The Greek Language of Cultural Genocide
By Victor Bivell
While most people understand what genocide is, cultural genocide is
rarely discussed in public so it can be a much less familiar concept.
Acts of genocide are relatively easy to identify as they require targeted
deaths and sometimes leave large numbers of dead bodies. While acts
of cultural genocide can be overt, such as cultural destruction, they
can also be covert such as cultural suppression, cultural appropriation,
language manipulation, and lack of recognition and respect. So cultural
genocide is sometimes subtle and hard to see. A disturbingly full range
of the techniques of cultural genocide can be identified in the way
Greek governments have treated ethnic Macedonians for well over a hundred
years. Let's look at these techniques.
They begin with the breaking of the very first right of every individual
and every society; a right that is also the very first article of the
United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
That right is self-determination. The UN Covenant says:
1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that
right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue
their economic, social and cultural development."
So peoples and the individuals who comprise them determine for themselves
who they are and what their own culture is. If a people, let's say the
Macedonian people, call themselves Macedonians, they have the right
to call themselves Macedonians. If they have a Macedonian culture, they
have the right to have a Macedonian culture. If they have a Macedonian
language, they have the right to have a Macedonian language. If they
have a Macedonian religion, they have the right to have a Macedonian
religion. If they have a Macedonian identity, they have the right to
have a Macedonian identity. And so on.
For most people, this is not a problem. But for other people, life
is not that simple. Why would one group of people want to eradicate
or appropriate the culture of another group of people? It may be revenge
or hatred, but in many cases it is greed. The oppressed group has something
that the oppressor wants.
We can see this clearly in the case of Greece and the Macedonians.
Well before 1912 when the border of modern day Greece stopped at Thessaly,
Greek prime minister Harilaos Trikoupis was credited as saying "When
the great war comes, Macedonia will become Greek or Bulgarian, according
to who wins. If it is taken by the Bulgarians, they will make the population
Slavs. If we take it, we will make all of them Greeks."
Trikoupis was prime minister seven times between 1875 and 1895 and
he was very clear - Greece wanted the land. And as part of taking the
land it would turn the native population into Greeks. This was the motive
- to win up to around 67,000 square kilometres of prime land in then
But note also that Trikoupis does not refer to the people of Macedonia
as Macedonians, nor as the native population or native inhabitants.
Greece had had its covetous eyes on Macedonia for a long time before
Trikoupis, and it knew that to say that it was going to take Macedonia
from the Macedonians was to admit theft. So to hide the reality of its
intentions it renamed the people with the generic label "population".
This label is itself an act of cultural genocide as it denies the identity
and identities of the people of Macedonia. The implication is that it
is acceptable to invade Macedonia as there are no Macedonians. Note
also the double standard as the statement preserves the identity of
the "Bulgarians" and the "Greeks".
This sly use of language is an early example of the crucial role of
language in the Greek techniques of cultural genocide. But the approaching
"great war" and break up of Ottoman Macedonia were not the start of
Greek acts of cultural genocide in Macedonia. Macedonians had already
suffered many years and many acts of overt and covert cultural oppression.
Two of these were book burning, and in 1767 the closure of the Ohrid
Archbishopric. The Ohrid Archbishopric had began in the 10th century
as the autocephalous Ohrid Archdiocese, and its successor is the modern
day Macedonian Orthodox Church.
The closure of the Ohrid Archbishopric was done by the Turkish Sultan
at the urging of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nick Anastasovski
in his book The Contest for Macedonian Identity 1870-1912 writes "Following
the abolition of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, the Macedonian church was
annexed to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which took ecclesiastical
control of Macedonia and, in place of native Bishops of one interest
with the people, Greeks were sent from Constantinople. Greek bishops
and metropolitans reinforced Greek religious domination in Macedonia
by attempting to wipe out traces of the Macedonian character of the
Archbishopric of Ohrid. They set upon destroying centuries-old books,
records and religious texts and often replaced Macedonian church inscriptions
with Greek. In monasteries on the Holy Mountain of Sveta Gora, ‘the
Greek clergy acted drastically', throwing old Macedonian parchments
into the sea or burning them in furnaces, and at the Monastery of Saint
Naum on Lake Ohrid, the Greek prior Dionysius burned the manuscripts.
In Prilep there was a burning of the religious books, whilst the books
stored at Veles were destroyed in a bonfire in the marketplace under
the orders of the Greek bishop. As much as 300 kilograms of parchments
and religious books belonging to the Ohrid Archbishopric were lost forever."
Nor was that the start. A Russian academic says there is evidence that
all old Macedonian religious books before the end of the twelfth century
have been destroyed. In a 2008 interview with Balkanalysis.com, the
world leading Balkan linguist, professor Victor Friedman, said "John
Fine in his book The Early Medieval Balkans (p. 220) cites Vladimir
Moshin, who published an article in1963 in a Russian academic journal
in which he made the argument that the reason there are no Slavic language
manuscripts from this region prior to 1180 is owing to their deliberate
destruction by the Greeks/Byzantines. Up until his article, people had
been saying it was the Turks who destroyed everything. But there are
Greek-language manuscripts from this period that survived in this region,
whereas Slavic ones did not. And it is not as if the latter were not
being composed in an organized way; the Ohrid literary school which
began in the late 9th century is just one place where manuscripts were
being written in large numbers. Which means that Greeks have been trying
to destroy Slavic culture and literacy for a very long time."
The major acts of genocide itself were committed in the "great war"
foreseen by Trikoupis. When it came, there were two wars, which we know
as the First Balkan War of 1912 and the Second Balkan War of 1913.
The Balkan Wars were not just a series of battles between the invading
armies of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro against the defending
army of Turkey; they were also a systematic war by the attacking armies
against the civilian people of Macedonia. Many hundreds of villages
were destroyed or burned, including Macedonian, Turkish, Bulgarian and
Greek villages. In his book Death & Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman
Muslims, 1821-1922, Justin McCarthy says the Balkan Wars of 1912-13
saw 632,408 people killed and 812,771 people were made refugees. Richard
C. Hall in the International Encyclopedia of the First World War puts
total military deaths at 238,500. So it is likely that the majority
of the slain were civilians, on these numbers about 400,000.
The Carnegie Report into the Balkan Wars makes it clear that along
with the Bulgarian and Serbian armies, the Greek army was committing
acts of genocide on the civilian population. One example: "... the object
of these armed conflicts, overt or covert, clearly conceived or vaguely
felt, but always and everywhere the same, was the complete extermination
of an alien population. In some cases this object expressed itself in
the form of an implacable and categorical "order" to kill the whole
male population of the occupied regions. We are in possession of some
letters from Greek soldiers, of unimpeachable authenticity. These documents,
though written in our own day, throw back to the time of the Assyrian
conquest. "We have taken a small number of prisoners and them we have
killed, such being the orders received * * * in order that the dirty
Bulgarian race may not spring up again" * * * "We are" – such is the
order, – "to burn the villages, massacre the young, and spare none but
the old people, children and minors." Here the intention is clearly
to spare none but those no longer capable of carrying on the race and
those still young enough to lose their nationality by receiving a Greek
Note also that the Greek army personnel are told that the civilians
are "Bulgarians", not Macedonians, and this associates them with the
rival Bulgarian army and Bulgarian church, making it more acceptable
for the Greek soldiers to commit acts of genocide upon them.
Perhaps the name Balkan Wars is itself a misnomer and an attempt to
hide the real war. The great majority of the war occurred in Macedonia,
and several hundred thousand civilians were deliberately killed. Perhaps
the Balkan Wars should be more widely known as the Macedonian Genocide,
as many Macedonians call it. As Macedonia had always been a multicultural
land, the Macedonian Genocide included ethnic Macedonians, ethnic Turks
and converted Muslims as well as Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs and other
groups who were in the path of the wrong army.
After the Macedonian Genocide/ Balkan Wars, and along with about 34,600
square kilometres of newly acquired Macedonian land, Greece gained over
a million new people of different ethnicities. As most were not Greek,
it now more earnestly than ever set about as Trikoupis had foreshadowed
to "make all of them Greeks".
It implemented policies of cultural oppression and assimilation, and
used a wide variety of techniques across every aspect of life. These
included the widespread use of renaming – giving ‘problematic' people,
places and everything else new names that deny or hide the original
cultural name and its history and associations.
The Macedonians among the newly acquired peoples were not called Macedonians;
they were called Bulgarians, Slavs, Slavic Speakers, Slavophones, Macedonian
Slavs and other names. Over the coming years the Greek government changed
people's Macedonian names to Greek names; it changed the Macedonian
names of the towns, villages and geographic features to Greek names;
it forbade the use of the Macedonian language; and what little education
it gave to villagers and village children it gave only in the Greek
language. It forbade Macedonian cultural expression through song and
dance and other artistic means.
Cultural appropriation can also be done by adding a linguistic descriptor
or prefix. So after the Balkan Wars, the southern half of Macedonia
became "Greek Macedonia". This is the same technique as Orthodox Easter
being renamed "Greek Easter", Turkish coffee being renamed "Greek coffee",
Mediterranean salad being renamed "Greek salad", Balkan yoghurt being
renamed "Greek yoghurt" and so on. The modern day Greeks do a lot of
The acts of cultural destruction and people-appropriation included
gravestones. In many villages in what became in 1912 Greek Macedonia
it is impossible to find gravestones of people buried before 1912. This
is because they were written in the Cyrillic or other alphabet. These
gravestones were evidence that the people were not Greek and contradicted
the Greek propaganda that "Macedonia's population was Greek" and that
"Macedonia has always been Greek".
This form of cultural oppression continues to exist. The gravestones
written after 1912 are all in Greek. Local Macedonians have long reported
that Greek is the only language in which they are allowed to have gravestones.
In the same oppressive way, babies must be given a name that is Greek
rather than a name that belongs to another ethnic group such as Macedonian.
For many older people who were born before 1912 or soon after, it resulted
in the cruel irony that they lived their lives never having spoken or
read Greek yet for ever they must have a Greek tombstone.
There was also ethnic cleansing through persecution, lack of economic
development and economic opportunities, and a refusal of the right to
return to their homeland in Greece for many thousands of Macedonians
who were seen as politically suspect or dangerous.
Large scale colonization was also used. Following the Greek invasion
of western Turkey between 1919 to 1922 – a war which Greece lost – there
was a massive population exchange between Greece and Turkey and over
a million Christian Turks were settled in Greece, with over 600,000
of them settled in the newly acquired territory of "Greek Macedonia".
This made the indigenous inhabitants a minority in their own land and
their lives and the natural expression of the culture became much harder.
It also adds understanding to why Greece refuses to call the indigenous
people Macedonians and insists on calling them by a range of other names
such as Slavic speakers, Slavophones, or Slavic Macedonians. The intent
is to take the Macedonian identity from these people and give it to
the colonizing Christian Turks, who it now freely calls both Greeks
and Macedonians. Note again the double standard. Macedonians who have
lived in Macedonia for centuries and some for millennia (as shown by
genetic testing) are not recognized as Macedonians yet people who have
lived in Turkey for centuries and millennia and have never previously
lived in Macedonia are recognized by the Greek government as Macedonians.
These numerous examples show that the role of language has always been
crucial, and is still crucial, in the Greek techniques of cultural genocide.
Language and much more are destroyed when books and gravestones are
destroyed. Language can be used to hide people's origins and ethnicity
when their personal names are changed. Language can be used to hide
history when place names are changed. Language can be used to hide and
change identities, as when self-determined identities are forbidden
and unwanted identities are forced upon the oppressed. Language can
be used to perform theft when stolen identities are given to people
who previously had other identities. And language is a tool of oppression
and cultural genocide when the learning and use of a language is deliberately
With much of Greece's destruction and appropriation of Macedonian culture
done through the manipulation of language, over the past 150 or so years
Greece has developed a substantial vocabulary of alternative names for
people and things Macedonian that it sees as problematic. They are problematic
as they contradict its narrative, its propaganda, about Macedonia and
its right to the land and people.
The table accompanying this article is a list of that Greek vocabulary.
It is not exhaustive, but many of the terms will be familiar to those
who follow international politics. The Greek vocabulary is placed alongside
the Macedonian words that were freely developed and inherited by Macedonians
exercising their self-determination.
To illustrate the way in which the Greek words operate to deny culture
and commit cultural genocide, I have included two other lists. One applies
the language of cultural genocide to Greece and Greek culture - how
another country or authority could do to Greece and the Greeks what
Greece does to the Macedonians. The other list applies the same language
of cultural genocide to England and Britain and to the English and British
people to show how their culture could also be denied.
For example, the Greek technique of renaming the Republic of Macedonia
as Skopje takes away its Macedonian character; in the same way that
renaming Greece to say Athens or Pseudo Greece dilutes its Greek character;
and renaming Britain to New Germany or Germanic Britain dilutes its
British or English character.
Similarly, the way many British and some other Western academics refer
to the ancient Macedonian Empire as the "Hellenistic Period", literally
"the Greekish Period", takes away from its Macedonian character. One
can ask whether there is another conquering power in history that is
refered to by the name of another power, let alone one that it conquered?
To put the oppressive boot on the other foot and de-emphasize the Greekness
of the ancient Greeks we could refer to the ancient Greek empire and
Greece's dominant period in history as say the Egypto-Cretan-Assyrian-Phoenician-Judeo-Persian-Macedo-Roman
Period or the Greco-Hybrid Period for short. Likewise, renaming the
British Empire as the Germanistic Period achieves the same effect and
takes away its British character. A key difference, of course is that
modern Greeks and modern Britains are here to defend their honor and
history; ancient Macedonians are not.
By using the techniques of the Greek vocabulary for cultural genocide,
it is possible to rewrite Greek history and British history into narratives
that Greeks and Britons would find hard to recognize.
Let's start with an example for Greeks.
"The History of the Christian Greeks
"Under King Philip, Macedonia became the first centrally organized
state in Europe, while the neighbouring land sometimes known as Greece
did not become a country until over 2,100 years later in 1821. By then
the widespread view was that the Greeks of antiquity had died out and
there was great speculation about the identity of the people of the
Former Ottoman Orthodox Christian Rum Millet or FOOCRM for short. The
population was seen as a great mixture of Albanians, Turks, Macedonians,
Vlachs, Bulgarians, Slavs and others. So a variety of names and identities
for this new nation of people were possible. An all encompassing one
was "Albano-Turko-Macedo-Vlacho-Bulgaro-Slavo-Greeks". But while accurate,
this was too long. As the leaders of the people wanted to be associated
in some way with the real Greeks, as some of the people even had notions
and pretensions of being descended from the real Greeks, and as some
even pretended to be descended from the real Greeks, the terms Pretend-Greeks
or Pseudo-Greeks were also suitable. The name Pseudo-Greeks also had
the advantages of using a word (pseudo) from the real Greeks, it was
thought accurate enough, and it was much shorter. Another advantage
was that the country could then also be called the Pseudo-Hellenic Republic
or Pseudo Greece for short. But there were issues in including the word
Greek. While some Pseudo-Greeks claimed they could legitimately use
the name Greek as they were continuing the cultural traditions of the
real Greeks, this position was much disputed and not credible. For example,
the Greeks believed in Zeus and the other Greek gods while the modern
people of FOOCRM were mostly Christians. As the real Greeks were not
Christian, it was not possible to be both Greek and Christian. So another
compromise identity for the people of this new nation could have been
Christian-worshipers, simply Christians, Greko-Christians or Christian-Greeks..."
This narrative diminishes the Greekness of modern day Greece and the
modern day Greeks. It does it in the same way and using the same linguistic
techniques that the modern Greek narrative and Greek vocabulary about
Macedonians is calculated to diminish their Macedonianness. Greece has
been doing this to the Macedonians for well over a hundred years and
continues to do it today.
And here is an example for the English and British people.
"The Germanistic Period from King Henry VII to Queen Elizabeth II
"The Germanistic Period in history, also known as the Germanistic Empire,
spanned almost 500 years from King Henry VII to Queen Elizabeth 11.
During that time, what began as a search for an Atlantic route to Asia
resulted in the creation of the largest empire in history. At its peak,
the Germanistic Empire accounted for 24 per cent of the Earth's land
mass and 23 per cent of its population. A key feature of this empire
was its many German characteristics – hence its name "Germanistic".
First there were the conquering people – who were of Germanic origin
and were Germanic speakers. And just as Germanic tribes had invaded
and conquered ancient Rome, the Germanic speakers of New Germany were
invaders and conquerors. They were also imperialists and colonizers
and gave Germanistic names to their many conquests. So it seems appropriate
that the people who gave the world such names as New England, New Britain,
New Hampshire, New South Wales, New Hebrides, New York, New London,
and many hundreds of similar name should themselves come from New Germany.
Another German feature of the Germanistic Period was the language. As
it is part of the Germanic group of languages, for a time it was known
as English (Germanic). However, many linguists argue that other names
are more accurate. One school of thought argues that the predominant
use of this language around the world is due to its useage in the United
States and the pre-eminent role that the United States has played in
world affairs. Perhaps more importantly, they rightly point out that
the United States and other countries have been driving the growth and
development of the language for well over a hundred years and the role
of the Germanic speakers of New Germany is simply to keep up. So they
say the name of the language should be American. Another school of thought
argues that the original vocabulary of the language comprises only a
very small percentage of the total vocabulary. The great majority of
the words have been copied from numerous other languages or were created
by people who are not from New Germany. These experts argue that a more
appropriate and accurate name is New Esperanto..."
This example diminishes the Britishness of the British Empire, the
Englishness of the English language and the Englishness and Britishness
of the people. Yet it is what many British academics and some British
media have been doing to the ancient Macedonians and to the modern Macedonians
for a very long time.
Modern day Greeks and Britons would find such narratives offensive
if they were practiced on a world wide scale, over a long period of
time, and against their will. Yet they continue to do this to the ancient
and modern Macedonians as if oblivious or uncaring to the disrespect
they show and the suffering they create.
These examples illustrate that the Greek language of cultural genocide
is hate speech. It is discriminatory and deeply hurtful to the Macedonians.
Any acceptance of hate speech can see it become normalized and its usage
spread more widely to the media, public figures and the general public.
This of course is what the instigators and the oppressors want. But
it is absolutely wrong, and good people need to be alert to its use.
My hope is that illustrating how this language and these linguistic
techniques can be applied to the Greek people will make good Greeks
more sensitive to the damage they do when they use the language of cultural
genocide against the Macedonian people.
As English is a global language, my hope is that in illustrating how
this language and these techniques can be applied to the British it
will alert many more people around the world to its dangerous use. As
many British and other academics are notorious for their use of the
Greek language of cultural genocide when discussing Macedonia and Macedonians,
I also hope to alert good academics to the damage they do when they
use the language of cultural genocide in regard to the Macedonian people.
Meanwhile, the solution to cultural genocide is respect – respect for
individuals and peoples, respect for the universal right to self-determination
and self-identification, and respect for all cultural activities and
creations. This is best done by and within multicultural societies.
There needs to be an end to assimilation. Assimilation needs to be replaced
with respect by everyone for everyone.
22 July 2020