Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Macedonia - The naming dispute in context

The Balkan region of Macedonia today is a region that includes:
* The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a current state, also referred to as the Republic of Macedonia.
* Macedonia (Greece) a region of Greece, subdivided into three administrative districts: - West Macedonia - Central Macedonia - East Macedonia and Thrace.
* Pirin Macedonia, an unofficial name for the Blagoevgrad Province, a region of Bulgaria.


Historical Macedonia, Macedon or Macedonia (Greek: Μακεδονία) was the name of a kingdom in the northern-most part of ancient Greece, bordered by the kingdom of Epirus to the west and the region of Thrace to the east (Britannica). For a brief period it became the most powerful state in the ancient Near East after Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, inaugurating the Hellenistic period of Greek history.

The first Macedonian state emerged in the 8th or early 7th century BC under the Argead Dynasty, who allegedly migrated to the region from the southern Greek city of Argos (thus the name Argead). Their first king is recorded as Perdiccas I.

Prior to the 4th century BC, the kingdom covered a region approximately corresponding to the province of Macedonia of modern Greece. It became increasingly Atticised during this period, though prominent Athenians appear to have regarded the Macedonians as uncouth.

We must stop here for an important parenthesis. Just who were the Greeks (Hellenes)? The most popular theory is that the pro-hellenes were made up of various Pelasgic peoples (Dryopes, Kares, Leleges etc) which were later subdued and assimilated by the Greek (Hellenic) tribes. These tribes were the Achaians, Ionians, Aeolians and the Dorians. They were part of the arian tribes that migrated from eastern europe at around the 3rd millenium BC and invaded central europe and the southern balkans. Historical records indicate that these tribes shared a similar language with small idiomatic differences. Their descent came in three waves with first the Ionians, then the Aeolians and Achaians and finally the Dorians. The Dorians were a militaristic tribe and knew how to use iron while the former tribes were still in the bronze age.

Origin of the Hellenic name: The name Hellenes first appears after the Homeric times, around 800 BC. Homer calls the resident peoples of Greece Achaians, Danaei and Agreians. The name "hellenes" becomes popular much later, when the city states had to cooperate to face the Persian invasions, and when Alexander the great expanded the borders of the Hellenistic civilization beyond the Aegean. None of those tribes came as "Greeks"; they became Greeks by being there, all around the Aegean. Language and customs identified them and wove new ties between them (J. M. Roberts The History of the world.). The language spoken today in Greece has the same alphabet and is the direct evolution of the language spoken by those ancient peoples. The name "Greeks" was the name of a Boeotian tribe that migrated to the Italian peninsula in the 8th century BCE and probably through contact with natives there brought the term to represent all Hellenes, which then established itself in Italy and in the West in general.

Who were the ancient Macedonians? There were more than 200 greek city states but we only have precise information for just a handful of them. What we do know is that they had the same customs, spoke and wrote in the same language, were allowed to participate in the Olympic games and worshiped the same gods. Macedonia was a Doric tribe and was no exception to this. However, there was one notable difference. Aristotle divided Greek governments into monarchies, oligarchies, tyrannies and democracies, and most historians still use these same divisions. In the Late Bronze Age (the Mycenean period), between about 2000 and 1200 BC, all Greek city-states seem to have been monarchies, ruled by kings. While this changed in time for many of the city states, Macedonia retained this model of governance until much later and as such was regarded as "backwards" by several other city-states, most notably the ones that had made the transition to democracy.

The weakening of Persian power was seen as an opportunity for militaristic Macedonia to expand. Philip sought status and recognition from the other city-states. When he became regent of Macedon in 359 BC he began a steady acquisition of territory at the expense of other Greek states. His ultimate argument was a powerful army which, by the end of his reign, had become the best-trained and organized military force in Greece. He first began by unifying Macedonia and later assimilated other city-states. This expansionist policy was seen as an encroachment upon the interests of Athens. Her power started to decline when previous allies seceded and placed themselves under macedonian patronage. Demosthenes, a prominent orator at the time and a devout democrat, considered the Macedonians `barbarians` and feared that the dominance of the macedonian kingdom would mean an end to democracy but others hailed Philip's vision to unify the city-states and willingly joined the Macedonian expansionist cause.

Eventually a peace treaty was signed after the Macedonian army had defeated the Athenians and Thebans in 338BC. The terms imposed were not harsh but the League that was formed had to agree to go to war with Persia under macedonian leadership. During Alexanders reign, the former democratic city-states tried to break free and become independent again, but were successfully subjugated and the city of Thebes was made an example of: It was razed to the ground and its population was enslaved (335BC). This marks the transition from the city-state period to a unified greece under macedonian leadership.

Important dates:
[323-300 BC] The death of Alexander the Great breaks into a civil war as the leading generals fight over the rule of the Empire. By 300 BC, the Empire is carved up between the dynasties of Alexander's generals Antigonus I, Ptolemy I, and Seleukis I.

[300-146 BC] Philip V (222-179 BC) clashes with Rome that has began an eastward expansion. The two "Macedonian Wars" against the Romans end up in defeat of Philip V's armies. Rome rises to power.

[395] The Roman Empire splits into Western and Eastern. The region of Macedonia falls to the Eastern (Byzantine), a multi-national empire stretching over three continents at its height.

[535] The Slavs overrun the Balkans and mix with the peoples there.

[855-886] Two brothers, Cyril and Methodius from Salonica, create the first Slavonic alphabet and promote Christianity among the Slavic peoples.

[1453] The fall of the empire's capital, Constantinople (Istanbul), to the Ottoman Turks marks the end of the Byzantine empire. The macedonian region is populated by a mix of people of different ethnic origins.

[1789] The French revolution:
The French Revolution paved the way for the modern nation-state. Across Europe radical intellectuals questioned the old monarchical order and encouraged the development of a popular nationalism committed to re-drawing the political map of the continent. The days of multi-national empires were numbered. National awakening also grew out of an intellectual reaction to the Enlightenment that emphasized national identity and developed a romantic view of cultural self-expression through nationhood. It was argued by Hegel (1770-1831) that a sense of nationality was the cement that will hold modern societies together. With most of Europe's peoples still loyal to their local province or city, nationalism was confined to small groups of intellectuals and political radicals. Nationalism came to be seen as the most effective way to create the symbols of resistance and to unite in a common cause. In the Balkans, this meant revolting against the Ottoman empire.

[1821+] After Greek independence, and while the Ottoman empire was crumbling, Greek Nationalism, exemplified by the Megali idea (the Grand Idea), focused on expansion and the forging of a national identity. As such, it was to come into conflict with similar Bulgarian and Serb nationalist expansionist plans. These plans came into conflict ever more frequently with the demographic, linguistic and cultural realities of the peninsula at the time (M. Glenny - The Balkans).

[1878-1879] The treaty of Berlin restored the region of Macedonia and Thrace to the Ottoman Empire. The great powers had now linked their imperial interests to the aspirations of the emerging balkan states. By october 1878, Edinstvo (unity), one of the new nationalist committees which had sprung up in Bulgaria was planning an uprising in the Kresna district. Two local leaders, P. Georgievski-Berovski and Stoian Karastoilov (one a Russian, the other a Pole) began to gather men and weapons. The revolution spreads quickly and focuses on the liberation of slavic regions but is crushed in just over a month by the Ottomans. The Kresna uprising posed in a violent way, and for the first time, the issue of identity of the region. This was the start of the Macedonian Question. Studies of the uprising are largely unknown outside Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and there are discrepancies between them. Historians from each side call the uprising either "Bulgarian" or "Macedonian".

At the time of the Congress of Berlin, the Macedonian region is an extraordinary pot-pourri of cultures, faiths and traditions. The four largest populations are - in no particular order - Greeks, Slavs, Albanians and Turks, although Salonika (Thessaloniki) is also the home of 50,000 Sephardic Jews. There are many other smaller communities too, like the Vlachs (who speak a language akin to romanian) and Roma gypsies. In many parts of central and western macedonia, a greek, a slav, a vlach, a turkish and an albanian dominated village exist side by side in harmony.

To summarize, the region was Europe's most enduring and complex multicultural region.
When the process of fragmentation started with the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the potential for violence and the rise of nationalism was greater there than anywhere else.

The Bulgarians' claim was based on the Slav population and the Bulgarian elite assumed all the Slavs were Bulgarians. This was not unreasonable, since the languages spoken by the slavs were very similar, but with dialectal variation. However, the Slavs of Macedonia referred to themselves as Macedonian though this was not necessarily a denial of their Bulgarian identity. On the other hand, Greeks in the region referred to themselves as both Greeks and Macedonians.

The question of the origins of the modern Macedonians (in FYROM), who feel themselves categorically to be a Slav people distinct from Serbs or Bulgars, provokes a lot of intellectual fanaticism. For example, a nationalist scholar from Skopje will maintain that his nation has existed for thousands of years whereas a more moderate scholar will say that Macedonians first developed a separate identity from Bulgaria about 100 years ago. A Serb will claim that the Macedonians only emerged as a nation at the end of world war II whereas a fourth, Greek or Bulgarian, will maintain that a claim of a macedonian identity by the people of FYROM is ridiculous and that is has never existed.

[1903] The Ilinden uprising:
The Ottoman authorities had long expected an uprising and had steadily strengthened their positions. Colonel Anastasas Iankoff, an agent of Bulgarian interests, began stirring up western Macedonia, in part to destroy the autonomy of the resident macedonian slavs who were planning a more underground, longer-term uprising. The Turkish authorities quickly re-established control and crushed both groups.
In an attept to provoke great power intervention, Gemidzhii, a group of anarchists associated with the most radical wing of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), a group which planned for the liberation of the region of macedonia and which was under slavic leadership (but not restricted to slavs), started a series of attacks that provoked the wrath of the muslim mob which began lynching the Slav minority in Salonika killing about 60 before the governor imposed martial law.

On August 2, 1903 VMRO launches the Ilinden Uprising against the Turks and declares Macedonian independence. The revolutionaries capture the town of Krushevo and establish a new government. The uprising is brutally crushed by the Turks. Krushevo is bombarded with artillery over several days, with the Greek and Vlach parts particularly hard hit.

[1908] The Young Turk revolution and the collapse of the Ottoman empire:
The importance of the Young Turk revolution is comparable with the Russian revolution of 1917. The speed with which the Sultan's power crumbled astonished the great powers. The Young Turk revolution was a courageous blow to the despotism of the Sultan. It was the start of a wave of modernity that swept throughout Turkey. The Young Turks issued a general amnesty and promised equality of civil rights for all nationalities. However, external powers saw it as a sign of weakness of the Ottoman Empire and the expansionist ambitions were rekindled.

[1912-1913] The balkan wars. 
The Balkan wars were fought mostly on the territory of the region of Macedonia. The first balkan war was fought mainly against the Turks and the second between the former allied powers to determine the new borders.

After the failure of the Kresna uprising, Ottoman rule was harsher. One Greek agent of the time in Kastoria mentions: "the Christian inhabitants of these parts have reached such a point that they would welcome with open arms not only Russian or Bulgarian bands, but also Indochinese bands, if they would promise them to deliver them from the Ottomans". The Greek and Bulgarian forces were desperate to capture Salonica (source: M. Glenny - The Balkans). It was the single greatest prize of the first Balcan war and there had been no prior agreement about it's status. In this case, possession of the city would count for all the law and foreign powers would be unlikely to intervene. The Greek king Constantine beat the Bulgarian division by a matter of hours and entered the city first, establishing Greek dominance.

The Turkish refusal to hand over Adrianopole to Bulgaria, as the peace treaty required, sparked more fighting. Bulgaria and Serbia attacked and though the Turks heroically defended the city, it fell. Estimates of the dead range between 40 to 60 thousand. The treaty of London recognized the union of Crete with Greece and Bulgarian control of Adrianopole (Edirne). Albania became independent. Only one issue remained - the division of Macedonia.

Bulgaria was much weakened by the first Balkan war and the situation between the former allies was still tense. Greece and Serbia saw this as an opportunity and, prompted by a Bulgarian tactical mistake to issue secret attack orders against Serb positions, the Second Balkan war was started.

The Second Balkan war lasted only 1 month. Greeks and Serbs, joined by local Turks, fought against the Bulgarians. Under the treaty of Bucharest (1913) Bulgaria was forced to surrender almost everything it had gained in the first war by sacrificing tens of thousands of its citizens.

[1914+] The greek prime minister Venizelos was a great supporter of the Megali Idea and considered the transformation of Salonika crucial to the Greek expansionist plans. As an ally of the Entente, he realized that Greece would be in an excellent position to realize its territorial claims primarily against Bulgaria and Turkey. However, the Greek King was a Germanophile and publicly supported Greek neutrality. This caused a Greek national schism.

In 1916, Entente troops landed at Pireus and marched into Athens, settling the dispute. After some fighting against the monarchists, Greece eventually joined the Entente and Venizelos was vindicated while the Greek king Costantine was forced into exile. Bulgarians had joined with the Germans.

At the end of the first world war, Yugoslavia did not exist as a country. In November 1918, it was constituted as a kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes without clear borders. This did not settle the national question.

[World War II] Bulgaria was eventually forced to give up neutrality and join the Axis. Yugoslavia made an agreement in Vienna not to permit German troops to enter the country but to allow the transport of war materials through its borders. No further war obligations towards the Axis powers were required and Yugoslavia could remain intact. In return, the Germans supported Yugoslavian expansionist plans to Salonica - which meant Bulgarian aspirations to get it could not be fulfilled. Infuriated by this agreement with the Axis, Yugoslavians revolted (particularly the Serbs) and there was a coup d'etat. An infuriated Hitler ordered the Wermacht to invade the country. Germany quickly occupied the Balkans and during that time the Jews of Salonika were exterminated in the Croatian Ustase camps.

In 1944 the Red Army advanced in the Balkan Peninsula and forced the German forces to retreat. The pre-war borders were restored under U.S. and British pressure because the Bulgarian government was insisting to keep its military units on Greek soil. The Bulgarian Macedonia returned fairly rapidly to normality, but the Bulgarian patriots in Yugoslav Macedonia underwent a process of ethnic cleansing by the Belgrade authorities, and Greek Macedonia was ravaged by the Greek Civil War, which broke out in December 1944 and did not end until October 1949.

After the Greek civil war, a large number of former ELAS fighters took refuge in communist Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and described themselves as "ethnic Macedonians".

[Post World War II] Tito separated Yugoslav Macedonia from Serbia after the war. It became a republic of the new federal Yugoslavia (as the Socialist Republic of Macedonia) in 1946, with its capital at Skopje. Tito also promoted the concept of a separate Macedonian nation, as a means of severing the ties of the Slav population of Yugoslav Macedonia with Bulgaria. Although the regional language is almost identical to Bulgarian, the differences were deliberately emphasized and the region's historical figures were promoted as being uniquely Macedonian (rather than Serbian or Bulgarian). A separate Macedonian Orthodox Church was established, splitting off from the Serbian Orthodox Church, but it has not been recognized by any other Orthodox Church, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Communist Party sought to deter pro-Bulgarian sentiment, which was punished severely; convictions were still being handed down as late as 1991.

Tito had a number of reasons for doing this. First, as an ethnic Croat, he wanted to reduce Serbia's dominance in Yugoslavia; establishing a territory formerly considered Serbian as an equal to Serbia within Yugoslavia achieved this effect. Secondly, he wanted to sever the ties of the Macedonian Slav population with Bulgaria because recognition of that population as Bulgarian would have undermined the unity of the Yugoslav federation. Third of all, Tito sought to justify future Yugoslav claims towards the rest of Macedonia (Pirin and Aegean), in the name of the "liberation" of the region. The potential "Macedonian" state would remain as a constituent republic within Yugoslavia, and so Yugoslavia would manage to get access to the Aegean Sea.

Tito's designs on Macedonia were asserted as early as August, 1944, when in a proclamation he claimed that his goal was to reunify "all parts of Macedonia, divided in 1912 and 1913 by Balkan imperialists". To this end, he opened negotiations with Bulgaria for a new federal state, which would also probably have included Albania, and supported the Greek Communists in the Greek Civil War. The idea of reunification of all of Macedonia under Communist rule was abandoned as late as 1949 when the Greek Communists lost in the Greek Civil War and Tito fell out with the Soviet Union and pro-Soviet Bulgaria.

Sources:
J.M. Roberts - The History of the World
M. Glenny - The Balkans
Britannica
Wikipedia (quotations from referenced sources)