Macedonia & Its Questions

Origins, Margins, Ruptures & Continuity

by Victor A Friedman (Volume editor) Goran Janev (Volume editor) George Vlahov (Volume editor)
Edited Collection X, 378 Pages


Macedonia and its Questions: Origins, Margins, Ruptures and Continuity is a multi-disciplinary book of 11 chapters, containing contributions that span the fields of linguistics, political science, sociology, history and law. The title of the book purposefully references but simultaneously interrogates and challenges the idea that certain nation-states and certain ethnicities can in some way constitute a "question" while others do not. The "Macedonian Question" generally has the status of a problem that involves questioning the very existence of Macedonians and one of the aims of this volume is to reframe the nature of the discussion.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • A Question of Language
  • 1. “Come Over into Macedonia and Help Us” Evidence for the Macedonian Language in the 19th Century.
  • 2. The Name Dispute between Greece and Macedonia: Macedonian Identity via the Prism of Greek Policy in Relation to the Macedonian Language in Ottoman Macedonia
  • 3. Macedonian at the Margins: The Dialects of Kostur (Καστοριά)
  • 4. Features of Macedonian-English Discourse: Code-switching as a (not so) Peripheral Attribute of Australian-Macedonians’ Vernaculars.
  • Genealogies & Consequences
  • 5. Jewels, Bats, and Shamans: Asian Seeds on the Soil of Greek Modernity
  • 6. Yugoslav Communism and the Macedonian Question: The Metodija Andonov-Čento Affair, 1946
  • 7. The Uses and Abuses of Neoliberalism and Technocracy in the Post-totalitarian Regimes in Eastern Europe: The Case of Macedonia
  • Human Rights & Wrongs
  • 8. Persecution of the “Non-Existent”: Repression of Macedonians in Bulgaria during the Communist Period (1944–1989)
  • 9. Forced Assimilation and Discursive Hegemony: Why the Macedonian Minority Continues to be Oppressed in Greece
  • 10. Europe's Margin of Appreciation for Greece: Is it Time for a New Approach?
  • 11. The Prespa Agreement & Misrecognition


Victor Friedman, Goran Janev & George Vlahov

Our title purposefully references but simultaneously interrogates and challenges the idea that certain nation-states and certain ethnicities can in some way constitute a “question” while others do not. It is for this reason that we put Macedonia in possession of its questions in our title. What makes Macedonia so contested can be answered by questioning those who would be the questioners. Our aim in this volume is to reframe the terms of investigation. The “Macedonian Question” generally has the status of a problem along with and among its immediate and more distant neighbours. Even the most casual Google search, if properly phrased, can give a sense of the spirit of our times. It also confirms what one might expect: If one types in <the [X] question> the first four or five results vary across a specific spectrum, depending on which ethnicity, region, nationality, or nation-state one types in as [X]. At one end of the spectrum are references that question whether the entity should or even does exist, and if so, who should own it. Here, “Macedonian” is joined by entities such as “Albanian”, “Bessarabian”, and, if one goes far enough back in time, “Bulgarian”, and even further back “French” and “German”. Tellingly, a search concerning “the Greek question” leads one first to articles asking “Where’s the money going to come from?” but not whether “Greek” is a language, ethno-national identity, etc.1 By contrast, the other end of the spectrum will immediately yield references to the grammatical means of forming interrogative sentences, with absolutely no political or other non-linguistic connotations whatsoever, e.g. “the Romanian question” immediately responds with sites that explain how to say ‘who? what? where?’, etc. in Romanian.2 As Keith Brown (2015: 41) has cogently put it: “Whereas scholars appear to have reached broad consensus on using the terms “Greek,” “Bulgarian,” “Serbian” and “Albanian” as ethno-national categories to designate individuals, households, communities and languages [...], they often hesitate to use “Macedonian” in the same way.” In this volume, we make no such hesitations – we take “Macedonian” as a referential term on the same level as “Greek”, “Bulgarian”, “Serbian”, “Albanian”, etc. That said, as in the formation and continuation of every ethno-national identity, there are topics worthy of investigations, and these topics can be phrased in terms of questions. It is such questions, with reference to Macedonia and Macedonian, that we investigate here. Most of the articles in this book are based on papers presented at a conference on Modern Macedonian studies held in the Hellenic Republic. The conference “Macedonia: on the Periphery of European Modernity” was held in Florina, Greece on 16–19 July 2015. The questions that can be asked about Macedonia, as about any ethno-national identity, pertain to the thematics of this volume: origins, margins, and ruptures/continuities. The texts in this interdisciplinary book address these questions and are organized along these three broad themes: A Question of Language, Genealogies & Consequences, and Human Rights & Wrongs.

The section on language begins with Grace Fielder's discussion of how protestant missionary activities in the 19th century both reflected and influenced struggles over the dialectal bases of what would become the Bulgarian and Macedonian standard languages. The contribution by Dimitar Ljorovski Vamvakovski & Donche Tasev is concerned with approximately the same time period, but from a Greek perspective, examining the treatment of the Macedonian language in Greek sources from the Ottoman period. They highlight some remarkable early 20th century exceptions to the Greek nationalist norm of not recognising the Macedonian language. Although this article was completed prior to the ratification of the Prespa Agreement in 2019 the basic points being made continue to be valid. Victor Friedman discusses Macedonian dialects and their relationship to other languages in an area that was long characterized by multilingualism, namely the Kastoria (Macedonian Kostur) region in what is now Greece. Jim Hlavac concludes the section on language by focusing on the feature of code-switching among Macedonian speakers in Australia, who have exhibited a surprisingly high level of language maintenance.

The section on Genealogies & Consequences begins with Akis Gavriilidis tracing aspects of the origins of the Greek nationalist imaginary and a focus on its exclusivist, totalising consequences. Andrew Rossos discusses the political life of Metodija Andonov-Čento and counts him as a victim of the totalitarian tendencies of the Yugoslav Communist Party. Katerina Kolozova concludes the section with an examination of Macedonia's Gruevski led government (2006–2016). Gruevski's manner of governance is viewed as a conservative, authoritarian and patriarchal legacy of the Communist era.

The section entitled Human Rights and Wrongs is begun by Stojko Stojkov and George Vasilev, who, respectively, discuss human rights abuses experienced by members of the Macedonian minorities in Bulgaria and Greece. Vasko Nastevski, utilising the case of Greece, argues that the European Court of Human Rights needs a new judicial approach and lastly, George Vlahov discusses aspects of the recent Prespa Agreement, concluding that it constitutes a case of misrecognition.

Victor Friedman, Goran Janev & George Vlahov

Chicago, Skopje & Melbourne

December 2019


Brown, Keith: Friction in the Archives: On “Macedonians,” Macedonians and the Ottoman Transatlantic. In: Balkanistica, 28 (2015), 41–64.

1 We use this term to refer to the complex intersection between ethnicity and nationality, rather than as a means to refer to manifestations of intolerant nationalism as contrasted with tolerant civic or juridical inclusive nationalisms. Our model here is census documents, such as those used in the Republic of Macedonia, in which “nationality” is a self-ascribed identity that may or may not correspond with a nation-state or ethnic group.

2 In some cases, the nature of the name of the ethnic group requires a different alphabet for the search. A search for the Shop or even Šop, Shopi, or Šopi will yield nothing but mercantile references while Шопският въпрос “the Shop Question” immediately brings up political articles, although the fifth reference is already to jokes rather than politics. Searching “Çam question” brings up only one relevant hit, while “Çam” and “Çamëri” do not bring up any.


1.“Come Over into Macedonia and Help Us”
Evidence for the Macedonian Language in the 19th Century.

Grace E. Fielder

University of Arizona


1. Introduction

This paper builds on a previous discussion of language standardization in Balkan Slavic that compared the intertwined trajectories of the western Macedonian and eastern Bulgarian variants of Balkan Slavic leading up to and following the 1913 partition of Macedonia (Fielder 2015a). The focus here, however, is on the 19th century, when protestant missionary activity in the Balkans provides documented evidence of competition between a western variant (sometimes called “Macedonian”) and an eastern variant (sometimes called “pure Bulgarian”) for what would eventually become the Bulgarian standard language in 1899. A watershed moment in norm selection, i.e. the choice of the eastern variant over the western variant, I will argue, is a “partition” that took place in 1858 when the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and American Methodist Episcopal Church agreed to divide Balkan Slavic territory into two missions. The Methodists took responsibility for territory north of the Balkan Mountains and south of the Danube, which they often referred to as “Bulgaria proper”, and the ABCFM the territory to the south (roughly Thrace, Macedonia, and the territory that would become Eastern Rumelia in 1878). This “Missionary Partition” occurred 20 years prior to the Treaty of Berlin, which produced an autonomous Bulgarian principality in June 1878.1 With that treaty the Great Powers created the Principality of Bulgaria, the boundaries of which coincided to a large extent with the territory of the Methodist mission, while south of the Balkan Mountains it established the autonomous province of Eastern Roumelia and left Macedonia within the ←1 | 2→boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. Although the 1858 “Missionary Partition” was not a political one, I would argue that this division is geopolitically significant because it constituted a mapping of Balkan territory by missionaries that foreshadowed emerging national identities and the subsequent boundary drawing by political agents in 1878 as well as having an impact on the sociocultural processes of language standardization.

As discussed in Fielder 2015a, the government in Veliko Tarnovo reacted to the boundaries of the Treaty of Berlin by moving the capital to Sofia in order to be closer to the “lost” Macedonian territories. This move was for the most part symbolic since the ruling elite in Veliko Tarnovo simply relocated en masse bringing with them, among other cultural baggage, their (north) eastern language variant. This resulted in a diglossic situation in which the western variant spoken by the residents of Sofia was marginalized and the eastern variant of the elite newcomers privileged. The Standard Bulgarian that was later signed into law in 1899 specifically excluded and placed in the periphery the very southwestern population of speakers that this elite wanted to claim as one of their own (Videnov 1997: 40–48, Marinov 2013). With the partition of Macedonia in 1913 and the massive influx of refugees from Aegean Macedonia into the capital city of Sofia, over time there has emerged an even more marked, hyper-western variant, particularly among urban youth, that has reinterpreted features of Aegean Macedonian dialects as part of the already ongoing conflict between western and eastern variants of the Standard Bulgarian language. This reinterpretation is in effect a type of “erasure” (Gal and Irvine 1995) whereby the Aegean Macedonian language variant of the refugees has been absorbed into the western periphery of the Bulgarian (eastern) standard language. I argue that a similar erasure took place in the wake of post-1858 language ideology when the competition between eastern and western variants intensified. The role of protestant missionaries and the “transposition”2 of the New Testament into the eastern variant played an influential role in the reinterpretation of the relationship of western and eastern variants of Balkan Slavic, i.e. pre-standardized Macedonian and Bulgarian, respectively, and the valorization of the eastern variant over the western as more appropriate for the language that would be ←2 | 3→called standard or literary Bulgarian. Thus I disagree with Clarke who asserts that

the 1871 Bible [in the eastern variant] and related publications helped establish a Bulgarian literary language for both Bulgarians and Macedonians, thereby reducing the impact of Macedonia on the Bulgarian cultural scene. This, in turn, did foster — but only to a slight degree — Macedonian separatism. The heart of the Macedonian Question was political, not linguistic. (Hupchick 1988: 298–299)

Clarke bases this assessment on what he claims is the first account of the 19th century Bulgarian Bible translation: an "article" by Elias Riggs which appeared in the Missionary Herald in 1872. In fact, there is substantial material published earlier in a variety of missionary reports and correspondence that, when examined using a critical sociolinguistic lens, supports and illuminates the impact of linguistic differences on the Macedonian Question. First, however, it is necessary to provide some background on theSprocess of language standardization and its socio-political context in the next section, based on my earlier discussion in Fielder 2015a. I will then examine the evidence for two competing norms: the (Macedonian) western norm and the (Bulgarian) eastern norm in the first half of the 19th century as documented by protestant missionaries and propose a different interpretation of the impact of Bible translation on the subsequent standardization of both Macedonian and Bulgarian.

2. Language Standardization in the Balkans.

The emergence of standard languages on Balkan territory is closely connected with Herder’s romantic notion of language, culture and Volksgeist. As Mühlhäusler (1996: 358) points out the notion of a ‘language’ is “a recent culture-specific notion associated with the rise of European nation states and the Enlightenment.” It is important therefore to keep in mind that the standardization of languages in the Balkans, like all historical events, occurred at specific times in specific spaces and involved specific actors. With the gradual shrinking of Ottoman-held territory in the 19th century (Serbia became an autonomous principality in 1817, and the Sultan finally recognized the independence of the kingdom of Greece in 1832), the question of how to determine or define nations ←3 | 4→became more pressing. The emphasis of this indivisible nature of language, race and geographic territory in Herder’s ideology set the stage for language standardization as a form of nation building in the 19th century Balkans. Emerging (or potentially emerging) Balkan nations were very aware of what was at stake in language standardization, and this is reflected in the different trajectories of standardization processes for the different languages. At issue was not just discovering or inventing the standard language, but identifying the right kind of language that would capture and represent the essence of the people, as well as ideally be territorially located for the purposes of drawing future political boundaries. Since one goal of language standardization is to authenticate a particular variety of language for a people and/or nation, I have suggested that the standardization of a language is in fact a type of identity formation in which language is equated with the nation, its people, and their character as the supreme metonym (Fielder 2012).

The “language question” in the Balkans, like so many debates over appropriate language, can be viewed as a range of positions with respect to two issues. The first is whether a more archaic and prestigious variant, e.g., New Testament Greek or Old Church Slavonic for Slavic languages, should be used or a vernacular variant that would be more understandable to the wider populace. Support for the archaic variant typically came from the educated elite, in particular the clergy, since they were often the only ones who had control of this variant. Second, if the vernacular option was chosen, then the next choice is whether a particular variant, e.g., a geographical dialect, often of the capital of a country, should be favored or a supradialectal norm be constructed.3 The ideology of language standardization is such that once chosen, this favored variant is then presented as inherently suitable for the functions of a standard language for the given ethnonational group seeking recognition from political actors both within and without the desired territory. This standard language is conceptualized as a natural entity that is already in existence and only waiting to be discovered by the appropriate linguistically gifted speaker with sufficiently recognized authority (see the discussions on language ideology in Coupland 2003, who distinguishes establishment versus vernacular ideological values, and Gal 2006, see also Fielder 2012 and 2015b).

←4 | 5→

However, as Makoni and Pennycook (2007) point out, languages are not essentialist entities, but rather social constructions, invented often as part of Christian, colonial and nationalist projects. Since “the language” and “the people” are co-constructed in a specific socio-historical context, there is usually more than one viable candidate for this vital role. In the first half of the 19th century on South Slavic territory there were a number of different vernacular options in play. The Illyrian variant, for example, conceptualized by Ljudovit Gaj and his followers (mainly Croats living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) as a pan-Slavic language for all South Slavs (including Bulgarians), competed with Vuk Karadžić’s East Herzegovian variant, promoted initially for vernacular Serbian and then what was eventually to become Serbo-Croatian, and later Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian. The breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent dissolution of Serbo-Croatian/Croato-Serbian as a unitary national standard language illustrates the interconnectedness and fragility of such inventions.4

It is in this sociolinguistic context that we need to situate the competing variants for what would eventually become the Bulgarian standard language in the second half of the 19th century and the precursor role of vernacular Bible translation.

3. Missionaries, Bible Translation and Language Standardization

The role of missionaries and Bible translation into vernacular languages is a well-documented industry and Bible translation has frequently served as one way for a vernacular language to attain sociopolitical recognition (see Kamusella 2012 for both historical and contemporary discussion). A recent example is the translation of the New Testament into Jamaican patois in 2012, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from Britain.5 Modern studies of protestant missionary activity in the Balkans have focused on evangelical education and Bible translation as contributing positively to the Bulgarian National Awakening (Clarke 1971, Doğan 2013, and Genov 2001). At the same time, postcolonial studies has problematized missionary activities in ←5 | 6→other areas of the world, such as India and Africa, arguing that missionaries were often complicit, knowingly or not, with the imperialist goals of western colonialism (see, for example, Sugirtharajah 2005 and 2006). The role of protestant missionaries in bringing “The Bulgarian Atrocities” to the attention of the British public in 1876 is one example of missionary influence on political action (Millman 1979 and Saab 1934/1991), since they were often considered by diplomats to be “expert witnesses” with respect to the situation on the ground.6

My own research into the history of Bible translation in the Balkans was initially focused on tracking down details about a particular translation of the New Testament into vernacular Greek completed in the 1820s by Hilarion of Mount Sinai, later Metropolitan of Tirnovo (1821–1827 and 1831–1838) for the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS). My goal was to attempt to date more precisely the Konikovo Gospel, a Sunday reader in parallel vernacular Greek and an Aegean Macedonian dialect sometime between the late 18th and early 19th centuries (see Fielder 2015b, Friedman 2008, and Leiwo 2008 for possible date ranges, as well as Lindstedt et al. 2008 for a thorough study of this manuscript). As it turns out Hilarion was also instrumental in supporting the translation of the New Testament into what was then called Bulgarian by teacher and monk Neofit Rilski. Leo Weiner’s 1898 article in Modern Language Notes summarizes the contribution of “Anglo-Saxon” missionaries to Bulgaria, specifically with respect to the role of the American missionary Elias Riggs in the vernacular Bulgarian translation of the New Testament. The following passage particularly caught my attention.

Neophytos himself was a Macedonian, and his translation of the New Testament was made in his native dialect. […] The latter [Elias Riggs] insisted on a pure Bulgarian of the Western (Macedonian) type, since for a time to come he expected to confine his missionary efforts to the country this side of the Balkan Mountains. The Gospels were frequently re-printed and were received by the people with the greatest enthusiasm, and for a period of two decades served as a model for the written idiom of the nation. Later, when culture penetrated into Bulgaria Proper, this abnormal state of raising a dialect spoken beyond the provinces of the country to the ←6 | 7→dignity of a literary language could not be maintained. (Weiner 1898: 38–39)

Here is a claim by an American scholar (Harvard’s first Slavic Professor, in fact) with access to extensive written records,7 i.e. reports, journals, correspondence of missionaries who lived in the Balkans and worked with the vernacular languages as part of the Bible translation mission, that for two decades, namely 1840–1860, the western Macedonian dialect served as the model for the written language of what was then called Bulgarian. This time period corresponds roughly to the second of Friedman’s four periods for the development of Macedonian language and supports his assertion that at this time many intellectuals favored a common Macedo-Bulgarian language based on the western variant.

I.1794c.1840: The period of the first published texts employing Macedonian dialects. The awakening of a Slavic national consciousness.

II.c.18401870: The period of the first textbooks. Many intellectuals favor a common Macedo-Bulgarian literary language based to a large extent on Macedonian.

III.18701913: The period of the first grammars and nationalist publications. Establishment of Bulgarian Exarchate, Ilinden, partition of Macedonia.

IV.19131944: Development of Macedonian literature and establishment of Macedonian literary language.

(Friedman 2000:193–194)

Some historical context concerning the initial activities of protestant missionaries in what they called European Turkey is in order since they fall within Friedman’s first period, namely the awakening of a Slavic ethno-national ←7 | 8→consciousness as distinct from Greek. The BFBS was established in 1804, and in 1819 Robert Pinkerton obtained the permission of the newly appointed Patriarch Gregory V for the translation of the New Testament into vernacular Greek, Bulgarian and Albanian. This meeting was subsequent to Jernej Kopitar’s extensive correspondence with the BFBS and its agents in 1815 and Pinkerton’s personal meeting with Kopitar in 1816 in Vienna. At the time Kopitar was advocating for Vuk Karadžić to translate the New Testament into vernacular Serbian (or rather the eastern Herzegovinian dialect favored by Vuk) for the BFBS, as well as proposing Bible translations into Bulgarian, Wallachian and Albanian. Pinkerton’s subsequent report to the BFBS on the Slavic dialects8 and what vernacular translations would be desirable was clearly informed by Kopitar’s views. (See Kuzmić 2004 for the relationship of Kopitar, Pinkerton and the BFBS and the Serbian New Testament). Thus when Pinkerton traveled in 1819 to Constantinople he had already been made aware that there were (Bulgarian) Slavic and Albanian speakers in addition to Greek speakers in the Ottoman Empire, which explains his motivation for adding Albanian and Bulgarian to the BFBS original request for the approval of a vernacular Greek translation of the New Testament.9

It is also worth noting that at this particular point in time, regardless of Kopitar’s own views on South Slavic dialects and languages, Bulgarian was not universally acknowledged by language scholars as a separate language from Serbian. In fact Friedman (2000: 173) points out that it was only in 1822 that Vuk Karadžić persuaded Slavist Jozef Dubrovský of the difference and even later, only in 1868, that the Serb state adopted Vuk’s vernacular Serbian for the literary language in place of the archaic (Russian) Church Slavonic variant (de Bray 1980: 78, 312; Lunt 1984: 115, Naylor 1980: 80, cited in Friedman 2000). Friedman (2000) argues that it was strong political forces that prevented Macedonian from becoming a standard language until 1945, as was not the case with Serbian and Bulgarian.10 In addition to these strong political forces, I argue ←8 | 9→that the missionary sponsorship of Bible translations into vernacular Balkan Slavic also influenced the different outcome of language standardization on Balkan Slavic territory.


X, 378
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (June)
"Macedonian Question", Misrecognition Prespa Agreement Macedonian Minority human rights international law language standardisation Macedonian language
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. X, 378 pp., 2 fig. col., 3 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Victor A Friedman (Volume editor) Goran Janev (Volume editor) George Vlahov (Volume editor)

Victor Friedman is Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at the University of Chicago and Honorary Adjunct at La Trobe University. His Ph.D. in both Linguistics and Slavic Languages and Literatures is from the University of Chicago, and he holds the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from Sts. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje. He is a foreign member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of North Macedonia, the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Kosova, and the Academy of Sciences of Albania, and he holds the "1300 years of Bulgaria" jubilee medal from the Republic of Bulgaria as well as the Medal of Merit from the Republic of Macedonia. He has received awards for outstanding contributions to scholarship from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies and from the Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. His research deals with all aspects of the languages of the Balkans as well as Daghestanian and Kartvelian linguistics. Goran Janev is professor of social anthropology at the "Sts Cyril and Methodius" University, Skopje, Macedonia. He is employed as a research fellow at the Institute for Sociological, Political and Juridical Research at the same University. He has completed a DPhil in Social Anthropology at the Oxford University. He has written about the interethnic relations and the rise of ethnocracy in Macedonia and the symbolic landscape transformations in the construction of the national identity. His current research interests focus on urban studies, public space, symbolic landscapes, socialist monuments, cultural heritage, and diversity. George Vlahov is an academic at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences and a PhD candidate who specialises in social theory. He has previously written about Arnason's social theory and the "Macedonian Question".


Title: Macedonia & Its Questions
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