MPO History - 1940 Macedonian Almanac Was the Brainchild of Peter G. Atzeff
by Christo N. Nizamoff
Peter G. Atzeff is the only member of the MPO Central Committee who served in the two most important posts National Secretary and President. While he fulfilled his duties in both posts with praiseworthy dedication and distinction, I believe that his contributions as secretary by far surpass those of his presidency, simply because he took the secretarial post when the organization was still in its infancy and needed a leader who could inspire confidence and enthusiasm. He arrived in the US in December 1932 to take the post relinquished by the unforgettable Assen Avramoff who had returned to Sofia. The MACEDONIAN TRIBUNE was only five years old and the MPO was still in its formative years.
Besides the economic depression which was sweeping the country, the organization had to fight the rising opposition of the communist groups parading among our immigrants as the Macedonian People's League. Actually they were followers of the well-known charlatan Dimitar Vlahov in Vienna, a paid agent of the Third International. The same Vlahov, who at one time was a Bulgarian high official, renounced his Bulgarian national origin after World War II and became a stooge (pardon me, leader) of the Skopie Serbo-Communist gang. George Pirinski and Nikola Kovatcheff were his USA agents.
Like his highly respected predecessors Jordan Tchkatroff and Assen Avramoff, Peter Atzeff was well-prepared to take on that challenge. In Sofia he had been active in the Macedonian Youth groups and Students' Association. A fiery orator, well-experienced in public speaking, and with an excellent knowledge of the history of the Macedonian struggle for freedom and independence, he was always able to corner the opposition of our coffee house Bolsheviks. And when they became unruly, as it happened in Gary, Ind., and Toledo, Oh., Peter knew how to use his fists and he did. The naive followers of renegade Vlahov became the object of ridicule.
Little by little these annoyances disappeared from the scene and the MPO kept on growing in numbers and influence. The annual convention became the meeting place for thousands of our countrymen from all over the US and Canada. The parades were miles long. There was a strong revival of faith and enthusiasm. The driving forces which had instigated the founding fathers of the MPO at that historic meeting in October of 1922 in Ft. Wayne, Ind., continued to inspire our people. New MPO branches formed in Lackawanna and Rochester, NY; Kitchener and Windsor, Ontario; Jackson and Lansing, Mich.; Lima, Oh.; Hammond, Ind.; Portland, Ore; Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif. The Central Committee office in Indianapolis was buzzing with activities. Dozens of letters came in daily and were promptly answered.
Frequently reports from the local organizations filled the third and fourth pages of the paper which were specially designated for that purpose, and we were sometimes forced to use a part of page two when extra space was needed. These articles included reports of past meetings and announcements for dances or vecherinkas where a small program preceded the dancing.
By an old tradition everything served at the bar was donated. Local businessmen donated soft drinks or liquor, the women made banitsa or other goodies. The cost of the event was only the rent of the hall (some groups had their own halls) and the orchestra. The proceeds were divided between the local branch and the Central Committee, or the MACEDONIAN TRIBUNE. In these projects the members of the Ladies' Sections provided invaluable service.
During the campaign months of February and May and during the commemoration of the Ilinden Insurrection in August, there were weekends when the three of us (Peter, Luben [Dimitroff] and I) were out of town as guest speakers at these events. We traveled nights to get there; we traveled nights to get back. We felt invigorated by the reception and friendships of our members. These were really exciting times and the unity in the Central Office was excellent. We punched no cards, but we never looked at the clock. We were young and single and there were many days when we turned off the lights at 8 or 9 p.m. Then off we went to the old Thompson Restaurant where the blue plate was 30 cents, including coffee. Our contact with the Macedonian National Committee in Sofia was steady and left nothing to be desired.
Then in May 1934, a group of disgruntled politicians and ambitious officers dumped the legally elected government [of Bulgaria] and declared a dictatorship. Later it became known that some of the perpetrators of this upheaval were in close contact with the Serbian government and more or less were doing their bidding. Their first act was to suppress the Macedonian Brotherhoods and all Macedonian Organizations in Bulgaria and intern some of their leaders.
From that fateful day on to the present, the burden to carry on the Macedonian struggle for a free and independent Macedonia fell on the shoulders of the MPO. That is why it is so important that we stick together and help the MPO and its Central Committee carry on the fight started by our fathers and grandfathers.
The change in Bulgaria did not discourage us. We continued with renewed vigor. As secretary, Peter Atzeff proved equal to the demand. The Committee issued many statements condemning the illegal actions of the Zvenarsky regime in Sofia. It condemned the government in Belgrade and Athens for their denationalization policy in Macedonia and refusal to grant to our people the minority rights provided in the peace treaties.To encourage our people in Bulgaria we found ways to send the newspaper and our literature, and all of our MPO groups stood behind the actions of the Central Committee. Protests were also sent to the League of Nations in Geneva. The Central Committee was at its post.
As Secretary, Peter rendered invaluable service to the MPO. But one single thing stands out; the one great project that will perpetuate his memory for all times is the 1940Almanac Macedonia which Peter edited and for two years worked over day and night. The Almanac, published in Bulgarian, is an invaluable book. It is a combination of history, geography, a one-volume encyclopedia. It describes the movement for a free and independent Macedonia, how and why it evolved and explains who were the first Macedono-Bulgarian patriots to initiate it. It gives biographical sketches of many participants in the movement, describes in some detail the great Ilinden Insurrection and the districts in Macedonia which took the most active part in it and, therefore, suffered the cruelest reprisals by the Turks. It gives the names of most towns and villages, the rivers and lakes, its mountains, etc. It includes pictures of MPO conventions and other gatherings also with photographs and short biographies of many of our families in the US and Canada.
It took exactly two years to complete this great and important book. While Dr. Tsvetko Anastasoff, at that time a member of the Central Committee, went from city to city to gather these family histories and pictures, Peter spent innumerable hours every day to compile the appropriate material and edit the text.
I still wonder how our old linotype, and even the older flat bed press, stood the pressure of running hour after hour from early morning till midnight. I ran the machine during the day to set material for the Tribune. Sterio Nicoloff took it after five or six p.m. to set copy for the Almanac and Todor Vasileff ran the old press which, like an old horse, got too tired and stopped instantly. Yes, when that happened we cussed and swore and then, to relax from the built-up tension, we usually started an old song. And I also wonder how it was possible in that dilapidated place of ours, many times flooded by the heavy rains and heated by an old fashioned coal stove, that we were able to put out such a good book. I keep that book close to my desk at home. And often times I open it to look at some of the photographs. Many, many of my friends are there, but they are long gone to their reward. A terrible sadness envelopes me. For these were the people Peter and I grew old with. These were the people who stood behind the MPO like the rock of Gibraltar.
Then one morning in 1941 Peter met us at the office with the wonderful news: "The book is finished. It is all over!" A spontaneous hurrah pierced the ceiling and by unanimous consent we declared that day as our holiday. Todor ran across the street to the nearest bar and brought a fifth of Seagrams and a few 7 Ups. We celebrated the end of a long, long journey. Happily it was a Thursday and the paper had been mailed the day before. I have one regret about the book that it was not published in English, too. But time was short, expenses high and except for Christ Anastasoff, who was still teaching, there was no one else who could translate this monumental book and do it justice.
These truly were the Golden Years of the MPO and that trend continued through 1955. A great deal of the credit goes to Peter Atzeff. He was truly a dedicated and brave man. He fought a determined battle at the last Toronto convention to put the MPO back on the right track, the track outlined in our bylaws. And Peter died like the brave man he was.
[Editor's Note: Peter Atzeff was acting editor of the TRIBUNE for a period of six months while Luben was in Sofia. He died at the 1982 MPO Convention held at Toronto. He is survived by his wife Dita Atzeff, his daughter Dorie Reynolds and her family.]
The writer had worked for the MPO for more than 40 years. After retirement he continued to write articles until his death in 1989. This is the final article of his 1984-5 series.