Monday, July 07, 2008

A Long Journey Home. Greek Refugee Children in Yugoslavia 1948-1960

Writer: Milan Ristović
Hardcover: 138 pages
Publisher: Institute for Balkan Studies (usually known by its Greek acronym: IMXA),2000
Language: English

During the Greek civil war the towns and villages that were situated in the operational zones suffered great destruction, forced mobilisation and removal, requisition, and economic and demographic decline. The consequences were particularly dramatic for the children living at the specific areas, many of whom lost one or both their parents or were separated from them during the war.

In early 1948 some 25,000 children were transferred under the initiative of the Greek Democratic Army or their own relatives to the neighbouring Popular Republics, mostly to Yugoslavia.

Professor Ristović’s book is based mainly on the study of the Yugoslav archives, and examines the reasons, methods, organization, humanitarian, political, and ideological background of this unique phenomenon, in the Yugoslav Republics, as well as the refugee children’s involvement in the cold-war circumstances and the split between Stalin and Tito.

Below is the "introduction" of the book......

Between the fall of 1940 and the end of the summer of 1949, Greece - with brief and unstable breaks - went through periods of war destruction. With huge material and human casualties, the country suffered almost all known forms of military conflict: from the defensive war against Italy and Germany, guerilla armed resistance during the occupation, to the civil war, which left the most tragic and deepest internal scars1. Although varying in degree, no one was completely spared from difficult war experiences. The civil war introduced not only idelogical and political conflict into Greek society, it also caused difficulties within all its basic social structure. Towns and especially villages in the war zones suffered great destruction, forced mobilizations and removals, requisitions, economic and demographic decline.

The strain of war and political conflicts brought about the disintegration of families as the ultimate refuge from turbulent war and political events. There was a forceful and often violent separation of their members. Apart from permanent losses due to death of a family member - usually a father, husband, or brother - surviving family members were separated for years since male adults were either fighters in one of the armies at war or prisoners of war, while women and children stayed together. This separation continued in the long years of the emigration of the tens of thousands of former DSE members and members of the left-wing parties.

A great number of children during the civil war lost one or both parents. Children from the war zones along the Northern Greek borders became, from the beginning of 1948, protagonists of a dramatic, controversial, and, by its effects, also an extremely difficult episode of the Greek civil war. According to some estimates 25,000, according to other estimates 28,000 children weretransported (under the auspices of the "Provisional Government"), or fled, accompanied by parents or some other adults, into the territories of the neighboring or other "popular democracy" countries. According to the report of the UN Special Committee on the Balkans (UNSCOB) and the International Red Cross (ICRC), 23,696 children left the country. This phenomenon had its flip side in the policy of the Greek government, which organized an evacuation of children from the war zones5. Around 15,000 children were evacuated by the government authorities in Athens.

Answers to the complex questions about the reasons, methods, organization, humanitarian, political, and ideological background, put before the historian by the study of the origin and outcome of this unique phenomenon of a great "children's Greece in emigration", can only be given through systematic research. Neighbouring Balkan countries had a specific role in these events. In that, the role of Yugoslavia, on whose territories the majority of Greek refugees were placed - both adults, and children - as well as other problems related to Yugoslav wide political and material aid to one of the sides in conflict, demand special attention. This study originated as a result of the research of archival materials from the Yugoslav archives on the Greek refugee children, and it might throw additional light onto the whole problem.

The research was conducted primarily in the Yugoslav State Archive (AJ), thanks to the rich funds of the Commission for International Relations and Ties (KMOV) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia -Union of Yugoslav Communists. Research was also conducted in the Diplomatic and Political Archives of the Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DA SMIP), where I went through the extensive material from the correspondence of the Yugoslav diplomatic representatives with the Belgrade headquarters (The Embassy in Athens, Thessaloniki General Consulate, embassies and offices in the European capitals, USA, and Australia); also the correspondence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIP) with other federal government ministries (Ministry of the Interior, Defense Ministry, Ministry of the Social Care, etc.), and Republics' governments.

Valuable and extremely rich documents on the destiny of the Greek refugee children, especially on their reception, accommodation, the founding of special homes, living conditions, and repatriation, were found in the Yugoslav Red Cross Archive - The Search Service (AJCK, ST). Correspondence between the Yugoslav Red Cross (JCK) with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the League of the Red Cross Societies in Geneva is also located there, as well as personal records and dossiers of the repatriated children.

A complete illustration of this problem is in a special way enriched by film material from the Yugoslav Film Archive (Cinematheque), where two documentary propaganda films on Yugoslav aid to the refugee children are kept. Some photographs published in this book were placed at my disposal by the Museum of Yugoslav History.

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