I haven’t been there for a long time, and look forward to reporting about it directly once I do; in the meantime I am sharing with you this article which has been forwarded to me by a local friend. I am not taking a  position on a foreign to me country, but my commitment to democracy compels me to publish it here unabridged, and to publish any reasonable reaction it may generate. Responsibility for its accuracy and/or thruthfulness rests totally on its author (s).

From: Risto Stefov <rstefov@porchlight.ca>
To: Undisclosed-Recipient@yahoo.com
Sent: Monday, June 9, 2008 3:59:56 PM
Subject: [RMDigest] Macedonians in Greece – Part 5 – The Metaxa Dictatorship

Macedonians in Greece

1939 – 1949

Part 5 – The Metaxa Dictatorship

By Risto Stefov

rstefov@hotmail. com

June 2008

When the Macedonian people felt things couldn’t get any worse in Greek occupied Macedonia, they did.

“Metaxas, having removed the last constraints on his authority, enjoying the active support of King George II, and able through him to count on the loyalty of the armed forces, now set about his long-cherished ambition of reshaping the Greek character and remoulding Greek society. Since his days as a young army officer at the Prussian military academy he had nurtured an admiration for ernst, ‘the serious German spirit’, which he contrasted with the Greeks’ excessive individualism and lack of a sense of corporate loyalty. In pursuit of this basic objective of ‘disciplining’ the Greek people he aped many of the trappings of German Nazism and Italian Fascism. In conscious imitation of Hitler’s Third Reich he evolved the concept of the Third Hellenic Civilization. The first was the pagan civilization of ancient Greece, the second the Christian civilization of Byzantium. The third, which would be fashioned under his aegis, would combine the virtues of both. In pursuit of his essentially paternalistic, authoritarian style of government he had himself proclaimed in 1937 ‘First Peasant’ and ‘First Worker’, and also liked to be known as ‘leader’ or ‘National Father’. He declared a moratorium on peasant debts and introduced labour legislation that sounded progressive on paper, but much of his populist, anti-plutocratic rhetoric was belied by his practice. Workers particularly resented his introduction of compulsory arbitration of labour disputes.” (Richard Clogg. “A Short History of Modern Greece”. Page 133)

What Clogg is calling the “reshaping of Greek character and remoulding Greek society” which by the way he makes sound like it is a progressive thing, many today would call “cultural genocide”. What Metaxas did in fact is enforce existing anti-Macedonian policies to the extreme and then enacted some more of his own.

The dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1940) was especially brutal in its treatment of the Macedonians in Greek occupied Macedonia, who by this time had increasingly begun to identify themselves as Macedonians.

“On December 18, 1936, the Metaxas dictatorship issued a legal act concerning ‘Activity Against State Security.’ This law punished claims of minority rights. On the basis of this act, thousands of Macedonians were arrested, imprisoned, or expelled from Greece. On September 7, 1938, the legal act 2366 was issued. This banned the use of the Macedonian language even in the domestic sphere. All Macedonian localities were flooded with posters that read, ‘Speak Greek.’ Evening schools were opened in which adult Macedonians were taught Greek. No Macedonian schools of any kind were permitted. Any public manifestation of Macedonian national feeling and its outward expression through language, song, or dance was forbidden and severely punished by the Metaxas regime. People who spoke Macedonian were beaten, fined and imprisoned. Punishments in some areas included piercing of the tongue with a needle and cutting off a part of the ear for every Macedonian word spoken. Almost 5,000 Macedonians were sent to jails and prison camps for violating this prohibition against the use of the Macedonian language. Mass exile of sections of Macedonians and other ‘difficult’ minorities took place. The trauma of persecution has left deep scars on the consciousness of the Macedonians in Greece, many of whom are even today convinced that their language ‘cannot’ be committed to writing.

Writing in 1938, Australian author Bert Birtles in his book Exiles in the Aegean said, ‘If Greece has no Jewish problem, she has the Macedonians. In the name of ‘Hellenization’ these people are being persecuted continually and arrested for the most fantastic reasons. Metaxas’s way of inculcating the proper nationalist spirit among them has been to change all the native place-names into Greek and to forbid use of the native language. For displaying the slightest resistance to this edict- for this too is a danger to the security of the State – peasants and villagers have been exiled without trial.'” (John Shea. “Macedonia and Greece The Struggle to Define a New Balkan Nation”. Pages 111 and 112)

“The racism which envelops the Macedonian people in Aegean Macedonia has primarily focused on the suppression of language and identity in order to maintain territorial acquisition. It has become an ideological means to assist exploitation and denationalization. This policy results in systemic discrimination and denial of basic human rights such as self- identification. The dehumanization is validated by the argument that: you are not Macedonian, you do not have a culture, language or a name, so in fact you do not exist and therefore there is no oppression. There is sad irony in the fact that by claiming a Macedonian heritage, language and name, the Macedonians are seen as the villains whose actions are somehow threatening to Greece. This is a classic condition of oppression culture, in that the oppressor claims to feel violated by the oppressed. By claiming the process is actually occurring to themselves, Greek Governments aim to validate the need for continuing the oppression.

This type of mind-set or social outlook is unfortunately reinforced within the school system and a social system which does not promote a sense of multiculturalism. The social system which evolved after the 1913 acquisition of Macedonian territory found it necessary to create a modern Greek identity for the masses who spoke other languages within the new borders. Hellenism is the absolute antithesis of multiculturalism, which presupposes the right to self-identification and self expression.” (Kita Sapurma & Pandora Petrovska. “Children of the Bird Goddess”. Pollitecon Publications. 1997. Pages 162 and 163)

The Metaxas regime was particularly brutal against the rural Macedonian population where Hellenization in the past was less restrictive and most Macedonians especially the elderly and uneducated did not speak Greek. Here the Metaxas regime employed a particularly large police force where the policemen’s salary was supplemented with the funds exacted by the policeman from fines. Each policeman was paid a percentage of the fine imposed on those caught speaking Macedonian. With this kind of incentive, policemen were not only doing their patriotic duty in apprehending the criminals but they were also rewarded for their vigilance. Unfortunately those who paid the heaviest fines were the elderly and poor, people who could least afford them.

The best places to stalk their unsuspecting victims were the crowded marketplaces where old women did their shopping totally oblivious of the prowling policemen’s finely tuned ears, ever listening for the offending word of a criminal speaking in their native language, the only language they knew. One gentle old widowed woman who I know personally from my village was fined the equivalent of one month’s salary for asking for the price of produce at the market. She had to sell her entire year’s supply of feta cheese in order to pay the fine.

I was too young at that time to ask this poor woman how it felt to be fined for speaking the only language she knew. Being unable to speak Greek how did she manage to buy a ticket on the bus to go to market? How did she ask the grocer for her groceries? Did she point to them? How did she figure out how to pay if she didn’t understand the grocer’s language?

We often joke about this because it is so bizarre but people were also fined for giving commands to their animals or calling out to their pets in their native language.

Another place to stalk unsuspecting victims was at their home. Greek policemen often stood outside people’s windows just to hear what language they were speaking and fined the entire family if they were caught speaking Macedonian.

“The Metaxas regime, haunted by the specter of Slavism and communism, initiated a policy of accelerated assimilation. Applied by incompetent and short-sighted civil servants, it antagonized even Slavophones of the Greek faction. To peasants of Bulgarian [ethnic Macedonian] orientation it served as proof that the Greek state could not offer them a national shelter. In 1941, the occupation of Greece by the Germans and the entrance of Bulgarian troops in eastern Macedonia and Thrace offered the opportunity for accumulated bitterness to reach maturity.” (Kofos. “Nationalism and Communism in Macedonia”. Page 255)

After the realization set in that people would be fined and even physically punished and force fed castor oil for repeat offences, fear and suspicion began to set in, forcing people to keep silent. It was best to look down or to look the other way when passing your neighbours on the street because you never knew who might be listening. Keeping silent was preferable to speaking to someone you knew all your life in a foreign despicable tongue you despised.

“In the past, Macedonian life and events were preserved in the folksongs, thus enabling an articulation of feelings and grief as well as cultural self-expression. When the Macedonian language was proscribed in Northern Greece, the folksongs ceased.” (Kita Sapurma & Pandora Petrovska. “Children of the Bird Goddess”. Pollitecon Publications. 1997. Page 163)

“Metaxas placed great store by the country’s youth, and to this end created the National Youth Organisation (EON), which was intended to be the standard bearer of his ideals after his death. Membership of EON was made mandatory and rival organizations such as the Boy Scouts were suppressed. EON, too, was seen by Metaxas as providing a substitute for the lack of any kind of mass party base for his power, the most obvious difference between the Metaxas regime and the fascist regimes that he so admired. He shared to the full, however, their hostility towards liberalism, communism and parliamentary government, and indeed their nationalism, although his nationalism was of the non-aggressive variety. Nor, moreover, was his ideology, such as it was, based on theories of racial superiority. ” (Richard Clogg. “A Short History of Modern Greece”. Pages 133 and 134)

The National Youth Organization (EON) may have been the “standard bearer for Metaxas’s ideals” but it was a nightmare for the Macedonian population. Included in this organization were Macedonian youths who were poisoned by Greek propaganda and turned against their own people. Even their own parents and grandparents were seen as weak and vile and loathed for who they were. Such poisoned youths would not hesitate to turn in their own siblings or parents to the police for even the most minor offenses. While western authors ridicule Hitler for his promotion of “racial superiority” they remain silent for Metaxas’s. Much of the arrogance in modern Greeks today is owed to the Metaxas indoctrination.

Much as he hated Macedonians, Metaxas also had distaste for communists who he persecuted at no end. Since officially Macedonians did not exist, his regime was quick to accuse Macedonians of being communists and sent them to prison in the most desolate Greek island concentration camps. A whole network of Greek fascists existed spying on the people and making lists of those that could not be trusted. When Metaxas exacted his dictatorship all these “marked” people were rounded up and sent to prison. And as we will later show, these same lists were used again and again to torment the population more so the Macedonian population than any other in Greek occupied Macedonia.

If World War II had not broken out and had Metaxas lived another five years, there would be no minorities living in Greece today, Greece would have been a truly homogenous state with “pure Greeks” all being direct descendants from the ancient Greeks. Although officially Greece claims to be 98% pure, those claims today are only wishful thinking.

Being persecuted to no end, during the Metaxa era people took measures to protect themselves and took their activities underground. There still existed communists and communist organizations but by now they were all clandestine. New and more secure communications were developed which in the long term served the communists well especially during the German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation.

We cannot say that there was no relationship between the Macedonians and the communists as many Macedonians were loyal to the Communist Party of Greece but only because it was the sole party that ever gave Macedonians the time of day. Macedonians were made scapegoats for communist activities even though Macedonians had nothing to do with those activities.

Following is a segment from John S. Koliopouls’s book “Plundered Loyalties” that deals with the subject of Macedonians and communists during the 1930’s but represents the Greek point of view in this matter.

“In December 1929 the district governor of Florina reported that on visiting the Slav Macedonian villages of Ano Hydrousa, Sphika and Karyai he encountered not only resentment against state and communal taxation but also ‘anti-state sentiments’. He discerned the same sentiments in the refusal of the inhabitants of five ‘indigent’ villages of Lake Prespa to cooperate in leasing the taxes on the lake fishery. Mikrolimni, Agios Achilleios, Bronteron, Kallithea and Pyksos apparently harboured ‘anti-state’ sentiments. Such an attitude and the inroads the communists were able to make in Slav Macedonian villages in the 1930s led to stringent legislative and administrative measures, especially by the right-wing dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-41). In addition to banning the speaking of Slav Macedonian in public, the dictatorship imprisoned or deported an unknown number of communist cadres of the region, many of them Slav Macedonians or simply sensitive to their grievances. Gendarmerie and administrative and appointed communal officials, in their effort to curry favour with the strong men of the day, were prepared to go out of their way to combat communist and ‘anti-state’ sentiments. Pastoralists of the region were obliged to provide evidence of their true Greek sentiments to be able to rent summer grazing land. Gendarmerie officers and appointed village headmen had to be satisfied that applicants for such transactions were ‘God-fearing family men’ and ‘nationalists’ . Neither Slav Macedonians nor refugees were considered to be above suspicion.

A Maniot gendarmerie officer named Periandros Poulakos was representative of state officials of the period in the region. As commanding officer of the Amygdala gendarmerie station, he made a name for himself in the district of Eordaea as a ruthless guardian of law and order as conceived by the Metaxas dictatorship. In December 1938, assisted by the village chief of the National Youth Organization (Ethniki Organosis Neon) (EON) and under orders from the district governor of Kozani, he arrested an inhabitant who was seen in the village cafe when he was expected to attend church like others. In March 1939 the same officer arrested, again with the assistance of the Youth chief and the president of the village of Koila, an inhabitant of that village who opened his coffee shop, which he also used as a barber’s shop, on Independence Day (25 March) to shave two village men. Several inhabitants made statements under oath that from that and similar behaviour in the past they were convinced that the barber was a communist sympathizer. Several months later Poulakos arrested a Slav Macedonian in the village of Ermakia and other members of his family and kept them in custody, longer than was permitted in an effort to extract the depositions he was demanding. The Slav Macedonian with another man of the same village beat the village field guard, a refugee who had caught them stealing grapes from a vineyard.

Had it not been for the war and the ensuing foreign occupation of the region in the first half of the 1940s, the ruthless drive to transform the region in the ways described might possibly have succeeded. However those events put an end to this process of assimilating different linguistic and cultural groups into a homogeneous national community and initiated, instead, developments that further intensified existing cleavages.” (John S. Koliopouls. “Plundered Loyalties”. Pages 44-46)

After war broke out in the Balkans, the first to fall to fascist aggression was Albania. By an ultimatum delivered to Albania on March 23, 1939, Italian troops landed in Albania and occupied its territory on April 7, encountering little resistance. Soon after consolidating control in Albania, on October 28th, 1940, Italy declared war on Greece. Greece however turned out to be tough to defeat and Metaxa’s foresight in arming his state paid off.

Official history praises Greece and Greek soldiers for their bravery and fighting spirit but neglects to mention the contributions and sacrifices Macedonians made to keep Greece safe. Macedonians were the first to be dispatched to the front lines in Albania, taking the full brunt of the offensive as well as the winter cold. More Macedonian men suffered from gangrene than from Italian bullets and bombs. Unprepared for the frigid temperatures, many men lost their fingers, toes, limbs and even their lives to frostbite. Food too was in short supply as the brave Macedonian soldiers had to fight off starvation as well as the Italians. They did this to protect a country that refused and still refuses to recognize them.

“The first intimations of what was to come had been sensed before the Axis occupation, as early as the winter of 1940-1, even as Greece was fighting Italy people wondered about the attitude of the Slav Macedonians: would they fight with the rest of the Greeks? The great majority of them did fight the Italians even more tenaciously than most southern Greeks, if only because the fighting was taking place not far from their homes. The local army units were the first to repulse the Italian invaders in October and the first to march into Albania in November..

.A related warning was the deportation of a number of Slav Macedonians during the war for security reasons. They were mostly communists, or people whom the authorities did not trust to move freely in the zone of military operations.” (John S. Koliopouls. “Plundered Loyalties”. Page 50)

All their sacrifices were in vain because six months later on April 6th, 1941 the German army marched into Greece.

To be continued.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


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