||Macedonia: What Went Wrong in the Last 200 Years
Part VI - 1912 - 1939
by Risto Stefov
click here for a printable version
In the previous article (part V) I covered the period 1903 to 1913 including the Young Turk uprising and the First and Second Balkan Wars.
In this article (part VI) I will cover the effects of Macedonia's partition and the practices and policies of its subjugators.
The jubilance of liberation died down quickly as the fires of burning villages lit the night skies. Macedonia was in flames again, liberators turned to occupiers and rained havoc on the Macedonian population. The political, economic and ethnic unity of Macedonia was no more. Greek soldiers who came to liberate their Christian brothers from the oppressive Turks and terrible Bulgarians were now burning, torturing, and murdering people. In the words of Sir Edmond Grey, "the Balkan war began as a war of liberation, became rapidly a war of annexation, and has ended as a war of extermination"(Page 294, Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology).
The Greek atrocities were revealed to the world when a lost mailbag was discovered containing letters from Greek soldiers in Macedonia to their families in Greece. The mailbag was turned in to the Carnegie Relief Commission and the contents of the letters were made public. Expecting to fight for the glory of the fatherland, the soldiers instead, found themselves torturing, murdering, burning houses and evicting women and children from their homes in a most vile way. The letters revealed that the soldiers were acting on direct orders from the Greek authorities and the Greek king himself. Macedonian families of known Exarchists (Macedonians belonging to the Bulgarian Church) were ordered by force to "take with them what they could carry and get out". "This is Greece now and there is no place for Bulgarians here". Those that remained were forced to swear loyalty to the Greek State. Anyone who refused to take the loyalty oath was either executed as an example of what would happen to those disloyal, or was evicted from the country. To explain the mass evacuations, Greek officials were claiming that the inhabitants of Macedonia were leaving by choice or becoming Greek by choice. The truth is, no one was given any choice at all.
"A thousand Greek and Serbian publicists began to fill the world with their shouting about the essentially Greek or Serbian character of the populations of their different spheres. The Serbs gave the unhappy Macedonians twenty four hours to renounce their nationality and proclaim themselves Serbs, and the Greeks did the same. Refusal meant murder or expulsion. Greek and Serbian colonists were poured into the occupied country... The Greek newspapers began to talk about a Macedonia peopled entirely with Greeks-and they explained the fact that no one spoke Greek by calling the people 'Bulgaro-phone Greeks' ... the Greek army entered villages where no one spoke their language. 'What do you mean by speaking Bulgarian?" cried the officers. 'This is Greece and you must speak Greek'" (Page 104, John Shea, Macedonia and Greece, The Struggle to define a new Balkan Nation).
In 1913, professor R.A. Reiss reports to the Greek government: "Those whom you would call Bulgarian speakers I would simply call Macedonians...Macedonian is not the language they speak in Sofia...I repeat the mass of inhabitants there (Macedonia) remain simply Macedonians."
"The Carnegie Relief Commission, dispatched to the Balkans in late 1913, reported the incredible story of human suffering. In Macedonia alone, 160 villages were razed leaving 16,000 homeless, several thousand civilians murdered, and over 100,000 forced to emigrate as refugees." (Page 149, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
History again turned its eyes away from the Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian atrocities in Macedonia to focus on new events that were about to unfold and engulf the entire world.
After losing Bosnia and Herzegovina to Austria in 1908 and the Albanian territories in 1912 (again because of Austria), Serbia became bitter and resentful. "To the nationalist Serbs the Habsburg monarchy (Austria-Hungary) was an old evil monster which prevented their nation from becoming a great and powerful state. On June 28, 1914, a young Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the heir of the Habsburg monarchy, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his wife at Sarjevo" (Page 104, Felix Gilbert, The End of the European Era, 1890 to the Present).
Within two weeks of the assassination the First World War broke out engulfing all of Europe. It was inevitable and a matter of time before a "world war" would break out in the Balkans. The Super Powers were incapable of exercising diplomacy either between themselves or with the new Balkan States they helped create. Macedonia was sacrificed in order to appease the new Balkan states but that did little to satisfy their ferocious appetites for lands and loot.
While World War I raged on consuming the lives of millions of young men and women, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia were serving their own brand of chauvinism in Macedonia. For the next five years, with the world busy with its own problems there was no one to hear the cries of the Macedonian people at the hands of the new tyrants. If the gravestones of the dead Macedonians could speak they would tell tales of torture and executions, deception and lies. They would say, "our Christian brothers came to liberate us but instead they killed us because we were in their way of achieving greatness. We were labeled 'criminals' because we would not yield to their demands. I ask you is it a crime to want to live as free men? Is it a crime to want to be Macedonian? Is it a crime to want to exercise free will? It is they who are the criminals for befouling everything that is Christian, for their lies and deception, and for murdering us to possess our lands. History will record August 10th, 1913 as the darkest day in Macedonia, the day our future died".
The triple occupation worsened living conditions in Macedonia but the fighting spirit of the Macedonian people continued to live underground and abroad. Three generations of fighting for liberty, freedom and an independent Macedonia came to a close. The Ilinden generation and IMRO were defeated, not by the Turks, not by Muslim oppression but by Christian cruelty and deception.
Soon after the occupation, underground societies sprang up everywhere urging the Macedonian people to refuse their new fate and oppose the partition. Accordingly, many Macedonians did so by refusing to obey the new officialdom and by not participating in the new institutions. This however, did not phase the military regimes occupying Macedonia from systematic denationalization and violent assimilation.
The battle for "dominion of the world" which started over Balkan affairs, soon took a sinister turn to again involve Macedonia. As the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia and Italy) were 'fighting it out" with the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary), Bulgaria, smarting from her losses at Bucharest, remained neutral. In a turn of events and to the amazement of the Greeks, the Entente Powers approached Bulgaria with an offer of a substantial portion of Macedonian territory in exchange for her alliance. Bulgaria however, seemed to prefer the company of the Central Powers, perhaps they offered her a bigger portion, because by late 1915, her armies marched in and invaded Macedonia. To quote the Bulgarian War Minister General Nikolaev " we care little about the British, Germans, French, Russians, Italians, Austrians or Hungarians; our only thought is Macedonia. Whichever of the two groups of Powers will enable us to conquer it will have our alliance!" (Page 154, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
While the Serbs were being engaged on their northern border, the Greeks were debating which side to take. Their hesitation or "National Schism", as it was later called, lay in the differences that emerged between the Greek Prime Minister Venizelos and the Greek King Constantine I, over which side to join. Venizelos was a strong supporter of the Entente and within days of the outbreak of hostilities, was ready to offer Greek troops to fight alongside the Entente. King Constantine on the other hand, did not share Venizelo's zeal and believed that Greek policies would be served best by staying neutral. Being married to Sofia, the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II however, predisposed Constantine towards the Central Powers. The tug of war between Prime Minister and king divided the people of Greece into two camps and the country slid towards a state of virtual civil war. Having the authority to do so, Constantine replaced Venizelos with a pro-German Prime Minister and to end the impasse, called for an election. Unfortunately for the King, Venizelos once again came out victorious with a clear majority. Bulgaria's attack on Serbia however, due to a Greek-Serbian treaty, predisposed Greece to offer Serbia assistance, but the King's camp refused to comply on the grounds that it was not Bulgaria alone who was committing the aggression and insisted on remaining neutral. Venizelos on the other hand, called on parliament and won support to send Greek troops to fight alongside the Serbs and to allow landings of Entente troops in the Solun region. Venizelos was again forced to resign. "But whatever the constitutional rights and wrongs of the situation Venizelo's second resignation on 5 October 1915 signified a total breakdown in relations between the king and his elected prime minister. Britain and France, however, had not yet given up Greece for lost and held out to Venizelo's successor, Alexander Zaimis, the prospect of the cession of Cyprus to Greece in return for aid to Serbia, whose forces were now under severe pressure" (Page 109, Richard Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece).
Soon afterwards, Zaimis too was forced to resign. New elections were held in December but were boycotted by the Venizelos camp. Events came to a head when the Royalists refused to allow evacuated Serbian troops to cross over from Corfu and join the Entente forces on the Solun front. Backed by the Entente, a group of pro-Venizelos officers launched a coup in Solun against the official government and created a provisional pro-Entente government with its own army. Once again many Macedonians, deceived by Balkan propaganda, joined the war with hopes of being liberated only to end up as "cannon fodder" used by both sides at the front. Macedonian casualties mounted and towns and villages only recently reconstructed were again bombarded to dust.
Soon after establishing the Solun front, the occupation of Greece was complete. France had dispatched 60,000 troops in the Balkans with hopes of safeguarding the Skopje to Solun rail links. By late 1917, Entente troops were emerging victorious over the Bulgarians and Germans in Macedonia. No sooner was the battle over than a problem developed between British and French commands in Macedonia. While the British General Milne supported Venizelos and his attempts to constitute a pro-British provisional government in Greece, the pro-Macedonian French General Sarrail opposed Venizelos and sought to drive the Greek army out of Macedonia. "The ambitious plan for Macedonian autonomy drafted by the French command in 1915 and 1916 were but mere progressive steps to ensure France a strategic outpost for capital expansion" (Page 155, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
Once again, Macedonians were caught in the middle of someone else's war. To save face, France recalled Sarrail and replaced him with a pro-Greek commander, thus avoiding a diplomatic disaster.
After establishing a government in Athens and consolidating his power in Greece, Venizelos committed a total of nine divisions to the Macedonian front to assist the Entente forces on the Solun front. To further prove his devotion to the Entente, Venizelos committed two more divisions to fight the Bolshevists in Russia.
When the war was over, on November 11, 1918, a general armistice was signed and a Peace Conference was convened in Versailles France. Venizelos arrived in Paris as the principle negotiator for Greece, determined to reap his reward for his solid support to his victorious allies. One of Venizelos's objectives was to resurrect the "Megaly Idea" by annexing parts of Asia Minor, Smyrna (Ismir) in particular. He convinced the world that the Christians living in Asia Minor were Greek and should be part of Greece. Unfortunately for Venizelos, Italy had prior claims in Asia Minor (Anatolia) which created a problem for the peacemakers. Greek ambition was viewed with suspicion by Italy so to strengthen her claims, in March 1919, she began to build up troops in the region. The Greeks viewed this as a threat to their own claim and before a final territorial solution was reached, they demanded concessions. The reasons given were that the Greek people in Asia Minor were endangered by Turkish aggression and needed protection. After much protest on the Greek side, Britain, France and the Americans finally gave them permission to send a small defense force. Under the protection of allied warships, on May 15, 1919, Greek troops began their landing in Smyrna. Instead of staying put however, as per prior agreements, they began to occupy Western Asia Minor (more on this later).
No sooner were the Central Powers driven out of Greek territories than the Greek Government, by passing LAW 1051, inaugurated a new administrative jurisdiction for governing the newly acquired lands in Macedonia.
When it started to become clear that the Entente Powers were winning the war, encouraged by Woodrow Wilson's principles of nationality, many Macedonian lobby groups placed their faith in the Peace Conference in Versailles. Wilson's fourteen principles of nationality implicitly asserted the right of all nations to self-determination.
In his address to the Pan Slavic Assembly in Odessa in August 1914, Krste Misirkov called for achieving autonomy by diplomatic means. An article was written and extensively circulated in May 1915, which specifically dealt with the autonomy call.
The student organization "Independent Society", in Geneva Switzerland under the slogan of "Macedonia for the Macedonians", demanded the application of Wilson's principles to create an autonomous Macedonia based on the principles of the Swiss Federative model.
Remnants of the IMRO also took action in the rally for an Autonomous Macedonia. After the Bulgarians murdered Yane Sandanski in 1915, his supporters fled the Pirin region to save their own lives and later regrouped in Serres to form the "Serres Revolutionary Council". "Having noted the impetus for unification of the Southern Slavs against the Central Powers, the Council issued a 'Declaration of Autonomy' in October 1918, in which it appealed for membership of a Balkan Federation on the basis of Macedonian territorial integrity. This plea was ultimately rejected by the ruling cliques of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which later became known as Yugoslavia". "By striving for political and economic hegemony over the Balkans, Balkan nationalism has thrown the Balkan peoples and states into deep contradictions and conflicts which must be begun by war, and finished by war and always war". (Page 158-159, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
Once again the Macedonian people came to the forefront to plead their case and once again they were shut out. How many more wars must be fought and how much more blood must be spilled for the world to realize that there is no end to Balkan conflicts without involving the Macedonian people in resolving the Macedonian question?
The Peace Conference, which was supposedly "the tribunal of international conscience", had no place for "Wilsonian Justice" or the opportunity for self-determination. Instead of practicing what they preached, the so called "peace makers of Versailles" rewarded aggression in exchange for self-interest.
With the stroke of a pen, in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles (Paris), England and France sealed Macedonia's fate by ratifying the principles of the Bucharest Treaty and officially endorsing the partitioning of Macedonia.
This gave Greece the license she needed to pursue forced expulsion and denationalization of Macedonians and to begin a mass colonization by transplanting "potential Greeks" into the annexed territories of Macedonia. The Neuilly Convention allowed for forced exchanges of populations. About 70,000 Macedonians were expelled from the Greek occupied part of Macedonia to Bulgaria and 25,000 "so called Greeks" were transplanted from Bulgaria to Greek occupied Macedonia.
"Macedonia's fate has been the subject of every kind of political combination, negotiation and treaty since 1912, each more immoral than the last, each ignoring completely the local interests and desires of a population which, with the stroke of the statesman's pen, can be condemned to national dissolution, and denied the right to a free national life while Armenians, Albanians and Jews receive political freedom" (Page 160, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
The Super Powers did not dare lose the strategic importance and untapped wealth in Macedonia or dare disappoint their trusted allies in the Balkans. Think of the endless bickering and complaining!
What was surprising, especially to the Balkan delegation, was the raising of the Macedonian question by Italy. On July 10, 1919, Italy along with the USA made a proposal to the "Committee for the Formation of New States" for Macedonian autonomy. France flatly opposed the motion while Britain proposed establishing a five-year Macedonian Commissary under the auspices of the League of Nations. Greece and Serbia, by refusing to acknowledge the existence of a Macedonian question, literally killed the motion.
Another item that came out of Versailles was Article 51, the League of Nations' code to "protect national minorities". Article 51 of the Treaty of Versailles espouses equality of civil rights, education, language, and religion for all national minorities. Unfortunately, article 51 was never implemented by the Balkan States or enforced by the League of Nations which Greece and Bulgaria to this day, violate and ignore. Why is this? Because to this day, Greece and Bulgaria claim that "the Macedonian nationality" does not exist and has never existed. So, what minorities should they be protecting? In response to the Greek claim I would like to ask the Greeks the following questions;
1. To what minorities were you referring when on September 29, 1924 your Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikolaos Mihalakopoulou signed an agreement with the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kalkoff?
2. To what minorities were you referring when on August 17, 1926 you made an agreement with Yugoslavia regarding the nationality of the "Slavophones in Greece?
(Pages 159-161 G.A.L. I Kata Tis Makedonias Epivouli, (Ekdosis Deftera Sympepliromeni), Athinai 1966).
On September 29, 1924, Greece signed an agreement with Bulgaria declaring that the Macedonians in Greece were Bulgarians. Not to disappoint the Serbians, when they found out about the Greek-Bulgarian agreement, the Greeks changed their mind and on August 17, 1926, declared that the Macedonians in Greece were in reality, Serbs.
As it turned out, the loudly proclaimed "Wilson principles" at the Paris Conference were only for show. The real winners at the end of the conference were the "players", the biggest one of all being Venizelos of Greece. "The entire forum was a farce, and its offspring the Versailles Treaty, the ultimate insult to the dignity and self-esteem (what remained of it after continuous war and bloodshed) of the long-tormented Macedonian people. Those Macedonians prodded by conscience, by the mistrust gained after generations of suffering, and by the desire for freedom, thereafter treated the Versailles Treaty, and all political treaties, with the contempt they deserve" (Page 166, Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question).
At the conclusion of the Treaty not only did Greece get back what she had previously annexed but additionally she received a large portion of Epirus, Western Thrace, Crete and the Aegean Islands. It is important to mention here that when Albania's affirmation for independence was signed at the London Conference in February 1920 more of Macedonia's territory was partitioned. A narrow strip of land running through Lake Ohrid and southward along Macedonia's western boundary was awarded to Albania.
Soon after arriving victorious in Greece, Venizelos in a speech in Solun, announced his plans for a "Greater Greece" (Megali Idea) and for the bringing of all "Greek peoples" together under a single Greater Greek State.
I remember as a child listening to old men in my village, sitting on the porch telling tales of bygone wars when as young soldiers they chased the Turks to Ankara yelling "two Turks to a bayonet". They also told stories of how it took them sixty days to gain sixty miles and how they lost them in one day of retreat. I didn't understand what they were talking about then but they were talking about the Greek exploits in Asia Minor. As I mentioned earlier, after building up a large military presence in Asia Minor, a major offensive was launched in March 1921, and by the end of the summer, the Greek armies reached the Sakarya River about forty miles from Ankara.
The assault on Asia Minor was an "exclusively Greek initiative" without the blessing of the Entente Powers and as a result they found themselves alone and running out of ammunition. They knew they couldn't count on Italy or France for help but the realization of their predicament sunk in when Britain too refused to help them. By early autumn the Greeks were pushed back beyond the halfway point between Smyrna and Ankara, reaching an uneasy military stalemate. Realizing that they couldn't possibly win militarily or politically, the Greeks turned to the Paris Conference of March 1922 looking for a compromise. The compromise called for the withdrawal of the Greek armies and placing the Christian population under the protection of the League of Nations. Sensing a victory, Mustafa Kemal of Turkey insisted on an unconditional evacuation of the Greek forces, a demand unacceptable to the Greeks. Still counting on British kindness, in July 1922 the Greeks unsuccessfully attempted to get permission from their allies to enter Tsari Grad (Istanbul).
Turkey launched a full-scale offensive on August 26, 1922 (a dark day for Greece and her Megali Idea), near Afyonkarahisar and forced the Greeks into a hasty retreat back to Smyrna. On September 8, the Greek army was evacuated and the next day, the Turkish army invaded Smyrna. The worst came on the evening of the 9th when outbreaks of killing and looting began followed by a massacre of the Christian population, in which 30,000 Christians, mostly Armenians, perished. As a result of the violence 250,000 people fled to the waterfront to escape the catastrophic disaster.
The Asia Minor campaign was over along with the "Megali Idea" of a Greater Greece. Worse yet, as a result of this "catastrophic Greek fiasco, over one million Turkish Christians were displaced, most of them into Macedonia. Their settlement affected the demography of the Macedonian landscape as well as the morale of the Macedonian population.
An entire generation of Macedonian young men that were drafted into the Greek military, were sent to the Asia Minor campaigns and many lost their lives. The Greek authorities never acknowledged their services and no compensation was ever paid to the families of those "breadwinners" who lost their lives. The reason for the omission, according to the Greek authorities, "they were Bulgarian".
It is, I am told, noble to die for your country. Would it not be "nobler" to die for someone else's country? And how did the Greeks repay those nobler enough to die for Greece? They let their widows and children live in poverty. This is how Greece treated its noblest citizens!
By the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923, the Greco-Turkish war came to an end. Greece and Turkey signed a population exchange agreement using "religion as the basic criterion for nationality". (page 120, Richard Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece).
The November 1925 issue of National Geographic Magazine best illustrates the magnitude of the human wave, the audacity of the Greek and Turkish authorities and the total disregard for human life. "History's Greatest Trek, Tragedy Stalks the Near East as Greece and Turkey Exchange Two Million of their People. ...1922 began what may fairly be called history's greatest, most spectacular trek-the compulsory intermigration of two million Christians and Muslims across the Aegean Sea." " ...the initial episodes of the exchange drama were enacted to the accompaniment of the boom of cannon and the rattle of machine gun and with the settings pointed by the flames of the Smyrna holocaust." (page 533, Melville Chater, National Geographic, November 1925).
"Stroke of the Pen Exiles 3,000,000 People. It is safe to say that history does not contain a more extraordinary document. Never before in the world's long pageant of folk-wanderings have 2,000,000 people-and certainly no less than 3,000,000 if the retroactive clause is possible of complete application-been exiled and re-adopted by the stroke of the pen." (page 569, National Geographic, November 1925). "Even if regarded as a voluntary trek instead of a compulsory exchange, the movement would be without parallel in the history of emigration." "One might just add that history has never produced a document more difficult of execution. It was to lessen these difficulties that exchangeability was based in religion and not race. Due to five centuries of Turkish domination in Greece, the complexities in determining an individual's racial status are often such as would make a census taker weep." (page 570, National Geographic, November 1925).
"Greece with one-fifth Turkey's area has 1,5000,000 more people. Turkey with a population of 5,000,000 and naturally rich territory contains only 15 people to the square mile...Greece, with less than one fifth of Turkey's area, emerges with a population exceeding the latter's for the fist time by 1,500,000 people averaging 123 to the square mile." (page 584, National Geographic, November 1925).
"History's Greatest Trek has cost 300,000 lives. Conservative estimates place it at 300,000 lives lost by disease and exposure." (page 584, National Geographic, November 1925).
"The actual exchange was weighted very heavily in Turkey's favour, for some 380,000 Muslims were exchanged for something like 1,100,000 Christians." "The total population in Greece rose between 1907 and 1928 from 2,600,000 to 6,200,000." "After the Greek advances of 1912, for instance, the Greek elements in Greek Macedonia had constituted 43 percent of the population. By 1926, with the resettlement of the refugees, the Greek element has risen to 89 percent." (page 121, Richard Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece).
After all this, surprisingly (and shamefully) Greece still claims her population to be homogeneous and direct descendents of the peoples of the ancient City States.
"If Greece exists today as a homogeneous ethnos, she owes this to [the Asia Minor Catastrophe]. If the hundreds of thousands of refugees had not come to Greece, Greek Macedonia would not exist today. The refugees created the national homogeneity of our country. (Antonios Kandiotis, Metrpolite of Florina, page 141, Anastasia Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood).
According to Karakasidou, almost half of the refugees were settled in urban centers and rural areas in Macedonia. "Searching for locations in which to settle this mass of humanity, the Greek government looked north to the newly incorporated land in Macedonia..." "...by 1930, 90 percent of the 578,844 refugees settled in rural Greece were concentrated in the regions of Macedonia and western Thrace. Thus Macedonia, Greece's newly acquired second 'breadbasket' (after Thessaly), became the depository for East Thracian, Pontic, and Asia Minor refugees." (page 145, Anastasia Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood).
While Greece was contemplating re-populating Macedonia with alien refugees, new developments were boiling to the surface in Macedonia.
"A book of great importance to Macedonian linguistics and historiography was published in Athens; that was the primer entitled ABECEDAR (A B C), printed in the Latin alphabet, and intended for the children of the Macedonian national minority in Greece - the 'Slav speaking minority' as Sir Austin Chamberlain, British diplomat and delegate to the League of Nations, and Sir James Erick Drumond, General Secretary to the League of Nations, referred to the Macedonians in Greece". (Voislav Kushevski, 'On the Appearance of the Abecedar' in Istorija magazine, 1983, No. 2, p. 184).
"In 1920 Greece signed before the League of Nations a treaty obliging it to grant certain rights to the minorities of non-Greek origin in Greece. Four years later, in 1924, at the suggestion of the League of Nations, Greece and Bulgaria signed the well-known Kalfov-Politis Protocol under which Bulgaria was obliged to grant the Greek minority in Bulgaria their minority rights (language, schools and other rights), while Greece, recognizing the Macedonians from the Aegean part of Macedonia as a 'Bulgarian' minority, was to grant them their minority rights. This agreement was seemingly very much in favour of Bulgaria, but when in 1925 the Greek government undertook certain concrete steps towards the publication of the first primer made for the specific needs of that minority, it made it clear that there were no grounds on which Bulgaria could be officially interested in any 'Bulgarian minority' or expect the primer to be in Bulgarian, for that minority - though speaking a Slav language - was neither Bulgarian nor Serbian.
The very fact that official Greece did not, either de jure or do facto, see the Macedonians as a Bulgarian minority, but rather as a separate Slav group ('Slav speaking minority'), is of particular significance. The primer, published in the Latin alphabet, was based on the Lerin - Bilola dialect. After Gianelli's Dictionary dating from the 16th Century, and the Daniloviot Cetirijazicnik written in the 19th century, this was yet another book written in the Macedonian vernacular. The primer was mailed to some regions in Western Aegean-Macedonia (Kostur, Lerin and Voden), and the school authorities prepared to give Macedonian children, from the first to the fourth grade of the elementary school, instruction in their own mother tongue (Grigorios Dafnis, 'Greece between the two world wars', 'Elefteria' newspaper, March 15, 1953, Dionisios Romas in 'Elefteria' newspaper of October 9 and 12, 1954 and Dimitrios Vazuglis in Racial and religious minorities in Greece and Bulgaria, 1954).
The Greek governments, however, have never made a sincere attempt to solve the question of the Macedonians and their ethnic rights in Greece. Thus, while measures were being undertaken for the opening of Macedonian schools, a clash between the Greek and the Bulgarian armies at Petrich was concocted, which was then followed by a massacre of the innocent Macedonian population in the village of Trlis near Serres, all this with the aim of creating an attitude of insecurity within the Macedonians, so that they would themselves give up the recognition of their minority rights, and eventually seek safety by moving to Bulgaria. The Greek governments also skillfully used the Yugoslav-Bulgarian disagreements on the question of the Macedonians in Greece, and with organized pressure on the Macedonian population, as was the case in the village of Trlis, tried to dismiss the Macedonian ethnic question from the agenda through forced resettlement of the Macedonian population outside of Greece.
The ABECEDAR, which actually never reached the Macedonian children, is in itself a powerful testimony not only of the existence of the large Macedonian ethnic minority in Greece, but also of the fact that Greece was under an obligation before the League of Nations to undertake certain measures in order to grant this particular minority their rights" (HRISTO ANDONOVSKI).
Even before Greece had secured her grip on Macedonia, officials were sent to administer "the new lands". The first official Greek administrator arrived in Solun near the end of October 1912 accompanied by two judges, five customs officials, ten consulate clerks, a contingent of reporters and journalists and 168 Cretan soldiers. Among other things, the first order of business was to "Hellenize the New Lands". "After the Greeks occupied Aegean Macedonia, they closed the Slavic language schools and churches and expelled the priests. The Macedonian language and names were forbidden, and the Macedonians were referred to as Bulgarians, Serbians or natives. By law promulgated on November 21, 1926, all place names (toponymia) were Hellenized; that is the names of cities, villages, rivers and mountains were discarded and Greek names put in their place. At the same time the Macedonians were forced to change their first and surnames; every Macedonian surname had to end in 'os', 'es', or 'poulos'. The news of these acts and the new, official Greek names were published in the Greek government daily 'Efimeris tis Kiverniseos no. 322 and 324 of November 21 and 23, 1926. The requirements to use these Greek names is officially binding to this day. All evidence of the Macedonian language was compulsorily removed from churches, monuments, archeological finds and cemeteries. Slavonic church or secular literature was seized and burned. The use of the Macedonian language was strictly forbidden also in personal communication between parents and children, among villagers, at weddings and work parties, and in burial rituals." (page 109, John Shea, Macedonia and Greece, The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation).
The act of forbidding the use of the Macedonian language in Greece is best illustrated by an example of how it was implemented in the Township of Assarios (Giuvezna). Here is a quote from Karakasidou's book Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood.
"[We] listened to the president articulate to the council that in accordance with the decision [#122770] of Mr. Minister, General Governor of Macedonia, all municipal and township councils would forbid, through [administrative] decisions, the speaking of other idioms of obsolete languages within the area of their jurisdiction for the reconstitution of a universal language and our national glory. [The president] suggested that [the] speaking of different idioms, foreign [languages] and our language in an impure or obsolete manner in the area of the township of Assirios would be forbidden.
Assirios Township Decision No. 134, 13 December 1936". (page 162, Anastasia Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood).
By 1928, 1,497 Macedonian place-names in the Greek occupied Macedonia were Hellenized (LAW 4096) and all Cyrillic inscriptions found in churches, on tombstones, and on icons were destroyed (or overwritten) prompting English Journalist V. Hild to say "The Greeks do not only persecute living Slavs (Macedonians)..., but they even persecute dead ones. They do not leave them in peace even in the graves. They erase the Slavonic inscriptions on the headstones, remove the bones and burn them."
The years following World War I (The Great War), the Macedonian people underwent extensive measures of systematic denationalization. The application of these "denationalization schemes" were so extensive and aggressively pursued that in the long term, they eroded the will of the Macedonian people to resist.
"In Greece, in 1929 during the rule of Elepterios Venizelos, a legal act was issued 'On the protection of public order'. In line with this Act each demand for nationality rights is regarded as high treason. This law is still in force.
On December 18, 1936, Metaksas' dictatorial government issued a legal Act 'On the activity against state security' on the strength of which thousands of Macedonians were arrested, imprisoned, expelled or exiled (EXORIA) on arid, inhospitable Greek islands, where many perished. Their crime? Being ethnic Macedonian by birth.
On September 7, 1938 legal Act No. 2366 was issued banning the use of the Macedonian language. All Macedonian localities were flooded with posters: 'Speak Greek'. Evening schools were opened in which adult Macedonians were taught Greek. Not a single Macedonian school functioned at the time." (page 8, What Europe has Forgotten: The Struggle of the Aegean Macedonians, A Report by the Association of the Macedonians in Poland).
Many Macedonians were fined, beaten and jailed for speaking Macedonian. Adults and school children alike were further humiliated by being forced to drink castor oil when caught speaking Macedonian.
In Vardar Macedonia, the Yugoslav government attacked the problem of denationalization and assimilation by enacting Laws such as the September 24, 1920 "Resolution for the Settlement of the New Southern Regions" designed to effectively exclude Macedonians from owning any property. The Macedonian language was banned along with cultural institutions through a uniform code known as the December 30th, 1920 EDICT which was aimed at persecuting all political and trade union associations.
The bulk and most arable Macedonian land was awarded to Serbian army officers who survived the World War I Solun front. Land was also awarded to the Serbian administrators of Macedonia including government bureaucrats, judges and the police.
The denationalization measures were complemented with aggressive re-education programs producing "little Serbs" out of the Macedonian children. As for the unwilling adults, they were given two options - "live as a Serb" or "die as a Macedonian"!
In Pirin Macedonia, the Bulgarian government enforced compulsory name changes and through repressive political and economic means, stepped up the assimilation process. Initially, land reforms favoured the poor, including the Macedonian peasants, later however, that too changed and exposed the Macedonians to a similar fate as the Macedonians in Aegea and Vardar.
The Macedonians in Albania, posing little threat to Albania's authority, faired relatively better than their kin in Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The village inhabitants were not persecuted or subjected to any comprehensive denationalization programs. As a result, the Macedonian culture flourished, original names remained and the people spoke Macedonian uninhibited.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the IMRO regional leaders, fooled by the Balkan League's propaganda, voluntarily joined the Leagues armies in 1912 to help oust the Turks and liberate Macedonia. When it was over and the so-called "liberation" turned into an "occupation", they found themselves as prisoners of the Leagues soldiers. The ones fortunate enough to have escaped fled to the Pirin region and joined up with Yane Sandanski's Cheta whch was still active at the time. After Sandanski's assassination in 1915 however, many of his followers went underground and later re-emerged in Serres to form the "Serres Revolutionary Council". The left wing of IMRO re-emerged prior to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference with high hopes of settling the Macedonian question by lobbying the peace delegates. After realizing that their efforts were futile, they gave up and merged together with the Provisional Mission of Western Macedonia to form IMRO (United). Macedonia is alive, "United" in spirit if not in substance. Unfortunately, because of Macedonia's division and the impenetrable barriers erected, putting up a "united" national front was difficult if not impossible. Even though there was much desire to achieve a 'united autonomous Macedonia', no form of mobilization was practical. So how was IMRO going to achieve its objectives? Some leaders believed that by internationalizing the Macedonian question and by working with the supportive political elements of each Balkan State, the denationalization process could be slowed down, even reversed, and a climate for reunification created. The barriers erected in Macedonia, IMRO believed, could be penetrated by employing new, revolutionary, and non-nationalistic tactics. By joining the "international class struggle against a common oppressor", IMRO believed self-determination could be achieved. The only political elements that sympathized with IMRO's objectives at the time were the Communist Parties of the respective Balkan States. IMRO called on the Macedonian people to join the class struggle and support those sympathetic to the Macedonian cause. Many Macedonians did rise to the task but found they had very little in common with the exploited working class in their respective new countries. Macedonians felt they were exploited first because they were Macedonians and second because they were a working class. To win them over, the Communist International (Comintern) was obliged to consider concessions like offering Macedonians autonomy and the right to self-determination or at least recognize the Macedonian nation with full rights and privileges. The Comintern saw the Macedonians as a potentially strong ally that could be persuaded to rally for its cause. Unfortunately, there were problems, many problems. First there were disagreements between the various Balkan State Communist Parties regarding the degree of concessions to be awarded. Then there were fears of losing Macedonian territory, if autonomy was considered. Moscow, the leading Comintern figure favoured a Balkan Federation with the whole of Macedonia as one of its republics. Bulgaria, unfortunately, still dreaming the San Stefano dream, backed out of the deal.
Without a way of breaking the "artificial impenetrable barriers" imposed on Macedonia by the Balkan States, IMRO was never again able to rise to the glory days of the Ilinden Rebellion. As a consequence, its role slowly diminished and it became extinct after the German occupation of the Balkans in 1941.
After the Great War there was peace in Europe, unfortunately, Macedonians continued to endure denationalization, forced assimilation, forced emigration, and economic neglect at the hands of the new masters. As time will tell, Europe will not have a lasting peace, a new menace with greater ferocity is emerging and will engulf the entire world. Once again someone else's war will be fought on Macedonian soil and once again it will prove even more devastating, almost fatal to the Macedonian people.
To be continued in part VII.
You can contact the author at [email protected]
1. Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology
2. Michael Radin, IMRO and the Macedonian Question.
3. John Shea, Macedonia and Greece, The Struggle to define a new Balkan Nation.
4. G.A.L. I Kata Tis Makedonias Epivouli, (Ekdosis Deftera Sympepliromeni), Athinai 1966
5. Melville Chater, National Geographic, November 1925.
6. Felix Gilbert, The End of the European Era, 1890 to the Present.
7. Richard Clogg, A Short History of Modern Greece.
8. Anastasia Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood.
9. What Europe has Forgotten: The Struggle of the Aegean Macedonians, A Report by the Association of the Macedonians in Poland