Shaky start to exiles’ return

Greece opened its borders yesterday to a small group of native Greeks resident in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) who have been banned from the country for 20 years in a lingering echo of decades-old ethnic and political tensions. But border guards turned away most of the first people trying to benefit from the lifting of a ban that has effectively held strong since the end of the 1946-49 civil war, as they lacked the necessary visas. The measure – which will only be in effect for two-and-a-half months – applies to thousands of Slavic-language speakers born in northern Greece who fought with communist guerrillas during the war. Many took up arms in the hope of carving out an autonomous state within the Greek province of Macedonia – an aspiration actively encouraged by Greek communist officials. Following the defeat of the Democratic Army of Greece, guerrillas fled into exile behind the Iron Curtain and into Yugoslavia, with the Slavophone fighters settling in the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Fears that these veteran fighters might renew their separatist agitation led to their exclusion from a 1982 law that allowed the repatriation of exiles from the losing side of the civil war. On June 24, the Foreign Ministry said it would allow, on humanitarian grounds, the exiles to visit their country for 20-day visits between yesterday and the end of October. «Everything went ahead smoothly,» Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos said yesterday. Reports said some 30 people tried to enter Greece at the Niki border crossing. However, most were turned back for not having visas. The Agence France-Presse quoted a human rights official as saying only two were let in. «The way things are going, this measure will turn into a farce,» said Pavlos Voskopoulos, from the Rainbow group that has championed the rights of the Slavophone minority.