Pomacs and Macedonians

Both groups represent special cases in terms of history, magnitude, and impact on political life. More significant are the Bulgarian Muslims (‘Pomaks’) because of their number and ‘borderline’ position between the Bulgarian majority, with which they share a common mother tongue, and the Turkish minority whose religion they profess. Bulgarian Muslims are ethnic Bulgarians who were converted to Islam during the Ottoman yoke. Their number was approximately 20,000 immediately after restoration of the Bulgarian state in 1878, and by the 1920’s reached 88,000. The sharp increase in figures between 1910 and 1920 was due to re-integration of Bulgaria with newly liberated territories in the Rhodopes and Rila regions. Present day their number is estimated between 200,000 and 280,000. In spite of their ethnic origin, Bulgarian Muslims’ historical fate is identical in many respects to that of other Muslim groups. Bulgarian Muslims have been subject to influences for assimilation in both possible regards. On one hand, study of Turkish language has been stimulated in order to integrate all Muslims into Bulgarian society as a whole. The result is that the Turkish language is perceived as a mother tongue by some 6% of community members.

The issues of ‘Macedonians’ are not any less complicated or controversial. One thesis defines them as a regional community based on the argument that they are an Orthodox population speaking a Bulgarian dialect in common with Bulgarian history, traditions, and values. Based on the right to self-determination, a contrary thesis defines them as a separate ethno-cultural community. Both views have political expression in the activities of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -VMRO (a party seated in Parliament), and the United Macedonian Organization – OMO Ilinden (an unrecognized and unregistered separatist movement). Bulgarian policy towards ‘Macedonians’ has swayed between two extremes. In the 1940’s, much support was given to the idea of a socialist-oriented Balkan Federation (to includes all Balkan states and thus to resolve every and each ethnic and religious problem in the area). The population of the Pirin district bordering FRY Macedonia and Greece was stimulated, even forcibly, to identify itself as ‘Macedonians’. According to the 1956 census, 187,789 Bulgarians declared themselves as ‘Macedonians’. Later on, the policy altered sharply, and ‘Macedonians’ disappeared from official statistics. They have not turned up there till today.