Saturday, July 02, 2005

Debate on Macedonia 1993-94

The articles below were paert of a debate in the pages of Green Left Weekly on the Macedonian issue in 1993-94, between myself, defending Macedonian self-determination against Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian chauvinist opposition, and a number of suporters of the Greek nationalist position.

The country and people that `don't exist'
Macedonia: The Last Peace To be screened on SBS Television as part of the Cutting Edge series of documentaries Tuesday, April 6, 8.30 p.m. (8 p.m. in Adelaide) Reviewed by Michael Karadjis

One might begin to gain an insight into the Macedonian issue by watching this documentary. It is certainly very useful to know what ordinary people in the streets, coffee shops, churches and discos are thinking. However, you can't talk to everyone, so some kind of overview usually helps, and there is not much of it here.
“It's all the Communists' fault ... The churches are all empty”, was a pretty important theme at the beginning. Each to their own, I suppose, but anyone interested in the causes of the horror that has engulfed former Yugoslavia wouldn't find this very enlightening. Whatever the sins of the former “Communist” rulers, the current nationalist massacre has been launched since the fall of “Communism” by revived anticommunist, nationalist, pre-World War II forces, particularly in Serbia, including the Serbian Orthodox Church.
In quite an interesting section, members of Macedonia's 20% Albanian minority spoke of their grievances. They claimed that very few Albanians are in the public service and that there was only one Albanian high school in the Macedonian Republic's capital, Skopia. They spoke of the division of the Albanian people into five separate parts in 1918, “imposed by Europe”. Nevertheless, they insisted that they did not want to separate or join Albania; they only wanted equal rights.
On the other side of the political spectrum within the republic is the highly nationalist opposition party VMRO. While they spoke of the division of Macedonia into three parts in 1913, they likewise insisted that they don't want to take over the other parts of geographic Macedonia in Greece and Bulgaria, but merely want rights for the Macedonian minorities in these countries.
Watching the program, one might be led to believe that there is no Macedonian government, only the VMRO opposition on the one side and the Albanians on the other. It is fine for the Albanians to discuss their legitimate grievances, but when they claim that they want representation in government, it would be helpful if viewers knew that nearly 20% of MPs in the Macedonian parliament are Albanians -- a somewhat better situation for a minority than anywhere else in the Balkan region.
Things get worse when we get to Greece. Talking to a number of “ordinary people” who all happen to have the same view on
the Macedonian issue, one is led to believe that the Greek population is unanimously behind the current nationalist tidal wave of “Macedonia is and always has been Greek”. We are also informed that this feeling is completely spontaneous.
All the “ordinary people” interviewed indicated that they would be ready to “take up arms” and fight “with all means” if the neighbouring republic was recognised. Greeks, then, are not only unanimously nationalistic, but also warmongers.
In fact, this “spontaneity” is a highly orchestrated campaign by all major political parties, daily newspapers, the church, the military and various witchdoctor “historians”. Every other view is meticulously censored from all the mass media, and anyone opposing the nationalist frenzy is castigated as a traitor to “Hellenism”.
The unanimity in the documentary is belied by the 15 Greeks who have been given heavy jail sentences in the last year for simply distributing leaflets, posters or pamphlets opposing this view, and by petitions signed by hundreds of academics, unionists, artists, writers, political activists and others. Members of the Communist Party have spoken against the policy, only to be silenced by the most horrendous red-baiting.
But watch the documentary for the last section. The film makers take a trip to Florina, in western Greek Macedonia, and visit the ethnic Macedonian minority there, which the Greek government insists doesn't exist. It is a particularly rare event to see this hidden minority on the screen. Some of those interviewed even had their faces chequered out because of fear of reprisals by the Greek government and police. “We are not doing anything wrong, but they are always after us.”
When the people here were asked if they could speak Macedonian freely in the streets, for some reason there were no English subtitles for the answer.
Eighty per cent of the towns in this region were originally Macedonian. Hellenisation over the last 80 years has included the changing of every street and geographical name.
Some great pictures of Macedonians at their May festival, with their traditional music and dancing, made it clear that, despite decades of forced Hellenisation, mass exile and cultural oppression, the Macedonian minority still does exist.
After denouncing 80 years of oppression by “chauvinist Greeks”, one local went on to explain that he wasn't talking about Greek people in general: “Greek people are good, we form trade unions with them ... We have nothing against the Greek people and their culture ... We just want our rights ... for Macedonian to be taught in schools ... we have no schools, churches, newspapers.”

Ambiguous names and places
By Gyorgy Scrinis
In his review (GLW, March 31) of an SBS documentary on the “Macedonian issue”, Michael Karadjis once again uncritically expresses a “Slav-Macedonian” nationalist position and a fairly naive understanding of the construction of national identities.
One way of highlighting Karadjis' fairly one-eyed representation of this conflict is to look at the way he sets up a simple and unproblematic distinction between “Macedonians” and “Greeks” -- as if “Macedonians ” and “Greeks” were two clearly distinct and defined cultural groups or nationalities. Yet the crux of this conflict centres around definitions of who are the “Macedonians”. This is what it's all about, though you wouldn't know it reading Karadjis' analysis.
The dominant positions within the two opposing camps express contrary answers to this question. For most people in Greece, “Macedonians” are, and can only be, Greeks from the Macedonian part of Greece; and they describe the people of “Slavic” descent in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia who refer to themselves as “Macedonians” as “really” being Slavs, or Serbians, or Bulgarians -- anything but “Macedonians”. On the other hand, for the people of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia who call themselves “Macedonians” (whom I will refer to as “Slav-Macedonians” for brevity's sake), they themselves are the only “true” Macedonians; and for them, all Greeks are simply Greeks.
Karadjis has clearly aligned himself with the latter, Slav-Macedonian nationalist position. For Karadjis, Greek claims to a Macedonian identity are simply the result of Greek government nationalist propaganda; while the (Slav-)Macedonian national identity is seemingly “natural”, as if it has not required a nationalist movement and ideology backed by the state.
There is only the space for a few brief comments here to begin to outline an alternative and more critical standpoint on this conflict. Once you begin problematising and qualifying the term “Macedonian”, it can get awfully messy trying to follow who said what to whom. But the key to trying to come to grips with this conflict lies in recognising that there are, and have always been, not one, but many types of Macedonian people. We need now to refer to them as either Greek-Macedonian, Slav-Macedonian, Bulgarian-Macedonian, perhaps even Albanian-Macedonian, and so on.
To attempt to use the term “Macedonian” as if it referred to one homogeneous and clearly distinct cultural grouping, is the sort of monopolising strategy that both Greek-Macedonian and Slav-Macedonian nationalists have pursued, and which stands in the way of any dialogue between the two camps.
Apart from the military unity of ancient times, there has never existed a unified Macedonian state or nation, nor ever a Macedonian people. It has always been divided into several administrative areas by its ruling empire.
Throughout medieval and modern times, the greater Macedonian region has been the dwelling place of very diverse groups of people -- speaking Greek dialects, Slav dialects, Turkish dialects, Vlach dialects -- all of whom were “Macedonian” to the extent that they all lived in the region. However, the name “Macedonian” was not yet used in itself to signify a particular cultural identity; that is, there was no group of people known as “the Macedonians”. Nor was there any strong sense of the unity of all the people in Macedonia. The local village remained the dominant level of cultural identity for most of these people.
A “Macedonian” identity per se doesn't seem to emerge till the late 19th century, following the rise of nationalism in the surrounding new nations of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria earlier that century. Each of these nationalisms attempted to win over the hearts and minds of the people in the Macedonian region. After 1913, following the eviction of the Ottoman empire, the greater Macedonian region was carved up between these three states, to become Greek Macedonia, Bulgarian Macedonia and Serbian (later Yugoslav) Macedonia.
Greek-speaking Orthodox-worshippers in the new province of Greek Macedonia more readily took on a Greek nationalist identity, and “Macedonia” became for them more a regional-cultural identity than a national identity. Greek-Macedonians also “imagine” continuities back to the ancient Macedonians and consider ancient Macedonians as having been essentially culturally the same as the ancient Greeks.
The Slavic-speaking people in Serbian Macedonia were not so willing to adopt Serbian nationalism as their own, partly because they already identified more strongly with Bulgarian nationalism. Instead, these people slowly began to throw off their orientation to either the Serbian or Bulgarian nations, and to transform their Macedonian regional identity into a nationalism in its own right. This was a perfectly “legitimate” development -- as far as nationalisms go -- and involved clinging to their more local cultural expressions, instead of being made-over by the homogenising impulses of a neighbouring state's nationalism.
It's important to add that while the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia itself remains a culturally diverse “nation”, there is also a minority of “Slav-Macedonians” who have been living in the province of Greek Macedonia, and who have been culturally oppressed by successive Greek governments.
But the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has also been extremely provocative over the years by stating its intention to “reclaim” Greek Macedonia, and “reunify” the greater Macedonian region. This ideology has extended into their education system, and to the production of maps of a unified greater Macedonia. Their intention to use the “Vergina Star”, an ancient Macedonian symbol, as their national symbol reflects their view of themselves as the (perhaps sole) descendants of the ancient Macedonians.
Both Greek-Macedonians and Slav-Macedonians have lived in the Macedonian region continuously for at least hundreds of years. At the same time, their cultural or national “Macedonian” identities have only recently been “constructed” or “imagined”. It seems to me that, in the modern period, no one nation or cultural grouping should now be able to monopolise the use of the term “Macedonia”. A qualifying adjective will always be required to specify which Macedonia, and which Macedonians, are being referred to. Until both sides recognise the other's right to use that name, with a qualifier, I cannot foresee an end to this conflict.
Without wanting to impose an alternative name upon the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a possible name would be “Vardar-Macedonia”, which is the name they themselves use to distinguish their state from the two other Macedonian regions.

Macedonia: the real issue
By Michael Karadjis
In his article “Ambiguous names and places” (GLW, April 21), Gyorgy Scrinis claims that I set up a simple distinction between “Greeks” and “Macedonians”, whereas in reality different peoples regard themselves as Macedonians. He therefore proposes that the term “Slav-Macedonian” be used when referring to the people of the former Yugoslav republic and the minorities in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, to distinguish them from the “Greek-Macedonians” -- i.e. the ethnically Greek majority of Greek Macedonia.
However, the term “Slav-Macedonian” is rejected by both sides, and we can't impose a name on a people against their will.
Moreover, Scrinis is completely incorrect to claim that I “set up” this terminological distinction. The official name of this community for many decades now in Australia and the rest of the world is “Macedonian”. In government offices interpreters are available in Macedonian. There are Macedonian programs on TV and radio, and Macedonian is taught in schools. The terminology has been accepted in Australia for the last 40 years -- including by the Greek community until recently.
However, in Greece I would use the term “Slav-
Macedonian” to make clear who I was talking about, as the term “Macedonian” there would be taken to mean the Greek population of Greece's Macedonia province.
Scrinis claims that this debate over terminology is the “crux” of the matter. In fact, the crux of the conflict is “Who is oppressing whom?” The dispute about a name is only a cover.
There is a difference between Greeks in Macedonia having a Macedonian identity, and the nationalistic tidal wave that has engulfed Greece in the last two years.
No matter how often it is put to Greek representatives, the crux of the matter is never answered. Do the minority in western Greek Macedonia (no matter what you call them) have the right to use their own language in the press, radio, TV or in other publications? Can they learn their language in schools? Can they use it in church? Can they have their own newspapers, schools or churches? Their music and dances? Can they set up a cultural centre? Are refugees from the late 1940s allowed to return? The answer to every question is “No”.
Scrinis accepts that there is oppression but claims that the Macedonian republic is equally guilty because it allegedly has claims to Greek Macedonia, wants to create a “greater Macedonia” and produces maps of this state.
He is mistaken. In late 1991, Macedonia introduced constitutional amendments declaring that it has no territorial claims anywhere. However, there are forces in opposition with a more nationalistic stance, and some of them have produced such maps. Rightist groups in Greece produce maps showing Greece double its size too.
I agree with Scrinis that nationalists on both sides identify themselves with the ancient Macedonians to push their line, but in reality no-one can claim to be their pure and sole descendants. (Macedonian President Gligorov has declared that his people have no relation to the ancient Macedonians.)
Scrinis is mistaken again, however, when he claims that a Macedonian “identity per se doesn't seem to emerge till the late 19th century, following the rise of nationalism in the surrounding new nations of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria earlier that century”.
The implication is that there was no independent Macedonian identity, but rather a Greek, a Serbian and a Bulgarian Macedonian identity. Scrinis makes this clearer when he states that the Slavic-speaking people in what became Serbian (later Yugoslav) Macedonia were unwilling to adopt Serbian nationalism, because “they already identified more strongly with Bulgarian nationalism”.
He doesn't consider the possibility that they didn't adopt Serbian nationalism because they weren't Serbs. “Slavic” is a broad language family, not a language; Macedonians are not Serbs or Bulgarians just as English are not Germans even though both speak “Germanic”.
The rise of an independent Macedonian identity began in the mid-19th century. The first Macedonian-language schools and printers appeared in the 1840s. In the 1850s, the Macedonist current arose, declaring clearly the difference between the Macedonian and Bulgarian peoples and languages. In 1893, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (IMRO) was set up to fight against Turkish rule. It emphasised that Macedonians were a separate people from Bulgarians, and struggled for an independent Macedonia.
This struggle, opposed by the Bulgarian ruling class, occurred over all parts of Macedonia before it was divided between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1913.
Scrinis states that “Greek-speaking Orthodox worshippers in the new province of Greek Macedonia” took on a Greek national identity. That's true, but what he does not say is that in 1913 Greeks were a minority of 10% in the whole of Macedonia, and a minority even in Greek Macedonia.
They became a majority through massive population exchanges with Turkey and Bulgaria in the 1920s. The overwhelming majority of Greek Macedonians today are descended from refugees who came to Macedonia in the 1920s from Asia Minor, where they had lived for thousands of years.
By contrast, since 1913, the Slav-Macedonian population of Greek Macedonia have suffered mass expulsions, forced Hellenisation and cultural oppression, thus dramatically reducing their numbers. The fact that these people have long called themselves Macedonian is clear from many sources in the 19th and early 20th centuries, above all Greek sources.
In fact, a people living solely in Macedonia calling themselves Macedonian is only to be expected. Greeks, Albanians, Serbs and Bulgarians living in Macedonia identify with Greece, Albania, Serbia or Bulgaria. The people in question live only in Macedonia and have no
foreign point of reference. Decades of oppression have cemented this identity.
In 1926, the Greek Education Ministry published the first primary school reader in Macedonian, and clearly distinguished it from both Bulgarian and Serbian. This was soon abandoned, but just compare that with now: in January 1992, the right-wing Greek newspaper Kathimerini produced a lift-out on the issue which claimed that the minority in northern Greece didn't exist. The following week the Education Ministry declared this lift-out would be distributed to all the schools of Greece!
The difference tells us that today's campaign is about something more than names. In 1926, Greece wanted to ward off Serbian and Bulgarian territorial claims. In 1991-3, is its aim to ward off similar claims by the Macedonian republic?
In fact, even if Macedonia had such claims, Greece would hardly feel threatened by a country of 2 million people without an army. Furthermore, the massive Greek nationalist campaign took off after the republic amended its constitution to declare it had no territorial claims -- a good time to start a dialogue, one would have thought.
The reasons are elsewhere. On the one hand, an independent Macedonia would be a boost to the minority within Greece struggling for democratic rights. Such a struggle would expose the Greek government's appalling history on this question.
The more aggressive wing of Greek capital would no doubt like a chunk of Macedonia, as expressed in many of their mass circulation dailies. While the current government has a more pragmatic approach, it would also see Macedonia kneeling to its demands as a step towards domination of the region by Greek capital.
And while it's all going on, getting thousands of people into the streets to demonstrate Greek unity on the “national issues” is a useful way of diverting their attention from the class war being waged against Greek workers and farmers by the Thatcherite government of Prime Minister Mitsotakis. This is the real crux of the matter.

The Macedonian question and nationalism
By Gyorgy Scrinis
In his article on Macedonia in GLW, May 5, Michael Karadjis again fails to engage with the way various nationalisms have been constructed in the Balkans in modern times. He seems unwilling to deal with the question of nationalism in itself, and instead, in a move typical of some left reductionist approaches, tries to explain away the current conflict by reducing it to the familiar categories of oppressor/oppressed, capitalists/workers and left/right.
In brief, I had argued (GLW, April 21) that there is not one Macedonian people, as Karadjis continues to claim. Rather, the diversity of people who have lived in the greater Macedonian region have fragmented into a number of national/regional/cultural identities. There are currently at least three Macedonian regions: the province of Greek-Macedonia in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (now an independent nation-state), and the Macedonian part of Bulgaria.
I referred to the majority of people who live in these states respectively as Greek-Macedonians, Slav-Macedonians and Bulgarian Macedonians. Depending on what criteria we use to distinguish them, we could also add Albanian-Macedonians, Vlach-Macedonians, etc, as other inhabitants of this region.
I referred to the people of the former Yugoslav Republic as “Slav-Macedonians”, for want of a better name. These people refer to their part of Macedonia as “Vardar”, to distinguish it from the Greek and Bulgarian Macedonian regions. For this reason, I suggested that a possible name for this new nation would be “Vardar-Macedonia”. I will from here on refer to “Slav-Macedonians” as “Vardar-Macedonians”, for it seems a more appropriate name.
In my article, I described how the slow emergence of a Macedonian cultural/national identity in the 19th century was fragmented into a number of
regional/national identities following the carve-up of the region between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1913. In particular, people in Greek-Macedonia largely took on a more general Greek national identity, and Macedonia became for them a more particular regional level of their identity. The exchange of populations that took place in the region also ensured the dominance of the Greek-Macedonian identity in Greek-Macedonia.
But for a number of reasons, the Slavic people of Serbian-Macedonia (which became the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) did not adopt a Serbian national identity, nor later a Yugoslav national identity. Instead, theirs developed into a “Macedonian” cultural-national identity in itself, with no other national orientation.
Unfortunately, these Vardar-Macedonians began to claim that only they were the “true” Macedonians, and they fashioned their nationalist ideology, including their written history, accordingly. Meanwhile, the Greek-Macedonians were also claiming that they were the true Macedonians. This fairly tragic turn of events has led to great confusion and conflict over the name to this day, and has also been used to further all sorts of political agendas -- from Yugoslav expansionist aims to the current Greek government's use of nationalism as a diversion to boost its ailing popularity.
I did not imply that Vardar-Macedonians are really Serbians or Bulgarians, as Karadjis claims. In fact, Karadjis' accusation again reveals how thoroughly he takes for granted national identities as if they always existed throughout history. For Karadjis, one is either a Greek, or a Serb, or a Macedonian etc, whether we are speaking of the present or 200 years ago. Yet the thrust of my analysis was to problematise these names, by recognising that all national identities and ideologies have emerged and been constructed since the rise of nationalist movements in the 18th century. I outlined the way the emerging nationalisms of Serbia and Bulgaria failed to win over the hearts and minds of all the Slavic people in the Serbian-Macedonian region, who instead went on to fashion their own national identity. They were not always
“Macedonians”, since before the 19th century (ancient times aside for now) there was no group of people known as “the Macedonians”. Instead the local village and religious affiliations formed the primary level of their identities.
There are a minority of people of Slavic background living in Greek-Macedonia who identify with the Vardar-Macedonian national identity. As I stated, these people have been and continue to be oppressed by Greek governments, to the extent that they are not allowed to speak openly the Vardar-Macedonian language or dialects, nor to refer to themselves as “Macedonians” in this way. The Greek government has pursued this course because it does not recognise any use of the name other than its own, not to mention because of the ongoing expansionist rhetoric of Vardar-Macedonia, which has only been curbed in the last couple of years as it seeks international recognition. This is not to say that I don't, all the same, condemn such oppression.
Yet for Karadjis, the dispute over the name is merely an attempt to divert attention from the “real” issue: the oppression of this Vardar-Macedonian minority in Greek-Macedonia. But the two issues cannot be separated. Karadjis dismisses the question of the name, yet offers no other reason why these people are oppressed.
The other “real” issue for Karadjis is the attempt by Greece to move towards the domination of the region by Greek capital, and to direct attention from the class war waged against Greek workers by the conservative Greek government. This is familiar language, intended to assure left-wing readers that this issue can neatly be divided up into the categories of capitalists/workers, oppressors/oppressed, left/right, us and them. I am not suggesting these categories and these issues are not always at play in this and all other conflicts -- indeed they are. But it seems to me to be a poor attempt to divert attention from a conflict of nationalisms which I believe resists any such reductionist analysis. Neither Greece nor Vardar- Macedonia has the moral high ground in this conflict, since both have attempted to monopolise the term Macedonia to this day, and have both used that as the
basis of other indefensible strategies.
Karadjis himself is unable to break out of a narrow Vardar-Macedonian nationalist understanding of this conflict, which he tries to convince us is “really” just a class war dressed up in nationalist clothing. I see nothing particularly left/progressive about Karadjis' participation in the attempt to monopolise the use of the name Macedonia, as if it referred to one homogeneous cultural identity -- this is in fact a common nationalist strategy.
An adequate understanding of the construction of national identities, and of the current re-emergence of nationalist sentiment worldwide, continues to elude those who over-emphasise class as the key category of all political analysis. An understanding of the emergence and co-existence of local, national and global identities requires a framework of analysis which classical Marxism does not in itself offer.
Significant steps in this direction are to be found in the theoretical framework developed in the pages of the local left journal Arena over the years. Paul James in particular has tackled the question of nationalism within a broader theoretical framework. Other writers such as Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm have also theorised nationalism from non-reductionist left perspectives.
To summarise again my position here: no nation or people now has the right to monopolise the name “Macedonia” or “Macedonian”. A qualifying prefix will always be necessary, such as Greek-Macedonian, Vardar-Macedonian and so on.

Gyorgy Scrinis (GLW May 26) claims that I participate in a campaign to monopolise the name Macedonia. In fact I have no problem with either “Greek-Macedonians” or “Slav-Macedonians,” simply calling themselves “Macedonians.”
He thinks the name “Macedonian” is the reason that Greece oppresses the minority: “The Greek government has pursued this course because it does not recognise any use of the name (Macedonian) other than its own ...” He states I offer no other reason why these people are oppressed.
But why would using the same name create oppression, rather than a little mistrust at worst, if not interested curiosity? This is where the other factors come in, which Scrinis calls “left reductionism.”
Scrinis can't imagine any other reason for oppression, yet he explains that the current national identities in the region arose only from the late 18th century. This was due to the growth of a capitalist middle class in various regions, each of which sought to set up its own national state. But as there were no clear boundaries between peoples in the region, each new ruling class, in order to justify territorial claims, often expelled or forcibly assimilated other groups who didn't identify with the ruling group. The main such states were Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, and their oppression of the “Slav-Macedonians” had its origins in this process.
He doesn't understand that these people developed a national identity in their own right and didn't identify with any outside power and hence called themselves simply Macedonian. Since he incorrectly believes that an independent Macedonian identity developed only in the Serbian ruled region after 1913 (simply ignoring historical facts), he demands these people call themselves “Vardar-Macedonians.”
If the name is so important, how is it that Greece had a consul in the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for over 40 years despite the name, that Greek students studied at Skopia University and that the Australian weekly Greek Herald had a “Macedonian page” in the Macedonian language until a couple of years ago?
Regardless of all this, the concrete issues are:
1. The Greek government's oppression of the minority, which we both condemn.
2. The Greek government's bullying and embargoing of the Macedonian republic to make it change its name before being recognised. Where does Scrinis stand on this?
3. There can be no territorial changes in the Balkans, because wherever minorities exist the regions contain a mixture of nationalities. The issue must be to ensure minority rights rather than changing borders. Macedonia has made it clear that it has no reece, but Scrinis brushes this aside, since this would mess up his “even-handed” line.
Michael Karadjis

Greece and Macedonia: what hope for settlement?
By Tony Johnston
MELBOURNE -- The hot and sometimes violent battle between Melbourne's Greek and Slav Macedonians over the future of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia has gone off the boil following Greece's victory in the European High Court over its economic blockade of FYROM, and a dismal showing by Greece's so-called oppressed minorities in the European Union elections.
When the Greek Minister of Macedonia and Thrace visited Melbourne recently, surprisingly, there were no demonstrations. There were, however, conciliatory words from the minister. The UN's special envoy Cyrus Vance will meet in Cyprus with representatives of both sides to try and find a final solution that will also hopefully reunite Melbourne's Greek and Slav Macedonians.
The Greek bodyguards and the local motorcycle police who shadowed Kostas Triaridis between the Regent Hotel, the Greek Pan Macedonian Symposium in Clifton Hill and the premier's office (to talk trade) were hardly needed.
The lack of action surprised everyone caught up in both sides of the tactical battle between Melbourne's ethnic Greeks and the Slavs of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (referred to internationally as FYROM).
A couple of months ago, outspoken members of both communities were the victims of firebombs and other acts of violence. Even federal immigration minister, Senator Nick Bolkus (a Greek Australian), was punched and spat on when he arrived at the opening of a migrant resource centre in Wollongong in April. (The Slav/Macedonians are outraged at the Australian federal government's line on the issue, particularly the use of the term Slav-Macedonian. They prefer “Macedonians”.)
But for Triaridis, a man at the seat of the issue, and a representative of the so-called protagonist government, nothing. And the fact that he was to have trade talks with Jeff Kennett, who caused a local outcry by taking sides during a recent visit to Greece, did not stir the Slav-Macedonians of Melbourne either.
Perhaps it was because Triaridis was not an official guest of the Victorian government, but a guest speaker of the Eighth Symposium of the Federation of Pan Macedonian Associations.
But there could have been other reasons. For instance, the local Slav-Macedonians' claims of discrimination and oppression among their minority community in (northern) Greek Macedonia, took a battering when their political party, the Rainbow Party, contested the recent European Union elections and could only attract 5500 votes nationally.
The very appearance of the Rainbow Party also put paid to the claims by some Slav-Macedonians of northern Greece that they were being denied democratic representation, and hence their human rights.
Their other champion of human rights, professional protagonist Christos Sidiropoulos (who has toured Canada, the US and Europe claiming persecution of minority ethnic groups in northern Greece) has lost his clout since it was revealed that his personal persecution (demotion and eventually the sack) was due to prolonged absenteeism from his public service job, and not his ethnicity. He was also accused of using government money to pay for his propaganda trips.
The subject of persecution of minorities in the Greece/FYROM squabble diminishes by the day. The real issue, according to representatives of both sides, is the use of the name Macedonia, and a section of FYROM's constitution that refers to territorial ambitions of a “Greater Macedonia”.
The Slav-Macedonians of former Yugoslavia, by attempting to call their new republic Macedonia, seek to disenfranchise 2« million Greek Macedonians from their birthright, and at the same time (according to the Greeks) hijack Greek history back to Alexander the Great and Hellenic antiquity.
But the biggest blow to FYROM's highly successful propaganda campaign to gain worldwide sympathy as the bullied fledgling republic came unstuck when the European High Court ruled in favour of Greece's crippling economic blockade of FYROM -- the European Commission had sought to have the blockade ruled illegal.
Perhaps surprisingly, most Greeks are sympathetic towards the people of FYROM and their desire for identity, and a new nationalism. They do not, contrary to FYROM propaganda, fear invasion or armed conflict with FYROM's fledgling 20,000 strong army. What they fear is the repetition of Balkans history that has seen Macedonia, and its coveted Aegean port of Thessaloniki, as the apple of the dipping barrel of a general Balkans conflict involving the same old foes: Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Turkey.
Until now, at least in Australia, the Greeks have been seen to be the bullies in the squabble. Perhaps it's the Aussie thing about supporting the underdog. That the 2 million ethnic mix of FYROM are also at the virtual mercy of the Serbs should their war machine turn south, has made their small determined bid for freedom and identity seem just and supportable to non-Greek Australians.
The other major confusing aspect for the average non-Greek Australian has been the Slav refugees from Tito's Yugoslavia (post WWII) settling in Australia and creating a neo-Macedonian identity. There were Macedonian clubs, Macedonian restaurants. After 40 years of saying they're Macedonians and going uncontested, they have, in Aussie eyes, become Macedonian.
The Greeks here and at home have been outflanked on the whole issue, certainly from a propaganda point of view. Triaridis, during his brief Melbourne stop-over, admitted as much. There is no Macedonian nationality; it is a region that happens to cross three borders. (51% in Greece, including the core of the ancient kingdom). There is no such thing as a Macedonian ethnicity, he said.
For me, oppression started with student life, said Triaridis. Until his political career, a professor of surgery at Aristotle University in Thrssaloniki, Triaridis had joined George Papandreou's (the current Prime Minister's father) movement in 1958 and played a leading part in the political struggles of the sixties generation, who fought for full recognition of Greek citizens' constitutional rights. Eventually he stood for parliament in the 1967 elections, which were subsequently forestalled by the military coup of April 21. Then, as an active member of the resistance, he was eventually arrested and exiled to a remote mountain village for three years.
The experience he said, gave him plenty of time to read and think. It also gave him a progressive outlook.
At the time that many of the Slav-Macedonians came to Australia from Yugoslavia and northern Greece (1950s and 60s) they were oppressed. “These people have memories of that time and I sympathise with them because I too was oppressed. But that is in the past. There is no discrimination against minorities now,” he says.
The results of the European Union elections paint a vivid picture of a modern and rapidly changing Greece. Twenty per cent of the vote turned away from the two major parties. (This turned out to be a trend in most EU member countries.)
Surely all of this is representative of a free democratic society, where there is a free climate for people to express themselves. Triaridis is optimistic of FYROM and Greece solving their differences; the main stumbling blocks being FYROM's insistence on using the name Macedonia and Greece's retaliatory economic blockade of the struggling republic.
The major hope of a settlement now rests with the intermediary role of the UN mediator Cyrus Vance in discussions between the protagonists.
Perhaps Kostas Triaridis represents the more conciliatory face of the Greek government, until now uncompromising in its demands on FYROM. As members of his entourage crowded in to whisk him off to a late appointment he dallied longer to get his conciliatory message across. I'm an open man, he said, I've paid my price to be this way.
The only hope is the future. Kostas Triaridis put it -- life is progressive, we will find solutions to suit everybody. [Tony Johnston is a freelance journalist. This article was submitted by the Hellenic Council of New South Wales.]

Shedding some light on Greece's ethnic Macedonian minority
By Mike Karadjis
From Tony Johnston's account, we would have to believe that today everything is rosy for Greece's ethnic Macedonian minority and there are hardly any of them anyway -- a view based almost entirely on the testimony of a visiting member of the Greek government (perhaps his next article will be a discussion with a Turkish leader called “Paradise in Kurdistan”).
The point should be made that journalists should endeavour to know what they are talking about. When Johnston writes of a section of Macedonia's constitution “which refers to territorial ambitions of a Greater Macedonia” he is simply using the Greek government's “big lie” technique. There is no such article in Macedonia's constitution, but there is an article which states:
“The Republic of Macedonia has no territorial pretensions towards any neighbouring state” (Article 3). Does such a provision exist in the Greek constitution?
As for Johnston's comments that “there is no such thing as a Macedonian ethnicity” and that “until a couple of decades ago there was no such thing as a written or spoken Macedonian language” and that it is a “Serb-Bulgar mix”, this well-worn Greek nationalist line does not stand up to historical scrutiny -- but that would require an article of its own.
Incidentally, does Johnston believe that Aboriginal languages which were not “written” were any less real?
His prettying of the situation of the Macedonian minority contrasts not only with the views of many Greek activists who I worked with in Greece from 1988-91 and with my own observations, but with the recently released report by the widely respected Human Rights Watch/Helsinki called “Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece”. This is one of the most thorough reports done on this issue and anyone with doubts about the existence or oppression of the minority in Greek Macedonia ought to get a copy. It is essential reading for “Greek patriots” like Tony Johnston, Jeff Kennett and the like. It also sheds some insight into the “free climate for people to express themselves” referred to.
But of course, how can they be oppressed when they were able to run in the European elections? And aren't they irrelevant anyway, given their party “Rainbow” got only 5500 votes? And why let the facts ruin a good line?
It was actually quite a struggle for the Macedonian organisation, the Macedonian Movement for Balkan Prosperity (MMBP), to be allowed to contest the elections. The good will of the “Rainbow” forces, a Europe-wide group of parties, in allowing the Macedonians to use their cover, helped this process.
Rainbow was finally set up on May 21. Eight days later the High Court ruled that Rainbow and two far-left parties were barred from standing in the election due to a legal technicality which had not been used since the time of the fascist junta (1967-74). When the absurdity of this became apparent, the Court responded by allowing the other parties to stand, but outlawing Rainbow! A cross-section of progressive groups and individuals forced this ruling to also be reversed a couple of days later. By the time this was all over, Rainbow had about ten days to campaign for the June 12 elections.
And that wasn't the end of it. Its campaign was meticulously kept out of the mass media, except for some references to its members as “paid agents of foreign enemies of Greece”. Its ability to produce and distribute election material was already impaired by the forced closure of MMBP's bank account two months earlier -- apparently without reason.
Even the material they did distribute didn't all reach its destination, according to the MMBP, which had previously denounced similar problems with the distribution of its newspaper. Similar problems have been reported by the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Greek observers of the Helsinki human rights agreement, and the Greek Communist Party. Indications point to a fascist group around the newspaper “Stohos”, which appears to have powerful links in the Greek secret services.
In such a situation, 5500 votes isn't all that bad. Some Macedonian activists screamed fraud, a charge difficult to prove. Still, many people thought it strange that the state electoral body didn't release Rainbow's results for so many weeks after everyone else's.
In a joint statement, Rainbow and the MMBP declared that “the biggest achievement from the elections was that Macedonians in Greece freed themselves of the feeling of oppression and fear, imposed on them for years”.
In any case does every member of a particular ethnic group vote for an ethnic-based party? On the basis of the votes gained by various Aboriginal parties or candidates in the recent past, we would have to conclude that there were only a few thousand in Australia and, using Johnston's logic, that they are not oppressed as they were allowed to stand in elections.
Yet when a Macedonian candidate stood in the Greek elections last year and received only 369 votes, some Greek-Australian journalists confidently told us that this was the size of the minority. By Greek nationalist logic, the ethnic Macedonians have increased in number by 1500% in nine months!
Of course, existence and oppression of a minority don't depend on its size. As left-wing Greek journalist Nikos Filis writes, if the size of the minority is based on these votes, “then the Slav-Macedonian minority is much larger than the Greek minority in [the Turkish capital] Constantinople (2000-3000 altogether). Further, let's remember that the Party of Human Rights in Albania gained less than 50,000 votes, while officially Greece speaks of 250,000-600,000 ethnic Greeks in the neighbouring country”.
Of course the Macedonian minority is much bigger than its 5500 votes, but no one doubts it is massively smaller than it was when Greece conquered 50% of Macedonia in 1913. Then ethnic Macedonians numbered 326,000, compared to 240,000 Greeks out of a population of about 1 million.
Talking of the very small size of the Greek minority in Turkey, Greek journalist V. Syros wrote, quite correctly “after a long period of discrimination and persecution by the Turkish rulers, the minority suffered a serious decline, and from 110,000 in 1923 it has fallen to 2500 today!”
Why not admit the truth about the similar reasons for the decline of the Macedonian minority in Greece?

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