the following:
a) The liberation from Yugoslavia’s bondage that had been imposed as one of the regimes of King Alexander Karageorgievich was received with great joy by our population in Macedonia. Or, actually, by the greater part of it that not only felt – as it had always had until then – as Bulgarians, but it had always contributed to the enlargement of Bulgaria to Ochrida, to Hrupishta under Kostour, and to Kavala on the Aegean Sea coast.
These were the Bulgarians who were first to wait for the Bulgarian army in Macedonia, when Yugoslavia fell. At that time, and in the following weeks, the joy of this wide circle of patriots did not diminish at all.
b) A couple of days after this day of liberation, or just a dozen of hours afterwards a person in front of the multitudes in Skopje or elsewhere yelling, “Long live the autonomous Macedonia” would be somewhat late. That is why no people of ours were encouraged to make such a speech. Otherwise, a fight might have been started even between the most fervent Bulgarian patriots.
c) I should say with most sincerity that at that time there were people of
our organization who were inwardly unsure about the fact that the situation in
Macedonia at that moment would be permanent.
Ivan Mihaylov was one of the people (most of them silent) who believed from the very start that the beginning of the war would be hopeful for the Bulgarians, but that the war, about which they expected would bring final results, would be lost.
d) As the war would bring losses to Germany and the countries related to it in one or another way, in the beginning the countries participating in the war made an attempt to create an independent Macedonia. As this happened in the beginning, this was probably the reason why we did not receive any positive answers.
e) When the war was coming to its end, the same people encouraged Ivan Mihaylov to proclaim the independence of Macedonia publicly. But this step was a very late one. Therefore, I went to Skopje with my wife on purpose. From Skopje I informed the Germans that I could not accept their suggestion, as it was too late. I added to my refusal that I had no intention of taking the responsibility for the harm that I would bring to my own people because of my actions. The Germans themselves wrote in a book (Digeheime Front by Walter Hagen) that although this answer was not pleasing to them, they believed that Mihaylov had done his duty to his people.
f) After the territory of Macedonia was separated in 1912 between the
neighboring countries, the Macedonian issue was still relevant – it was
forgotten neither by Macedonia’s neighbors, nor by the Great Powers.
In order to keep this issue at hand, newspapers both in Bulgarian and in other languages were published. However, at the same time the world press was constantly interested in the effects of assaults done by Macedonian Bulgarians under foreign dominion. The fight continued together with its heroes and leaders, and the name of dominated Macedonia was regularly spelled in foreign newspapers.
B.V.: There are some events that are related to your personality.
These events are still enveloped in secrecy and different theories are expressed
on the issues. Could you answer the following questions:
a) Why was Todor Alexandrov assassinated?
b) How did you head the Central Committee of IMRO?
c) Why did your presence in Skopje in September 1944 come so late?
I.M.: There is one thing that is absolutely sure – if it were not for the presence of his weak-willed colleague General Protogerov, none of those would succeed, who did not like the existence of Todor Alexandrov.
In book III of my memoirs a whole chapter is published on Todor Alexandrov’s assassination. I have mentioned there a number of things, among which is Alexander Protogerov’s emphasized envy of Todor Alexandrov.
While I was still a first-year student, I had contacts and met many revolutionaries of ours (some of them were leaders), who had underground contacts with our people in dominated Macedonia. I had contacts with our students, nationalists from Macedonia. I had contacts with young people in the Macedonian youth organizations in Bulgaria. I had connections with IMRO’s points on the border with Macedonia, where I often met people completing some missions in Macedonia. Anyway, years before I entered the Central Committee of IMRO, many revolutionaries, and especially leaders, expressed their beliefs to personal friends of mine that my work and attitude had made them wish that I would come closer to IMRO’s work of all kinds. In this way, while I was still a student, both underground and legal revolutionaries had reached an agreement to appoint me as an appropriate man for the work of IMRO.
B.V.: Historians, both in the Balkans, and more widely, still argue who is behind King Alexander Karageorgievich’s assassination. Some say that this was IMRO’s work; others say that Hitler’s Germany is responsible for it, while still others say that the Soviet Union has a hand in the affair. I recently read in the Belgrade chauvinistic magazine Duga (September 2, 1989) that Dimitar Vlahov was behind the assassination. You have said almost nothing about it up to now. Would you give your explanation about this event?
I.M.: “What he [Vlado Chernozemsky] did in Marseille could not be
called an assassination. This is so clear for everyone who has some knowledge of
King Alexander’s regime and Belgrade’s plans. It actually means that the
assassinator was Alexander and Belgrade policy. Vlado himself was only the
executor of the punishment that many peoples had pronounced on him through
thousands of curses and floods of tears and blood. Some of these people were
Macedonian Bulgarians, Croatians, Albanians, as well as millions of other
discontented people in other ethnic groups in the country – there were some
Serbians among them as well.” The above words are written in Book IV of my
memoirs, in the Chapter entitled “The Event in Marseille.”
All people in our country, and at least the majority of other peoples in Yugoslavia exulted over the news that the Serbian king had been punished. I know that my own mother, at the time living due to necessity in Serbia with her family, had asked my younger brother twice to take her to Belgrade to see in the museum the revolver with which the king had been assassinated. The blessing was evidently directed at the one who had punished the people’s tyrant king Alexander, but it is clear that it had replaced also the blessings of numberless widows and orphans that were victims of the regime.
The assassination of the king was a result of his countless offenses.
The convictions of the one who put an end to Alexander Karageorgievich’s life in Marseilles, and his disposition, which is understandable, are the convictions and dispositions of the whole IMRO. By the way, our people have correctly answered in songs where punishment came from for the criminal Crown in Belgrade.
I have no information about the participation of Hitler’s Germany or the Soviet Union in Alexander Karageorgievich’s assassination.
I believe that nothing could induce greater disgust than ascribing this heroic deed to Dimitar Vlahov. All efforts of Dimitar Vlahov, in any direction, have only brought benefits to the Serbian king. And their so called “IMRO-United” is a base fabrication by Georgy Dimitrov. Dimitrov himself admitted that the combination of the two words “IMRO-United” was his personal fabrication. This was said in a printed edition of Georgy Dimitrov’s friends from America – saying that “IMRO-United” was his invention.
B.V.: The Macedonian poet Kocho Razin (1908-1943) in a speech of his on the glorification of Ilinden in 1940 says that he would like Macedonia to become a Switzerland in the Balkans. You are in favor of the idea as well. Do you think this is an accidental coincidence, or was this the motto of the Macedonian liberation movement? What is your opinion?
I.M.: I am very happy that Kocho Razin liked the political structure of Switzerland. I did not know him personally. But I am pleased that he had also embraced the belief that Macedonia should become something like a Switzerland in the Balkans.
As far as I am concerned, I have dreamed about the Swiss political structure long before 1940, and I do not remember – whether in speeches to our people or some time in an article – having spoken about the idea or wished for Macedonia to be structured in the same way. I have not read anything written by a Bulgarian public figure on the same idea.
The motto of the Macedonian liberation movement was not based on the copying of the Swiss formula. The motto of the Macedonian liberation movement was a free and independent Macedonia.
You ask me what I think “a Switzerland in the Balkans” means. I think I have answered this question in greater detail in my book Macedonia – the Switzerland in the Balkans. I wrote this book right after the end of World War II as a refugee in a village in the Alps. But I will answer the question here in short: I think this means what I think all peoples would desire most. In Switzerland even the smallest ethnic group was recognized legally and within the society – and this ethnic group could not have become more than 50 thousand people. But it is naturally given all rights, and all laws in the country respect it.
B.V.: Today people ask whether Vancho Mihaylov is alive. Many young Macedonians say that Vancho Mihaylov is the greatest Macedonian. They do not agree with the statement that Vancho Mihaylov is a Bulgarian and that he is the steadiest advocate of Bulgarian ideas in Macedonia. I would not comment on this, but I would ask for your elucidation.
I.M.: Ivan Mihaylov is alive and always active. I often publish – using pen names, or no name at all – both on the pages of Makedonska Tribuna (the organ of the Macedonian patriotic organizations that protect this ideal), and in other newspapers. These specific organizations collected funds to print my memoirs.
In Europe, years ago, I used to publish a newspaper written in four languages, almost 90% of it dedicated to the Macedonian movement and its ideas. The newspaper was called Macedonia.
For a while there was an hour on the radio broadcast in Madrid, done in Standard Bulgarian and in the Bitolya dialect, centered around Macedonia and its efforts for liberation.
I will answer decisively: I am a Bulgarian from Macedonia. At the same time, I have never ignored the geographical name of our country Macedonia. With the geographical name of a Macedonian I have met at least 200 Turks in Asia Minor, when I was kept there (in order not to continue my journey to the West – this was the will of Belgrade and its Balkan allies). Every Turk told me with joy, “I am a Macedonian too.” We can see that the Turks make a clear difference between the geographical and the national name – they said they were Macedonian, but before that they said they were Turks. The young people (some of them at least in Vardar Macedonia) have been taught by other people that Vanche Mihaylov was not a Bulgarian. And they still believe that he is only a Macedonian (by birth). At the same time other people from the great emigrant circles, especially in Bulgaria, as well as in all of Pirin Macedonia, as well as many people from our country of Macedonia, know for sure that Vancho is a clear-cut Bulgarian. I remember my grandfather very well – he died in 1907 when he was almost 80. My grandfather had clear memories of his grandfather, who had been born some time in the first two decades of the eighteenth century. From all of my grandfather’s words and memories about his grandfather I drew the clear conclusion that at the time of Father Paisii the Bulgarian name and conscience with our people were as clear as they are today with me.
B.V.: For the last few months in Macedonia many ambiguities and enigmas appeared. Now the question has appeared about Chento, about Tempo, about Shatorov and Kolishevsky, about their role and place in the events of history. Have you been able to follow these arguments? Can you share your opinion?
I.M.: I had the chance to read something about the above-mentioned arguments. Shatorov from Prilep is a Bulgarian. He was right to believe that the Bulgarian army did not come to Macedonia as an occupation one. As far as Kolishevsky is concerned, we saw it in his acts that he is something of a Serboman. To me, Tempo is a man who thinks in a Serbian way about Macedonia, because he is actually a Serbian (from Monte Negro).
There are some people who would really like to be considered of a special
category of actual rebels against the Serbian tyranny. I think that none of them
has been able to point to at least a feather plugged out of a Serbian occupation
hen. We have provided tons of information for many years about the actual
villainies of people in the Yugoslavian government.
I have read that former Serbian colonists have appeared with the aim of becoming masters of Macedonian lands. Concerning the issue of the former Serbian colonists, we need to use a special language. Some time ago IMRO used to speak it.
B.V.: In all Yugoslavia conversations with emigrants - Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian – are very much of present interest. Interviews have been taken from Alexander Karageorgievich, Prince Pavel’s son, and then from Alexander, the successor of the throne. In several successive issues of the Zagreb magazine Start an interview of Ante Ziliga in Rome was published, as well as interviews of other people. All this was impossible some time ago. What is more, the press has mentioned a very interesting fact. A Macedonian historian had openly asked the question, “What would have happened to Macedonia if Vancho Mihaylov in 1941 had come to Macedonia and had proclaimed the Macedonian state?” The interest in you is growing all the time in Macedonia. A day will come when your books and statements will be popular readings for the present and future generation. What should these generations know about you, what would you recommend?
I.M.: When in 1941 the Bulgarian schools were opened in Macedonia, no riots were reported there, and no other schools were asked for. The old people, the older generation still had fresh memories about their studies in Bulgarian schools in Macedonia during the Ottoman rule.
If in 1941 an independent Macedonia had been founded, and the people had accepted it with joy, then it would have fought to preserve the state later. But one thing is clear: there would not have been any possibilities for the invention of a “Macedonian people” and a “Macedonian language.” The French sociologist Prof. Guy Errot rightly explained in his book Peoples and Languages in Europe that this language and this ethnicity were invented to confuse people’s ideas.
I would recommend to the young people in Macedonia to hold on to the fact that we have been Bulgarians for thousands of years. However, they should not avoid the idea of an independent Macedonia with recognized historical ethnic groups. Witnesses of the Bulgarian past of Macedonia are the Greeks, the Romanians, the Albanians, the Turks, and the Jews. These ethnic groups still live with their national names preserved for many centuries.
B.V.: In Macedonia, I mean its Vardar portion, a culture has been developing quickly, together with a literature that is autonomous, staying far from both the Serbian and the Bulgarian culture and literature. This culture and literature has been recognized in the world, in Europe, in America and in the East. Do you follow these processes? What do you think about them? Have you read any of these literary works?
I.M.: Some time ago I read some poetry in the “new language.” Other than that I have not read anything. I personally recognize only Bulgarian dialects in Macedonia. What you consider special literature and culture I think is nothing but a dialectal branch of Bulgarian national literature.
B.V.: The writer Stoyan Hristov has already joined modern Macedonian literature. You know this man. What do you think about his work, which has been glorified in the American society, and today it is even more famous?
I.M.: Stoyan Hristov used to come to me. He and the people who accompanied him from Sofia brought the news to me that the Serbs had killed my innocent father and brother in Shtip. I said to them that I would never sink so low as the Serbian intellectuals who inspired the murders of many of our brothers and sisters in Macedonia, all innocent people. I have not heard anything about him or his literary works since then.
B.V.: Mr. Mihaylov, would you recommend something to Macedonia now, when we are expecting the twenty-first century? What is the future of this land?
I.M.: I have no courage to make any predictions. I know that the Macedonian issue is still unsettled. But it could be settled if the people who bear the responsibility are lead by justice. Macedonia should not come under the authority of a neighbor. It should be governed and lead according to the Swiss model; the ethnic groups in the country should diligently respect their historical rights. Macedonia, as well as other suffering countries, is without any doubt, among the most fervent supporters of the idea of a united Europe. Let us hope that the beginning of the twenty-first century will exhibit greater successes in this field.
October 1, 1989
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