Macedonians are Greeks

200 years of the Greek Revolution: the Greek-Macedonian conflict in court

On February 25, 2020, the internationally neglected court proceedings took place before the Court of Appeal in Thessaloniki, which had already been heard on September 13, 2019 in Serres: The cultural association "Brotherhood of Cyril and Method of the autochthonous inhabitants of Serres" was banned, the Greek word dopios (derived from the Greek en-topos, so "indigenous") to use in a different meaning than Greek.

This process is the sad culmination of a long tradition of denying cultural and linguistic otherness in Greece, which is astonishing when one hears the ceremonial speeches of March 25, 2021, the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution, which celebrate Greece as a place of freedom and revolutionary ideals . It should be noted here that Hellenism was initially a supra-ethnic movement that was not defined by mother tongue (comparable to France of the citoyens after 1789 or the British ideology, which also united large parts of the Celtic population under the crown).

What's the name of dopios?

A closer look over the last 200 years shows that the Greek state continues to pursue a policy that only names linguistic minorities euphemistically and thus makes them taboo: in tourist souvenir shops on Corfu or Crete dopios an eco-label and promises local, non-imported products. In northern Greece between Kastoria and Drama - an area with 35,000 square kilometers, i.e. more than a third of the area of ​​Austria - has dopios another meaning, namely as Slavic mimicry.

The population in Athens or the Peloponnese does not know anything about the demographic history in the Greek-Macedonian area, because a version of this is offered in the school books that emphasizes above all the ethnic continuity from antiquity. On the other hand, there is a lot of knowledge in the communicative family memory on site, and in view of the enormous population shifts in the region there is a long-standing existence - so "dopios-Sein "- definitely ethnically marked in the local context.

Cross-border agreement

Between 1948 and 1949, tens of thousands of communists and several thousand orphaned toddlers and children fled via the two Prespa lakes between Greece, Albania and what is now North Macedonia. The refugees were sent via Albania to the whole of what would later become the Eastern Bloc, from Lower Silesia and the later GDR to Tashkent - but not to Russia. As an ideologically trained and highly politicized group, these child refugees have had a lasting impact on the global Macedonian diaspora.

For years, Prespa has stood for cross-border cooperation, including through numerous culture, film, poetry and environmental festivals. In the summer of 2018, the Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras concluded an agreement here that ended the almost thirty-year conflict between the two states over the state symbolism and the legacy of Alexander the Great. With the declaration of independence in 1991, the post-Yugoslav Macedonian state had increasingly used symbols of antiquity around Alexander the Great as state symbols - probably as a reimport from the diaspora. The Greek reactions were an economic embargo, the imposed state designation F.Y.R.O.M. ("Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"), the ban on the star of Vergina in the state flag and, above all, the long blockade of Macedonian integration with the West (NATO, EU).

The 19-page agreement of summer 2018 makes protection against irredentism and mutual interference, as well as the territorial integrity of both signatory states, the central point. Even if minorities are not mentioned, a Macedonian nation and language is de facto recognized. If we consider that in Greece after 1991, above all, anti-Slav pamphlets from the early 20th century and from the Cold War (with the specter of "Slavo communism") were warmed up and reproduced, then we understand the enormity of the 2018 Prespa text .

Territory and Treason

The above-mentioned trial in Serres shows what resistance still exists at the local level against the new tolerance: As a witness for the public prosecutor's office, the President of the "All-Greek Union of Cultural Associations of Macedonia" continues to use the formulations of the "alleged minority" that have been practiced for decades on the local station Epiloges-TV , the "nonexistent Macedonian language" and the "Skopjoter" (that is, "inhabitant of Skopje" as a derogatory term for the population of North Macedonia). In addition, he regrets the abolition of the death penalty in Greece for people like the cultural association "Kyrill und Method": Already the "abandonment" of the exclusively Greek name Macedonia is a "abandonment of territory" and "betrayal" (in Greek: paradhosi onomatos - parahorisi edafous - prodhosia).

The name of the cultural association "Kyrill und Method" would be a good opportunity to create a bridge between Greek and South Slavic culture of remembrance: The two Byzantine diplomats and scholars Konstantin-Kyrill and Method wrote liturgical texts from the Translated into Greek and thus created the first Slavic written language, which is still in use in a modified form in the Orthodox world (up to Russia and Serbia). While Cyril and Method are venerated as national saints in North Macedonia and Bulgaria and important institutions such as capital city universities and national libraries are named after them, from the Greek perspective they are Byzantine saints. "Kyrill und Method" thus offer a high transnational and multi-perspective potential and have long been identified as integrating figures in a European landscape of remembrance.

Liberalization, but only in western Greek Macedonia

Greece has experienced enormous liberalization since the end of the Colonel Junta in 1974 and particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. The highly acclaimed book "The Forbidden Language. State Suppression of Slavic Dialects in Greek Macedonia" by Tasos Kostopoulos, which was published in Greece in 2000, marks a high point of this development.

But how can the Serres scandal process be explained? Greek Macedonia has nine administrative districts: Kastoria, Florina, Kozani, Pella, Imathia, Kilkis, Thessaloniki, Serres and Drama. There is no point in talking about this space in general, as we have to make strong regional and local distinctions - because history in the 20th century has left different traces in the collective memory.

Macedonian revival

Greek Macedonia can be divided into three areas: in the area of ​​Florina and Edessa, where many and large villages with Slavic-speaking populations live, namely 112 villages, 66 of which were not settled in the 1920s. Then in the central Macedonian part with Pella, Imathia, Kilkis and Thessaloniki: There are 121 villages here (41 of them without settlement), whereas in Eastern Macedonia (Serres and Drama) there are only 38 villages (four of them without settlement).

These figures show why the human rights movement has developed in the West since the 1980s. The Ouranio Toxo ("Rainbow") party has established itself in Florina and has contributed a great deal to a tolerant, multilingual local society. In Western Macedonia the Slavic dialects are called Macedonian much more often than anywhere else, which is also due to the small border traffic to Bitola and Gevgelija. As a result of this border traffic towards North Macedonia and Bulgaria, i.e. along the prosperity gradient of the former Iron Curtain, casinos, brothels and beauty salons have emerged since the political change, which are just as frequented by the Greek majority as by the local minority.

The revival of Florina in the immediate vicinity of the border to North Macedonia is a typical legalize-it movement: It's about being able to sing along with the local songs as lyrics at village festivals and wedding celebrations - with the Slavic (i.e. Macedonian) lyrics, mind you. And everyone who is familiar with the Balkans' celebration and dance culture knows that at an advanced hour it is no longer the bride and groom who determines the selection of songs, but rather the person who sticks bills under the clarinet valves or claps the forehead of the musicians. This created a free space that goes far beyond dance rhythm and taste in music and contains political and ethnic statements: These negotiations in the celebration culture triggered the modest avalanche in the village of Meliti near Florina in 1989, which we can call the Macedonian revival.

Well advanced integration

This revival movement is by no means in the spirit of the 19th century and Pan-Slavic inspired Slavicism. No, it has a regional-local and family focus on the experience of injustice as Slavic-speaking citizens in the modern Greek state, especially during the dictatorships of the 1930s to 1940s and 1960s to 1970s.

If the minority situation in Greece is denounced here, it should be added that we have encountered the same situation in all young nation states in Europe since the 19th century, namely the more or less repressive marginalization, stigmatization and even criminalization of minority cultures and languages ​​- but only up to in the 1960s to 1980s. In a comparative context, we recognize today that historical charges between majority and minority and victimization discourses in particular have high mobilization potential.

The calculation of the Serres court ruling, namely the prevention of a precedent for Slavic cultural associations outside the Florina region, will therefore not work. On the contrary, such procedures threaten the integration of the Slavic speakers into Greek society, which has progressed well since the 1970s. (Christian Voß, April 28, 2021)

Christian Voss is professor and department head of South Slavic Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He represents a cultural-scientific area science and researches minorities, language policy, gender, memory and borders in the Balkans. He is the founding director of the interdisciplinary center "Crossing Borders", editor of the series "Studies on Language and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe" and a member of the Academia Ambrosiana in Milan.

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