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BALKAN IMMIGRANTS

BALKAN IMMIGRANTS. Bulgarians, Albanians, and Montenegrins constitute the principal Balkan groups in Cleveland. The major period of Balkan immigration to the U.S. occurred from 1880-1924, prompted by economic stress and political changes in the Balkan countries. The economic condition of Balkan peasants had deteriorated because of industrialization, foreign competition, agricultural commercialization, and population growth. Political unrest and demands for independence following the retreat of the Ottoman Empire created uncertainty and instability. Natural disasters further prompted many Balkans to leave.

Most immigrants were peasants, possessing few skills, no formal education, and meager financial resources, attracted by Cleveland's unskilled labor opportunities. In their urban ghettos, social networks provided newcomers with the support necessary to adjust to their new environment. The Orthodox church became an expression of their ethnicity as well as of religious loyalty, just as it had been in their homeland since the Turkish invasions of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Although Bulgarians, Albanians, and Montenegrins shared many experiences, each was unique.

Bulgarians. Bulgarian immigration to Cleveland divides into 2 periods: turn-of-the-century immigration (1880-1924) and post-World War II refugee immigration, with most arriving during the first period. This group may be further divided into immigration prior to or after the Balkan War of 1912. Bulgarians arriving before 1912 represented every social and economic class. Most were young men; many converted to Protestantism in Bulgaria; and they came intending to settle permanently in America.

The Bulgarians arriving after 1912 were generally peasants who came for economic reasons, many men planning to return home after making their fortunes. Eventually, most remained and instead brought their families to America. The immigrants settled around Herman and Stone aves. NW, Orange and Woodland aves. SE, E. 30th St. between Payne and Perkins aves., and later W. 105th St. and Madison Ave. NW., working in nearby factories. It is impossible to determine the exact number of Bulgarian immigrants who settled in Cleveland because, between 1899 and 1920, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Montenegrins were counted together by U.S. immigration authorities. The majority of the Bulgarians were from Thrace (Turkey), Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

The most recent immigrants, arriving after World War II, were escaping Communism. Once Communists seized control of Bulgaria, only a small number immigrated. Most Bulgarian immigrants now come from the former Yugoslavia, the Macedonian Republic, and the autonomous region of Kosso-Metahija (Kosmet). The ghettos of early Bulgarian immigrants no longer exist; their descendants live throughout the city, numbering approx. 700. A weekly newspaper, Macedonian Tribune, enjoys a large circulation among Bulgarian descendants. Two journals are also available: Rodolubie, from Bulgaria; and the Bulgarian Exile Monitor, published in English, with subscribers throughout the U.S., Australia, and England.

Most of Cleveland's Bulgarians are EASTERN ORTHODOX. St. Dimitar Church Organization is the city's Eastern Orthodox church club. Efforts to establish an Eastern Orthodox church in the city have not been successful. ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL was attended by Bulgarians in the early years. More recently, Bulgarians have attended Serbian or Greek Orthodox churches.

Albanians. Most of Cleveland's Albanians were originally from Koritza, the cultural and educational center of Albania, and came to Cleveland in 2 distinct waves: early 20th-century (1900-38) and post-World War II. Most Albanians settled in Cleveland before 1938, when Albania was occupied by Italy, with approx. 1,000 people of Albanian birth or descent living in Cleveland before World War II. After the war, some Albanians considered displaced persons came from refugee camps in Italy, Germany, and Austria. Others came from the Kosmet region of Yugoslavia. No Albanians were allowed to leave their homeland once the Communists gained control of the country.

Almost all Albanian immigrants were illiterate peasants. Most were men, originally not planning to remain in the U.S.; eventually most stayed and brought their families to join them. The early immigrants settled on the west side of Cleveland, on Detroit Ave. NW from W. 54th to W. 58th sts., and in Linndale. Some settled on the east side around E. 30th and St. Clair. However, LINNDALE became the major Albanian community. Clevelanders of Albanian birth or descent are now scattered throughout the city, numbering approx. 500. The city's Albanians have several social clubs and 3 newspapers, the Dielli, Liria, and Shqiptari i Lire. Cleveland's Albanians of the Orthodox faith founded the Society of St. E. Premte in 1938. In 1944 the Society purchased land at 10716 Jasper Ave., and by 1952 a church hall was under construction, including a temporary iconastas. Regular church services were inaugurated under this arrangement with the coming of the first pastor, Rev. Stephen Lasko, in 1955. Ground was broken for the church proper in 1964, and regular services began in 1965. Bells were installed in 1975. St. E. Premte still serves Orthodox Christians to this day. Services are conducted in English.

Montenegrins. Montenegrins settled in Cleveland during 2 periods: the turn of the century (1890-1914) and after World War II, with the largest number arriving during the early period. Most Montenegrin immigrants were uneducated peasants. Their economic condition was the lowest in all of the Balkans, with fighting between them and their Moslem neighbors ravaging the land, and blood feuds between clans often generating more hostility toward fellow Montenegrins than toward their enemy, the Turks. Political dissatisfaction prompted still more emigration.

Montenegrins and Serbs were closely connected in both European and Cleveland history. Prior to 1918, Montenegrins had an independent country, Crno Gorci, an ally of Serbia in the Serbian wars for liberation (1912-14). In 1915 both Serbia and Crno Gorci were occupied by the Central Powers. The spoken language of the Montenegrins is similar to Croatian, although culturally and religiously, Montenegrins are most like Serbians. Therefore, between the world wars, Montenegro affiliated with Serbia. During this time, Cleveland's Montenegrins were absorbed by the city's Serbians. Following World War II, only a few thousand Montenegrins immigrated to the U.S. A small number settled in Cleveland, constituting the smallest number of South Slav immigrants in the city. They are counted together with Serbs.

Nicholas J. Zentos

Lorain County Community College

Wendy Marley

Cuyahoga Community College


Georgevich, Dragoslav. Serbian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (1977).

Works Projects Admin. The Peoples of Cleveland (1942).