A Life in Macedonian Affairs Interview with Mick Veloskey
Michael Veloskey was one of the first leaders
of the Macedonian community in Australia . He has been active for over
60 years, and in that time has helped establish newspapers, churches,
human rights groups and other community organizations. Now 82 years
old, Mick Veloskey was interviewed by Pollitecon Publications editor,
Mick, when and where were you born and can you tell us about
your parents and their life under the Ottoman Empire ?
was born in 1924 in the village Gradche, Aegean Macedonia. My father,
my mother, my grandparents from both sides and the rest of the families
were born under the Ottoman occupation and they were badly suppressed
and when the Ottoman Empire collapsed we thought that the people would
have a bit more freedom and a bit more choice for a better life but
unfortunately this did not happen.
My father left for Australia when I was about a year old. My grandparents,
I remember, they used to put me on the knee and they used to say to
me Sinko in Macedonian of course, Nikogash nema da
zaboravish sho nie sne Makedontsi. Nito Grtsi, nito Bulgari, nito Serbi,
nito Albantsi. [Little son, never forget that we are Macedonians.
Not Greeks, not Bulgarians, not Serbians, not Albanians.] They were
the words of my grandparents from both sides.
My mother, my grandparents from both sides, could not speak a word
of Greek. The only language they spoke was Macedonian, and also Turkish
during the Ottoman occupation.
During my youth... I can close my eyes now and picture the village
the way it was, a small river dividing the upper and the lower village,
and a hill to the west which is called Sveti
Ilia and a little church up the top there and also a spring which was
flowing out from the mountains. The water from that spring, summer and
winter, was absolutely wonderful to drink and very very cool.
How strong was your parent's sense of their Macedonian identity?
My father, my mother and also the other relatives,
every one of them, my uncle, everyone of them, felt that they were Macedonian
but nothing else. Irrespective of what was taking place in the Balkans.
Can you tell us about your childhood in the village?
My childhood in the village was a very happy one because I had a lot
of relatives and also young relatives who were my age and some a bit
older. We had a wonderful time. At the age of six or going towards six
and a half/ seven, we were forced to go to Greek school. We were not
allowed to speak anything but Greek. If you were heard speaking Macedonian
by the police or Korofilatsi as they called them in Macedonian, you
were taken and punished. Even at the age of seven. As I grew older and
older, I felt that our people were severely suppressed. They were not
allowed to speak in Macedonian, sing in Macedonian or dance. The church
services which were previously in Macedonian were forbidden. They were
only allowed to have the sermons in Greek, in no other language. Even
if people spoke to the animals in Macedonian they were taken to court
and they were fined heavily and in some cases they were even gaoled.
Things got worse and worse. My father was in Australia and we were
in Macedonia. Life was beginning to get worse and worse because of the
suppression that was carried out. At that particular time the prime
minister of Greece was Venizelos. He put through legislation, draconian
measures, which were anti-Macedonian. We thought he was bad but eventually
he was replaced by Metaxas - who was a straight out fascist, he idolized
Hitler, and he put through even worse legislation for the suppression
How did your family make a living?
In those days, as I mentioned before, my father had
come to Australia and my father used to send us some money so we were
reasonably well off in comparison to the other villagers. We also had
our plots of land which we could not work on but my uncles from both
sides, they used to till the land and we used to get some of the products
from it. So we lived reasonably well in comparison to the rest of the
Was Gradche a Macedonian village and what were the other villages
The villages nearby were Drenichevo which the Greeks changed the name
to Kranohori; Chuka, they couldn't change it to anything
else but to call it Chuka. Stensko, they
couldn't name it, and they couldn't call it in Macedonian, so they changed
the name from Stensko to Stena; and Tikveni, Tiolista,
Papresko, Dumbeni, Kosenets, they are in the area of
our village. During the Ottoman occupation our village was virtually
a centre. 99.99 per cent of the people in the village were pro Macedonians
and there's proof of that. During the years that went by, there were
virtually no traitors in the village, so the villagers have lived a
How did the Ottomans treat your family?
Well, my grandparents and my mother and father, they
said that during the Ottoman occupation they were actually better off
than when Macedonia was divided into four parts. The Greek suppression
was by far, by far, worse than the Ottoman suppression.
As far as you are aware was there ever a Macedonian school
in the village?
As far as I am aware I believe that there was a Macedonian
school in the village during the Ottoman occupation but after that this
was forbidden by the Greeks.
But was it a school, or were there just teachers?
More or less teaching, yes, Macedonian teachings
But not a school building?
Not a school building as such. The Macedonian language
was not prohibited by the Ottoman occupiers.
Was there a Macedonian church in the village?
Yes, there was a Macedonian church. As a matter of
fact there were four one main church, Sveti Naoum, was in the
village, and there were about three smaller ones in the hills: Sveti
Bogorodica, Sveti Ilia, and Sveti Nikola, they were the other three.
And what happened to those churches?
Unfortunately the icons were taken away by the Greeks.
My father and my grandparents used to tell me that there were a lot
of icons with Macedonian writing on them. I don't know exactly what
happened to them, but apparently the Greeks took them away and they
replaced them with icons with Greek writing.
Were there Macedonian grave sites in the village?
Yes, there were quite a number of them as a matter
of fact. Not in one spot but there was about two or three spots and
the scriptures on most of them were in Macedonian writing but unfortunately
they were destroyed or replaced forcefully by the Greek regimes.
You said that speaking Macedonian was prohibited under the
Greek rule. What was your experience?
During 1935 just before coming to Australia I spoke
to my mother in Macedonian because my mother could only speak Macedonian
and Turkish. A Greek policeman heard me and he reported me. What actually
happened I was reported by the policeman to the teacher, and the teacher
to make an example of me in front of the whole school, in front of all
the pupils, said to me You spoke that forbidden Bulgaromanski
ezik and I said No, that's not Bulgaromanski, this is Macedonian,
Makedonski ezik. And in that case she said Put your
hands out and she gave me ten strokes on each hand very very forcefully,
and I couldn't close my hands for at least two or three weeks, they
were swollen from the caning. I refused to cry and that was the reason
I believe why I got the ten canes in each hand instead of the normal
I was not the only one who was caned in the school, there were several
others as well for the same reason. As you can see, there is no way
that you could call this democracy or freedom and most of the people
were unhappy of the situation that was taking place in the villages,
not only in their village but in the villages around us as well.
Why did you leave the village?
My father was in Australia so he applied for us to come to Australia,
and my mother, my sister and I came to Australia to join him. He was
living in Perth .
As I said before, my father left for Australia in late 1924-25. He
came to Australia to earn money so he was sending it back to the village.
He came back in 1931 and with the savings from Australia he built a
two-storey home which was for us and his brother, that's my uncle. The
house is still standing in the village. My father came back to Australia
after a year and soon after that we came to Australia. That was in 1935
with an Italian ship which was called Asqualino. At that particular
time there was a bit of a revolt in Greece between the Veninzelos group
and the Metaxas group and we were caught in the cross-fire when we were
at Port Piraeus, that's not far from Athens . That was the time when
I met Ilia Malko, with his family; not his father though, because his
father was in Australia like my father.
Where did you live when you came to Australia and what was
life like for the early Macedonian immigrants here?
We arrived in Perth and my father was living in Perth. He had a very
small business and there were not many Macedonians at that particular
time. Things were very tough because the depression was on and a small
number of Macedonians were in a very difficult situation because unemployment
was very high and money was very tight. But also there was quite a lot
of racism at that particular time in Australia . Even when I went to
school there was racism amongst the children and some of the teachers,
unfortunately. I was very fortunate to have a teacher called Mr De Garras
and also a lady teacher. I'll never forget her. She was a tall lady,
Crawford was her name, her brother was a tennis player. She had pitch
black hair, blue eyes and was a wonderful person. They had a special
class at the school, called Highgate Hill, mainly for new
arrivals like Macedonians, Italians, Serbs, Croatians, Greeks etc.
I went to school for three years and unfortunately my father passed
away. So the burden was on my shoulders to look after my mother, who
could not speak English and could not get a job anywhere, and my sister
who is younger than me, to go to school. Things were very very tough.
Some of us, the younger Macedonians who felt like Macedonians decided
that we should form an organization or an association. We started to
do that in late 1939. In Perth there were Bugaro-Makedontsi Organizatsi,
Serbo-Makedontsi Organizatsi, Grko-Makedontsi Organizatsi but there
was no clear Macedonian organization. So when we formed the organization
we called it Edinstvo. Makedonsko Edinstvo.
So the organization, the first one in Australia of true Macedonian background,
was Edinstvo, Perth 1939-40. The main participants in the group were:
Ilia Malko, John Pizarcoff, Naum Sharin, Vasil Boscov, Todor Petrov,
who is my wife's father; Boris Mano, Naum Mano, Lazo Mano. Kiro Angelkov
came into the organization later on, Stoian Sarbinov, he used to be
at Manjimup, he came into the organization later on. Naum Kalchunov,
a staunch Macedonian supporter. Stoiche Stoichev, who eventually went
to Melbourne. There are many others, but I cannot remember all the names,
who contributed towards the Macedonian cause in Perth. The organization
took root and started to organize the Macedonian community. We had several
picnics and we had virtually every Macedonian at the picnics. We also
organized social evenings where we had Macedonian oro [dance], or Kolo
if you like, and also Australian dancing.
When and why did you become involved in Macedonian politics
and community affairs?
Well, as I mentioned, right from my early childhood my parents and
my grandparents from both sides said we are Macedonians and nothing
else, we can't be anything else. When we were in Perth, as I said, they
had all these other organizations and we were the only ones who were
not grouped together. So we believed, and we did, form the Macedonian
organization in Perth, which was the first in Australia. And the main
reason was to get our people together, to cement the roots; although
we became Australian citizens, that we were of Macedonian descent, and
we would never forget that.
Can you tell us about the first meeting in Perth for the Makedonska
A group of us in 1939, most of us under the age of 20, decided to form
the Macedonian organization in Perth which we called Edinstvo. Edinstvo
was formed by about eight of us. Eventually we decided to call a meeting
and the meeting was held at Ilia Malko's father's coffee shop or boarding
house at 242 William Street, Perth. We decided to call the meeting there
and we expected probably about 30 people to turn up. And much to our
surprise and pleasure there was only standing room at the meeting. That
was the beginning. The atmosphere was electric, great enthusiasm and
great expectations were expected. The committee was elected, four members
were selected to work on the constitution. The next committee meeting
was held within a week. A mass meeting was called and the name Edinstvo
was unanimously adopted. Edinstvo was inseparable with Iskra, that's
the Macedonian paper, which ignited the Macedonians to unite throughout
The slogan was Slobodna, Nezavisna , Ednokupna
Makedonia [Free, Independent, United Macedonia]. Makedonia za Makedontsite
[Macedonia for the Macedonians] as phrased by the late 19th Century
British prime minister Gladstone.
What do you think Edinstvo achieved?
Edinstvo, I would say without hesitation, cemented the spreading of
Macedonian organizations throughout Australia. So in my opinion it was
the beginning of a true Macedonian movement in Australia, politically
and also socially.
What other organizations were there?
Well, as Edinstvo progressed and we got more and more of our people
to join us, and virtually I would say that 99 per cent joined us, we
formed a dancing group which was in Macedonian, and also in English;
we also formed a Macedonian musical group which helped a lot with the
Macedonian traditions regarding songs and dances; and a soccer team.
And I believe that was one of the main reasons that the organization
went ahead, although there were not many Macedonians in Perth at that
particular time. But we were united.
Other groups formed in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Crabbs Creek and
Queanbeyan in NSW, and others
During the Second World War you served in the Australian Air
Force. Tell us your experiences?
During the Second World War many of the Macedonian younger people in
Perth joined the services, Ilia Malko and I were I believe the first
two to join the Australian Air Force. There were others who followed
and quite a number of the Macedonians were also in the Army and also
some were in the Working Force. Every Macedonian contributed towards
the war effort to defeat Fascism and Nazism that was spreading its wings
and causing a lot of problems. Of course later on, as you know, Japan
joined the Axis forces and bombed Pearl Harbour etc and we were in a
very serious situation.
I joined the Air Force in mid 1942 in Perth. I did three months basic
training which was a toughening up course at Busselton. When that was
over I did a short course in Perth then I was sent to Sydney to do a
course on electronics. I was quartered at Bondi
and did the course at the Ultimo Technical College which lasted several
months. Having reasonably good results on the exams I was directed to
do a higher course on high frequency radio in Melbourne. We were stationed
at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings at Fitzroy. The technical college
was due west from there. I was there for several months also.
But let's have a look just what happened before I got to Sydney. When
I reached Melbourne I asked to have leave for about ten days, it was
during Macedonian Easter. I was looking for a Macedonian who used to
live in Perth, his name was Stoiche Stoichev,
and his family. Stoiche Stoichev was one of the most staunchest Macedonian
supporters and a very close friend from Perth. I dropped off at the
railway station in Melbourne and being a stranger to Melbourne I went
straight to the police station. I walked in, and as soon as I walked
in the sergeant at the reception there said What can I do for
you, blue orchid, because normally they used to call the servicemen
in the Air Force blue orchids because of the uniform. I said I've
come here looking for a friend of mine. He used to live in Perth.
And I gave him the name, Stoiche Stoichev. I said A Macedonian.
He said As you know, Melbourne is a city of over 2.5 million people.
It's not an easy place to know who and where they are. I said
Do you know of any Macedonians at all? He said Yes,
we know of a Macedonian who's got a hamburger bar in Queen Street.
And that was the first time that I met Risto Altin. I said to the policeman
Well, look I'm a stranger, I don't know where this place is, how
will I get there? He looked at me, and he said Being in
the Air Force, we'll do something for you. I said What can
you do for me? he said We'll take you there. So they
put me in a police car, myself and two policemen, and we went straight
to Risto Altin's hamburger bar. When the police car stopped there and
I got out and the police stood by. It must have been a shock to Risto
Altin and his partner. When I walked in and I said to him Dali
ste vie Makedontsi? Are you Macedonian? he said Yes.
And I said Do you know a man called Stoiche Stoichev? Risto
Altin's eyes lit up and he said Of course I know him, he
said. He's a good Macedonian. So I said to Risto I'll
thank the policemen who brought me here and I'll come back. I
thanked the two policemen who brought me there and I stayed with Risto
Altin and I said to him I want you to take me to Stoiche Stoichev.
Eventually we went to Stoiche Stoichev. We hadn't seen each other for
about four or five years. So I went back to the railway station with
the intention of leaving but on second thoughts I thought we are close
to the Macedonian Easter, maybe I should stay there. Risto Altin and
Stoiche Stoichev came with me to the station and they implored me to
stay there for the Macedonian Easter. So I decided to stay. I was invited
to the Easter Vecherinka or gathering they had. It was in Fitzroy in
Gertrude Street, first floor up, only a very small hall, it was packed
with Macedonians, young and old. Risto Altin and Stoiche Stoichev made
a few short speeches and they insisted that I say something to the young
people there and the old people. Being in uniform, it was more or less
unbelievable that a Macedonian was in the Air Force. I got up and said
a few words in Macedonian and also a few words in English and I asked
the Macedonian people to stay united and we would achieve something.
I stayed in Melbourne for about eight days. My leave time expired. I
had to depart for Sydney but I enjoyed the evening and I will never
forget the way I was received by the Macedonian people in Melbourne.
What happened then?
Actually, as I said, I was going all the way to Sydney. On completion
of the course in Sydney I was transferred to Melbourne. On completing
the course on high frequency radio, from Melbourne I was sent back to
Perth on pre-embarcation leave. I was home for only a week and from
there went to Darwin, then a place called Batchelor,
approximately 30 kilometres south of Darwin. Darwin had been bombed
by the Japanese. Australia suffered a number of casualties but also
quite a number of ships were sunk in the harbour. Batchelor was a very
large base and the Japanese had tried to bomb Batchelor on a number
of occasions but they couldn't locate it because of the low cloud or
actually you could say perpetual fog. Once you got to about 10,000 feet
up you cannot see the ground. Soon after that I was posted to Dutch
Timor. The Japanese had surrendered and I was at Dutch Timor at the
Panfooi Air Strip working on radio transmitters.
As the war had finished and virtually all servicemen were on their
way home, I was put on a plane from Timor back to Darwin. I was in Darwin
for about eight or nine days and from Darwin I came to Sydney with a
ship called Menora, which was a cargo ship but it had been converted
to a troop carrier with a couple of guns in front. I arrived in Sydney
in April 1946. It was very cold. I felt very cold because of the tropical
conditions we were at before. I stayed in Sydney for approximately a
week. There were some Macedonians in Katoomba so I decided to see them.
One of them became my future brother-in-law, by the name of Jim Bonakey.
I came back to Sydney and then from Sydney went to Melbourne. I met
Macedonians again in Melbourne. We had a few discussions regarding the
organizations. Risto Altin was very enthusiastic about spreading the
organizations throughout Australia. Stoiche Stoichev, Todor Petrov and
many others. From there I went to Adelaide and I met former friends
who used to live in Perth, Vasil Boscov and his brother. I asked them
how would they feel to form a Macedonian organization in Adelaide and
they said they were willing to do it and soon after they formed the
branch in Adelaide.
So, back to Perth. As soon as I got back to Perth I participated in
the activities of the Macedonian group Edinstvo. Soon we decided to
have a radio session and after some discussion etc I was elected to
be the speaker on the radio. It was a Labor station. The first session
was on a Wednesday from quarter past seven till half past seven. I spoke
in English on the Macedonian question - about the Macedonians in the
Balkans and about the Macedonians in Australia. This caused havoc amongst
the Greeks - they got a shock. And in Perth most of the Greeks came
from one particular area, an island called Castelorizo. They protested
to the radio station and they even threatened us for putting on these
radio sessions. These radio speeches continued for several weeks and
eventually we decided that we'd have a paper as well. So Makedonska
Iskra was born.
Why was Makedonska Iskra launched and what did it achieve?
Well, in those days the only paper that the Macedonians received was
an American paper and I think it was Tribuna. And it was a pro Bulgarian
paper. The Greeks had their own paper there, the Serbs had their own
paper there, the Croats had their own paper there, the Italians had
their own paper there, and we were the only ones without a paper or
a journal of any kind to inform our people of what was going on. When
Makedonska Iskra was published the first time, the people received it
with great enthusiasm. Although it was not professionally done because
we had never published a paper before, the people were thrilled. We
posted a number of copies to Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra and,
as a matter of fact, we posted some copies overseas as well. To places
like Skopje and other countries: Canada, United States of America. It
was the beginning of the expansion of the Macedonians in Australia and
Makedonska Iskra played a vital part to awaken the people of Macedonian
origin in Australia.
Who was behind the publication of the newspaper?
Behind the publication was Ilia Malko, Stoian Sarbinov, Kiro Angelkov,
Naum Sharin and myself. The first issue was
published in Macedonian and also in English. And as I said it was very
successful and the people accepted it enthusiastically.
Also with the Macedonian Spark or Makedonska Iskra as we called it,
it was very important to have it published in Australia, because as
events took place there was no other way to inform the Macedonians in
say Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, wherever they were. By publishing
the paper, which was eagerly received and was passed from person to
person so they could read and see what was happening. So it played a
vital role to get our community together. Soon after that we launched
a special campaign to get money to build a hospital in the Republic
of Macedonia. In a very short time we managed to open branches throughout
Australia. As a matter of fact within nine months we had 53 branches
Were they Edinstvo branches?
No. Edinstvo was the original one and we gradually spread out.
But what sort of branches were they?
Actually we also formed an organization called Macedonian Australian
People's League. And that was the main body or central body. Edinstvo
was the body in Perth. When we formed this other organization, it spread
throughout Australia and the branches were actually members of this
organization, Makedono Avstraliski Naroden Sojuz.
So when we decided to collect this money for the hospital, a committee
was formed in Perth and also committees were formed in Adelaide, Melbourne,
Sydney etc. In a very very short time we managed to collect £11,500.
In those days, I'm talking about 1947, in Perth with eleven and a half
thousand pounds you could have bought at least 20 three bedroom homes.
So you can see, it's not the amount of money but the value. Our people
were so enthusiastic. Although they were not financially well off, but
they gave whatever they could. The money was collected and eventually
sent to Skopje. We had receipts from the Red Cross. The way it was sent,
also from the banks, and also acknowledged by the government of Skopje.
So this is documented and I believe that the money was used together
with the money that was sent from Canada and the United States of America
and other places to build a wing at the Skopje Hospital.
Makedonska Iskra was published just after the start of the
Greek Civil War and the simultaneous Macedonian War of Independence
in Aegean Macedonia. How strong was the Macedonian desire for freedom?
The Macedonian desire for freedom was terrific, not only in one part
of Macedonia but the total part of Macedonia - because as you know Macedonia
was divided into four parts under Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs and part
of it under Albania - so we were thrilled that we thought that this
war could be won, with the communists and the other groups that were
fighting in the civil war, and we were promised complete freedom. But
unfortunately, in my opinion, I believe that some of the communists
in Greece, in Bulgaria and even the Serbs were not honest enough and
did not carry out the promises that they promised the Macedonian people.
But the spirit of the Macedonian people in Australia was extremely high
and I believe that the spirit in Macedonia itself was very high - hoping
that at last we'll have a free Macedonia to be friends with all our
neighbours. None of the Macedonian people wanted to be enemies with
either Bulgarians, or the Greeks or the Serbs or the Albanians.
How did the Macedonians in Greece divide in terms of those
who fought for an independent Macedonia, those who fought for communism,
and those who did not fight?
I would say that the majority of the Macedonians, in Aegean Macedonia
especially, all believed and fought for an independent Macedonia. I
would say that at least 80-90 per cent of the people thought that way
and believed that way and fought for this particular reason. The people
who didn't fight probably were too old or didn't understand what was
going on and they took no action. Unfortunately the greatest losses
during that particular time were in Aegean Macedonia and the areas which
suffered the most would be Kostursko okolia and Lerinska okolia. Many
of the villages especially in the Kosturska okolia were devastated.
Whole villages were either burnt by incendiary bombs, napalm bombs,
that the children and the inhabitants had to flee the villages to save
their lives. To me it's a tragedy that the world does not recognize
or want to recognize; it's very sad.
Were the Greek communists sincere in their promise of an autonomous
Macedonia within Greece or did they trick and betray the Macedonians?
I believe that's a very tricky question to answer accurately, but I
do honestly believe that some of the true communists in Greece were
sincere when they said they would give the Macedonians autonomy under
Greece, but there were the others who were traitors, they used the Macedonians
to do their hard battles and that's where the losses were very great
and our people suffered heavily and paid the penalty for trusting people
who they shouldn't have trusted. As you know, the war carried on and
as I said before many many Macedonian villages were completely obliterated
by napalm bombs and also other bombings as well. The villagers had to
flee, even today if you go to these areas of Kosturska okolia and Lerinska
okolia, many of the villages are completely deserted.
You were also one of the founders of the Macedonian Australian
Ex-Servicemen's League. When did this form and what did it achieve?
The Macedonian Australian Ex-Servicemen's League was formed in late
1947 and the founders were Ilia Malko, myself, and several others. It
was a membership throughout Australia of Macedonians who were in the
services. The main aim of that was to keep in touch and to help with
any other work that was necessary. It was a voice that could be heard
and it was a voice that did carry some weight when speaking to government
officials. The Macedonian Australian Ex-Servicemen's League is still
active. It was active been 1999 and 2003 when we took action against
a Greek paper in Sydney which printed some nasty material which was
provocative, which was not true and we took them to the Anti-Discrimination
Board and Administrative Decisions Tribunal. We had reasonable success
there, although we did not win the case, but this showed that we were
prepared to fight for the rights of the Macedonians.
In December 1947 you and your family left for an 11 month visit
to the Republic of Macedonia. What was your purpose and what were your
As I mentioned before, the Macedonian nationalistic spirit was afire
and I was one of them as well and also many other Macedonians. So in
1947, in December, my family and I returned to Macedonia on the ship
Partizanka. There were 57 Macedonians aboard. 50 were Macedonians from
Egejska (Aegean) Macedonia, Kosturska okolia and Lerinska okolia.
The purpose was to help with the reconstruction of Macedonia, being
trained technically in a position to help with radio, and it was one
of the main reasons why I and the family went to Macedonia, in Skopje.
We arrived there January 1948. It was winter time. We landed in Dubrovnik
which is a tourist resort as most people know in the Adriatic Sea, Croatian
territory. Dubrovnik had been devastated during the war but the people
received us enthusiastically. We spent several days there. A delegation
from Skopje came and met us and soon we boarded a train and we arrived
in Skopje. I'll never forget it. It was winter, cold, but no snow. As
we got off the train we had Macedonian flags. It was pouring rain and
we marched from the railway station through the heart of Skopje to the
Roman bridge, on the river Vardar. The streets were absolutely choc-a-bloc
with people from Skopje receiving us. The rain didn't seem to worry
them and it didn't seem to worry us; the spirit was so high, I'll never
forget it. As I said, we marched with the Macedonian flag all the way
from the railway station in pouring rain to the Roman bridge across
How was the formation of the Republic of Macedonia seen by
the Macedonians in Australia?
Most Macedonians including myself, thought now this is the beginning,
once we have a republic, which should be autonomous or free, then the
push should come from there for the rest of Macedonia to be united.
But unfortunately that did not eventuate and we feel betrayed, we feel
let down by all the Balkan countries that promised us so much and gave
the Macedonian people very little.
What were your experiences in Skopje?
After about two or three weeks being in Skopje I was allocated a job
with a radio station in Skopje. The radio studio was in the heart of
Skopje and the transmission station was about 10 kilometres outside
Skopje. This transmitter was the most powerful and the best in the Balkans
including Belgrade, Athens and Sofia and any other. It was used to transmit
news throughout the Balkan areas. I enjoyed working in the radio station
and also the radio studio. The group working there were terrific. One
of the young boys, Blagoi Pekevski, was only about 20. His brother was
a Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture in Skopje. He was a very
proud young boy and a very good Macedonian. We met quite a number of
people. There was one particular person I've got to mention who was
from Canada. Her name was Mary Vasilova. She was a union delegate in
Canada to the restaurant industry. She was a very bright young girl.
We had quite a number of sessions talking about the Macedonian question.
Also what we thought should happen to the Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia.
She departed for Canada about six months later. I did not keep in touch
with her and I don't know to this day whether this young lady is still
alive or not.
During my work in Skopje, when I was at the transmitting station, if
I worked for three consecutive days it was classed as nine days, because
you worked from eight o'clock in the morning till eight o'clock the
next day it was classed as three shifts although we did not work
all the time, we had to have some sleep. That gave me the opportunity
to travel throughout Macedonia and also through part of Serbia and Croatia.
I went to Bitola and I had a look at the city or town of Bitola and
also met some of the people there. In those days it was virtually impossible
to travel freely because of the civil war. You had to have a special
pass. I traveled with a British passport because in those days we had
no Australian passports. I also went to a place called Bulkez, which
is virtually on the border of Romania, Hungary and Serbia. At this particular
place there were Greek and Macedonian partisans recovering from their
wounds. It was virtually like a country within a country. They had their
own money, they had their own hospitals, they had their own little factories
and they also had schools there. There were quite a large number of
young children, Macedonians and some Greeks as well. I met the committee
there who welcomed me warmly. I stayed there for four days and then
I came back to Skopje.
For several weeks you visited Aegean Macedonia, what were your experiences?
The experiences were devastating. I went down and the civil war was
still in progress. I wanted to see my birthplace again, and I went down
accompanied by experienced partisans who were Vera Baleva and Mihail
Kermejidata , also Pascal Mitrovski from
Chuka. They took me across the border. I accompanied them and eventually
we reached our village but I was not able to get into the village. But
I got as far as Sveti Ilia which I
mentioned in the earlier discussion, our little church was still there.
From there I could virtually see with binoculars the village, people
etc and also there were quite a few troops, Greek troops there, and
they also had cannons there. It was very dangerous for me to venture
into the village. Then we went to several other villages like Chuka
and a few others as well and to my dismay I could see that the devastation
amongst the Macedonian villages was very great. People had left the
villages, children, elderly people, and they were crossing the border
towards Albania, towards the Republic of Macedonia, and very few apparently,
Now I only stayed in Aegean Macedonia for several days, not weeks,
and eventually we got back. When I got back to Skopje I was able to
get back to the job that I had. I met many of the young boys and girls
who were going through Macedonia to the other republics like Czechoslovakia,
Romania, even as far as Russia. They were the young children that were
forced to flee their villages in the towns because of the terror and
That's the detsa begaltsi [child refugees]?
Yes, as we call it in Macedonian, detsa begaltsi, because I don't call
it detsa begalstsi, I call it Detsa- forced -to-flee-their-homes-because-of-the-terrible-devastation.
This was a tragedy to see hundreds and hundreds of young people, virtually
barefooted young children, elderly people, virtually in rags and tatters
fleeing their homeland. It was a devastating experience for me, I cried.
Many of these people, youngsters and elderly people, you could call
them refugees if you like, initially they were put into the Skopje stadium,
the sports ground you could say. They were housed there for two or three
nights. I visited them regularly. Then from there they were taken to
a place called Matka. Matka is an area about 30 or 40 kilometres away
from Skopje. It's a hydro centre, they have hydro electricity produced
there, but there's also a number of monasteries there. So these people,
these children and these elderly people in rags and tatters that needed
clothing, also fumigating because they were full of lice, they were
taken to these monasteries usually for about eight or ten days. They
were fumigated, they were fed well, they were clothed and eventually
they were put on their way to go to these other republics, which accepted
them as refugees. It was heartbreaking to see all these young people
go that way, without parents some of them, without a mother or a father.
Soon after you decided to return to Australia. What did you
do when you returned to Perth?
We came back with the same ship that we came to Macedonia, with the
Partizanka, but this time it was not a happy trip like the one when
we were going there. There was a small number of people that were on
the Partizanka and I was one of them with my family. From there we went
to Malta and from Malta to Cyprus and from Cyprus to Australia. We stopped
in Perth. My mother and my sister came to Sydney but I stopped in Perth
because the people wanted me to tell them all about the situation in
Macedonia. So a meeting was arranged in Perth for me. There were a large
number of Macedonian people who came to hear and to hear the truth about
the situation in Macedonia. I also went to Manjimup. Another meeting
was held there, the people were very enthusiastic to hear what was going
on. Back to Perth for another meeting and from there to Kalgoorlie where
a meeting was held and I also gave them the information of what was
transpiring in the Republic of Macedonia and also of the tragedy of
the civil war. From there I went to Adelaide, also a meeting in Adelaide.
From there to Melbourne and eventually I came to Sydney where I have
settled since then, since 1949. I've been active since returning from
Macedonia in the Macedonian community and I am still active at my old
You helped build the first Macedonian church in Sydney at Rosebery
and later also at Cabramatta. What was your role and how did the project
Actually in Sydney we didn't have a Macedonian church and most of our
people were going to weddings or christenings in Serbian, Russian or
Greek churches because they were Orthodox. So we thought it was about
time that the Macedonians in Sydney had their own church. In Melbourne
a Macedonian church was already established. So we decided to build
a church where it would be very central for the Macedonian community.
We had a couple of meetings and in one of those meetings I was elected
to be the president of the group with the plan to find a place and build
a church for the Macedonians in Sydney. Before we built the church,
there was a priest whose name was Mihail Gogov ,
he was also very active and participated with us. As a matter of fact
he officiated in several sermons in Macedonian in the Catholic church
and also a Church of England church in George Street. The people flocked
to these sermons and we were thrilled with the response, so we decided
it was definitely time to build a church in Sydney and we found a suitable
place, which was at Rosebery. It was a Church of England church. The
church was neglected because the parishioners from there had departed.
So we got in touch with the Archbishop of the Church of England, his
name was Gough. He was a fantastic person. Normally when you made an
appointment to see the Bishop it was 10 to 15 minutes but our delegation,
which included one of our bishops and Mihail Gogov and myself - we spent
over one and a half hours with the Archbishop. He was exceptionally
versed with the Macedonian history. As a matter of fact he knew more
about the Macedonian uprising of Ilinden than I did; that was a surprise
for me. He was a fantastic bloke, I'll never forget him. He helped us
to negotiate to buy the church at Rosebery. As I said, it was only a
very small church but in a very nice position with a park in front and
a park behind with a reasonable amount of parking which helped us a
When we called a meeting to ask the people whether they agreed to buy
the church property there or not, the response was terrific. The people
unanimously decided that we should buy it and we called another meeting
later on to collect the money. But in the meantime a group of two of
us was elected to go and see the property managers of the Church of
England in Sydney. We did that, it was only a verbal agreement or a
contract you could say, the amount was just over $30,000, which was
a very very good price for the property that we intended to build a
new Macedonian church.
There were no papers drawn, no contract drawn, just a verbal [agreement]
and handshake to buy the property. The people who were very anti Macedonian
- I'm not going to name any groups - we heard that they approached the
Church of England property managers and offered them ten times more
than the money we paid in order to stop us from having a Macedonian
church. And what we did hear was this, that the people who managed the
property of Church of England told them no money would change the contract;
they would stick by their word because the Macedonians needed their
church in Sydney.
So, I was the first president elected by the people and we managed
to get a certain amount of money and we borrowed a small amount of money
from the bank. We bought the church and the people flocked to the church.
There'd be big crowds of Macedonians going every Sunday. Weddings and
christenings were performed. In a very short time we saved enough money
to plan for the new church which is in the Rosebery property now. The
cost was quite substantial. We tried to get different people such as
architects to help us with the project and eventually, I must say this,
it was a Serbian architect who gave us the best price to supervise the
building of the church. Most of the other people including some Macedonians,
what they asked was far too high. He supervised, planned and also attended
every week, at least once, to supervise with the building. He only asked
for $4,000, that was virtually a gift. So the church was built and within
a short time we also had enough money to put a deposit and buy the property
at Cabramatta. And eventually the property at Cabramatta was built and
we had another church at Cabramatta.
When the foundation stone was laid for Rosebery we had invited quite
a number of prominent people in Sydney including government people,
Premier of NSW, Neville Wran; Willis, the opposition leader of the Liberal
Party; former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and we also invited other
members from the federal parliament and they attended. But also we invited
other religious bodies. A Catholic priest was there, and a Syrian priest
was there, an Antioch priest was there, but unfortunately the Serbians
refused to participate and so did the Greeks. We invited them as a religious
body, so we didn't worry too much about that. Eventually when the actual
church was opened it was opened by the then Premier of NSW, Neville
Wran. Federal members who attended were Mr Whitlam, and Mrs McKellar
representing her husband who was a Minister. There were a lot of other
dignitaries from the state and federal sphere. It was a great day for
the Macedonian people of Sydney to have their own church which eventually
proclaimed a cathedral.
I would also like to mention some of the Macedonian activists who helped
build the Rosebery and Cabramatta churches: Dragan Razmovski, the second
elected president; Kire Razmovski, a very staunch supporter; Todor Vlashis
and his wife Elena, who both ceaselessly helped in the church for many
years; Elena Kochofska; Mito Marinovski; Peter Marinovski, son of Mito;
Slave Ristevski; Bill Velevski; and many others who contributed financially
and physically. Thank you all.
You knew many of the first Macedonian activists in Australia.
Who do you think were the key activists and can you tell us a little
bit about each one?
First and foremost let us talk about Ilia Malko. Ilia Malko was my
very closest friend. We came to Australia together on the same ship
and we remained friends till his passing away. I would say that he contributed
more than any other Macedonian in Australia to the Macedonian movement.
He gave everything towards the Macedonian cause. He believed that Macedonians
should live free, as many of us did as well. Unfortunately we lost Ilia
Malko roughly about eight years ago.
Risto Altin: he'd be another one who has contributed vastly to the
Macedonian cause, he was in Melbourne; and Kiro Angelkov and several
Now Ilia Malko was involved right from the
very beginning in Perth in the organization Edinstvo, also the Macedonian
Spark, Makedonska Iskra, and also in the formation of the Ex-Services
League, Macedonian Australian Ex Servicemen's League. Also the Macedonian
Australian People's League, which functioned and also helped a lot towards
the unity of the Macedonians.
Risto Altin was in Melbourne and as mentioned before I met Risto Altin
in late 1942. He was involved in all the Macedonian activities in Melbourne.
He was also involved in the Macedonian Spark, as the Macedonian Spark
eventually was transferred from Perth to Melbourne. He was also involved
with the Macedonian church in Melbourne, in Gertrude Street.
He was a staunch Macedonian and still is.
Kiro Angelkov joined the association or Macedonian organizations in
late '45, '46. He spoke better Macedonian than I or Ilia Malko. He was
a very staunch Macedonian and he also helped with the Macedonian Spark
and also with the organization, and also helped with the Macedonian
Stoian Sarbinov. Stoian Sarbinov was a man from a village called Buf,
Egejska Makedonija. He was at Manjimup. Originally he opposed us in
Perth because he didn't think that we would be sincere but eventually
he came around and he was very very helpful and he also helped a lot
in the Macedonian Spark, he helped with the printing, he helped put
the paper together. He also took a very active part in human rights
in Macedonian affairs throughout Australia. Unfortunately Stoian Sarbinov
passed away about fifteen years ago. We lost another good supporter.
Vasil Boscov, he was an elderly man, he passed away about 20 years
ago. He was involved right from the beginning. I knew Vasil Boscov from
Perth. I also knew Vasil Boscov when he went to Adelaide and also helped
to form the Adelaide branch of the Macedonian Australian People's League.
He participated in helping with the printing of the paper, he also helped
with the other social activities and he also was a secretary for some
Stoiche Stoichev. He was a very ardent, staunch supporter of the Macedonian
cause throughout his life. He used to be in Perth at the beginning.
He brought his wife and family from Macedonia, eventually transferred
from Perth to Melbourne where he participated in all the activities
of the Macedonian life. He passed away unfortunately several years back.
Todor Todorov and his father, they were both from Pirinska Macedonia,
from Macedonia under Bulgarian occupation and rule. Right from the beginning
Todor Todorov and his father helped with the
formation of Edinstvo, helped with the formation of the Macedonian Dancing
Group and also helped with the social activities.
John Pizarkov was one of the first that helped with the Macedonian
Edinstvo in Perth. Eventually he joined the army. When he joined the
army he was transferred to the eastern states and eventually settled
in Sydney where he participated in helping with the Macedonian Spark
and also the other social activities of Macedonians throughout Australia.
Naum Sharin, an elderly person, a very nice person who passed away
several years ago. He was one of the first to join the Macedonian Edinstvo
in Perth. He helped when most of us were in the services - he was an
elderly bloke - to keep the organization alive. We've got to say thank
you to him for doing that.
Boris Mano, he was a younger person from Macedonian Prespa under Albanian
rule. He was one of the first members. He helped with the social life
and social activities in Perth.
Naum Mano, related to Boris Mano, he was also from Prespa, Albania.
He was one of the first members to join the Edinstvo organization.
Lazo, the brother of Naum, he was also a member right from the beginning,
who helped the social life and also in helping with the paper.
Naum Kalchunov, he used to be in a city or town called York, about
100 odd kilometres away from Perth. He was a staunch Macedonian supporter.
He helped by donating quite a bit of money towards the Macedonian hospital
and also towards the Macedonian Spark or Makedonska Iskra.
There's also many others who at present have slipped my memory, so
I must say without hesitation - without the mentioned people our organization
would have been much poorer, so vechno da bidi pametot na ovie lugje
koi se pochinati [long may we remember these people who have passed
You went back to your village in 1983. How long were you there
for and what did you see?
Let me give you a brief outline before I went to the village. On a
number of occasions I tried to go to my village, my birthplace, but
unfortunately I couldn't get a visa. You're aware, the Greek government
refuses a visa to anybody with a Macedonian name. As my name was changed
from the Greek name, which they called Eliopoulos,
back to the original and present name, Veloskey, I was refused entry.
When Greece joined the European Community, like many other European
community countries no visa was required. So the wife and I, without
telling anyone except our family, decided to board the plane and we
landed in Athens. It was five o'clock in the morning. I showed my passport
to the person in charge of the entry into the airport, and he looked
at it and on my passport it says my name, Michael Veloskey, Born
Macedonia, nothing else. He was rather stunned. He looked at it
and he kept on looking at it. And I said What's the trouble? It's
an Australian passport, in English. He said in Greek No
understand English. I said Can you speak Greek? He
said Yeah. So I said Yes, I spoke to him in
Greek, I said this is an Australian passport. That's [refering
to Macedonia] where I was born. It was early in the morning. I
think they hadn't checked up the blacklist of my name, because it was
a different name altogether, and he let us through.
We stayed in Athens for several days. We saw the ruins, the congestion
and the smog. 1983 was a warmest summer in Europe for 300 years. Many
people in Athens suffered badly from the pollution and also from the
heat. After leaving Athens we decided to go to the village that I was
born. To go there, I went to a small office asking them for two air
fares to go to my village. The nearest airport was Rupishta, which is
adjacent to Kostur. The person there stared at me in amazement. I said
Rupishta, don't you know where it is? He said No.
He said Never heard of it. I said Well, unfortunately,
I said, the Greek governments have changed the names of virtually
all Macedonian towns and villages and I said If you give
me a map I'll show you. So he gave me the map and I showed him
where it was. It was under a different name. So Rupishta is not called
Rupishta any more.
Eventually he gave us two tickets, our tickets. We boarded the plane
and we landed at Rupishta. It was a boiling hot day, the temperature
was well over 45°. We called a taxi. We got in the taxi and we asked
him to get us into Kostur, as the Greeks call it Kastoria, to a nice
hotel. He took us to a reasonably nice hotel with views of the lake.
Kostur is a very very picturesque town with a population of approximately
20,000. Many of the people in the Kostur area were engaged in the fur
industry, which was thriving but gradually diminishing.
Anyway we settled in the hotel and eventually we called for a taxi
to show us around. He was a Macedonian who spoke both Greek and Macedonian
but he insisted to speak more Greek than Macedonian because he was one
of the unfortunate boys. He lost his parents and the Greeks took him
and they made him like a Yanitsar, Yanitsar means extremely pro Greek,
they brainwashed him. So we said to him Would
you like to drive us around for the next fortnight, around the villages?.
He agreed. We said We'll pay you for the whole day, you take us
there and back, and any spare time you can utilize it. So we engaged
him for a fortnight.
We went to quite a number of villages, to the village that I was born,
and as we drove through there, Dolna Mala, as we call it, I saw a man
with a stick in his hand and he was walking slowly and he was cursing
in Macedonian and Greek. I remembered the name, his name was Lazo. I
was rather surprised to see him still alive because he would be in his
85s or 90s. So I said to the taxi driver Pull up here. He
pulled up, the wife and I were both together in the taxi. I got out
of the taxi and I said Lazo, me poznavash mene? [Lazo, do
you remember me?] He looked at me. Koi vrak si? [in Macedonian
Which devil are you?]. Diavolos [in Greek Devil].
I said Eh, jus sum Makedonets. (Eh, I am a Macedonian]. And he
looked at me and he looked at me and he couldn't make me out. I said
You don't remember. I said I left in 1935 and
I told him who I was. He put his arms around me and he started to cry.
And this particular man Lazo said I'm going to stay with you
all day today. So we took him with us in the taxi and he took
us to my home that my father had built there and it was occupied by
my uncle and his family. Unfortunately my uncle was not there but only
his wife was there and she welcomed us and she said that her husband,
Risto, Chris, was going to be there late this afternoon or the next
day. So I asked the taxi driver to drive us to Gorna Mala and that's
where my aunty lived from my mother's side, Teta Zoia. She welcomed
us there and she insisted that we stay there for the night. My uncle,
her husband, was tilling the land. Her son was in Kostur and he was
involved in the fur industry as well but he spent most of his time in
Germany trading between Germany and Greece. So we stayed there for the
night and her son came home and also the husband came home. We were
welcome there, they made us stay there for the night, they gave us a
very nice meal.
So, the next morning the son was driving us down to Dolna Mala, to
the house my uncle occupied, and as we were going down the hill on the
road there was an elderly person with a walking stick coming up. That
was my uncle Chris. So the driver said Do you know who that man
is? I said No. He said We'll stop here.
So we stopped, he got out, and he went to my uncle Chris, that's my
father's brother, and he said to him Imam eden chovek tuka koj
te poznava tebe. [I have a man here who knows you.]
He said to my uncle There's somebody with me in the car who recognizes
you and knows you and is also your relative. I got out of the
car and I went to meet him there. He looked at me. To me he seemed to
have shrunken a lot, because as we get older we always lose a bit of
weight, but the thing that I'll never forget is his sparkling blue eyes.
I've never seen eyes like that. Anyhow I explained to him who I was.
He wrapped his arms around me and we both cried.
Anyhow we had a bit of a talk and I asked him where he was going. He
said he was going to do a bit of shopping in Gorna Mala, that's where
the stores were. So we drove him there. We had a bit of a talk and we
drove him back and when we got back to the house he said The house
is still half yours. I said Uncle, you can have the lot.
I said I don't think I'll be ever coming back to live here,
and he started to cry again. His wife was there. She welcomed us and
saying that the house was still half ours. So we stayed there for quite
a while and then we decided to go back to my aunty's place in Gorna
Mala . Her son drove us up there. So we stayed
there for the next day and the night.
Eventually we decided to go to some of the other villages. Drenichevo.
Drenichevo is the nearest village to Gradche. The Greeks had called
it Kranohori. Unfortunately this particular village, before
the war or actually before 1921 or '22, about 99 per cent of the people
were Macedonians. But during the Greek-Turkish conflict when they exchanged
nationals, quite a number of the Pontian Greeks were planted in the
village Drenichevo . And I would say probably
about 30 per cent of the village people of Drenichevo, of Kranohori
, are Pontian Greeks and they were the eyes
and the ears and they were the spies, not all of them, for the fascist
Greek government during the civil war and before the civil war etc.
We went there and we met some people there, also met some of my relatives
there. Unfortunately my uncle from my mother's side had lost his life.
His two sons, one of them got killed during the civil war, and the other
was in Skopje. So we took the liberty of asking if they knew what part
of Skopje. They didn't know. But eventually when we got to Skopje we
met with my cousin there. Drenichevo is a fairly large village, and
the population has actually increased to what it was pre war or pre
civil war as well. But the village Gradche has diminished to a very
very small number. I think the number at present or at the time when
we were there in '83 it was about 48 only.
So eventually we went to some other villages as well, but we went back
again to my village after Drenichevo and I met with my uncle again,
uncle Chris. And he told me a terrible terrible story. He told me how
he called his donkey in Macedonian Choonksh [Stop!] and a Greek policeman
or korofilakas heard him. So he took his name and they summonsed him
to go to court in Kostur. Eventually the court case proceeded. My uncle
could speak very little Greek because, he was my father's brother as
I said, and he was born under the Ottoman occupation. He could speak
very few words in Greek so they had to have an interpreter for him at
the court. When the prosecutor asked the interpreter to ask my uncle
why did he speak this forbidden language, and my uncle said Well,
it's like this, my animals can only understand Macedonian, therefore
if I spoke another language they wouldn't know what I was saying to
them. Anyhow the prosecution pressed the case and eventually the
judge said Have you anything else to say? and my uncle said
Yes, he said You should open schools for the old people
to learn Greek and you should also open schools for the animals to learn
Greek. The judge was furious with his answer and sentenced him
to five years in gaol. For a very elderly person to be in gaol for five
years, you can imagine how terrible it must have been. But they never
broke his spirit. That's very important. They never broke his spirit.
And he said They can do whatever they like. I was born a Macedonian
and I'll die a Macedonian. So as you can see, they'll never ever
break the Macedonian spirit entirely, it doesn't matter what they do.
After visiting several other villages in our area we decided to go
to my wife's village, which is called Konomladi (Makrohori in Greek).
In Konomladi Helen's uncle was still alive, that is Helen's father's
brother. And he also told us what happened to him. The Greeks hung him
upside down by the legs and they beat him and they beat him and they
left him for dead. The family cut him down. He was all black and blue
from the severe beating that he had. They took him home and they wrapped
him in sheep wool and also sheep skin and he was in that state for several
weeks, hovering between death and life. His will must have been tremendous.
He eventually got better but he never recovered from the terrible beating
that he had. He is a man of great spirit, he is a man of understanding.
He'll do anything to help people. We stayed there for two nights, we
enjoyed our visit to his place and also meeting his family. It's
very sad to see the terrible things that have taken place during the
last 40 or 50 years in Aegean Macedonia.
When did the Greeks beat him, and why?
Well, I was informed by my wife, Helen, because
she was still there before she came to Australia, they beat him because
he was in a group which was organizing the Macedonians and apparently
that was the reason why they beat him like that.
This happened at the beginning of the Greek Civil War and what
were the circumstances that led to him being caught?
Well apparently what happened was that an informer that heard and knew
that my wife's uncle was in a committee that was organizing the Macedonians
for the Macedonian movement, Autonomous Macedonia, and also Macedonia
for the Macedonians, and that was the main reason why they beat him
and they left him for dead.
Can you tell us a little about your wife's family?
My mother-in-law, that is Helen's mother, during the civil war she
was one of the persons who helped to carry the wounded partisans and
when they found out about that my mother-in-law was gaoled for five
years in an underground prison in Athens. It was a terrible hardship
and something that virtually destroyed her life. Eventually, my father-in-law
managed to bring his wife to Australia but she did not live much longer
after arriving in Australia. It was part and parcel of the terrible
tragedy of being in gaol for five years under tremendous, horrific pressures
Also my wife's brother, he was a partisan. He got wounded severely
and the Greeks captured him and they threw him in the gutter for dead.
In actual fact a Greek priest went by him, he saw him there, he spat
on him, he kicked him, time and time again, tried to extinguish his
life. Eventually a Greek soldier who was a bit more humane got hold
of my brother-in-law and took him to hospital where they amputated his
leg. When he got better they transferred him from the hospital to one
of the islands and he was imprisoned for seven years for being a partisan.
He was only doing his duty as a Macedonian and also as a duty for freedom
and democracy - seven years in gaol. Eventually he was released and
came to Australia. His experience and tortures and trauma ended his
life at a premature age, that's all I've got to say.
After visiting my wife's village, we came back to Kostur or Kastoria
as the Greeks call it and enjoyed the area and also I met some people
that we knew from Sydney, and they took us to their home, we had a couple
of meetings with them.
Eventually we decided that we would go to Salonika but not by plane
but by vehicle, by car or a taxi so we could see the countryside. So
we engaged the taxi driver who we had with us for some considerable
time by now. We got to know him and his name was Vane, John. He was
driving a French car as a taxi and he kept on playing Greek music mainly,
but every now and then he played a Macedonian cassette. I kept on talking
to him about Macedonia and all that, both in Greek and Macedonian. What
actually happened, he had been told by the Greeks that his father and
mother had been killed by the partisans. He was only a very young boy
at the age of about three or thereabouts, so the Greeks had taken this
young boy and they made him a Yanitsar in other words, to be hateful
of anything else but Greek. I kept on talking to him about Macedonia
and Macedonians and all that and I was so interested that I decided
to go back to the village and check up why his parents were killed and
by whom. I was told that his parents were not killed by anyone because
they stepped on a land mine and that killed them. So I kept on talking
to this young taxi driver regarding Macedonia and all that and eventually
he started to think. I didn't say anymore. I said Now I want you
to drive us from here to Salonika, as I mentioned before.
The first stop was at Voden. The Greeks had renamed the town Edessa.
It's a beautiful town, 90 per cent Macedonians but afraid to speak Macedonian.
When we got there, there was sort of like a coffee shop and also a little
store selling a few groceries and also selling films. So I said to my
wife I'll go and buy another film because the one I have is used
up. As I went there I saw the person behind the counter. I spoke
to him in English. He shook his head, naturally because he couldn't
speak English, and I spoke to him in Greek. When he answered me in Greek
I could see his Greek was only broken Greek and I said to him in a very
low tone and very low voice so I wouldn't be heard Dali si Makedonets?
[Are you a Macedonian?] He said Da,
Makedonets sum, pa da ne zborvash, ke ne shtyue.
Don't talk aloud because they might hear us talking Macedonian and I'll
get into trouble. He said Come around the back. So we went
around the back and he opened up. It was absolutely disastrous what
had happened to the Macedonians under Greek control. They've been devastated,
they've been traumatized, they've been brutalized. And as far as the
Greeks keep on saying that democracy was born in Greece, I wish they'd
kept some of the democracy for themselves. Eventually I parted with
him and I thanked him, and I said Don't forget you're a Macedonian,
it doesn't matter what happens. He said Do
koga disham, jas ke bidam Makedonets.
As long as I'm breathing, he said I'll never change
from being a Macedonian.
So we left Voden, it's a beautiful place, as I mentioned before, and
all the way from there to Salonika or Thessaloniki as the Greeks call
it, the plain of Solun as I call it is very fertile. They can grow virtually
anything fruit, vegetables, wheat, corn, you name it. And we
bought quite a bit of fruit because it was the right season and we kept
on driving and got as far as Pella. When we got to Pella, I said to
the taxi driver, I want to stop here. He said Why?
I said Don't you know? He said Oh, I heard about it.
I said These are areas which are of historical value regarding
Macedonian history. He said What do you mean, Macedonian
history? I said Well, this is Macedonia, this is not Greece.
So we stopped. We spent about four hours at Pella and looked at some
of the ruins there and I said to him These are ruins from Philip,
Alexander's father, Alexander the Great. Oh yes, he
said. Alexander the Great, Megas Alexandros. No, no,
I said Not Megas Alexandros, Veliki
Alexandar, I said to him.
Anyhow we continued to Salonika. We got there. As we were driving I
said to him Now John or Vane, I want you to take us to the best
hotel they've got in Salonika, Solun. He said Yes, the name
is Makedoniko Palati. Macedonian Palace. I said John, you
just kept on telling me there's no Macedonia and yet right inside the
middle of Solun you tell me the best hotel is called Macedonian Palace.
There you are, I said. Anyhow, we reached the hotel, we booked
in, so I called him up to our room, we got something to eat and I said
How much do we owe you? So he made the calculations and
I gave him a tip and I said I'll walk you down to the reception.
As we went down in the lift I said John, I have to give you some
you will probably be surprised and shocked. He
said to me in Greek Le ye. In other words Kazi
[Tell]. I said When we get down, we'll sit down and I'll explain
to you. So we went down to the reception, there was a couch on
the side. I said Let's sit on the side so nobody can hear us.
And I explained to him what happened about his parents. I told him that
his father and mother were not executed by the partisans or not murdered
by the partisans but they died by stepping on a land mine. He got a
shock. He got up, he wrapped his arms around me, and he started to cry.
He said I was never informed, but inside me I felt there was something
wrong. So John, that is the reason, I said. You
can't be anything else but what you are. You're a Macedonian.
He wrapped his arms around me, he started to cry.
He had to leave to return to Kostur. We went out of the hotel and I
wished him a safe journey back to Kostur, and we parted.
Why was Vane unable to find out why his parents had died?
Actually when I think back and consider the whole situation in regards
to this taxi driver Vane, it comes to my mind that the Greeks had Graecized
him to such an extent that the people around him were probably afraid
to tell him the truth. And I feel that people of the village where John
the taxi driver was born were scared to approach him and tell him the
facts, what had happened to him, just in case he was still pro-Grkoman
[pro-Greek] and informed on them and they could be actually brought
to the courts and gaoled. So that is a sad sad situation that has taken
place not only with this case but I assume with hundreds of other cases
in the Macedonian area under Greek control.
We stayed several days in Salonika. We visited the eastern part of
Salonika along the seaside. It's a beautiful area. Salonika itself is
by far, far superior as far as quality of life is concerned to Athens.
Athens is a much larger city, very congested, very polluted, at the
same time, being built virtually in a gully, it's a horrible atmosphere
to live in. We stayed in Salonika for as I said for several days and
then we decided from Salonika to go to Bulgaria, where my wife and I
have relatives. So we decided to get on a bus. We got on a bus and as
we reached the Greek-Bulgarian border the passports are collected and
they are given to the Bulgarian officer who boards the bus. The Bulgarian
officer checked the passports of all the passengers and they were all
Greeks going to Sofia. Only the wife and I were Macedonians and I have
a habit if I travel in a bus, on a tourist bus, I like to be right at
the back of the bus so I can see what goes on in front of me. He checked
all the passports from the Greeks and not a word was said, nothing was
uttered. When he came to us the Bulgarian officer, he was a captain
in a blue uniform, a man of about 40 or thereabouts or maybe a bit less.
When he saw my passport, which said Michael Veloskey born Macedonia
he started to yell, Kakva ta Makedonia. There's no
such thing as Macedonia, there's no Macedonians. And I was rather
surprised and shocked in a way. And I said to him, in simple words Look
here officer, your job is to see if our visas are valid or not. If there
is no Macedonia for you, there is Macedonia for me. If you know you're
Bulgarian, I know I'm a Macedonian. So I don't want to discuss this
with you any further. You do your job - to check the visas, that's all
that's required. He didn't say much more after that. He took our
passports. When we disembarked from the bus, there was a check on our
luggage and they also kept our passports. So we lined up to wait for
our passports and also our luggage. So we exchanged money from traveller's
cheques into Bulgarian leva. This particular officer that checked us
on the bus came to me and he said What do you know about politics?
I said Look here, we came here on a tourist visa, we are here
as tourists, and I said I don't want to discuss politics
with you but if you insist I said ask me. He said
You don't know anything about politics. I said Well,
maybe I don't know but I'll ask you a couple of questions, and if I'm
wrong I'll seek your pardon and I'll bend down on my knees and seek
your pardon, but if you are wrong what would you do? And he said
to me in Bulgarian Kazee, kazee, [Tell me, tell me]. That's
how the Bulgarians talk. And I said in Bulgarian Ke kazeem, ke
kazeem. And then in Macedonian Kogato Dimitrov ga pozna
Makedonia i Makedontsite, sho stoj pred tebe? He understood me.
I said If Dimitrov recognized and acknowledged that there's Macedonians
and Macedonia, what stands between you and him. He was a world figure
in politics, so what are you going to say? He had nothing to say.
His face went red and he turned around to my wife and he said You've
got an angel husband, and I said to him in Macedonian Tia
bugarashki tatarashki, druk da mu kazish. These Bulgarian
words that you're saying, tell them to your villagers, not to me.
And I asked him not to interfere anymore.
In 1993 you were the founding president of the Aegean Macedonian
Association of Australia. What were the Association's objectives and
what do you see as its main achievements?
Well as the name implies, Aegean Macedonian Association of Australia,
Aegean Macedonians of Australia, a group of Macedonians from Aegean
Macedonia plus a couple of others from the Republic of Macedonia, we
decided to form the Association with our aim to pursue human rights
for the Macedonians not only in Macedonia but also in Australia. We
lobbied the parliamentarians of federal parliament and even some of
the state parliamentarians and our main aim was to help achieve human
rights for the Macadonians in Greece, and that we should be recognized
as Macedonians, not as Serbo-Macedonians, not as Fyrom, not as Greek
Macedonians. We are what we are, we are Macedonians, proud citizens
of Australia, and we should be known and accepted as being Australian
citizens of Macedonian background.
Let me mention some of the people who contributed to the Macedonian
cause via the Aegean Macedonian Association of Australia. Apart form
myself as president, Paul Stephen, founder and vice president; Bill
Vlassis, secretary; Victor Bivell and Mile Donevski, great contributors
as think tank resources; Bill Manos, financial contributor;
Steve Malco; Boris Minovski; Atanas Strezovski and many others. Let
me convey my sincere thanks to the Kotori Cultural Club of Richmond
for the great financial support and also to many individuals from there.
Much of the Association's work was towards promoting human
rights in Greece. What is your view of the Greek government's
policy towards the ethnic Macedonians in Aegean Macedonian both in the
past and at present?
Unfortunately the past and the present Greek governments, whether socialist
or capitalists or whatever they call themselves, have been hypocritical.
In my opinion, going back say 70 years the Greek parliaments continuously
have frustrated the Macedonian desire to be free, to live in a democratic
country in a democratic environment. When you are restricted from speaking
your own language, when you are restricted from singing your own songs,
when you are restricted from having your own church and sermons in the
Macedonian language, how could you call that freedom, how would you
call Greek democracy, how could you call the Greek governments democratic
governments? To me they are the complete opposite. They always have
been, they continue to be hypocritical. They have closed the borders
to Macedonians who left during the civil war. If you go back and try
to cross the borders even up to today you are refused entry if you have
a Macedonian name. If you change your name to a Greek name they'll let
you through. I think it's a very sad stage in our era to have this type
of government anywhere, let alone in the Balkans. I feel very sad to
see what's happening in the Balkans. Not only in Greece but unfortunately
similar things are happening in Bulgaria.
What would you like to see happen in Aegean Macedonia?
What I would like to see is that the borders should be completely pulled
down, throughout the Balkans, throughout Macedonia, throughout Bulgaria,
Yugoslavia, Croatia and all the other countries - to be joined in a
European community where freedom of travel, freedom of speech, freedom
of religious services, freedom of worship, whatever you have, should
be for all the people in all of Europe. That is my wish, that is my
thought, and I hope that it will come to fruition before I pass away.
How do you see the future of the Macedonian minorities in Greece,
Bulgaria and Albania?
Unfortunately, and I'll say it again, unfortunately, as far as I can
understand it they have not achieved the freedom they deserve; because
Macedonia and Macedonian history dates back longer than any of the other
countries that are surrounding them and it's a very sad thing that the
world has closed its eyes and does not see what is actually happening
to the Macedonian minorities in those countries. It's about time the
European Council and the European Union start to shift the pages back
and allow the Macedonians to enjoy true freedom with free movement throughout
What would you like to see happen in the Republic of Macedonia?
In the Republic of Macedonia what I would like to see is this: that
the government which is supposed to be for the people, by the people,
to stand firm, to stand firm on the constitution which they originally
had which gives freedom to all the peoples in the Republic of Macedonia,
even the Albanians. But not to the terrorists; I cannot understand how
the Republic of Macedonia has elected members into parliament who were
the leaders of the terrorist group of Albanians which caused all these
troubles in the Republic of Macedonia. I feel disillusioned, disheartened
at what they've done: how can a country declare itself a republic by
denying its own flag, by denying its own constitution, or altering its
constitution to please some of the neighbours which are undemocratic?
In my way of thinking it's this: it's free when you decide to declare
yourself independent, you choose a name which you stick to, you choose
a flag and if it's a new flag you stick by it. But we have our flag,
which dates back over 2,000 years, that's the sun, a rising sun which
the Macedonians used to worship in those days. And that is a proper
Macedonian flag, not the ventilator, which they've adopted
as our national flag. I'll never accept that and any Macedonian who
is a true Macedonian will never accept that. Nor will they accept a
constitution where they watered it down saying that the Republic of
Macedonia has no right to ask what's taking place in Aegean Macedonia
where Macedonians are treated as third or fourth class citizens, denied
their rights of religion, of culture, and everything else that goes
with freedom. That is my opinion.
What sort of future would you like to see for the Macedonian
I would like to see a happy, prosperous future for the Macedonians
in the years to come. I would like to see the Macedonians, Serbs, Croatians,
Bulgarians, Greeks, even Albanian terrorists realize that they live
in that part of the world, that it's better to be friends than to be
enemies. You have nothing to gain by being enemies and fighting each
other, you have everything to gain by resolving your problems peacefully
and in an equal basis, in an equal basis. Respect each other, respect
each other's views, respect for what you are. If you're a Macedonian
the others should respect you as being a Macedonian. If you are a Serb
you should be respected to be a Serb and vice versa. The same with the
Greeks. If the Greeks want the Macedonians to respect them as Greeks
they should respect the Macedonians and Macedonia. And the Bulgarians
and the other ethnic groups around the area, they should have the choice
of what they are and nobody should deny them that right.
What are your current involvements in Macedonian affairs?
I am politically active by attending meetings, and also trying to put
some input, whatever I can, but at my age, I'm well over 80, I think
it's about time that I stepped aside and I think the younger people
should take the reigns and I'm quite sure that we have quite a lot of
young people in Australia, in Sydney and elsewhere, who are very capable
and they're going to do a good job. So I am prepared to help wherever
I can from the knowledge that I have gained from the years that have
gone by. Therefore I earned and deserve to have some rest.
© Copyright Michael Veloskey and Pollitecon Publications 2005