The Macedonian Tendency: Family Tree - How my Grandfather Quit Being a Grkoman and Embraced "Macedonianism" (part 1)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Family Tree - How my Grandfather Quit Being a Grkoman and Embraced "Macedonianism" (part 1)

By David Edenden

I was doing some research in my family tree and it seems that my Grandfather's Grandfather thought he was being very clever by sending one son to the local Greek School and another to the local Bulgarian School. Had he realized the implications of this action, I think he would not have sent one son to the Greek School. He would have stuck with the Bulgarian school.

In the Ottoman times, Greek and Bulgarian churches subsidized the education of only one child (I'm not sure but it was probably only the boys). The theory being that if one child was provided with free education, the family would them pay for the rest of the children to attend the same school. As in the case of our family, many families sent children to both.

The whole confusing statistics on Macedonia could be settled if we go to each village today and estimate it's population at the turn of the century and identify those villages that are real Greek and those who are "Slavophone" Greek. It is the "Slavophone", Vlach's, and Christian Albanians that fluctuate from one side to the other in these statistics. It is very easy to get the true picture of what happened in the past. With so many "bilingual Greeks" now coming out of the woodwork, it is no longer seem as an obscenity to say that your parents or grandparents spoke "an unmentionable Slavic dialect.

The teachers on both sides promoted their theories of the ethnicity of the "Macedonian Slavs" or "Slavophone Greeks" if you will. What was unexpected was that the two brothers chose different churches to marry in, Bulgarian and Greek respectively. One married into a Bugaroman family and one married into a Grkoman family.

In our village, the Balkan wars and WW1 did not cause much suffering. The Greeks were tolerated since they never physically came into the village. Although the Bulgarian Church and School were closed, the people were promised education in their language. They were not forced to leave for Bulgaria during the population exchanges. There was peace after years of banditry, revolution and war.

The Greeks differentiated Macedonians from the true Greeks, with respect, as Slavomacedonians . Second class citizens, no doubt, but they were not considered to be "number one Bulgarians" which was considered and obscenity. All the villagers knew about the ABCEDAR. It was a reader with the latin alphabet for the primary grades developed by the Greek government to meet League of Nations minority rights obligations. Since to be educated meant going until grade six, that seemed to be enough for the people.

Everything changed in1926 (?) The ABCEDAR was abandoned, the names of the villages were changed, family names were changed. I'm not sure how it happened bureaucratically. Were the people lined up in the village square, with a policeman in the center handing out new identity papers with new Greek names or were people called to the local church and had it done there? Were people forced to be re-baptised in the Greek Church? I don't know.

The "urban legend" is that if two brothers, assume they were sons of Giorgi Popov, were living in different villages, one could have had his name changed to Papas, while the became Papagiorgiopoulos. Another urban legend was that farmers were fined if they spoke Macedonian to their sheep dog. Castor oil poured down people's throats. If they were true, we need to hear the stories from those who experienced it.

What was true was that people were fined for speaking Macedonian in public, relatives informed on each other. Those who resisted were denied bank loans and generally harassed.children were not taught Macedonian for fear of their children making a "mistake" at school. Children with "suspect" parents were not allowed to go "high school" - grade 7. Greek teachers would say to their students, if they spoke "this Slavic gypsy language" at home, a wolf would come and eat them when they slept.

The struggle between Bugaroman and Grkomans ended. Bugaromans lost but Grkomans did not win. The Greeks won and all Macedonians lost. The villages lived under constant petty terror. An elderly aunt put it this way. "I do not want all the Greeks to leave Macedonia. They should leave one in every village, pickled in a glass jar, in the village square, near the fountain, to remind the people how much suffering they have caused".

Life under the Turks had at least the possibility of choosing one's own identity and religion and the Turks very rarely came into the village. Greeks came in with both feet using informers to divide and destroy the village society. To this day, Macedonians have tough time working together and trusting each other.

Under this atmosphere, my grandfather (from a Grkoman family) married my grandmother (from a Bugaroman family). The differences between the two factions seemed to be bridged by their disgust with the Greeks. Having to bow your head to the Greek policeman, a Greek teacher, Greek priests was infuriating, more so because these people were often very stupid because no smart Greek would be caught dead in this area of "northern Greece". To pretend that you did not know the language that your mother and grandmother taught you was humiliating and degrading. To have to laugh at their stupid jokes about "Slavic gypsy pigs" was more than one could take.

In this atmosphere, the communists thrived ... secretly. They promised a 'Balkan Federation" with a united Macedonia. Few knew who Dimitar Vlahov was, or what United VMRO was. All they knew was that the "communists" with the backing of "our Russian brothers" would save Macedonians. To hell with the Greeks; to hell with the Bulgarians; to hell with Serbs.

"Mu baktisa na narodot" (the people were fed up). Russia will save the Macedonians. As far as my father can remember, growing up in this time, he was never a Bulgarian or Greek, he was always a Macedonian.

Although the vast majority of the villagers were pro-communist, the villagers always voted for the royalists. You can't be too careful with the idea that voting for the extreme right would somehow save the village. I'm not sure if it made any difference.

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