Saturday, June 14, 2008

Denying Ethnic Identity: The "Macedonians" of Greece!

The below article is an answer to the one-side report as about the Slavmacedonians that live in Greece and contributed from the Human Rights Watch/Helsinki in 1994. It written from Phaedon John Kozyris and publish in the Journal of Modern Greek Studies (Volume 14, Number 2, October 1996, pp. 358-361). The name of the report is......Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece.

Keeping watch on governments and calling them to account for human rights is a top priority in the international arena, and the mission of Helsinki Watch, past and future, in ferreting out violations should be commended and supported. Focusing on the treatment of "Macedonians" in Greece is an appropriate subject for investigation, but it does require special care, a historical perspective, and sensitivity to the national security concerns that, regrettably, are largely missing from this report.

To be sure, Greece over time, concerned about the loyalty of some of its citizens who spoke a Slavic dialect or language that resembled Bulgarian, discouraged activities that may have been connected to the various movements and ideologies that aimed to detach Greek Macedonia from Greece and to annex it either to Bulgaria or to a Greater Slavic Macedonia. Elementary familiarity with the history of the region, and with the bloody wars that were fought there until very recently, would suggest that these fears of Greece about "activity contrary to . . . its territorial integrity and political independence" (Article 8 of the Declaration) were anything but imaginary.

The job of Helsinki Watch was to check the facts, identify any related Greek measures in reliable ways, place them in context, and evaluate their compatibility with any legitimate security concerns. This job was done poorly regarding the facts and almost not at all regarding context and compatibility. To begin with, the report most often uses FYROM's terminology--"Aegean Macedonia"--for Greek Macedonia. It also refers to the repression of "the Macedonians in Greece" without qualification, which not only generates confusion but also gives the impression that members of this small minority constitute the only or true Macedonians in the region. With all due concern for the excesses of Greek nationalism, to attribute the name and the identity of Macedonia to a certain group within a certain minority in this geographical area is not only naïve but shows gross partiality. In a vacuum, any one or any group may adopt any name they want. When, however, at least two groups claim the same name in the same location, and there has been a lot of history and bad blood regarding that location, Human Rights Watch should be careful about how it uses the name. Besides, there are also the (different?) Macedonians of FYROM. For example, I myself was born a Greek and a Macedonian and my "ethnic identity has not been denied." Furthermore, many of the Macedonians who speak or are familiar with that Slavic language also speak Greek as their primary or secondary language and do not associate with the separatist elements. They are the "dopii," a Greek word meaning "locals," distinguishing them from the refugees from Asia Minor, whom the report confuses with its own Macedonians. Indeed, these Macedonian Slavs--called "Grecomans" because they refused to join the Bulgarian Exarchate and remained faithful to Constantinople--associate with Greece, and many fought on the Greek side during the Macedonian wars.

Even more seriously, the report should be faulted for creating questionable impressions about the twentieth-century demographics in the region.

Let me cite a few examples.

The report suggests that "most of the inhabitants" (italics added) of the geographic region may be "a distinct Macedonian ethnic group."
This cannot be true.
Next, and in the same vein, it states, using a recycled FYROM source, that in 1912 in "Aegean" Macedonia there were 326,426 Macedonians and 240,019 Greeks.
This also cannot be accurate, and not only because at that time the statistics did not recognize a "Macedonian" nationality and there was no distinct Aegean Macedonia. As reported by Loring Danforth, if at that time the "Slavic-speaking Christians in [greater] Macedonia were pressed to state their national identity, some of them would have said that they were Serbs, many of them would have said that they were Greeks, but the majority of them would undoubtedly have said they were Bulgarians" ("Competing Claims to Macedonian Identity: The Macedonian Question and the Breakup of Yugoslavia," Anthropology Today 9/4 [August 1993], p. 7). An early Turkish statistic (Hilmi Pasha, 1904) had counted for the Vilayets of Thessaloniki and Monastir (now mostly in Greek Macedonia) 634,510 Greeks and 385,729 Bulgarians. The maps prepared and published by the Istituto Geografico de Agostini in Rome in the early 1900s, showing the schools and churches of the same Vilayets, corroborate the major presence of the Greek element in the area. According to statistics compiled under the auspices of the League of Nations in connection with the resettlement of the Greek refugees, in 1912 there were 513,000 Greeks and 119,000 Bulgarians (Exarchists) in the region, and by 1926, following the exchange of populations with Turkey and Bulgaria, the numbers changed into 1,341,000 Greeks and 77,000 Bulgarians. The Greek census of 1928 shows 81,984 persons speaking the Macedonian Bulgarian dialect and 16,775 the Sophia Bulgarian dialect. More recently, following the Greek civil war of 1946-1949, when the Left, supported from the north, not only pursued the communist ideology but also included a secessionist component, the size of the remaining Slavic population was significantly reduced. Those who had associated with Slavic ethnic causes left or were pushed beyond the Greek borders. The 1951 figure for that linguistic group of 41,017 reflects this change. While all figures about demographics in contested areas tend to be biased, and these figures may underrepresent at the various times the size of the population that spoke exclusively or knew the Slavomacedonian tongue because many identified themselves as Greek, this is probably a more dependable picture of dimensions and loyalties. Now the numbers are small by any count. In the last European election, the total vote of the related movement, together with splinter communist candidates, was about 7,200 nationwide. The population of Greek Macedonia alone exceeds two million. When, however, the report refers to current numbers, while it does not take a position, it still cites with a straight face and on equal footing with the other sources the statements by its Macedonian witnesses and FYROM that today in Greek Macedonia there are between 230,000 and 1,000,000 (half the population) "Macedonians," without charging this incongruity to the credibility of the same witnesses regarding other issues. Thank God that the report also gives the State Department's figures of "well under 10,000 to nearly 50,000 . . . Greek citizens who are descended from speakers of a Slavic dialect . . . some [of whom] still speak it and a few [of whom] identify themselves as 'Macedonians'" (italics added).

All this background, when added to the failure to emphasize the recent creation of a "Macedonian" national identity or that identity's crass promotion by Tito in pursuit of communist expansionist aims, shows the report's lack of sensitivity to context and also undermines its claim of neutrality.

Turning now to the claims of repression, the informational basis of the report consisted mostly of a few oral interviews with victims of discrimination, often vague and sometimes anonymous or hearsay, and a few citations from publicly available records.
Any official statements were discounted.
While the nature of the investigation justifies the use of that kind of oral testimony and while government responses tend to be self-serving, this does not dispense with the necessity for some overall evaluation. One of the weaknesses of the report relates to the dimensions of time and proportion. In the aftermath of the civil war of 1946-1949, the Greek measures were harsh and were not narrow enough to strike only at treasonous activities. Now, however, they are minimal. In the recent elections, for example, those who associated with the "Macedonian" ideology were able to express their views, nominate candidates, and participate. The report itself cites a "Macedonian" source to the effect that in Florina 40% of the public employees are "Macedonians" in a purported population of 70%, and states that there is nobody in prison for reasons of expression. But the report is not very clear about where the past ended and the present began.

The report selects two kinds of Greek action for special comment.

First, the change in the names of villages from Slavic to Greek. There is no question that the official names of most villages and towns are now Greek. This, of course, does not necessarily mean that they were changed into Greek, as implied in the report. Under Turkish rule, many villages had Turkish, Greek and/or Slavic names, depending on which community was talking. Following the division of the Macedonian region among Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia after the bloody wars of the 1910s, and with the major movements of populations, each nation made official its own ethnic toponymics and also did change a considerable number of the foreign ones, often translating them into its own language. All the Greek toponymics, most of them ancient and consecrated like Monastir and Philippoupolis, disappeared from the neighboring nations. Most of this action took place in the 1920s and was meant to convey a clear, important, and major message: there must be no more irredentist wars in the region, the current borders are permanent, and the local populations must be loyal to the nations where they live. The occupation of Eastern Macedonia by Bulgaria under the Nazis, the participation of certain "Macedonian" elements in the Greek civil war, and the secessionist rhetoric from many sources in FYROM were inconsistent with this understanding, whereas Greece is not chargeable with anything comparable. Not only is the reversal of this name strategy now practically impossible, but it could help unglue whatever hard-earned peace reigns in the region. The recent events in former Yugoslavia, especially Bosnia, suggest that ancient rivalries and hatreds run deep, that they do not amount merely to cultural differences, and that the price of peace is dear.

The same Article 8 considerations of territorial integrity and security affect the second kind of action, which relates to the refusal of Greece to give equal rights of repatriation, return, or visitation to Greece to those "Macedonians" who left Greece after defeat in the civil war and acquired foreign citizenship, and to those few who even now propagate the cause of a secessionist Great Macedonia abroad. To assume that these categories of persons are only "culturally" Slav Macedonian and not associated with the irredentist cause, when the recent and devastating civil war in which they participated almost succeeded in detaching Macedonia from Greece, and especially now that FYROM has revived the ancient issues, requires a leap of faith. In this context, and given the discretion of nations under international law in establishing their citizenship and residence rules, I believe that we should be slow in second-guessing Greece's judgments on the dangers and on whether and when some further liberalization is indicated.

In conclusion, the report, however well intentioned, breathes rarefied air. Accepting or propagating the FYROM-Macedonian vocabulary and statistics, outside time, space, and context, not distinguishing between cultural repression, on the one hand, and defense against subversion of territorial integrity, on the other, it has some value but only in an eyewitness, candid-camera, raw-news kind of way. Incidentally, for those purposes the United States State Department's annual reports are more carefully drawn and more informative. This is not to say that everything Greece does is totally proper. But it does say that Greece, which has walked the mile of liberalization, should not be criticized on the basis of exaggerated reports and, more importantly, without taking into consideration its legitimate concerns. Before we conclude that Greece has overreacted to a particular threat, the risk must be evaluated according to its magnitude and probability, especially in light of recent history. The same standard should apply to other situations nearby.

For example, it would seem that currently there is some legitimate reason for concern about the aspirations and activities of Albanians in Kossovo, of Greeks in Albania, of Kurds in Turkey, of some Muslims in Greece but not of Greeks in Istanbul, and not of Vlachs and Gypsies anywhere. In other words, it is a fact of life that human rights for minorities sometimes come into conflict with the majorities' commitment to preserve the national state, and that international law requires only some sort of balance and accommodation.

Thus, the conclusions and recommendations of the Helsinki Human Rights Watch report should be taken with many grains of salt.

for fair use only


  1. 14 years after its publication: a response to this piece that is almost saturated with half truths and badly researched 'evidence'! It has been quoted so often that it seems impossible to deny its contents anymore.
    It also quotes the newspaper O Stohos, as if it were a main stream paper. In fact so few people buy it that it does not even register in the statistics!
    What has Athens ever done to set the record straight?

  2. alfavitas the only answer that I can give you is a quote from Plutarch..

    "Today's events and those of the future are related to those of the past"

    I have the same questions when I found the specific article HIDE in the Muses 14 years now. The only that we can do is to contribute it and change it by adding all the new facts that we gather until now.

  3. What is HIDE in the Muses 14? Euxaristo


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