Recovering Macedonia 4 - The Political Agenda
Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913
Part 4 - The Political Agenda
In the previous chapter we established that just before the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the southern Balkans were politically dominated by two religions, Islam and Orthodox Christianity. Even though Islam was the dominant religion, the majority of people belonged to the Christian religion which had the support and backing of the Great Powers. Within the two religions we established a linguistic division consisting of a majority of Slav speakers and minority Vlach, Albanian and Turkish speakers. Within the Christian religion we also established the existence of two classes of people, the middle educated class which in addition to its multi-lingual mother tongue spoke Koine and Turkish and the multi-lingual working class which spoke Slavic, Vlach, Albanian and Turkish.
In the previous chapter we also established that the Great Powers had no desire to see a large Christian State succeed the Ottoman Empire. They preferred to see several smaller, equal sized, ethnically divided, Western style states emerge in its place.
The formation of the new Balkan States therefore was not a natural process but rather a politically motivated one designed to serve the interests of the Great Powers, mainly Britain, France and Russia.
I just want to mention here that the Christians belonging to the Ottoman middle class (also known as the Phanariots) were, in a modern sense, a multi-ethnic group of people. The fact that they spoke the Koine language and were associated with the formation of the Greek State does not make them ethnically Greek. In fact the word "Greek" at the time was a reference to a "class" of people and not to an ethnicity. Nationalism and ethnic affiliations are post 19th century concepts which were later introduced to the Balkans by the Great Powers and were absent in the religiously oriented Ottoman society.
The middle or Greek class, before the Greek State's formation, was prevalent not only in Greece but throughout the entire Ottoman Empire. Some families also existed outside of the Ottoman domain and operated businesses through southern coastal Europe and the coastal Black Sea.
As a side note I also want to mention here that the word "Bulgar", a derivation from the word "Vulgar", also defined a class of people and not an ethnicity. In pre-19th century Ottoman society a Christian working class existed which was referred to as the "Vulgar" class by the Latin and Koine speakers. The Vulgars or Bulgars were the uneducated commoners, people employed in agriculture and in menial jobs. They also belonged to a multi-ethnic community, in the modern sense of the word, and were prevalent not just in Bulgaria but throughout the entire southern Balkans.
The breakup of the Ottoman State into smaller and diverse States initially had its problems. Many of the leading revolutionaries opposed the idea and for that they were labeled traitors and sent to prison. Most revolutionaries fought to liberate their lands and free themselves from Turkish oppression. They did not sacrifice themselves to serve the Great Power in their bid to breakup their lands. Unfortunately, in the end the strong got their way. The Great Powers were determined to break up the Ottoman State by any means possible. But by successfully creating "ethnic diversities" from the same stock of people and poisoning them with their nationalistic propaganda, they not only shattered the Ottoman State but they made sure these people would never again reunite.
Since there were no clear national or ethnic distinctions between the various people at the time, the Great Powers simply used whatever was convenient. Since there was already a clear class distinction between the Christians, they took advantage of it. The Christian middle class was defined as being "ethnically Greek" and later the Christian working class became the "ethnic Bulgarians".
The Great Powers sought their opportunity and when it presented itself they took it without giving much consideration to problems it might create for the new States. In other words no consideration was given to the fact that this might divide people who were otherwise genetically and linguistically related.
The problems created were unfortunately solved by even more drastic measures. In Greece's case, the entire population had to be assimilated to fit this new, artificially created "ethnic profile".
Once the Great Powers forged the new Balkan States and defined the desired identities they then unleashed their plans on the entire Balkan population. It was only a matter of time before each new State assimilated everyone within its control.
When they were done with their own territories, the new Balkan States turned their efforts on Macedonia
By then almost all Great Powers were stakeholders in the European remnant part of the Ottoman Empire. While France saw the Balkans as an opportunity to invest and expand its failing political influence (since the Napoleonic wars), Russia saw the Balkans as a way to extend its shipping and naval might beyond the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean. Britain, the major power of the time, felt threatened by Russian westward encroachment and did everything it could to stop Russia from "contaminating its back yard"; the Mediterranean Sea.
Serbia was first to emerge as an autonomous state as a result of a number of political power plays between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Next to emerge was Greece. Greece emerged as a result of a failed rebellion prompted by the Phanariots in an attempt to take political control away from the Ottoman authorities.
Even though Greece was simultaneously wooed by Britain, France and Russia, Germany had the pleasure of administering it first. Britain, France and Russia mistrusted each other and opted for Germany to take control of Greece because Germany at the time was most neutral with least personal vested interests in Greece.
While Germany strived to establish Otto, the young Bavarian prince, as King of Greece, the French and especially the British were hard at work creating a history for this new "Greek identity". It was to be modeled after the so-called "Ancient Greeks" about whom the West had learned centuries ago from the Muslim Arabs in Spain.
The Modern Greek State was created by the Great Powers and exploited by Britain for the sole purpose of protecting its interests in the region. Since then and to this day Greece has been a British and Great Power protectorate and pawn. Evidence of this can be found in contemporary British Parliamentary debates.
When Greece was created for the first time in 1829 it encompassed a small region known as the Morea (modern day Peloponnesus). The tiny fledgling State was located on the lands where the "Ancient Greeks" once lived more than two thousand years ago.
The neo-Greek leaders, just molded from the upper stratum of a very diverse society, unfortunately had no notion of ethnicity let alone of belonging to an extinct race that had once lived and vanished two millennia ago.
The cultures, traditions and languages of the Moreans were so diverse that the newly formed Greek State had great difficulty not only containing itself as a nation but also choosing a course for its future. But after some years of struggle and a civil war, the tiny State finally overcame its problems. Unfortunately what emerged was neither real nor a reflection of its original self. Everything real was forsaken in favour of a fabricated mythical culture and an ancient dead language. The Greek State adopted a long gone dead language to falsely connect itself to a past it never had. Today, Greece marvels at ancient artifacts as if they belong to it, ignoring that it usurped that language and culture and falsely made it its own.
It is important at this point to understand that the South Balkan demography at the turn of the 19th century was composed of pockets of Vlachs, Albanians and Turks among a sea of Slavs.
It is also important to understand that south of Mount Olympus, between Macedonia and the Peloponnesus in the western region known as Epirus, lived a large population of Albanians. The region east of Epirus known as Thessaly was populated mostly by Vlachs.
It was very rare at the time that any single identity occupied an area or a region larger than a village. Similarly there was no consistency of overlap but definite overlaps of various identities throughout the entire region. In other words there was no place larger that a village that was pure, diverse identities occupied all regions with varying densities. The Albanians, for example, were a majority at the very western fringe of the Balkan Peninsula near the Adriatic Sea and their numbers tended to fall exponentially towards the east. The Vlachs on the other hand were a majority in Thessaly but their numbers diminished into small pockets in the easterly and northerly directions. The Slav speakers, modern day Macedonians, Serbians and Bulgarians, were about the only identities that were consistently dense throughout the southern Balkans north of Mount Olympus.
Little is known of the methods Greece used to assimilate Albanians, Slavs, Vlachs and Turks in the Morea, Epirus and Thessaly but their methods became well known in Macedonia.
By the turn of the 20th century the Great Powers were so successful in breaking up the Ottoman State, through the creation of politically and diametrically opposed States that they decided to allow the process to extend into Macedonia. The Macedonian national consciousness and Macedonian desires for independence was completely ignored in favour of partitioning Macedonian between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria and respectively assimilating the Macedonian identity to fit the new profiles of those states.
Origins of the modern people in the southern Balkans
According to the old model, ethnically and linguistically speaking the modern Macedonians can trace their roots as far back as 1500 years before the time of Kiril and Metodi and the Slavonic renaissance.
According to new evidence, as described in the last three chapters of this series, Modern Macedonian roots extend as far back as 3000 years.
As previously mentioned, ethnically and linguistically speaking, the modern Greek nation is a 19th century artificial creation. The modern Greek ethnicity was created by the assimilation of Albanians, Slavs, Vlachs and Turks. Ethnically and linguistically speaking, there were no Greeks before the 19th century. The people referred to as Greeks by the outside world, by the West in particular, were the multi-ethnic Ottoman Christian merchant class and the Church Clergy who spoke the Koine language.
There are three probable scenarios for the existence of the Vlach identity in the southern Balkans;
1. They were an indigenous Balkan people recruited and educated in the Latin language by the Romans to serve in their administration, and/or
2. They are remnants of the many garrisons Rome employed to maintain a hold on the region, and/or
3. Remnants of Roman and other Latin speaking settlers.
There are also some who believe the Vlachs in the lower Balkans are Romanian migrants and settlers who over the years ventured south in search of pastures for their herds of livestock. Some abandoned their traditional lifestyles and became the town and village merchants yet many still roam the mountainous countryside raising sheep and goats.
As for the Albanian presence in the Balkans, there are also three probable scenarios;
1. They are a Byzantine transplant from Ancient Albania (modern day Azerbaijan) to the Adriatic coast of modern Albania.
2. They came with the Ottoman Empire as elite fighters and guards and were settled on the western part of modern day Albania.
3. Being influenced by Italy they are a combination of Latinized Slavs and western migrants.
Or, all of the above.
It is unlikely however that modern Albanians are related to the ancient Illyrians.
On the question of the Albanian Tosk identity, there are some who believe that the Tosks may have come from Tuscany, Italy.
I want to mention at this point that Albanians are not indigenous to Macedonia. The Albanians living in Macedonia today are recent settlers and newcomers to the region. Some made their entry into Macedonia from Albania during the Ottoman era and others came from Kosovo during the open border Yugoslav era.
Ethnically, it is unknown who the Turks of the 19th century were. They were identified as Turks because they were Muslim. The Ottoman Empire was multi-ethnic and Turk was synonymous with Muslim. It is also well known that the Ottoman Empire assimilated many different peoples from many different places, including Macedonia.
The Modern Dilemma
It seems that the world has changed in the last century or so and old values are being replaced with new ones. When the religiously oriented Ottoman Empire was crumbling and nationalism was fashionable, it was fashionable to create monotone and homogeneous nations. Today nationalism is no longer fashionable and the world is busy creating new colourful fashions that are more politically correct and a better fit in today's reality.
While the world is trying to right the wrongs of the 19th century, Greece it seems is stuck in a time loop experiencing over and over the myths of its own creation. No one would have noticed or cared if it weren't for the fact that, while living its fantasy, Greece has created a living nightmare for the Macedonian people.
No self respecting, rational Macedonian would have ever wanted to tangle with Greece on such intangible and outlandish matters as ancient history, ancient flags and ownerships of names, but when Greece made these a life and death situation for the Macedonians, what choice did they have?
This bizarre Greek behaviour and distaste for Macedonians I will leave to the experts to analyze. But if I may be allowed to state my opinion, I would speculate that Greece fears the Macedonians not for historical reasons but for what it has done to them in the last two hundred years. Macedonians who see themselves as a real nation and the rightful inheritors of the Macedonian lands and heritage, Greece feels, are not only a threat to its integrity as a country but are also a threat to its artificial identity.
Greece as a State must realize that its actions have consequences and it can no longer hold on to a value system that's not only unfashionable but undesirable. Modern Greece must accept the reality that it is not "Ancient Greece" and its people are not "direct descendents of the Ancient Greeks". It must also allow its citizens to choose for themselves who they are and what they want. Maintaining a 19th century status quo is not only anti-progressive; it is downright dangerous.
It is a fact that the Macedonian identity has survived in spite of all Greek efforts to extinguish it.
Macedonia was not invaded, occupied and partitioned by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912, 1913 because of legitimate claims, it was invaded, occupied and partitioned illegally and brutally because of imperial ambitions and land grabs.
The Macedonian people lost their opportunity to create a Macedonian State in the 19th century not because they did not have the will, or a legal and moral right to do so, they lost their opportunity because the Great Powers desired it. .
It has almost been one hundred years since Macedonia was snatched from the Macedonian people but the Macedonian desire to have its own state has not ceased. One hundred years later a strong Macedonian identity is emerging with a message to the world; "we wants to live free and in peace with our neighbours". It is our wish as Macedonians to invite the Great Powers to re-consider their past actions and decisions and to help the Macedonian people re-integrate in the society of nations and take their rightful place in this world. We are here to stay.
Macedonians want nothing from Greece except what is already theirs. We are not your enemies. We simply want to co-exist peacefully with you as Macedonians with rights and privileges. We simply want back what is ours; our name, our lands, our heritage, our history and our dignity.
To be Continued...
1. Shea, John. Macedonia and Greece The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation. London: McFarland & Company Inc., 1997.
2. Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov publications, 2005
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