Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Greek Macedonia in 1945

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[article from the book “Nationalism and Communism in Macedonia by Evangelos Kofos, Institute for Balkan Studies, pages146-153]

The departure of the Germans from Greece in late October 1944 left the entire country in the hands of the EAM/ELAS. Only Athens and the islands were under the control of the Greek Government-in-exile which had returned under strong British military escort. In Macedonia, official representatives of the Athens Government were installed in Thessaloniki, but their authority was subject to the dictates of the local EAM Commit­tee. Remnants of the nationalist partisan units operating in Eastern Mace­donia were annihilated by the ELAS with the help of the Bulgarian Army which, as has been revealed, was delaying its departure from Greece.

Thus, from November 1944 to February 1945—when the Varkiza Agreement terminated the abortive first communist coup—most of the Greek countryside and the entirety of Macedonia was in the hands of the communists. Rumors circulated that during the critical months of Decem­ber and January, the Yugoslavs were advising their Greek comrades to withstand British pressure, promising them military support. Confidential reports had reached the Greek authorities early in January providing evi­dence that the Yugoslavs had offered to assist the Greek communists with troops [1]. Outrageous as this information might have seemed at the time, there is now corroborative evidence pointing to its accuracy. Following the Tito-Cominform break, the Bulgarian communists undoubtedly aiming at reaping propaganda benefits, revealed that just after the withdrawal of the Germans, the Yugoslavs were laying plans for armed intervention on the side of the Greek communists, thus, preparing the ground for the annex- ation of Greek Macedonia.[2] In addition, there is indisputable evidence that during those critical months, pro-Yugoslav "Slav-Macedonians" in Greek border regions were encouraged by the Yugoslavs to increase their secessionist propaganda.[3]

The inability of the communists to achieve a quick coup ended the revolt. On February 12, 1945, an agreement was signed at Varkiza be­tween the Government and the EAM, by which the latter undertook to disband its armed forces in exchange for the promise of an early plebi­scite to decide on the constitutional regime of the country.[4] All over Greece, ELAS units began to disarm. Soon, however, there were charges of communist hypocrisy; that guns and ammunition were hidden; that whole units were crossing the frontier to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to pre­pare themselves for a "third round.[5] There were also counter charges of Government excesses, terrorism by extreme nationalist bands, and per­secution of minorities. It seems that there was some truth in all of these charges and counter charges.

When the first Government armed forces, the National Guard and the Gendarmerie entered Western Macedonia in April and May 1945, the ill-feeling which had accumulated during the occupation boiled to the sur­face. The National Guard, for its part, was evidently prone to accept al­most all complaints against "Slav-Macedonians" who had committed crimes during the occupation either as collaborators of the Germans and the Bulgarians, or as members of the communist bands of the ELAS and the SNOF. Undoubtedly, innocent suffered along with the criminals, although very few were killed.[6] In fact, the treatment of the Slav minority in Greece never reached the extent of cruel persecution which was reserved, immediately after the war, for national minorities in the communist Bal­kan countries.[7]

By no means were acts of revenge directed solely against the "Slav-Macedonians" as members of an alien minority. On the contrary, the ven­detta which revived with the disarming of the ELAS groups seems to have been aimed at those who had collaborated with the occupation forces and with the communists. If violence seemed directed more toward the "Slav-Macedonians," it was due to the fact that, a large part of the minority under the protection of either the German-Bulgarian occupation authori­ties, or under cover of the communist-led partisan bands, had gone out of its way to terrorize the native Greek population. A foreign observer wrote with regard to this situation:

In Macedonia, where the Greek loyalists suffered atrociously from the Bulgarians and from Slavophones with Bulgarian sympathies, as well as from the Communists, there appears to have been some ad­ministrative terrorism, although without the direct connivance of the central authorities. In 1945 and 1946, when the power of the Communists was at its lowest (although it was still considerable) and loyalist bands were active all over Greece, murders by loyalists became almost as frequent as murders by Communists [8]

Already peace appeared to be returning to the region. Approxima­tely 25,000 "Slav-Macedonians" crossed the border to Bulgaria and Yu­goslavia. [9] Those remaining could be generally grouped into three catego­ries : those fanatically attached to Hellenism who over the years fought against the Bulgarian and communist interests; those who did not have the moral strength or a sufficiently developed national consciousness to resist the tempting offers and terror of Bulgarians and communists and who, thus, shifted their allegiance away from the Greek State; and, those who permitted themselves to be made the agents of Bulgarian and Yugoslav communist designs on Macedonia. The largest number of the Slavophones who remained in Greece after the liberation appeared to belong to the second category.[10].

The "Slav-Macedonians" who went to Bulgaria did not stay there long. The Bulgarian communists, having relinquished the initiative to the Yugoslavs, urged the "Slav-Macedonians" from Greece to go to Yugoslav Macedonia [11] where those able to carry arms were inducted into camps and trained in guerrilla tactics in order to participate in the communist uprising being prepared against Greece.

As later disclosed, the Yugoslavs undertook to assist the preparation of a communist revolt in Greece because they hoped that a communist regime in their southern neighbor would regard their plan for the annex­ation of Greek Macedonia with, at least, less hostility. It is probably for this reason that they paid particular attention to training the "Slav-Ma­cedonian" emigres, because from their ranks they could expect to draw the most loyal elements to support their annexationist plan.

In addition to providing the means of preparation for the rebellion, the Yugoslavs embarked during 1945 on a major campaign to discredit Greece internationally and, thus, provide a more fertile ground for the advancement of their objectives in Macedonia.

Even as early as November 1944—less than a month after the ar­rival in Athens of the Papandreou Government—the Yugoslavs began to accuse the Greek authorities of maltreating the "Macedonians." In his Kolarad speech, delivered on November 7, 1944, Milovan Djilas declared:

... the armed forces under the command of the Papandreou Govern­ment exercise a violent terror against our Macedonian populations without any serious reason. The Macedonians in Greece, who did not have other course but to demand the organization of themselves to fight against the German aggressor, want to speak their own language and exercise their national rights. [12]

Yugoslav statements for a united and independent Macedonian state within federal Yugoslavia had seriously disturbed the Greek Government which had just crushed—December 1944—a serious internal uprising in Athens. Repeatedly the Greek Foreign Ministry asked its Ambassador in Lon­don to secure British support against Yugoslav pretentions in Macedonia. On January 15, 1945, Ambassador Athanasios Aghnides telegraphed his Minister in Athens that the Foreign Office had informed him of the Bri­tish Government's assurances from Marshal Tito to the effect that he planned indeed, to establish a Macedonian state within the framework of the Yugoslav Federation, but without incorporating any part of Greek Macedonia [13]. A little later, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden brought the issue before a Big Three meeting at the Yalta Conference in an effort to secure guarantees for Greece [14].

However, the Greeks did not feel secure by these assurances, parti­cularly since official Yugoslav pronouncements appeared menacing. On April 4, 1945, Greek Ambassador to Moscow Jean Politis, in a talk with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Ivan Subasic", on the eve of the signing of the Soviet-Yugoslav Pact, brought the discussion around to the Macedonian question and asked the Yugoslav Minister for clarifications of Yugoslav policy with regard to Macedonia. Cabled Politis to his Government:

Subacid answered guardedly that the official Yugoslav view remain­ed the same [that Greek Macedonia will not be incorporated], but added that no one could predict how the situation would develop in Yugoslavia's southern frontiers; he went on to say that even if such a case were to arise, his personal view was that it would be solved in an official way between old allies and friends such as the Greeks and the Yugoslavs [15].

As was to be expected, Subasic' vague statement created more ap­prehension in the Greek capital. It was already becoming clear that Suba-sid had no real authority, inasmuch as in the new Yugoslav Government formed on March 7, 1945, only five of the 28 ministers were not commun­ists. [16] Thus, the Minister's expression of "personal views" that the situ­ation, "if raised," would be solved amicably, increased instead of calming the fears of the Greeks. Weak as they were internally and having trusted their foreign affairs to a socialist who believed that Greece should try to pursue a middle course between Great Britain and the Soviet Union, [17] they tried to adhere to a policy of moderation and non-provocation [18] hoping vainly that still there could be some kind of an accord with Yu­goslavia [19] .

In the meantime, the Yugoslavs were increasing their propaganda against Greece for alleged maltreatment of "Yugoslav populations" resid­ing in Greek Macedonia. In addition to press reports, Belgrade officials were expressing thinly concealed claims over Greek Macedonia. [20] On July 22, serious evidence was produced indicating that no Greek policy of moderation could restrain Yugoslav plans for Macedonia. In a note ad­dressed to the Greek Foreign Ministry, Yugoslavia protested, in language once the accepted harbinger of war, against the alleged "persecution com­mitted against the Macedonians—our co-nationals." [21] The Greek Government rejected the note and, in turn, sent a note of protest to the Allies. The U.S. Ambassador in Athens, Mr. Lincoln MacVeagh, informed on July 31, the Greek Prime Minister Voulgaris, that the Yugoslav Govern­ment had sent a similar note to the U.S. Government. He went on to pro­pose to the Greek Prime Minister that a commission of investigation com­posed of representatives of the U.S., British and Soviet missions in Bel­grade and Athens be appointed to inquire into the issue.[22] Greece accepted the proposal on condition that the commission extend its investigations to Yugoslavia as well [23] After that, the Yugoslavs rarely missed the opportunity of stating publicly their desire to incorporate Greek Macedonia into the People's Re­public of Macedonia. On August 2, 1945, General Vukmanovid declared his Government's policy on the unification issue before a large crowd at Skopje. The speech, promptly reported in that city's press, contained the following paragraph:

Comrades, you know very well that there is a part of the Macedo­nian people which is still enslaved. We must openly state this case. We are not the only ones to do this; there are tens of thousands of Macedonian men and women who suffer and mourn today under the yoke of the Greek monarcho-fascist bands [24]
The most categorical statement on this point was made on October 11, by President Tito himself, again in a speech at Skopje. His remarks, recorded in the Skopje newspapers, were particularly enlightening:

We will never renounce the right of the Macedonian people to be united. This is our principle and we do not abandon our principles for any temporary sympathies. We are not indifferent to the fate of our brothers in Aegean Macedonia and our thoughts are with them. We will steadfastly defend the principle that all Macedonians must be united in their own country. [25]

The causus for Yugoslavia's interference in the Greek communist re­bellion had thus established. In less than six months a major guerrilla war was on throughout Greece; a guerrilla war prepared and fully as­sisted by Yugoslavia in collaboration with Bulgaria and Albania.

At this point, before we proceed with an examination of the conse­quences of the "Guerrilla War"—as it has passed into Greek history—it is necessary to review two major developments supporting the thesis that nationalism had remained one of the major motivating elements in the foreign policy of the newly established communist regimes in Sofia and Belgrade. The first was the peace negotiations (1946-1947) which led to the signing of the Paris Treaty, and the other, the strenuous Yugoslav-Bulgarian negotiations which led to the conclusion of the Bled Agreement of 1947, probably the most ambitious step ever taken in the direction of closely linking the two Balkan Slav states.



[1]- Report, dated January 9, 1945, GFM A/913/Mac./1945.
[2]- Otelsestven Front, January 15, 1952.
[3]- GFM A/913/Mac./l 945.
[4]- Text of the Varkiza Agreement in Conspiracy, op. cit., pp. 33 – 37
[5]- It has been commonly accepted that the "first round" was the communist takeover of the Resistance movement; the "second round" was the unsuccessful communist coup in December 1944; as it developed later, the "third round" was the large scale guerrilla war (1946-1949).
[6]- McNeil, op. cit., p. 266.
[7]- In Rumania and Yugoslavia the German and Hungarian minorities suffered many deprivations, deportations, internships in labor camps and mass trial executions, all of them justified by the Rumanian and Yugoslav regimes as due punishment for the atrocities committed by these minorities in collaboration with the occupying forces against the local Rumanian and Yugoslav populations. For details: Evangelos Kofos, "Balkan Minorities under Communist Regimes," Balkan Studies, Vol. II, No. 1, 1961, pp. 22-46.
[8]- Fritz August Voigt, The Greek Sedition (London : Hollis and Carter, 1948), pp. 45 - 46.
[9]- Yugoslav Macedonians have accepted the figure 25,000; Nova Makedonija, May 24, 1948. A Soviet spokesman in the United Nations placed it as high as 30,000; Barker op. cit., p. 116. Originally 10,000 went to Bulgaria (Statement by Bulgarian Premier Kimon Georgiev, Agence Anatolia, August 4, 1945), and 15,000 crossed the border to Yugoslavia; Dimitar Vlahov, Govori i Statii, i945- 1947 [Speeches and Articles, 1945- 1947], (Skopje, 1947, p. 100), [Greek trans.] Greek official sources listed the "Slav - Macedonians" who fled to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia after the Var¬kiza Agreement and the departure of the Germans, at 15,000 but apparently their information was not accurate; Memorandum of the Greek Delegate to the United Nations Balkan Investigation Commission, dated April 25, 1950, GFM A/30362 Γ5/ Ba/1950.
[10]- Philippos Dragoumis, Προσοχή στη Βόρειο Ελλάδα : 1945 - 1948 [Watch Northern Greece : 1945 - 1948], (Thessaloniki: Society for Macedonian Studies, 1949), pp. 67- 69.
[11]- The Plovid (Bulgaria) newspaper Otetsestven Glas (April 26, 1945), pub¬lished an announcement of the Bulgarian Ministry of Social Welfare which read as follows :
The Macedonian state of Federal Yugoslavia has begun the concentration of all Macedonians who arrived in Bulgaria as refugees. All Macedonians who are interested in returning to federal Yugoslavia should report to [the listed] office.
[12]- Politika, November 8, 1944.
[13]- Ambassador to London Aghnides to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; January 15, 1945, GFM Α/388/22894/Γ1/1945.
[14]- Ambassador Aghnides to Ministry of Foreign Affairs; February 14, 1945; GFM A/1593/Mac./1945.
[15]- Ambassador to Moscow Politis to Ministry of Foreign Affairs; April 11, 1945; GFM A/4331/1945.
[16]- Yugoslav Communism, op. cit., p. 117.
[17]- Greek Foreign Minister at the time was George Sofianopoulos. In a secret report from the United Nations Conference in San Franscisco, dated May 7, 1945, addressed to the Regent, he advised that Greece should change its policy "in order to secure the sympathy and the favor of the Soviet Union" (Report No. 125). In another report (No. 71), addressed again to the Regent, referring to talks he had with Mr. Anthony Eden, he stated that he had advised the British Foreign Secretary that :
... the dangers to Greece from her northern neighbors, Hoxda's Albanians, Tito's Yugoslavs, and Fatherland Front Bulgarians were so great that Greece, in addition to Britain's help, was compelled to ask for the good will and support of the Russians.
GFM, File "The Minister's Most Important Talks," 1945.
[18]- Greece repeatedly and categorically turned down specific requests by anti-Titoists to be allowed to organize on Greek soil special forces of Yugoslav emigres whose number could reach 7,000. This request was made in August 1945, at the time when, ironically enough, Yugoslavia had launched its major in¬doctrination and training program of Greek communist emigres in Yugoslavia prepa¬ring to invade Greece.
[19]- Sofianopoulos talking to U.S. Assistant Secretary James C. Dunn, explained that Greece was willing to do her best not to provoke Yugoslavia, to which the American diplomat agreed. Sofianopoulos to Regent, No. 26, April 19, 1945; GFM "The Minister's Most Important Talks" op. cit.
[20]- In a London press conference on June 13, 1945, Yugoslav Ambassador Dr. Ljudo Leontid said that "the settlement of the Bulgarian and Greek portions of Macedonia will be the subject of mutual arrangements." GFM A/21448/1945.
[21]- GFM Α/18583-18481/Γ1/1945; Text of the Yugoslav Note in: Yugoslavia, Office of Information, Book on Greece (Belgrade : Office of Information, 1948), p. 106.
[22]- GFM A/19746/1945
[23]- Ibid. The Greek answer was given to Ambassador MacVeagh by Jean Politis who had replaced Mr. Sofianopoulos in the Foreign Ministry.
[24]- Bulletin (Skopje), August 10, 1945.
[25]- Text in GFM Α/24581/Γ2/1945.


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