(“To Vima”, June 25 , 2003)
Two recent government announcements have unexpectedly raised the matter of the “repatriation” of the Slav-Macedonian exiles from the period 1941–1949. Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Andreas Loverdos and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Panagiotis Beglitis have both indicated — the former more obscurely, the latter quite clearly — that before the end of the summer legislative arrangements would be in place providing not only for easier visitor access (visas, etc.), but also for “repatriation”. Given that these announcements coincided with rumours that Greek citizenship was to be offered to “300,000 Northern Epirotes” who would then probably be able to vote in the up-coming Greek parliamentary elections, it is natural that the announced “repatriation” of the “Aegean Slav-Macedonians” should have set off similar trains of thought.
What is surprising is that such a serious issue, a matter of great national sensitivity that had been addressed as such by every successive post-war government and by Georgios and Andreas Papandreou personally in the1960s and 1980s, should have been thus reversed without convincing reasons. Why are historical facts being suppressed or distorted in order to present the “Aegean Macedonians” as the latest victims of the Greek Civil War? And why is Greek public opinion not being given the true dimensions of the problem? Let us list a few of these facts:
- Today, according to their own calculations, the number of “Aegean Macedonians” in FYROM, together with their descendants and mixed-marriage families, is in the neighbourhood of 100,000. And there are several thousand more in Bulgaria, Australia and Canada.
- The collaboration of significant numbers of these people with the Bulgarian and German occupation forces during World War II, and afterwards, during the Greek Civil War, with the Slav-Macedonian National Liberation Front (NOF), was used as a lever to claim areas of Macedonia from the Greek territorial state. Moreover, in the case of the Greek Communist Party, the defection of significant numbers of “Aegean Macedonians” from the ranks of the Greek Democratic Army to Tito’s Macedonia was a painful stab in the back.
- This doubly negative role played by the “Aegean Macedonians” in Greece was seen in Belgrade and Skopje as an absolute positive. Their action in Greece was recognised as military service, performed not during the Greek Civil War but during the “Macedonian National Liberation War”. Thus, those who fled to the then People’s Republic of Macedonia were granted special benefits [Yugoslavian citizenship, “Macedonian” identity, free housing, honours and distinctions] and, most important of all, military pensions.
- Since then two new generations, children of the original exiles, have been educated in an environment of values that considers the “Aegean Part of Macedonia under Greece” — that is, Greek Macedonia — to be still “unredeemed”.
- With FYROM’s declaration of independence in 1991, “Aegean Macedonian” activists in FYROM and elsewhere found themselves in the forefront of extreme anti-Greek nationalist manifestations.
On the basis of these facts, the return to Greece of thousands of people with a deeply entrenched Slav-Macedonian consciousness and attitude cannot logically be a “repatriation”. It is rather the arbitrary transplant of an alien nationalist minority to the frontier districts of Greece’s Macedonian prefectures.
Let me point out three consequences of such an action:
- In the first place, we will be moving towards a re-drawing of the ethnological map of our border districts, at a time when the nationalist and ethnic conflicts in the immediate neighbourhood of Greece have not yet subsided. Eventually, these suitable conditions will foster the southward spread of such conflicts inside Greece.
- In the second place, it is inevitable that there will be similar pressures for the “repatriation” of tens of thousands of Albanian Cham refugees (1944-45) from Thesprotia, Bulgarian political exiles (1944) from Eastern Macedonia and Thrace and Turkish Muslims from Western Thrace.
- In the third place, the implantation of thousands of fervently nationalist “Aegean Makedonci” in the Greek Macedonian communities will inevitably provoke a mini cultural war for the prize of the history, the culture and the very name of Macedonia. And the good climate of bilateral relations that has been cultivated with such effort these past years could well be undermined from within Greece.
We must recognise, however, that over the years the Macedonian Question has created traumas, both collective and personal. Greece has not been generous enough, prohibiting for decades thousands of “Aegean Macedonians” from even visiting the Greece. Lately the situation has improved significantly, but the process is still incomplete. A number of matters that are still in abeyance, such as outstanding property claims on both sides, must be addressed on the inter-governmental level with a “new package”. For the sake of peace and good neighbour relations, this package should extend to cultural disputes, including the thorny question of the name.
-Dr. Kofos is a former Minister Counsellor, Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
-Interview with Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Andreas Loverdos in "Kyriakatiki Eleftherotypia" (8.6.2003); Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman P. Beglitis’ press conference on 9.6.03 (see website www.mfa.gr 9.6.03).
-The term "Aegean Macedonians" — or "Egejiski Makedonci" — is used in FYROM to designate those originating from Greek Macedonia — "Aegean Macedonia" — and their descendants.
-The author has in his possession documents and recent video interviews in history classes of schools in FYROM.