History - Politics


Ethno-confessional relations

Thessaloniki in the Ottoman period was a multinational city, where the biggest community was the Jewish one, followed by the Muslim and the Orthodox ones. In the second half of the 19th century the Orthodox community in the city began to fall apart, making the relations of Bulgarians to other nationalities a more conspicuous part of the life in Thessaloniki. Initially, although falling within the same framework of Ottoman rule, the ethno-confessional relations were dominated by the economic interests of representatives of various religious, ethnical and national groups. Common business, mixed commercial enterprises and services gradually gave way to political passions. Apart from the national struggle of Bulgarians for liberation from the Ottoman rule, The Bulgarian-Greek clashes also exacerbated. They began back in 1872, when the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople declared the Bulgarian Exarchate schismatic, but became bloodstained at the beginning of the 20th century. The relations between Bulgarians and other communities in the city – Serbian, Wallach, and Albanian - also became more complicated. This colourful mosaic was complemented by the interests of the Great Powers and their subjects in the city, which interlaced with the activities of the Bulgarian community.

Bulgarian Consulate

In 1897 the Bulgarian state acquired for the first time official representations in the European vilayets of the Ottoman Empire. One of them was the Trade Agency in Thessaloniki, which was raised to the rank of Consulate after Bulgaria declared independence (1908), while in January 1910 it received the status of Consulate General. In 1905 it acquired its own building, which today houses the Byzantine Research Centre („Βασιλίσσης Όλγας” 36). With a short interruption due to the Second Balkan War, the Bulgarian Consulate General existed until 17 December 1915, when French troops from the contingent of the Triple Entente commandeered the building and arrested the staff.

The Bulgarian Consulate in Thessaloniki was a central authority in the area, which requires diplomatic experience and profound understanding of the situation. A Bulgarian diplomatic representative of long standing in the city was Atanas Shopov, replaced for a short while by Todor Nedkov in the end of the period. After World War I Bulgaria repeatedly made attempts to establish its diplomatic representation in Thessaloniki, but they were rejected by the Greek state.

Revolutionary and legal organisations

The beginning of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) was marked at a meeting conducted in the Bulgarian boys’ high school in Thessaloniki on 23 October 1893. The revolutionary organization changed its name more than once over the years – Bulgarian Macedonian - Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Committees (1896), Secret Macedonian - Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Organization (1902), but in the period prior to World War I it was most popular as Internal Macedonian - Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Organization. All of its founders and most renowned activists were connected to the Bulgarian boys’ high school in the city. The seat of its Central Committee was located in Thessaloniki and some of the congresses of the organization were conducted here.

The revolutionary activity of IMRO periodically led to failures and affairs, to which not only its members and persons close to the organization fall prey, but also many Bulgarians living in the city. A strong reaction was triggered by the assaults, carried out by the Boatmen of Thessaloniki – young men, strongly influenced by anarchist ideas, who for some time received financial support from IMRO for their activity. In April 1903 they blew up several locations in Thessaloniki, including the building of the Ottoman Bank in the city and the French ship "Guadalquivir".

Following the Young Turk coup d’état (1908) in Thessaloniki, IMRO figures set up the two legal political parties – Bulgarian National-Federative Party and Bulgarian Constitutional Clubs. During the elections conducted in the years prior to the Balkan Wars they managed to have Bulgarian deputies appointed in the Ottoman Parliament.

Balkan Wars

On 5 October 1912 the allied Balkan Christian states Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire, aiming to liberate their fellow countrymen, who were under Sultan rule, and seeking to add territories to their national states, inhabited by them. The main goal of Greece was to conquer the city of Thessaloniki, so it dispatched its land forces in this direction. On 27 October 1912 at around 3 p.m. the first Greek troops entered the city, followed about 30 hours later by the avant-garde of the Bulgarian 7th Rilska division. The question about the future possession of the city seemed to be still open. For this reason the mutual festive parade of the Greek and Bulgarian troops on 29 October 1912 did not ease the tension between the military men of the two states or between the civil populations in the city. Small contradictions accumulated, disagreements became fiercer and with the beginning of the Second Balkan War the suppressed hatred exploded. In the night of 17th to 18th of June, 1913, known in the Bulgarian literature as the ‘St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Thessaloniki’, the Greek military troops attacked and defeated the three Bulgarian guards, left in the city. Only in this night more than 70 Bulgarian military men fell dead, while more than 120 were injured. More terrible was the fate of the Bulgarians in the city, many of whom were killed on the spot or died in prisoner-of-war camps on the Greek islands.

The Bulgarian club (1941-1944)

The first steps towards the creation of a Club of Bulgarians in Thessaloniki were taken already in April 1941, only a few days after Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany. In October of the same year the Bulgarian club in the city was officially acknowledged by the German authorities. The first Managing Board of the Club included Nedyalko Chaushev, Kosta Bogdanov, Krum Popev and Nestor Angelov. According to the statues of the Club, its purpose was the moral, cultural and educational development of its members and mutual help between Bulgarians. It could be joined by all Bulgarians of full age in Macedonia. From October 1942 to April 1944 the members of the Bulgarian Club increased to 18,426 persons from previously 14,149. The club managed to reclaim the former exarchate church ‘St. George’ to the Bulgarians, supported the establishment of a Bulgarian school in the city, set up a learning centre for Bulgarian folklore dances, organised theatre shows, excursions of pupils from the Bulgarian school to Bulgaria and performed social activity.