restricted access The Macedonians of Greece: Denying Ethnic Identity (review)
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The Macedonians of Greece: Denying Ethnic Identity. Helsinki: Human Rights Watch. 1994. Pp. 85.

Keeping watch on governments and calling them to account for human rights is a top priority in the international arena, and the mission of Helsinki Watch, past and future, in ferreting out violations should be commended and supported. Focusing on the treatment of “Macedonians” in Greece is an appropriate subject for investigation, but it does require special care, a historical perspective, and sensitivity to the national security concerns that, regrettably, are largely missing from this report.

To be sure, Greece over time, concerned about the loyalty of some of its citizens who spoke a Slavic dialect or language that resembled Bulgarian, discouraged activities that may have been connected to the various movements and ideologies that aimed to detach Greek Macedonia from Greece and to annex it either to Bulgaria or to a Greater Slavic Macedonia. Elementary familiarity with the history of the region, and with the bloody wars that were fought there until very recently, would suggest that these fears of Greece about “activity contrary to . . . its territorial integrity and political independence” (Article 8 of the Declaration) were anything but imaginary. The job of Helsinki Watch was to check the facts, identify any related Greek measures in reliable ways, place them in context, and evaluate their compatibility with any legitimate security concerns.

This job was done poorly regarding the facts and almost not at all regarding context and compatibility. To begin with, the report most often uses FYROM’s terminology—“Aegean Macedonia”—for Greek Macedonia. It also refers to the repression of “the Macedonians in Greece” without qualification, which not only generates confusion but also gives the impression that members of this small minority constitute the only or true Macedonians in the region. With all due concern for the excesses of Greek nationalism, to attribute the name and the identity of Macedonia to a certain group within a certain minority in this geographical area is not only naïve but shows gross partiality. In a vacuum, any one or any group may adopt any name they want. When, however, at least two groups claim the same name in the same location, and there has been a lot of history and bad blood regarding that location, Human Rights Watch should be careful about how it uses the name. Besides, there are also the (different?) Macedonians of FYROM. For example, I myself was born a Greek and a Macedonian and my “ethnic identity has not been denied.” Furthermore, many of the Macedonians who speak or are familiar with that Slavic language also speak Greek as their primary or secondary language and do not associate with the separatist elements. They are the “dopii,” a Greek word meaning “locals,” distinguishing them from the refugees from Asia Minor, whom the report confuses with its own Macedonians. Indeed, these Macedonian Slavs—called “Grecomans” because they refused to join the Bulgarian Exarchate and remained faithful to Constantinople—associate with Greece, and many fought on the Greek side during the Macedonian wars.

Even more seriously, the report should be faulted for creating questionable [End Page 358] impressions about the twentieth-century demographics in the region. Let me cite a few examples. The report suggests that “most of the inhabitants” (italics added) of the geographic region may be “a distinct Macedonian ethnic group.” This cannot be true. Next, and in the same vein, it states, using a recycled FYROM source, that in 1912 in “Aegean” Macedonia there were 326,426 Macedonians and 240,019 Greeks. This also cannot be accurate, and not only because at that time the statistics did not recognize a “Macedonian” nationality and there was no distinct Aegean Macedonia. As reported by Loring Danforth, if at that time the “Slavic-speaking Christians in [greater] Macedonia were pressed to state their national identity, some of them would have said that they were Serbs, many of them would have said that they were Greeks, but the majority of them would undoubtedly have said they were Bulgarians” (“Competing Claims to Macedonian Identity: The Macedonian Question and the Breakup of Yugoslavia,” Anthropology Today 9/4 [August 1993], p. 7). An early...