The Illyrian movement in Bulgaria

Written by Николай Желев
 „Царството на славяните“ на Мавро Орбини „Царството на славяните“ на Мавро Орбини

Illyrian movement (Ilirski pokret in Croatian) was a cultural and political Croatian movement aimed at unifying the Slavs. It originated in the 1830–1840’s in Croatia and Slavonia and influenced the culture of the South Slavs in the Balkans.


Three types of ideas for unification of the Slavs are defined based on the ideological centres: western Czechoslovak reciprocity, eastern Russian pan-Slavism, and southern – Croatian Illyrian movement. Lack of homogeneity has been a characteristic feature of all ideas for the unification of the Slavs, i.e. the ideas of an author were not strictly followed by succeeding authors. Language as a common heritage has underlain the idea of Czechoslovak Slavic reciprocity. Russian Pan-Slavism represented Russian politics among the Slavs. Croatian Illyrian movement, in turn, represented the common Slavic heritage in the form of a common state named Illyria. The linguistic issue has also played a significant role, but unlike the Czechoslovak Slavic reciprocity, the followers of the Illyrian movement regarded it as simply one step towards the restoration of the legendary Illyria.

Major figures of Illyrian movement have been the abbot of the Mljet Order, Mavro Orbini, and the Franciscan monk Andrija Kacic-Miosic. Orbini’s work The Realm of the Slavs has been one of Paisiy’s of Hilendar sources for writing Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya [Slavic Bulgarian History]. The work of the abbot traces the history of all South Slavic peoples and presents them in the best light. As maintained by the author, the closeness between the Slavic peoples is most clearly reflected in the reason why the South Slavs have lost their independence – namely, because that they were not united against the Ottoman invasion, and, moreover, they have often fought each other. The work of Andrija Kacic-Miosic combines texts having the character of historical chronicles and literary works alike. There has been a debate as to whether the historical data is authentic, although the author himself stated that the presented stories were authentic. They were perceived as authentic by the author of Anonimna Zografska hronika [Аnonymous Zograph chronicle].

In the Bulgarian environment the interest in the Slavs as a community has been relatively low. In the Slavic-Bulgarian History there is also no interest in coming closer to the other South Slavs. The most striking example of this lack of interest is contained in Paisiy’s commentary on The Realm of Slavs: ‘A Mavrubir, a Latin, had translated from Greek a short history about Bulgarian tsars, but very briefly – it was hard to find their names and who after whom had reigned’(Иванов 1914: 8). Mavro Orbini was regarded as external to the Slavs, and his work was appreciated in terms of its contribution to Bulgarian history. An interest in the Illyrian movement was manifested in the Bulgarian environment via the Anonymous Zograph chronicle (Istoriya vkratse o bolgaroslovenskon narode), which is preserved in a copy of monk Yakov (Аргиров 1908; Иванов 1931: 628–642) and in История во кратце о българском народе словенском (Istoria vo krattse o bolgarskom narode slovenskom), written by the Hieromonk Spiridon (Христова 1992).

The beginning of the scientific interest in the history of Father Spiridon is marked by the publication of V. Zlatarski (В. Златарски 1900). B. Penev made comparisons between Istoria vo krattse and Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya. Y. Trifonov had a theory that the anonymous monk from the Zograph Monastery, Paisiy, and Spiridon had worked together. I. Konev traced the motifs that had transcended from Разговор угодни народа словинскога (Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskogo) [Conversation so pleasing to the Slavic people] byAndrija Kacic-Miosic in the text of Father Spiridon. N. Aretov devoted his analyses to the Illyrian movement and the origin of the Bulgarians.

The interpretation of the Illyrian past and its comprehension are completely different in Razgovor ugodni and Istoria vo krattse. While Kacic-Miosic, Orbini and later Ljudevit Gaj defended the thesis that the Slavs had a common origin, Spiridon, like Paisiy, focused on the fate of the Bulgarians and did not develop ideas for the unity of Slavs. The Bulgarians were represented as the centre of Slavdom, having gained the most successes and boasting the most glorious history: ‘Of all the Slavs the Bulgarians were the most famous, first they were called kings, first they had a patriarch, first they were baptized, the most spacious land they have taken in possession. Thus, from the whole Slavic lineage, they were the most powerful and most respected, and the first Slavic saints have come from Bulgarian lineage and language’ (Иванов 1914: 6). When describing the Illyrian past, Spiridon presented the legendary state of Illyria as a Bulgarian state. This shows ‘the willingness of historiography from the time of the national emancipation to easily absorb events related to other ethnicities’ (Аретов 2018).

Spiridon used the chronicle of Dimitriy Rostovski for the pre-Illyrian period and believed that the Bulgarians were Mosoch’s heirs. It is thought that this prince was not Russian, but rather a Slavic one. Boyan Penev considred this as ‘the beginning of the Russian influence on the New Bulgarian literature’ (Пенев 1976: 569). However, this common origin approximates Father Spiridon’s text to Slavism and Illyrian movement since Mosoch was represented as a Slavic prince, not as a Bulgarian-Russian one.

The founder, Illyric, has given his name to his kingdom. As the ruler of the country from which the various South Slavic tribes had originated, it is logical to think that he belonged to all of them, but according to the Bulgarian author he has been a Bulgarian ruler. Therefore, there is no ‘mother country’ in the work as a differentiated entity from which different peoples with similar cultures have originated. Not only does this absence distance Istoria vo krattse from the Illyrian movement, but it also reveals the rawness of ideas – the events were described but not understood. Similar raw content is found in the Anonimna Zografska hronika (retained in a 1785 transcript), but this is due to its laconic nature – individual rulers are not separated into sections and it is difficult to trace only the history of Bulgarians or other peoples.

According to Istoria vo krattse, the Illyrians had started referring to themselves as Bulgarians only under Tsar Bolg. The problem is that Bulgarians had very often adopted a new name –first, they were Illyrians, then Bulgarians, and finally they were Dacians after the name of their King Decebalus. The frequent changes of the ethnonym evidences to chaos of the text. Spiridon tells about ‘Perun or Peperuda King of Bulgaria’, about Alexander the Great, Troyan, Constantine the Great, Valentiy, Batoy, Asen the Great – he lists numerous names of Bulgarian and Byzantine kings without trying to find any internal connection and consistency between the different historical events (Пенев 1976: 571). The reason lies in the author’s admission that he had not been able to study enough and therefore might he not be judged too harshly.

In the Bulgarian environment, the Illyrian movement underwent a major change – from the idea of an all-Slavic union, it became a platform for the awakening of Bulgarian patriotism. The common heritage turned out to be Bulgarian, from which the Slavs that had separated drew (the Croats are not present, but the Serbs are mentioned). This transformation was probably due to the fact that there has been a long period in the history of the Croats (after 1102) that did not allow the formation of domestic pantheon of heroes and rulers. And because of this inability to form one’s own pantheon of heroes, it was resorted to solidarity with other culturally close-knit peoples. Due to the different types of self-awareness formation, the ‘model without development’ (as I. Konev referred to Razgovor ugodni by Kacic-Miosic) has turned out to be exactly that one in the Bulgarian environment. However, as Konev himself pointed out, although devoid of the original Slavic solidarity, a number of motifs can be accurately traced via the work of Kacic-Miosic (about Vladimir and Kosara, about the victory of Kan Krum over Nicephorus, etc.).


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  • Илиризмът - статия в Wikipedia 


SESDiva ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 – S&T

SESDiva. Project № 156

SESDiva aims at creating a virtual museum of written culture in relation to the social, religious, cultural, and ideological environment and relations between the South and East Slavs throughout the centuries from the 11th to the beginning of the 20th century.

Duration: 2018-2020
Program: ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 ‐ S&T Projects