Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Unworthy EU Member
by Gunnar Nissen Danish newspaper Morgaenavisen Jyllands-Posten 2/26/1999
If this chronicle gives rise to conflicts or trouble, it is not the fault of the Macedonians, nor me. When the politicians in EU countries don't speak out, it is due to ignorance or indifference. Denmark is a member of the EU. It remains a mystery that Greece is too. The member countries must recognize human rights and minorities rights. Those are the demands put in front of the central European states and they must abide by them. That has been hard on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who are brought to recognize national minorities, especially that large Russian one. Slovenia is on that point influenced by the Yugoslavian constitution of 1974, an exemplary country with full recognition of small Croatian and Italian minorities. But Greece - Oh Dear! From official Greek side it is bombastically announced: Only Greeks live in Greece. Nonsense! In southeast Europe, not a single state exist of one nationality alone. In Greece, you find a large Turkish minority (who do not wish to be presented as Greeks that has converted to Islam) in Thrace, a small Albanian minority in Epiros and finally a Macedonian minority in Aegean Macedonia, who numbers somewhere between 75.000 and 500.000. An exact estimate doesn't exist, since Greece persistently deny there existence.
If one put some pressure on high ranking civil servants and self-proclaimed experts, one may achieve an admission that "a small Slavic speaking minority exist in Greek Macedonia", but they "do not wish to be a national minority; they can freely use their language". A pack of lies! For many years I have had a friendly relation with numerous Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia - a people that officially doesn't exist. I do speak Greek, but I speak fluently Macedonian. Almost every time I take the train south, over Munich to Balkan, I run into Macedonians from Greece (2. generation of workers). The same happens when I traverse the Greek border. Some people speaks only Greek, but a lot, really a lot, speaks additionally Macedonian ("our mother tongue") which is forbidden as language in school. Last year a couple of shop owners were taken to court -their "crime" was that they had written some words in Macedonian in their shop windows.
When I sit on cafe's in villages in Aegean Macedonia, the conversation always ends at "the Macedonian identity". "What do you in the rest of Europe know about us?" I must admit that it's very little. "We would like to have some Macedonian schools" the man continues at the cafe. "I speak my Macedonian mother tongue, but my son is struggling, although he watches Macedonian TV, Televizija Skopje". He, and the others speak in a low voice, while glancing towards the neighboring table where a man is picking up his phone. Moments later, two angry police officers enter and the gathering around my table splits up. The border control between the Macedonian Republic and Greece are, known to be among the toughest in Europe. Certainly the slowest. Not on the Macedonian side, where the border police take a peek at the Danish passport, after which it's over. But on the other side of the border, the border police confiscate all passports and later we have to spend a long time, be it snow storm or bumming hot, cueing to get the passport back. With particular thoroughness, the custom control ransack the luggage of travelers from the Republic of Macedonia. Foreigners can not be sure to get a travel permission, even when born in Aegean Macedonia in Greece. It has happened that a Canadian bus full of Macedonians with Macedonian names, but born in Aegean Macedonia, were not allowed to enter the country.
The Greeks gave as a reason for not recognizing the Republic of Macedonia, that " we have a Macedonia here in Greece and thus there cannot be a Macedonia just on the opposite site of the border". The logic in this is absurd and I'm ashamed that so many ignorant journalists quoted the Greek reason without comments. Apparently they were unaware that Macedonia is split between three different countries. After a meeting in Brussels, where the EU-recognition of the state of Macedonia was postponed, although Macedonia fulfilled all requirements for recognition, the then Danish foreign minister, Uffe Elleman-Jensen, in a final salute as EU chairman, commented to the Greeks that they had to get themselves together and get the problem solved, concerning the name Macedonia and called it despicable of the Greeks to treat the Macedonians in this way. The former Danish foreign Minister Elleman-Jensen stated in 1993 "not Macedonia is a problem for Europe, but our member Greece". The Greek spokespersons reacted violently, amongst them the former Greek vice prime-minister Athanasios Kannellopoulos, who angrily pronounced "with his comments, Mr. Jensen is a very bad example of the other foreign ministers. Mr. Jensen said that he'd be ashamed to be Greek because we're against that the new Skopje republic's use of the name Macedonia. To that my answer is: We'd be ashamed if Mr. Jensen was Greek!" In "Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten" the MP Ame Melchior published a letter to the editor that exhibited his lack of knowledge about the populations in the Balkan peninsula under the title "Show concern for our Greek allied". He was answered by "Jyllands-Posten"s correspondent Per Nyholm "Show concern for the Macedonians". Finally the Greeks accepted the name of Macedonia, but only in the form of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM.
Now to the decisive point that journalists ought to have oriented "themselves about: In ancient times and in the Osmanian era, Macedonia was an area without internal borders, where the people after the 6 century had the south Slavic language Macedonian as mother tongue. It was in Macedonia the Cyrillic alphabet came to life, named after the monk Kyril. The bible was translated by the Macedonians to old-church-Slavic, that had the same influence on ecumenical language in eastern Europe as Latin had amongst the Catholics in western and central Europe. The Cyrillic alphabet spread not only to Bulgaria and Serbia, but also to Russia and other eastern Slavic countries. "Genuine" Hellenes described the ancient population of Macedonia as barbarians and Phillip II and Alexander the Great greekness are rather dubious. Albanian historiansname them Illyrians, the oldest nation on Balkan and the Albanians are arguably their ancestors. Of higher importance was the Slav's immigration to the Balkan area in the 6 century. The Slavic tribe that settled in Macedonia took name after the province and preserved their language to modem times (with some grammatical exceptions...)
After the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, Macedonia was split in three. Aegean Macedonia came under Greece, Vardarmacedonia under Serbia and Pirimacedonia under Bulgaria. Vardarmacedonia was in 1945 after a heroic partisan war, one of the six republics in the new federal Yugoslavia and as promised by Tito, the republic got full national and cultural independence - with due acknowledgment of it's compact Albanian and small Turkish minorities. As Yugoslavia split in 1991, the country had 23 Mio. inhabitants. Had all of Yugoslavia had the birthrate of the Albanians in western Macedonia and Kosovo, they would have been at 50 Mio! Kosovo and western Macedonia would have had to let the Albanians migrate to the rest of Serbia and Macedonia with resulting unemployment rates around 50%. The Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia are not oppressed. They have all rights - except the one to rise the Albanian flag and get an Albanian university - which wouldn't make a lot of sense as soon as they again can study at the large university in Prestina in Kosovo, Tito's pride. By the way, the ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia in Denmark is Albanian, the much respected Muhammed Halili. Could one imagine the situation: the government of the North German federated state Schleswig Holstein declare: Schleswig is German and in Germany, Germans are living. Thus with no further notice, the Danish schools, including the "Duborgskolen" high school and "Jaruplund" high school, the Flensburg newspaper, Danish libraries and other foreign institutions will close. The Danish language is declared "not-wanted"? How about the opposite situation - if everything German was forbidden in southern Denmark? Unthinkable of course!
When a person misbehaves, it is in the first line the closest people's duty to intervene. National oppression is taking place in many countries outside the EU. But Greece is an EU member and is thus a "part of the family". But do we intervene, we, the closest people? No, we shut up. Of ignorance or misunderstood solidarity with the Greek leaders, who as the Serbs, consider themselves "superbalkanian". Other people knows more about the oppression than I, but I know a great many and every year more ignored and oppressed Slavic Macedonians in the Greek part of Macedonia. Can we justify our silence? I'm sure that Greece' unwillingness to accept the Republic of Macedonia is due to their black conscience over the oppression of Macedonians in Greece. Greece is (yet another) unworthy member of the EU.
All rights reserved to Mr Gunnar Nissen Danish newspaper Morgaenavisen Jyllands