Monday, December 08, 2008


by  George C. Papavizas

When I was thirteen years old I asked my grandfather Constantine why he had joined the Greek andartes (freedom fighters) in Macedonia in 1904-1908 during the Macedonian Struggle and fought against the armed Slavic bands (komitadjides, committee men) of the clandestine Bulgarian Komitet " Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization" (IMRO) (Vatreshna Makedonska Revolutsionna Organizacija, VMRO in Skopje). Looking at me straight in the eyes for a long time in silence, twirling his long moustache, his sixty-year-old weather-beaten face furrowed in deep pain because of the distortion of historical facts on Macedonia emanating from the Slavic north, he said softly: "To make certain that after the Turks, our Macedonia remains Hellenic and my children and grandchildren enjoy freedom as Hellinomakedones"(Greek Macedonians). He died of pneumonia at sixty, leaving behind a deep feeling of patriotism for all and an indelible, life-long Hellenic Macedonian legacy that has had a major impact on me, his first grandson.

Sixty years later I was at my son´s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Before I sat down, my eight-year-old grandson, Aidan, ran to me and brandished the Scholastic Atlas of the World, published by Miles Kelly Publishing Ltd. in England. He proudly demonstrated his geography skills by naming several countries around the world, leaving his best at the end, the map of Greece. He looked at it for a few seconds, placed his finger on the word "Macedonia," looked at me with his intelligent blue eyes, and said: Here Papou (grandfather); I know where Macedonia is, where you were born." Suddenly, he looked at me again and said disappointed: "But you told me you were born in Macedonia, Greece."

I was not surprised that the word "Macedonia" was not on Hellenic Macedonia, but on Vardarska Banovina (also known as Vardar Province, or South Serbia), a small country beyond Greece´s northern frontier. It was not the first time that my Macedonia, the only one that existed when I was born, was not shown on the map. The publisher did not bother to place the word "Macedonia" on Hellenic Macedonia, which occupies 75% of King Philip´s historic Macedonia. I left by son´s house angry with myself for having become apathetic to my Hellenic Macedonian legacy bequeathed to me by my grandfather, suddenly revived by my grandson. Because I have learned all my life to attribute the written word with more weight than the spoken one (verba volant, scripta manent), I decided there and then to write about a plundered Macedonian legacy; how the international community has been ensnared in clever political-historical inaccuracies on the Macedonian issue, emanated or broadcast from capitals behind the Iron Curtain in the past; from free capitals north of the Greek frontier now; and how Greece´s northern neighbors, have been striving to convince the world to recognize their small break-away republic with a name that belongs to my children´s and grandchildren´s Macedonian legacy.

Why is the name "Macedonia" so important?

Because it carries along important derivatives, far beyond what it says: history, identity, heritage, culture, heroes, customs, traditions, etc. It carries "Ghosts or real historical demons. Perhaps war or peace. Nothing and everything," wrote Leslie H. Gelb in The New York Times June 12, 1992. The name, of course, is Macedonia, the land of Philip, Alexander and Aristotle; the beautiful land with Mount Olympus and the Greek Gods. The rich land east and west of the bustling city of Thessaloniki with the archaeological sites of an age long gone, the Hellenic Macedonian age: Pella, Vergina (Aegae), Dion, Amphipolis, Methone, Pydna, Olynthos, Orestis, Appolonia, Philippi, Potidaea, Stagira (Aristotle´s birthplace), Thessaloniki. Do any of these historical city names sound Slavic to the reader?

Because people around the world, after communism was entrenched in the Balkans, dispute the Hellenism of the ancient Macedonians who lived in these cities; and because the words "Macedonia" and "Macedonians" are both perceived and used nowadays as propulsive forces to create and sustain — with heavy-handedness — a new ethnic model with the name "Macedonia", forcefully embedded within the glorious Macedonian past, it is important that we understand the meaning of the so-called Macedonian Question (and the struggle for Macedonia). What was the Macedonian Question? From 1870 to 1918, it was the problem of who had the historical, cultural, ethnic, and demographic rights to rule Macedonia following the simmering demise of the Ottoman Empire. The problem triggered a political and military struggle under the Turks between Hellenism and Bulgarism, two ideas — and two forces that fought embodied as Greeks and Bulgarians — not as Greeks and "Macedonians". From 1870 to 1943, Bulgarism represented Slavism, not Macedonianism. The Slavic Macedonianism was not known as an independent ethnic concept. It was borne in the early 1940s. Bulgaria lost the struggle because it disregarded Hellenism´s deep roots in Macedonia.

With the onset of communism in the Balkans, the Macedonian Question — and the struggle for Macedonia — took on a different meaning and dangerous new dimensions. At the risk of being considered a polemic anticommunist, I must now lay considerable stress on international communism being greatly responsible for the revival and perpetuation of the Macedonian controversy since the early 1920s. And here is how and why: As early as 1921, the Soviets had inaugurated a policy, conceived by Leon Trotsky and commissar Dimitri Manuilski, to accomplish a Balkan fragmentation. The Sixth Congress of the Balkan Communist Federation under the leadership of the Bulgarian communist Kolarov and the Fifth Congress of Comintern (Communist International), an adjunct of the Soviet foreign policy, held concurrently in Moscow in 1923, voted for the formation of an "Autonomous and Independent Macedonia and Thrace."

The pre-Tito Yugoslav communist leaders, who voted against the Soviet plan, were not ready to embrace the idea of a separate Macedonian nation, insisting that the inhabitants of the Vardar Province "lacked a clearly defined national Macedonian character of their own." Ironically, it was Tito later who used the label "Macedonian" to create the new nationality, contrasting his "Macedonians" with the Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians.

The communist state-controlled "Macedonian" ethnogenesis began in earnest on August 1, 1941 with Comintern, Stalin´s right-hand-instrument, dispatching the following directive to the Bulgarian and Yugoslav communist leaders (from Tsola Dragojceva, 1979): Macedonia must be attached to Yugoslavia for practical reasons and for the sake of expediency. The two parties must take up the stand of the self-determination of the Macedonian people." Ignoring Greece, Comintern decisively shifted the burden and responsibility of how to contact the struggle for Macedonia from Bulgaria to Yugoslavia and ruled for an "Independent Macedonia and Thrace" under Yugoslav hegemony. But it is doubtful that the Yugoslav and Bulgarian communists ever deluded themselves into believing they were fighting on history´s right side.

It was the Comintern directive that signaled the second phase of the Macedonian Question. For the 1940s, it was the competing claims by Greece´s communist neighbors for Hellenic Macedonia. The Bulgarians first, and the Yugoslavs later, have used every means available to them to violate the Treaty of Bucharest (signed in 1913): seditious propaganda, distortion of history, anthropological and historical studies of dubious or prejudiced nature that never considered the existence of millions of Greek Macedonians; and, indirectly, civil war (aiding the Greek communists during the civil war of 1946-1949). Greek Macedonia was ravaged during the civil war, fomented and fueled by communist Albania, communist Bulgaria and especially communist Yugoslavia to which Skopje belonged.

It was not a coincidence that the revival of the Macedonian controversy went hand in hand with communism´s genesis in the Balkans. Any doubts concerning communism´s forceful involvement with the problem would have been dissipated early in the game were it known that Comintern was involved from its early inception with the Macedonian Question.

In spite of overwhelming evidence of international communism´s involvement with the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949, most historians disregard altogether the important connection of the civil war´s destinies with those of Macedonia´s fate. Most of the modern authors who write in English do not even mention the Greek Civil War. They also neglect to mention how the Macedonian controversy was exploited by Soviet-sponsored communism to propel into the world the unhistorical concept that the Slavs, Albanians, and Bulgarians of Tito´s Socialist Republic of Macedonia were the only legitimate "Macedonians." The connection of the two issues did not escape the attention of the historian Evangelos Kofos (1995) who wrote: ". . . . the fate of Macedonia and the course of the [communist] revolution in Greece — would converge, interact, and shape the destinies of both."

My new book, CLAIMING MACEDONIA: The Struggle for the Heritage, Territory and Name of the Historic Hellenic Land, is a debate about the Macedonian history and legacy, and its plundering by the early dynamism and the theoretical base of international communism, with the Soviet Union looming awesome behind the scenes. It is the "antidote to historical illiteracy" (from TIME, July 2006) on Macedonia, especially during the period from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. Specifically, it shows the misconceptions pertaining to the fabricated legacy of Macedonia´s past, as promulgated by international communism; analyzes communism´s pivotal role in fueling the Greek Civil War and the Macedonian controversy; and emphasizes the infrastructure of the Macedonian controversy and the part of Macedonian history that now lies in dead communism´s shadow and in Tito´s defunct socialist imperialism. The critical role played by Yugoslav communism in the struggle for Macedonia, especially during the Greek Civil War, did not escape the attention of Ivo Banak, professor of history at Yale, who wrote in 1992: "only communism could provide the theoretical base and the necessary force to push for a separate "Macedonian nation."

Looking now at this backdrop from a cool historical perspective, we must ask: How did Tito and Yugoslavia manage to create a new ethnicity from a polyglot conglomerate of Slavs, Bulgarians, Albanians, Romanians, gypsies, Turks, and others and convince the world that his methods and reasons for forging a new nationality were internationally sanctionable?

The answer to these questions is simple: Using Stalin´s advice (or directive?) how to form a new nation, Tito created a "Macedonian nation" in three steps and in such a clever way that the world, including Greece next door, did not question the deeds of the World War II hero while the war was going on in Europe: First, Tito converted a part of Vardar Province to People´s Republic of Macedonia within the Yugoslav federation, using the geographic name "Macedonia" as an ethnic name; second, he created an artificial nationality by transforming the Slavs of the new republic to "Macedonians." and third, he gave the people in the new republic a new language by modifying their Bulgarian dialect and calling it "Macedonian;"

In contrast to Alexander´s language which had a Greek alphabet, the language spoken in Skopje did not have an alphabet before 1945. Tito commissioned the linguist Blaze Koneski who modified the Serbian version of the Cyrillic alphabet and called it "Macedonian alphabet." He then cleansed the language of specific Bulgarian glossic elements betraying their Bulgarian origin, replacing them by "Macedonian" neologisms; and fabricated the lexicon of the new language from a mixture of words from the Bulgarian, Serb, Croat, Slovenian and other Slavonic languages. The new artificial mixture is now called "Macedonian language."

With the Germans still in Yugoslavia, the first Anti-Fascist Assembly of National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) at the monastery of Prohor Pcinjsky gave the final thrust to Tito´s grandiose plans for a unified Macedonia under Yugoslavia´s hegemony by proclaiming "Macedonia as a federated state in the Democratic Federation of Yugoslavia" and declaring: 
"You [the "Macedonians"] will succeed to unite all parts of Macedonia that the Balkan imperialists [Bulgarians, Greek, Serbs] occupied in 1913 and 1918." With these words, the Macedonian Question was revived stronger than ever, with the struggle for Macedonia assuming dangerous dimensions for the stability of the Balkans."

Let us now talk briefly about the crude communist manipulations to achieve the conversion. Ethnologically, the new republic was always a fluid country inhabited by several ideologically contentious groups with ties to Albania, Bulgaria, or Serbia. The 1940 official Yugoslav census recognized only two ethnic groups in the Vardar Province, Slavs at 66 percent and Muslims at 31 percent. In 1946, three years after the formation of the People´s Republic of Macedonia, the Slavs magically disappeared from the census that showed 66 percent "Macedonians." Was this remarkable transformation process a massive genetic mutation of the Slavic population or a census falsification?

Giorgi Dimitrov, the Bulgarian communist leader, upset with Tito´s manipulations and imperialism, wrote in his diary:
 "Are we talking about a Macedonian nation or a Macedonian population made up of Bulgarians, Greeks, and Serbs? Does a Macedonian nation exist, and if so, where and how? Can Macedonia exist as a separate state or find freedom and statehood within the South Slav federation, regardless of the ethnic conglomerate of which it is composed" ? 
(Kouzinopoulos 1999, from Dimitrov´s secret Diary, p. 21)

Dimitrov wrote on the same page: 
"Tito´s interest and the interest of the [Skopjan] chauvinists focuses not only on Pirin Macedonia . . . . but also on the Aegean Macedonia, i.e., Greek Macedonia, and the Aegean Sea."

Now, let us return to Stalin. What was his advice (or I should say directive?) on how to create a "Macedonian Nation?" Stalin met with Soviet, Yugoslav and Bulgarian leaders. When Dimitrov expressed additional doubts on the Macedonianism of the Vardar Province´s inhabitants, Stalin rushed to explain to him how state building—even if it is a fabrication—leads to acceptable nation building. His remarks to Dimitrov on nation building were revealing indeed:

Pirin Macedonia must become autonomous within a South Slav Federation.¼ Whether there is a Macedonian nation or not, and whether its population has not yet developed a Macedonian consciousness, makes no difference. Such consciousness did not exist in Byelorussia either when, after the October revolution, we proclaimed it as a Soviet republic.

In spite of Stalin´s admiration for Tito (before the split), the Soviet leader became enraged with the Yugoslav leadership´s irredentist plans. On January 10, 1945, Stalin characterized as ill-advised Tito´s efforts to incorporate into Yugoslavia not only the Greek Macedonia, but also Albania, and slices from Austria and Hungary. "I do not like their [Yugoslav] behavior . . . . they do not understand in Belgrade." (Dimitrov´s Diary, p. 22).

I have now a few serious conceptual questions on the history of the Slavic society lying in the shadow of Tito´s dead imperialism and in Comintern´s manipulations and intrigue. First, what characteristics (historical, cultural, genetic, linguistic, ethnic, or anthropological) do the people of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (now FYROM) possess to be described as "Macedonians by communist first?" Second, if the slavophones in the Socialist Republic of Macedonia were really Macedonians, why did they not assert their Macedonian identity before a communist dictator officially transformed them to "Macedonians?" And third, what are the indigenous Greek-speaking inhabitants of Greek Macedonia whose forebears always lived in Macedonia, and whose Macedonian history, civilization, culture, myths, heroes, language, all go back for countless generations? Or to put it in a different context: Which of the two groups, Hellenes or Slavs in Macedonia, is historically, culturally, linguistically, and ethnically more likely to be identified as Macedonian?

To put the state-controlled "Macedonian" ethnogenesis in proper perspective, we also need to go back to 1870 and trace the origin and sentiments of the FYROM slavophones. They underwent several transformations before their final ethnic conversion to "Macedonians": They were Bulgarians from 1870 to 1913; South Slavs or serbianized Slavs from 1913 till the German army occupied Yugoslavia in 1941; Bulgarians again proudly brandishing Bulgarian flags during the occupation of South Serbia by the fascist Bulgarian army (a Hitler gift to Bulgaria for joining Nazi Germany during World War II); Yugoslav communist partisans during the occupation; and then communist "Macedonians" by 1943 with new roots, history and language;

Upon the passing of Tito´s epoch, centered as it was on the "inherent megalomaniac charisma of a single man," they finally became reformed communist "Macedonians" in FYROM, harboring irredentist aspirations at their neighbors´ expense; hanging maps on school walls depicting Greek Macedonia occupied by Greece, a powerful irredentist stimulus and a violation of the Interim Accord; inculcating in the young´s minds the idea to hate the Greeks; revising their original constitution to include an appeal to the slavophones of Greece to continue their struggle for union with Skopje, an inclusion implying a camouflaged threat against Greece´s territorial integrity; circulating in FYROM and abroad maps depicting "Greater Macedonia" with slices of eastern Albania, southwestern Bulgaria, and northern Greece (equal to 1/4 of the Greek mainland, including Thessaloniki); or demanding on the Internet that Greek Macedonia be returned to its proper owner! The post-1991 situation in FYROM with the school maps and other pronouncements has created dangerous nationalistic ideas in young generations that have been exposed to the education system established by the reformed communist leaders following FYROM´s independence in 1991.

Considering all the facts, including the ethnic transformations, and the aggressive propaganda by Skopje and the Slavic diaspora, history has now reached the absurd and untenable points where a small mountainous enclave calling itself "Republic of Macedonia" may not only demand — by the power of its apprehended name— to be a Macedonia, but the only Macedonia; and its Slavic people may not only demand — by the power granted to them by a dictator — to be some Macedonians, but the only Macedonians.

After all these happenings, the Macedonian Question is no longer seen as a question. It has become a clever and deliberate attempt to absorb slowly, but surely, everything that belongs to a neighbor: a complete sweep of historical and archaeological values and a destruction of the neighbor´s identity and pride.

Calling the inhabitants of FYROM "Macedonians," complying with their unhistorical demands, will automatically deprive three million Hellenic Macedonians, half of whom are indigenous Hellenic Macedonians, of their Macedonian name and identity. This serious argument has nothing to do with the glorious Macedonian kings, the ancient Macedonian Hellenism, the 3,000 years of Macedonian history, or the Hellenistic Era. It has to do with the fact that the FYROM Slavs monopolize a name that people next door are using for ages. It has a lot to do with the Hellenic Macedonian´s identity arbitrarily being transferred to the FYROM Slavs fifteen years ago. It has also to do with the fact that a country (FYROM) that forms a small part of a larger whole country — less than15% of Philip´s historic Macedonia — portrays itself as representing the entire Macedonia. To quote a phrase from the book Macedonia, a Greek Term in Modern Usage (published in 2005 by the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle Foundation), "At a time when regions in Europe are searching for and pushing their distinctive identities to the fore, how can it be possible for the Greek Macedonians to lose theirs?" The Greek people must realize, if they have not done so already, that manipulations in politics, domestic and foreign, weigh heavier than the glorious historical pages of the Macedonian history and the Hellenic Macedonian romantic nationalism.

FYROM´s dogma proclaims now on all levels — political, scientific, educational, diplomatic, media — that the entire geographic area of Macedonia, down to Mount Olympus, constitutes "ethnic Macedonian territory," the homeland of the "Macedonian nation," which was unfairly partitioned in 1913 with the Treaty of Bucharest; and the homeland of the "Macedonian" people who consider the Greeks and Bulgarians as foreigners. Unfortunately, the official Greek side has not cleverly used these arguments to justify the legitimate position why Greece possesses an age-old de facto right on the name "Macedonian" and its derivatives. "Who steals my purse steals trash; but he that filches from me my good name robs of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed."

Why does Skopje insist on maintaining the simple name "Republic of Macedonia," despite the fact it occupies less than 15% of historic Macedonia?
 Why did FYROM reject Matthew Nimetz´s 2005 proposal for the name Republic of Macedonia-Skopje, tentatively accepted by the Greek government as a basis for further negotiations

Nimetz, the U.N. mediator, included the following in his report to the U. N .Council. "... the name "Macedonia" has importance to a long association with the heritage, culture and history of the Hellenic Republic and Hellenic people since antiquity; "Macedonia" is a name commonly used to refer to a region of northern Greece, and that the people of that region, within the Hellenic Republic, customarily are referred to as "Macedonians." . . . Skopje must acknowledge that there is a region in Greece named "Greek Macedonia" [and not "Aegean Macedonia" or Egejska Makedonija)." 

Is it the fact that Nimetz bluntly told the Skopjans of the existence of another, older and larger Macedonia, the Hellenic Macedonia, that forced them to reject his proposed name? 
Or is it because FYROM intends to adhere to a name that does not include restrictive qualifiers which will imply extirpation of Skopje´s dreams for future territorial expansion?

It Greece were to succumb to pressure by friends and foes alike and accept the neighbor with the name "Macedonia," it would automatically condone Skopje´s aspirations, tacitly legitimizing its expansionist dreams, transforming the new state into a future territorial threat to one of Greece´s most precious territories. Granting the name "Macedonia" to Skopje would also imply future rights on the entire geographic Macedonia, thus giving the power to the new state to raise claims on a much wider territory with the name "Macedonia" and all its derivatives. Adoption of the name "Macedonia" by Skopje constitutes another equally serious threat to Greece, a threat to its national identity and cultural heritage. What does that mean? It means that monopolizing the name inadvertently will lead to a Slavic monopoly of everything Macedonian: history, civilization, culture, identity, heroes, customs, symbols, arts, traditions. Failing to preserve the cultural-historical heritage is tantamount for Greece to failing to keep alive what I call in my new book, The power of Hellenic Macedonian ethnic identity, culture, and pride, three tenets (or expression if you will) defining Macedonian Hellenism.

Pushed into a difficult corner in the midst of the international Macedonian controversy, Greece must find it hard to forgive the disappointing stance of its friends and allies, who sanctioned the use of the name "Macedonia" by the small republic. The irony of the U.S. policy is that it assisted Greece to protect its territory in the 1940s, and thwart Tito´s and Stalin´s irredentist aspirations; and then, forgetting the rivers of blood spilled by the Greek people to thwart communism´s advance, turned around and recognized as "Macedonians" the people against whom Greece was fighting with America´s help to preserve its territorial integrity during the Greek Civil War.

Equally paradoxical is the fact that when the political and military pendulum swung in the opposite direction after Greece successfully repulsed Soviet-sponsored communism and prevented it from reaching the Aegean, Greece became the aggressor in the eyes of the West, as if Greece were the guilty party that usurped its neighbor´s name and assumed an identity that belonged to another country; as if Greece were the country that appropriated a foreign emblem to decorate its flag; as if Greece were the country with an irredentist constitution, claiming territories right and left, north and south; as if Greece demanded in its constitution that half of FYROM return to Greece because in the past it belonged to Philip´s and Alexander´s Macedonia.

With these perspectives in mind, the insistence of FYROM Slavs to be called "Macedonians," a name dictatorially established and supported by communism´s brutal force and theoretical base sixty years ago, clashes with the Hellenic Macedonians´ right of always being Macedonians. If FYROM considers itself Macedonia, an audaciously daring step that brings the origin of its Slavic inhabitants close to Philip and Alexander the Great, then the insistence of these contemporary people to be called "Macedonians" clashes head on with the age-old freedom of others to be called "Macedonians." FYROM has the right to survive and prosper, but according to the Academy of Athens, it does not have the right to acquire, by international recognition, an advantage enjoyed by no other state in the world: to use a name which of itself propagandizes territorial aspirations.

The Pan-Macedonian Association of America, Sixty Years of Activity.

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