A Brief Overview of Macedonian-Greek Relations

Macedonia has a history spanning over 4,000 years, and the region has changed hands between many powers since time immemorial and has been a bone of contention between the Great Powers and Balkan states since the turn of the 20th century. For the sake of convenience and political relevance today, this summary will focus on the past 120 years, and mostly on relations with Greece.

At the turn of the 20th century, Macedonia was still directly controlled by a rapidly declining Ottoman Empire. Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia had just gained independence and were still finding their feet as independent regional powers. As each of these newly emergent states were vying for more territory, they all had their sights set on gaining Macedonia for themselves. Macedonians were the targets of large propaganda campaigns, mostly coming from the churches in the region. Each of these states sought to win over the hearts and minds of Macedonia’s people using a variety of methods and varying degrees of persuasion and force.

To represent Macedonia before independence, a revolutionary organization was created by the name of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and was responsible for creating the resistance movement against the Ottomans. The IMRO led the Ilinden Uprising of 1903 and created the very first, but short-lived Krusevo Republic, which is considered the first independent Macedonian State. The republic was overrun and crushed by the Ottomans ten days after the republic was established, and it is still an extremely symbolic event in Macedonia’s history.

Several territories, including Macedonia, temporarily formed an alliance to drive the Ottomans from the Balkans once and for all in what would be known as the First Balkan War. At the end of the war, the Great Powers the territory of Macedonia was divided. The region known as Vardar Macedonia which is today’s Republic of Macedonia was given to Serbia. Aegean Macedonia was given to Greece, and Bulgaria took the smallest portion of Pirin Macedonia. Bulgaria was not content with the arrangement and instigated the Second Balkan War to take back the whole of Macedonia, but was defeated. The Treaty of Bucharest ended the Second Balkan War.

During each states’ tenure of holding their respective portions of Macedonia, the people of Macedonia had their ethnic identities extremely repressed. In Greece, Macedonians underwent a process of forced Hellenization, or assimilation, and were not allowed to speak their own language. All Macedonian cultural activities and organizations were suppressed by the Greek state. Many villages and towns, as well as Macedonian families also had their names forcibly changed from Macedonian to Greek names. In Vardar Macedonia, Macedonians suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Serbian government, and even the name Macedonia itself was banned. The Serbian and later Yugoslav government resorted to referring to the region as the Vardar Banovina.

Following WWI, the Macedonians were forced to accept their fate as being citizens of the respective states they were living in, and during WWII, they were split between joining resistance movements to the Nazis in Greece and Yugoslavia, and collaborating with them in Bulgaria. A large portion of the Greek Resistance Movement was comprised of roughly 12,000 Macedonians, who later became a large contributor to the KKE’s manpower in the Greek Civil War just after WWII. After WWII, Vardar Macedonia was given the status of a constituent republic of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, and eventually became today’s Republic of Macedonia. In Aegean Macedonia, people were not so lucky. The Macedonians of Aegean Macedonia found themselves brutally oppressed during the years prior to and during WWII by dictator Ioannis Metaxas, and thousands of Macedonians were forced into prison camps on Aegean Islands. Many people were brutally beaten, tortured, and forced to drink castor oil simply for identifying as Macedonian or speaking the Macedonian Language.

During the Greek Civil War, the Macedonians sided with the KKE after being promised that they would be united with Vardar Macedonia and allowed a fully united, and independent state of all ethnicities within Macedonia. Unfortunately for the Macedonians, the KKE lost the war, and Aegean Macedonia remained in the hands of Greece. Following the war, over a hundred thousand Macedonians were forced out of Aegean Macedonia and are still no longer allowed to return by order of the Greek government. Minority status still has not been given to Macedonians, and they still are not allowed to conduct business in their own language. Assertion of Macedonian identity is still cause for extreme harassment in Greece, and human rights are still violated in Aegean Macedonia to this day.

Following the independence of the Republic of Macedonia in 1991, Greece placed an economic embargo on the country over the name of the country, as well as the use of Macedonian cultural symbols in their flag. Due to Greece’s continual veto of Macedonian accession to NATO and the European Union over the use of its name, the Macedonian government filed a lawsuit against its neighbor. Both states testified in the Hague in 2011, and fifteen of sixteen judges ruled that Greece had violated international law, as it had earlier agreed to allow Macedonia to join the European Union.

Though Macedonia and Greece have had tension between state leaders and politicians in the past, most Macedonians and Greeks wish to be reconciled and cooperate with each other in peace. The global Macedonian community has been extremely disappointed by the lack of accountability for Greece’s actions in the past, and continued discrimination imposed upon Macedonians today. The Macedonian Community humbly asks that the Macedonian minority of Greece gets the recognition it has long been denied and that those who were exiled be granted permission by the Greek government to return to their homes.

Source of feature photo: Painting of the Macedonian Struggle found in The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle in Skopje, Macedonia

Any opinions or views expressed in articles or other pieces appearing in UMD Voice are those of the author alone and are not necessarily those of the United Macedonian Diaspora and its young leaders’ program Generation M; the appearance of any such opinions or views in UMD Voice is not and should not be considered to be an endorsement by or approval of the same by UMD and Generation M.

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