“Claiming Macedonia” : The Struggle for the Heritage, Territory and Name of the Historic Hellenic Land, 1862-2004.
By : George C. Papavizas
Puplised by: McFarland & Company, Inc.,
Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina, and London
When I was thirteen years old I asked my grandfather Constantine why he had joined the Greek andartes (freedom fighters) in 1904 and fought for four years in Macedonia against the armed Slavic bands (komitadjides, committee men) of the clandestine Bulgarian Komitet “Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization” (IMRO, Vatreshna Makedonska Revolutionna Organizadja). Still under the Ottomans in the early 1900s, western Macedonia and Krimini, the small village with its four hundred Greek-speaking inhabitants where I was born, were in the forefront of the so-called Macedonian Struggle (Makedonikos Agonas that lasted four years. Looking at me straight in the eyes for a long time in silence, twirling his long moustache, his sixty-year-old weather-beaten face furrowed in deep pain because of the distortion of historical facts on Macedonia emanating from the Slavic north, he said softly with tears in his eyes: “To make certain that after the Turks, our Macedonia remains Hellenic and my children and grandchildren enjoy freedom as Hellinomakedones” (Greek Macedonians).
Always with a permanent genteel expression evincing compassion and understanding, Kotas, as he was known among his friends and relatives, was a man of genuine affability and modest demeanor, underlined by a powerful mix of genuine Hellenic Macedonian values and an unusually strong commitment to family and the Greek Orthodox Church. Representing an exclusive group of brave men with a tenacious belief in Macedonian Hellenism, Kotas, my hero grandfather, had no bigotry, hate, or chauvinism in his heart. What, then, motivated the prudent and peaceful man to become a guerrilla fighter for Macedonian Hellenism when even the official Greek government kept a cautious and ambivalent approach to the Macedonian problem and a safe distance from the Macedonian Struggle in the early years? Only an intense, innate passion for Macedonian Hellenism’s fate and a distaste for history’s distortion could incite him to leave his family for four years for the undeclared vicious guerrilla fight against the Turks and Bulgarians. He died of pneumonia at sixty, leaving behind an deep feeling of patriotism for all and an indelible, life-long Hellenic Macedonian legacy that has had a major impact on me, his first grandson.
Sixty years later I was at my son’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Before I sat down, my eight-year-old grandson, Aidan, ran to me and brandished the Scholastic Atlas of the World, published by Miles Kelly Publishing Ltd. in Great Bardfield, Essex. He proudly demonstrated his geography skills by naming several countries around the world without reading the names, leaving his best for the end, the map of Greece. He looked at it for a few seconds, placed his finger on the word “Macedonia,” looked at me with his intelligent blue eyes, and said: “Here, Papou [Grandfather]; I know where Macedonia is, where you were born.” Suddenly, he looked at me again and said, disappointed, “But -you told me you were born in Macedonia, Greece.”
I was not surprised that the word “Macedonia” was not on the Hellenic Macedonia, but on a small country beyond Greece’s northern frontier. It was not the first time that my Macedonia, the only one that existed when I was born, was not shown on the map. The publisher did not bother to place the word “Macedonia” on Hellenic Macedonia, which occupies 75 percent of King Philip’s historic Macedonia. I. was at a loss how to explain to my grandson why Hellenic Macedonia, the beautiful Hellenic province engulfing the Thermaic Gulf from where the greatest military endeavor was launched to conquer Asia and Egypt three and a half centuries before Christ, was not shown on the map.
Not underestimating Aidan’s intelligence and his precociously keen interest in history and geography, I attempted to discuss with him the bare elements of the Macedonian issue and how and why it has affected relations among several Balkan and non-Balkan countries for more than a century. He quickly comprehended my short story on Macedonia, the historic Hellenic Macedonia. But because I have learned all my life to attribute the written word with more weight than the spoken one (verba volant, scripta manent), an authoritativeness that remains on paper for ever, I decided there and then to write about a plundered legacy; a disputed identity; how the international community (diplomats, politicians, news media, and representatives of non-governmental organizations [NGOs]) has been ensnared in clever political-historical inaccuracies, emanated or broadcast from capitals behind the Iron Curtain in the past, from free capitals north of the Greek frontier now; and how Greece’s northern neighbors have been striving to convince the world to recognize a small breakaway republic with a name that belongs to Hellenic Macedonia and to my grandchildren’s Macedonian legacy.
The nagging Hellenic Macedonian feelings in the back of my head since the serious discussion with my grandfather on this tremendously uncharted and controversial field, dormant for a long time because of life’s other serious, unrelated demands, and the question raised by my grandson sixty years later, drove me into a frenzy of energy and an insatiable urge to write something compelling and accessible about Macedonia, my Hellenic Macedonia. I felt the need to express my thoughts on the people of the north who have snatched Hellenic Macedonia’s name, suppressed my Hellenic Macedonian pride, and raised my anger at the distortion of historical and archaeological facts. When Balkan maps appear in newspapers and magazines, even in governmental publications, with the word “Macedonia” on the wrong place, I know that a historical transgression has been committed with Hellenic Macedonia mysteriously lifted from its original position for political expediency, compressed, and pushed northward to fit into a section of the landlocked Skopjan territory known as Vardarska Banovina (Vardar Province, prefecture of the River Vardar, South Serbia) till 1944, “People’s Republic of Macedonia” till 1991, and Republika Makedonija (Republic of Macedonia, minus the word “People’s” to adjust its name to the fall of communism) since 1991.
When I encounter blatant attempts by individuals or organizations to de-Hellenize the ancient Macedonians and the Hellenistic Age (the three centuries following Alexander’s death), nowadays renamed the “Macedonian Period” (i.e., Slav Macedonian Period), I discover with frustration man’s attempts to distort history. When I hear the Greek Macedonian city of Thessaloniki (Salonika), the city built in 316 B.C. by one of Alexander’s generals, Cassandros, named after his wife, half-sister of Alexander the Great, being called “Solun,” or see commemorative currency printed in Skopje depicting Thessaloniki’s White Tower, my adrenaline rises. When I read that people in Vardar Macedonia speak “Macedonian,” touted as the language of Alexander the Great, it offends my intelligence, my culture, and my knowledge of history behind which are Homer and Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Euripides and Sophocles (Durant 1939).
You may falsify, torch, bury, burn, ignore, forget history, but you cannot cancel it. It is always there. It will always be there. Joining the past with the future, it will always be there, because it is the learning of life. Man will always go to the books, those of the past and those of the future.
You may distort historical documents, but the coherence of Macedonian Hellenism will remain unbreakable. It is one of the characteristics defining Macedonian Hellenism. You may falsify historical documents, but you cannot quell “my liberty to be, to think, to speak my very essence of life” (Durant 1939). You may intensely torch Hellenism’s struggle, but the distillation of pain from the distortion of historical facts will last forever within pseudo-history’s spurious pages. In the veins of millions of Hellenic Macedonians, runs the blood of Macedonian Hellenism. You may place historical symbols that belong to another country, another epoch, another civilization, on a national flag, but you cannot prevent me from hearing my Hellenic Macedonian ancestors’ voices within me. They are language, religion, science, philosophy. Within my veins, and anxious, uneasy, creative, indestructible.
It is not my intent to add another historical book on Macedonia. It is to add a different book, one with a uniquely interpreted approach, easily read and understood by the common English-speaking people interested in the Macedonian issue and in the long political, diplomatic and military struggle for the heritage, the territory and the name of the Hellenic land. It is to show, step by step, how Greece’s northern neighbors created a new state with the name “Macedonia” on the wrong footing by arbitrary government decrees. It is also to reconstruct a picture of a state-controlled “Macedonian” ethnogenesis, a Balkan political development that produced a new nationality, the “Macedonian” nationality, and how and why a polyglot conglomerate state decided to use a name belonging to its neighbor to the south, the name’s derivatives, a flag symbol, and historical inaccuracies to convince the international community that its intentions were legitimate.
Why is the name so important? Because it carries along important derivatives far beyond what it says. It carries “Ghosts or real historical demons. Perhaps war or peace. Nothing and everything,” wrote Leslie H. Gelb in the New York Times (June 12,1992). The name, of course, is Macedonia, the land of Philip, Alexander and Aristotle; the beautiful land of Mount Olympus and the Greek gods. The rich land east and west of the bustling city of Thessaloniki with the archaeological sites of an age long gone, the Hellenic Macedonian age: Pella, Vergina (Aegae), Dion, Amphipo-lis, Methone, Pydna, Olynthos, Appolonia, Aianae, Philippi, Potidaea, Sta-gira (Aristotle’s birthplace), Thessaloniki. Do any of these historical names sound Slavic to the reader? The essence of the Macedonian controversy flows from Shakespeare’s spirited words: “He that filches from me my good name robs of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” Apprehending my good name does not enrich anyone, but makes me poor and unhappy indeed because it deprives me of the power of my Hellenic Macedonian ethnic pride, culture and identity, compelling me to react in writing, expressing my sadness for the alteration of Macedonia’s history.
To produce an objective account of the age-old controversy, I had to begin a new at the time of Yugoslavia’s dissolution, coinciding with my relay of the struggle for Macedonia from 1878 to 1941. During those years the Macedonian Question assumed a pivotal role in the relations of four Balkan ethnicities—Greek, Bulgarian, Serbiajri and Turkish — with no one mentioning a “Macedonian” ethnicity.
Many modern writers disregard altogether how the Macedonian controversy was exploited by Soviet-sponsored international communism to propel into the world the unhistorical concept that the Socialist Republic of Macedonia’s Slavs, Albanians, and Bulgarians were the only legitimate “Macedonians.” In contrast, my book reviews the misconceptions within the analysis of the legacy of Macedonia’s past, as promulgated by Soviet-sponsored international communism. It also carefully analyzes communism’s role as the main protagonist instrumental in the so-called Macedonian ethnogenesis by communist government dictatorial decrees and as a pivotal source fueling the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949. The critical role played by Yugoslav communism in the struggle for Macedonia did not escape the attention of several writers who attributed the formation of a separate “Macedonian” nation of Slavs and other nationalities to the brutal force and theoretical base provided by communism.
For all the horrors and bloodshed, the Greek Civil War did not happen in a historical vacuum. It happened within the context of an unprecedented international conspiracy and grotesque violations of international law by the communist world. It was fomented and fueled throughout its duration by powerful communist organizations (Comintern, the Balk Communist Federation, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the Balkan communist parties). The main protagonists, Comintern and the BCF, keenly interested in disturbing Macedonia’s status quo, threatened Greece’s territorial integrity by conspiring to cede Hellenic Macedonia and attach it to a Slavic Macedonian state within a South Slav federation, a new Soviet Balkan satellite. Yet the connection of the civil war’s destinies with those of Hellenic Macedonia escaped the attention of or was disregarded by several writers. The pivotal role played by international communism during the civil war on Hellenic Macedonianism was not overlooked by historian Evangelos Kofos, who wrote (1995, p. 318): “the two issues— the fate of Macedonia and the course of [the communist] revolution in Greece would converge, interact, and shape the destinies of both.”
Ever since the secession of a section of Vardar Province from Yugoslavia in 1991, its official name adopted by the United Nations and accepted by Greece and its European allies has been the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The cumbersome name was adopted to avoid confusing the former Yugoslav confederate republic with the historical Greek province of Macedonia until a suitable name could be negotiated. Yet, many writers rushed to recognize the small enclave as the “Republic of Macedonia” and its people as “Macedonians” immediately after its secession from Yugoslavia. While they censure the Greek writers for lack of objectivity and take a dim view of their Greek colleagues denouncing Skopje’s claims of exclusive Macedonianism as historically incorrect and therefore unacceptable, they turn around and write books just as subjective as those they censure for lack of objectivity. For instance, John Shea wrote in the introduction of his book Macedonia and Greece: “By Greeks, I mean those people who come from or feel ties with the nation that we consider as modern Greece. By Macedonians, I mean those people who live in or feel ties with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM 1997, p. 2).
Habitation or feelings alone do not and must not qualify a person as “Macedonian.” If we accept that the FYROM Slavs, Bulgarians, and Albanians are Macedonians, because they live in FYROM and “feel” like “Macedonians,” then what are the three million Greek Macedonians who live in Hellenic Macedonia, half of whom are indigenous Hellenic Macedonians (IHMs, Hellenic Macedonians speaking Greek, whose forebears lived in Macedonia for countless generations)? Are the Slav-speaking inhabitants living in FYROM more “Macedonians” than my grandfather whose ancestors lived in Macedonia before the beginning of the nineteenth century, always speaking Greek, always feeling the pulse for Hellenic Macedonia? Another modern historian placed the FYROM flag on the front cover of his book and then focused only on FYROM Slavs as the bearers of the Macedonian name. Referring to FYROM Slavs as Macedonians “would be to ignore strident and historically justified claims” that the name “Macedonia” should also refer to the large northern Greek province, wrote Cowan and Brown (2000, p. 6).
If we rush to make a premise that only the FYROM Slavs and a small percentage of the thirty eight thousand Slav-speakers of Hellenic Macedonia are “Macedonians,” we stand on the brink of accepting a historically false and unacceptable concept for which not only history, but also the people involved on both sides of the fence, will regret later. We are arbitrarily shifting Macedonianism from Hellenic-speaking Macedonians to Slav-speakers who live in a country half of which was not even part of King Philip’s historic Macedonia. Carelessly using the word “Macedonians” to describe the FYROM Slavs and Albanians increased the Skopjan politicians’ intransigence, arrogance, and unwillingness to cooperate in solving FYROM’s name problem. Milovan Djilas, Tito’s right hand man and a Yugoslav vice president (until he was imprisoned by Tito), remarked in his book Conversations with Stalin (1962, p. 36): “But I do not believe that even he [Dimitrov] adhered to the view point that the Macedonians were a separate nationality.”
I have tried to distinguish between obscure and controversial facts and present ideas that can be critically examined; cited international and Greek sources from which I have drawn conclusions; and expressed them in the book in a style the common English-speaking person will understand. One of the ideas, listed as a disclaimer, is the expression “Macedonia” in quotation marks versus Macedonia. The first expression refers to the way FYROM officials use the word to connote the ethnic significance of their republic (a concept disputed in this book). Without the quotations the word is a geographic, not an ethnic term, referring to the territory known as historic Macedonia by the time King Philip was assassinated (336 B.C.).
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