Regarding the national Macedonian minority
and its bond with the Left Wing’s history in Greece
Does a nationally Macedonian minority exist in Greece?
Written by Haris Papadopoulos
“NO!”, is the shouted answer full of indignation that is given by ‘professional’ patriots, television and newspapers, the entire national core and alongside them, the entire spectrum of parliamentary political parties, starting from Hrysi Aygi (i.e. Golden Dawn) right up to the Communist Party of Greece (CPG).
“NO!” would also be Panagiotis Lafazanis’ answer, riding along with said extreme right wing parties. “There is no such thing as a national Slavomacedonian minority”. This statement was repeated by him, as head of the party LAE (i.e. LAiki Enotita, i.e. People’s Unity) in an interview given on 2nd November of 2018, on die-hard right wing Plevris’ TV Channel. Thus, the Nazi presenter interviewing Mr.Lafazanis was left gazing him in awe and admiration.
Still, though, no yelling coming from the nationalistic intolerance can hide reality. Upon further consideration even the most of frenetic professional patriots, not to mention recent tabloid-chat TV shows, are forced to admit that in Northern Greece there is a significant number of villages where residents still use native voice in their daily life. According to said ‘patriots’, that would be the “Slavic” or “Bulgarian” dialect, whereas it is what it really is: Macedonian language.
Macedonian speaking villages, organize festivals where people, even to this day, sing and dance in that language and with these songs. Expressing themselves in that way, they often speak of relatives that are living on the other side of the borders, the Republic of Macedonia. These relatives cannot set foot on Greek soil, if only for a very brief period of time. They are called “not of Greek gender” i.e. elderly rebels of the Democratic Army of Greece during the Greek Civil War and their descendants. And yet, 70 years after the War has ended, they still aren’t allowed to return and reunite with their families.
One individual of the aforementioned politically banished, an old man by the name of Kantzourof – from Lerin (Florina) – came to Greece in 2010 for a few days and gave a speech at the Antiracist Festival Athens about those of “not of Greek gender” who still cannot return home. At the time, he met with – then deputy of SYRIZA Party – Mr. Lafazanis, in the latter’s Party offices. Mr. Lafazanis, then, along with other co-deputies, addressed the Greek Parliament, concerning the vindication of political refugees and their descendants. 8 years have passed by then. It seems that in the meantime, Mr. Lafazanis has been charmed by the sirenic voices of those “national audiences”. And there the old rebels are, still not vindicated and still separated from their families.
Perhaps the most artistically depiction of that separation is the wedding scene in Theodoros Aggelopoulos’ film “The Suspended Step Of The Stork”, where half the relatives are gathered on one side of the river, which symbolizes the borders, and the other half on the other. Not a word is said during that 16-minute acting scene. Still, the silence of the losing ones and of those still waiting for recognition and vindication is deafening, thus, annihilating all this heap of noise coming from ‘Macedonian superpatriots’.
Between 1947 – 1949, native Macedonians of Northern Greece were enthusiastically enlisted, along with the rebels, in the DAG (i.e. Democratic Army of Greece) and the CPG , where they were promised equality of rights towards the Macedonian minority. It is estimated that the Macedonian men and women who were in the DAG were more than one third of the total of rebel men and women Pan-Hellenic level wise.
That’s why Macedonians suffered all consequences from the defeat of the Left Wing. The native Macedonian soldiers of the guerrilla army spent their life as refugees in Eastern countries, whereas their relatives had to bear prosecutions from constables and every-day-terror from traitors/informers in post-Civil War Greece. Their language was spoken by them only in the confines of their house and very carefully. Nevertheless, the Macedonian language and the Macedonian national conscience weren’t lost or forgotten.
In 1982, by minister Skoularikis’ Law, political refugees of the Greek Civil War were allowed to return home. That wasn’t the case with those of “not of Greek gender”, an exception showing not only fear and callousness by the Greek State, but also indicating a clear, official fact. That a nationally Macedonian nationality does, indeed, exist!. And not only it exists, but is enslaved, too! Even to this day.
The Macedonian affair is matter of identity for the Left in Greece.
In 1925, a student’s book was published, by the Greek State, written in Macedonian (with Latin characters) in order to be used by primary schools students in state schools of Western Macedonia. That book, known as “ampetsentar” (i.e. alphabet book) was not eventually used, after imposed pressure from Bulgaria and Serbia, together with Greek organizations of the Radical Right – all of them being enemies of national Macedonian emancipation.
The year 1928 sees the last time that an official Greek survey illustrated – a bit poorly though – the extent to which the Macedonian language was being spoken. 82.000 people speaking Slavic in Western Macedonia were shown on records. No question about their national conscience existed so all this population were considered to be “Greek”. Since then, not once had there been official questions or ‘worries’ concerning State surveys and as to whether problems could be arisen for the national ‘mythology’. Therefore, by rule of silence, it became definite that “there is no Slavomacedonian minority in Greece”.
The latter became a fundamental principle for the Greek Right. The folk song “Oh Macedonia famous, country of Alexander the Great, you that cast away the Bulgarians etc.” has always been the anthem of the Right and militarocracy in Greece. This marching song was being forced to be sung to people doing their mandatory military service. However, every soldier of Left and worth his salt wouldn’t dare sing it, no matter how harshly he would be punished.
Throughout the years, the Macedonian matter has always been a matter of identity. From Pantelis Pouliopoulos – leader of Greek Trotskyits – who was sat in court in 1925 accused of defending the Macedonian minority – with the death penalty being the possible outcome, right up to the execution of roughly 5.000 members of the CPG during the Civil War by Greek Government’s Resolution C. The Macedonian matter had always brought about segregation between the Right and the Left in Greece, with the outcome always being a river of blood. 1946’s Resolution C was responsible for everyone recognizing the existence of Macedonian nationality being gunned down. Among said 5.000 executed people, part of whom happened to be native Macedonians, there was Mirka Gkinoba, or as her adopted Greek name was “Irini Gkini”. She was a schoolteacher and the first woman ever to be executed in Greece. But most of those executed were those of Greek conscience, who were drawn to the firing range remaining faithful to their international duty. And those who did not hesitate before death, remaining faithful to the line of the CPG at the time.
So, Lafazanis’ suggestion of a non existing Macedonian nationality in Greece is disrespectful to the memory of those communist fighters for nations united. At the same time, the CPG’ s stance on this memory is one of cowardice and weakness, thus substantially sent Macedonian soldiers of the DAG into oblivion and the Macedonian minority unjustified.
“When the big war comes, inevitable as it is in coming years, Macedonia will become Greek or Bulgarian, depending on the winner. Should Bulgarians
acquire it, I have no doubt that they will enslave the
entire population all the way to the Thessalian borders.
Should we win, we shall turn everyone Greek all the way to Eastern Romylia”.
(Harilaos Trikoupis, addressing the Greek Parliament)
Things did not go as expected for the sovereign national states of Greece and Bulgaria. Their plans met with a revolution of the ‘humble’, the one of Iliden in 1903.
In the beginning, the unique Macedonian national conscience was born within the ranks of young pupils and students in the late 19th century, in Thessaloniki – among other towns – and that led to the founding of EMEO, the revolutionary Macedonian organization of Gkotse Nteltsef, influenced by the Socialist movement. This team set the terms and paved the way to the Revolution of ‘Iliden’ (i.e. prophet Elias) in 1903 in Ottoman Western Macedonia. This social uprising essentially resulted in the birth of the Macedonian nation.
The Macedonian nationality was a thorn in the sides of the Greek, the Bulgarian and the Serbian national legacy. That’s why it received brutal repression from all three government owned entities in which it was included during the Balkan Wars.
Yugoslavian and Greek guerrilla movements were packed with enthusiastic Macedonians who fought passionately against Nazis, but also against the Bulgarian army that had occupied grounds belonging to today’s “Republic of Macedonia” trying to engulf the population.
And if in the case of Yugoslavia this fight led to a national vindication, when it comes to Greece, the Macedonian minority is until today is the utter depiction of the phrase “Woe to those who lost”.
And what’s the point of us messing with the Macedonian matter today?
It is very often heard, even in the ranks of the Left, that “the minority has been absorbed”, or “a language being spoken doesn’t necessarily mean an equivalent responding conscience” or “Slavomacedonians can’t be that many; the Rainbow Party corresponds to only a few thousands votes”. Funny someone should say that in Greece, where the state has achieved that the Greek community in Istanbul, Turkey, should be recognized as “national minority”, consisting of a few hundred. Two thousand, should we added residents of Imbros and Tenedos of Greek conscience.
Despite the absorbing policies of the Greek state and the prohibition of use of Macedonian language, those that staunchly consider themselves part of the Macedonian national tradition in Greece, to some degree amount to tens of thousands. Meaning, it is as much population as the one of the Greek minority in Albania, which has a lot of its rights recognized in the Albanian state. And while the media are at the top of their voice requiring more rights for the Greeks of Albania, they suffer a national-level amnesia when it comes to the rights of Macedonians in Greece who aren’t even recognized as a nationality.
All of the above are happening while the current background is the signing of The Prespes Treaty by both Tsipras and Zaev, where the Greek state, supported by NATO and The European Union, imposes humiliating terms to the Republic of Macedonia. Terms that can only be taken as a direct attack towards the right of not only a nationally oppressed minority to redefine itself, but also that of the entire population of its neighbouring state. And here we have, the Left Wing in Greece, the CPG and the LAE turning a blind eye and ranting about “irredentism of Skopje”. That is a new low!
The Macedonian affair is of enormous value in order to be claimed again by the revolutionary Left in Greece. Not only for a good amount of ten thousand national Macedonians, but mainly for the millions of working men and women having a Greek national conscience. The Macedonian matter is the “skeleton in the closet” regarding crimes commited by the Greek state toward hunted and weary Macedonian minority.
This isn’t a case of ‘what’s done is done’. The Macedonian matter literally ‘raises hell’. It was just a few months ago when nationalistic rallies took place in both Athens and Thessaloniki – to mention but a few – and a good excuse was given for nationalistic and racist hatred to be frenetically preached. Working men and women who will be gained through the revolutionary way will have to cut ties with all national fables and bonds with the middle class. Rejecting the nationalistic ‘fairy tale’ is of critical importance to their political configuration, with regards to the Macedonian matter.
In-depth understanding of the Macedonian affair in addition to a proper stance toward this matter are the key indicators of the Left’s maturity concerning its pioneer fighters. No person or social class can accomplish world change unless he/it looks in the mirror and says things the way they exactly are.
The claiming of the oppressed Macedonian minority’s rights can’t be defined as “irredentism”. Defending each and every oppressed national and social group is a fundamental issue for the Left. Which makes the Macedonian affair something more: it’s an element of identity nature, it’s the personification of the story of our fallen martyrs from the firing squads.
And should whoever, belonging to the Left, turn their backs on this issue, they would be making not just a minor retreat in order to win over this supposed “national audience”. On the contrary, they would be crossing the Rubicon, walking over to the other political side, joining the ranks of the executants of Mirka Gkinoba and her comrades, the ranks of the Left’s persecutors.
The Macedonian affair the heroic blood drenched piece of the Greek Left’s history. So is Iliden’s forgotten Macedonian revolution. It isn’t just part of our own tradition and pride. It is also a foretelling of the Red Balkan Federation, which one day will abolish those ‘wounding’ borders in the body of the Balkan Area.