Macedonians in Bulgaria, their situation regarding education and employment and problems encountered by non-political Macedonians; the United Macedonian Organization(Ilinden (UMO(Ilinden), its structure, its membership, number of branches and their location, its propensity to violence, its official publication (Awakening) and treatment of its members; and information on Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VRMO). [BGR29168.E]

The information which follows is based on an unpublished article by Professor John D. Bell who teaches history at University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus (UMBC). The article entitled "The 'Ilindentsi' ( Does Bulgaria have a Macedonian Minority?" is scheduled to appear in the 1 August 1998 issue of Bulgaria in Transition, a Westview Press publication based in Boulder, Colorado. The information in the article has been supplemented by a telephone interview with Professor Bell which took place on 27 May 1998.

As the population at large in the Pirin district views itself as Bulgarian, there are no feelings of ethnically-based discrimination with regard to education and employment in the region. The 1992 Bulgarian census reveals that only 10,000 Bulgarian citizens have declared themselves as Macedonians, although the Macedonian population of the Pirin district is estimated at 250,000 by the United Macedonian Organization(Ilinden. Nevertheless, about one-quarter of the general overall Bulgarian population can link their origins to greater Macedonia.

After the Pirin district was declared part of Bulgaria in 1913, there was a massive influx of Slav-speaking people from Greece and Yugoslavia into the Pirin District who "appeared to fit seamlessly into the Bulgarian population" and the Macedonian language was not taught or even used by the local population. After WW II, the possibility that the Pirin area would eventually be handed over to the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia led the Bulgarian authorities to allow "missionaries" from the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to teach the Macedonian language to the local population. However, no "genuine feeling of Macedonian nationality" would emerge from this initiative as Bulgarian authorities, from 1956 onwards, would refute the existence of a distinct Macedonian nation within Bulgaria.

As for employment opportunities, although there is no ethnic-based feeling of discrimination in the Pirin district, the region remains an economically depressed area where regional resentment against the central government could possibly develop.

The various Macedonian groups who formed the UMO(Ilinden in March 1990 claimed that they represented the "250,000 Macedonians" in the Pirin district, and called for unification with the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Greek Macedonians. UMO(Ilinden promotes the idea that Macedonians have their own nationality and speak their own language. It is also UMO(Ilinden's contention that the people in the Pirin district do not perceive themselves as Bulgarians: they would rather identify with the Macedonian state. After being denied official registration, UMO(Ilinden's call for separation from Bulgaria was dropped from its political platform and was replaced by a pledge to promote Macedonian national feelings by peaceful means. UMO(Ilinden is still denied official registration. Although a 6 November 1997 BTA news agency report states that the Blagoevgrad chapter of UMO(Ilinden publishes a newspaper (no title given) which is legally distributed in Bulgaria. Blagoevgrad is the capital city of the Pirin District.

UMO(Ilinden is divided in two distinct groups. The faction led by Kiril Pavlov and Angel Bezev identifies itself as UMO(Ilinden's mainstream and has vowed to pursue its goals by legal means. The "activist" faction, led by Yordan Kostadinov, is more inclined to distribute leaflets and draw graffiti rather than preparing for an armed insurrection.

According to 1991 government sponsored investigation, the UMO(Ilinden membership varies from 1,500 to a maximum of 2,500. However, active members would only amount from 200 to a maximum of 300. The number of branches are unknown and meetings are held in private homes.

Although non-politicized ethnic Macedonians are not subject to any kind of official reprisals, those who, like UMO(Ilinden activists, are promoting Macedonian identity and the union of the Pirin district with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) could be exposed to some harassment, such as having one's passport confiscated or being called by the police for interrogation. However, there is no indication that UMO(Ilinden has broadened its support since its creation, and public polls and manifestations have indicated that UMO(Ilinden's political viewpoints have not found their way into the population in general. It would appear, according to Professor Bell that "as the danger of Macedonian separatism shrinks in the public mind, it is becoming harder to defend the idea that repressive measures are required to protect the country against UMO(Ilinden."

In his article, Professor Bell blames the 1991 Helsinki Watch report entitled "Destroying Ethnic Identity: Selective Persecution of Macedonians in Bulgaria," (which was mostly based on interviews conducted with UMO-Ilinden members), for having influenced international human rights organizations with regard to Macedonians as well as the Department of State which then raised the issue in its annual report. According to professor Bell, the UMO(Ilinden used the Helsinki Watch report to prove the existence of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria and the legitimacy of its cause.

As for the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO or IMRO), which is described in a 31 March 1998 Skopje Radio Macedonia report as an "anti-democratic organization with sinister aims," it is a legal organization which promotes the idea of a greater Bulgaria. The VMRO, formerly the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (Union of Macedonian Societies (VRMO(SMD or IMRO(UMS) was created at the same time as UMO(Ilinden by Bulgarians with roots in Macedonia at large who were not in favour of the idea of a Macedonian nation (ibid.; MIC News Bulletin 23 Apr. 1998). IMRO(UMS has "lobbied energetically against the recognition of a distinct Macedonian nationality and language." The same organization has 200 branches throughout Bulgaria and made its presence felt in the Pirin district by opening clubs and cultural centres to preserve the "Bulgarian character" of the region.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Bell, John D. ed. Bulgaria in Transition [Boulder, CO]. 1 August 1998. John D. Bell. "The 'Ilindentsi' ( Does Bulgaria Have a Macedonian Minority?"

BTA news agency [Sofia, in English]. 6 November 1997. "Banned Ethnic Macedonian Organization Plans Separate State." (NEXIS)

MIC News Bulletin [Skopje, in English]. 21 April 1998. "Ethnic Macedonians Reportedly Prevented From Visiting Tomb." (BBC Summary 23 Apr. 1998/NEXIS)

Professor of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus. 27 May 1998. Telephone interview.

Radio Macedonia [Skopje, in Macedonian]. 31 March 1998. "Macedonian Body Warns of Increasing Tensions with Macedonia." (BBC Summary 2 Apr. 1998/NEXIS)