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The Ilinden Uprising and the Republic of Kruševo (North Macedonia, 1903)

Last modified: 2019-06-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of the Republic of Kruševo - Image by Tomislav Todorović & Mladen Mijatov, 9 March 2006

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The Republic of Kruševo, Ilinden and their historical legacy

The uprising set up against the Ottomans by the IMRO (Inner Macedonian Revolutionary Organization), which led to the proclamation of the short-lived Republic of Kruševo, is named "Ilinden Uprising" because it started in the region of Bitola on 2 August 1903, during the celebration of St. Elijah's Day (in Macedonian, ilinden).

The Manifesto of Kruševo, released on 2-3 August 1903, reads* as follows (quoted from the FAQ Macedonia website):

Fellow countrymen and dear neighbours!
We, your perennial neighbours, friends and acquaintances from beautiful Kruševo and its pretty villages, regardless of faith, nationality, sex or conviction, not being able to endure any more the tyranny of bloodthirsty murtats who hunger for human flesh, who would like to lead both you and us to slaughter, to reduce both you and us to poverty, and to turn our dear and wealthy land of Macedonia into a wasteland, we have today raised our heads and decided to defend ourselves with rifles in our hands from our and your enemies, and obtain freedom.
You know very well that we are not evil and you understand that it is trouble that made us risk our lives, so that we might begin living like human beings or die like heroes! And because since the times of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers we have lived together like brothers of this land, we consider you as our own, and would like it to remain the same forever. We have not raised our rifles against you - it would be shameful for us to do so; we have not raised against the peaceful diligent and honest Turkish people who, like ourselves, earn their living through sweat full of blood - they are our brothers with whom we have always lived and would like to live again; we have not risen to slaughter and plunder, to set fire and steal - we have had enough of countless derebeyis pillaging and plundering our poor and blood-stained Macedonia; we have not risen to convert to Christianity and disgrace your mothers and sisters, wives and daughters; you should know that your property, your lives, your faith and your honour are as dear to us as our own. Alas, we have taken up arms only to protect our property, our lives, our faith and our honour. We are not murtats of our own land that has given birth to us, we are not robbers and plunderers, but revolutionaries sworn to die for justice and freedom; we rebel against tyranny and against slavery; we are fighting and will fight against murtats, against robbers, against oppressors and plunderers, against besmirchers of our honour and our faith and against those who benefit from our sweat and exploit our labour. Do not be afraid of us and of our villages - we shall not harm anyone. Not only do we consider you as our brothers, but we also feel sorry for you as our brothers, since we understand that you are slaves like ourselves, slaves of the Sultan and of his beys, effendis and pashas, slaves of the rich and powerful, slaves of tyrants and oppressors, who have set fire to the empire from all four sides and have made us rise up for justice, for freedom and for human life. We invite you, too, to join us in our struggle for justice, freedom and human life! Come, Moslem brothers, let us together go against your and our enemies! Come under the banner of "Autonomous Macedonia"! Macedonia is the mother of us all and she calls on us for help. Let us break the chains of slavery, free ourselves from suffering and pain, and dry the rivers of blood and tears! Join us, brothers, let us fuse our souls and hearts and save ourselves, so that we and our children and our children's children might live in peace, work calmly and make progress!...

Dear neighbours! We understand that you as Turks, Arnauts and Moslems might think that the empire is yours and that you are not slaves since there is no cross on the imperial flag but a star and a crescent. You will soon see and understand that this is not so and that you are wrong. Nevertheless, if you honour does not allow you to join us and declare yourselves against the Sultan's tyranny, we, your brothers in suffering and of the same homeland, shall do you no harm and shall not hate you. We will fight alone both for you and us, and if necessary, we will fight to the last man under the banner for our and your freedom, for our and your justice. "Freedom or Death" is written on our foreheads and on our blood-stained banner. We have already raised that banner and there is no way back. If you consider us as your brothers, too, if you wish us well, if you intend to live with us again as you have lived up to now, and if you are faithful and worthy sons of our mother Macedonia, you could help us in one way at least - and it would be a great help indeed - do not make partners of the enemy, do not raise guns against us and do not oppress the Christian villages!

May God bless our holy struggle for justice and freedom!
Long live the fighters for freedom and all honest and good Macedonian sons.
Hurrah! For "Autonomous Macedonia"!

* The original of the Manifesto is not found yet. The text is recovered after the memories of one of its authors - Nikola Kirov Majski, who published it in 1923 (20 years after the uprising) in his drama named Ilinden. So till now the Manifesto exists only as a piece of literature and in historiography.

The insurrection was quickly suppressed by the Ottoman Army but Ilinden became a founding myth of the Macedonian nationalism.
Quoting James Krapfl (The Ideals of Ilinden: Uses of Memory and Nationalism in Socialist Macedonia, Columbia University, 1996):

In a pamphlet published in 1924, IMRO member Dimo Hadzi Dimov wrote:

Macedonia has had its first Ilinden; it was followed by bloody days of destruction and terrible suffering. There will be a second Ilinden, in the new and safer age of the victories which are close at hand. This second Ilinden is near, it is coming. And in that day those who still remain from the first Ilinden will embrace their new leaders and rejoice in the ideal they have achieved.
Later, the myth of Ilinden was used by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia to attract the Macedonian nationalists. On 2 August 1940, Svetozar Vukmanović-Tempo, Tito's envoy, organized a less successfull demonstration in Ilinden, attracting "several thousands" participants. On 2 August 1943, the new Central Committee of the Communist Party of Macedonia issued an "Ilinden Manifesto" exalting the National Liberation Army and Commander Tito as the guarantors of freedom and equality for the Macedonian people. The first meeting of the Anti-Fascist Assembly of National Liberation of Macedonia (ANSOM) took place on 2 August 1944, once again on Ilinden's Day. The establishment of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia on that day was hailed as a "second Ilinden," calling to mind the vision of Dimo Hadzi Dimov.

On 2 August 2006 (2 August is a National Holiday in Macedonia), President of the Republic Crvenkovski celebrated the 103rd anniversary of the uprising with the following address:

There are but a few languages that can capture so many experiences, hopes, dreams and wishes in a single word.
In this country, for this nation, in our language that word is Ilinden. Regardless of events past, present and those yet to come in the future, as always done in the past, on the 2nd of August every one of us will have to look back and review in all sincerity what we have managed to do thus far in order to reaffirm our statehood, our national and nation-making awareness and our responsibility for the times to come. Ilinden will forever remain our Macedonian moment of justice and truth. Hence, our collective responsibility to build a stable system of values, always setting good as a clear example, warning of the bad.

The political party representing the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria is called OMO Ilinden Pirin. Unsurprisingly, its flag features the Vergina Sun.

Ivan Sache, 8 April 2007

The red flag of the Republic of Kruševo

In August 1903, during the Ilinden Uprising, a plain red flag was hoisted in the liberated town of Kruševo. That was done at the initiative of Nikola Karev, a leader of the uprising and the chief organizer of the provisional administration of the Republic of Kruševo, who was a Socialist activist. The red flag, originally a symbol of Socialism and revolution, thus also became the Macedonian national symbol. This was probably helped with the fact that the coat of arms usually attributed to Macedonia has had the red field, with the golden lion upon it.

In 1946, the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia adopted the flag with the red field, in memory of the Ilinden Uprising and the Republic of Kruševo. As an independent country, Macedonia has kept the red as the field colour of its flag to this day. Red is also the field colour of many political flags in Macedonia, regardless of the users' political attitudes, being used there as the national symbol.

Tomislav Todorović, 9 March 2006

The proposed Macedonian national flag

Quoting the Balkan Info website:

The traditional Macedonian flag had two equal horizontal parts, the upper half being red and the lower black. This traditional Macedonian flag shad also a symbolic meaning - the same meaning as the slogan of the Macedonian fighters from the beginning of the century: "Freedom (red) or Death (black)". During the 1903 Ilinden uprising and the Kruševo republic the formal flag of Macedonian fighters was black and red.

Željko Heimer, 13 March 2002

Red color might mean freedom, but the original meaning was the blood of all Macedonians who died fighting for the freedom of their motherland, Macedonia. The black color symbolized the death of Goce Delčev, the ideologist of Macedonian freedom movement in the late 1890s and the beginning of the XXth century, more accurately, until 4 May 1903, when he was killed after having been surrounded by the Turk soldiers in the village of Banica, now in Greece.

Goče G., 18 March 2001


Proposal of national flag - Image by António Martins, 19 February 1999

A red over black flag was proposed as the national Macedonian flag in 1903 but was never officially adopted.

Jaume Ollé, 24 October 1998

The black and red flag is used today by the football club Vardar from Skopje. His supporters are called Komiti (fighters for freedom).
The real Macedonian flag was red with a golden gun and knife crossed in saltire in the middle of the flag, or in the upper left corner of the flag. The red background symbolized the blood of all Macedonians who had died or were about to die for the freedom of Macedonia. The golden gun and knife meant fight till death, and death for every one who will spy and betray the oath they had given in the name of freedom of Macedonia.

Goce G., 18 March 2001