The Struggle for Macedonia
Collective Memory, Symbols and History

For the Greek Macedonians, the struggle to neutralise Bulgarian influence in their homeland during the first decade of the 20th century is an event both symbolic and meaningful. It is their 1821, their own popular, epic struggle full of sacrifice and heroism; a chapter in Greek history all their own.

This living connection cannot be explained simply by the relatively short period of time — only three generations — that has passed since those events. The Struggle for Macedonia was a complex process, which extends far beyond its conventional chronological limits (1903-1908). It stemmed not only from the Bulgarian religious and national liberation movement and the efforts to secure the largest possible Bulgarian state, but also from the modernisation of the Ottoman Empire.

Over the next twenty years, the rapid rallying of the Greek Macedonians around a complex network of Greek schools, associations and bodies contributed, along with their economic development, to the growth of strong ties with the Greek Kingdom — ties that were strained during the hopeless revolutionary movements of 1878 and 1896.

The danger that Macedonia would be lost — as an important geographical territory and as an even more important component of the Greek cultural and historical heritage — alarmed some in the Greek Kingdom. Men such as Pavlos Melas and other officers of his generation were already trained in self-sacrifice and the tradition of the armatoles. They would not think twice about losing their lives if this meant a place in history like that of the fighters of 1821.

First came Melas.

Several dozen other officers and non-commissioned officers then had the chance to make their dreams come true; by winning a small piece of the Macedonian earth, a grave, they also won an important place in the pantheon of national heroes.

The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle

Yet the Struggle was not completely over. It was revived again during the First World War with the Bulgarian occupation of Eastern Macedonia, during the inter-war years when Bulgarian gangs continued to penetrate the Greek border, and on an even greater scale in the 1940s and the period after the Civil War.

As the years passed, only one issue still remained: the foundation of a Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. The idea was an old one, perhaps even inspired by Venizelos himself, but its implementation took many years and required the intervention of many political figures.

The 1978 earthquake in Thessaloniki meant that the elementary school which for decades had been housed in the building of the old General Consulate of Greece had to seek a new site. Built in 1894 by Ernest Ziller, this neo-classical building had always been considered the most appropriate home for such a Museum.

It was from this building that for four years Lambros Koromilas and his associates directed the Struggle. They were the secret general staff shrouded in a cloak of mystery and myth.

This historic building was finally given to the Association of the Friends of the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle and the Museum opened in 1982. In the twenty years of its operation the Museum has welcomed 450,000 visitors without a charge. The Museum, which has been renovated twice, contains not only artefacts of the Struggle and rich photographic material from Greece, Europe and America. These archives are one of the most important features of the associate Research Centre for Macedonian History and Documentation (K.E.M.I.T.). Since 1988, the K.E.M.I.T. has received funding in order to conduct research and publishing programmes, educating and training scholars in Balkan affairs.

Basil C. Gounaris,
Associate Professor,
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki