NIKOS SAKELARIOS is a member of the "Rainbow" organisation and the Macedonian Movement for Balkan Prosperity in northern Greece, representing the officially "non-existent" ethnic Macedonian minority. He was interviewed by MICHAEL KARADJIS. Question: How many of you "don't exist" in Greek Macedonia? That's very hard to say. On the basis of the 7000 votes that Rainbow received in the last elections, we could say at least 10,000 conscious Macedonians, but we received these votes despite total media blackout and attempts to obstruct our campaign. Broadly speaking, we can say that apart from this conscious minority, there is a sector that has long ago been completely Hellenised, and a large group in the middle who still speak Macedonian, have a part-Macedonian and part-Greek identity, and try to conform in order to keep their jobs, avoid harassment by police and other civilians, and to not jeopardise the chances of their overseas relatives returning. We believe that in conditions of freedom, many in this middle group would embrace Macedonian ethnicity. Question: What are Rainbow's principal aims? We struggle for the democratic rights of the Macedonian minority. Above all this means the right of our children to learn their language at school, which is essential to our survival. Also, in practice, we cannot use our language in print, as no printer will print it, due to fear, and we are banned from radio, even our songs. One of the main issues is that of Macedonian refugees who fled after World War II. While Greek leftists have returned and reclaimed properties, or received compensation, our people are banned by legislation from doing the same, or even visiting. This means that thousands of Macedonians in other countries have to keep their heads down and declare themselves Greek just in order to be allowed to visit relatives, let alone return and reclaim property. Those who are openly Macedonian are banned even from visiting to bury dead relatives. These racist laws need to be abolished. Question: The Greek state charges that you also want to unite Greek Macedonia with the Macedonian republic. They know very well this is nonsense, aimed at fooling and scaring the local Greek population. Besides, such ideas have no meaning. We struggle for the rights of the minority within Greece, but we also want the right to have cultural and other contacts with Macedonia. Question: You said you were obstructed during the elections. In what way? About two weeks before the elections, Rainbow and two other small parties were banned from standing. Soon after, this was reversed for the other two parties, but Rainbow was outlawed. Again this was overturned a few days later, but we had little time left. Besides this, we were completely "non-existent" in the media. Just before the elections, every party had a special 10 minutes on TV — except us. So we were happy with 7000 votes. Question: But if the minority is so small, what does the Greek government fear? What would it lose by granting democratic rights? One thing is what I said before: a free atmosphere may mean many more of us than we are now. The Greek state has always been very intolerant of difference, and a free coexistence between Greek and Macedonian communities would undermine this state ideology with which Greek workers are whipped into line. But even if it overcame this, the big problem would be how to explain history. They would have to admit their decades of oppression and ethnic cleansing of our people, and that much of what is taught as Greek "history" at school is myths. Question: Greek sources claim you have no right to call yourselves Macedonians because in the past you always called yourselves "Bulgarians" until Tito came to power in Yugoslavia in 1945, baptising you "Macedonians" in order to push territorial claims on Greece. That is all complete nonsense. In any case, it is rather unlikely that a state could force a whole people, with no apparent resistance, to be a nationality that they didn't want to be. And if we look at Macedonian communities abroad, many came from Greek Macedonia before Tito established his power in Yugoslav Macedonia, yet they are fiercely Macedonian. Tito must have been a miracle worker. Official Greek records from the 1920s and 1930s referred to us as Macedonians, and in 1926 we were even briefly recognised and textbooks in our language were produced. If we called ourselves "Bulgarians", how do you explain that Admond Bouche, travelling in Macedonia in 1928, wrote that "nine out of ten times a villager will reply 'Macedonian'" to the question of what nationality he/she is. Or Greece's very own Stratis Myrivilis, a famous novelist clearly beyond suspicion of being a "Skopjean agent", wrote, "... they don't want to be Bulgarian, Serb or Greek. Simply 'Macedonian Orthodox'". Question: And they always called themselves "Macedonians" not "Slav-Macedonians"? Almost never "Slav-Macedonians". The Slavic family of languages, to which Macedonian belongs, has never been part of our national consciousness, any more than English, who speak a language in the Germanic family, regard themselves as German. We recognise that some in Greece who support our cause use the term "Slav-Macedonian" with good intentions; however, this has no tradition among the Macedonians themselves. Question: Nevertheless, many who support your cause think the word "Macedonian" by itself is not enough to distinguish you, in practice, from the Greek population of Greek Macedonia, who also call themselves Macedonians. We have no objection to the Greeks in Macedonia calling themselves Macedonian, but ethnically they consider themselves Greek. Ethnically, the only name we have ever had for ourselves is Macedonian. This needn't cause as much trouble as some might imagine. For example, people in the USA call themselves "American" without causing any apparent problem for the other 20 or so nations that make up the two continents of America. However, it may satisfy such anxieties that we often use the term "local Macedonians". This has a real historical basis, because after the Greek army occupied the southern half of Macedonia in 1913, it referred to our people, usually in a derogatory way, as "locals". This distinguishes us from the bulk of Greeks in Macedonia, who were not local, but refugees from Asia Minor in the 1920s. Then, we were the "locals", they were the "refugees". Of course, there were also local Greeks, particularly in the far south of Macedonia, and Vlachs and Jews, but they considered themselves Greeks, Vlachs and Jews. "Local Macedonian" was the name reserved for our people, and in time we took it up to maintain our specificity during years of forced assimilation. In practice, we have used the terms "local" and "Macedonian" for ourselves and our language interchangeably throughout the century.
Greek state's 'non-existent' minority
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