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Dame Gruev – Legend of the Macedonian national revolution

We are on the eve of the 110th anniversary of the death of Damjan Gruev, Macedonian revolutionary, teacher and ideologist of the Macedonian national revolutionary fight, who will be remembered forever. Damjan Jovanov Gruev was born on 18th January 1871 in the village of Smilevo, near Bitola. He died on 23rd December 1906 while fighting the Turkish army.
He was educated in Smilevo, Bitola, Thessaloniki, Sofia and Belgrade and he worked as a teacher
in Smilevo, Bitola, Prilep, Thessaloniki and Stip. Dame Gruev was one of the founders of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, which was also known as TMORO and VMRO. It was founded in 1893 in Thessaloniki.
At the Smilevo Congress in April, 1903, Gruev was appointed as a member of the Main Staff of the Ilinden Uprising. After the uprising, he supported the reform fraction in VMRO that wanted the revolutionary fight to be reorganized.
Several months before Gruev’s death in 1906, a reporter from the Edinburgh­based newspaper “Blackwood’s Magazine” visited his troops in the region of Kratovo and spent several days with them.

The adventure in Macedonia
The Scottish reporter had spent the entire previous year in Bulgaria, collecting information about VMRO. On 6th August, along with an unnamed English companion and the intermediary, Duke Petar Angelov, they entered Macedonia, which was under Ottoman rule, via the border town of Kyustendil.
“I don’t intend to tell the reader an adventure­filled story, but to convey a more specific insight into the revolutionary work in Macedonia through the experiences from those 10 days and through conversations I had with some of the educated members of the Organization. I learned more about the “Macedonian Central Committee” (the CC of VMRO) in 10 days than spending a year in Bulgaria” – the introduction states.

The author describes the regular “soldiers of the Committee” as people dressed in “heavy woolen vests and long woolen socks” and armed with a revolver, a long hunting knife, 2­3 lines of ammunition, dynamite sticks and the “Mannlicher” rifle, thus marking the start of his short adventure with the illegal guerrilla troops, as well as the undercover “village troops” that he referred to as the village “Macedonian militia”. Those are the civilian, semi­legal groups consisting of people that only seem to be living an ordinary life, but are in fact well­armed and are logistic support to the “regular” guerrilla in certain situations. And they are always on stand­by.

“The courier network is one of the most important elements of the Organization. The goal is delivery of official reports and circular mail, fast spreading of information about the location of the enemy troops as well as clearing of the roads for safe passage of “undercover” troops or individuals. Even though our “Duke” knows the region very well, our movement always depends on the couriers” – the author states.
The locations in every village where the couriers met in order to handover a letter or take a group of people to the next point of the route were well­established. 

The Macedonian rebels wanted to take the reporter to the village of Konopnica, near Kriva Palanka, where just several days earlier the Turkish Army massacred the Macedonian population, killing one man, three women and four children, leaving eight more people wounded.

The “village troops” from Konopnica asked Duke Petar Angelov, who was in the neighboring village, for help. He was supposed to attend to the wounded, but the Turks didn’t allow it. The village was under complete siege by the Army, according to the article.

The first meeting with Gruev
Several kilometers further, the Scotsman, the Englishman and Duke Angelov found themselves in front of a steep mountain when Angelov, the guide of the foreign “mini­delegation” proudly stated: “You are no longer in Ottoman territory. Up here lives Damjan Gruev. No Turk dares to come here. This is our free republic. Not even the tax collectors dare to come here without the army, something that Sultan Abdul­Hamid currently can’t afford.
After several hours of walking up the mountain, they finally met Damjan Gruev, the “leader of the Macedonian Committee”, as the author states in his article.
“You are the first foreigners ever to come here. Welcome to my mountain home” – were Gruev’s first words to them.

The small house was covered by vineyard and surrounded by trees, bushes and gardens where beans, peppers, watermelons and wheat where grown. Gruev invited his guests inside. The Scottish reporter describes “Mr. Gruev” (that is how the troops addressed him) as a talkative person, much to his surprise, because he had heard that he wasn’t an easy person to find for an interview.
After being welcomed inside and served with coffee and milk, Gruev started asking the Englishman about the political situation in his country. The Scotsman served as an interpreter in this situation.
According to the author, Gruev left an impression opposite to the one of the egoistical Macedonian leaders who were “posing” for the world media on a daily basis, possibly referring to Gruev’s opponent, Boris Sarafov, who was constantly having interviews, statements and photographs published by foreign newspapers at the time.

The first question of the Scottish reporter was:
“What stops the Turkish battalion from coming here?”
Gruev: “Nothing. But, when they do, they won’t find us here. If they decide to come here, we will know it a day in advance.”
­ “Do they know you are here?”
­ “Every Turkish officer in Macedonia knows that”.
­ “Are you running the Organization from here?”
­ “Only with the region of Kratovo, no further than that”.

The article continues by describing the Macedonian mountain sceneries and how the author learned that he should always bring the “Mannlicher” rifle with him while he was in Gruev’s troops.
Several days into his stay, the Scot raised the question about the soldiers’ nationalities.

Namely, as he himself states, he had stayed for an entire year in Bulgaria before going to Macedonia. That was a period when the chauvinistic idea that a “Bulgarian majority” was living in Macedonia was trending. Foreigners were particularly easy targets to fool with those doctrines.
Which is why, even when speaking about Macedonians who were Christians, influenced by the Bulgarian propaganda, the Scot asked the following question:
“We are aware about the Greek and the Serbian propaganda, about peasants fooled by the Greek Church and the Serbian agents. But why are the Bulgarians fighting each other?”

He received a clear and unambiguous answer:
“If the Greek and Serbian propagandas really exist, why wouldn’t’ there be a Bulgarian propaganda as well? There is. We see some of the Bulgarian politicians as bigger enemies than the Greeks and Serbians. Covering behind some famous soldiers, they are sending entire troops in Macedonia to advocate for the idea of annexation. We have no other choice but to chase them away. Even those who are of our own kind. If they don’t respect us, we are left with no other choice. There is only one valid organization here – VMRO. Neither Conchev nor Sarafov have been chosen by the people, so if they even try to come here, we will be forced to act accordingly”.

It was just days since Anton, an adventurist revolutionary from Czech Republic, had joined the troops. The soldiers referred to him as “Brother Anton”. In fact, he returned from an undercover assignment, so the reporter asked him if he had participated in many battles.

“Physical battles are not our goal. The organization is an administrative machinery of the underground republic built as protection from the Turkish anarchy. The rebellion troops are the police forces of the republic. We also have our civil courts in every village. The regional committees, chosen by the villagers, represent local “governments””.

­“But what if the Duke abuses his power?”
­“That is impossible. He responds to the President of the Local Committee. He can’t give orders, but can ban him from entering the village”.

The chain of hatred has to be cut at some point
Somewhere near the end of the reporter’s stay with Gruev’s troops, a courier arrived, bringing details about the massacre by the Turkish Army a week before in the village of Konopnica, which was well documented by foreign diplomats. Several minutes later, the reporter asked Gruev:

­“What are you going to do about this?”
­“What would you do? Retaliate?”
­“Yes. I admit, I feel that way”.
­“I felt that way, too. Guided by such feelings, many of our fellow soldiers acted in that manner, contributing to their bad reputation. We have to leave these cases behind us and continue with our organization. We feel the same way to the Greek crimes. We kill the Greek spies like we kill every other spy, but we don’t retaliate against the ordinary people”.

Gruev knew and was well aware that retaliations only strengthen the chain of hatred. The visionary knew that the chain had to be cut off at some point.
Two days later, the guests from the “island” left and Gruev was left with a missionary trip across Southern and Eastern Macedonia.
In order to restore and strengthen the revolutionary network, Gruev went to Thessaloniki, Kilkis, via Serres and Dojran, all the way to the Malesh region in December, 1906. On 23rd December, the troops were in the village of Rusinovo, near Berovo. They settled in Dimitar Alagjozov’s house. This is where the fatal ambush by the Turks happened in which Gruev was wounded and managed to escape, but died after several hours of running and shooting.

His contemporary Nikola Rusinski, who was born in that region, researched about the tragic event in more detail. In his “Memories” he wrote: “In the bloody battle, the famous teacher from Smilevo, the apostle of the Macedonian freedom Dame Gruev found his heroic death”.
Slobodan Ivanov

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