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Macedonia and Greece 

by John Shea 1997, pp.6-21
Excellent analysis of the Macedonian-Greek conflict

It would probably be best to begin with a presentation of the Greek argument. This argument has been disseminated in various ways in America, including full-page political advertisements in leading newspapers, travel advertisements inviting people to visit "Macedonia" (meaning northern Greece), English-language materials published in Athens and distributed by the Greek embassy, and pamphlets distributed in Greek Orthodox churches. Recent statements by the Greek government have not deviated from these sources, so they remain a fair means of discovering what the Greeks appear to be concerned about. On the 26th of April 1992 and the 10th of May 1992, an organization called "Americans for the Just Resolution of the Macedonian Issue" placed full page advertisements in the New York Times. The first of these was headlined, "Macedonia, what's in a name"; the second, "The name "Macedonia" is a time bomb! Mr President, you can defuse it." In both cases the appeal was directed at then president George Bush. The first of these advertisements focuses on the idea of a threat to Greece from a state called Macedonia. While the text says, "Recognize the Republic of Skopje, yes!" it adds, "With the name 'Republic of Macedonia,' why?" Thus, on the face of, it the problem is not so much the existence of the new state, but the possible consequences of it bearing the name Macedonia. The implication is that this name will somehow rekindle past territorial ambitions that would not be so easily stirred with a different name.

The advertisement gives a lot of attention to the involvement of Tito and Yugoslavia in the Greek civil war, referring for instance to "former communist designs on sovereign Greece." It informs the reader that 

"in 1946, Tito and Stalin armed insurgents to trigger a bloody Civil war and unimaginable years of suffering for the Greek nation.... Today, Skopje's government aims to perpetuate the nightmare." 

The advertisement goes on to say that the "Skopje's government": 

  • claims that Macedonians exist "under occupation" in Greece;

  • calls for the "liberation" of all Macedonians, even those who regard themselves as free Greeks;

  • issues currency depicting landmarks of sovereign Greek territory;

  • publishes maps incorporating fully one-third of mainland Greece; 

  • has a constitution proclaiming Tito's expansionist goals, calling for the unification of Greek provinces under a fabricated 'Macedonian' nation."

According to this ad, recognition of an independent republic called Macedonia would encourage aggression, increase tensions, destabilize the Balkans, and validate a "shameless fraud."

In this last statement we have a reference to the wider issue concerning the name Macedonia. The Greeks say that they have the sole right to use the name, for various historical reasons. The rest of the advertisement contains statements from American and world leaders (including American senators, the president of the European Parliament, the prime minister of Australia and the Greek prime minister), opposing recognition of the state of Macedonia up to the time the ad was placed, and an open letter to President Bush appealing in particular to historic concerns about "communist expansionism" in the area, the bitter experience of the Greek civil war, and previous American support of anti-communist forces in Greece. In this latter connection it is worth considering the quoted statement by a former United States Secretary of State on December 26, 1944: "This government considers any talk of a Macedonian 'nation,' Macedonian 'Fatherland' or Macedonian national consciousness' to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic or political reality ... a possible cloak for aggressive intentions against Greece." 

The May 10 ad is much less detailed. It quotes a New York Times story (datelined May 2, 1992) on the European community's willingness to recognize the "breakaway republic of Macedonia" only if it changed its name, and once again appeals to past American concern about instability in the Balkans in general and about Macedonia in particular. "Since the break-up of Yugoslavia," reads the ad, "its people have suffered the relentless gunfire of hostilities: one tragedy after another - all stemming from ethnic violence and border disputes. The single stable border in the Balkans is provided by Greece. Now the breakaway southernmost Yugoslavian republic of Skopje insists on being recognized as 'Macedonia."' The advertisement goes on to say that in 1944, the Roosevelt administration recognized Greek ethnic, cultural and historical rights to the name and condemned any reference to a so-called Macedonian "nation." Describing the same issue today as a "dangerous ticking time bomb," the ad says that recognition of what it calls "Skopje" as the "Republic of Macedonia" would legitimize and encourage extremist and false claims upon sovereign Greek territory. Furthermore, the advertisement suggests a threat of war in the Balkans in which the United States could become involved.

Any thoughtful reader of these advertisements not versed in the history of Macedonia and Greece could not help being concerned about the issues raised. To a large degree I will allow other international commentators to pass judgment on the strength of these Greek fears at a later point in the book, giving here only a brief indication of an alternative viewpoint. Before that comment, however, I will present the rest of the Greek position, expanding on the question of the "Greek ethnic, cultural and historical rights to the name." I will use, in particular, quotations from pamphlets distributed from Greek Orthodox churches, apparently deriving from Greek government publications available in the Greek embassy during 1992. I do this so that the Greek position is accurately represented. Here are some of the important claims that are made.

1. The New York Times advertisement of 4/26/92 says, "4000 years of Greek History, 4000 years of Greek Culture, 4000 years of Greek Heritage... Skopje's government seeking recognition as the 'Republic of Macedonia' perpetuates a fraud." Pamphlets distributed in churches stated, "Macedonia has been Greek for 3,000 years. In ancient times Macedonians spoke Greek, worshipped Greek gods, expressed their creativity through Greek art and maintained a refined Greek culture ... all archaeological discoveries continue to unearth more information attesting to the indisputable Greekness of Macedonia." 

2. "Out of the blue, in 1944, the Yugoslav communist leader, Tito, wishing to weaken Serbia on the one hand, and set the footing for future territorial claims against Greece on the other, schemingly gave South Serbia the Greek name 'Macedonia' and re-wrote the 'history' books to declare that ancient Macedonia was Slavic and that these people were descendants of Alexander the Great." 

3. "The existence of a 'Slav' Macedonia could never be, and indeed, has never been supported either by historical data, or by ethnographic maps, or by statistics, or by some census, or by archaeological finds, or by even an obscure mention of such a nation from antiquity till today." 

4. "Macedonia has been the name of Northern Greece for more than 3000 years. The Greek region ... has one of the most homogeneous populations in the world (98.5% Greek). Its population speaks Greek, feels Greek, is Greek." 

5. "An independent 'Macedonia' would monopolize the name at the expense of the real Macedonians who are twice the number of the Slavs. The use and abuse of the name would cause widespread confusion as is already apparent." 

6. "Macedonia is an indispensable part of Greece's historical heritage it cannot identify, in an ethnic sense another nation." 

7. "The Skopje 'language' is undeniably Slavic." 

8. "The Slavs did not set foot in the Balkans until 1000 years after Alexander the Great." 

9. "The name 'Macedonia (which is etymologically Greek) was in use at least 1500 years before the arrival of the first Slavs." 

10. "Every known Macedonian town, river and person had a Greek name – Philip (lover of horse), Alexander (protector of men), Archelaus (leader of people), Amyntas (defender), Ptolemy (warlike), Bucephalus (ox-head)." 

11. "The Old Testament (Daniel Ch. 8) and the New Testament (Acts Ch. 17) confirm the Greekness of Alexander and the Macedonians." 

12. "It was the Greek language that was taken to Asia (Bible written in Greek) and cities with Greek names and institutions that were founded." 

13. "There are 60,000 archaeological finds that confirm that the Macedonians were Greek in language, culture and religion." 

14. "The home of the Greek gods was in Macedonia. Is it feasible that a people would worship its national gods in a foreign country?" 

15. " Yugoslav Macedonia is not even geographically in the territory occupied by ancient Macedonia." 

16. "Independent sources in this century (Turkish Census of 1904 when the region was part of the Ottoman Empire, League of Nations Census of 1926 and declassified British Archives 1934) make no mention of any ethnic Macedonians whatsoever until the Communists came along with their preposterous concoction to dominate the Balkans." 

17. "By appropriating and maintaining the name 'Macedonia' the Slavs are laying the foundations for future territorial claims against the region of the same name in Greece. They have clearly expressed this intention by:- (a) plagiarizing and blatantly falsifying history (b)... continuously using maps and emblems that include northern Greece as part of 'Macedonia~ and (c) refusing to comply with the directive of the European Community in its declaration of 16th December 1991 to (i) cease hostile propaganda; (ii) commit itself to guarantees that it has no territorial claims and (iii) not use a denomination (Macedonia) which implies expansionist intentions." 

This set of statements was widely circulated, with minor changes made for particular locations, in different parts of the English-speaking world. Copies of the main points were distributed through Greek churches, and were frequently published in the "letters to the editor" sections of local newspapers. Clearly the Greek communities were very keen to see the message spread and went to great organizational effort and expense to see that this happened. I have no doubt that most of those engaged in this effort hold these beliefs very sincerely. Indeed the mass demonstrations by Greeks in various parts of the world suggest deep emotional commitment to these ideas. All the more reason, of course, to examine the claims more closely. 

In this book I will examine the Greek claims as fully as possible and present the views of historians, linguists, and other experts who will paint a different picture for us. While there are histories and anthropological analyses of the Greek and Macedonian positions emerging at the present time, to my knowledge there has been no significant presentation of the other side of the argument outlined above, nor any analysis of how it fits into broader Balkan politics centered on Macedonia at the present time. Macedonian interest groups in various parts of the world have taken to the streets themselves, indicating their distress at what they say is a one-sided airing of the Macedonian question in the media. Like the Greeks, the Macedonians express a strong emotional commitment to their interpretation of the situation. 

I do not claim to be unbiased, though in my examination of the evidence available to me I have tried to be as objective as possible. When I began my own inquiry about the topic, I wanted to know the truth. I began the process of discovery from a state of quite profound ignorance. I had talked with elderly Macedonian people about their lives, and about stories they remembered from the old days in Macedonia, and the things they told me often conflicted with the arguments of modern-day Greeks. I knew that these Macedonians, at least, thought of themselves as Macedonian long before the time of Tito. They told stories of Macedonian revolutionaries who, at the turn of the century, wanted a state separate from Bulgaria. They described how Bulgarian agents infiltrated the revolutionary movement and assassinated Macedonian leaders, and voiced a prevailing belief that Aegean Slavic Macedonians had been persecuted by successive Greek governments. But they told me little about the broader facts of the history of the Macedonians over the past two and a half thousand years. 

My readings have established to my satisfaction the weakness of the Greek historical argument. It is also clear to me that national aspirations were alive and well in Macedonia long before Tito arrived on the scene. But by and large the Macedonians have had a pretty miserable time of it, dominated by one greater power or another for much of their history, a domination most recently perpetrated by the same European nations who were slow to support the Macedonians in the 1990s. As the Irish patriot Roger Casement (executed by the British after the 1916 uprising in Ireland) put it: “I know of two tragic histories in the world - that of Ireland, and that of Macedonia. Both of them have been deprived and tormented.” 

Casement was speaking primarily of the Macedonians who then inhabited the lands that fell within the borders of the ancient Macedonian homeland. A majority of them were Slavic speakers when Greece conquered a large part of Macedonia, taking it from the Turks, just before the First World War. Casement's rather eloquent lines by themselves must cause us to ponder Greek claims that a non-Greek Macedonia was merely a Communist invention. 

Before I present my argument, I need to make a few introductory statements to establish the context of the discussion. 

First, it should be noted that the Greek claims are a new political development. Just a few years ago the Greeks preferred not to use the name Macedonia at all. The Macedonian news magazine (Skopje, February 15, 1992, pp. 20-2 1) claims that "there were periods in Greece when use of the name 'Macedonia' was avoided with administrative measures. After the Balkan wars (191213) the area of Macedonia under Greek rule was called ... the 'New territory' while the Ministry in Salonika was called the Ministry of Northern Greece. Whence such zeal to pre-empt the names 'Macedonia' and 'Macedonian' today when so recently they avoided them as the devil avoids church?"  Peter Hill, professor of Slavonic studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany, makes a similar point: 

Funnily enough, northern Greece was for many years called just that, "Northern Greece"... and the name Macedonia was considered somehow suspect....  But three years ago that all changed. Now that name, Macedonia, is at the heart of it dispute that has paralyzed the foreign policy of the European Community and brought thousands of people on to the streets of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brussels. 

Second, I have tried to present ideas that can be critically examined. I have tried to avoid insupportable claims, and have cited the sources from which I have drawn my conclusions. It seems reasonable to me to read the views of people who are experts in the field, and to adjust my own conclusions on the basis of some aggregation of what they have said. You might think that this matter could be dealt with quite simply by referring to such historical experts. But one of the problems is that the Greek "experts" often do not agree with the "experts" from other parts of the world. Not surprisingly, the Greek experts almost invariably take a nationalistic line. The ancient Greeks are said to have been imbued with a "mythic imagination." They tended to interpret historical events in the light of their understanding of the role of supernatural powers in their lives, and of course they were often inclined to present stories that showed Greeks in the best possible light. What could be more natural? It is hardly surprising that writers throughout the world do exactly the same kind of thing these days. Bulgarians and Serbians tend to favor views that support their own nations' historical perspectives about Macedonia. Sometimes, though, Greek writers have gone to such extremes that other historians have actually ridiculed their conclusions. I will give some examples later on. Thus it is necessary to tread very carefully amongst the expert opinions. For this reason when discussing historical issues I have tended to give preference to writers from Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. When dealing with contemporary matters I have given much greater emphasis to news sources and interpretations from within Macedonia. Generally these are about uncontroversial matters of recorded fact.

Third, in some ways this kind of analysis is little more than an empty academic game, since we have to talk in part about ancient history. It is not a very convincing exercise to justify the boundaries of modern states on the basis of things that happened more than two thousand years ago. Ancient historical claims seem of trivial importance beside the realities of the present day. To people who live in former English colonies, such as Americans, Canadians and Australians, a lot of these ideas seem very strange. After all, at the very least the Slavic speakers have lived for around 1500 years in the territory that has been called Macedonia. (Some historians present a more extreme position, claiming that the invading Slavs were really just the returning Paeones who had inhabited northern and western parts of Macedonia before the Macedonian kingdom existed.) They would not have had to wait 1500 years to be entitled to call themselves Americans, Canadians or Australians. They have been there at least as long as the Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes have been in Britain. No one seems to think it a problem that the English use a Celtic name, "Britain," for their land. So we have clear examples of this sort of thing happening elsewhere in the world without any necessary belittling of the original peoples and their historic achievements. However, we have to recognize that rationality may have little influence in matters of national pride. Nonetheless it can be argued that the Macedonians, by virtue of 1500 years of occupation, have a pre-eminent claim to the place and to the name, regardless of who lived there 3000 years ago. And that is precisely the case for recognizing the right of Macedonians everywhere to call themselves by that name today. Of course I will make the longer historical case too. 

Greek advertising throughout the world has made a great play of using what are said to be historical facts to support the attack on the Macedonians. So I will discuss some of these ideas first before turning to the more recent past and to contemporary events. It is worth noting that after Macedonians voted to become independent from the Yugoslav state, the only resistance to their international recognition came from Greece. The other eleven members of the European Community accepted the Republic of Macedonia's claims to independence and to the use of a name which the population of these lands has used for thousands of years. Greece was able to block this recognition for a considerable time because of an EC requirement for consensus in its decision-making. The same requirement for consensus kept Macedonia out of some European organizations up until the end of 1995. It is something of a paradox that throughout its attack on Macedonia, Greece, claiming a threat from Macedonia, has been seen by its European allies and America as a greater threat to peace in the Balkans. 

The issue of the Slavic minority in northern Greece is one that deserves attention in its own right. It has some bearing on our understanding of certain issues in areas bordering the state of Macedonia. In its annual reports from 1991 through 1994, the United States State Department complained about the Greek government's denial of civil rights to minority groups, including Slavic speakers in Aegean Macedonia and Turkish speakers in Thrace. This leads us into a fascinating exploration of the redistribution of populations in northern Greece earlier this century, and the repeated efforts by strong central government in Greece to create the impression of a tightly knit and coherent Greek-speaking community. At first blush one might think that northern Greeks have a legitimate claim to at least share the name Macedonia with the Vardar Macedonians. However, it turns out that the immediate forbears of a majority of the Greek population of northern Greece originate from outside of the Balkans, in Western Turkey. These northern Greeks are not indigenous to the area, a fact to be taken into consideration when seeking to discover who has a legitimate claim on the name Macedonia. We might also wonder at the unwillingness of Greece to use the name Macedonia when it conquered the southern part of Macedonia in the first Balkan war, and the apparent rehabilitation of the name in recent years. 

Several analysts, who will be referred to later, suggest that Greek actions should not be seen in isolation, but must be viewed in the light of a strong alliance with Serbia. As we view Balkan events now, and see Serbians attempting to expand Serbian territory, first in one former Yugoslav state and then another, with very modest success up to the present time, we might wonder whether Serbia has designs on Macedonia. Certainly some Macedonians believe this to be the case. Skopje was the capital of the great fourteenth-century Serbian Empire, and just a few decades ago the Serbs ruled this territory by conquest. They have engaged in provocative border actions that have drawn in United Nations troops with a major United States contingent. It is not disputed that the Greeks are the strongest allies of the Serbs in the Balkans, and that they have reached some kind of accord with the Serbian leader Milosevic. What we cannot know yet is whether some master plan guides both the Greeks and the Serbians. 

By way of introduction to some of the content that follows, here are some of the conclusions that seem to me arguable after my examination of historical literature. These points briefly deal with the list of Greek claims above, both those published in national newspaper advertisements and those distributed throughout Greek communities. 

Firstly, regarding the appeals to the American people based on concerns arising from the Greek civil war and the involvement of Yugoslavia and the U.S.S.R. in support of that conflict: The Macedonia under discussion by Edward Stettinius, United States Secretary of State, in 1944, was the "Greater Macedonia' that had been dismembered by Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania after the Balkan wars some thirty years earlier. The nation under discussion today encompasses less than 38 percent of that Greater Macedonia. Furthermore, Greece acknowledges this new nation's right of existence. Can we believe that the use of the name Macedonia by the new state somehow constitutes a threat to Greek borders? It should be remembered that Slavic-speaking Macedonian partisans fought against the Nazis on the side of the allies (and in alliance with Tito) during the Second World War. They were among the most reliable and successful of the resistance fighters against the German and Bulgarian invaders. Their language of command was Macedonian. Their motivation to resist the Bulgarian and German occupation came partly from being forced to use Bulgarian language and customs in their schools. Since Tito himself was Croatian, and Croatians traditionally have been more sympathetic to Macedonians than Serbians, it is perhaps not surprising that he took advantage of this motivating force within the Macedonian community and harnessed it to the new socialist state he forged out of the diverse groups that became the new Yugoslavia. 

There is little doubt that Tito saw the possibility of expanding his sphere of interest into parts of Greek territory. At one point the new socialist Bulgarian government, fired with ideological righteousness, expressed its concern at the repression of the Macedonian language wherever it existed, including Western Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), and seemed on the verge of forming a Balkan federation with the Yugoslav states. At the time of this activity, the issue of a greater Macedonian state was being proposed; both the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia were supporting insurgent forces in the Greek civil war; and Macedonian nationalists who had fought with the partisans had joined in an alliance with the Greek Communists in an effort to achieve a freedom which had been denied them previously. A Balkan federation incorporating a Greater Macedonia and other Yugoslav states and Bulgaria would have presented a very strong barrier to Russian influence. Stalin soon applied pressure to Bulgaria to change its tune and stopped support for the Greek Communists and Macedonian partisans. Thus it was not just the United States that was concerned about the development of a Greater Macedonia. On this issue the United States saw eye-to-eye with the U.S.S.R. This was the turning point in the Greek civil war. The statements made by American political figures must be understood in the context of those times. With changes in the political situation, American political figures changed their analyses of Balkan history. 

The small Macedonian state has publicly, formally, and repeatedly disavowed any territorial claim on Greek lands since the Greeks first made their accusations. None of the surrounding states has expressed any support for the idea of a greater Macedonia, since it would threaten their own borders. It is simply not a live issue. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to think that a tiny nation of little more than two million people, with no heavy arms, no air force and no navy, could be a threat to the Greeks, who have been supplied and supported in their armed forces by NATO and the United States to the tune of billions of dollars in past years. No political analysts in the United States believes that this could happen.  

I will now respond to the broader historical issues, dealing with these in the order listed above. My responses are a summary of ideas that will be expanded elsewhere in this book. For the moment they lay the groundwork for the more detailed arguments that follow. 

1. Three thousand years ago the lands that came to be called Macedonia were inhabited mainly by Illyrians and Phrygians. The Macedonians who appeared around 700 to 800 B.C. were for centuries a small group confined to a very small area of land. This area of land is a tiny portion of what is now Greek Macedonia. The language of these Macedonians was not Greek, nor were their gods; nor were they recognized by the Greeks. In time their leaders aspired to be as culturally refined and politically powerful as the Greeks, and used Greek teachers for their children. By about the fourth century B.C. the Macedonian nobles often used Greek for official purposes, but they and the common people spoke the Macedonian vernacular at home. A version of the Greek language had become an important trade language in the area and was widely used for such purposes. This variety of Greek was from the southern Greek states, and its use proves nothing at all about the native tongue of the Macedonians, which, if it had been Greek, would likely have been a different dialect. In any case, there are no inscriptions in any form of Greek from before about 400 B.C. found in material excavated in any part of Macedonia. Of course there were small Greek settlements in coastal areas of Macedonia, and until the Macedonians conquered the area, the Chalcidice peninsula was Greek.  

2. It is certainly true that the Yugoslav leader Tito gave the Macedonians a degree of recognition as a unique nationality with their own language. No doubt there were various reasons for doing so. The Macedonian partisans were of great significance in the Yugoslav resistance to the Nazis, and the respect they earned at this time probably helped. It should be noted too that Tito adopted the same policy throughout Yugoslavia. All regions had a degree of autonomy, including the use of their own language. The success of Tito's policies in maintaining unity has become increasingly clear as we witness the bloody conflicts that erupted in Yugoslavia after his death. However, getting back to the point about the existence of Macedonia, even in the very long rule of the Turks Macedonia was recognized as a separate entity. It was this Greater Macedonia that was divided by the Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbians after the Balkan wars of 1912-13. No historian, Greek or otherwise, uses any name but Macedonia to describe the territories that were partitioned. After the division, none of the controlling powers permitted the use of the name in the portions of Macedonia that they had taken. The kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians used the name "South Serbia7; Greece referred to the "Northern Provinces"; and Bulgaria used the name "Western Bulgaria." Of relevance to the Greek claim is the interesting point that the people in the Yugoslav part of Macedonia were permitted to use the name Macedonia in this century long before the people in the Greek part. 

The Greek assertion that Yugoslav history books claim the ancient Macedonians were Slavic seems not to be true. I have examined secondary school texts written in Macedonian and interpreted for me by Macedonian speakers. I am confident that these books do not present such a view of history. However, that view does exist; it is promulgated by historians who have sympathies with the "Illyrian" movement. (The Albanian language is thought by some linguists to be related to ancient Illyrian, and Albanians believe that they are the rightful heirs of the ancient Macedonians.) Their argument states that the ethnic predecessors of the Slavs were the Paeones, who inhabited significant portions of Macedonian lands before and during the time of the great Macedonian kingdom. They say that the Paeones returned to their Macedonian homelands in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. and that these peoples have been called Slavs. 

Whether or not these claims are verifiable, it should be noted that both Macedonia and Greece have changed dramatically in ethnic mix over the past 2000 years. Neither shows any close match to the ethnic nature of the area at the time of Alexander the Great. Over the past 2300 years or so, the Balkan peninsula has been invaded by hordes of newcomers, including Celts (third to first century B.C.), Germanic tribes (third century A.D.), Slavs (fifth and sixth century A.D.), and Turks (fourteenth century A.D.). The original peoples may not have been wiped out, or pushed out of Macedonia or Greece by these new peoples. What happened often was that after a time the new peoples merged with the existing peoples. Throughout the Balkans, in both Macedonia and Greece, the ethnic mix is profoundly complex. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the people of Macedonia are any less ethnically "pure" and representative of the ancient peoples than the Greeks. If it is argued that the Slavic ethnic influence predominates in Macedonia, precisely the same case can be made for most of Greece. Quite simply, in Macedonia we have a majority of people of mixed ethnic stock who speak a Slavic language and have a predominantly Slavic culture, and in Greece we have a majority of people of mixed ethnic stock who speak Greek and have a Greek culture. 

3. Has there ever been a "Slav Macedonia"? By most people's standards, it would be very hard to make a case that there has not. A great Slavic Empire in the tenth century A.D. incorporated most of the territory that historians recognize as ancient Macedonia as well as Bulgaria. This empire was ruled by Samuil, a Macedonian Slav, who governed from Ohrid, in the Southwest of modern-day Macedonia. Although the Byzantine Emperor Basil II ("the Macedonian") vanquished this empire, he and subsequent conquerors always acknowledged the Slavic language, culture and ethnicity of the people that they ruled. They generally recognized the territory of Macedonia, although administrative boundaries changed from time to time. The fact that the Macedonian Slavs were ruled by others is no grounds for speaking as though they did not exist, or for saying that their territories should not retain the old name of Macedonia. In the chapters that follow, historical, ethnographic, statistical and census material demonstrates clearly the existence of a Slavic Macedonia. 

There is evidence that the Slavs of Macedonia called themselves "Macedonian" as early as the tenth century A.D. At the same time, the Byzantine emperors came to call the Macedonian Slavs "the Macedonians" since they made up the politically most significant population of the area. Written evidence and surviving crests from the sixteenth century proclaim Macedonia’s distinction from other Balkan territories. When other Balkan states began to assert themselves against the Turks between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries, similar feelings of nationalism were seen in Macedonia, and recognized by the leading powers of Europe. During the twentieth century the Serbians, Bulgarians and Greeks tried to eliminate the influence of the Slavic Macedonian language, and to suppress the customs of Macedonian people in territories they conquered. The United Nations recognizes the Macedonian (Slavic) language. 

4. While it is true to say that the name Macedonia has been applied to Aegean Macedonia for a long time, "more than 3000 years" is pushing things just a little. Twenty-three hundred to twenty-six hundred years would be closer to the mark. However, most of the territory of the present Republic of Macedonia has also had that name for the same period of time. Although the boundaries of that land called Macedonia have changed from time to time under the rule of the Romans (this includes the period of Byzantium), the Bulgarians, the Serbians, the Turks and the Greeks, all historical analyses, even those emanating from Greeks, show certain territories to have been part of Macedonia since the time of Alexander the Great. Included in these territories are Skopje, Stobi, and Herakleia. (later Monastir/Bitola). These towns come close to the northern and western boundaries of the present Republic of Macedonia. They have been Macedonian since before the great empire. The territory that is now northern Greece has also been an important part of Macedonia since ancient times, though most of this territory was not a part of the first Macedonian kingdom, but was gradually incorporated into that kingdom as Macedonian power grew. 

Macedonia was split apart in 1912 when the Bulgarians, the Greeks and the Serbs united to push the Turks out of the Balkans. Succeeding in that, they split Macedonia among themselves. Aegean Macedonia, some 52 percent of Greater Macedonia, was taken by Greece by conquest, never by any act of self-determination. It could be argued that Greece created the very problem about which it now complains since Greece participated in the initial division of Macedonia earlier this century. Given this division of territories it is hardly surprising that some Macedonians hope for a restoration of older borders. Nationalist forces throughout the Balkans have very similar ambitions. 

The Slavic-language Macedonian people who come from Aegean Macedonia, including those who left the country before and during the Second World War and the Greek civil war (many are now in the United States, Canada, and Australia), still call themselves Macedonian. Even Greek government publications admit that the different peoples of Macedonia, such as the Slavs, Greeks, and Vlachs, called themselves Macedonians in earlier times and during the last century. Only in the last few years have the Greeks publicly attempted to reclaim for themselves the name that they abandoned and actually tried to suppress for so many years. 

The statement that the Greek region called Macedonia "has one of the most homogeneous populations in the world" (98.5 percent Greek) is very much without substance. For a start the number is probably a considerable exaggeration, according to United Nations and United States State Department estimates. But given that there is a high proportion of Greek speakers in this area, a more important question is how did northern Greece became so "ethnically pure"? There is no dispute that this happened through a process of exiling tens of thousand of Slav-speaking Macedonians, both Christian and Moslem, and resettling hundreds of thousands of Greek speakers from Asia Minor and Armenia. fly this process the Greeks accomplished a great change in the ethnic mix in Aegean Macedonia. Today, after the term was coined during the war in Bosnia, we would call this "ethnic cleansing." It is not a new phenomenon, and was not uncommon in Europe around and after the First World War. After this process in Aegean Macedonia, the Greeks made it illegal to speak the Slavic language and imprisoned and in other ways severely punished people who did so. Naturally enough, members of the minority Slavic population that remained after this social engineering were also forbidden to teach their children in their own language. The Greeks changed place names and forced people to use Greek names in place of their Slavic names. Given all of this extraordinary government intervention, it is hardly surprising to find a high proportion of Greek speakers in Aegean Macedonia. But clearly this does not tell us anything useful about historic rights to the name or the lands of Macedonia or the people who inhabited the area for fifteen hundred years. Brief reflection will show that the Greek speakers brought into northern Greece had no historic association with the land at all. 

5. The idea that an independent Macedonia will somehow monopolize the name seems an overreaction to the situation. Many places in the world have the same names as other places, but human beings can deal with this. For instance, people can get used to the idea that a place in Greece and a place in the United States might have the same name and still be different places. This point also implies that since there are twice as many "real Macedonians" in Aegean Macedonia as there are in Vardar Macedonia, those with the numerical superiority should get the name. However, if we consistently appeal to the older historical justifications noted above, most of this Greek population would not count, since they are relative newcomers to Aegean Macedonia. 

6. It is fine to say that Macedonia, meaning the history of ancient Macedonia, is an indispensable part of Greece's heritage. Given that the Greeks occupy a major part of ancient Macedonian territory, this seems fair enough. The fact that the ancient Macedonians and Greeks despised each other, and that the Macedonians conquered the Greeks, need not be relevant to this aspect of modern political life. However, it does seem quite paradoxical for Greeks to choose as a national symbol a recently discovered emblem used by the hated overlords of ancient times (the Macedonians). The implication that there is a coherent ethnic group existing today, living only in northern Greece, that we could recognize as "Macedonian"- people who have a strong line of descent from the ancient Macedonians - simply cannot be substantiated. 

7. There is no dispute that the language of Vardar Macedonia is predominantly Slavic, though in modern times there are increasing demands to allow the official use (in schools for instance) of the languages of minority groups such as Albanians and Turks. If it can be demonstrated that the ancient Macedonians were neither Slavic speakers nor Greek speakers -and such a case is presented in this book - the Greek position does not gain any advantage by pointing to the current language of the occupants of Vardar Macedonia. 

8. The Slavs set foot in the Balkans about 900 years after the time of Alexander the Great. They, and some other "new" peoples, spread widely throughout the Balkans, but particularly into those lands that we have called Greece and Yugoslavia. The Slavs eventually mixed with the remaining peoples, but in Vardar Macedonia the language and culture that lasted was Slavic Macedonian, and in the south, in Greece, the language and culture that survived was Greek. In both cases it was necessary to have a very strong government support for the stabilization and establishment of an official modern form of the language. In Greece this happened a little more than a hundred years earlier than it did in Macedonia. The Greek language was not imposed on Aegean Macedonia until the mid-1920s. Until that time Slavic Macedonian was the "lingua franca7 of the area. 

9. The name Macedonia was not used until the second century B.C., and it was applied to the country by the Macedonian king, not by a Greek. The term "Macedon' and the expression "land of the Macedons" were used long before that time, though there is debate about the origins of the word "Macedon." Philologists are not certain of its derivation, though Greeks prefer to think that the word comes from Greek. In any case, neither the ancient Macedonians nor the ancient Greeks thought that the Macedonians were Greek; thus the name the Macedonians used for their land must surely belong to them alone. The weight of this issue does not seem to be substantial. 

10. It is quite true that many Macedonian places and people were given Greek names. This was especially the case after the Macedonian rulers started to use a Greek dialect that came from the south (they were not using a dialect similar to that of their nearest Greek neighbors, but one borrowed from much farther away) and ostentatious features of Greek culture. However, we do not know the names that were given to many places and people because we have no written records. The contemporary records we have come from Greek writers, or others writing in the Greek language, for Greek-speaking readers. It would be surprising if they did not use Greek names. 

11. Generally the Old Testament is not accepted as being very good history, at least as we understand history. As far as New Testament writings are concerned, we must be careful about what has really been said. Differences in interpretation have led to the establishment of different religious groups, so it can hardly be said that the New Testament writings are always subject to the same interpretation. It should be noted that several ancient writers acknowledged the close association of the Macedonians and the Greeks, once the Greeks had been conquered by the Macedonians. Often the Macedonian rulers wanted the Greeks to be working in concert with them, though the Greeks were less enthusiastic about this idea. As already noted, the Macedonian leaders, from about the fourth century B.C., moved increasingly to adopt the use of the Greek language for official affairs, and were attracted by facets of Greek culture. Greek culture was spread widely throughout the world by Macedonians rulers in their Macedonian Empire, and then by Romans in the Byzantine Empire. To be consistent one might just as well argue that since the Romans maintained and spread Greek culture they must have been Greek. Of course this is obviously wrong, but it points to the weakness of this argument when applied to the Macedonians. 

12. It is quite true that Alexander took the Greek language and some aspects of Greek culture to Asia. This was a period of flowering for the Greek language, and for Greek trading influence in the world. The time of Alexander marks a period in Greek history called the Hellenic period for this very reason. However, Alexander did not take that mainstay of Greek culture, democracy, to his new Asian empire, and in time he even abandoned most of the things he had started with, turning to a new blend of Asian, Macedonian and Greek ways. It became more important to appease Asians than to appease Greeks. 

The fact that Philip and Alexander used the Greek language for administration and were supposedly "Hellenistic" in orientation has more to do with political manipulation and administrative convenience than any appreciation for the Greeks. This observation is not disputed by historians. Thus the use of the Greek language does not tell us anything about the ethnic or cultural origins of the Macedonians. The English language has had a similar role in recent international history. The third largest English-speaking country in the world today (at least in population terms) is the Philippines, according to that country's own claims. Yet no one would seriously suggest that the people of the Philippines are English, or even American, by race or by culture. 

The evidence discussed in this book indicates that Alexander's mother tongue was not Greek, his mother was probably not Greek and his father was not Greek. Eventually Alexander himself became an "internationalist" rather than a Hellenophile, even to the extent of arranging marriages between thousands of Persian women and his own troops in a strange effort to merge the peoples and cultural extremes of his empire. 

13. There are no archaeological finds that confirm the racial origins of the Macedonians. In a later section I discuss the writings of R. A. Crossland, who contributed to the Cambridge volumes on ancient history. Crossland thoroughly deals with this question and dismisses as worthless the supposed archaeological evidence about the alleged Greek origins of the Macedonians. 

14. To say that the home of the Greek gods was in Macedonia is to embellish the truth. However, the real issue here is not whether a people (the Greeks) would worship its national gods in a foreign country, but whether Greeks believed Macedonians to be foreigners. If the latter is true, and if Greeks worshiped gods from Macedonia, then by definition they worshiped gods from a foreign country. Thus the argument fails if it can be shown that Greek people of ancient times believed that the Macedonians were foreigners. There is no debate among historians about the fact that in historical times the Macedonians and the Greeks saw themselves as separate peoples. The Macadamias were always named separately from the Greeks, even when the two groups were in closest connection under the rule of Philip II, Alexander the Great, and later the Turks. Historians say that the two peoples were held together in ancient times only by force of arms, and as soon as the empire of Alexander collapsed, they split apart once again. So whatever linguistic analysis might be argued these days to suggest similarity of ethnic background for the ancient Greeks and Macedonians (and there is no such analysis that is widely accepted), those ancient peoples knew nothing of it. The Greeks explicitly classified the Macedonians as foreigners. That is what the word "barbaroi," frequently given to the Macedonians and other non-Greek groups, means. Since the ancient Greeks thought of the Macedonians as foreigners, if modern Greeks wish to argue that the home of Greek gods was Macedon, it is evident that the ancient Greeks must, have worshipped gods from the lands of foreigners. 

15. As noted above, even modern Greek texts show that the areas of modern-day Skopje, Stobi, and Bitola were included in the boundaries of the Macedonian homelands. These cities are close to the northern and western borders of the modern-day state of Macedonia. Although some texts show slight variations in the position of the northern borders, historians agree that virtually the whole of the territory of the modern-day Republic of Macedonia was a part of ancient Macedonia. 

16. Most of the census figures cited here are of questionable relevance. A crucial date is the 1912-13 Balkan wars which resulted in the partitioning of Macedonia. Since Greece took about 52 percent of the territory of Macedonia it is not helpful to talk about census figures taken after that date. It might be noted again that by the late 1920s the Greeks had completed a major social engineering program in Aegean Macedonia, having exiled tens of thousands of Slavic speaking Macedonians, and imported perhaps ten times as many nonMacedonian Greek speakers from Turkey and Armenia. Figures taken after that date really do not help in this debate. 

Another interesting issue contained in this Greek comment is worth mentioning briefly here, and that is the labeling of Slavic-speaking Macedonians as Bulgarian. The major powers that were fighting over Macedonia in the Balkan wars were Turkey, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. The occupying power, the Turks, identified their Slavic subject peoples in the Balkans in terms of their religious affiliation. The usual possibility was for them to be Moslem, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, or Bulgarian Orthodox (although there were some other numerically insignificant classifications such as Roman Catholic). The Greek Church had been successful in pleading with the Turkish authorities to have the Macedonian Orthodox Church banned in favor of the Greek Orthodox Church towards the end of the eighteenth century; thus Macedonians had no Slavic-speaking church to attend. However, after about 1870 the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was permitted in Bulgaria and began to attract Slav speakers in Macedonia. Orthodox Christian Macedonians were called Bulgarian if they had affiliated with the Slavic-speaking Bulgarian church, or Greek if they still attended a Greek Orthodox church. So, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Turkish rulers of Macedonia used a classification of its Balkan peoples that spoke as if Macedonians did not exist. The competing powers, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, also wished to extend their territory, and it did not suit them to recognize a nationalistic group that might reduce their acquisition. The Serbians spoke of "South Serbians" when referring to Macedonians, and the Bulgarians simply spoke of "Bulgarians." This kind of classification suited the Greek political purpose also. Nevertheless, as you will see later in this book, European powers recognized the Macedonians, as did some newspaper accounts of the early part of the twentieth century. Even today the Greeks deny that they have any ethnic minorities, and their treatment of the Turkish and Macedonian speakers in Greece has brought international condemnation. 

17. The politics of the use of the name Macedonia are rather more complex than the Greek writers suggest. I have no doubt that Macedonians throughout the world would like to see a reunification of Macedonia. However, the government of Macedonia seems to appreciate the political reality that it is beyond their power to achieve this. Some more radical groups in Macedonia still hope for such a development through armed struggle, but given the military might of Greece, this is undoubtedly a futile hope. The political group that takes this extreme nationalist position is a minority in the modern state of Macedonia. It is curious that the Greeks seem not to recognize that the politicians in power in Macedonia are moderate and that continued Greek agitation may actually strengthen the position of the radicals. One can only speculate about the intentions of the Greek government in this issue. As with any elected government there must be an acute sensitivity to the attitudes of the electorate. However, there may be a greater political game being played here, one that is suggested by some modern analysts and described in later chapters of this book. While only extremists in Macedonia speak about going to war, if we are to judge by the banners that have been waved in Salonika in mass demonstrations about the issue, Greeks in general seem to be prepared for war with the Macedonians. With luck, increased awareness of alternative analyses of history may serve to reduce the vigor of warlike thinking. 

It is the intention of this book to clarify and present the conclusions of significant historians about the origins of the modern-day Macedonians. From time to time I will again compare those conclusions with the various points of the Greek position. For instance, it is appropriate to explain the complex ethnic mix that characterizes modern Greece. A major issue of international concern is the treatment of minority ethnic groups in Greece - Albanians, Turks, and Macedonians. Greece continues to deny the existence of all except a "Muslim minority," meaning Turkish speakers, and seems willing to acknowledge them only because they are specified in international treaties. There are some who argue that potential unrest from its Macedonian minority, or pressures for the return of exiled Macedonians to Greece (and resumption of confiscated lands), may be behind Greece's aggressive posture against Macedonia. The matter is well worth exploration. 

By examining the particular dispute between Macedonia and Greece we can gain some understanding about other significant questions in the Balkans centered around Macedonia. Accordingly, this book examines the contemporary position of Macedonia. This has relevance to the Greek arguments, but introduces us also to broader questions about Macedonia’s stability and ability to survive as an independent nation. A consideration of the new nation's international experiences gives us a context for examining the aims of its immediate neighbors and the attitudes of the United Nations and the United States. The American involvement is of particular interest, since the United States was unwilling to send men to participate in the peacekeeping force in Bosnia, but shared in the ground-breaking move of sending a contingent of troops as part of the first ever United Nations "war-prevention" effort. This seems to have come about because of the American recognition that forces within and around Macedonia could provoke a European war much greater in scale than the present war in Bosnia. The issues that have provoked Greek reactions seem unlikely to go away in the near future. The Macedonians are quite unlikely to agree to abandon the name, though they may be prepared to accept the use of a longer name, such as "New Macedonia." However, at the present time Greece insists that no name involving "Macedonia" is acceptable. But this is only one dispute among many. Like the Greek arguments, what is visible on the surface may reveal only a part of the overall agenda. The strength of many old ambitions is there to be seen. There are larger stories being played out, and it is very likely that Greece is a part of many of them. That is what makes the present case so fascinating.


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