Name dispute or ethnic misdeeds?
by Metodija A. Koloski
In August 1903, Macedonian patriots rose against the Ottoman Empire. While they won Macedonian independence for only a limited time, it was clear that Macedonian national consciousness was alive.
Today, there is a nonsensical “dispute” about the same land, as Greece denies the right of the Republic of Macedonia to call itself by that name. In doing so, Greece disregards the United Nations Charter’s admonition that all people have the right to self-determination. Greece’s stated basis for this “dispute” is that the Republic of Macedonia supposedly harbors “territorial ambitions” toward northern Greece. The Greek government also claims Macedonia misappropriates “Greek history.”
The Republic of Macedonia amended its constitution to unequivocally disclaim any “territorial ambitions,” and it changed national symbols to remove “Greek” connections. But Greek government intransigence persists.
The real reason for the “dispute” is that, since Greece forcibly took possession of a large part of historical Macedonia following the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, it has denied the existence of the Macedonian people and ruthlessly pursued a policy of forced assimilation. These actions constitute genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention (to which Greece is bound).
Specifically, Greek governments have harassed, jailed and even tortured those who spoke Macedonian or otherwise practiced their cultural heritage. Greek governments also forcibly changed city names, family names, and even names on gravestones from their true Macedonian names to “Greek” ones. And, as documented in recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports, Greece has even denied entry into Greece to U.S. citizens, born in Greece, but whose names are not “Greek” (e.g., Gatzoulis is “Greek”, but Gatzova isn’t). Greece took these actions “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”… by “[c]ausing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” or “•eliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” (Genocide Convention, Article II.)
An independent Macedonian state is anathema to Greece because it is an embarrassing reminder of Greece’s failed attempts to wipe out the Macedonian people. This policy led to massive migrations of Macedonian-identifying people to the United States, Australia and Canada and, sadly, also to some Macedonians identifying themselves (at least publicly) as Greek.
The international community has rejected Greece’s heavyhanded position: more than 120 countries – including the United States, Canada, China and Russia – recognize the Republic of Macedonia by its constitutional name. In fact, Greece’s own top diplomat to the Republic of Macedonia, Dora Grosomanidou, stated on July 8 to the Financial Times that “Greece has to face the new reality, as the… Republic of Macedonia has been recognized under its constitutional name [Macedonia] by more than half of the members of the U.N.” The Greek government sacked her the very next day.
The Greek lobby continues to misrepresent the “name dispute.” Recently, it began a campaign to undermine the U. S. government’s decision to recognize the Republic of Macedonia’s constitutional name. The lobby has forced the issue onto the U.S. Congress by seeking passage of legislative resolutions reciting various Greek misrepresentations. Their bogus arguments include that Macedonians are really just Bulgarians or Serbs and that Macedonia is a haven for terrorists.
The claim that Macedonians are Bulgarians or Serbs is false and tellingly callous. Ethnographers and historians have concluded that Macedonians are a separate people. Greek claims also are undercut by historical Greek census data revealing the Macedonian language was spoken in northern Greece in the 1920s, counted separately from Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian. Furthermore, the Greek government in the late 1920s published, but later banned and burned, several thousand grammar books for Macedonian schoolchildren, written in Macedonian.
A new false Greek claim, which emerged after brief civil unrest in Macedonia in 2001, is the outrageous allegation that Macedonia is a haven for terrorists. The opposite is true: Macedonia has been a staunch U.S. ally, particularly in the War on Terror. For example, Macedonia has deployed, beginning shortly after September 11, 2001, about 200 troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, through its diligent efforts at building a democratic, free market and pro-Western state, Macedonia is poised for entry into NATO.
While sentiment toward the United States in Macedonia is overwhelmingly positive, the opposite is true in Greece, as it regularly ranks near the bottom in surveys of attitudes toward the U.S. In January 2007, the U.S. Embassy was hit by a rocket attack from a Greek terrorist group, “Revolutionary Struggle,” itself a spin-off of the notorious Marxist terrorist group, “17 November,” which murdered several U.S. diplomats and military personnel, including a CIA station chief. Yet, ironically, we are asked to believe Macedonia is a haven for terrorists and that Greeks are pro-American.
The Republic of Macedonia has done more than enough to demonstrate it does not harbor claims on Greek territory. It is high time for Greece to act responsibly and cease its ugly gamesmanship aimed at covering up its misdeeds. It is only logical that those whose roots are in Macedonia should be able to identify as Macedonians.
Metodija A. Koloski is president of United Macedonian Diaspora, an international nongovernmental and nonpartisan organization addressing the interests and needs of Macedonians and Macedonian communities throughout the world.