(“Kathimerini”, March 18, 2001)
In late August 1949, following the battle of Florina, which marked the final defeat of the communist guerrillas, many of the rebel-held villages in the region were forcibly emptied of their inhabitants.
[..] in Tashkent, a breeding ground of tension and conflict among the Greek communists, a large group of former guerrillas was gathered, originating from the Slav-speaking—at the time of the civil war—villages of western Macedonia. In 1965, when Tito wished to strengthen the federal structure of Yugoslavia, some of them, under the influence of a mistaken Macedonian national consciousness, sought permission from the Soviet authorities to emigrate to Skopje. And in many cases permission was granted.
These émigrés then invited relatives living in other countries of eastern Europe to join them, with the result that a considerable population with its own special sense of community built up in this federal state of Yugoslavia. These were the only refugees from the civil war period who were not offered the option of repatriation in the years following 1975. [ ]
Following the collapse of the former, unified Yugoslavia, some of these individuals may have found themselves in the front line of the Macedonian nationalist movement which emerged in the early 1990s and laid the ground for the creation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—now doomed and besieged by the powerful Albanian element.
Those who have travelled to Skopje will have encountered some of these individuals, for they themselves seek out contact with Greeks, anxious for communication, even when their thinking is clouded by the fumes of nationalism. Once resentful and keen in their sense of grievance, often fanatical, they tend now to be weary, helpless old men, experiencing a drama hard for us to imagine, besieging the consular authorities and pleading for visas to travel to Greece. [ ]
Theirs has been a lifetime of defeat. Starting in their youth, back in 1949, with defeat at Vitsi and Grammos in the name of a spurious and bloody uprising, they went on to waste the prime of their lives toiling in the barren fields of the communist regime. Now, in the evening of their lives, they face being uprooted from their homes in the name of blind nationalist irredentism. How much misery can one lifetime contain? And should we be surprised if the only desire these old men still cherish is the simplest of all—to die in peace?