After two centuries of living a myth Greece now faces reality

The thing that amazes me most about Greeks is not the lies that come out of the mouths of so many, but the honesty that comes out of a few. I have always imagined that all Greeks knew the truth and by that I mean that they know how their recent ancestors became Greek and that deep down they know they are not „real Greeks“. And by „real Greeks“ I mean descendents from the so-called „ancient Greeks“. I thought every Modern Greek knew that before Greece became a country in the 19th century his or her ancestors were not Greek at all and that somewhere down the line they became „Greek“ through assimilation, the same way many Macedonians became Greek. But I guess I was wrong!

When Greece was created for the first time in 1829 there were no „real Greeks“. The entire region was populated mostly by Albanians, Turks, Slavs, Vlachs, Latin and a long list of other ethnicities that existed in that region at the time. The vast majority of the people living in the tiny Greek state at the time of its liberation from the Ottomans were uneducated and unfamiliar with the concepts of nationality and ethnicity. As far as they were concerned they were all Christians which distinguished them from their Muslim overlords. After their liberation all Christians in the Greek state, regardless of their ethnicity, were told they were Greek. This continued as Greece expanded its territory over the years and acquired more and more people.

Some people accepted the idea that they were Greeks and moved on. Those who refused were exiled, jailed, tormented, or eventually forcibly assimilated. But in spite of pressure from the authorities, many continued to speak their language, practice their traditions and not feel Greek. Some continue these practices to this day, particularly in the villages and isolated communities.

So it should be of no surprise that there are people in Modern Greece today who truly believe that they are „real Greeks“, descendents of the so-called ancient Greeks, because that is what the Greek authorities have been telling them all their lives through their early education. There should also be no surprise that there are people who don’t „feel Greek“ living in Greece today because generation after generation they held onto and cherished their true identities, mostly in secret. Unfortunately this is turning out to be the skeleton in Greece’s closet.

Some Greeks however, from time to time, had a need to venture outside of Greece and, mostly by accident, discovered that there is more to Greece than they were led to believe. Some refused to believe what they found yet others found more than they bargained for.

With no restriction and censorship by the Greek state, Greeks living in the Diaspora are exposed to much more information about themselves and about their country than they would otherwise have access to inside Greece.

Most of this „new and never heard of before“ information unfortunately comes from their own compatriots and even from their own relatives. This kind of information is not easy to accept because it collides with their belief system and, for some, undermines the entire foundation of their own identity. Given where it comes from, this kind of information is not easy to reject either.

It is very difficult for Greeks, who truly believe that all Greeks are descendents of the ancient Greeks and that Greece is ethnically a homogeneous nation, to accept that people who are born in Greece and speak the Greek language do not „feel Greek“ and therefore are not Greeks. For them things like that just don’t add up. No wonder so many who „do not feel Greek“ are so frequently labeled „traitors“.

Today’s story is about a Greek who all his life believed that he was a „real Greek“ until he took a trip to Canada to visit his relatives and ran into some Greek speaking Macedonians who, as he puts it, „pointed him in the right direction“.

Here is what he had to say:

„When I came to Canada to visit my relatives, as a grown man I had a certain understanding what a Greek was. I expected to find Greeks like myself there. A Greek is a Greek. If a person was born in Greece, spoke Greek then they were Greek, end of story, nothing complicated to comprehend. Right? Then I ran into some people who were born in Greece, spoke Greek but said they were Macedonians. What Macedonians, I asked? You mean you are from the north part of Greece, from Macedonia? Right? ‘No!‘ One of them said ‘we are Macedonians from Greece‘. And he was quite hostile about it.
I was blunt and told them point blank that I did not believe him: ‘vre pedia mu den iparhi tetio prama!‘ (Boys there is no such thing!) But they began to make fun of me calling me ignorant and all sorts of names. Another said ‘I was living in Greece but know nothing of Greece‘. He said I should take a trip one of these days and explore my own country that I live in and see things for myself. He even dared to tell me to ‘open my eyes‘. How dare they call me ignorant and all those things! I was quite upset for a long time and made no mention of it to anyone until I returned to Greece. Unfortunately, I could not shake off the feeling, it kept wearing me down. The only way to shake it off, I thought, was to prove to myself that those guys were wrong. So I took that trip. I toured my country but I could not prove them wrong.

Well, that was then and this is now. It didn’t take me too long to discover that indeed things in Greece were not what I expected. I decided to keep looking and whatever I found, I was man enough to handle. Well, some things I found could be explained but others things which I could have called ‘anomalies‘ could not. I could have ignored them but then who was I fooling? Unfortunately, as much as I hate to admit, those guys in Canada proved to be right. I did live in this country I knew nothing about. When I stopped fighting with myself I discovered that Greece is a multi-ethnic country like any other Balkan country, full of living cultures, ethnicities and languages. In the villages were I visited I heard people speak Arvanitika (Albanian), Vlahika (Vlach), Makedonika (Macedonian) and Turkika (Turkish). I asked people if anyone here spoke other languages, other than Greek. Most people said ‘we are all Greeks here‘ but some admitted that other languages are indeed spoken. When I asked who spoke these languages I got no names just a feeling that people do speak other languages. When I asked ‘how did these language get here‘ no one seemed know. Some said they didn’t speak them themselves but heard others speak them. When I asked for their opinion, most said, as far as they knew, these languages have been spoken here from a long time for as long as they can remember. Who knew that non-Greeks lived in Greece? I always thought we were all Greeks here, that’s what I was told, that’s what I believed, it’s not something one talks about every day. There were always the signs but I never paid attention to the signs. I knew from my history lessons that some of our revolutionaries spoke different languages but thought nothing of it. There was no need to ask because the idea that we were all Greeks was strong and unquestionable. But I never heard of Macedonians living in Northern Greece that’s for sure. Not in the ethnic sense as a people different from the rest of us. I always believed we were all Greeks and a Macedonian was a Greek who lived in Macedonia, you know, Northern Greece.

Once I found this out I began to look for information through the internet outside of Greece and discovered all sorts of information but mostly contradictory. Most websites I found ridiculed the idea that ‘minorities‘ lived in Greece. Some websites even went as far as to claim that Macedonians and Turks lived in Greece and were harassed by the Greek authorities. I didn’t know what or who to believe. But then I made the mistake of asking an academic friend of mine who told me most of this stuff on the internet is propaganda invented by our enemies to discredit Greece’s good name. When I pushed my point and asked for an explanation as to why people speak the different languages spoken inside Greece he told me not to ask so many stupid questions and ‘questions such as those are best left unanswered‘. So now I don’t know who or what to believe.“

My fiend, I am sure you will find the truth for yourself if you look hard enough. And as far as knowing who you are, it will take you some doing but I am sure you will answer that question too. Good luck in your search.

So, Greeks, after living your myth for two centuries what have you accomplished? You now have grown adult men and women at the crossroads of their lives looking for answers, looking to find out who and what they are. And what do they find? They find that you have lied to them all their lives!

Greeks, you got rid of your dissidents by exiling them to the Diaspora and your faithful citizens are now awakening only to discover that you have lied to them. What are you planning to do with them? Exile them? Harass them? Or write them off as traitors? How far are you willing to go to protect your myth? Are you going to sacrifice every soul that uncovers the truth? These people have done nothing wrong, just as thousands of Macedonians whom you have exiled had done nothing wrong. The only thing people like that are guilty of is being honest and wanting to know the truth.

Every country has a myth to explain its existence and that myth is tailored to include everyone (not exclude them) even those who seek the truth. What is wrong with telling people the truth and teaching the truth in school? This is a global world now and sooner or later people will learn the truth if not from your educational system then from someone else’s. You can’t go on propagating your myth by calling it „the truth“ and then calling the truth „Scopian or Turkish propaganda“.

Greeks, if you as an authority believe what you preach that „there are no Macedonians and that Macedonia is Greek“ then you should feel no threat from those who you believe do not exist. You are not the first; Greek governments all along have been saying Macedonians do not exist since they acquired Macedonian lands in 1913 but this problem seems to follow you everywhere and how do you explain it? By perpetuating the perpetual lie that Macedonians still don’t exist. One hundred years are about to pass since you invaded, occupied and partitioned Macedonia with your partners Serbia and Bulgaria. How many more centuries must pass, how many more people must you exile, silence and ruin before you accept the fact that the Macedonians will not go away.

So do us all a favour and put an end to the injustices. Recognize the minorities living in your country and let them be who they truly are or want to be.

Well ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my world! As much as I feel vindicated by the fact that more and more „real Greeks“ are learning the truth about Greece, I feel sorry for them, not because they discovered the truth but because their innocence will put them in jeopardy of becoming the new victims of Greek justice. They are great patriots as long as they believe the lies and propaganda and propagate the „Greek myth“ but as soon as they discover the truth that they are not „real Greeks“ they become traitors! A warning to other Greeks who have discovered this secret, as long as you live in Greece don’t divulge it to anyone. Keep this information to yourself! It would do no one any good for you to become a target of hatred and abuse, especially in the country in which you were born, live and love!

By Risto Stefov, rstefov@hotmail.com, January 24, 2010