Letter to Foreign Affairs, May 26, 1996

The Editor
Foreign Affairs

To the Editor:

First Prof Legvold tells us in his Spring review of L. M. Danforth' book, "The Macedonian Conflict", about "Macedonia, the marbled ethnic terrain that Tito formed into a republic," admitting in effect that there is no such thing as someone ethnically derived from said republic, then he tells us "Greece's treatment of its own Macedonians has over the years been less than admirable". At the very least he is unsure about what he is discussing.

What has Greece done that the "Western Civilization Core Curricullum" of the 1930s and today's "U.S. English" campaign would not emulate, such as insisting that Greek be the primary language taught in Greek public schools? By contrast, my maternal grandmother's sister was taken in 1949 by communists from the Greco-Yugoslav-Albanian border at gunpoint so that her entire family would follow north to prove that their family documents going back to at least 1850 were all false and that they were not of Greek extraction but Slavs. As Connie Bruck of The New Yorker (1/23/95) had written in one of the few knowledgable summaries of the issue:

[FYROM] was a province of Yugoslavia once known as Vardar Banovina; it was renamed the Republic of Macedonia in 1945 by Marshal Tito[,] Tito--coveting the large Greek region of Macedonia--encouraged the irredentist idea of all Macedonians' sharing a distinct ethnic identity. He then supported the Communist-led Democratic Army in the Greek Civil War, a brutal conflict that tore the country from 1946 to 1949.

It took fifteen years for my mother's family to be reunited and to return to Greece. Her youngest son preferred to stand up in battle and die rather than fight against his own country. When she died eight years ago, she had already lost two sons. Our ancestral border village on the banks of Lake Prespa no longer exists except as grazing land.

As for the claim of a non-Hellenic "Macedonian" minority: yes, under the Turks there were no barriers within their empire to migration by people who were primarily shepherds (assuming, of course, that they did not lose their heads first for not paying the Ottoman head-tax), but the effects of this was changed by the League of Nations supervised mandatory population exchanges between Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. For this reason, the conflict between Athens and Skopje has not exploded into a border war, because no significant number has friends or family on the other side; to wit, a party sporting Slavo-Macedonian rights received less than 200 votes in a recent election in Greece.

What motivates this conflict is misperceptions of what happened two generations ago, said misperceptions having been concocted into powerful myths by communist propagandists during the Cold War. That someone of Legvold's stature would believe such myths is unfortunate, if not terrifying.

Very truly yours,

Vasos Panagiotopoulos

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