In his tribute to Professor Liubomir Miletich, Hristo Silyanov described
him as a man with two great passions in life "Knowledge and Macedonia".
They became the ideals of an entire generation of his compatriots, who
were also forced to live beyond the borders of their oppressed homeland.
As one of those leading members of a small but growing intelligentsia,
he became the spokesman of a generation which championed the freedom of
Macedonia through legal means.
Liubomir Miletich was born on January 14, 1863, in Shtip. His father Georgi Miletich, was a local Bulgarian schoolteacher whose family had immigrated from Novi Sad in Serbia. According to Miletich, his family origins could be found in Odrin. His great grandfather, Mile Voivoda, a Bulgarian forced to flee from the Turks, made his way to Austria. Through the years he lost contact with its Bulgarian roots. When Miletich was born, the Bulgarian Revival was well under way and life was not easy. The spiritual oppression of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the political oppression of the Turks gave rise to a fierce struggle for self-preservation. As an educator, Georgi Miletich was at the forefront of this movement. His duties took him to many towns in Macedonia such as Veles, Shtip, Koukoush and Strumitsa, as there were few qualified teachers. Unfortunately, the Turkish government, often influenced by the Greeks, held this enlightened generation of Bulgarians under suspicion. Georgi Miletich soon fell prey to this policy when, in 1868, he was arrested for suspected of involvement in a freedom-fighting detachment. Luckily, due to the assistance of an influential Bulgarian, he was released, escaping imprisonment and exile in Asia Minor. For Georgi Miletich it signalled a change for him and his family. He was able to secure a position in the company building the Vardar Railway Line from Skopye to Salonika and moved his family to Salonika and on to Sofia where they settled permanently. Liubomir was a young boy when he left Macedonia but he harboured a love for his homeland that never left him. As soon as he was old enough, he began to organize his compatriots and to work actively for the freedom of the homeland that he did not live to see liberated.
Miletich completed his primary education in Sofia. Bulgaria, by this time newly liberated, was unable to provide for the needs of its rising generation beyond the elementary level. The years of Turkish domination had left the country far behind its western counterparts. Therefore, it was necessary for anyone who wished to further his education to go abroad. Many young Bulgarians travelled to Zagreb where they studied at the Croatian University founded by Bishop Straussmeyer, a man who was instrumental in helping many young Bulgarians to receive their education. Zagreb had become a centre for the Bulgarian intelligentsia. It is not surprising then that Miletich should find his way to Zagreb. After finishing his secondary education, he received a scholarship to study Slavic philology. It was his good fortune to study under the famous scholar Leopold Gaitler. In 1885, he married a Croatian and that same year left for Prague where he hoped to complete his doctorate. He was unable to do so, as he was called back to Bulgaria to teach in the new established school of higher learning in Sofia. (Sofiz - later the University of Sofia.
In spite of the many duties and responsibilities imposed upon him, he found time to take an active part in the activities of the Macedonian immigrant organizations in Sofia. During his youth, he was a member of the "Vurhovni Makedonski Komiteti" (Supreme Macedonian Committees) under the leadership of General Nikolaev and Yosif Kovachev (from Shtip)4. He was among many Macedonians who were in the forefront of political and cultural life in Bulgaria. Soon his published works began to appear in "Periodichesko Spisaniye" (published by the Bulgarian Literary Brotherhood in Braila). In 1888, when an advanced teaching course was started at Sofiz, the precursor to the University of Sofia, he was appointed one of the first instructors.
Having attained a taste of freedom, he understood the necessity of helping his compatriots in Macedonia. During the 1890's, the plight of Macedonia was uppermost in his mind. With his colleague, Dr. Ivan Georgov (from Veles) he travelled several times to the capitals of the great powers to plead on behalf of Macedonia. At the same time, his literary work flourished. He and his colleagues A. Teodorov (Balan), B. Tsonev and Dimitar Matov, began to publish "Bulgarski Pregled", an endeavour which lasted six years. It included many original stories and poems written by them. Miletich was also an eager contributor to "Zbornik za narodni umotvoreniya, nauka I knizhnina" (edited by Shishmanov) and to the Bulgarian literary society, which later became the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
When the revolutionary struggle broke out in Macedonia there was great concern by Macedonians abroad in Bulgaria for those they had left behind in Macedonia. Through the legal organizations, every possible effort was made to aid Macedonia. The endless flow of refugees was a constant reminder of the need for urgency. On his own initiative, Miletich travelled to Prague to appeal to the Czechs. During that same year, 1903, he and Professor Ivan Georgov made a journey to Europe visiting Petersburg, London, Paris and Rome. In London they spoke to the newly formed Balkan Committee. Shortly afterward, a special relief committee was formed. Soon a delegation which included Brailsford, his wife Lady Grogan and others was sent to Macedonia in an effort to ease the conditions of the suffering population.
After the suppression of the Ilinden Uprising, thousands fled to Bulgaria, among whom were counted many heroic freedom fighters. Miletich was the first to realize the historical significance of this event, for he new that they carried with them the living history of this tragic era. He visited many of them, recording their memoirs in their own dialects. These memoirs were published during the thirties in eleven books providing a first hand record of the Ilinden uprising.
Professor Miletich realized the importance of public opinion, especially with regard to Macedonia. After the Young Turk revolution and during the Balkan wars, he and Professor Georgov travelled to Europe meeting influential officials and writing articles in European newspapers propagating the idea of an autonomous Macedonia. During the first Balkan war, as a solider assigned in Salonika with the Bulgarian army, he was delegated by Macedonian leaders to draft a memoir to King Ferdinand on the situation of the Bulgarians in those parts of Macedonia supposedly liberated by the Serbs and Greeks.
By the end of the Balkan wars, events in Macedonia had reached tragic proportions. The avarice of the feuding Balkan countries had left Macedonia partitioned and in ruins while the population was left to suffer greater injustices. In Serbia and Greece all Bulgarian schools and churches were closed and the Bulgarian language outlawed. Both countries pursued an overt policy of denationalization and assimilation. The Macedonian intelligentsia in the occupied parts of Macedonia were forced to become martyrs. Most important was the fact that they were unable to take positions of leadership to improve their lot. Therefore, the burden fell upon those Macedonians who were living in Bulgaria. The need for an enlightened public opinion compelled Miletich and several other influential community leaders to meet and discuss how they might accomplish this end. The meeting turned out to be fruitful, the participants deciding that a newspaper would be published in French. It was known as "L'echo de Bulgarie"(renamed La Bulgarie in 1923 and La Parole Bulgare in 1937). Naturally, the head of the editorial board was Miletich. In the meantime, both Serbia and Greece did not remain idle. They too tried to use their influence in Europe. One example of this policy is the Serbian visit to Russia to enlist their support. Miletich was sent again to defend the Bulgarian position. Upon his return to Bulgaria after the Second Balkan war he returned to find Bulgaria full of refugees from Macedonia. Unable to remain idle with his countrymen in such a state, he took part in all undertakings to relieve their suffering. He did so in the way he knew best; by investigating and recording the atrocities which had been committed in Macedonia. His role with respect to the Carnegie Commission is of utmost importance. He knew many of the members of the Commission personally. His reputation was known to them as well, so that when they embarked on their investigation, his material was an invaluable addition to their findings. Much of the information which he had collected was included in the voluminous report of the Carnegie Commission (Enquete dans les Balkans - Paris 1914). During the winter of 1913-1914, he visited refugees from both Macedonia and Thrace, recording the horrifying details of events. In 1916, as a member of the commission inquiring into the lands freed by Bulgaria, he was able to visit his native Macedonia. Accompanied by the photographer from the national museum, Georgi Traichev, he was able to collect many pictures that later went into the publication of "Makedoniya v Obrazi" (Macedonia Illustrated - also in English and French).
Professor Miletich continued his work for many years. During the twenties, he visited Europe many times as a private citizen and as a delegate to the League of Nations, often engaging in sharp disputes. In his memoirs, Ivan Mihailoff tells of an incident he personally heard about while visiting at the home of Miletich. At one international conference, Professor Ibrovats, the Serbian delegate, while defending the Serbian claims to Macedonia declared:
In Macedonia the population is Serbian. Why even the name of Professor
Miletich is Serbian!
to which Miletich responded:
Even I, Miletich the Serb [see ref 5], maintain that the Slavic population of Macedonia is Bulgarian
Without a doubt, one of his most important activities was the establishment of the Macedonian Scientific Institute. Silyanov says of him: "He made the Institute a centre of learning and literature, something like a Macedonian Academy of Sciences." The official publication of the Institute was "Makedonski Pregled" (Macedonian Review) in which were included invaluable studies on history, geography, ethnography, dialectology and the economic life of Macedonia. The Institute produced many valuable works on Macedonia and united the Macedonian intellectual community through many trying times. There were fourteen important literary works and sixteen issues of "Makedonska Biblioteka", as well as books containing the memoirs of the leading freedom fighters, where were collected by Miletich and published while he was the editor.
Although he led a full and eventful life, it was not without its tragedies. Yet looking at the accomplishments of Miletich, one would never guess that it was so. Three of his six children during their youth. When his youngest son took ill, he was forced to mortgage his home so that he could take him to Switzerland to undergo the necessary treatment. But his was not a generation interested in financial gain. Many young Macedonians similarly gave up opportunities for material wealth in order to serve Macedonia. His commitment and devotion to the Macedonian cause was a shining example to those who came after him. He left an inexhaustible source of materials that would otherwise would have been lost forever. His legacy is one which should not be forgotten.