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Macedonian Americans are a relatively small group with a very complicated history. It is not easy to determine who is a member of this group, and almost any discussion of Macedonians or Macedonia, the ancient kingdom of Philip and Alexander the Great, is likely to create controversy among the people who view its history from different perspectives.

Immigrants from Macedonia came to the United States in significant numbers during the early years of the 20th century. Until World War II almost all of them thought of themselves as Bulgarians and identified themselves as Bulgarians or Macedonian Bulgarians. Recently, however, for some this has begun to change. Although there are still perhaps 50,000 Macedonians who identify themselves as Bulgarians or Macedonian Bulgarians, a group of Macedonian Americans who identify themselves specifically as Macedonians is beginning to emerge as a result of developments in their Balkan homelands.


The historical region known as Macedonia is situated in the central part of the Balkan peninsula. Its frontiers have varied through the centuries, but Macedonia is generally defined as the area bounded on the east by the Rhodope Mountains and the Mesta (Nestos) River; on the south by the Aegean Sea, Moumt Olympus, the Bitritsa {Aliakmon) River, and the Pindus Mountains; on the west by Lake Ohrid, the Drin River, and the Korah Mountains; and on the north by the Sar, Osogovske, and Rila Dagh mountains. In terms of current political boundaries Macedonia is divided into three parts: the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (formerly Vardar Macedonia) in Yugoslavia Aegean or Greek Macedonia in Greece, and Pirin Macedonia or the Blagoevgrad Vistrict of Bulgaria. There are also Macedonian minorities living in other parts of Yugoslavia and in Albania.

Macedonia experienced several centuries of Roman rule, but during the 6th and 7th centuries the region was settled by Slavic tribes who soon assimilated most of the local population. In the second half of the 7th century Bulgars invaded the Balkans, and they in tum were assimilated by the Slavs. The Bulgars, or ProtoBulgarians, established a state, usually referred to as the First Bulgarian Kingdom, which included most of Macedonia.

Christianity was introduced into the Bulgarian Kingdom during the 9th century when Saints Cyril and Methodius and their disciples converted the population and formulated for them a Slavic alphabet, Glagolitic, from which Cyrillic later developed. The Cyrillic alphabet is still used in Macedonian, which by the mid-20th century had evolved into a distinct South Slavic language closely related to Bulgarian. Most Macedonians still belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

During the 10th century the Bulgarian state grew weaker and split into two. The westem Bulgarian Kingdom with its capital in Ohrid was ruled by Tsar Samuil (997- 1014), and most contemporary Macedonian historians regard this as the first Slavic Maccdonian state. Samu;1 also created the Archbishopric of Ohrid and proclaimed its ecclesiastical independence. However, in 1018 Macedonia was conquered by the Byzantine Empire. Two centuries later it became a part uf the Second Bulgarian Kingdom; for a hrief period in the mid-14th century it fell under Serbian rule. Shortly thereafter the Ottoman Empire took over, and the Macedonians remained under Ottoman rule until 1912. During these centuries the Macedonians were part of the autonomous Eastern Orthodox community or millet, which was under the leadership of Greek churchmen. When the Greeks began to exert stronger influence in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Macedonians joined the Bulgarians in an active struggle against further Hellenization. In 1870 they established an independent Bulgarfan Orthodox Church that was authorizt d to include Macedonian territory within its jurisdiction, and the Ottoman Empire gave official recognition to Bulgarian nationality. At this time Macedonian Slavs participated in the Bulgarian national renaissance and in the armed struggle for the liberation of Bulgaria (including Macedonia) from the Ottoman Empire.

When Bulgaria finally achieved independence in 1878, Macedonia was included within its borders, but after the Treaty of Berlin was signed that year, most Macedonians found themselves again under Turkish rule. Beginning in the 1890s, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Greeks sent armed bands into Macedonia in the hope of annexing therc~ion. These groups attacked the Turks, fought with each other, and terrorized the local populace while their respective govemments fought for the allegiance of the Macedonian Slavs.

In these unfavorable circumstances, local leaders established the Intemal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) in an effort to unite all the ethnic groups in the region and to establish an independent Macedonian state. The IMRO leaders considered themselves Bulgarian, but they also had a strong sense of regional identity and advocated "Macedonia for Macedonians." They did not prevail, however; following the Balkan wars (1912-1913) and World War I, Macedonia remained divided among Greece, Serbia (later Yugoslavia), and Bulgaria.

Macedonian leaders began to develop a strong sense of regional identity in the 19th century, but it was not until the 20th century that some intellectuals began to argue that Macedonian Slavs were neither Bulgarian nor Serbian, nor Greek, but a separate people. The Communist party of Yugoslavia supported this idea during World War II, and in 1945 a People's (later Socialist) Republic of Macedonia was established as one of the six constituent republics of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. A Macedonian literary language was developed, and the idea of Macedonian nationality was encouraged. In 1958 a Macedonian Orthodox church was created, and nine years later it acquired jurisdictional independence. Neighboring Bulgaria, which has a Macedonian minority population, initially favored these developments and from 1944 to 1958 even recognized the existence of a Macedonian nationality. Since 1958, however, Bulgaria has argued that all Macedonians are Bulgarians, and this policy contributes to the discord and tension between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. The Greek govemment has never recognized Macedonians as a distinct nationality.


The first immigrants who arrived in the United States from Macedonia came from the western regions near Kastoria (Kostur), Florina (Lerin), and Bitola (Monastir). The majority were gurbetchii or pechalbari, men going abroad to seek a fortune who planned to return home after two or three years.

Macedonians were usually listed as coming from Turkey, Serbia (or Yugoslavia), Greece, and Bulgaria; in the absence of reliable statistics it can be estimated that between 1903 and 1906 about 50,000 Macedonian Bulgarians emigrated to the United States. A few thousand more came until the Balkan wars and World War I stopped the continuous flow. Approximately 20,000 remained, the rest returned to Macedonia, although years later some remigrated to the United States. About 80 percent of those who came before World War I were peasants, the remainder craftsmen, workers, and intellectuals.

Betweeh the two world wars the majority of Macedonian/Slav immigrants to the United States were from Greece and Bulgaria. Slavs were expelled from Greek Macedonia in the early 1920s, and most of them settled in Bulgaria. Some came directly from Greece, others via Bulgaria; during these years only a handful were permitted to emigrate from Yugoslavia. By the end of World War II there were an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Macedonians in the United States.

Since 1945 most of the Macedonians have come from Yugoslavia and Greece. Only 2,000 came from Yugoslavia between the end of the war and 1960 when emigration policies were liberalized. According to Yugoslav statistics, about 40,000 Macedonians emigrated in the years from 1960 to 1977, primarily to the United States, Canada, and Australia. Some of these emigrants have been political dissidents opposed to the Yugoslav regime, but most have been seeking economic opportunity. In contrast, very few have been permitted to leave Bulgaria. The Macedonians in Greece, who are known there as Slavophones or Slavic- speaking Greeks, were expelled in 1944 and again encouraged to leave after the Greek civil war (1946- 1949). As a result 70,000 have emigrated to Canada, Australia, the United States, and other European countries.

There is no way of determining the exact number of Macedonian Americans. The Matica for Macedonian Immigrants, a special institution created in the Socialist Republic of Maccdonia to deal with Macedonians living abroad, estimates that there are between 120,000 and 150,000. However, this figure includes all Slavicspeaking immigrants and their descendants from the historical region and does not allow for the fact that the majority of immigrants from Macedonia and their descendants identify with the Bulgarian- Amcrican community, while many from Greece identify with the Greek-Anierican community. Allowing for some older Macedonian-Bulgarian immigrants who have changed their ethnic orientation, in addition to the more recent immigrants from Yugoslav Macedonia who have a strong sense of Macedonian national identity, it is realistic to assume that there are between 25,000 to 30,000 Macedonian immigrants and their descendants in the United States today.


During the first decades of the 20th century, the majority of the Macedonian Bulgarians settled in the industrial centers of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Wisconsin, California, and Washington; this pattem of settlement has changed little. Some community leaders claim that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 Macedonian Americans living in the Detroit area. There are other communities in Gary, Ind.; Chicago; Passaic, N.J.; Columbus, Cleveland, Lorain Akron, Canton, Massilon, and Cincinnati, Ohio, and in New York City, Lackawanna, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, N.Y.

The early immigrants, who came from a rural, traditional, and economically and politically oppressive Ottoman society, encountered great difficulties in the industrial urban, highly competitive American environment. Most of the immigrants had to travel first to France or Germany where they spent a few days in camps before boarding the ships. Some used the Greek ports of Salonika and Piraeus as points of departure. The Macedonian peasant, who might never before have visited a large town, was almost immediately confronted with hazardous work in steel mills, foundries, mines, and railroad construcction; the complexities of city life created additional problems.

The first centers of community life were the boardir g house and the coffee house. Since the majority of thc immigrants were single men, individuals from the same village or region settled together and established a communal existence in which each of the participants shared in the responsibilities. The coffee house was more than a place to visit and play cards, it was a sociocultural center where the immigrants met each other, read the latest newspapers, participated in meetings of their associations, heard the latest gossip, or learned about job possibilities. In places where there were few Macedonian Bulgarians, they usually associated with other Orthodox or Slavic peoples.

The most sign)ficant institutions that gave security and some continuiry to the native way of life were the fraternal, mutual-herefit, and cultural societies. Organized on the basis of place of origin, they aimecl at giving moral and material support to their members in case of illness or unenlployment. Moreover, they assisted humanitarian causes in their respective villages or towns in the old country. Such villages or regional societies as those of Oshchima, Tetovo, Zhelevo, Shar, Prespa, Buf, Dumbeni, Zagoricheni, Rulia, Babchor Breznica, Pelister, and numerous others exercised a cohesive force and helped individuals overcome difficulties in adjustment to the new life. Although some of these societies still exist, their sign)ficance has decreased in the last few years. During the last two decades new mutua]-benefit societies have been established.


The church, which satisfied spiritual needs, was also important as a social center where people from various regions could be brought together to fratemize and thus mainrain ethnic awareness, language, and traditions Over 9() percent of Macedonians are Eastern Orthodox, and in the years before World War I they played a dominant role in the creation of Bulgarian parishes in the United States. Most of the early immigrants and their descendants still belong to those Bulgarian Orthodox churches that are either under the jurisdiction of the patriarch in Bulgaria or are part of a Bulgarian diocese within the Orthodox Church in America.

With the influx of nationally conscious Macedonian immigrants from Yugoslavia after World War II, a move to establish an independent ethnic church arose during the late 195()s. A group of 90 Macedonian Americans from Gary founded a Macedonian Orthodox Church and in 1962 asked for and received recognition from the metropolitan and Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Skopje, the capital of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Macedonian Americans in other communities followed the same pattem and established Macedonian Orthodox churches in Columbus 1965), Syracuse (1968), Passaic, Rochester, and Blasdell (Lackawanna). Other communities in Detroit, Chicago Cincinnati, and Massilon are in the process of building their own Macedonian Orthodox churches, so that in less than 20 years Macedonian Americans have established 11 active communities centered around churches that preserve and promote distinctly Macedonian national traditions and consciousness.

Macedonian-American Orthodox churches are administered by local boards, and all hut one are under the guidance of a metropolitan for the United States, Canada, and Australia. They provide a variety of social and cultural activities, and services in Macedonian and English. Each church has a community center in which womens groups play an important role. They help create a milieu in which immigrants, their children, and especially the newly arrived, all feel at home. This is achieved by means of dinners, itstivals, and church bazaars organized on religious and on Macedonian and U.S. national holidays. On these occasions national specialties are served, dances held, and Macedonian food and handmade ernbroiderecl articles are sold. Jhrough such functions, the women's groups help to preserve, transmit, and popularize Macedonian traditions, while at home women actively convey Macedonian values, language, and culture, most especially to the young. The Sunday school, at which religious instruction and the teaching of Macedonian language and culture are systematically presentecl, is also important.


Political organizations have also attempted to preserve ethnic traditions, but they are most concerned with working for the unification and independence of the Macedonian homeland. The f rst of these was founded in Chicago in 1902. It was followed by socialist groups in 1907, constitutional clubs in 1908, and by the Bulgarian-Macedonian People's Union in 1913. These early groups all patterned themselves after the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organizationů they wanted to unite and free Macedonia from Ottoman Turkish rule and they generally adopted the view that Macedonians were of Bulgarian nationality.

The most important of these societies continues to be the Macedoman Political (Patriotic since 1952) ()rganization, founded in Fort Wayne, Ind., in l 922. This organization claims to speak for allMacedonians, and through its Bulgarian-language weekly Makedonska Tribuna/Macedonian Tribune(Indianapoli.s, Ind., f. 1927) criticizes the Commtmist governments of Yugoslavia and Bwlgaria as well as the anti-Slav-Macedonian policies of Greece. Although thc Macedonian Patriotic Organization, like the older Macedonian parishes of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, claims that Macedonians are Bulgarians, its activity is centered on Macedonia. Little is said about Bulgaria. Most of the American-bom of Macedonian-Bulgarialn descent have hardly any knowledge of Bulgaria and increasingly identify themselves simply as Macedonians. Few Macedonians participate actively in the two main Bulgarian political organizations in this country, the Bulgarian National Front and the Bulgarian National Committee. The purely Macedonian policies of the Macedonian Patriotic C)rganization have increased indirectly the Macedonianization of older, Bulgarian-oriented immigrants and their descendants.

The first organization in the United States to support the idea that Macedonians constitute a separate nationality was the Macedonian People's League. Founded during the 1930s, this leftist organization tried to persuade immigrants to join in the struggle for an independent Macedonian state within a Balkan Federation. After World War II most members of the Macedonian People's League supported the creation of the People's Republic of Macedonia in Yugoslavia and favored the establishment of Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe. Under its leadership immigrants sent money, clothes, and medical supplies to the new republic. The so-called "American hospital," a medical clinic in Skopje, was funded largely by immigrant dollars. Because of its pro-Communist stance, the Macedonian People's League was branded a subversive organization by the U.S. govemment; its activities were curtailed, and it was finally disbanded in 1948. That same year witnessed the Soviet-Yugoslav split, which had a great impact on left- wing and radical Macedonian Americans. Most of them sided with Moscow and severed their ties with th_ Socialist Republic of Macedonia. This development, as well as the Bulgarian government's change of attitude and refusal after 1958 to recognize the Macedonian nationality, has retarded but not stopped the Macedonianization of the immigrants.


The greatest advances in the growth of a distinct Macedonian-American community have occurred since the late 1950's. The new immigrants came from Yugoslavia's Socialist Republic of Macedonia, where since World War II they had been educated to believe that Macedonians composed a culturally and linguistically distinct nationality; thc historic ties with Bulgarians in particular were deemphasized. These new immigrants not only are convinced of their own Macedonian national identity but also have been instrumental in transmitting these feelings to older Bulganan-oriented immigrants from Macedoma.

In order to propagate tnese views, several new organizations have been established, such as the United Macedonians (Toronto, f. 1958) and the Macedonian Cultural Center Ilinden (Detroit, f. 1976). These organizations, as well as a number of local Macedonian-American clubs, emphasize Macedonian history and culture through publications such as Ilinden's monthly, Makedonski Zbor/Macedonian Word; through contacts with cultural institutions in the United States and in Macedonia; and through programs in schools, sports, clubs, and churches.

Folklore and national traditions occupy an important place in the life of the Macedonian immigrants. Each community has at least one folk ensemble and orchestra and some have theater troupes as well; such groups also exist for children. These groups perform in church halls and take part in local ethnic festivals. The vecherinka (evening party) is a common occurrence on Sundays and holidays in Macedonian church halls where almost all of those present participate in folk dancing. Sports clubs also foster group maintenance, especially among young people. Some soccer clubs were formed with the help of Macedonian businessmen even before the establishment of church communities. Among the better-known soccer teams are Macedonia and Vardar in the Detroit area, Red Star in Rochester, and Macedonia in Columbus. Many Macedonian communities also have one or more radio and television programs. In some places these are shared with other ethnic groups from Yugoslavia.

The institutions established by the immigrants help them preserve unity not only within the larger group as a whole but also within the family. The Macedonian-American family is still closely knit. Most of the young marry within the group, and those who marry outside usually find partners of the same faith. Furthermore the maintenance of close ties with relatives in Macedonia intensifies group cohesiveness. Many visit the homeland and offer aid to relatives or institutions; a Macedonian from Gary, for example, established a scholarship fund at the University of Skopje.

The majority of Macedonian communities abroad mai.ntain good relations with the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in Yugoslavia. This is especially true with regard to church affairs, which contribute most to the maintenance of Macedonian ethnic identity in the United States. Even though the immigrants and their descendants organize, bui]d, and maintain thc churches by themselves, the Macedonian mother church still provides the priests and many of the religious articles for the services. Also, the school boards and cultural institutions as well as individual immigrants deal directly with the Matica for Macedonian Immigrants.

There are other individuals and organizations which identify themselves as Macedonian but which have no relations with and may even oppose Yugoslavia's Socialist Republic of Macedonia. The St. Clement Ohridski Church in Gary holds scrviccs in Macedonian but does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Macedonian Holy Synod and has affiliated instead with the Orthodox Church in America. Two European-based political groups, the Movement for Liberation and Unification of Macedonia and the Macedo-Thracian Revolutionarv Committee, both with branches in the United States, want to see all Macedonian territories united, and as such arc opposed to Yugoslav Macedonia [which they feel has given up the struggle for unification) and especially to Bulgaria and Greece hecause of their denial of the existence of a Macedonian nationality.

Slavophone and some Greek immigrants from Aegean Macedonia also call themselves Macedonians in the United States. The majority of these Slavophone Macedonians identify themselves as Greeks, probably for political, social, economic, or cultura1 reasons. Some have relatives still in Greece and are afraid that if they join a Bulgarian-Macedonian or Macedonian immigrant church or organization their relatives will suffer; others feel that they will never be permitted to visit Greece if they participate in Slav- Macedonian institutions. The Greek Macedonians have their own local fraternal, social, and cultural societies as well as a national organization, the Pan-Macedonian Association (New York, f. I947). Although these Slavophones use Greek in their official functions, they speak Macedonian among themselves. Their traditions, dances songs, food, and style of life are identical with those of Macedonians from Greece who may belong to Macedonian-American or Bulgarian- Macedonian - American communities. Immigrants from the same village, even the same family, may be divided and belong to Macedonian-, Bulgarian, or Greek-American communities. Changing conditions in the family, the homeland, or the immigrant community cause some to shift their orientation from one group to another.

Political changes in the Balkans after World War II and a generally free environment in the United States have permitted Macedonian immigrants to express themselves in a manner that was never possible in earlier times. As a result, many have asserted a sense of belonging to a distinct Macedonian ethnic group. Nonetheless, the immigrants from Macedonia and their descendants remain on the whole fragmented and concemed largely with questions of identity, local community activity, and politics.


There is no study that deals with Macedonian Americanls. Developments among earlier immigrants from Maceclonia who identify as Bulgarians are discussed in studies about Bulgarian Americans, the most useful heing the reminiscences ot Stoyan Christowe, This Is My Country, (New York, 1938), My American Pilgrimage (Boston, 1947), and The Eagle and the Stork: An American Memoir (New York, 1976); and George l Prpic, South Slavic Immigration in AMerica (Boston, 1978).

All aspects of Macedonian civilization in the homeland are discussed in Mihailo Apostolski and Haralampie Polenakovich, eds., The Socialist Republic of Macedonia (Skopje, Yugoslavia, 1974), and in two journals, Macedonian Review (Skopje, f. 1971) Makedonija (Skopje, f 1954). the organ of the Matica for Macedonian Immigrants An older study by Henry N Bsrailsford, Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future (1906; reprint, New York, 1970), is still useful although it presents a Bulgarian viewpoint. The Greek interpretation is presented by Kariophiles Mitsakis, Macedonia Throughout the Centuries (Thessalonike, Greece, 1973).