The Macedonian Tendency: Chuck Sudetic on the "Real Macedonian Issue" Circa 1994

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chuck Sudetic on the "Real Macedonian Issue" Circa 1994

By David Edenden

Chuck, it's about human rights, not real estate.

It is painful to read this 1994 article on the Macedonians in Greece by New York Times journalist Chuck Sudetic, who is of Croatian ancestry, and should know better since he could easily communicate with the Macedonians in Greece.

When the Serbs were trying to ethnically cleanse Bosnia, they were using Greece's treatment of ethnic Macedonians as a model. Too bad Sudetic did not realize this at the time. He might have written more sympathetically about Macedonians. Did it even occur to him to ask why 50,000 Macedonians in Greece were not aggressively pursuing their rights? Why didn't they have any rights to begin with?Did it ever occur to him that, Greece's values regarding Macedonian rights were Nato values. Maybe he could have bought a clue and use that to report on why Nato failed in Bosnia.

Later on he wrote Blood And Vengeance about his war time experiences in Yugoslavia. I wonder if a more hard headed analysis of Greek minority rights policy, instead of this puff piece, would have made a difference.

I really don't know.
Real 'Macedonia' Issue Is Real Estate -
Edessa Journal;
New York Times:

Published: March 12, 1994

To the rest of the world, the fight between Greece and its neighboring former Yugoslav republic over the name Macedonia may make little sense. But to Metropolitan Chrysostomos, who lives on one side of the border, and to Risto Yatchev, who lives on the other side, it comes down to a battle for land.

When Yugoslavia's southernmost republic declared itself the independent state of Macedonia in September 1991, Greece slapped a trade blockade on it. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Greece to protest the use of the name.

Contending that the former Yugoslav republic's leaders have pilfered part of the essentially Greek legacy of the Macedon of Alexander the Great, including his sun symbol on their flag, Greeks have whipped up their nationalist passions to a frenzy.

Outsiders ask why a name or a 2,300-year-old symbol on a flag could make a difference, and what threat a rundown, landlocked country with three rusty tanks could pose to Greece, a member of NATO and the European Union.

For northern Greeks, however, the Macedonian Republic's actions represent a threat to their land. Over a million of them belong to families that were torn from their homes in Turkey and Bulgaria between the two world wars and ended up resettling here. 'A Question of Property'

And for thousands of Macedonian Slavs driven from Greece into the Yugoslav republic 45 years ago, the real issue is also real estate: the return of land Athens confiscated from them during the 1946-49 Greek civil war.

"It isn't just a question of the name or the flag," said Mr. Yatchev, a Macedonian Slav writer who was born in Greece but now lives in Skopje, capital of the Macedonian republic. "It's a question of the property."

"I had a house, 14 fields, a couple of vineyards and a chestnut grove," Mr. Yatchev said, referring to land just outside Edessa that the Greek Government confiscated because his family members fought with the defeated Communist forces in the civil war. "It was my family's property for 300 years, and I want it back."

"It belongs to future generations," he said, expressing the almost mystical link to ancestral lands that is felt strongly by both Greeks and Slavs.

Western analysts fear that Macedonia could produce the next chapter in the long and bloody history of demographic shifts in the Balkans.

Macedonia is a mostly mountainous region divided among Greece, Bulgaria and the Macedonian Republic. The population of the new country is mostly Macedonian-speaking Slavs, with Albanian, Greek, Turkish, Serbo-Croatian-speaking Slavic, Romanian-speaking Vlah and Gypsy minorities. On the Greek side of the border, the United States State Department estimates, there are anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 Slavs, a few of whom are fighting for official recognition as Macedonian Slavs.

Greeks have denied for decades that Slavs are Macedonians.

The Skopje Government asserts that Greece is conspiring with Serbia to spark unrest that could lead to civil war and partitioning of the new country among Serbia, Albania and perhaps even Bulgaria.

But Greece says the Skopje Government's choice of a name and a flag reveals territorial pretensions on the richest of the region's land.

"All this history, all these wars, all these exchanges of population have taught the Greeks here to fear that these threats to our territory are real," said Metropolitan Chrysostomos, the Greek Orthodox prelate in Edessa, whose parents were among the Greek refugees from Turkey who moved into the homes of Turks driven from here seven decades ago. "So many Greeks here have in their personal memory the loss of their homes in Asia Minor." Wave of Greek Settlers

After 500 years of Ottoman rule, which ended in 1912, Greeks were a minority in Greece's swath of Macedonia. The influx of Greek refugees from Turkey in the 1920's altered the ethnic makeup, and by 1928, censuses say, almost half of Macedonia's residents were resettled Greek refugees.

Drawn by promises of autonomy, Slavic Macedonians constituted about 40 percent of the Communist-led insurgency during the closing stages of the Greek civil war.

During and after the war, about 200,000 people, Greeks and Slavs alike, fled to Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc. Greeks loyal to Athens were rewarded with the property of those who fled.

"This land is ours," said Nikolaos Karamanavis, a Greek journalist. "When they steal our name, it is a clear sign that they want to steal our land."

Macedonian Slavs ridicule the idea that they could be any threat to Greece. But some concede that Greek recognition of the Macedonian Republic would constitute recognition of the Slavic minority in Greece as well as property rights of the Slavs whose land was confiscated.

In 1982, the Greek Government decreed that all ethnic Greeks who fled after the civil war could return, and a 1985 decree permitted them to claim compensation for their property. Macedonian Slavs who fled were not allowed to return or to reclaim property.

Kole Mangov, a Skopje-based lawyer, said Macedonia's Government already had the names of some 5,000 Macedonian Slavs who have appealed for the return of land in Greece.

"You can't ethnically cleanse property rights," said Slobodan Casule, one the new country's journalists. "Imagine all the businesses over there that have been operating on land to which the owners do not really hold clear title. And imagine that one day, all of a sudden, the real title-holder shows up."

Athanasios Parisis, a Macedonian Slav living in Greece, says he sees the conflict getting worse. "Our Macedonian Slavs tell the Greeks to go back to Turkey," he said. "The Greeks tell us that there is only room for Greeks here. I am afraid this place will become a little Bosnia -- again."

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