The Macedonian Tendency: Noel Malcolm's "THE NEW BULLY OF THE BALKANS " (1992)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Noel Malcolm's "THE NEW BULLY OF THE BALKANS " (1992)

By David Edenden,

Along with the Economist article, Do not disagree (Aug.14, 1993), the article below, by Noel Malcolm helped put the plight of ethnic Macedonians in Greece before the before journalists, academics, human rights groups and some politicians in the early 1990's.

Not much has changed. It is interesting to note, that after all these years and all the talk by American politicians of spreading human rights around the world, a hypothetical US Senate Resolution calling the respect of the human rights of ethnic Macedonians in Greece, would not pass. Instead we get this. (here)
The Spectator" of 15th of August, 1992
MAK-NEWS #084.3

(Pictured Parthenon in barbed wires)

You begin to notice it in the moment you arrive on Greek soil. If you land at Athens airport, you can find crude posters declaring "Macedonia is Greek" in the customs hall. If you are crossing by land from the former Yugoslavia, you will find the passport control booth covered with stickers making the same point, some of them in English more hysterical than ammatical: "Macedonia is Greece Since Ever".

......Glancing at the print-out on a computerised bus-ticket, I found, in the space where you might expect "Have a nice trip", the statement, "Macedonia was and shall be Greek". Never outside the communist block have I had such a sense of an all-pervading and unanimous campaign, in which all levels of public life are mobilised to whip up popular feeling. If one adds the world-wide campaign run under the cover of the Greek Tourist Board, it must be the most expensive publicity campaign in Greek history.

It is also the silliest......

Throughout the last two centuries, "Macedonia" has been a geographical expression; it refers to a whole region, which in 1913 was divided between Greece, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia... The part which Yugoslavia obtained was named "the Republic of Macedonia" in 1946; the people who lived there had already been widely referred to as "Macedo-Slavs", and their language as "Macedonian" for decades. When the people of that Yugoslav republic voted for independence last year, it was not surprising that they wanted their new state to be called "Macedonia"-they had no other name. But at this point the Greek government claimed a kind of copyright on the word........

A high-level commission of jurists from the EEC .... recommended immediate recognition [of Macedonia]. But the Greece still block it; and ...... It would take the pen of a Swift or an Orwell to explore all the ramifications of this. More than [two] million people who have spent their lives thinking that they spoke Macedonian, that they read Macedonian literature and watched Macedonian television, are now to be told, at the whim of 12 people lunching in Lisbon, that they speak some nameless thing.....


(Pictured A statue of Goddess with a machine-gun)

We are dealing here with the strangest and yet in some ways most typical of all Balkan states - a state with a profound neurosis about its own sense of identity. I refer, of course, to Greece. Much has been written about the problems of ex-Yugoslav Macedonia, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of the EEC's destabilising policy towards it. But little is ever written about the root cause of the problem:the neurotic nature of Greek nationalism....

Their unbroken descent from Plato, Aristotle and Demosthenes sets them apart; theirs is a higher civilisation, a higher destiny. They have nothing to do with the messy history of the Balkans north of their ancient and immemorial border established in 1913 and 1919. This approach to history requires skimming rather selectively over the thousands of years when there was no such thing as a national Greek state. The early Slav invasions, which reached far into Peloponnese and left settlements which spoke Slav well into the 15th century, are preferably ignored. So, too, are the influxes of Albanians which settled many parts of eastern and central Greece ....

In the early 19th century, the population of Athens was24% Albanian, 32% Turkish and only 44% Greek. In the early20th century, Salonica was 60% Spanish-Jewish, 18% Turkish and18% Greek. Things have changed since then.... But just changing the people was not enough. In the mid-1920s, nearly all the Slav, Vlach or other non-Greek place-names were suppressed. Even personal names were not exempt...Boris had they offered him was between "Pericles" and "Byron".been instructed by the local officials that he must change it to a proper Greek name; the choice

The consequence (or rather, the basis) of this policies is that Greece is that rare thing, almost unknown in Europe, a country with no national minorities. They do not exist; the Greek government says so. For such a phenomenon to be found in the Balkans of all places is indeed a miracle- a sign that Greece is certainly not like other countries. Sitting at a cafe in a Slav village near Florina, in northern Greece, surrounded by people talking in the Slav Macedonian language, I pondered this minor miracle. "They say we don't exist," said one of them; "but tell me, do I look like a ghost?"


...Within Greece, there are no newspapers or radio broadcasts in their [Slavo-macedonian] language. One group of these Slavs has started a small monthly newsletter, with an estimated readership of 10,000. But they have great difficulty finding a printer, and they say that if copies are sent through the post they tend to "disappear". "Even if we find a sympathetic printer", one told me, "he's usually too scared to take the work; he's afraid of losing all his other contracts,or perhaps of getting bricks through his window."

Another group, has applied for permission to start a cultural society; the application has been turned down, on the grounds that it is "anti-Greek". They are not even allowed to sing songs in their language; the last time this happened, at the village festival of Malitis two years ago, proceedings were broken up by the police.

A few bold individuals have taken their case to human rights conferences at Helsinki, Copenhagen and Moscow. I talked to three of these people, each of whom had encountered certain career problems on his return to Greece. Hristos Sideropoulos, a forestry worker - sacked ... His friend Stavros Anastasiadis owns a small trucking company - now stands idle... Archimandrit Nikodemos Tsarkinias, showed me a peremptory letter from his bishop telling him that he must leave his parish work....

The public hysteria over the "Skopje Republic"[Macedonia] certainly does not help. The weekly nationalist-extremist newspaper Stohos ("Aim") now issues regular personal threats against these individuals or their friends, listing names and addresses; its more general articles on this subject carry titles such as "Cut off Their Heads".

...When I attempt to discuss these issues with Prof. Konstantopoulos, director of the Institute of International Public Law in Salonica, I was assured that the so-called Slavs were just bilingual Greeks...."Why cannot they have a newspaper in their own language?" I asked. "They don't want one!" shouted the professor.....His anger was cataclysmic....A few minutes later, he assured me that "secret figures" revealed that 18% of the population of Yugoslav Macedonia are Greek- a piece of ethnographic nonsense so gross that even Stohos ("Aim") might blush to print it.


The Greek Slav Macedonians are caught between the hammer and the anvil of Greek policy on minorities: assimilation or expulsion. To see successful assimilation in action, one has only to visit the Vlach region in the Pindus mountains of northern Greece. The Vlachs who speak a language closely related to Rumanian, have a population of perhaps no more than50,000 in Greece.... Most modern Greek writings about the Vlachs claim that they are "pure Greeks", descended from ancient Greeks who just happened to acquire a Latin language when they did military service for the Romans... and one recently published Greek book about the Vlachs gives a list of words in the Vlach language borrowed from Greek, and concludes in all seriousness that Vlach is "a Greek dialect".....

The 100,000 Turks of western Thrace, on the other hand, have a much stronger sense of ethnic identity. Yet in the eyes of the Greek state they are not Turks at all; they are "Greek Muslims", a religious minority, not an ethnic one. When DrSadik Ahmet, a surgeon who stood for parliament in 1989, referred in a campaign leaflet to "the Turkish minority", he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for using the word"Turkish"...... (The Turkish population is mainly agricultural;though they have tractors, they have not been granted licences
in the past.

...this summer's Amnesty report on torture and ill-treatment in Greeks prisons and police stations happen to concern Turks, Albanians and other non-Greek victims.... The new Greek electoral law will prevent Dr Ahmet from being re-elected next time, and when he loses parliamentary immunity he may face another deferred prosecution. And the long-standing policy of driving these Turks out of Greece continues....More than 3,000 acres have been confiscated for various public projects in the last ten years, and there is now a plan to seize 15,000 acres of farm-land which at present support20,000 Turks ......

Fear of Turkey is, in the long run, a greater stimulus to neurotic Greek nationalism than the Macedonian issue.The fall of the communist bloc has badly damaged Greek self-esteem; it is Turkey that is emerging as the strategic power-base of the whole region... Hence, .. a Greek government television advertisement every night, "means equal status for Greece in Europe!" - is a statement either meaningless or mendacious......

Personally, I have found that whenever I have long conversation with EEC politicians or officials, there always comes a point when they say, "Between you and me, I can't understand how we ever let Greece in." With its peculiar brand of paranoid nationalism, Greece's foreign policy is now the biggest single impediment to any sensible EEC policy in the Balkans; and if the Greek public mood intensifies any further, it may threaten not only the future of the ex-Yugoslav Macedonia but the territorial integrity of Albania as well. Amid all the discussions about the procedure for new members to join the EEC, has anyone thought of a polite way of inviting one member to leave?

- The End -

Books by Noel Malcolm
Kosovo by Noel Malcolm (Paperback - Aug 9, 2002)
Bosnia by Noel Malcolm (Paperback - Aug 9, 2002)

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