The collapse of Yugoslavia and the future of the Macedonian Literary Language (A Late Case of Glototomy?)

Prof. Otto Kronsteiner (Austria)

“To split one language into two is something that even the world’s greatest fictionists have not dared to do. However, our scientists have done it for political, not linguistic, reasons.”

Leonida Lari, Romanian writer from Moldova [Literatura si arta am 18.8.1988]

The European languages that are spoken outside “their” country are not few. E.g. German in Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Poland, Russia; Spanish in Spain, but also in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, etc. However, nowhere has been a need, nor has an attempt been made to create a new (state) language (Austrian, Liechtenstein, Argentine, Chilean, etc.), regardless of the fact that in the use of the languages ​​some very obvious differences appear.

Many of the minority languages ​​have never had their own country, and others for a very short time. Nevertheless, they have maintained their distinctiveness over the centuries and have awaited their recognition. This applies to Ladin, Basque, Breton, Sardinian, Catalan, etc. Unlike the cases mentioned, there was never been a need to create a literary language of its own for the Bulgarian-speaking Slavs living outside Bulgaria (eg in Vardar or Aegean Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine). Just as there was no Macedonian linguistic community that for centuries dreamed of recognition of its linguistic identity.

It is only in this century that linguistic divisions (glottotomies[1]) have been undertaken for political rather than linguistic reasons. In the west (cf. Slovene/Vinda) they failed. In the East, however, languages ​​forcibly constructed during communism (socialism) (such as Romanian/Moldavian [2]), Finnish/Karelian, Tatar/Gagauz, etc.) had a longer “life” due to political coercion. Whoever did not accept this division was considered a nationalist and was treated accordingly. In the realm of politics, the issue was to secure through linguistic division the new political boundaries in order to remove the sense of former common belonging to a single entity [3]). The strategies for the creation of such new languages ​​were created in the communist areas according to the same principles:

glottotomy - Macedonian language
glottotomy – Macedonian language

A scientist (scientific collective) published orthography, grammar, dictionary, bilingual dictionaries (but never from the old to the new language, i.e. never Romanian-Moldavian, but only Moldavian-Russian, etc.). Before long, a historical grammar, a history of the language, and a history of the new nation were being printed. The Academy of Sciences, the National Theater and the National Folklore Ensemble were created as “flank” events. At the same time, a national literature appeared, and the first creator in one or another genre immediately became a great dramatist, romantic or lyricist in the new language [4]. All this, in turn, required the writing of a literary history. As a political accompaniment, a sentence characteristic of communist countries sounded that the (new) language is “a highly developed step in the service of the whole culture”. And the direction of development was determined by the (unspoken) statement “the worse the old language is treated, the better for the new”, i.e. the worse one speaks/writes Romanian, the better one speaks/writes Moldovan. And this means constantly deepening the artificial distance from the old language (also by force).

All this applies to the Macedonian literary language (македонскјot јазик).

Creation time: 1944 г.

Place of creation: SRM (within SFRY) – “Prokhor Pchinsky” monastery

Speakers: about 1,000,000 Bulgarians (in Macedonia).

Oldest linguistic monument: В-к “Нова Македония” – “New Macedonia”


  • H. Lunt, A Grammer of the Macedonian Literary Language, Skopje, 1952, Blaze Koneski, Grammar of the Macedonian language. Part I: Introduction, On Vowels and Their Use, Skopje, 1957.
  • Blaze Koneski, History of the Macedonian language, Skopje – Belgrade, 1965, 1981, 1982
  • Orthography of the Macedonian Literary Language, Skopje, 1970, 1979.
  • Dictionary of the Macedonian language with Serbian-Croatian interpretations /I-III/, Skopje, 1961 – 1966, 1979, 1986.
  • V. Milicik, Reverse dictionary of the Macedonian language, Skopje, 1967.
  • Bilingual dictionaries and textbooks in German, English, French, Polish, Romanian, Russian and Slovenian.
  • Scientific journal “Macedonian Language” from 1954.
  • M. Georgievski, Macedonian literary heritage from the XI to the XVIII century, Skopje, 1979.
  • D. Mitrev, Postwar Macedonian Poets, Anthology, Skopje, 1960.
  • M. Drugovac, Contemporary Macedonian Writers, Skopje, 1979.
  • M. Tashkovski, On the Ethnogenesis of the Macedonian People, Skopje, 1974.
  • History of the Macedonian People / Institute of National History, Skopje, 1969.
    • I: From prehistoric times to the end of the 18th century.
    • II: From the beginning of the 19th century to the end of the First World War.
    • III: The period between the two world wars and the people’s revolution /1918 – 1945/.

While T. STAMATOSKI (also Stamatov, Stamatovski) already in 1986 wrote about the struggle for Macedonian literary language, looking both back and forward into the future (?) (Struggle for Macedonian Literary Language, Skopje), Blaže Koneski three years earlier had already told in “Communist” (1376, dated 29.7.1983) about the acceptance and confirmation of this literary language (Affirmation of the Macedonian language. A fully formed modern literary language, Skopje).

The historical phonology of the new language created in 1944 looks particularly cabaret (Bl. Koneski, A. Historical Phonology of the Macedonian Language, Heidelberg 1983).

A move away was made not only from the Bulgarian language, but also from its very rich literature, as well as from the world’s translated literature. In order to still save something, the collection of songs by the Miladino brothers, who were born in Macedonia, was used, which is entitled “Bulgarian folk songs”, 1861 and contains songs from Struga, Ohrid, Prilep, Kukush, Kostur, etc. parts of Vardar and Aegean Macedonia. In 1962 it appeared in Skopje under the forged title “Collection”, with the forged names Miladinovci and with a forged “Macedonian” text as “the most significant published work of Macedonian literature”.

To the name (glotonym) Macedonian

The adjective Macedonian (Bulgarian Macedonian, Greek makedonikos, Alb. magedonas) was not used as a glottonym before 1944. Until then Macedonian was an adjective for the region (choronym) Macedonia.[5] Since after 1944 it is (almost never) clear whether the use of the word Macedonian refers to a choronym or a glotonym, a conceptual confusion arose (and deliberately induced) which proved to be conducive to establishing the myths of a Macedonian nation. The impression was created that this language has been the language of the “country” Macedonia almost from time immemorial. Alexander the Great was Macedonian, Cyril and Methodius were Macedonian, but so was Kemal Atatürk (something that is often glossed over) Macedonian. However, none of the above has anything to do with the Macedonian literary language of Mr. Blaze Koneski (i.e. Blagoi Konev). And to make the delusion complete, it is written in history and geography textbooks:

“Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, etc. live in SRM.” This seizure of state names is a clever means of forcibly separating (cf. French, Breton, Basque – all inhabitants of France), etc., instead of French French, Breton French, Basque French, or (in the case of the common territory of a people) French Breton, French Basque, etc. It is correct to say: the Bulgarian Macedonians, the Albanian Macedonians, the Turkish Macedonians, etc. (in this case the inhabitants of the Republic of Macedonia) or – as it was written in the royal scientific literature until 1944 (e.g. Weygand) – the Macedonian Bulgarians, the Macedonian Albanians, the Macedonian Turks, etc. (in the common territory of one people). Since, through the new Macedonian language, the previous Bulgarian officially ceased to exist (!), i.e. became a (very distant!) foreign language, the glottonym and the ethnonym Bulgarian also disappeared.

Towards the orthography of the Macedonian literary language

Just as the Cyrillic script was introduced to Moldavian in order to distance itself from Romanian, so the Macedonian glottotomists decided to adopt the Serbian alphabet (or orthography), including the now mythical letters Ќ, Ѓ (in Bulgarian Щ, ЖД, and Serbian h, ђ). The essence of the Macedonian alphabet lies in these two letters and in their phonetic pealization. Therefore, quite rightly, the joke arose: Macedonian is Bulgarian, written on a Serbian typewriter. If a Bulgarian orthography were used for the new language, everyone would perceive it as Bulgarian (despite the peripheral position of the chosen main dialect), just as the dialectally colored texts of Ludwig Thoma and Peter Poseger are considered German.

On the dialectal basis of the Macedonian literary language

A special trick of the Macedonian glottomists was the selection of the peripheral dialect area as the dialect base of the new language. It lies right on the Serbian-Bulgarian language border, therefore it represents a transitional dialect to Serbian. This ensured the difference (from the old language – Bulgarian) and the desired proximity in relation to Serbian. Another city could be chosen instead of Skopje as the capital (also linguistically), e.g. Ohrid, but then the difference with Bulgarian would hardly be noticeable. The internal construction of the new language follows the lexical and morphological [6] Serbian model, which is imposed also through the widely accepted Belgrade radio and television. The rule applies to the new language: the more non-Bulgarian, the more Macedonian!

To increase Serbian influence, Macedonia was politically and culturally distanced from Bulgaria[7] (something Europe never noticed). In the universities in Yugoslavia, Bulgarian studies were not taught (also in Skopje), but only Macedonian studies. Bulgarian was turned into an anti-language.

In a linguo-geographical aspect, the “Macedonian” dialects were declared to be something indigenous, having nothing to do with Bulgarian. For these reasons, a Macedonian dialect atlas was not published either. Every dialectologist knows very well that there is no dialectal border between Bulgaria and Macedonia (see the attached maps from the BDA at the end of the article) and that typically Macedonian features (e.g. the triple article, ќ vm. Щ, etc.) are also found in Bulgaria . Therefore, it is a question of characteristic Stalinist disinformation, which managed to mislead even the “critical” Slavic studies in the West[8].

Who needed the tongue division (glottotomy)?

Since in all cases (in the communist region) of linguistic division the implementation strategy was the same or similar, the question arises whether this also affects the operation of this mechanism. Not only languages ​​were “halved”, but also histories and peoples. Since in none of these cases was the popular will sought, it is not clear what meaning the main actors saw for themselves, their state and their politics. It is surprising that together with the countries (Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) the meaning of these language divisions is also lost, given that it is related to the centralist state policy. And she, on the one hand, united, and on the other, divided. Within the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Belorussia were to be Russified, while the Turkic-speaking peoples were divided into as small parts as possible. In Yugoslavia, however, linguistic and cultural assimilation took place in a Serbian direction (see Map). And this also speaks of the moral (!) integrity of science, which always manages to find people for such tasks. It is characteristic of Serbian politics that such an attempt at an analogous division in relation to the Yugoslav Albanians and Turks was not made – they were simply deprived of all possible rights, they were not considered a people at all, but a “minority” at worst sense of the word, even though in certain areas they dominated. The assimilation of the linguistically closer Bulgarian Macedonians was, however, more obvious. For the sake of historical truth, it should be noted that this assimilation attempt did not start all the way in socialist Yugoslavia, i.e. after 1944, and also in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. However, its practical implementation took place with successful socialist means after 1944. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Albanians do not associate themselves with the new Republic of Macedonia, while the “Macedonianized” Bulgarian Macedonians at least seem to be so. Without talking about state annexations (Anschluss), something that is foreign to me as an Austrian, the Slavic Macedonians should reflect on their identity, which since 1944 has rested on a diffuse sense of Yugoslav belonging. Any criticism of the new Macedonian language is perceived as a blow to the Yugoslav state. Thus this question has become a question of overcoming the past, as historical lies and falsifications have shown their effect on the young generation, and it is now paying tribute to national nihilism. Today’s generation does not identify with either Serbia or Bulgaria. The beginnings of a new identity cannot be denied. Just one example is the complete separation of the Macedonian from the Serbian-Orthodox Church (although never recognized by the latter)[9] in 1967. Serbization is however quite advanced and it shows how strong the Serbophile nomenclature is in Macedonia.

The linguistic chaos

For the constructors of a language, including the Macedonian literary language, it is not a problem to invent norms. The practical difficulty is whether they are actually applicable. There are always differences between speaking and writing, but the question is: who speaks this language? Macedonians themselves often say: we don’t speak this language, we haven’t studied it. It is immediately noticeable how insecure such Macedonians feel in terms of language. In every conversation, you can feel how hard they “stick” to this language[10]. Shortly after, one can no longer tell whether one is speaking in bad Bulgarian or bad Serbian. In any case, the impression of linguistic identity is not created (as with Ladin or Catalan). In one’s conversations with Macedonians, one feels a certain amount of linguistic sympathy for their linguistic disorientation. Such language can be defined rather negatively – what it is not. In an effort to change the nationality of the Macedonians, i.e. to be turned into Serbs, a peculiar creole language actually arose, which would certainly make it easier for the Serbs after a few generations to “recommend” Serbian as a literary language to the Macedonians. And in its current quality as a literary language, Macedonian is quite open to Serbian, from which it feeds, while Bulgarian is completely isolated.

As today’s political situation creates opportunities for a new orientation, this destructive process should be stopped despite the traces left by its 50-year development. I do not undertake to make predictions in which direction language development will go. However, one thing has been established: the current situation is extremely unsatisfactory. Fears also remain that there are enough forces in Skopje that will try to continue the work that has been started. And this would be the only case in Europe where the political glottotomy – as a transitional phase to the linguistic, resp. the ethnic change – has proved successful.

However, in view of the common, more than 1000-year-old Bulgarian history, we can hope that the political goals, based on numerous lies, will prove unsuccessful. Because otherwise the opinion expressed by a Serbian Chetnik leader on Austrian TV would turn into a sad truth, namely that Macedonians do not speak a normal language, but a mish-mash of Serbian language and Bulgarian words, therefore they belong to Serbia.

The fact that an American, more precisely Horace LUNT is the author of Grammer of the Macedonian Literary Language (Skopje, 1952), the 1st grammar of Macedonian (!), paving the way for a literary language founded by the Communists, testifies to the deep “understanding” , which Americans show towards European problems.

Possibilities for solving the “Macedonian question”

1) Rejection of bilingual theory.

2) Facilitating the use of Bulgarian alongside the current form of the Macedonian literary language.

3) Optional introduction of Bulgarian language training in primary and secondary schools.

4) Creation of the Institute of Bulgarian Language and Literature at the University of Skopje.

5) Use of the Bulgarian alphabet (orthography) for the current form of the Macedonian literary language.

6) Removal of any restrictions on the free exchange of newspapers, magazines and literature between Macedonia and Bulgaria.

7) Language inclusion through joint broadcasts on radio and television, and also through theater performances and creative readings in both countries.

8) Creation of a joint institution for Macedonian-Bulgarian language issues. (The literary convergence could be forced there).

9) Avoidance of any further Serbianization of the language.

10) Exchange of historical works between the two countries.

11) Right to freely choose surnames.

12) Joint efforts of Macedonia and Bulgaria to recognize the Slavic-Bulgarian ethnic group in Aegean Macedonia (Greece) according to the principles of European minority rights (see the language map in “Die slawischen Sprachen” 15/1988).

13) Recognition of minorities according to the same principles.

14) Observance of correct terminology regarding residents in Macedonia (Bulgarian Macedonians, Albanian Macedonians, Turkish Macedonians, etc.) and in Bulgaria (Bulgarian Bulgarians, Turkish Bulgarians, Macedonian Bulgarians, etc.)

Map 1 – Ѣ

Map 2 – Ъ

Map 3 – Ж

✝ Macedonian language ✝

[1] See DSS 14/1988: 23-66 (H. GOEBL, Glottonymie, Glotottomie und Schizoglossie. Drei spachpolitisch bedeutsame Begriffe).

[2] See DSS 19/1989: 115-140 (K. HEITMANN, Probleme der moldauischen Sprache in der Ära Gorbacev).

[3] Among the Turkic peoples in the USSR, it was assumed that there was a danger of the emergence of pan-Turkic movements.

[4] Cf. the valuable remarks of the rhetorician Izo KAMARTIN (Nichts als Worte?) Ein Plädoyer für Kleinsprachen. Zürich – München 1985: 171 – Eine Kleine Literatur…

[5] P. KOLEDAROV, The name Macedonia in historical geography, Sofia, 1985; H.R. WILKINSON, Maps and Politics. A Review of the Ethonographic Cartography of Macedonia. Liverpool 1951.

[6] Even surnames with a Bulgarian ending, -ov/-ev, were changed to -ski or -ić (-Srb. -ić). Thus, Georgiev became Georgievski or Georgiević.

[7] I can confirm from my own experiences how anxious Serbia was to cut off all contact between Macedonia and Bulgaria. After the 1st International Congress of Bulgarian Studies (1981), I was traveling home from Sofia and was detained for 5 hours at the Serbian border (in Gradina/Dimitrovgrad). There, a group of State Security from Nis interrogated me for a long time, after which they took away various Bulgarian books and magazines that were in my car. Since I wanted to converse in Bulgarian, I was ordered to speak in normal (Serbian) language. They accused me of being a Bulgarian spy and working for the Bulgarian secret services. I was warned that if I continued to show anti-Yugoslav sentiments (not accepting the Macedonian language), there would be consequences.

[8] While Slavic studies, Romance languages ​​and general linguistics were quite aware of the linguistic peculiarities of the region until World War II, after it the views and understandings of many Slavists on the Macedonian question are often characterized by a surprising naivety, something that is probably related to the summer courses in Macedonian on the charming Ohrid lake or with the awarding of the title art.-cor. of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences. As an example of the in-depth pre-war scholarship, I would give Ethnography of Macedonia, Leipzig 1924 (reprinted in Sofia, 1981) by G. Weigand and Essays on Macedonian Dialectology, Kazan, 1918 (reprinted in Sofia, 1981) by A.M. Selishchev. Weigand, as well as Selishchev, speak of Bulgarians in Macedonia and of the Macedonian Bulgarian language.

[9] Srbn. D. ILIEVSKI, Aftokevalnost of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Skopje, 1972. Since there is no national (Macedonian) translation of the Bible, the Serbian is recommended, which is also not without importance for the construction of the Macedonian literary language. Bulgarian remains deeply hidden in every respect.

[10] It is said that one of the leading Macedonian glottotomists was reading a report in Macedonian at the “Kl. Ohridski” University: however, when a sudden current scattered his manuscript, he simply continued … in Bulgarian.

Source: Macedonian Review Magazine, 1992, Vol. 3. Kronsteiner, O. The collapse of Yugoslavia and the future of the Macedonian literary language… 29 -45

The text was provided by the Macedonian Scientific Institute

Chairman: Prof. Dr. Georgi N. Nikolov

✝ Macedonian language ✝