Saturday, January 02, 2010

Slav Macedonian autonomists in the Greek civil war

By John Koliopoulos and Thanos Veremis

Another aspect ofthe civil conflict, underestimated m left-wing revisionist studies, was the role of the Greek Slav Macedonian autonomists in  both the outbreak and general direction ofthat war. The KKE and EAM journals referred to them as 'persecuted Slav Macedonian ELAS fighters', while Greek Slav Macedonians called themselves 'Makedontsi'  the name used at the time in the People's Republic of Macedonia to identify those belonging to the new nation. As already seen they had served, in quick succession and even simultaneously, more than one master and cause until the time when Tito gave them a new Identity and a new cause to fight for. These Makedontsi began intruding in the sprmg of 1945 into the Greek frontier highlands in small bands to avenge past or current wrongs. Their numbers increased as more and more Slav Macedonians were prosecuted in Greece, nominally for collaboration with the Axis occupying forces but in essence for having eventually opted for the KKE or the People's Republic of Macedonia. Of some 8,000 Slav Macedonians estimated to have crossed between 1944 and 1945 Into the Republic The Makedontsi raiders perhaps did not exceed 1,000. Later, in 1947 the Yugoslav government maintained that as many as 24.000 Slav Macedomans from Greece had sought refuge in Yugoslavia in the post-Varkiza period. but this number almost certainly included Slav Macedonians who had fled before the December 1944 rebellion.

Of these initial Makedontsi raiders, whom the KKE party journals represented as being 'persecuted ELAS fighters', perhaps not more than one-third had really served with ELAS. They had generally led a precarious existence in refugee camps which the government of the People's Republic of Macedonia had set up for the purpose. Their leaders men like Paschalls Mitropoulos, Mlichael Keramitzis and Naum Peios  were doing odd jobs for the government of the Republic, and most of them were members of the KKE and at the same time of the Republic's ruling Communist Party. These refugee raiders projected Macedonianism among Greece's Slav Macedoians and heralded the imprudent 'liberation' of 'Egqska Makedonza' (Macedonia of the Aegean), I.e. Greek Macedonia. It soon became clear that avenging past or current wrongs was not their ...
... primary objective; what these Makedontst really did was promote the People's Republic of Macedonia as the only hope for Greece's Slav Macedonians. The motive behind these raids was to make the Republic attractive to them and, strange as it may seem to facilitate their crossIng over into It. Right-Wing reprisals for such raids achieved exactly that end by driving an increasing number of otherwise peaceful and reluctant peasants across the frontier.

There is  no officIal evidence from the Republic's government to suggest that attracting as many as possible of Greece's Slav Macedonians over to the Republic was indeed official policy. Their presence there as refugees was no doubt a powerful propaganda asset for the Communist regime in the campaign to win support for its national aim to 'liberate' Greek Macedonia. However, one would think that their value as 'persecuted brethren' was not negligible. Moreover, although the departure of Greece's Slav Macedonians was a short-term propaganda asset in the Republic's war of words with Greece, it was self-defeating in the long run because It amounted to an irredentist claim on a Greek Macedonia depleted of its Makedontsi. Those who undoubtedly wished to attract them over to the Republic to serve their own political ends were their leaders, who needed a political clientele of their own.

Whatever were the motives and objectives of those who were behind the Makedontsi raids in northern Greece, the impact of these raids on the situation in the country was calamitous. In addition to being blamed by the government for fomenting band warfare, the KKE was charged with conspiring with a foreign power to cede Greek territory. As mentioned elsewhere, the KKE had distanced itself in 1935, with Commitern encouragement, from the interwar policy for the establishment ofa 'united and independent Macedonia', and had adopted instead a policy which favoured the equal treatment of minorities'. This was still the official policy of the KKE. The projection of Macedonianism from across the frontier, however, put the party in an unenviable position. Reiteration of this policy did not silence criticism, because it satisfied no one. The Makedontsi of Greece had been, or continued to be, members of the KKE and, like the resistance heroes, they held the party hostage. The KKE resented Makedontsi propaganda in Greek Macedonia, but was never able to put an end to it, partly because Makedontst propagandists had the full backing of the Republic's ruling Communist regime, and also because Makedontsi rebel numbers increased as band warfare Intensified in the northern Greek provinces.

In the autumn of 1946 the KKE leadership made an effort to control Makedontsi activities in Greek Macedonia and succeeded in persuading their leaders to place these activities m the Slav-speaking villages of Mt Bernon (Vitsi) under a unified rebel command. The KKE leaders used on tlus occasion the services of one of its ablest commander’s m the region, George Giannoulis, whom they were to execute two years later for losing an important battle on Mt Grammos. The agreement provided for unhindered co-operation and Joint operations of the bands on the two adjacent border mountains, but it remained a dead letter until the rebel army moved Its headquarters into the Makedontsi preserve, in the autumn of1948, and placed their activities under its command. But by then the KKE leaders depended on their hosts for practically all their needs, particularly the need for reserves. In early 1949 the Makedontsi made up more than half of the rebel army, a fact which explains their final exodus following the defeat ofthe rebel army in August the same year.

* Abstract from the book “Greece: The Modern Sequel”. Hurst publications, Pages 87-89.


1 comment:

  1. "the KKE had distanced itself in 1935, with Commitern encouragement, from the interwar policy for the establishment ofa 'united and independent Macedonia'"
    Are we definite on that? As far as I know, the KKE simply followed suit on the Commintern's decrees...It was Commintern's change of policy on regions and minorities, rather than KKE arguing or, god forbid, standing up to them...


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