Nine answers to the ‘Macedonian’question through an analysis of the historical causes

A brief review of the long history of Macedonia, compiled by Kathimerini with the help of historian Evangelos Kofos, a former ambassador with expertise on Balkan affairs, shows how the «Macedonian issue» arose. What is Macedonia? Over the centuries it has frequently changed shape. Historical Macedonia is considered to be the realm of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great (4th century BC), 90 percent of which is now the Greek region of Macedonia and the remaining 10 percent in southwestern FYROM around Monastir, Bitola and toward the Ohrid lakes. During the Hellenistic period after the conquests of Alexander the Great, and during the Roman conquest and the Byzantine empire, for about 10 centuries the term «Macedonia» was used to define various administrative regions from the Black Sea as far as Crete. The name Macedonia disappeared completely under Ottoman rule, even as an administrative area. During the 19th century, the Macedonian issue emerged once more with the establishment of the Bulgarian Eparchy in 1870 and clashes broke out between Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs. At that time, two vilayets of Thessaloniki and Monastir and the sandzak of Kosovo were defined as Macedonian, effectively shaping the concept and dimensions of geographical Macedonia in modern times. These areas are bounded to the east by the Nestos River, to the west by the Albanian border, to the south by the Aegean and to the north by Serbia’s border with Kosovo. During the Balkan Wars and World War I, different parts of geographical Macedonia were incorporated into the three countries (Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia) by the Treaty of Bucharest (1913) and afterwards by the Treaty of Neuilly (1919). About 38.5 percent of the geographical area of Macedonia went to Serbia-Yugoslavia, 51.1 percent to Greece, 9 percent to Bulgaria and about 1 percent to Albania. Was Philip II a Greek? There is no question that he was. The ancient Macedonians spoke Greek. Exhaustive research shows that linguistically and culturally, the ancient Macedonians were Greek tribes. All inscriptions found in Macedonia dating from before the advent of the Romans are Greek, as are the names of peoples and their gods. The names Philip and Alexander derive from Greek words. That much is clear and anything else is the result of propaganda by Skopje. When did the Slavs arrive? In the 6th and 7th centuries AD, they moved into the whole of the southern Balkans and created a strong population base in the area in question, where the populations had dwindled due to wars and invasions. Despite their efforts, however, they were unable to seize Thessaloniki, the joint capital, in a manner of speaking, of the Byzantine empire. How was the Slav-Macedonian concept created? At the end of Ottoman rule in the region, the «Macedonian question» emerged as a source of conflict between the three countries concerned, intensifying in the actual region of Macedonia. In 1870, with the founding of the Bulgarian Eparchy, when the struggle began as to where the Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire living in Macedonia and Thrace would be incorporated, various domestic forces came into play. The people themselves, however, were at a loss. Peoples who had a clearly defined identity, Greek speakers, Albanian speakers, Bulgarian speakers with a Bulgarian identity, had no difficulty in forming and expressing a sense of nationhood. However there were other groups – Slav speakers, Vlach speakers and Christian Albanian speakers – who were vulnerable to rival national ideologies. At that time of armed conflict that lasted up until the Balkan Wars, there were various tendencies. Among the Slav-speaking population there were three divisions. In the south where the Greek influence was stronger, Slav elements affiliated themselves with the idea of Greece, mainly through the Church. To the north, among those that Greece lumped together as Bulgarians, there were two tendencies – those who wanted an independent state and those aligned with Bulgaria. There was another trend, ideologically weaker but led by a political desire for independence. It was from there that the Slav-Macedonians would emerge in the period between the two world wars. What did locals call their parts of Macedonia after the Balkan Wars? The Bulgarians and Slavs of Yugoslavia have since then called the corresponding areas Aegean Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia and Pirin Macedonia. In the 20th century, Greece was the only one of the three countries that – after the end of Turkish rule in 1913 – renamed its part of Macedonia as the «General Macedonia Administration.» Neither Serbia-Yugoslavia nor Bulgaria used the name Macedonia to define their own respective regions. Only in 1945 did Yugoslavia set up the Federal Republic of Macedonia in its south. Before the war, the Yugoslav regime named its provinces after rivers. In 1991, with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the first independent Macedonian state appeared, calling itself the Republic of Macedonia, within the boundaries of the Vardar region. When did the Macedonian question arise? Between the two world wars, the Bulgarians cultivated the idea of a greater Bulgaria, but also played the autonomy card for the geographical area of Macedonia. At that time the idea of a Macedonian nation had not yet been formed. Then a new factor emerged in the form of the Communist Party. As part of the broader program of spreading Soviet influence, Comintern launched a plan to create a Balkan communist federation. The goal was to set up small states making up a greater Balkan federation. Two of the states would have to merge. A united Macedonia would include the three sections of geographical Macedonia and a united Thrace. The Bulgarian Communist Party accepted the plan, which was imposed by Moscow on the Communist Parties of Greece and of Yugoslavia. The idea of a Macedonian identity began to be cultivated. The Greek Communist Party, realizing the inherent difficulties, adopted the term Slav-Macedonians. In 1941, on January 6, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. Part of Greek Macedonia and the whole of southern Yugoslavia were given to Bulgaria. The Bulgarians acted as conquerors, a fact that was exploited by the Yugoslavs, who formed partisan groups calling themselves «Macedonians,» then a geographical definition. The time was ripe for the transformation of the term from the geographical to the ethnic. From the moment that the name was used, under Tito, for a state entity with a Macedonian language and Macedonian church, all the elements of a national identity were in place. What is the closest language to the official language of FYROM? The language spoken in the region is a Bulgarian dialect. It is distinct from the official language of Bulgaria because the official Bulgarian state chose as the nucleus of its official national language an idiom spoken in northeast Bulgaria. Linguists assigned with the job of formulating the Macedonian language took as its base the idiom of the Perlepe (Prilep) region, enriched with words from the Serbian vocabulary, while some letters were also changed. Did Greece recognize the Federal Republic of Macedonia under that name? There was no need to recognize it as it was not a state – Athens communicated with the representative of the Yugoslav Federation. Of course the Socialist Republic of Macedonia bordered on Greek territory and problems arose that required a resolution. There were various mechanisms to enable Greece to avoid using the word Macedonia or Macedonians. For example, when a border communication treaty was signed in 1959, entry and exit forms were in the so-called Macedonian language. Greece objected and a solution was found. The forms would be written in the two countries’ official languages, without naming them. Also, when references to this region were made in official documents, only the initials were used, not the name in full. Were there problems with the Federal Republic of Macedonia? All the issues that arose between Greece and Yugoslavia had their origins in that problem, that is, in the state entity and in the political refugees who fled there after Greece’s civil war. During the 1950s, the latter reached an estimated 30,000. During the 1990s, reports in Skopje put their number at 80,000-100,000. They created a strong lobby of «Aegean Macedonians.» There were many problems, applications for transit permits, financial claims, applications for visits. The «Aegean» lobby submitted claims to the local government in Skopje, which relayed them to the federal government, which was obliged to back them. Many of the political refugees in Skopje emigrated to Australia or Canada, where they developed a strong nationalism that appeared in the form of lobbies that are active to this day.

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