(To Vima, June 25 , 2003)
Two recent government announcements have unexpectedly raised the matter of the repatriation of the Slav-Macedonian exiles from the period 19411949. Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Andreas Loverdos and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Panagiotis Beglitis have both indicated the former more obscurely, the latter quite clearly that before the end of the summer legislative arrangements would be in place providing not only for easier visitor access (visas, etc.), but also for repatriation. Given that these announcements coincided with rumours that Greek citizenship was to be offered to 300,000 Northern Epirotes who would then probably be able to vote in the up-coming Greek parliamentary elections, it is natural that the announced repatriation of the Aegean Slav-Macedonians should have set off similar trains of thought.
What is surprising is that such a serious issue, a matter of great national sensitivity that had been addressed as such by every successive post-war government and by Georgios and Andreas Papandreou personally in the1960s and 1980s, should have been thus reversed without convincing reasons. Why are historical facts being suppressed or distorted in order to present the Aegean Macedonians as the latest victims of the Greek Civil War? And why is Greek public opinion not being given the true dimensions of the problem? Let us list a few of these facts:
Today, according to their own calculations, the number of Aegean Macedonians in FYROM, together with their descendants and mixed-marriage families, is in the neighbourhood of 100,000. And there are several thousand more in Bulgaria, Australia and Canada.
The collaboration of significant numbers of these people with the Bulgarian and German occupation forces during World War II, and afterwards, during the Greek Civil War, with the Slav-Macedonian National Liberation Front (NOF), was used as a lever to claim areas of Macedonia from the Greek territorial state. Moreover, in the case of the Greek Communist Party, the defection of significant numbers of Aegean Macedonians from the ranks of the Greek Democratic Army to Titos Macedonia was a painful stab in the back.
This doubly negative role played by the Aegean Macedonians in Greece was seen in Belgrade and Skopje as an absolute positive. Their action in Greece was recognised as military service, performed not during the Greek Civil War but during the Macedonian National Liberation War. Thus, those who fled to the then Peoples Republic of Macedonia were granted special benefits [Yugoslavian citizenship, Macedonian identity, free housing, honours and distinctions] and, most important of all, military pensions.
Since then two new generations, children of the original exiles, have been educated in an environment of values that considers the Aegean Part of Macedonia under Greece that is, Greek Macedonia to be still unredeemed.
With FYROMs declaration of independence in 1991, Aegean Macedonian activists in FYROM and elsewhere found themselves in the forefront of extreme anti-Greek nationalist manifestations.
On the basis of these facts, the return to Greece of thousands of people with a deeply entrenched Slav-Macedonian consciousness and attitude cannot logically be a repatriation. It is rather the arbitrary transplant of an alien nationalist minority to the frontier districts of Greeces Macedonian prefectures.
Let me point out three consequences of such an action:
In the first place, we will be moving towards a re-drawing of the ethnological map of our border districts, at a time when the nationalist and ethnic conflicts in the immediate neighbourhood of Greece have not yet subsided. Eventually, these suitable conditions will foster the southward spread of such conflicts inside Greece.
In the second place, it is inevitable that there will be similar pressures for the repatriation of tens of thousands of Albanian Cham refugees (1944-45) from Thesprotia, Bulgarian political exiles (1944) from Eastern Macedonia and Thrace and Turkish Muslims from Western Thrace.
In the third place, the implantation of thousands of fervently nationalist Aegean Makedonci in the Greek Macedonian communities will inevitably provoke a mini cultural war for the prize of the history, the culture and the very name of Macedonia. And the good climate of bilateral relations that has been cultivated with such effort these past years could well be undermined from within Greece.
We must recognise, however, that over the years the Macedonian Question has created traumas, both collective and personal. Greece has not been generous enough, prohibiting for decades thousands of Aegean Macedonians from even visiting the Greece. Lately the situation has improved significantly, but the process is still incomplete. A number of matters that are still in abeyance, such as outstanding property claims on both sides, must be addressed on the inter-governmental level with a new package. For the sake of peace and good neighbour relations, this package should extend to cultural disputes, including the thorny question of the name.