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Kostur, Aegean Macedonia

Kostur, Aegean Macedonia

 Oppressive Measures Following World War II | The Greek Civil War |  Decata Begalci (The Child Refugees)

Oppressive Measures Following World War II 1

The Greek policy towards Macedonians in the course of the Second World War had a dual goal: to maintain the process of the assimilation and de-nationalization of Macedonians and the prevention of the creation and development of a Macedonian liberation movement with a Macedonian national programme in the Aegean part of Macedonia. With this aim in mind, the Greek right wing formed a variety of nationalist and chauvinist organizations in the Aegean part of Macedonia, such as the Protection of Northern Greece (I'VE), the Pan-Greek Liberation Organization (PAO) and others such, as well as a variety of military formations which persecuted the Macedonians, using terror, murder, Mass court proceedings, deportation, plundering, confiscation of property, clearances, resettlement, etc. In the given period 3,482 houses were burned down, 80 villages consisting of 1,605 families were plundered and 1,045 head of large live-stock and 23,382 head of small livestock were confiscated.

In order to put the anti-Macedonian persecution on a legal basis the Greek authorities passed laws, decrees and other enactments by which Macedonians were subjected to large-scale persecution. We shall mention only a few such laws: Law N2 453 and Law TOD of July 1945 "on the securement of public safety"; Law 509/1945 "on public order and banditry"; Law 543/45 against organizations and individuals acting in favour of secession from the Greek territories", etc.

The White Tower in Solun - 1957The anti-Macedonian harshness of these laws surpassed the Compulsory Law S2 2366 of 7th September 1938, passed by Metaxas' regime and aimed at erasing every possible trace of the Macedonian national character of the Aegean part of Macedonia.

Under these laws Macedonian men and women, members of the Macedonian national democratic organizations, the National Liberation Front (NOF), the National Liberation Youth Association (NOMS) and the Antifascist Women's Front (AFZ) were proclaimed bandits. As soon as a person was proclaimed a bandit his or her next of kin and any other people who could be suspected of helping him or her were interned, in accordance with the regulations of these laws.

Law 543/45 "against autonomist activity" helped rig thousands of charges against Macedonians accused of co-operation with Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in activities aimed at the secession of the Aegean part of Macedonia and similar offences. Special commissions formed in every village or other populated place preferred mass charges against Macedonians to the District Attorney's office, with groundless accusations of collaboration with the occupier, autonomistic activities and the like. In the Kostur region alone 4,500 Macedonian men and women were accused of autonomistic activities, even though most of them were on active service with ELLAS. According to the information available, in the period from 1945 to the end of 1974 9,924 Macedonians were remanded in custody and 4,203 were convicted. 23,811 Macedonian men and women were interned on the basis of decisions of the special Security Commission.

It was becoming clear that the Greek authorities were resolved to continue the oppression of the Macedonians, notwithstanding the cost, and thus to force them to flee across the border. The wave of refugees was growing daily. Under the pressure exerted by the Greek authorities entire villages fled across the borders. The most -typical examples of forced migration of Macedonians are to be found in eastern Macedonia, where Greek terrorist bands killed 29 and imprisoned 3,100 Macedonians and expelled 600 Macedonian families across the borders - and this in the period from February to the end of March 1945 alone.

The situation was no different in the other areas of Aegean Macedonia. In 1948 the majority of the Macedonian population of western and central Aegean Macedonia fled to Yugoslavia and Albania in order to save their lives. More than 60,000 Macedonian men and women were forced to seek, refuge outside the country, fleeing across the border.

As well as all these methods and measures, the Greek authorities attempted one of the greatest crimes against the Macedonians. In June 1946 a group of Greek Members of Parliament suggested that the Greek Parliament issue a decree for the forced deportation of all Macedonians from the Aegean part of Macedonia, a suggestion which was justified by their alleged activities, which were said to be a threat to the integrity and sovereignty of Greece and a danger to the peace. In the period before the announcement of the suggestion and during the debate in Parliament a campaign of slander against Macedonians was carried out by the entire state and propaganda machinery, this being aimed at preparing domestic and international public opinion to regard the eventual implementation of this suggested action as completely justified. Thus Macedonians were described, among other things, as the "Sudetens of the Balkans and it was said that for as long as they were present in Greece they would represent a cause of war and a focus of war among the Balkan lands: or in other words, there would be no peace.

For certain reasons both internal and external the Greek Parliament did not pass a decree on the exile of the Macedonians, but the Greek right wing clung to its policy on the exodus of the Macedonians. One of the Crimes committed by the Greek monarcho-fascists was the forced resettlement of their villagers and the dumping of them in special camps in urban centres, which had begun as early as 1946. According to the statistics, 213,000 people were forcibly exited from the Aegean part of Macedonia.

The terror, mass murder and other forms of repression proved ineffective when it came to breaking the spirit of Macedonians. Indeed, the Macedonian national liberation movement grew into an important and in certain periods even a decisive military and political factor in the country, one with clear and defined strategic goals. More than 20,000 Macedonians served in the ranks of the Democratic Army of Greece (DAG) and its auxiliary services. The liberated territory, covering mainly the territory of Aegean Macedonia, had popular rule, Macedonian people's schools, a Macedonian people's printing-house which published newspapers and other material in Macedonian, cultural and arts groups and other Macedonian institutions.

Sveti Atanas Church in ZhelevoFaced with the stand taken by the Macedonians the Greek authorities tried yet another cunning manoeuver. In order to shatter the unity of the Macedonian people and of the Macedonian Liberation Movement the Greek government passed, on 23rd May 1949, a strictly confidential decree by which the Macedonians, until then considered "Bulgarians", and other non-Greek elements which were to be uprooted, were renamed "Slavicised Greeks", and were to be treated as such by the Greek authorities: they were thus to be granted all civil rights, and included in all sectors of political and state life and the like. Their being called by the names Bulgarians or Slav Macedonians was strictly prohibited, and the name of "Slavophone Greek" was the only one permitted. The governmental agencies were instructed to adapt themselves and to help the Macedonians in every way possible to develop trust in the state and to seek its protection, so that they would begin to approach government representatives freely for the solution of their problems.

This attempt on the part of the Greek right wing also proved to be a total failure. The decree had no effect on the Macedonians. They carried on with their struggle for national liberation and for the affirmation of their national identity with even greater intensity. As a result, the Greek authorities continued and even reinforced the violent repression of the Macedonians.

On 20th January 1948 the Greek government passed the "M" Decree ordering the confiscation of the property of those individuals who had taken part in the Civil War on the side of the Communist Party of Greece (CPG) and NOF, and of those who had assisted these organizations and whose Greek citizenship had been revoked.

In addition to this decree, the "N" Decree was passed on 2nd April 1948. This decree revoked the right of inheritance of all those who had taken part in or helped the Civil War. In view of the fact that large numbers of Macedonians had taken part in the Civil War, the consequences of this Decree and other regulations were borne mostly by them, but, after all, that was the main intention of the decrees.

The implementation of these laws and decrees continued even after the Civil War had come to an end, for they were supported by enactments issued by the Ministerial Council of Greece: Nos. 944/1950; 253/1951; 826/ 1952. All these regulations were sanctioned by article 105, inserted into the Greek Constitution in 1952.

The aim of this was to prevent Macedonia ns returning to their homes even after the end of the Civil War. Commissions for the confiscation and expropriation of refugees' property and for the allocation of this to new owners were formed in every district.

The property confiscated and expropriated from the Macedonians was allotted to people loyal to the regime and to those who had distinguished themselves in the struggle against DAG and particularly against the Macedonians. Most of these people were brought in from the Greek hinterland.

On 23rd February 1953 a meeting of the Greek military and administrative authorities in Macedonia was held in Thessaloniki at which it was decided to propose that the Greek government pass a law on the resettlement and re-inhabiting of the so-called sensitive border areas of the Aegean part of Macedonia. it was suggested that all Macedonians from within 60 kilometers of the border be resettled, as disloyal elements, and that in their place Greeks loyal to the regime should be brought in as "healthy elements" with "pure Greek national awareness.

NLF Conference in Lerin - June, 1948The Greek government accepted this proposal and submitted it to the Greek Parliament which, on 4th August 1953, passed Law NL- 2536 on the resettlement of the population from the border areas. In accordance with the regulations of this law special state commissions were formed which effected the resettlement, selected people of pure Greek origin and established them in the Macedonian border areas, handing over to them the Macedonians, property. Among these people there were Greek nationalists, chauvinists and anti-Macedonians who had distinguished themselves in the struggle against NOF and DAG.

A case in point, and not an isolated one, is that of the group of Macedonian villages called Janovenski in the Kostur region, the inhabitants of which had all fought in the ranks of ELLAS. Some of the inhabitants of these villages did not emigrate but were resettled in other parts of Macedonia. When the Civil War ended they requested to be allowed to return to their villages, but their request was turned down and their properties were pillaged and their homes demolished.

The court proceedings for the return of their estates have lasted for decades. After the end of the Civil War the question of the confiscated properties became very strained. There were many new laws and regulations on the issue. The aim was to avoid returning the Macedonians' property, to prevent them from returning to their homes and thus to prevent the creation of conditions for the formation of a compact Macedonian population.

All this was in the interest of the Graecization of the Aegean part of Macedonia. The problem of the estates was taken care of in Regulations Nos. 3958 and 2951 of 1959, as well as in Law *- 4234, known as "Measures for Public Order", passed by K. Karamanlis's government in 1962, and by the 1972 decree No. 666. Under these regulations Macedonians were prevented from realizing their rights.

An enormous number of applications for repatriation were turned down and those few who succeeded in returning could not have their estates back, which forced them to engage in marathon lawsuits which eventually ended to their disadvantage. In accordance with tradition, the Greek church took an active part in the anti-Macedonian campaign. Besides the daily sermons of anti-Slav and anti-Macedonian content preached by Greek priests, the Greek church took measures to force the Macedonians to give a collective and public oath that in future they would not use Macedonian but only the Greek language.

In April 1980 the leadership of the Central Committee for Political Refugees (KEPPE) submitted a demand to the Greek government that political refugees be allowed freely and unconditionally to return to their homes. Minister Konstantinos Stephanopulos replied that the request could not be granted, because of national interests. In his explanation Stephanopulos stated that in certain parts of Greece there were areas in which there had lived and still lived people of a reduced national feeling, i.e. territories with a sensitive population composition, so that if a free repatriation of such people were to be allowed, Greece would have to face once again a national issue and danger in certain sensitive areas. Recent history had confirmed this, said Stephanopulos. He went on to offer a precise figure of 40,000 people residing in East European countries (Macedonians) and to say that this did not constitute an issue that concerned Greece.

That this was out of the question so far as Greece was concerned. For these reasons, according to Stephanopulos, the Greek government could not accept or apply the principle of free repatriation. When the Pan-Greek Socialist Alliance (PASOK) assumed power, the government of Andreas Papandreou sharpened the measures towards assimilation and de-nationalization even further. On 30th December 1982 this government passed a law on the free repatriation of refugees from Greece, i.e. of those "Greek by birth", by which the Macedonians (as non-Greeks by birth) were deprived of the possibility of returning to their homes, to the country of their birth.

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The Greek Civil War

"From the period prior to the Metaxas dictatorship until after the Civil War, the Greek Communist Party recognized the large ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. Click here to read articles from the newspaper Rizospastis.

Lerin During the Greek Civil War""Toward the end of World War II, Aegean Macedonians formed the Slav National Liberation Front (SNOF) in alliance with the Greek Communist forces in order to resist the fascist occupation of Macedonia by the Germans and Bulgarians. During this period in the liberated areas of Greece under Communist control, Macedonians were free to publish newspapers, establish schools, and hold church services, all in the Macedonian language."

"During the Civil War that followed, Aegean Macedonians continued their struggle for the creation of an autonomous Aegean Macedonia, which would ultimately become part of a united and independent Macedonia. But in 1949, with the defeat of the 'democratic forces of Greece' by the 'promonarchist bourgeois forces' of the Greek government, these hopes were dashed. Over the course of the Civil War thousands of Aegean Macedonians were killed, imprisoned, or had their land confiscated, and many Macedonian villages were completely destroyed. Fifty thousand Aegean Macedonians were forced to flee their homes and escape to Yugoslavia in order to avoid persecution. In one of the most tragic episodes of this period 28,000 Aegean Macedonian children, known as 'child refugees' (Deca Begalci), were separated from their families and settled in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in an attempt to save them from the terror, slaughter, and bombing inflicted on Aegean Macedonians by the Greek government." 2

A Macedonian living in Melbourne, Australia, Vangel Rozakis, recalls his experiences of the Greek Civil War:

"We've been fighting for our freedom for two thousand years. With the referendum we finally broke our chains. The more you suppress a people, the more they assert their identity. People are like tobacco seeds; there can be a drought for thirty or forty years, but when the moisture comes, the seeds will begin to grow."

"The hell we've seen, especially from the Greek side. We'll have nightmares till we die. The Macedonian people went through a mincing machine and came out a people who fight for freedom."

"My grandfather was arrested because he was a Macedonian. He was sixty years old, and he didn't speak Greek. He didn't know anything about politics either. He went to jail for four years because he wouldn't sign a paper saying he was Greek. I'll never forgive the Greeks for that. Every family here has dropped a tear from the Greek government. My wife saw a Greek soldier cut open a woman who was eight months pregnant and put her baby on the end of his bayonet. That's what makes the nightmares come. Where was the UN? Where was Europe?"

"I remember sitting with my friends for three days in a dirt hole with no food and no water. The Greek soldiers had machine guns; they were just waiting for orders from Athens to kill us. They dropped a bomb on my godfather's house and killed eleven members of his family. It wasn't their nation; it wasn't their people. We were Macedonians. They did it so they could bring Greeks from Asia Minor to take our land."3

"After the Varkisa agreement (12-2-1945), the use of the Macedonian name and the Macedonian language were once again prohibited in the Aegean part of Macedonia and the Greek authorities started applying medieval terror against the Macedonians. In the period of 1945-46 alone, according to statistics: 400 murders were registered; 440 women and girls were raped; 13,529 interned on the Greek islands; 8,145 imprisoned in the Greek prisons; 4,209 indicted; 3,215 sentenced to prison; 13 driven mad by the torture in the prisons; 45 villages abandoned; 80 villages pillaged; 1,605 families plundered; and 1,943 families evicted."

"In order to protect themselves from this attempt at ethnic extermination, the Macedonians from the Aegean part of Macedonia began to organize and provide armed resistance against the nationalistic policy of the Greek government. Macedonian organizations (NOF, AFZ, NOMS) played invaluable historical roles in the organization of the Macedonian resistance."

"At the beginning of the Greek Civil War (1946-49), the Macedonian people were drawn into the conflict not because of Communist aspirations, but by the promise of granting them full national and human rights. These included the rights to use the Macedonian language publicly, be educated in the Macedonian language, and to be able to establish and worship in Macedonian churches. It also included the promise of the right to self-determination through the establishment of of autonomous Macedonia. Because of these factors, the Macedonian people took massive participation in the Greek Civil War with over 20,000 Macedonians who actively participated in the armed resistance, and hundreds of thousands more who supported them."

"For a short time during the conflict, certain rights were granted to the Macedonians in Greece. The Macedonian language flourished in the schools and churches. Eighty seven Macedonian language schools with over 10,000 pupils were opened, and cultural theatrical performances in Macedonian were an everyday occurrence."

"Unfortunately, this period ended with the systematic bombing and destruction of the cities and villages in the Aegean part of Macedonia. The genocide and terror perpetuated against the innocent civilian population raged on without any restraints from any local or international authorities." 4

The Period Following the Greek Civil War

Lerin, Aegean Macedonia"During this period (following WWII and the Greek Civil War) these Slavic-speaking people who knew they were not Greek-these Macedonians-were severely persecuted. They were accused of being 'Communists,' on the one hand, and 'Slavs' or "Bulgarians," on the other. They were considered 'enemies of the state' because of their politics and because of their ethnic or national identity. On both counts they were not 'real Greeks'; they were not full members of the Greek nation."

"The persecution of the Macedonians in Greece took on two particularly egregious forms: the administration of language oaths and the confiscation of property. In the late 1950's the inhabitants of several villages in the districts of Florina (Lerin), Kastoria (Kostur), and Edhessa (Voden) were forced to take oaths in which they swore never again to speak 'the local Slavic idiom,' but to speak only Greek." They took the following oath:

"I promise before God and men and the official authorities of the state that from this day on I shall cease speaking the Slavic idiom, which only gives grounds for misunderstanding to the enemies of our country, the Bulgarians, and that I will speak everywhere and always the official language of my fatherland, the Greek language, in which the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ is written." 5

Petro Shorev, a seventy-five year old man born in Voden living in Skopje, crying, told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that he wants to visit his parents' graves, but is not allowed into Greece (Aegean Macedonia):

  • "My heart is suffering. I am a wounded man. I don't know if I will be alive tomorrow or next year to see their graves. I go to the border and ask to visit, but the guards won't let me. My nephew used to visit, but now he is afraid to, since Macedonian independence. I have two sisters in Solun, but they're afraid to try to visit me too. I left in 1944. I never got a notice that the Greeks had taken away my citizenship. I became a Yugoslav citizen (now Macedonian) in 1957. I have property in Greece (Aegean Macedonia), in Voden. I can't go to claim it, and I was never paid for it." 6

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Decata Begalci (The Child Refugees)

Over 28,000 Macedonian children were evacuated by the Red Cross during the Greek Civil War in order to prevent them from being killed by the Greek government. After the war, they were not permitted to return to their birthplaces and to be reunited with their families:

  • "In 1947 those who had fought against the government in the civil war and fled Greece were deprived of their citizenship and their property." 7

Zhelevo, Aegean MacedoniaThis affected the Deca Begalci despite the fact that they were evacuated, as children, in order to save their lives. The Greek government attempted to "purify" Greece by denying Macedonians re-entry into the country to resettle, reclaim their property or even to visit. Their aim was to repopulate Aegean Macedonia with ethnic Greeks, a process started after the annexation of Aegean Macedonia in 1913. The discrimination against the Macedonian participants in the Civil War continued several decades later, as is evident by the following quote:

"In 1982, a Greek ministerial decree (Decree Number 106841 of December 29, 1982) provided that 'all Greeks by genus (ie. of Greek origin) who during the Civil War of 1946-49 and because of it have fled abroad as political refugees may return to Greece, in spite of the fact that Greek citizenship had been taken away from them. In 1985, a law was enacted that permitted political refugees who were 'Greek by origin' to reclaim their property, thus excluding Macedonians from doing so."

"Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has been unable to obtain accurate figures on the number of people 'of Greek origin' who availed themselves of the 1982 law, but the number is in the thousands." Those who considered themselves Macedonians, although born in Greece (Aegean Macedonia), or children of parents born in Greece, were not permitted to return, even, for the most part, to visit." 8

"Because of these life-threatening circumstances, it was decided to evacuate the children and to save them from certain death. Although it was only supposed to be a temporary measure, it became a life-long exile for the vast majority of the children."

"A total of 28,000 children, aged 2-14 years, left their war-torn homeland for the safety of the Eastern European countries. With the assistance of the Red Cross in these countries, they were housed, fed and educated. Tragically, 1,200 children between the ages of 14-15 were brought back to the battlefield by the Provisional Government of the Greek Communists, the majority of whom were slaughtered in the last days of the Greek Civil War."

Deca Begalci Reunion"For the Macedonian children that remained in the Eastern European countries, life was made very difficult by the separation from their parents, grandparents, and the homes in which they were raised. Because of the generosity of the host countries, the basic needs of the children were always fulfilled, even to the extent that Macedonian language classes were a regular part of the school curriculum. With time, the majority of the children emigrated to the free part of Macedonia (at the time the Republic of Macedonia within Yugoslavia), only a handful returned to the Aegean part of Macedonia because of the ongoing discrimination and attempt at the assimilation of the ethnic Macedonians. Many of the children later emigrated to Western countries such as Canada, the United States and Australia, to be re-united with other members of their families, and became prominent and productive members of those societies."

"The situation in the Aegean part of Macedonia has unfortunately not changed significantly since the 1940's. Even internationally guaranteed fundamental human rights are not enjoyed by the ethnic Macedonians in Greece, the Greek government denies the very existence of any Macedonian minority within its borders. In 1982, the Greek Parliament, under the leadership of Mr. Andreas Papandreou, passed legislation named Bill 1540, which allowed for a general amnesty and repatriation of all political refugees who left Greece during the Civil War, a restoration of their civil rights and the reinstatement of confiscated properties. The injustice lies in the fact that Bill 1540 only applies to persons of Greek nationality. Any of the children who left Greece and declare themselves as Greek citizens of Macedonian ethnicity are not granted repatriation."

"It is ironic that the former leaders of the Greek Communist Party, who were responsible for the Civil War, were allowed to return freely to Greece, while innocent children that were evacuated with the help of the Red Cross are prevented from returning to their birthplaces. Even as Canadian citizens with valid Canadian passports, they are not permitted to visit Greece as tourists or to attend funerals of immediate family members. All this because the former children refugees declare themselves to be ethnically Macedonian, a right which is guaranteed by all International Human Rights Agreements and to which Greece is a signatory."

"The Association of Refugee Children from Aegean Macedonia (ARCAM) was formed in the year 1979, with the intention of uniting all former Macedonian children refugees living in Canada and throughout the whole world. One of the main objectives of ARCAM was to facilitate the adaptation of these people into their new homelands so that they could become more productive members of their respective societies. Another main objective was to organize the refugee children to work in a systematic manner for the achievement of fundamental human and national rights as ethnic Macedonians. With chapters of ARCAM existing in: Toronto, Canada; Adelaide, Australia; Perth, Australia; Melbourne, Australia; Skopje, Republic of Macedonia; Poland; Czech Republic; and Slovakia, they will continue their struggle until Greece recognizes the Macedonians within its borders as a separate ethnic people, grants them all of the fundamental human rights as enjoyed by other ethnic groups throughout the world and as guaranteed by International Agreements such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the 1975 Helsinki (human rights) Accords." 9


  1. Macedonia and Its Relations With Greece, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Skopje, 1993; p.80-85
  2. Danforth, Loring M.,The Macedonian Conflict, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1995; p.54
  3. Ibid; p.75-76
  4. Human Rights Violations Against Ethnic Macedonians-Report 1996, Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada, Toronto, 1996; p.111-112
  5. Danforth, Loring M.,The Macedonian Conflict, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1995; p.76-77
  6. Denying Ethnic Identity: the Macedonians of Greece, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, New York, 1994; p.28
  7. Ibid; p.9
  8. Ibid; p.9
  9. Human Rights Violations Against Ethnic Macedonians-Report 1996, Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada, Toronto, 1996; p.111-112

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