Saturday, July 12, 2008

Autonomist Movements of the Slavophones in 1944, The Attitude of the CP of Greece and the Protection of the Greek-Yugoslav Border, part II

by Spyridon Sfetas
Balkan Studies, 36/2 (1995), 297-317.

All the same, the Yugoslav side criticised the KKE before the Soviet military mission at Tito's HQ on the island of Vis for its incorrect policy vis-a-vis the Macedonian Question. On the basis of the information from Yugoslavia, Fitin, the head of Soviet espionage, wrote to Dimitrov:

I write to inform you of the intelligence we have received from Yugoslavia regarding the attitude of EAM to the Macedonian Question. In the course of their task of organising the partisan movement in Macedonia, the representatives of the Yugoslav Popular Liberation Army have encountered strong opposition from the EAM partisans. EAM advocates the old Greek border and denies Macedonia self-deterrnination. The Communists also support this stance. In a discussion with a representative of Marshal Tito, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the KKE said that there can be no question of self-determination for Macedonia, since there is no "Macedonian people" as such. The Greek Communists in Macedonia are firmly opposed to the Macedonians' bid for self-determination. They will not allow the Macedonians to conduct their religious ceremonies except according to Greek custom and they persecute those who worship using the Slavonic sacred books in out-of-the-way churches. The Macedonians are forbidden to offer any kind of assistance to Marshal Tito's representatives owing to the exacerbation of the Macedonian Question, EAM partisans have virtually ceased fighting the Gerrnan conquerors in "their" Macedonia [12].

These accusations were essentially groundless. After 1934, in accordance with the policy laid down by the Communist International, the KKE recognised the existence of a "Slavo-Macedonian nation", even though the Slavophones in Greek Macedonia were in fact a small linguistic group, rather than a minority in the sense in which the term is used in international law. To recognise their right to self-determination during the War would essentially have meant acknowledging their right to secede, which would have severely prejudiced the EAM/ELAS resistance movement. The KKE felt that the Slavo-Macedonian issues would be resolved only after the War on the basis of democratic principles [13] . After Andreas Dzimas had visited Tito's HQ on 20 June 1944 as the KKE's representative and made contact with the Soviet delegation, in his first report (to General Korneev, head of the Soviet delegation) on the situation in Greece, dated 29 June t944, he mentioned the Yugoslavs' accusations.

The Yugoslavs' impressions of Greece and the information they are propagating are far from objective…… Failing to understand our position on the Macedonian Question, they are causing us many problems at the frontier. Many of their cadres at the frontier are putting it about that our army is Fascist, that the Intelligence Service has influence in the Central Comittee of the KKE. They prevented the Macedonians from taking part in the elections for the Political Committee of National Liberation. All this despite the warm welcome and support we give them. I appeal to you to intervene and set this unpleasant situation to rights. For the sake of 120,000 Macedonians, the Yugoslavs want us to lose the Greek people, who have naturally become extremely sensitive to the national question of late. All the Greek governments in exile would like to exploit this sensitivity to imbue the Greek people with the Great Idea and with chauvinistic sentiments. I beg you to mediate" [14] .

General Korneev's mediation was not considered necessary in the end, because Tito had already intervened to settle the matter. In June 1944, the Central Committee of the KKE decided to allow the Slavophones who had fled to Yugoslavia to return, provided they submit to a process of self-criticism. Although SNOF was not re-established as a political body, the KKE's leaders decided to set up separate SlavoMacedonian battalions [15] . The Central Committee of the KKE was prompted to this decision by the necessity for closer collaboration with Tito, both at the military levelowing to the Germans' massive mopping-up operations against ELAS in the summer of 1944 and the reestablishment of the autonomist Bulgarian organisation Ohrana, chiefly in the Edessa areaand at the political levelon account of the KKE's embarrassment after the signing of the Lebanon Charter. On 16 June 1944, a separate Slavo-Macedonian battalion was set up in the Aridaia-Edessa area as part of the 30th ELAS regiment. This was done on the initiative of Markos Vafiadis, at whose instigation the ELAS GHQ issued the order, despite the opposition of the Macedonia Bureau [16] . Lefteris Foundoulakis of Crete was appointed commander and GeorgiD2odLo Urdov political delegate. The haste with which the Slavo-Macedonian battalion was established on Kaimaktchalan was due to the pres­sing need to undermine Ohrana's bases [17] . On 24 June 1944, Siandos sent Andreas Dzimas a telegram asking him to draw Tito's attention to the German and Bulgarian Fascists' efforts to start up a autonomist movement in Macedonia, as also to the necessity for ELAS and the SerboMacedonians (the Slavo-Macedonians of Yugoslav Macedonia) to make concerted efforts to win the Slavo-Macedonians over and recruit them into separate Slavo-Macedonian armed divisions [18] . Siandos obviously thought Tito was in a position to control future disruptive moves by the Slavonic-speakers.

However, the emergence of the "People's Republic of Macedonia" at the first meeting of the Antifascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) on 2 August 1944 produced a new parameter in the Macedonian Question. The presiding committee of ASNOM was dominated by elements that were not known for their pro-Yugoslav sentiments [19]. They wanted Tito to secure as much independence as possible for Yugoslav Macedonia and gave priority to the unification of the three segments of Macedonia. To Tempo's great displeasure, Metodija Andonov-tento was elected president and Panko Brasnarov (a member of IMRO (United) between the Wars) vice-president.

On 2 August 1944, the anniversary of the llinden Uprising, the Florina and Kastoria Slavo-Macedonian battalion (known as the "Goce Battalion") was established in the village of Halara (Pozdivista) in the presence of representatives of the KKE, the Communist Party of Yugoslav Macedonia, and the political delegate of the 9th ELAS Division, Renos Mihaleas. The commander was Ilias "Goce" Dimakis and the political delegate Hristos Kokkinos.

Goce began systematically recruiting Slavophones in order to swell the battalion's numbers from the original 400. At the same time, liaison officers from Yugoslav Macedonia, notably Petre "Kocko" Bogdanov, were once again spreading propaganda about the right of the "Macedonian people" to self-determination and unification and demanding a GHQ [20] . Having a somewhat hazy Leninist notion of the right to self­determination, Mihaleas tolerated these activities and had frequent clashes with the KKE's Macedonia Bureau, which later stripped him of his title. In a letter to Leonidas Stringos in August 1944, he wrote:

We have not spread the watchword of ethnic equality in the broadest, freest sense. We have not spread and analysed the message of the Atlantic Charter, the hard-won trophy of the people's struggle. Rather than being his homeland, striking terror and confusion into the heart of capitalism and Fascism, Tito's Macedonia has been a thorn in our side. The Cypriot hails Free Greece and the Atlantic Charter and the Macedonian hails Tito and the Atlantic Charter. So, more broadly, or rather more profoundly, than the 6th Plenary [SiCl we shall have to show him the close embrace of '21 and Ilinden, and only then will our watchword of "Ethnic equality today!" gleam in his eye [21] .

As a result of this dangerous development, the 28th Regiment decided to incorporate the Goce Battalion into the Vitsi Detachment on 10 September 1944. Kosmas Spanos-Amyndas, an Albanian from Lehovo, was appointed commander and Goce was demoted to captain [22] , but in fact the latter still controlled the battalion. At the same time, the KKE's Macedonia Bureau decided to stop recruiting Slavophones. On 12 September, Stringos wrote to Siandos:

We cannot conceal from you our grave disquiet regarding the attitude of the Serbo-Macedonians. Naturally the attitude of the Slavo-Macedonians here in Greece has been very good of lateco-operation with the Greek element and a common struggle that grows ever stronger. In the Pelo area, i.e. Korestia, we have done good work and people are following our policy. But the Serbo-Macedonians are still the storm petrel. First there was the ultimatum from the Macedonian HQ [i.e. the circular of 17 lune 1944] that we sent you; then their efforts to arm the Slavo-Macedonians without giving us arms. Our second delegation went to Prespa to get arms (the other is on Kaimaktchalan) and brought back any number of accu­sations. Among all the Slavo-Macedonian formations, Peyios has become a hero; it is being widely said that Florina, Kastoria, and Thessaloniki belong to Macedonia.... For our part, we think that, without making it obvious, we should stop recruiting Slavo-Macedonians altogether and continue our policy of bringing about a closer rapprochement between Slavo-Macedonians and Greeks. But we also feel that you must prevail upon Tito, because the attitude of some cadres is verging on provocation [23] .

Goce refused to obey the Macedonia Bureau's order to stop recruiting and, without checking their identity, accepted into his battalion men from both Yugoslav Macedonia and Bulgaria, the latter chiefly Bulgaro-Macedonians who had emigrated to Bulgaria from Greek Macedonia between the Wars [24]. He saw fit to send Peyios and Thanassis Korovessis (Atanas Korovesov) to GHQ in Yugoslav Macedonia to receive instructions so that he could co-ordinate his subsequent actions. In late September 1944, Peyios and Korovessis brought back the "directives", as GHQ termed them: the Goce Battalion was to continue recruiting and should demand that the KKE set up a special Macedonian army and staff. If the KKE refused, Goce was to go ahead and recruit as many Slavo-Macedonians as possible and then bring his battalion to Yugoslav Macedonia, where the new recruits would be armed and the Goce Battalion, reinforced with men from Yugoslav Macedonia, would return to Greek Macedonia to liberate Florina, Kastoria, Edessa, and other areas still in German hands [25]. Above all, the Allies' attention had to be drawn to the Macedonian Question.

[12] - See RCHIDNt, F. 495, Op. 74, D. 177, L. 4. Fitin to Dimitrov, 13 July 1944.

[13] - During talks with the Bulgarian Communists in Sofia in December 1944 (an account of which, together with his report on the political situation in Greece (8 Dec. 1944), was conveyed to the Soviets), Petros Roussos observed that the KKE never underestimated the Macedonian people's struggle for liberation, but had to bear in mind the change in the ethnic make-up of Greek Macedonia, where the party's data indicated that there were only 120,000 Macedonians in the area of Florina and Kastoria. The KKE could not push the slogan of an Independent Macedonia, because that would disrupt the unity of the Greek people in the struggle against Fascism. "Our party", Roussos continued, "reckoned that that slogan was inappropnate in Greece, because the reactionaries would have exploited it to cultivate chauvinist sentiments in the Greek people. Naturally, we always helped the Macedonians to join forces in a united front against Fascism so that, after the War, they would be able to fimd a common solution to the issues that concerned them on a democratic basis,,. See RCHIDNI, F. 459, Op. 74, D. 175, L. 34-5.

[14] - See RcHlOnl, F. 495, Op. 74, D. 176, L. 59, Polititeski Doklad o polozenii v Grecii, Dzimas to Komeev, 29 June 1944.

[15] - The need to establish separate Slavo-Macedonian battalions was chiefly underlined by loannidis. See G. Ioannidis, Anamneseis: Problimata tes politikes toy KKE sten Ethnike Antistase 1944-1945 (edited by A. Papapanagiotou), Athens 1979, p. 247.

[16] - See Stringos, post-war report, AM, K. 20/242A.

[17] - On 14 June 1944 some fifty IMRO veterans, led by Georgi Dimcev, an officer in the Bulgarian air force, established themselves in Edessa, where they made up the officers, corps of the Third Macedonian Brigade. The members of the brigade had been conscripted from the three Macedonian prefectures (Florina, Kastoria, and Edessa). Two battalions, each 250 strong, comprised the main body of the brigade, and the civil guard supported its operations against the Communists. Three SS officers, Heyde, Hellman, and Degler, planned the operations and they were carried out by Brigadier DimPev. In July 1944, one of the two battalions led by KalLev left Edessa and headed for the mountain villages of Vermio and Pindos. Dirntev and the other battalion undertook to confront ELAS at its strongholds near Edessa Ohrana's main political slogan was "Independent Macedonia".

[18] - See Siandos to Dzima, 24 lune 1944, in KPG i Makedonskoto Nacionalno PraSank 1918-1974 (edited by R. Kirjazovski), Arhiv na Makedonija, Skopje 1982, p. 214.

[19] - While preparations were being made for ASNOM,s first council at Prohor PLinski Monastery, there were sharp exchanges between Tempo and tento, the latter challenging Tempo,s right (and consequently his clique,s right) to meddle in Slavo-Macedonian affairs and to give party posts to individuals who had done their political training in Belgrade. See F. Tanaskova, Metodija Andonov-tento, published by Nova Makedonia, Skopje 1990, pp. 34-5.

[20] - Kotsopoulos, report is revealing: "In the summer of 1944, following an 'agreement, between Tempo and the 9th ELAS division, they all came back and, together with some of Tito's supporters, embarked upon 'self-criticism'. G. Touroundzas was travelling around the Florina villages accompanied by Kotskos. Peyios and Dejan were going round the Kastoria villages. And Makris was going round Prespa with an Albanian. Ilias Touroundzas was going around with Renos [Mihaleas]. During the self-criticism they were saying that we should fight with the Greeks, but start demanding guarantees of our rights immediately. At the same time, they were secretly arranging for ELAS members to desert, creating the cells of their organisations in the villages. and making preparations for the general break up. At this point, Goce had not laid his cards on the table. But he was working secretly, combing the Korestia and Prespa villages and telling the Slavo-Macedonian cadres that the KKE was ignoring them and taking the wrong line over the Macedonian Question, etc. He spoke like this to me too,,. See Report by Kotsopoulos to the Central Committee of the KKE (I Oct. 1952), AM, F-l9/191.

[21] - Mihaleas to Stringos (August 1944), AM, K-20/96.

[22] - See Egejska Makedonija, p. 467.

[23] - Stringos to the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the KKE, 12 Sept. 1944, AM, K-62/52. In a speech delivered in Kastoria in mid-September 1944, Mitropoulos made specific reference to the right of the "Macedonian people" to self-deterrnination, which provoked objections from the local KKE secretary Andonis Andonopoulos Periklis. See T. Marnurovski, PaskalMitrevski i negovoto vreme (1912-1978), Skopje 1992, p. 41.

[24] - See the report by Andonopoulos (secretary of the Kastoria branch of the KKE) and G. Fourkiotis (secretary of the Florina branch of the KKE) to the KKE's Macedonia Bureau, 27 Sept. 1944, KPG i Makedonskoto Nacionalno Prasanje, p. 239.

[25] - See Soupourkas, interesting report to the Central Committee of the KKE, 15 Nov. 1947, AM, F-20QI9. Soupourkas was a member of the Goce Battalion.

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