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Modern Greece and the Macedonian Heritage – Part 18 – Assimilation

By Risto Stefov, May 3, 2009

It is difficult to convince Macedonians that Greeks exist when most „Greeks“ they know are in reality assimilated Macedonians, some their own relatives. There are hundreds of thousands of Macedonians today who will testify that they have family members who identify as „Greeks“. I too have extended family members who identify as „Greeks“. But how can they be „Greeks“, a supposedly unique ethnic group different than mine, when I know for a fact we share common great-grandparents whom I know were Macedonians?

The so-called „Greeks“ who today live in Greek occupied Macedonia are either assimilated Macedonians, like my extended relatives, or other assimilated, imported ethnic groups such as Vlachs, Albanians, Christian Turks, Russians, etc. The Greek government officially does not recognize any of the „ethnic groups“ living anywhere in Greek occupied Macedonia, which has been a Greek practice since 1912 when Greece along with its partners Serbia and Bulgaria invaded, occupied and divided Macedonia.

So in spite of Greek attempts to portray „Greek“ as a „unique ethnicity“ with roots extending back to ancient times, the word „Greek“ is nothing more than an „umbrella“ word that defines a criteria and a method by which various ethnic groups are assimilated and made into „Greeks“. „Greek“ is not an ethnic term and to be „Greek“ by choice one only needs to abandon their true „ethnicity“, name and language and accept a Greek name, the Greek language and subscribe to the „Hellenic club“ of being a descendant of the ancient Greeks.

In this article we will examine the Greek assimilatory policies and practices put in place in Macedonia since the 1850’s in order to better understand how the „Greek identity“ in Macedonia has been artificially created.

What most Macedonians of the late 19th and early 20th century did not know is that the „Greeks“ they encountered since the 1850’s were not „Greeks“ at all but assimilated Slavs, Albanians, Vlachs and other ethnic groups. Assimilation of ethnicities into the „Greek“ fold did not just begin with the Macedonians; it was well practiced much earlier in the Peloponnesus, Epirus and Thessaly with the Slavs, Albanians and Vlachs living there.

As we have shown in previous articles, „Hellenization“ was invented in Western Europe by the Philhellenes and then first put into practice in the early 1800’s in the region of Greece today known as the Peloponnesus. The aim at the time was to drive out the Ottomans, establish a „Greek“ state and resurrect the so-called „Greek civilization“ which existed in that region some 2,500 years ago. What the Philhellenes failed to understand or did not care at all is that the people living in that region at the time were not the descendents of the ancients but the descendents of Slav, Albanian and Vlach immigrants who had migrated into that region two millennia after the ancients disappeared.

The Philhellene aim was to „enlighten“ these immigrants and teach them to believe that they were the descendants of the ancients and by instilling in them the language and mannerisms of the ancients, make them their descendants. Surprisingly the process worked as many Slavs, Albanians and Vlachs bought into the idea and began to behave as if they truly were the descendents of the ancients.

To make these people forget who they were and give them new identities, Greek authorities, with the help of their Philhellene patrons, introduced a new language, an ancient dead language, and renamed all people and place names to Greek sounding ones. To make them sound authentic and „survivours of time“ wherever possible modern names were replaced with ancient ones.

We know from old maps and documents that most of the villages and other place names in the Peloponnesus before the Greek state was created were of Slavic origin but by the end of the 19th century they were all changed to Greek sounding ones, a practice Greece later used in Macedonia during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

By the time Greece occupied Macedonia in 1912 the people and place names in the Peloponnesus, Thessaly and Epirus were already changed.

Assimilation and the process of Hellenization in Macedonia began in the early 1850’s with the introduction of the Greek Patriarchate Church. The process was accelerated in the late 1870’s after Macedonia was liberated from the Ottoman Empire by Russia and given back to the Ottomans by the Western Powers. When Greece realized that the Macedonian question was not settled and it knew it had a chance to grab Macedonian territories, it accelerated its policy of „Hellenizing Macedonians“ through the introduction of more Patriarchate churches and Greek schools. Bulgaria did the same through the introduction of the Bulgarian Exarchate church and Bulgarian schools.

Then when Macedonia was invaded occupied and partitioned during the 1912 and 1913 Balkan Wars, all three occupying states (Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria) began a process of forced assimilation. The first step that Greece took was to expel all Muslims from its Macedonian occupied territories. The second step was to expel all those who refused to abandon the Exarchate church in favour of the Patriarchate. The Greek army was given free reign to do whatever it wanted and as a result many Macedonians were killed, raped, tortured, robbed and many villages were burned and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.

The following links provide more information on the Greek atrocities committed against the Macedonian civilian population in 1913.







Unfortunately none of the people who committed these crimes have been punished and no justice for the Macedonian people has ever been served.

After the end of the 1st World War and after Greece established itself in Macedonia, it began a policy of renaming people and places. All peoples‘ surnames and given names were changed as well as the names of cities, villages, lakes, rivers, mountains, etc. Macedonian personal names were replaced with Greek sounding ones and registered in peoples‘ personal identification cards.

Even though Greece established Greek schools in Macedonia, most of the adult population did not speak Greek and were forced to take night classes to learn the Greek language. Then when the dictator Metaxas took power in Greece, the Macedonian language was banned by law and anyone speaking Macedonian was given a hefty fine. Repeat offenders were jailed, beaten and even forced to drink castor oil. Plain clothes policemen roamed the streets and market places and hid in people’s yards listening under windows. These policemen were paid a commission for each person they fined so there was plenty of incentive for them to be vigilant.

In order to eradicate everything Macedonian, the Greek government also initiated policies to erase all Macedonian writing in churches, church icons, tombstones, signs and writing in public buildings. All books, bibles and remnants from the Exarchate church or from previous periods were collected and burned, regardless of their value.

Then in the 1950’s entire Macedonian villages were forced to take an oath in public that they would never speak their Macedonian mother tongue and to pledge loyalty to Greece and to the Greek King.

To ensure that everything Macedonian was forgotten and to expedite the assimilation process of Hellenizing the Macedonians, the Greek state encouraged its administrators to take Macedonian wives and make sure the children were brought up as Greeks. But when that too was not succeeding the Greek state introduced day-care centers and kindergartens for very young children to ensure the Macedonian children learned the Greek language.

Greece says there are no Macedonians in Greece but fails to explain why there are so many day-care centers and kindergartens for Macedonian children. In the last decade or so there has been an increase in the number of kindergartens and day-care centers opened for pre-school children in cities and villages where Macedonians live in larger numbers. For example in the city Kalamata in the Peloponnesus there are only two day-care centers for 60,000 residents. In Athens there are only ten where as in Lerin (Florina), Voden (Edesa), Kostur (Kastoria) and other places in „Northern Greece“ there are 48 day-care centers and new ones are constantly being opened. The reason for having so many pre-schools is because many three year old Macedonian children do not speak the Greek language and that is because at home they speak mainly Macedonian.

The idea for sending these very young children to school at such an early age is a well concocted plan by the Greek government which always looks for ways to assimilate the Macedonians. By separating the children from their families at a very young age, the Greek government hopes that they will never have the chance to learn the Macedonian language which is a constant reminder that they are not Greeks.

Members of the Macedonian minority in Greece say that the nationalistic politics of Greece are deeply entrenched in the Greek educational system. Greeks do not recognize the existence of minorities and will not allow minorities to speak or to be educated in their own language even though, according to all European conventions, they have a right to do so.

Besides the assimilatory policies carried out through education and various other incentives in Greece there is also a dark side to this assimilation; the use of terror. Macedonians have always been discouraged from speaking their Macedonian language and for feeling Macedonian. Tactics used to discourage Macedonians from expressing their ethnic Macedonian sentiments included fines, imprisonment, beatings, torture and even death. Children have often been given the strap, made to drink castor oil and scolded in public for uttering Macedonian words or for wearing Macedonian clothing.

The Greek state has made it abundantly clear that there is no room for Macedonians in „Northern Greece“, the native homeland of the Macedonian people. By calling that part of Macedonia, annexed by Greece in 1913, „Greek occupied Macedonia“ we as Macedonians are expressing our sentiments of exactly how we feel as citizens of Greece. Being prohibited by Greece from expressing our Macedonian sentiments in our own homeland is equivalent to being occupied and it is only fitting that we refer to our homeland as „Greek occupied Macedonia“.

Besides forcing people to become „Greeks“ against their will, there is the downside to being „Greek“ and that is people are cut off from their past. Being „Greek“ means that one can no longer be Macedonian, speak the Macedonian language, enjoy the Macedonian culture or have a history prior to becoming a „Greek“. This means that any Macedonian who accepts to be „Greek“ must also accept to „forget their past“. Being given a „new Greek name“ means loss of continuity with ones own past and having to accept a fabricated past.

Greek history in Macedonia begins with the invasion and occupation of Macedonia. All those Macedonians who accepted to become Greeks voluntarily had to also accept that their history began the moment their names were changed and any Greek history prior to that had to be fabricated. Similarly, all villages whose names were changed by the Greek administration have no history associated with their new name and their history too had to be fabricated.

„The concept of a ‘Hellenic‘ state as elaborated in Western Europe presupposes that this was to be the heir to the ancient Greek (Hellenic) world.

Thus, as Greek intellectuals soon realized the phoenix myth proved too weak to support a national ideology. For ‘Hellenism‘ as a cultural discourse corresponded to the ‘revival‘ of ancient Greece, which resulted in the inevitable rejection of all the in-between periods. The forgotten periods were now treated as ‘empty pages‘ to be filled in. The silence was attributed to the religious prejudices of the Catholic West against Orthodox Byzantium an argument which in turn nurtured the Orthodox anti-Western trends. There was an obvious need for a narrative to replace the one coming from abroad. It was time for ‘real‘ Greek history to be written“. („Discourse of Collective identity in Central and South-East Europe (1779-1945)“, Edited by Balaz Trencsenyi and Michael Kopesec, page 73).

„The common Greek language in the last quarter of the twentieth century was neither a restored version of the tongue of the popular heroes of the Greek revolution, nor the demotic of the Diaspora intellectuals. It was passed through the filter of the Katharevousa, just as national ideology passed through the filter of the ‘Hellenization‘ process. In the Greek language through the sixteen to the eighteenth centuries the word ‘Hellenic‘ meant the language of ancient Greece. In Greek today, the word ‘Hellenic‘ means modern Greece and one needs to add the adjective ‘ancient‘ to refer to the language of the classical era. In the academic programs in the English speaking world, though, ‘Greek‘ refers to the Classical-language programs. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, modern Greece was ‘Hellenized‘ and ‘Hellenism‘ acquired a modern Greek version.“ („Hellenisms Culture, Identity and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity“ edited by Katerina Zacharia, page 229)

„The tourist who travels today in Greece recognizes in the regions visited the names of places encountered in ancient Greek literature, mythology and history. But the visitor does not know that this map of ancient Greece has been constantly redesigned over the last 170 years, that is, since the beginning of the Greek state.“ („Hellenisms Culture, Identity and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity“ edited by Katerina Zacharia, page 230)

„The modification of the place names began just after the constitution of the Greek state in the early 1830’s, and went hand in hand with the reorganization of the administration of the country and its divisions into prefectures, municipalities and parishes. The people attempting the renaming of spaces were conscious of the ideological importance of this action.

The renaming of space was not achieved in a single attempt but was a long process that went on for decades. It took place each time a new region was integrated into the Greek state. This was the integration of Thessaly (1881), of Macedonia (1913), and of Thrace (1920). Every time they carried out a reform of the local administration – until as recently as 1998; when many municipalities and communities were reunited with the so-called Kapodistrian plan ‘new‘ Greek classical names, previously unknown to the local inhabitants, made their appearance.

Which were the toponyms that had to disappear? According to the Greek authorities, they were the toponyms that were ‘foreign or did not sound good‘, in other words those that were in ‘bad Greek‘.“ („Hellenisms Culture, Identity and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity“ edited by Katerina Zacharia, pages 230 and 231)

„The middle of the nineteenth century was the stage of a conflict between the Greek intelligentsia and Fallmerayer, who maintained that, in the middle ages, Greece was inhabited by Slavs and Albanian peoples. As a consequence, Greek intellectuals were prompt to erase all the Slavic and Albanian names which could support the rival arguments. In 1909 the government-appointed commission on toponyms reported that one village in three in Greece (that is, 30% of the total) should have its name changed (of the 5,096 Greek villages 1,500 were considered as ‘speaking a barbaric language‘).“ („Hellenisms Culture, Identity and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity“ edited by Katerina Zacharia, pages 231 and 232)

„After the Balkan wars (1912-1913), new reasons were added to the previous ones: Names ought be changed so as not to ‘give rise to damaging ethnological implications to the Greek nation, of a sort which could be used against us by our enemies‘. The new enemy was the revisionism of the northern borders acquired after the Balkan wars, through the use of minority issues.“ („Hellenisms Culture, Identity and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity“ edited by Katerina Zacharia, page 232)

…. to be continued…