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Lerin, Aegean Macedonia

Lerin, Aegean Macedonia

 Introduction | Expulsion of Ethnic Macedonians After 1913 |  Change of Toponyms and Names
 The ABECEDAR Case |  The Metaxas Dictatorship


Aegean Macedonia came under Greek occupation in 1913 following the Balkan Wars and partition of Macedonia. The Greek government immediately began a terrorist campaign against the Macedonian people, resulting in hundreds of thousands killed, tortured, or expelled. Many Greeks, however, refuse to admit that a sizeable ethnic Macedonian minority exists in Greece. (See Greek Propaganda). The Greek government claims that 98.5% of its country is ethnically Greek while the remainder belongs to the "Muslim minority of Thrace". It claims that there are no ethnic minorities within its borders. The human rights record of Greece is horrendous, despite being a member of the United Nations, European Union, and NATO and a signatory of several international human rights agreements including the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This has been well-documented by several human rights organizations including: Human Rights Watch/Helsinki; Amnesty International; United Nations; Greek Helsinki Monitor; Minority Rights Group; International Helsinki Federation; and the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada.

Expulsion of Ethnic Macedonians After 1913

Kukush, Aegean MacedoniaThe Greek government attempted to ethnically cleanse the Macedonian population and colonize Aegean Macedonia with Greeks. A series of population exchanges occurred after 1913 which saw tens of thousands of Macedonians forcibly expelled while over half a million Greeks were shipped in from Turkey and Bulgaria.

"All statistics except the Greek ones are also in general agreement that these Macedonians represented the largest single group on the territory of Aegean Macedonia before 1913. The figures range from 329,371 or 45.3 per cent to 382,084 or 68.9 per cent of the non-Turkish population; and from 339.369 or 31.3 per cent to 370.371 or 35.2 per cent of the total population of the area of approximately 1,052,227 inhabitants.

The number of Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia began to decline both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the total population during the Balkan wars and particularly after the First World War. The Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria provided for the so-called volun-tary exchange of Greek and Bulgarian minorities. According to the best available estimates, 86,582 Macedonians were compelled to emigrate from Aegean Macedonia, mostly from its eastern and central regions, to Bulgaria in the years from 1913 to 1928. More importantly still as a result of the compulsory exchange of Greek and Turkish or rather Christian and Muslim minorities required by the Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war (1919-22), 400,000 Turks, including 49,000 Muslim Macedonians, were forced to leave Greece; and 1,300,000 Greeks and other Christians were expelled from Asia Minor. In the years up to 1928 the Greek government settled 565,143 of these refugees as well as 53,000 colonists from other parts of Greece in Aegean Macedonia. Thus, as a result of the removal of 127,384 Macedonians and the conscious and planned settlement of 618,199 refugees, the Greek government transformed the ethnographic structure of Aegean Macedonia in the period between 1913 and 1928." 1

  • "Even Greek sources concede that during the years from 1913 to 1928 the enormous movements of population which took place in Greek Macedonia changed the ethnological composition of the area. Macedonia, History and Politics, acknowledges that perhaps 100,000 Slavic speakers 'left' (ie., were forced to leave), 77,000 of these in 1926 alone. These figures may well be an underestimate but this material does add weight to the idea that even greater numbers of Greeks came in. The extent of the population movement out of Aegean Macedonia is emphasized in a report on March 30, 1927, in the Greek newspaper Rizospastis, which stated that 500,000 Slavic speakers were resettled to Bulgaria." 2

  • "Thus the majority of the Greek-speaking population of Aegean Macedonia is descended from relatively recent Greek refugees from Turkey and other places. This being the case, Greece might be considered to have questionable claim on the name Macedonia. Remember, too, that the name Macedonia was not applied to the province by Greece until 1988. Thus much of the current population has lived at most some 70 years in a land that has been called 'Macedonia' for less than a decade. Clearly they do not have the kind of historical claim to the land and to the name Macedonia as the Macedonian Slavs, Vlachs and Albanians whose ancestors have been there for 1,500 years or more." 3

  • "...they have carefully fostered this delusion, as if to give the impression both to their own people and to the world that there that there was no Slav minority in Greece at all; whereas, if a foreigner who did not know Greece were to visit the Florina (Lerin) region and from his idea of the country as a whole, he would conclude that it was the Greeks who were the minority. It is predominantly a Slav region not a Greek one. The language of the home, and usually also of the fields, the village street, and the market, is Macedonian, a Slav language." 4

The Macedonians became a minority in the eastern half of Aegean Macedonia while remaining (still today) a majority in western Aegean Macedonia, around the villages of Lerin, Kostur, and Voden. The numbers of ethnic Macedonians was reduced to 240,000. Today, the estimates range between 270,000 and one million (the latter number by Macedonian human rights activists in Greece).

Kostur, Aegean Macedonia"As official census data do not exist, and if they did they would not be reliable, we will mention here the most frequent estimate of some 200,000 Macedonian speakers in Greece (IHF, 1993:45; & Rizopoulos, 1993); the 1987 Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year 1987 gives an estimate of 180,000 (Banfi, 1994:5). Also, an anonymous Greek ethnologist gave an estimate of 200,000 for the community...(Chiclet, 1994:8). Another scholar, based on a detailed estimate of 30,000 speakers in the Florina and Aridea area makes a global estimate of 100,000-150,000 Macedonian speakers throughout Greek Macedonia (Van Boeschoten, 1994). Thus, the 200,000 estimate for the Macedonian community seems reasonable..." 5

"...we note Greek claims that Northern Greece, or Aegean Macedonia, is 'more than 98.5% ethnically pure.' The purity is held to be Greek. However, the statement is not accepted by reputable opinion outside of Greece. For instance, the 1987 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica indicated that there were still 180,000 Macedonian speakers in this area, indicating a much greater percentage than 1.5%. If Macedonian activists from these areas are correct,there may be as many as 1,000,000 people from Macedonian-speaking backgrounds in Aegean Macedonia." 6

The following quote is from the Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

"Following the partition of Macedonia in 1913, Aegean Macedonia was annexed by Greece and since then its indigenous people, the ethnic Macedonians, became the target and often the victim of the oppressive policies of Greek state. Today, after nearly ninety years of assimilation efforts by the Greek governments it seems that measures have proved to be unsuccessful in Hellenizing the region. Currently, the ethnic Macedonians, estimated around 1,000,000 by some sources, still constitute the majority of population in that part of the Greece, Aegean Macedonia."

Summary of the Partition and Colonization of Aegean Macedonia 7

After the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the First World War (1914-1918) and especially after the Peace Treaties of Lausanne (1923), which gave the Macedonian issue a central place, there began a great ethnic cleansing of Macedonians, who in 1912 had numbered 374,000, from the Aegean part of Macedonia.

Disregarding the principle of respect for minority rights within existing states, the negotiations in Lausanne accepted the principle of an obligatory resettlement of Christians from Turkey (Greeks, Turkophones, etc.) and of Moslems from Greece (Turks, Macedonian Moslems, etc.). Under the convention for obligatory emigration, 350,000 Moslems were expelled from the Aegean part of Macedonia. 40,000 of these were Macedonian Moslems.

In place of the Macedonians expelled to Bulgaria and Turkey (a total of 126,000) the Greek state resettled 618,000 persons of Greek and non-Greek origin in the Aegean part of Macedonia. This heterogeneous population, colonized in the Aegean part of Macedonia in the period between the two world wars, came from other parts of Greece, as well as from Asia Minor, the Black Sea region, the Caucasus, western Thrace, Bulgaria and other places.

The large majority of the refugee Christian population was settled in villages throughout the Aegean part of Macedonia, thus creating what has become known as the village, or agricultural, colonization; and a smaller number were colonized in towns, creating the so-called urban colonization.

This large colonization effected by Greece resulted in a major change in the historical status of the Macedonian language. Once the language used by most, it was now afforded only the status of the language of a minority, or the status of a family language, which was spoken by 240,000 Macedonians.

The large ethnic changes were the cause of changes in the status of the Greek language as well. From being the language of a minority, it now became the most used language, being imposed even on the Armenians, the "Turkophones", the in-comers from among the various Caucasian peoples, etc. With the imposition of the Greek language and with the help of mixed marriages, a new Greek nation was being created in the Aegean part of Macedonia.

The colonization by this population, whom the Macedonians called madziri (in-comers, foreigners), resulted in the Aegean part of Macedonia losing its Macedonian ethnic character. The Macedonians (240,000) became a minority; they were present as a majority only in the western part of the Aegean part of Macedonia (Kostur, Lerin and Voden regions).

The large colonization brought about by the Greeks was followed by a law passed by the Greek government in 1926 on the change of the toponymy of the Aegean part of Macedonia. All villages, towns, rivers and mountains were renamed and given Greek names.

The Greek state achieved this through a policy of state terror. As early as the period of the Balkan War of 1913 Greece had begun the ethnic genocide of the Macedonian people. The cruelty displayed by the Greek soldiers in their dealings towards the Macedonian people was merciless.

Solun, Aegean MacedoniaFollowing the political partition of Macedonia in 1913, Greece launched upon an active policy of the denial of the nationality and the assimilation of the Macedonians. The name Macedonian and the Macedonian language were prohibited and the Macedonians were referred to as Bulgarians, Slavophone Greeks or simply "endopes" (natives). At the same time, all the Macedonians were forced to change their names and surnames, the latter having to end in -is, -os or -poulos.

With the denial of the Macedonian nation went the non-recognition of the Macedonian language. It was prohibited, its standing was minimized and it was considered a barbarian language, unworthy of a cultured and civilized citizen. Its use in personal communication, between parents and children, among villagers, at weddings and funerals, was strictly forbidden. Defiance of this ban produced Draconian measures, ranging from moral and mental maltreatment to a "language tax" on each Macedonian word that was uttered. The written use of Macedonian was also strictly prohibited, and Macedonian literacy was being eliminated from the churches, monuments and tombstones. All the churches were given Greek names.

The attacks on the Macedonian language culminated at the time of Ioannis Metaxas (1936). General Metaxas banned the use of Macedonian not only in everyday life in the villages, in the market-place, in ordinary and natural human communications and at funerals, but also within the family circle. Adult Macedonians, regardless of their age, were forced to attend what were known as evening schools and to learn "the melodious Greek language". The violation of the ban on the use of the Macedonian language in the villages, market-places or the closed circle of the family caused great numbers of Macedonians to be convicted and deported to desolate Greek islands.

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Change of Toponyms and Names

In its attempts to eradicate the Macedonian name,

  • "Greece followed a policy of assimilating the Macedonian minority and Hellenizing the Macedonian region in northern Greece. The government changed place names and personal names from Macedonian to Greek, (Decree No. 332 of 1926) ordered religious services to be performed in Greek, and altered religious icons." 8

A few examples of changed village names:
           Macedonian Name                New Greek Name

Armensko Alonas Banica Vevi Bouf Akrita Gabresh Gavros Kostur Kastoria Kukush Kilkis Lerin Florina Negochani Niki Oshchima Trigonon Solun Thessaloniki Voden Edessa Zhelevo Antartikon

If Macedonia was always Greek, why would the Greek government have to change the Macedonian names of people, towns, and villages to Greek?

  • "Between 1913 and 1928 the Slavic names of hundreds of villages and towns were Hellenized by a Committee for the Changing of Names, which was charged by the Greek government with 'the elimination of all the names which pollute and disfigure the appearance of our beautiful fatherland and which provide an opportunity for hostile peoples to draw conclusions that are unfavourable for the Greek nation' (Lithoxoou 1992b: 55). In 1927 the Greek government issued a directive calling for the destruction of all Slavic inscriptions in churches and forbidding church services from being held in a Slavic language. Finally, in 1936 a law was passed ordering that all Slavic personal names, both first and last, be Hellenized (Human Rights Watch/Helsinki 1994b: 6-7). Jovan Filipov, therefore, became Yannis Filippidis, and Lena Stoikov became Eleni Stoikou." 9

    Sveti Atanas Church in Zhelevo

    Sveti Atanas Church in Zhelevo, Aegean Macedonia
    The original Macedonian inscriptions were wiped out and replaced with Greek writing

  • "The participants in this partitioning claimed right to parts of Macedonia, declaring Macedonians to be Southern Serbs, Bulgarians and Slavophonic Greeks. They changed their new subjects' names and surnames. They forbade the Macedonian language, forced Macedonians to learn in foreign languages and imposed their own interpretations of history. They forced them to go to their churches. In short, they turned them into second-rate citizens, subjected to systematic re-settling and permanent exile. The common denominator of such politics was denationalization of the Macedonian people, erasing them from the Balkan's map of peoples, usurping its history, identity and desire for its own state. They forced upon us the fate of disappearing through assimilation." 10

  • "After the Greeks occupied Aegean Macedonia, they closed the Slavic-language schools and churches and expelled the priests. The Macedonian language and name were forbidden, and the Macedonians were referred to as Bulgarians, Serbians or natives. By a law promulgated on November 21, 1926, all place-names were Hellenized; that is the names of cities, villages, rivers and mountains were discarded and Greek names put in their place. At the same time the Macedonians were forced to change their first names and surnames; every Macedonian surname had to end in 'os', 'es', or 'poulos'. The news of these acts and the new, official Greek names were published in the Greek government daily Efimeris tis Kiverniseos no.322 and 324 of November 21 and 23, 1926. The requirement to use these Greek names is officially binding to this day. All evidence of the Macedonian language was compulsorily removed from churches, monuments, archaeological finds and cemetaries. Slavonic church or secular literature was seized and burned. The use of the Macedonian language was strictly forbidden also in personal communication between parents and children, among villagers, at weddings and work parties, and in burial rituals." 11

  • "In 1926 the Greek government ordered in decree no. 332 of November 1926 that all Slavonic names of towns, villages, rivers and mountains should be replaced by Greek ones." 12

Summary of the Change of Toponyms and Names 13

Immediately after the Bucharest Peace Treaty, when it became quite clear that Greece had usurped territory which did not belong to it either by the ethnic structure of the population or geographically, the Greek government conducted a census of the population in the new lands. According to this census the Aegean part of Macedonia numbered 1,160,477 inhabitants. In 1917 the law known under the number 1051 was passed, article 6 of which established the formation and functioning of the town and village municipalities of the New Lands.

The White Tower in SolunOn 10th October 1919 the Commission on Toponym in Greece issued a circular letter which contained instructions for the choice of place-names. The circular letter from the Commission was immediately followed by a booklet by N. Politis entitled "Advice on the Change of the Names of Municipalities and Villages" (Athens, 1920), published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Greece. At the same time, special sub-commissions were formed in the newly-established districts in the Aegean part of Macedonia, whose task it was to study the problem on the spot and to suggest new names for the villages and towns in the respective districts.

In the spirit of this letter, in 1922, the Commission on Toponyms of Greece issued a more detailed statement under the number 426. This Commission had intensified its activities and was now giving concrete suggestions. However, owing to the Graeco-Turkish War, the still undefined peace agreement with Turkey and also the great migrations of the population between Aegean Macedonia and Turkey and the forced movement of an estimated 33,000 Macedonians to Bulgaria (imposed by the Neuilly Convention, signed by Bulgaria and Greece, for "voluntary" resettlement) the process of renaming was slightly slowed down.

Thus in the period from 1918 to 1925 inclusive, 76 centres of population in Aegean Macedonia were renamed: in 1918 - one; in 1919 - two; in 1920 - two; in 1921 - two; in 1922 - eighteen; in 1923 - eighteen; in t924 - six and in 1925 - twenty-six. But as soon as the processes of migration came to an end and the position of the state was strengthened, and, following the legislative orders of 17th September 1926, published in the "Government Gazette" N2 331, 21st September 1926, and the Decision of the Ministerial Council dated 10th November 1927, and published in the Government Gazette S2 287, 13th November 1927, the process of renaming the inhabited places was accelerated to an incredible degree. Consequently, in the course of 1926, 440 places in the Aegean part of Macedonia were renamed: 149 in 1927, 835 and-in 1928, 212, i.e. in only three years , 1926, 1927 and 1928, 1,497 places in the Aegean part of Macedonia were renamed.

By the end of 1928 most of the centres of population in the Aegean part of Macedonia had been given new names, but the Greek state continued the process by a gradual perfection of the system of renaming, effected through new laws and new instructions. On t3th March 1929 the special law known under its number, 4,096, was passed and published in the "Government Gazette" S-- 99 of 13th March 1929.

This law contained detailed instructions and directives as to the process of renaming places. By the force of this law and the earlier instructions, amended by Law Ng 6,429 of 18th June 1935, Law S2 1418 of 22 November 1938, Law N2 697 of 4th December 1945 and many other instructions, legislative orders and other enactments, the process of renaming the inhabited areas has been carried on to this day, taking care of each and every geographical name of suspicious origin throughout Macedonia, including entirely insignificant places, all aimed at erasing any possible Slav trace from the Aegean part of Macedonia and from the whole of Greece. With these laws, instructions and other enactments, the district commissions in charge of the change of place names and the Principal Commission at the Ministerial Council of Greece (established as early as 1909) enforced many more changes.

In the period from 1929 to 1940 inclusive, another 39 places in the Aegean part of Macedonia were renamed, and after World War II (up to 1979 inclusive) yet another 135 places in this part of Macedonia were renamed. An estimated total of 1,666 cities, towns and villages were renamed in the Aegean part of Macedonia in the period from 1918 to 1970 inclusive. This number does not include those inhabited places the renaming of which has not been announced in the "Government Gazette", which has been taken as the exclusive source for the figures and the dynamics of renaming given here by years and districts. Neither does it include the numerous Macedonian settlements named after saints, the names of which official Greece simply translated from the Macedonian into the Greek language.

Renamed centres of population in the Aegean part of Macedonia by district:

1. Ber - 49; 2. Negush - 16; 3. Greven - 82; 4. Voden - 34; 5. Enidzevardar - 56; 6. Meglen - 48; 7. Drama - 233; 8. Kavala - 24; 9. Pravishta - 36; 10. Sari shaban - 38; 11. Tasos - 3; 12. Katerini 42; 13. Kajlari - 32; 14. Kozzani - 88; 15. Naselichka - 72; 16. Gumendze 29; 17. Kukush - 179; 18. Kostur 104; 19. Lerin - 101; 20. Valovishta 84; 21. Zihneni - 20; 22. Nigride - 35; 23 Ser - 55; 24. Lagadin 76; 25. Salonica - 78; 26. Larigovo - 6; 27. Halkidiki - 40; or a total of 1,666.

Renamed places in the Aegean part of Macedonia by years:

1918 - 1; 1919 - 2; 1920 - 2; 1922 - 19; 1923 - 18; 1924 - 6; 1925 - 26; 1926 - 440; 1927 - 835; 1928 - 212; 1929 - 9; 1930 - 7; 1932 - 6 1933 - 2; 1934 5; 1936 - 2; 1939 - 2; 1940 - 6; 1946 - 1; 1948 - 2; 1949 - 5; 1950 - 17; 1951 - 4; 1953 - 22; 1954 - 18; 1955 - 25; 1956 - 4; 1957 - 3; 1958 - 2; 1959 - 2; 1960 - 5; 1961 - 6; 1962 - 3; 1963 - 6; 1964 - 3; 1965 - 4; 1966 - 1; 1968 - 1; 1970 - 1; or a total of 1,646.

We shall give just a few examples of renamed places, rivers, mountains, rivers, lakes and mountains: The town of Voden was renamed Edessa; Rupista - Argos Orestikon; S'botska - Aridea; Postlo - Pella; Libanovo - Eginion; Larigovo - Arnea; ostrovo - Arnisa; Vrtikop - Skidra; Valovista - Sidirokastron, and the small settlements of Barbesh and Kutlesh into Vergina. The River Vardar was renamed Axios, the Bistrica - Alliakmon; the Galik - Erigon, etc. Lake ostrovsko became Limni Arnisis; Lake Gorchlivo became Pikrolimi, etc. Mt. Pijavica was renamed as Stratonikion; Grbovica on Mt. Athos Agion Oros; Karakamen - Vermion, Kusnica - Pangeon, etc. The Voden district became Nomos Pelis; Gumendze district - Eparhia Paeonis; Valovista district - Eparhia Sindikis; Zihnenska ditrict - Eparhia Philidos; Pravishka district - Eparhia Pangeu, etc.

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AbecedarThe Greek government, upon signing the Treaty of Sevres on August 10, 1920, undertook obligations to protect its national minorities. Articles 7,8,and 9 stipulated the free use of the minorities' language, education, religious services, etc.

In March 1925, the Council of the League of Nations insisted that Greece carry out the stipulations of the agreement and provide the Macedonians with their educational and religious needs. The Greek government notified the League of Nations that:

"...measures were being taken towards the opening of schools with instruction in the Slav language in the following school year of 1925/1926 and towards granting freedom to practise religion in the Slav language." 14

A primer, entitled ABECEDAR, was written in the Macedonian language and was intended for use by Macedonian school-children. This was used by Greece as evidence of their commitment to the League of Nations agreement. It was prepared by a special government commission and published by the Greek government in Athens in 1925.

The following is a quote from Salonica Terminus: 15

  • "Official policy, since the integration into the modern Greek State of the region called Macedonia, has been to deny the existence of the Slav-Macedonians as a distinct people, separate from the Greeks. But lingering just below the bright, hard surface of the discourse of authority is an ill-concealed malaise. In 1925, the country's education ministry prepared a primary school reader in Slav-Macedonian entitled Abecedar for submission to the League of Nations. The book was to be held up as proof that the Macedonian Slavic tongue was neither Bulgarian nor Serbian, but a distinct language protected and encouraged by the State. On the delegation's return from Geneva, the Abecedar was confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, by government decree, all Slavonic church icons were repainted with Greek names. Why had it become necessary to eradicate that which did not exist?"

Summary of the Abecedar Case 16

Zhelevo, Aegean MacedoniaBy signing the Treaty of Sevres on 10th August, 1920, the Greek government undertook certain obligations regarding "the protection of the non-Greek national minorities in Greece". Articles 7, 8 and 9 of this treaty stipulated precisely the free use of the minorities' language, education, religious practice, etc. Bulgaria and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes interested themselves in the implementation of this treaty, and when Greece realized it was in its interest to sign the "Lesser Protocols" (League of Nations, Geneva, 29th September 1924) on the protection of the Greek minority in Bulgaria and the reciprocal protection of the Bulgarian minority in Greece, Sofia launched a campaign in support of the activities initiated by the Joint Greek-Bulgarian Commission for the ,'voluntary" exchange of minorities. Large numbers of Macedonians were forcibly moved to Bulgaria, and Orthodox Christians from Turkey, Bulgaria and other places were brought to the Aegean part of Macedonia where, as Greeks, they took over the Macedonians' property. However, since this met with resolute opposition not only in Sofia but in Belgrade as well, the Greek parliament did not ratify certain relevant clauses of the "Lesser Protocols".

In March 1925 the Council of the League of Nations concerned itself with the situation so created and addressed three questions to the Greek government, insisting particularly on a reply on the measures taken with regards to the needs, the education and the freedom of religious practice of the "Slav speaking minority" in Greece. These documents treated the Macedonians neither as a Serbian nor as a Bulgarian minority, but as a "Slav-speaking minority". In its reply the Greek government categorically denied the Bulgarian government the right to be interested in the "Slav-speaking minority", claiming that only the League of Nations could have and had the right to intervene with regard to the rights of this minority. Greece stated that no steps were taken for the protection of the "Slav-speaking minority in Greece" as it had been thought that the convention on reciprocal resettlement would result in "the moving of all Macedonians" beyond the borders of Greece.

The Greek government also notified the League of Nations that "measures were being taken towards the opening of schools with instruction in the Slav language in the following school year of 1925/26" and towards granting freedom to practice religion in the Slav language. The primer intended for the Macedonian children in this part of Macedonia, entitled ABECEDAR, was offered as an argument in support of this statement. This primer, prepared by a special government commission and published by the Greek government in Athens in 1925, was written in the Lerin-Bitola vernacular (even though Bitola was not within the Greek borders!) but printed in a specially adapted Latin alphabet (instead of the traditional Cyrillic, which was the official alphabet of Bulgaria and Serbia).

Many primers written mainly in Macedonian and intended for schools in Macedonia were published in the 19th century, but this was the first primer for Macedonians written and published by a legitimate government for its citizens and under the aegis of the League of Nations. This significant act on the part of the Greek government was condemned outright by both Belgrade and Sofia. The former proved that those for whom the primer was intended were in fact "Serbs", whereas the latter claimed that they were "Bulgarians". Bulgaria commissioned its outstanding philologists and Slavists to help its diplomats and Belgrade inspired petitions from two ailari villages (written in Serbian!) which were sent to the League of Nations. These petitions stated that the signatories were "Serbs by nationality" and that they demanded their rights "as a national minority" and also a "Serbian school" in order to "protect their language from enforced Graecization". At the same time, propaganda activities were undertaken among the population of these villages, promising free land and Serbian priests and teachers to those who declared themselves as Serbs. The Greek government's immediate response was another petition from the same village (Birinci), signed 16th October 1925, in which the signatories claimed that "in this region there are no Serbs, nor are there any Serbian institutions, and consequently the Serbian language is not used". The League of Nations used this statement to ask, in writing, the following question: the Greek government claims that this population does not speak Serbian, but does not say "what the language they speak in is".

At the last moment before the deadline the Greek government replied by cable saying that "the population of these villages knows neither the Serbian nor the Bulgarian language and speaks nothing but a Slav-Macedonian idiom". Thus the Greek government officially recognized for the first time the separate national entity of the Macedonians within Greece's borders, which is also clearly confirmed by the pure language of the pnmer, ABECEDAR, published in Greece. Following the stormy and violent reaction in the press of the three monarchies the Greek government decided, with relief, not to introduce the primer, which was already published, into Macedonian schools.

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The Metaxas Dictatorship

  • "The use of the Macedonian language was prohibited both in public and at home, and the penalties included fines, forced drinking of castor oil, thrashing, torture, and exile. All its native speakers were forced to attend night school to learn Greek." 17

Banica, Aegean MacedoniaGeneral Metaxas severely persecuted those who spoke Macedonian, even in private everyday life in the villages, at funerals, and at home. Adult Macedonians were denied the right to speak their mother tongue and were forced to attend night school to learn Greek.

Use of the Macedonian language meant harsh reprisals, including a "language tax". The following is a quote from Hristo Melovski, a professor of history at the University of Skopje, who was born in Aegean Macedonia.

  • "They told us our name was now Mellios and it was forbidden to speak our language-for every Macedonian word, you would be fined 30 to 40 drachmas (40 cents U.S.). One man I knew fought it. He would see a policeman and go right up to him, pronounce a Macedonian word, and hand him the money." 18

  • "The dictatorial regime established in 1936 under General Metaxas adopted a policy of forced assimilation of the Macedonian minority. The repression of the Macedonian minority in Greece was further stepped up. Macedonians were forbidden to speak their language in public, and deportations to the islands became a usual governmental practice. According to Yugoslav sources, some 1,600 Macedonians were interned on the islands of Thasos and Cephalonia in the years preceding World War II." 19

  • "The dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1940) was especially brutal in its treatment of the Slavic speakers of Aegean Macedonia, who by this time had increasingly begun to identify themselves as Macedonians. On December 18, 1936, the Metaxas dictatorship issued a legal act concerning 'Activity Against State Security.' This law punished claims of minority rights. Ont he basis of this act, thousands of Macedonians were arrested, imprisoned, or expelled from Greece. On September 7, 1938, the legal act 2366 was issued. This banned the use of the Macedonian language even in the domestic sphere. All Macedonian localities were flooded with posters that read, 'Speak Greek.' Evening schools were opened in which adult Macedonian were taught Greek. No Macedonian schools of any kind were permitted. Any public manifestation of Macedonian national feeling and its outward expression through language, song or dance was forbidden and severely punished by the Metaxas regime. People who spoke Macedonian were beaten, fined, and imprisoned. Punishments in some areas included piercing of the tongue with a needle and cutting off a part of the ear for every Macedonian word spoken. Almost 5,000 Macedonians were sent to jails and prison camps for violating this prohibition against the use of the Macedonian language. Mass exile of sections of Macedonians and other 'difficult' minorities took place. The trauma of persecution has left deep scars on the consciousness of the Macedonians in Greece, many of whom are even today convinced that their language 'cannot' be committed to writing." 20


  1. The Macedonians of Aegean Macedonia: A British Officer's Report, 1944, Andrew Rossos, The Slavonic and East European Review, Volume 69 Number 2, April 1991; p.284
  2. Macedonia and Greece - The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation, John Shea, McFarland and Company Inc., North Carolina, 1997; p.107
  3. Ibid; p.107
  4. The Macedonians of Aegean Macedonia: A British Officer's Report, 1944, Andrew Rossos, The Slavonic and East European Review, Volume 69 Number 2, April 1991; p.293 (quotation by British Captain P.H. Evans, stationed in Aegean Macedonia during WWII)
  5. Greek Monitor of Human and Minority Rights, December 1995 Volume 1, No.3, Minority Rights Group and Greek Helsinki Monitor, 1995; p.20
  6. Macedonia and Greece - The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation, John Shea, McFarland and Company Inc., North Carolina, 1997; p.105
  7. Macedonia and Its Relations With Greece, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Skopje, 1993; p.70-73
  8. Denying Ethnic Identity: the Macedonians of Greece, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, New York, 1994; p.6-7
  9. The Macedonian Conflict, Loring M. Danforth, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1995; p.69
  10. Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, quoted by the Macedonian Information and Liaison Service (MILS), Skopje, August 3, 1994
  11. Macedonia and Greece - The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation, John Shea, McFarland and Company Inc., North Carolina, 1997; p.108-109
  12. The Balkans - Minorities and States in Conflict, Hugh Poulton, Minority Rights Group, Minority Rights Publications, London, 1991; p.176
  13. Macedonia and Its Relations With Greece, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Skopje, 1993
  14. League of Nations, Official Journal, Council, Geneva, 6th year, No.7, July 1925; p.950
  15. Salonica Terminus, Reed, Fred A., Burnaby, Talonbooks, 1996; p.249-250
  16. Macedonia and Its Relations With Greece, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Skopje, 1993
  17. Greek Monitor of Human and Minority Rights, December 1995 Volume 1, No.3, Minority Rights Group and Greek Helsinki Monitor, 1995; p.37
  18. National Geographic, Volume 189, No. 3, March 1996; p.131
  19. The Rising Sun In the Balkans: The Republic Of Macedonia, International Affairs Agency, Sydney, Pollitecon Publications, 1995; p.33
  20. Macedonia and Greece - The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation, John Shea, McFarland and Company Inc., North Carolina, 1997; p.111-112

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