The Macedonian Tendency: Macedonian Refugees Hail Softened Greece Line :: Balkan Insight

Friday, September 02, 2011

Macedonian Refugees Hail Softened Greece Line :: Balkan Insight

Macedonian Refugees Hail Softened Greece Line :: Balkan Insight: "29 JUN 2011 / 10:40

The association of Macedonian refugees, which lobbies for people forced to flee northern Greece during the Greek civil war from 1945 to 1949, says Greece is slowly changing its attitude towards them.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

An archive photograph of Macedonian refugees taken near today's Greek-Macedonian border

A few years ago, Macedonian refugees from Greece said they faced an impenetrable wall of Greek bureaucracy when they tried to obtain citizenship in Greece, the country where they were born.

Greek citizenship will help them in their struggle to regain their lost property there.

But now matters appear to have changed. “Greece understood our message that our demands are not political and something in their attitude has definitely changed in the past few months,” Georgi Donevski, head of the Association of Macedonian Refugees from Greece, said.

Donevski says that in the last six months alone some 300 members of the association got long-awaited Greek citizenship.

“This is encouraging because up until now they [Greek state] did not even want to hear about us. They told us that the old books where we were listed were gone, burned or lost," he said. "Now the books mysteriously re-appeared and civil servants in the municipalities are accepting us and listening to our needs,” Donevski added.

Greece still officially does not recognize those who fled from the country in the 1940s as refugees and for decades refused to issue citizenship to them or their descendants.

A controversial old law that says only “ethnic Greeks” can receive Greek citizenship is still in force in the country, but Donevski says Greece has obviously ceased to implement it so strictly.

In the new citizenships issued to members of his association, Donevski notes that they obtained the right by being born in Greek territory, not by being ethnic Greeks.

In absence of hard historical evidence about their numbers, some historians say that as many as 100,000 ethnic Macedonians fled northern Greece during the war between the right-wing monarchist government and the Democratic Army of Greece, which was controlled by the Greek Communist party.

Most of the refugees were either members of or sympathisers with the defeated side, who feared for their lives from the winning nationalists.

During the last count in 2008 and 2009 by the Skopje-based Association of Macedonian Refugees, some 10,000 people registered as members. Lawyers then estimated that all together their demands in terms of property werw worth billions of euro.

The issue of the Macedonian refugees is just one unresolved question between the two neighbours alongside the long-standing dispute over use of the name Macedonia. Greece argues that use of the word Macedonia implies territorial claims towards the northern Greek province of the same name.

Bilateral relations hit a new low in 2008 when Athens blocked Skopje’s NATO accession bid, saying the country needed to change its name first.

That year, Macedonia's Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, wrote to his then Greek counterpart, Kostas Karamanlis, demanding recognition of the Macedonian minority in Greece and the return of property to Macedonian refugees.

Karamanlis replied that this was a non-issue for Greece, repeating the official Greek stance that no Macedonian minority exists in Greece.

“As for any property issues, any individual can take legal recourse before the Courts, including the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg,” Karamanlis said.

Refugees say that Macedonia has since then been passive and has done little to help them. This issue was not mentioned in public during the series of meetings that Gruevski had in 2010 with the current Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou.

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