Letter to The Irish Times, May 17, 1999

Please find below:

(1) A letter to The Irish Times by the American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP); and

(2) The original article that was responded to as published in The Irish Times.

Note: The editorial staff of The Irish Times forwarded AHMP's letter to the author, Patsy McGarry.

(For "fair use" and educational purposes only)


American Hellenic Media Project
P.O. Box 1150
New York, N.Y. 10028-0008

Via fax & e-mail: 011 353 1 671 9407

May 17, 1999

To the Editor of The Irish Times:

Patsy McGarry erroneously resurrects a long-discredited myth, that Greece harbors designs on territory of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and, incredibly, goes on to state that "[e]ven its name ['Macedonia'] is claimed by the Greeks" (An Irishman's Diary, 5/10).

What has distinguished Greek foreign policy from that of its Balkan neighbors, and from Turkey in particular, is that Greece had long ago renounced all territorial claims -- this despite the fact that large Hellenic populations have lived outside Greece's present national borders since antiquity and continue to do so.

The artificial creation of a Macedonian ethnic identity from Vardaska Banovina's Bulgarophonic Slavs by Tito after WWII, and this invention's retroactive projection through history, were part and parcel of Tito's dormant expansionist agenda against Macedonia in northern Greece. The dispute that took place earlier this decade between Athens and Skopje had nothing to do with Greek designs on FYROM, but rather, with designs by Skopjean nationalists of a "Greater Macedonia", a nation that would include northern Greece. In addition to the inclusion of language in its constitution intimating territorial claims on northern Greece, Skopje exacerbated tensions in 1992 by placing the star of Vergina on its flag, an ancient Greek symbol used by Alexander the Great, and by seeking international recognition of its wider misappropriation of Greek history.

McGarry fails to mention that the two countries signed an accord in 1995 and have since established close relations as a result of Skopje's decision to remove the incendiary language from its constitution and to stop using Hellenic symbols. In any case, the danger to FYROM's territorial integrity never came from EU-member Greece, the most democratic and stabilizing country in the Balkans, but from secessionist-minded Albanians within FYROM itself. Ironically the US's support of Kosovar Albanian secession only heightens this danger, as FYROM's substantial Albanian minority may be incited to take up arms for the creation of a Greater Albania.

Perhaps most disturbing is McGarry's ratification of revisionist arguments that reconstruct a centuries-old Slavic Macedonian ethnic and national identity. It is no less misleading an argument than holding Christopher Columbus out as an American, Homer as a Turk, or Montezuma as a Mexican.

Despite vigorous efforts by some in the academic and political arenas to disassociate the ancient Macedonians from their Hellenic identity, by any reasonable linguistic, archeological, geographical, historical, or self-identificatory yardstick, the ancient Macedonians were as Greek as the Spartans, the Cretans, or the Cypriots. Given that the ancestors of the Slavic peoples who presently inhabit the Balkan peninsula arrived a millennium after the ancient Macedonians, and given that Greece named its northern province "Macedonia" decades before even the existence of Yugoslavia, one must wonder which Orwellian dialectic led McGarry to lament that "[e]ven [FYROM's] name ['Macedonia'] is claimed by the Greeks". A more sober analysis would reveal that the contrary is true: as was well-framed by The Economist when covering the dispute, Hellenes contest the propriety of "the former Yugoslav republic's determination to adopt an ancient Greek name".

As evinced by our media's stunted and selective understanding of Yugoslavian and Balkan history, after truth, history is among the first casualties of wily and bellicose foreign policy agendas. One need only juxtapose my government's present position regarding Macedonia with what US Secretary of State Edward R. Stenttinius, a founding father of the UN Charter, wrote to President Roosevelt on January 6, 1945 in a confidential correspondence, which Roosevelt kept in his executive safe, entitled "Necessity of Russian Agreement to oppose Aggression Against Greece in Guise of a Movement for Macedonian independence":

"It is of the utmost importance that Russia should neither directly nor indirectly encourage a movement for Macedonian independence, which aims at depriving Greece of any of her pre-war territory. . . The existence of a Yugoslav Partisan Macedonian Army and the creation of a Macedonian Army in Russian-occupied Bulgaria are evidences of a strong movement [for] the incorporation into a future federated Yugoslavia of an autonomous Macedonia . . . Neither Tito nor the Bulgarian Government has yet advanced claims on Greek territory. However, several Yugoslav Partisan generals and public figures (Vlahov, Apostolski, and Vukmanovich) have stated categorically that Greek Macedonia and Salonika are to be part of the new autonomous state. . . The agitation for an independent Macedonia, a twentieth-century phenomenon which has been kept alive primarily by Macedonian émigrés in Bulgaria and the United States, represents no ethnic nor political reality, nor was there ever a "Macedonian nation" or "race." [T]he very existence of a Slav bloc to the north of Greece must naturally inspire Greek fears and make Balkan unity more hazardous of achievement."

Very truly yours,

P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.


The American Hellenic Media Project is a non-profit organization created to address inaccuracy and bias in the media and encourage independent, ethical and responsible journalism.



Monday, May 10, 1999

An Irishman's Diary

Patsy McGarry

It is probable that if the Republic of Macedonia did not exist it would not be necessary to invent it. Its four neighbours have had - or want - some part of it. In this century alone it has been divided between Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece, while Albania continues to covet much of its western area.

Even its name is claimed by the Greeks, who say the country is just a portion of the "real" Macedonia, which is mostly in Greece. The Republic of Macedonia makes up just 25,713 square kilometres (about the size of Ulster) of what it itself acknowledges as Macedonia the "geographic expression". That latter Macedonia covers 66,600 square metres of territory with a population of 4.5 million. The Republic has just 1.9 million people, 66.5 per cent of them Macedonian. It has 26 ethnic minorities.

The largest, at 22.9 per cent, is Albanian. Others include Turks (4.79 per cent), Romany gypsies (2.73 per cent) and Serbs (2.17 per cent). Macedonians therefore tread softly, lest they tread on someone's schemes.

Macedonia was proclaimed a sovereign, independent, democratic Republic only in 1991, though it had existed as an autonomous country within the Yugoslav federation since 1944. That followed a three-year fight for independence against Axis (primarily Germany and Bulgarian) forces by local Communist partisans.

"Awkward geography"

Poor Macedonia (and it is poor) is cursed by those three essentials: location, location, and location. It has, in the words of the commander of NATO troops there, Lt-Gen Sir Mike Jackson, "an awkward geography". For which you can read "awkward neighbours".

It is a mountainous country, with only 20 per cent lowland, and has a predominantly continental climate with severe winters and severe summers. Located at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula, it is something of a crossroads between East and West.

Just about everyone has been there, including the Celts (in about the second century BC), the Romans, the Slavs, and the Turks - who stayed for 500 years until the last century. Then that romantic nationalism sweeping Europe began to assert itself in Macedonia too.

The Macedonians had their failed (Krushevo) Rising in 1903 and, as with other such failures elsewhere, it has been celebrated as a triumph ever since. The Balkan Wars began in 1912 and Macedonia was divided between Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece at the Bucharest Treaty of 1913. That partition was sanctioned at Verseilles in 1919.

Like all small nations, Macedonia it takes great pride in what sets it apart - in its case language and church, which are linked. The Macedonian Orthodox Church traces its existence to the 10th century, when it also adopted Macedonian as its ecclesiastical language.

In 1944 Macedonian was proclaimed as an official language of the state - an important psychological moment the language had survived frequent attempts at suppression by "guests" down the centuries.

Multi-ethnic society

Macedonia is alone among the six republics of the former Yugoslavia in not having experienced violence since the breakup. Last November its new Government, under premier Ljubco Georgievski, set about building a multi-ethnic society that would "go beyond Balkan standards so that we can be the creators of stability in the region."

He brought the Democratic Party of the Albanians into his coalition, though not needing their support, and gave them five Cabinet seats. That history should so suddenly have taken the turn it did is his and Macedonia's misfortune.

Macedonia traces its history back almost beyond reason. It begins in 825 BC when, it is claimed, a Macedonian state was first established but also when, it is safe to say, the notion of a nation was not noticeable. This account also ignores the fact that the glue which forms the foundation of its current identity, Church and language, were both absent. But who are we to comment?

Yet it has to be said that in the retrospective reading of history, the Macedonians leave us breathless. They claim that the "Poenia" referred to in Homer's Iliad is that part of the Balkans "the central region of which the Republic of Macedonia occupies today". From there they move on to the poet Hesiod, who in his epic Deeds and Days, written in the 7th century BC, "narrated the myth about the origin of the Macedonians". (He wrote: "And she, Deucalion's daughter, of Zeus, the thunderer, bore two sons, Magnet and Macedon . . .")

They refer to the statement by the Greek historian Thucydides that "They, the Macedonians, conquered other tribes too . . ." By which it is time to bring on the Old Testament to introduce Alaxander the Great and his father Phillip of Macedon. The First Book of Maccabees begins: "Alexander of Macedon, son of Phillip, came from the land of Hatayans and defeated Darius, king of Persia and India and got himself affirmed in his place in Hellas."

Alexander, they tell us, was not merely a Macedonian king, he was also Macedonian by birth and spoke Macedonian. For some reason they don't mention Aristotle, who taught Alexander and was also Macedonian. They quote Plutarch's Comparative Biograpies to prove Alexander spoke Macedonian.

Paul's vision

Then it is on to the New Testament Acts of the Apostles: "And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed to him saying, 'Come to Macedonia, and help us.' And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them."

One person not mentioned much in Macedonia today is Gonga Bojagiu. Her house was situated on what is now a roadway next to a shopping centre beside Macedonia Square in Scopje, the country's capital.

The site has a plaque and four markings for each corner of the house. The plaque tells us she was born there on August 26th, 1910 and quotes her as saying, on a visit to Scopje in 1997: "It's not hunger only for bread, but more for love." She was Mother Teresa, a Macedonian and also an ethnic Albanian Catholic.

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