The Macedonian Tendency: Book Review: Victor Serge

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Book Review: Victor Serge

By David Edenden

Victor Serge was a famous French author of Russian descent who was a follower of Leon Trotsky. He was jailed by Stalin and then expelled from the Soviet Union after an international campaign to secure his freedom. He had an interest in the Balkans. It is a very interesting book. There are only a few pages relating to Macedonia. He wrote for many French radical papers and some of his writing may be about Macedonia, if anyone is interested in doing some research. He seemed to be friends with Dimitar Vlahov and Todor Panitza.

Victor Serge wrote about his prison years (1912-1917) in a novel called "Men in Prison". I do not know if he mentions Macedonians in that novel but he does mention them below. If someone could get a copy and post a review, it would be great. I wonder what Christopher Hitchens would have to say about Victor Serge and Macedonians?





Memoirs of a Revolutionary - University of Iowa Press ed. 2002. Translated Peter Sedgwick OUP 1963.
There is more here, and here.


P. 63-64 Paris France. 1917

One day I was arrested in the street by two terrified inspectors who for some unknown reason were expecting me to resist to the death.
...I was conveyed by administrative decision to a concentration camp at Precigne, in La Sarthe.

... Guarded by weary Territorials, who never had an idea unless it was to re-sell us bottles of wine at a handsome profit, we would hold pro- Soviet meetings in the courtyard of the secularized monastery.
...Belgians, Macedonians, and Alsatians, variegated "suspects (some of them genuinely, in fact horribly suspect), would hear us out in silence...

...The Belgians and Alsatians were vaguely pro-German; the Macedonians, proud, destitute and silent were just Macedonians, ready to fight the whole world for their primitive mountain liberty.

...one of our group tried to escape, under cover of a storm. He fell in the camp's perimeter, under the livid glare of searchlights: "Twenty years old and six bullets in his body," it was remarked. On the following day, we summoned the camp to revolt. The "Starost", or Elder of the Macedonians, came and told us that they would support us.

...The local Prefect came, and promised us an inquiry ...the revolt subsided.

P 179-180 Vienna, Austria 1925

I became interested in the movement for a Balkan Federation. The conception was noble: no other remedy was appropriate to the division of the small kindred peoples of the peninsula into feeble states, destined to be destroyed sooner or later through their mutual laceration.

The Doctor, a big white haired Bulgarian, scholarly and Parisified, would arrange appointments with me in the discreet little local cafes. A taxi, and then the tram: we would head out to the vineyards, between Floridsdorf and Modlin .

There we would meet a young stranger in an outsize overcoat, whom I immediately classified as a bodyguard; I thought I could see the enormous Browning revolver, the favorite weapon of Macedonians (who do not trust small bullets), bulging through his coat pockets.
The overcoat-man, all smiles, hurried me along urgently. The tram again, and then we came to a village full of charming taverns, and after that to a villa, adorned with flowers like its neighbors, in which lived the last surviving leader of the Communist-influenced "La Federation Balkanique" (1) a former member of the Ottoman Parliament.

...Vlahov (2) rarely goes out now. Murder lies in wait for him at every street corner, and at night trusted men stand on watch in the garden of his villa.

In this very city his predecessor, Todor Panitza, was recently killed while watching a performance in a theater. A short while before that, Panitza's predecessor, Petar Chaulev, had discovered that he was being trailed in these streets and took the train to Milan. In Milan he was murdered. A short while before that, the old leader of I.M.R.O. (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization) (3), Todor Alexandroff, had been killed at the end of a conference in the mountains, in which he had advocated cooperation with the Communists. I had drafted the three obituaries for the press.

Around the great conception of a Balkan Federation, there swarmed hordes of secret agents,impresarios of irredentism, pedlars of the influential word, night-walking politicians engaged in six intrigues at a time.

And all these smart gentlemen, with their over-gaudy neckties sought to harness the unbridled energy of the Comitajis and sell it to and fro to any buyer. There was the Italian wing, the Bulgarian wing, the Yugoslav wing, two Greek tendencies, one monarchist and one republican, ideologies, personal cliques, and vendettas. We knew the cafes in which the revolvers of any given group lay in wait, watched from the café opposite by those of another.

Footnotes
(1)La Federation Balkanique: a multi-lingual review published in Vienna from 1924 and after 1931 in Frankfurt, with communist backing but a wider appeal. (It advocated a Balkan Federation including an independent Macedonia)

(2) Dimitar Vlahov, a leading Macedonian communist and Commintern delegate. After 1935 he took refuge in the Soviet Union; in 1943 emerged as a partisan leader with Tito, with special responsibility for Yugoslav Macedonia, and died in 1951 as Vice-President of Yugoslavia.

(3) I.M.R.O. was a Macedonian nationalist and terrorist organization founded in 11893 and financed by a levy on all Macedonians; it was based on local activist bodies called Comitajis which elected delegates to a national convention.

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