Recovering Macedonia 8 - Minority Agreements
Recovering Macedonia Expiration of the Bucharest Treaty of 1913
Part 8 - Minority Agreements
[Macedonia will remain occupied as long as the Macedonian people are unrecognized, abused and made to feel like strangers on their own native lands. It is a well known fact that Macedonia was invaded, occupied and illegally partitioned by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912-1913 against the wishes of the Macedonian people. The Serbian occupied part, now known as the Republic of Macedonia gained its independence in 1991 and is today a sovereign state while the parts annexed by Greece and Bulgaria remain occupied.]
Under the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria not only partitioned Macedonian territories but they also divided the Macedonian people. Never since Roman times have Macedonians been divided by artificially imposed borders and never in the history of Macedonia has the Macedonian identity been so forcefully and brutally attacked.
At the turn of the 20th century Macedonia was still under Ottoman control and the Macedonian people had little to no contact with the outside world. At the time there were no NGO's or governing bodies that represented the Macedonian voice. Outside contact with the Macedonian people was thus relegated to outside agencies like the foreign Embassies and the Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian Churches. Anyone wanting to visit Macedonia, be it a journalist or diplomat, first had to obtain permission from the Ottoman authorities. Then government or Church appointed guides, who only supported Ottoman, Greek, Bulgarian, or Serbian interests, would guide them. The only legitimate Macedonian authority, which represented the interests of the Macedonian people, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), was viewed as illegitimate, radical and in some cases as a terrorist organization.
When the outside world looked for demographical statistics to find out what ethnicities lived in Macedonia they went to the Greek, Serbian, or Bulgarian Churches. The Ottoman authorities kept statistics by religion "Muslim" and "Others". The foreign Churches on the other hand, who refused to acknowledge the Macedonian identity on account that there was no Macedonian Church to legitimize and represent it, took their own statistics based on their own criteria. Anyone who attended or was affiliated with the Greek Church was thus counted as being Greek. Similarly, anyone attending or being affiliated with the Bulgarian Church was counted as Bulgarian and so on. By the turn of the 20th century foreigners, including the foreign media, came to depend on the Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian agencies for information on Macedonia. Thus the ethnic Macedonians having no representation of their own were now represented by Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbians, the very same people who had designs on annexing their Macedonia.
Worse, which would become a problem for Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia later, was that the various Macedonian people identified as Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbians by these foreign agencies were prevalent and overlapping throughout the whole of Macedonia. In other words there was no region in Macedonia that was exclusively affiliated with one Church or another. Even most of the small villages were of mixed affiliations so there were no clear cut dividing lines to distinguish one identity from the others.
It is also well known that when Macedonia was invaded by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912, there were no plans on how it was going to be divided. In fact this indecision was the cause that sparked the second Balkan War in 1913 which again ended without a mutually accepted plan on the division of Macedonia. Thus Macedonia's division and annexation by Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia was arbitrary and without design and was going to be settled by military means, in other words by war. So when the dust settled there were winners and losers and none of the contestants were satisfied with what they received. Worst off were the Macedonian people whose home was now not only occupied by foreigners but also partitioned by three different, warring states which were determined to turn the Macedonian people into Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbians by any means possible even by extreme violence if necessary.
The bitterness of the Second Balkan War and the dissatisfaction of not meeting expectations with regards to Macedonian territories turned Bulgaria against Greece and Serbia making the Macedonian population its political pawns. Hoping to gain more territory from Greece and Serbia and in retribution for Greece's and Serbia's part in the Second Balkan War, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers during World War I and fought against the Allies ending in its defeat with the signing of the Neully Treaty on November 27, 1919. It was again a bitter defeat for Bulgaria with more suffering in Macedonia.
After the Treaty of Neully, some 46,000 Macedonians were kicked out of Bulgarian occupied Macedonia for their past affiliations with the Greek Church and 92,000 Macedonians were deported from Greek occupied Macedonia for their past affiliation with the Bulgarian Church.
The deportations continued through the early 1920s until the spring of 1924 when Greece and Bulgaria signed the Politis-Kalfov Protocol on March 24, 1924 which was to provide minority rights for the so called "Greek minority" in Bulgaria and the so called "Bulgarian minority" in Greece.
The protocol obliged Greece to secure fair treatment for all members of this minority according to the terms of the August 10th 1920 Treaty of Sèvres between Greece and its major allies in World War one. Unfortunately Greece never implemented the Protocol.
Here are some details from a Greek source that somewhat explains what transpired:
Colonel A. C. Corfe and Major Marcel de Roover, members of the Mixed Commission for Greek-Bulgarian Emigration established in 1919, were assigned to observe the protocol's implementation paying particular attention to minority's specific needs especially in matters of education and religion. Subsequently they would submit reports to the Greek government making their recommendations.
After the protocol was signed, Greece and the League of Nations engaged in negotiations regarding the details of its implementation. The Greeks offered a proposal which focused on three points:
(1) Bulgarian minority schools with more than forty students would be sponsored by the Greek state. If there were fewer than forty students, then it would be the community's task to support its school financially. It would be compulsory for teaching personnel to obtain Greek citizenship.
(2) Exarchate priests would be obliged to obtain Greek citizenship and no bishops would be appointed to the Bulgarian minority, because, according to the rules of the Orthodox Church, the coexistence of two religious authorities of the same dogma within the same bishopric is forbidden.
(3) A Minority Bureau reporting to the Greek Foreign Ministry would be established in Solun which would collect and evaluate all petitions concerning minority rights. It would also investigate cases and submit its report to the minister in charge, who was expected to settle each issue.
In the Greek government's view the establishment of such a service was the best way not only to handle all minority matters but also to assist the League of Nations, which at that time was overwhelmed by numerous petitions and letters of grievance concerning the so called "Bulgarian minority of Greece". According to the Greek Government the so called "Slavophones" of Greek Macedonia lacked a sound national orientation and there were several with pro-Bulgarian leanings, but the presence of the Commission members and the collection of petitions might encourage the so called "non-Bulgarian Slavophones" to join the minority group owing to its apparently preferential treatment. Such a development would then accelerate the flow of Bulgarian money into Macedonia for the establishment of additional Bulgarian schools. In any case, Greece was not prepared to give the impression that the so called "Greek Slavophones" were neglected by the state while the so called "Bulgarian minority" enjoyed favorable treatment. Greece obviously expected that these measures, especially the establishment of the Minority Bureau, would suffice to treat the minority question in the best possible way and in conformity with the minority treaties. On the other hand, it is clear that Greek officials were confused about the national preferences of Greece's Slavic-speaking inhabitants. Politis, for example, considered all Slavophones to be Bulgarians while his superior, the foreign minister, stated that only a few Slavophones aligned themselves with Bulgaria.
On November 28, 1924, the secretary general of the League of Nations sent a letter to the minority section director, to inform him of this and rejecting the Greek proposal to channel all minority complaints to the League of Nations exclusively through the Solun Minority Bureau, arguing that this was against Article 2 and Article 3 of the protocol, signed only two months earlier, which in fact had provided for a League of Nations' service and not for a service by a branch office of the Greek Foreign Ministry. The secretary general closed his letter with a number of his own suggestions:
(1) The Greek government would have to establish a Minority Bureau in Solun.
(2) Attached to this office would be a separate service which would have to be provided for Corfe and de Roover, to which all minority petitions, complaints, etc. would be addressed.
(3) All these documents would then be forwarded, together with Greek remarks, to the Mixed Commission.
(4) After that Greek officials could send these documents to the Minority Section of the League of Nations, which was expected to investigate the cases and take appropriate measures.
(5) The Minority Section would have to report to Corfe and de Roover who, in turn, were expected to inform the League of Nations.
On December 4 Marcel de Roover dispatched a confidential report to Eric Colban to inform him of a conversation he had had with the Greek foreign minister with whom, among other things, he discussed the language to be used in the minority schools. He maintained that the medium of instruction should be neither literary Bulgarian nor Serbian but a Macedonian dialect.
A few days later, during the meeting of the Council of the League of Nations in Rome, negotiations took place between Greece and the League on the implementation of articles in the
Politis-Kalfov Protocol concerning the so called "Bulgarian minority". Eric Colban recorded the negotiation procedure in detail in his lengthy, confidential report under the title "Record of Various Conversations in Rome concerning the Execution of the Minorities Protocol of September 29, 1924 between the Greek Government and the League of Nations."
On December 14, Corfe and de Roover started talks with Colban concerning the problems the
Greek government was experiencing with the Geneva protocol. It was already clear that the Greek parliament was not going to ratify the protocol.
On the question of the minority schools Colban noted that, according to the Minority Treaty of Sèvres, the language of the minority was meant to be its mother tongue which the so called "Bulgarians of Greece" spoke being slightly different from all the other Slavic languages. Since no newspaper or book had ever been written in these dialects therefore, a new literary language had to be standardized, based on these local dialects. Colban observed, however, that since such linguistic construction was against the terms of the minority treaty, Bulgaria would protest and would press for the use of literary Bulgarian instead. Although Bulgaria was not directly involved in the minority treaties that Greece had signed, Colban felt that its views should not be neglected even though its claims were not legitimate. De Roover also supported the view that the local dialect should be used since this option was expected to help the Greek government deal with any counterarguments during the forthcoming parliamentary debates. But Corfe reacted, feeling that such an option was too risky because "the creation of a Macedonian language might encourage the Macedonian movement not only in Greece but also in Bulgaria and Serbia." Nevertheless, he concluded that strict implementation of the minority treaties was absolutely necessary, which meant that use of the local dialects was inevitable.
On December 15, 1924, Greek representatives informed the League of Nations representatives that the Greek government would be glad to sanction local dialects as the minority school language. However, since those dialects lacked literary form, Greece would prepare a primer and other textbooks. With regards to risks associated with:
(1) The provocation of a Macedonian movement following the creation of a distinct Macedonian language and
(2) Bulgaria's consequent reaction; the Greek representative replied that Greece fully appreciated those risks.
On February 2, 1925 the Greek parliament voted against the protocol which prompted the Council of the League of Nations to insist that Greece was not going to ignore its obligations toward the minorities as defined by the Treaty of Sèvres and submitted three questions to the Greek government regarding the Slavic speakers in Greece:
(1) What measures had Greece taken since September 29, 1924 to implement the minority treaty it had signed on that day?
(2) What measures would Greece be taking if it could not comply with the terms of the treaty?
(3) What were the Greek views regarding the educational and religious needs of the Slavophones and what measures did the Greek government intend to take to meet those needs?
On May 29, 1925 Greek representatives informed the League of Nations secretary general that no measures could be taken before the completion of the Greek-Bulgarian voluntary emigration that had been decided in Neuilly in 1919, which was still in progress. They also affirmed that Greece intended to respect the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. Regarding the third question, they stressed that Greece was open to any suggestions concerning the education of the "Slavic-speaking" linguistic minority.
In late 1925, following a legislative decree, a department was established in Greek occupied Macedonia for the administration and supervision of elementary non-Greek education. The new department was manned by three members of the educational council appointed by the minister of education, in addition to the director of the Second Political Department of the Foreign Ministry and three unpaid citizens, all living in Macedonia, suggested by the foreign minister and appointed by the minister of education. A counselor of education proficient in one of the local dialects was appointed head of the new department for a three-year period. It was also decided that only teachers who knew the local dialects would be appointed to teach the non-Greek classes.
The establishment of the Department of Non-Greek Education was just a beginning. Following the decision to employ the local Slavic dialect in the minority schools, the Greek government entrusted to a three-member committee of specialists the preparation of a primer that became known as the "Abecedar." The three members were Georgios Sagiaxis-who had been involved since the early years of the century in folklore and linguistic studies concerning Vlach-speakers and Slavic-speakers and had studied ethnography and linguistics abroad on a Foreign Ministry scholarship-and two philologists, Iosif Lazarou and a certain Papazachariou, both native Vlach-speakers who also knew the local Slavic dialect.
The product of their combined efforts was a primer in the local Slavic dialect but written in Latin characters. This choice caused an immediate, furious reaction by Bulgaria, since the use of the dialect instead of standard Bulgarian undermined Sofia's traditional argument that Slavic speaking clearly indicated Bulgarian ethnicity. Mikov, the Bulgarian representative in the
League of Nations, expressed his government's discontent regarding the Greek initiative. At the
same time, Ivan Sismanov, a university professor in Sofia, published an article in a local newspaper stressing that these measures would reduce the population of Macedonia to a "semibarbarous" Moreover, the use of the Latin alphabet was condemned as constituting a "rude insult" for Macedonia's "suffering Bulgarian population" Macedonian pro-Bulgarian refugee organizations also protested, demanding the immediate introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet.
At this point a reassessment of the Greek views was necessary. The League of Nations had made it clear that complying with the treaties was not optional.
Both Serbians and Bulgarians vehemently protest to the League of Nations, claiming the primer in its current form undermined their claim that Macedonians are Serbs and Bulgarians respectively to which Greece countered with a last minute cable to the League stating that "the population...knows neither the Serbian nor the Bulgarian language and speaks nothing but a Slav-Macedonian idiom." This was indeed a rare Greek admission to the existence of Macedonians not only on Greek soil but also on Bulgarian and Serbian soil, encompassing the entire geographical Macedonia.
Soon afterwards Greece "retreated" the Abecedar so as to preserve its Balkan alliances and the Primer was destroyed soon after the League of Nations delegates left Solun.
Since then Greece has denied of the existence of Macedonians and refers to Macedonians as "Slavophone Greeks", "Old Bulgarians" and many other appellations but not as Macedonians.
The very fact that official Greece did not, either de jure or do facto, see the Macedonians as a Bulgarian minority, but rather as a separate Slav group ('Slav speaking minority'), is of particular significance. The primer, published in the Latin alphabet, was based on the Lerin - Bilola dialect.
After Gianelli's Dictionary, dating from the 16th Century, and the Daniloviot Cetirijazicnik written in the 19th century, yet another book was written in the Macedonian vernacular.
The primer with instructions in the Macedonian mother tongue, was mailed to some regions in Western Greek occupied Macedonia (Kostur, Lerin and Voden) and the school authorities were prepared to give it to Macedonian children from the first to the fourth grades in elementary school. Unfortunately this did not materialize.
Subsequent Greek governments, even though their state was a signatory to the Minority Treaty of Sèvres, have never made a sincere attempt to solve the question of the Macedonians and their ethnic rights in Greece. Thus while measures were being undertaken for the opening of Macedonian schools, a clash between the Greek and Bulgarian armies at Petrich was concocted, which was then followed by a massacre of the innocent Macedonian population in the village of Trlis near Serres. All this was aimed at creating an attitude of insecurity within the Macedonians so that they themselves would give up the recognition of their minority rights and eventually seek safety by moving to Bulgaria. The Greek governments also skillfully used the Yugoslav-Bulgarian disagreements with organized pressure on the Macedonian population, as was the case in the village of Trlis, tried to dismiss the Macedonian ethnic question from the agenda through forced resettlement of the Macedonian population outside of Greece.
The ABECEDAR, which actually never reached the Macedonian children, is in itself a powerful testimony not only of the existence of the large Macedonian ethnic minority in Greece, but also of the fact that Greece was under an obligation before the League of Nations to undertake certain measures in order to grant the Macedonian minority their rights
Even though much time has elapsed since then, Greece still owes the Macedonian people living on Macedonian soil the rights it promised then in 1920.
I believe that time has come for Greece to recognize the Macedonian minority and fulfill its obligation to the Macedonian people as promised by the various Treaties and Conventions it has signed.
To be continued...
Karakasidou, Anastasia N. Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Radin, A. Michael. IMRO and the Macedonian Question. Skopje: Kultura, 1993.
Stefou, Chris. History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present. Toronto: Risto Stefov publications, 2005
Journal of Modern Greek Studies 14.2 (1996) 329-343
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