An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery: Goce Delcev

Posted on February 4, 2014


Born on February 4th 1872 in Kikis, Aegean Macedonia (now Greece), Delcev’s life started off unassumingly enough. He worked in his fathers restaurant and a small market-place, but there was never any real inkling of the revolutionary that would eventually force itself out. His family were Macedonian patriots in a time when it was dangerous to be so, and this desire to rebel was encouraged early on. He was an excellent student, taking a particularly keen interest in Mathematics and the theories of Darwin. He also gained a good knowledge of the Turkish language, vital for any sort of success in a country that had been under Ottoman rule for five centuries.

It wasn’t until he headed to the military school in Sofia that Delcev’s revolutionary insides came out. Indeed, he would eventually be expelled for his rebelliousness, although he did manage to finish his studies with a diploma. He wasn’t able to become the officer that he had set his heart on, and was generally held with great suspicion by the authorities. He was a keen distributer of revolutionary literature, which isn’t ever going to help in such a tightly scrutinised occupational society. This didn’t stop Delcev though.

During this time, the Macedonian national identity was in its most formative stage. Until then, Greece and Bulgaria had reigned supreme. Greece was far more dominant, and the angsty Delcev immediately sided with the Bulgarian struggle. He became quickly disillusioned with the commercialisation of life in Bulgaria however, and got involved with plans for a revolutionary movement in Ottoman Macedonia. Because of his intelligence, ethics and keen sense of being Macedonian, he quickly rose to a position of authority within the burgeoning group, the IMRO.

All this time Delcev made his way as a teacher, but this was more of a smokescreen for his revolutionary activities. He travelled tirelessly recruiting new members, and was instrumental in establishing local committees committed to the Macedonian cause. With his work, the number of people in the group grew immensely, and the feeling of a Macedonian nation flourished. He helped encourage Macedonian art.

As the IMRO became more and more militant however, Delcev grew tired of their activities. He was the leader of the military institute of organisation, and always held discipline and organisation in hugely high regard, something that was at odds with the more erratic and violent ways of the group at this time. The aim of the group was to provoke a war and eventual get annexed by Bulgaria, and Delcev helped with the establishment of many bomb manufacturing plants throughout Bulgaria. Delcev was also instrumental in the kidnapping of two American protestant missionaries, which brought the Macedonian question onto an international stge.

An uprising was almost inevitable. The shape and form of the uprising was undecided however. As expected, the more violently minded of the group were baying for an uprising as soon as possible. Delcev was vehemently against this however, as he felt that the group weren’t ready for either the battle or whatever might come after it. His influence was to have no bearing however, as Delcev met his death in a surprise skirmish on May 4th in 1903. His men kinda wandered into an ambush of sorts, where they were outnumbered over 50 to one. They fought to the last however, but it was too much. Goce Delcev, the great Macedonian revolutionary was dead.

I say Macedonian, but his nationality has always been up for historical debate. He was born in Greek Macedonia, educated in Bulgaria, taught Bulgarian, and all of his recorded writings are in Bulgarian as well. Despite this, there are several credible eye-witnesses who claim that he only ever spoke Macedonian in person, especially when giving oral military commands. His national identity is a very sensitive issue in Macedonia itself. The historian Orde Ivanovski is famously quoted as saying;

‘The Bulgarians are well known falsifiers. How could Goce Delcev be Bulgarian? He was born in Macedonia. He spoke Macedonian. How could he be a Bulgarian?’

The Bulgarians claim that the idea of Delcev as a Macedonian is a Yugoslav construct, as they attempted to create a Macedonian identity following World War Two. Indeed, some weight is added to this argument by the fact that all of his records were reproduced in 1945 in the Macedonian language, with claims that they were the originals. The Yugoslav communist government weren’t really renowned for their truth, so it is easy to believe this.

Despite this, the history of Goce Delcev is a history of struggle against Ottoman rule in favour of Macedonian independence. This much cannot be disputed. He is arguably the father of the Macedonian nation.