IV. The Races of Macedonia
10. Are the Macedonians Serbs or Bulgars ?
Are the Macedonians Serbs or Bulgars ? The question is constantly asked and dogmatically answered in Belgrade and Sofia. But the lesson of history obviously is that there is no answer at all. They are not Serbs, for their blood can hardly be purely Slavonic. There must be in it some admixture of Bulgarian and other non-Aryan stock (Kuman Tartars, Pechenegs, &c.). On the other hand, they can hardly be Bulgarians, for quite clearly the Servian immigrations and conquests must have left much Servian blood in their veins, and the admixture of non-Aryan blood can scarcely be so considerable as it is in Bulgaria. They are probably very much what they were before either a Bulgarian or a Servian Empire existed — a Slav people derived from rather various stocks, who invaded the peninsula at different periods. But they had originally no clear consciousness of race, and any strong Slavonic Power was able to impose itself upon them. One may say safely that for historical reasons the people of Kossovo and the North West are definitely Serbs, while the people of Ochrida are clearly Bulgarians. The affinities of the rest of Macedonia are decided on purely political grounds. Language teaches us very little. The differences between literary Servian and Bulgarian are not considerable, but they are very definite. The Macedonian dialect is neither one nor the other, but in certain structural features it agrees rather with Bulgarian than with Servian. This, however, means little; for modern Servian is not the language of Dushan, but the dialect of Belgrade. A southern Macedonian finds no difficulty in making himself understood in Dushan's country (Uskub and Prizrend), though he will feel a foreigner in Belgrade. One must also discount the effects of propaganda. A priest or teacher from Sofia or Belgrade who settles in a village will modify its dialect considerably in the course of a generation. This process may be observed at work round such centres as Uskub, where both Servians and Bulgarians are active. A trained ear can now detect a difference speech
between villages which are only a few miles apart, and even the foreigner notices that while the Bulgarophil peasants answer a question in the affirmative with "Da," the Serbophils say "Yis." The element of accident in these political affinities is very large. It is not uncommon to find fathers who are themselves officially "Greeks" equally proud of bringing into the world "Greek," "Servian," "Bulgarian," and "Roumanian" children. The passion for education is strong, and the various propagandas pander eagerly to it. If a father cannot contrive to place all his sons in a secondary school belonging to the race which he himself affects, the prospect of a bursary will often induce him to plant them out in rival establishments. It is, of course, a point of honour that a boy who is educated at the expense of one or other of these peoples must himself adopt its language and its nationality. The same process is at work among the villages. I remember vividly my amazement when I encountered this quaint phenomenon during my first visit to Macedonia. I was talking to a wealthy peasant who came in from a neighbouring village to Monastir market. He spoke Greek well, but hardly like a native. "Is your village Greek," I asked him, "or Bulgarian ?" "Well," he replied, "it is Bulgarian now, but four years ago it was Greek." The answer seemed to him entirely natural and commonplace. "How," I asked in some bewilderment, "did that miracle come about ?" "Why," said he, "we are all poor men, but we want to have our own school and a priest who will look after us properly. We used to have a Greek teacher. We paid him £5 a year and his bread, while the Greek consul paid him another £5; but we had no priest of our own. We shared a priest with several other villages, but he was very unpunctual and remiss. We went to the Greek Bishop to complain, but he refused to do anything for us. The Bulgarians heard of this and they came and made us an offer. They said they would give us a priest who would live in the village and a teacher to whom we need pay nothing. Well, sir, ours is a poor village, and so of course we became Bulgarians." One can picture this rather quaint
revolution. The little man who had once been to Athens abandons the
hopeless task of teaching Greek to children who had learnt only Slav from
their mothers. The legend that Alexander the Great was a Greek goes out
by one road, and the rival myth that Alexander was a Bulgarian comes in
by the other. The Mass, which was droned unpunctually in ancient Greek,
is now droned (punctually) in ancient Slav. But beneath the rather comic
aspects of this incident the fact remains that the village was now obtaining
education in its own tongue, and opening its doors to civilising influences
which came to it in a form which it could assimilate and make its own.
The bribe of £5 did but hasten an inevitable process. I have heard
a witty French consul declare that with a fund of a million francs he would
undertake to make all Macedonia French. He would preach that the Macedonians
are the descendants of the French crusaders who conquered Salonica in the
twelfth century, and the francs would do the rest. But after all, the Greeks
dispose of ample funds, and yet the Greeks have lost Macedonia.
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