Tag Archives: Macedonians

Albanian made second official language of Macedonia: Some grown-ups in the room…

18 Nov

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A Bit of Greek History in Serbia

3 Jun


A discovery by Professor Vladimir Bosković of Harvard which he thought might be of interest to members of the MGSA, the Modern Greek Studies Association:

“MAY 1945 (image). The Bulkes (now Maglić) was a small town in northwestern Serbia, in the bend of the Danube in Vojvodina. Almost all the inhabitants were German colonizers. The city was given to the Greek political refugees, around 5000-6000 souls, with their families. After the December defeat, thousands of ELAS fighters went to Yugoslavia and settled in Bulkes. In May 1945, with a permission of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, 4,650 members of ELAS settled in the abandoned village houses. Until 1949 Bulkes was treated as an extraterritorial Greek municipality on the territory of Yugoslavia, governed by Greek laws and using special Greek banknotes.”

Bulkes Greek Dinars (1945 – 1949), In: Greek Banknotes, <http://www.greekbanknotes.com/greek-banknotes/bulkes/> (20. V 2014). 

Milan Ristović, ”The Buljkes Experiment “Greek Republic” in Yugoslavia 1945-1949”, In: Annual for Social History, year IV, no. 2-3, Belgrade, 1997, <http://www.udi.rs/articles/The_Buljkes.doc> (20. V 2014).

Vladimir Boskovic
And a member asks:
Dear Mr. Boskovic
Since in Jugoslavia was already existing a “People’s Republic of Macedonia” (1944) , what was the reason of moving the Greek political refugees as well as the ELAS fighters (with their families and the kidnapped or not kidnapped children), most of which were “Macedonians” all the way to Voivodina ?
Why create a “Macedonian Diaspora” ?
Why not place the Greek political refugees and the “Macedonians” of ELAS in the newly formed “People’s Republic of Macedonia” in order to make it more “Macedonian” than ever?
Any reply would be appreciated.
Thank you
George Tsapanos
That’s not such a difficult question to answer, in my humble opinion.  First, it’s very ideologically questionable to assume that all ELAS fighters or members were Macedonians, or since you put it in quotes, let’s call them Slav-speakers of Greek Macedonia, though I don’t agree that their identity should continue to be qualified by quotes.  But this was a basic tenet or, rather, ideological ploy, of the Greek right during WWII and the Civil War: an attempt to conflate all Greek communists with Slav-Macedonians, thus killing two birds with one stone in essence, or marking them as double traitors; since they’re communists they must be Slavs and since they’re Slavs they must be communists.  So I would be very careful about falling into that trap.  Communism is not something inherently Slavic — which I’m sure you don’t believe — the way Greek nationalist propaganda tried to portray it on and off during the post-war years.  Ask the hundreds of millions of Slavic peoples who suffered most from that ideological experiment and they’ll tell you.
So we don’t have any real information on who these ELAS-ites who were settled in Bulkes in Vojvodina were ethnically or linguistically, at least not from the article that Professor Bosković sent out.
Then, the news item is a little problematically worded.  The German inhabitants of Vojvodina were not “colonizers.”  They had lived there for centuries because as you must know Vojvodina had been part of the Hapsburg Empire since Hungary was conquered back from the Ottomans in the seventeenth century.  They may have even arrived in the area at the same time that Serb colonists did from the south, or Old Serbia, during the so-called “Great Migration,”or may have even pre-dated them.  Germans were present even in the mediaeval Serbian kingdoms — Saši or Saxons — especially working in the silver mines of Novo Brdo in Kosovo and other locales that the pre-Ottoman Serbian kingdoms drew so much of their wealth from.  And I think that at the beginning of WWII, they were the second largest ethnic group in the region, after Serbs — or third, with Hungarians the second.
The other fact the article doesn’t mention is that all these Germans were expelled from the region and that many of Vojvodina’s Hungarians left, as well, after the war.  We don’t hear much about it but I believe that the numbers of Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after the war not only dwarfed the numbers of our tragic population exchange with Turkey in the twenties, but may have been even greater than the fourteen million  people who were dislocated as a result of the partition of India.  We’re just still a little uneasy talking about Germans as victims.
So that, as opposed to a poor region like Macedonia with a fairly dense population and an already slightly volatile Kosovo-like ethnic climate, Vojvodina was rich, fertile and had huge tracts that had been left empty by the departure of these Germans, and it probably made much more sense to settle these Greek communists there than anywhere in southern Yugoslavia.  Serb and Montenegrin settlers were also encouraged to come fill these now empty spaces of Vojvodina at the same time. 
And finally, Yugoslav ideology did not encourage the spirit of ethnic particularism, quite the opposite, so they would never have settled “Macedonians” in Macedonia in order to make it more Macedonian.
Does that help?
Nicholas Bakos

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Occitan and “endangered languages”

25 Jan



If people here talk about the Albigensian Crusade like it happened last week, the more regionally nationalist talk about La Vergonha (the shaming) like it happened yesterday.  La Vergonha refers to the systematic process of imposing French on the Occitan-speaking peoples of the south (number 7 and 8 on the map and if you want to include Catalan in the same family, which many linguists do, number 6 too) when education became compulsory in the nineteenth century.  Reduced to a rural language (which has always come described in nationalist literature as “an unwritten dialect or patois”) after the Albigensian Crusade destroyed its high literary culture, the process involved not only the teaching of French but the systematic punishing of the speaking of Occitan, even outside of school, of the children of the region, and the conditioning of adults to feel embarrassed to speak it publicly as well.  The statistics are truly astounding — and sad: “In 1860, before schooling was made compulsory, native Occitan speakers represented more than 39%of the whole French population, as opposed to 52% of francophones proper; their share of the population declined to 26-36% in the 1920s,and then dropped to less than 7% by 1993.”  Despite strong pressure to do so, the French government still refuses to grant it official status as one of the nation’s official languages and frankly, with only 7% of the population actually fluent in it, why would they?  And this is France, the state that created hyper-centralized statism.  How Occitan nationalists think they’re going to obtain the recognition they want is beyond me.



This happened during the formation of every modern nation-state.  A Greek Istanbullu of a certain age might find the sign above, from a French classroom, disturbingly familiar: “Citoyen, parle francais!”  In Greece, only one linguistic minority really bore the brunt of such oppressive language suppression: the Macedonian speakers of the northwest.  No Greek government would’ve ever dared trying to forbid the speaking of Turkish in the northeast; though actually calling yourself Turkish can still theoretically get you into certain kinds of trouble.*  The Albanian speakers of south and central Greece were really not a problem; not only was the language clearly dying out of its own by the early twentieth century, but Peloponesian Albanians were already Greeker than the Greeks in their ethnic consciousness and had proven it by essentially fighting our war of independence for us; it seems that, historically, you give Albanians — Christian or Muslim — an incentive to go to war and they’ll become more zealous crusaders of your cause than you are yourself.**  As for Vlachs, they were always chameleons, everywhere in the Balkans, mostly keeping their Vlachness to themselves and intelligent enough to let how they really felt remain a mystery to those around them; I recently came across a description of Vlachs as “the perfect Balkan citizens, because they are able to preserve their culture without resorting to war or politics, violence or dishonesty.”  (They’re the little mustard-coloured dots spread out over northern Greece and southern Albania and Macedonia in the map above.)

But are they preserving their culture?  That’s the question I get stuck on, no matter how much an enemy of forced nation-state homogenization I am.  Or more specifically, how much is something like Occitan language-nationalism sincere and how much is post-modern micro-identities coming alive for some reason I’m not able to explain really?  Is it just dilettantism?  You hear a lot about Occitan here in Toulouse, the dialect of which, in fact, is the basis for the language’s standard; what you don’t hear is any Occitan.  I live around the corner from an Occitan cultural center here in the Carmes quarter of the city and they have classes for kids and I hear them singing sometimes or reciting things.  And whenever I see their parents out front waiting for them and the kids are let out all anyone is speaking is French.  I don’t mind the EU spending money on bilingual signs — here, in Galicia, in Brittany, wherever — but those expressions of recognition actually seem more petty than anything else and some even seem disrespectful, almost a mockery: announcements in the Toulouse subway system are bilingual, for example.  Great.  So now the young descendants of the troubadours can proudly say: “Watch the closing doors.  The next stop is Esquirol” in the Occitan of their ancestors.


Bilingual street sign in Toulouse

Or even in Greece.  For the life of me I can’t imagine what “Arvanitika” organizations in Greece do: when nobody speaks the language, and they call themselves “Arvanites” and not “Albanoi” which would imply Albania, which is where their ancestors came from and that would be taboo.  Do they try to revive the language?  Not that I know of.  Do they do anything that the Albanian-speaking communities of Italy do?  Do they go on trips to Albania to get to know the land of their ancestors?  Of course not.  Do they set up aid organizations for recent Albanian immigrants to Greece in a spirit of fraternal support?  Even less.  They’re much more likely to have put them to work in their fields in Boeotia picking tomatoes for slave wages, or were until the new Albanians wised up.  Or Vlachs.  It seems that every year the number of Vlach cultural organizations and fraternal associations increases in inverse proportion to the number of true, living native speakers of the language that are still around.  The material or music and dance culture of Vlachs is not noticeably different than that of their neighbors; if they’re not learning Vlach, what are they doing?  Pane ekdromes?  They could do that as regular Greeks too.

There are more dangerous and toxic manifestations of that kind of localized-identity nationalism as well, most noticeably the Basques.  Less than 25% of the people who claim that they are Basques ethnically in Spain can actually speak the language at all — at all.  I once caught a hysterical comedy skit on Spanish television where a man in San Sebastian was trying to pull off a bank robbery in Basque — on principle.  And it wasn’t working because the teller couldn’t understand him.  Then the neighboring teller chimes in about the robber’s grammar and that it’s incorrect according to the teacher at the night-school Basque classes she goes to and the other customers on line start arguing with him and the tellers about noun declensions and whether his use of the subjunctive is correct or not.  And the robber starts to scream, frustrated: “I’m in Donostia (San Sebastian in Basque) goddammit!  Not Burgos!  And I can’t even hold up a bank in my own language!”  Finally, the cops arrive and instead of apprehending him, they get caught up in the one-upmanship of the group of barely Basque-speaking Basques’ grammar arguments and the robber, frustrated, makes his escape.  It was hilarious and it was on YouTube for a while but I haven’t been able to find it again.  But that’s not all a joke.  People killed each other in the hundreds for decades for a an identity with only the most fragile of real footing and a language that none of them spoke; and in post-Franco Spain, one of the most liberal, progressive on social issues nations in Europe, where you’re free to learn any language you want and maintain any kind of culture you like.  So, at the risk of sounding glib, make the effort to  learn the language first — BE a Basque first —  before you start killing people.

I guess I’m a supporter of American style laissez-faire policies culturally and linguistically.  No language should be prohibited; but none should necessarily receive state support either, especially for a language that actually has very little chance of survival.  Reviving it, maintaining it, disseminating it is the community’s choice; if they can do it, halali.  But a language or culture that’s strong enough or rich enough to survive will not need support of any kind, almost by definition.  In multilingual situations where practical problems are presented, like with the immense number of Spanish-speakers in the United States, I think it’s fair for the state to step in and offer services that facilitate bureaucratic operations.  But nothing more than that.

What’s irritating is the ethnicity-based nation state’s inability to believe that people can be successfully, functionally bilingual.  People have been so for centuries, especially in our part of the world, where, especially in the cities, being monolingual was the exception rather than the rule, and almost as much so in rural communities, at least among men who had more dealings with the outside world or had emmigrating experiences.  Puerto Ricans, both in New York and on the island, are going on their fourth generation of being successfully bilingual.  I understand that with the spread of literacy and compulsory schooling some kind of standard had to be established, but that standard doesn’t have to be the same for every community.  And ultimately, it’s not proper or efficient social functioning that the nation-state is looking for in imposing language uniformity (New York bureaucracies, where five or six or a dozen or more different languages are regularly used in the daily functioning of one office are much more efficient than, say, Greek bureaucracy); it’s ideological uniformity.  The fear is not that you won’t be able to function in the national language; the fear is that if you speak another one as your first language it’ll serve as a conduit for anti-national ideas.

And that’s what the Vergonha was all about.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com



* “The Greek government refers to the Turkish community as Greek Muslims or Hellenic Muslims, and does not recognise a Turkish minority in Western Thrace.[14] Greek courts have also outlawed the use of the word ‘Turkish’ to describe the Turkish community.[19][20] In 1988, the Greek High Court affirmed a 1986 decision of the Court of Appeals of Thrace in which the Union of Turkish Associations of Western Thrace was ordered closed. The court held that the use of the word ‘Turkish’ referred to citizens of Turkey, and could not be used to describe citizens of Greece; the use of the word ‘Turkish’ to describe ‘Greek Muslims’ was held to endanger public order.[20] Greece continued this stance in the beginning 21st century when Greek courts ruled to dissolve or prohibit formation of Turkish associations.[19][21][22]”

**More on Albanians in Greece in an upcoming post.

The Cradle of Democracy

28 Jun

The new Greek Parliament was sworn in today, including the eighteen MP’s of the Nazi “Golden Dawn” party (down from the twenty-one seats they had won in the May elections).  Here they’re shown refusing to stand as the three Turkish MP’s from the the country’s Thracian Turkish minority are sworn in.  Actually, it’s illegal to call them “Turkish;” that’s why all media channels in the world fall in line with the the Greek government and you’ll only hear them referred to as the “Muslim” MP’s.

The official state line is that since some 30 to 40 percent of the minority consists of Bulgarian (Pomak)-speaking Muslims, it’s wrong to call them all Turkish, the Greek state being long known for its concern for minority identities and endangered languages.  As far as I know, it’s still illegal to call them Turks — just the ridiculous term “Greek Muslims,” which is something I don’t know how an EU member-state gets away with.  Till the early 2000’s it was illegal to refer to the Slavic language spoken in the country’s northwest as either Macedonian or Bulgarians as well; you had to refer to it as “ntopia” — “localish.”  Calling it either Macedonian or Bulgarian, if you happened to be a speaker of it, could land you in jail, and people there are still jittery about using it in public, will switch to Greek when a stranger comes around or wanders into one of their villages with its fake, new Greek name and don’t like to answer any questions concerning the issue.  This was probably once the numerically predominant language in Ottoman Macedonia, but most of its speakers were expelled from its central and eastern regions during the Balkan Wars and only a tiny island is left in the western Greek provinces of Emathia (Karaferia), Pella (Vodena), Kastoria (Kostur) and Florina (Lerin).  Again, it’s hard to know numbers with any accuracy, due to assimilation, shame or remnant fear.

And this proud Hellenic pallikari, Ilias Kasidiaris (below), Golden Dawn’s spokesman, is now sitting free as an MP in the Greek Parliament despite the double assault immortalized by the video below (see also my previous post: Dateline Athens: From Bad to Worse)

An arrest warrant in Greece only lasts forty-eight hours, but Greek police knew where he was the whole time — even Greek police are not that incompetent — the whole country knew.  Apparently the statute of limitations on assault and battery is pretty short as well.  In any event, he now has parliamentary immunity, I think.  But he has other standing felony charges against him too; I don’t know the details.

And here’s some  pre-election cheer I had missed:

“A Far Right party has threatened to remove immigrants and their children from hospitals and nurseries in Greece if it gains power following Sunday’s general election.

Golden Dawn issued the warning at an election campaign rally in Athens, drawing loud applause from an audience.

According to the Guardian, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros said: ‘If Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] gets into parliament, it will carry out raids on hospitals and kindergartens and it will throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks can take their place.'” [my emphases]

Panagiotaros is this stud here, who declared Kasidiaris’ assault on Dourou and Kanelle “an act of manliness.”


According to Amnesty International’s 2007 report on Greece, there are problems in the following areas:

The US Department of State’s 2007 report on human rights in Greece identified the following issues:

  • Cases of abuse by security forces, particularly of illegal immigrants and Roma.
  • Overcrowding and harsh conditions in some prisons.
  • Detention of undocumented migrants in squalid conditions.
  • Restrictions and administrative obstacles faced by members of non‑Orthodox religions.
  • Detention and deportation of unaccompanied or separated immigrant minors, including asylum seekers.
  • Limits on the ability of ethnic minority groups to self-identify, [my emphasis] and discrimination against and social exclusion of ethnic minorities, particularly Roma.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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