The Myth of “Slavophone Greeks” and why Greece doesn’t want you to know about it
by Borche Gorgevski, Seattle, WA.
Lets start with a little bit of history. After its liberation from the Ottomans, and adoption of the unfortunate foreign king, Greece set up on a policy of expansion and Hellenization of all Christian elements within the Ottoman Empire. This, so called “Megali Idea” or “The Great Idea” included expanding the borders of Greece to include Istanbul and large parts of Turkish Asia Minor. The problem was, however, that Macedonia was in the middle on the Greek path from Athens to Istanbul. Enter the idea of “Macedonia was always Greek.”
Through its crony, the “Universal Orthodox Christian Patriarchate of Constantinople,” Greek priests and officials were instructed to spread Hellenism and the Greek language throughout Macedonia, by any means possible. This has shown largely unsuccessful, partly because of the native population’s natural resistance towards a foreign language, and partly because the newly established Bulgarian Exarchate become much more attractive to the Ethnic Macedonians and Vlachs (Aromani) living in geographic Macedonia, than the hostile Patriarchate. The Patriarchate was so angry at this that went so far as to put an “anathema” or curse on the Exarchate and all its adherents, mimicking the “Fatwa” style in Muslim countries.
Seeing that by spreading Hellenization through the Greek churches and schools (of which there were few, but the Greek officials artificially inflated their numbers), after the Ilinden Uprising of the Macedonian People against the Ottoman yoke, which was proclaimed as “anti-Greek” by the Greek government and church, armed Greek bands started infiltrating Macedonia, under the leadership of Greek army officers, and spreading terror, torture, harassment and murder amongst the people who did not accept to be Hellenized.
After the Balkan Wars, and Greece’s unprecedented land grab, over 50% of Macedonia was in Greek hands, the forced “Hellenization” of the native Ethnic Macedonian population was in full swing, getting even worse when the Greek fascist dictator Metaxas came to power. During Metaxas’ rule of terror, the Macedonian language and identity was strictly forbidden, even in private, domestic use; all offenders being immediately sent to prison or to some of the desolate Greek islands. Greek Government Decree No. 332 of 1926 ordered all church services to be performed only in Greek, and all church icons with Slavic inscriptions to be repainted with Greek writing. The gravestones with Slavic letters or names were also erased or destroyed. 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, for example, became Yannis Filippidis.
This forceful Hellenization continued, and continues today still, albeit in a more concealed manner, with the only reprieve being during the Greek Civil War when KKE allowed the Macedonian language, schools, and culture to be freely expressed and practiced, having recognized the separate Macedonian language and identity some years before, following the Comintern. The biggest problem the Greek rulers have had, however, was what to do with all those thousands of people who have always spoken Macedonian, or as the official Greece calls it – “Slavic Idiom,” and how to prove that they are Greeks?
Enter the concept of “Slavophone Greeks.” The Greek government made up this fiction concept that these “Slavophone Greeks” were always Greeks, but they just didn’t know it yet. Their ancestors have been “Slavicized” long time ago, and they have forgotten that they are actually ethnic Greeks, thus they spoke another language as they mother tongue. No problem! The Greek government setup “mandatory” evening schools for adults to teach them their “long forgotten” Greek language, their names were already changed to Greek-sounding ones by the fascist dictator Metaxas some years before, and they were already Orthodox Christians anyway (which is the basic condition for “becoming” Greek). Anyone who put up any kind of resistance was immediately proclaimed an “agent of a foreign power” and beaten, imprisoned, or sent to a remote desolate island in the Aegean. For any instance of Macedonian being spoken in public or private there was a “language fine,” the defendant had to pay 40 drachmas for every Macedonian word said. The less fortunate ones were forced to drink Castor motor oil, when they were caught speaking Macedonian.
The imaginary concept of “Slavophone Greek” is in good company with other imaginary concepts of “Albanophone Greek” or Arvanite, “Vlachophone Greek” or Greek Aromani, and of course the “Muslim” with no ethnicity, in reality an ethnic Turk, but the “T-word” is forbidden from being uttered on the territory of Greece. The true mother tongues of the minorities living in Greece are constantly denigrated, badmouthed and humiliated as “lesser” than the glorious Greek language in which “the Gospels were written,” and everybody speaking them was considered inferior. Many families decided not to teach their children their native tongues fearing discrimination and lack of opportunities when they grow up. The author of this article, on his many travels through Greece, has heard more than one young person saying: “My grandparents speak Slavic at home, but I am nothing but Greek!” The only answer to that is: “Good for you.”
The Macedonian language of the Ethnic Macedonians of Greece has been called by many different derogatory labels, just to avoid calling it “Macedonian Language,” like “Slavika,” “Slavic Idiom,” “Local Idiom,” “Local Oral Dialect,” and many other variations, as long as it is not called “Macedonian” and is not considered a language. Pseudo-linguists go as far as claiming that because the Macedonian dialects spoken in Aegean Macedonia contain many Greek, Latin and even Albanian words, they cannot be considered part of the codified Macedonian language used in the Republic of Macedonia. Some even claim that the Macedonian language itself is not a language, despite being taught at over a dozen universities in the world, many with dedicated departments. Preposterous claims like these are very easy to spot and dismiss, especially having in mind that the southern dialects in the Republic of Macedonia are identical with what the Greeks call “Local Slavic Idiom” in Northern Greece.
The claims of the Greek government about the “Slavophone Greeks” and their language and origin, if taken to their logical conclusion, account for some very amusing inferences. For example, if the Ethnic Macedonians from Republic of Macedonian were to change their names to Greek-sounding ones, and learn Modern Greek (Koine, not to be confused with the Ancient Greek language), there would be absolutely no difference between them and the “Slavophone Greeks” in Greece in any historical, ethnical, cultural or linguistic aspect. Thus, apparently, there are 1.7 million “Slavophone Greeks” in Republic of Macedonia and they don’t even know it yet! It is amusing to think that, according to Greek government policies, the only thing that would take for the Ethnic Macedonians in the Republic of Macedonia to become “Pure Hellenes” is a quick trip to the local municipality for a name change, and a few months of Greek-language courses.
I will leave the reader with the words of the “language oath” which entire Ethnic Macedonian villages in Greece were forced to swear as recently as 1959 (that is only 50 years ago, folks!). This oath was printed on 4th of October 1959 in the newspaper “Phoni tis Kastorias” (“The Voice of Kastoria” -or “Kostour”, as the original Macedonian name of the city was before it was changed to a Greek-sounding one), and was sworn by all villagers from the village of Atrapos (original Macedonian name – Krapeshina):
“I do promise before God, the people, and the official state authorities, that from this day on I shall cease to speak the Slav dialect which gives ground for misunderstandings to the enemies of our country – the Bulgarians – and that I will speak always and everywhere the official language of our fatherland, the Greek language, in which the holy gospel is written.”