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Krushevo Republic
The first republic in the Balkans

After almost five hundred years of Ottoman occupation, a national reawakening occurred amongst the Macedonians – a desire to achieve national independence and self-determination – a free Macedonia for Macedonians.

The dissatisfaction of the Macedonians was expressed through revolts and rebellions in the first half of the 19th century and by mid-century the organization of a movement for national liberation was formed. This movement culminated in the formation of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) at the end of the century.

The VMRO was preceded by a national unification movement led by a group of young Macedonian intellectuals writing for the periodical Loza (Vine) in 1892. Distinguished members of this group included Goce Delchev, Petar Pop Arsov, Dame Gruev, Krste P. Misirkov, Grigor Hadzhi-Tashkovich and Gjorche Petrov. Misirkov writes that the members of the movement “...recognized the danger of Macedonia’s partitioning between Serbia and Bulgaria if the Macedonians did not arm and gain freedom for themselves.

On October 23, 1893, in Solun, Ivan Hadzhi Nikolov, Dame Gruev, Petar Pop Arsov, Hristo Tatarchev, Anton Dimitrov and Hristo Batandzhiev founded the Secret Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (TMORO, later renamed the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or VMRO), to effect the liberation of Macedonia within its geographic and historic borders. The movement was open to all faiths and nationalities, in the quest for national autonomy.

In response to the Smilevo Congress, a meeting of VMRO’s General Staff held on July 26, 1903 planned a general uprising to begin on August 2, 1903. A proclamation issued on July 28 reads, “The people of Macedonia must come out with gun in hand to meet the enemy... On that day, hasten brothers, follow your leaders and flock beneath the flag of freedom! Have courage, brothers, in the fight! Only by persistent and lengthy struggle can we be saved!”

The Central Committee’s representative office in Sofia informed the Great Powers that an uprising had begun, explaining that the plight of the Christian population in Macedonia had worsened and forced the population to rise up.

The uprising began on August 2, 1903, the Feast of St. Ilija. The fiercest fighting centered around the Bitola Revolutionary District, where the rebels severed telegraph and telephone lines, blocked roads and attacked Turkish garrisons and estates of the beys. The Krushevo Revolutionary District possessed the best strategy, laying out exactly defined objectives and an elaborate plan to capture Krushevo by eight rebel detachments.

On August 2, the Krushevo staff announced, “We are burning with impatience, waiting for night to fall so that we may come and take Krushevo and then, together with all the people of Macedonia, let out a thunderous victory cheer! God and justice are on our side! Long live Macedonia!” That night, the cutting of telephone wires signaled the attack. Rebels struck strategic sites including, the military barracks, the post office and the town council building. By August 3, the town had been wrested from the Turks. An assembly was convened to elect an executive body for the liberated territory. A temporary government consisting of 6 members-representatives of the three most numerous nationalities in the town was formed. These distinguished citizens constituted the council of the Krushevo Republic, while the Krushevo General Staff of TMORO represented the military authority of the new republic.

The government was, “to impose taxes on citizens by temporary order, to requisition food for insurgents and the population of the town and surrounding villages, requisition clothing and footwear for insurgents and militarized citizens, and materials for their armament; to take care of wounded and sick insurgents, citizens and peasants, and to maintain order and peace.”

Concurrently several commissions were formed to carry out tasks assigned by the government. These included an Internal Commission, to maintain public order; a Food Commission; a Civil Commission responsible for construction and hygiene; a Clothing Commission; a Financial Reform Commission; and a Financial Commission. In the establishment of both the temporary government and the commissions, the principle of proportional representation of all nationalities was applied. As Aleksandar Hristov notes, “the temporary government in liberated Krushevo, although not provided for in the insurgents’ constitution, was a legitimate representative of the insurgents. Its election and the revolutionary acts passed by it legitimized it as a fully legitimate, supreme authority on the territory of the Krushevo Republic.”

One of the most important acts of the Republic was the manifesto issued by the General Staff, “representing a declaration of the aims and goals of the insurgents, outlining a basis for brotherly coexistence among the nationalities during the struggle for freedom.” The Krushevo Manifesto was part of the civil orientation of the Krushevo General Staff; addressing the Muslim population it states: “We have raised no gun against you. That would be to our shame. We do not raise our guns against the peaceful, hard-working and honest Turkish man who feeds himself, as we do, by blood and sweat-he is our brother. We have together lived with him, and want to so live again...” Continuing, the staff summoned all citizens of Macedonia to a struggle against tyranny: “Come brothers, Muslims, come and fight against your and our enemies! Come, under the flag of autonomous Macedonia! Macedonia is our mother and she calls for our help. Come help break the chains of slavery and free ourselves from misery and suffering so that the streams of blood and tears are dried up!” The Krushevo Manifesto “represents the most mature political document of either the Krushevo revolutionary authorities or the Ilinden Uprising in general.” In this respect, Dimitar Mitrev argues, “The Krushevo republicans declared, in their own vernacular, in the Manifesto and in their political accomplishments, that there could be only one Macedonia for them, a free, democratic one, with full equality of all nationalities. A heavier blow could not have been delivered to Vrhovism.

In response, the Ottomans dispatched an army to suppress the uprising. By the middle of August, Ottoman military power in Macedonia had reached a total of 239 battalions of infantry, 39 squadrons of cavalry and 74 batteries of artillery-a grand total of some 167,300 infantry, 3,700 cavalry and 444 cannons. Capturing Krushevo was the greatest problem facing the Ottoman commanders. Any counteroffensive against this centre of the Macedonian rebellion would not be easy: the revolutionaries were solidly organized and the 1,200 insurgents had fortified the town, preparing to repulse any Ottoman attack.

Not until August 9 and 10 did Turkish troops begin to move against the town. The main body of the Ottoman army, consisting of 10,000 troops with supporting artillery under the command of Bahtiar Pasha, advanced over the Prilep plain towards Krushevo. There, it encircled the village of Krivogashtani and placed 7 or 8 cannons at Topolishte. A second division of the Ottoman army, advancing from the north, was stationed by the villages of Vrbovec and Trstenik. The third column occupied the Monastery of the Holy Salvation, as a base for further operations. In addition, an Ottoman detachment of 4,000 soldiers arrived from Bitola and divided into two columns near the village of Pribilci. One advanced along the road from the village of Ostrilci to Krushevo, the other along the Zaba River towards Kojov Trn. A final detachment of 5,000 soldiers approached from Kichevo. The overall strategy of this army, which numbered nearly 20,000 troops, was to encircle Krushevo and capture it through a series of coordinated attacks. On August 12, the encirclement of the town was complete and Bahtiar Pasha called on the rebels to surrender. The Krushevo General Staff debated the merits of surrender, but settled on defending the town instead. Bahtiar Pasha then unleashed an artillery bombardment, followed by simultaneous infantry assaults.

The Ottoman troops encountered violent and heroic resistance. Although the General Staff ordered a retreat west to Osoj, individual fighters remained in the town to resist the attack. The most notable was Pitu Guli who, together with his detachment, fought to the end. He and his fighters repulsed continual attacks; particularly fierce were the battles at Sliva and Mechkin Kamen, where most of the rebels died defending the town. The fighting for Krushevo itself lasted the entire day of August 12, with the Ottoman victory finally coming that evening. Staff members led by Nikola Karev managed to break through the Turkish cordon and escape. The Ottoman army entered the town and began reprisals, massacring and plundering the people.

While the Krushevo Republic was quickly brought to an end, it represents one of the most significant events in the Macedonian national-liberation movement. Created in the flames of the struggle against the feudal system of the Ottoman state, it was an expression of the desire of the Macedonians to create a national state. Hence, the proclamation of the Krushevo Republic represents the highest accomplishment and one of the most important state-legal acts of the Macedonian insurgents.”


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