In 1912, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia attacked the Turkish Ottoman Empire to carve up its last possession in Europe, Macedonia. The victors immediately fell out, and Greece, Serbia, Romania and Turkey went to war against Bulgaria. In 1922, the Balkan wars came close to being repeated, as Greece put its military forces on the Macedonian and Albanian borders on alert, the Turkish military requested detailed military maps of neighbouring Greek islands, 100,000 Serbian troops were massed on the Bulgarian and Macedonian borders, and Bulgaria called a general mobilisation.
Seventy years later, there are again threats of war centred on Macedonia. MIKE KARADJIS examines the issues.
The Macedonians are a Slavic people with a language distinct from both Bulgarian and Serbian. Yet the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian ruling cliques maintain the Orwellian myth that the Macedonian people and language "don't exist".
Some progress was made in 1945, when the Macedonian republic became one of the constituents of the new Yugoslav federation. The great majority live in this republic; Macedonians are a minority in the Macedonian geographical region of Greece, and are largely assimilated in Bulgarian Macedonia.
However, the drive by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to create a Greater Serbia has again stirred the pot. Milosevic views the Macedonians as "south Serbs" and the region as "southern Serbia".
The overwhelming vote for an independent Macedonia in a referendum late last year also aroused the furious opposition of Greece and, initially, Bulgaria — both afraid of the effects on their own Macedonian minorities.
Macedonia sought allies against this Greek-Serbian-Bulgarian axis, and an opposing Macedonian-Albanian-Turkish axis came into being.
Both Greece and Bulgaria have Turko-Muslim minorities, whose rights are championed by the Turkish regime (not renowned as a champion of national rights of the Kurds, Armenians and Greeks in its own state). Likewise, Greece champions the rights of the Greek minority in southern Albania, and Albania the rights of the Albanian majority in Kosovo province, occupied by the Serbian regime.
However, these alliances have come unstuck due to a Bulgarian-Macedonian rapprochement and an Albanian-Macedonian split.
The Bulgarian regime has made an about-face and moved in as Macedonia's protector; Bulgaria and Turkey were the first governments to recognise Macedonia as independent. However, Bulgarian "protection" is a double-edged sword, for Bulgaria views Macedonians as nothing other than Bulgarians! "Protection" therefore is part of a Greater Bulgaria strategy.
On the other hand, Macedonia has come under attack from its Albanian the population. Representatives of the minority appealed to the European Community not to recognise Macedonia, claiming national oppression and exclusion from the Macedonian constitution. The regime declared illegal a referendum on Albanian autonomy.
Macedonian leader Vasili Toukourkofski claimed that the "legal arrangements for the protection of the Albanian, Sindi and Rom minorities meet all recent European credentials ... the Macedonian minorities in Greece and Bulgaria can't say the same." Further, he stated that Macedonia, "unlike Slovenia and Croatia, will avoid talk of 'the state of the Macedonians' and will instead talk of 'the republic of the citizens of Macedonia'".
Unfortunately, the ambitions of the Albanian regime seem to go beyond protection of the minority. Albanian sources recently released a survey which alleged that the 2 million people in the Macedonian republic consisted of Albanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, Muslims, Gipsies, Vlachs, Pomaks ... anyone but Macedonians! Such nonsense suggests that Albania wouldn't mind taking part in a Greek-Serbian dismemberment of Macedonia.
Serbian chief Milosevic has stated quite clearly that if Macedonia declares independence, "the Serbian and Greek borders will meet". Leaders of Macedonia's Serbian minority warned the EC that recognition of Macedonia would lead to civil war.
The Albanian "discovery" of 250,000 Greeks in the Macedonian republic seems a gift to Greece, to keep it out of southern Albania. No-one in Greece, not even among the most chauvinist circles, had ever noticed them before; while chauvinist Greek circles have advocated the seizure of southern Albania, because of its Greek minority, their claims to a chunk of the Macedonian republic relied exclusively on alleged "historical" rights. The Greek alliance with Serbia was largely designed to get Milosevic to do the dirty work on this.
Now, however, a variety of Greek political, military and media bodies have "independently" confirmed the Albanian claim about these imaginary Greeks. A good example of the scientific method used was the discovery of 239,000 Greeks by the Army General Staff on the basis of the answer "Greece" to the question "With which outside country would you like to see stronger ties?" in a survey in Macedonia!
Lest one think only the loony far right has military adventures in mind, the respectable liberal daily Kathimerini has run a number of articles by its regular journalists claiming, among other things, that Greece and Serbia should "dismember" the Macedonian republic. An official, unsigned, article stated that Greece should use state intervention to politically organise the imaginary Greek minority in Macedonia, and that this should be a primary aim of foreign policy.
All this from a country that denies the existence of a Macedonian minority in Greece. The real issue is the oppression of this minority by the Greek state.
Macedonians in Greece do not advocate separation. The issue is elementary human rights. The 50,000 Macedonians are denied all rights to use their language in print, on radio or TV, to have their other cultural events, even to speak the language loud enough to be heard. No legal documents are recognised in the Yugoslav language, such as degrees by Greek citizens from the minority who have studied in the Macedonian republic. 30,000 Macedonian leftists, expelled at the end of the civil war in 1949, have never been allowed to return, or even to visit their relatives, though all other Greek leftists have.
On December 16, the EC agreed to a Greek demand that Macedonia not be recognised unless it changed its name, denied the existence of a Macedonian minority in Greece and renounced any territorial claims to Greece. Macedonia promptly inserted into its constitution that it had no territorial claims on any other state and that it would not interfere in the internal affairs of other states. On January 15, this was accepted by the EC, but rejected by Greece as not good enough.
Why all the fuss? Macedonia is a country of only 2 million people without an army, relying on Greece for access to the sea. Why deny elementary democratic rights to a minority of 50,000 among a Greek Macedonian population of around 1.5 million? Could it be that the maintenance of absurd chauvinist myths is necessary to justify some military adventure to divert people from their disastrous economic plight?
Greece is the strongest industrial power in the Balkans and the only EC member. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the region has opened the way for further penetration. Its chief capitalist rival is Turkey.
But both Greek and Turkish ambitions have come up against the radical nationalism which has become a key ideological prop of all the Balkan regimes trying to restore capitalism following the collapse of Stalinism.
National minorities exist in every state in the region, and nowhere are their rights respected. At the same time, every regime not only supports the rights of related minorities in other states, but all are also quite ambiguous about the status of the borders, all coveting chunks of territory from each other. However, this has no basis; nowhere do the minorities form a solid geographical bloc or a majority of the population.
Hence the two principles that must hold are respect for the rights of the minorities in every country, and no military adventures to change borders. This includes the borders of the beleaguered Macedonian republic.