The Greek State’s Approach for the Extinction of the Macedonian People’s Identity and Culture

By George Nitsou (Goche Nichov)

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The Greek state's approach for the extinction of the Macedonian people's identity and culture after the occupation of Aegean Macedonia as a result of the Balkan Wars in 1912-13 took many forms and at different stages. These approaches and stages are as follows:

1. The Political Approach - The Greek state's first priority was to "decapitate" the Macedonian leadership by forcing the Macedonian elites, including priests and teachers out of Greece. Their properties were confiscated and they were given no option to return. My father-in-law's father was from the village of Labanitsa and being a teacher in Macedonian was expelled from Greece. This led him and his family to move to Bulgaria. His wife's father who was from the village of Exsisou and a priest in the Exarchate Church of the village was also expelled to Bulgaria with his family.

2. The Identity Approach - The next step of the Greek state was to destroy the historical evidence of the Macedonian culture existing in the Aegean part. That included the destruction of the Exarchate Churches in villages where Patriarchal Churches also existed, or to architecturally redesign the interior of the other Macedonian Churches to match the architectural style of the Greek Church. The Greeks destroyed the Slavic Church icons containing Cyrillic lettering and replaced them with Greek script. For instance, the Exarchate Church in the village of Zhelevo was completely destroyed and at the same time the Patriarchal Church in the village was restructured. Furthermore, the Greek state forcefully changed the Macedonian names of all the people, towns and villages into new Greek-sounding names. For instance, the name "Done Trokov" was changed to "Antonios Trokas". The village of "Zhelevo" became "Antartiko", "Breznitsa" became "Vatahori".

3. The Economic Aproach - This approach was based on the concept of "let them be poor and have limited literacy." The Greek state placed Greek-oriented Orthodox refugees into the Macedonian villages. These were refugees resulting from the Greek-Turkish War of 1919. These refugees were given land deeds to the best agricultural land previously owned by the Turkish "beys." The Greek state refused to provide land deeds to the local Macedonians for the land they had historically occupied. After the Greek Civil War ended in 1949, properties of Macedonian partisans who fled Greece after the Civil War were confiscated by the Greek state. These Macedonian partisans were refused the political amnesty that was given to Greek partisans since the Macedonian partisans were not considered "of Greek birth".

4. The Linguistic Approach - This approach embraced the idea of "speak Greek or else!" The Metaxas Fascist dictatorship in Greece (1936-1941) passed a law that prohibited the speaking of the Macedonian language. They did this by imposing draconian financial court fines for even one word spoken in Macedonian. These draconian fines instigated by informers, police and the Greek teachers had a devastating impact on the Macedonian adult population. This fear of speaking the Macedonian language even lingers today in some of those who were alive during that terrible period. Even children were punished during that time. My wife's mother who was born in Breznitsa was heard speaking one Macedonian word in her classroom. As punishment, she had to kneel on a pile of sharp twigs for three hours in front of the class as her punishment. This was done as a lesson to the other children not to speak Macedonian. Her brother was hit on the ear so violently by the same teacher for speaking Macedonian that her brother's ear bled badly. These gross violations of even young children were permitted. Parents plagued with fear so deeply instilled in their souls had no right of recourse. This strategy of "speak Greek or else" was taken even further by the dictatorship of Papadopoulos in the 1960-70s. The children in the Macedonian village were taken away for the entire day to so-called "daycare" centers away from their Macedonian grandmothers and were forced through fear of punishment to only speak Greek. The children were also told in these centres that when they returned home to ask their parents to speak to them only in Greek. Fearing state reprisal, children were warned by parents not to speak any Macedonian in public or in the classroom. The fear that was instilled in the parents about the speaking of Macedonian during the Metaxas dictatorship combined with the fear instilled in the youngsters in the "daycare" centers during the Papadopoulos military dictatorship. This resulted in the "forced" habit of speaking Greek in the Macedonian home. The speaking of Greek in the Macedonian family was being further reinforced by the lack of any Macedonian schooling for the children.

5. The Ideological Approach - The strategy of the Greek state-taking into consideration the sensitivity towards the "Macedonian issue" with its Slav neighbours-is to downplay these discussions and keep them to a minimum. The Greek Government likes to pretend that the "Macedonian issue" is non-existent. However behind closed doors, the use of police files which are compiled based on the individual or his family's activities, is very much alive. If a citizen asks for state employment, military advancement, high school admission, business permits, passports, etc., they will not be successful unless their police file is considered "clean." Those citizens who support calls for a Macedonian Church to be built or Macedonian schools to be opened are not looked at favourably. Such "undesirable" individuals sometimes face the risk of intimidation by the "goons" working for the state.

6. Queen Frederica's Schools - The children who attended Frederica's schools in Leros and elsewhere were chosen by various criteria. In the case of the children returning to Greece from the Communist countries, they were admitted into these schools in order to "correct" their "political ideological indoctrination". During the Greek Civil War (1946-1949), it is estimated that 28,000 children were evacuated to Communist countries. Most of them were Macedonians but there were also children from Epirus and Thrace who were also evacuated. Frederica's schools were recommended for these young people returning to Greece so that their minds could be "cleansed" from any Communist or atheistic teachings they had encountered while abroad. The majority of the young people who returned to Greece from the Communist countries and attended the Technical School in Leros were of Macedonian origin but also there were a number of Greek children from Epirus and Thrace returning from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Tashkent in the former USSR. Other children from the mainland of Greece were invited to attend these schools. These children were predominantly from mountainous or economically-deprived villages. The main educational goal for these children was to teach them a trade that would be useful to them upon return to the village.

June 2024