What is Ilinden?

Ilinden, or St.Elijah’s day, is one of the most- if not the most-holiest and important days in the lives of all Macedonians everywhere. But what is Ilinden exactly, and what does it mean?

Pagan Macedonians from the earliest of times celebrated the deity Perun, a thunder god. After the Christianisation of Macedonia however, the worship of Perun was shifted to St Elijah. The man himself lived in the Kingdom of Israel around 100 years before the birth of Christ. He was a miracle worker and a prophet.

There are many folk tales and stories about why this saint is celebrated on this day. If we delve deep enough to the Ancient Macedonian civilisation, we can see a very important event that unfolded on the 2nd of August, 338 BC. Tired and exhausted from civil war, the Greek city-states had created a power vacuum that the small, northern Macedonian kingdom would eventually fill.

After his rise to power, Phillip II rapidly grew an expanded Macedonia while the Greek city-states fought each other to exhaustion. On the 2nd of August 338 BC, Phillip and his Macedonians marched in on the unsuspecting Greeks and crushed them at the Battle of Chaeronea. It was this event that established Macedonia as the ruling kingdom in all of Greece, subjecting the Greeks to slavery or worse. Athenians, Spartans and Thebans alike could not comprehend that a barbaric, non-Greek people would eventually rule them.

 

After these events, we would have to go forward in time almost 2,500 years before we saw the next big event take place on the 2nd of August.

After being conquered by the Romans, Bulgars, Serbs and the Byzantines, Macedonia saw itself under occupation yet again-this time under the Ottomans. For over 500 years, the Ottomans ruled Macedonia with an iron fist, ensuring its ‘Balkan Jewel’ would not come loose in its crown.

The turn of the 19th century saw Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia all fight and declare their independence against the Turks. The Macedonian uprising in 1878, also known as the Kresna Uprising, was unsuccessful and Macedonia would have to wait another 20 years before it could summon the strength for another one.

One the eve of the 2nd of August 1903, Macedonians rose up once more to rid themselves of their Turkish oppressors. Over 25, 000 Macedonians orchestrated a timely and calculated attack against the Ottomans in an uprising that lasted 3 months. Insurgents in Krusevo even declared an independent Macedonian state, free of any Turks known as the Krusevska Republika or the Krusevo Republic. However, it was short lived and was over run and dismantled by the Turks after 11 short days. 70,000 Macedonians were left homeless; 12,000 houses were razed to the ground; and almost 5,000 civilians were killed during the uprising.

 

This particular event lives strongly in the hearts and minds of Macedonians all around the world, and is the theme of the Macedonian national anthem ‘Denes nad Makedonija’.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the world found itself engulfed in war twice in the space of 30 years. In 1941, the Macedonians found themselves under a different master. Fascist Bulgaria had entered the second world war on the side of Nazi Germany and occupied nearly all of Macedonia. The Bulgarians were cruel and unforgiving, and entered the country under the guise of liberators. However, their deception would finally come to light.

A year after the Bulgarian invasion, Macedonian partisans formed the National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachment of Macedonia. Initially at 1,000 regulars, the Macedonian partisans grew up to 100,000 in strength before the war was over.

On the 11th of October 1941, the first rifle was fired in the city of Prilep to rid themselves of Bulgarian rule, and the campaign for a free and sovereign Macedonia had begun. On the 2nd of August 1944, the partisans had declared victory and had given rise to the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM). This body was set up by the Macedonians in the St Prohor Pcinski Monastery. They declared an independent Macedonian state with Macedonian being their mother tongue to be spoken freely throughout.

 

After the formation of this state and its recognition within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Macedonia would go on to declare its full autonomy, sovereignty and independence in September of 1991.

These 3 key events in Macedonian history: the Battle of Chaeronea; the Ilinden Uprising; and the birth of ASNOM and the Macedonian state are what have shaped and moulded the Macedonian people, all occurring on the same day – 2nd of August.