Speech for Book Launch of From War To Whittlesea
By Victor Bivell
30 May 2000
A Message From the Publisher
Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words for the launch of the oral history, From War to Whittlesea, by the Macedonian Welfare Workers Network of Victoria.
If I can start with some heavy and unpleasant imagery: the machinery of war, the destruction of economic capital, the death of human beings, the escape of survivors, a sea of refugees: since the 1950s we have seen these images almost every day via television. Only last year it was Kosovo's turn to provide all of these images and more in horrible abundance. Yet among the hundreds of thousands of pictures that the media broadcast from Kosovo, among the millions of words of analysis, among the thousands of comparisons with other wars, it struck me that not one single commentator drew any analogy from, or with, the so called Greek Civil War.
The Greek Civil War was really two wars: the Greek Civil War, as the winners called it, and the Macedonian War of Independence, as the losers would probably have called it, if they had won.
The truth is that the Western political powers find it inconvenient to recall, discuss or analyze the Greek Civil War, and even more so the Macedonian War of Independence.
In the Kosovo war, Britain and the United States professed to the world that they were protecting innocent and oppressed civilians; yet in another war barely 50 years earlier and less than three hundred kilometres away in northern Greece, it was these very countries that were bombing, not the oppressive and racist regime with a long history of abusing human rights, but the innocent and long oppressed peasants.
Those village people, of course, were our parents and grandparents, then only children and young mothers and fathers. Some also were the child refugees who have grown up and have now told their stories in this new book, From War To Whittlesea.
It is a concern that the West should have so forgotten a war that occurred only 50 years ago and in Europe itself. The war is one of the seminal events in modern Macedonian history. The war created hundreds of thousands of Macedonian refugees, including, in its later stages, at least 28,000 Macedonian children, the commonly accepted figure, almost en masse. It is hard to find a Macedonian family that did not lose at least one member in the war, and as one travels among Macedonians, wherever they may be, it is not long before you come across one or a group of child refugees.
If the world does not properly remember this war, it will forgo an opportunity to learn more about many ancient social issues that are only now coming to the surface for serious contemporary analysis: ethnic cleansing, the psychology of war trauma, the effect of war on children, and others.
These are not pleasant topics, but modern times have thrown up an encouraging trend: the more that the world, and particularly the so called "common man and woman" come to understand these unpleasant things, the less are the chances they will give their consent to the next war. There seems to be an historical change underway, first noticed in the Vietnam War and getting stronger with each war since then. This change is being driven by the communications revolution and the innately peaceful aspirations of most people. This is now so strong that it would be almost impossible for the West to bomb village people, as they bombed the Macedonians and the Vietnamese, on their own, ancestral land.
While the Macedonians from Aegean Macedonia missed out on the benefit of this trend, and lost the war, the campaign for human rights continued, and the historical tide now seems to be turning in their favour with a number of recent political and legal events. The case of Sideropoulos and Others Versus Greece led to a major victory in the European Court of Human Rights. The Court unanimously upheld the right of Macedonians in Greece to call themselves Macedonian. I believe this is the most significant international legal victory yet in the cause of self identification and human rights for Macedonians from Greece.
Earlier this month The Greens/ European Free Alliance in the European Parliament wrote to the prime minister of Greece requesting official recognition for the Macedonian language in Greece.
And of course, last week saw the Australian High Court refuse to hear the appeal by the Victorian Government concerning its absurd and racist directive that attempted to rename the Macedonian language. This also will become a famous international legal victory for which the Macedonian Teachers Association should rightly take a unique place in Australian legal and Macedonian political history.
From War To Whittlesea is a part of this positive trend. At the launch here in Melbourne two years ago of Pollitecon Publications' previous book, Children of the Bird Goddess, I said that the most powerful thing Macedonians can do to win human rights is open their hearts and tell the truth.
The six Macedonians in this book have told their hearts very well. They speak with candour, insight, maturity and humour. Life in the village, life under Greek repression, life under the US bombers, life as a refugee, life in Eastern Europe, and rebuilding life in Australia.
Despite the heavy terrain, From War to Whittlesea is a very positive book, with a light touch throughout that makes it easy to read, something that is probably due to the 50 year perspective of the authors.
The six authors, the Macedonian Welfare Workers Network of Victoria, and everyone associated with the book should be proud of their work. Congratulations to them and thank you for writing this excellent book.
Editor and Publisher
© Copyright, May 2000
From War to Whittlesea