Nancy April, a teenager in Newfoundland enjoyed all the pleasures of the Canadian north. Its landscape, wildlife and bountiful supply of fish by the sea. Most importantly, she reveled in the time spent with her family and tribe’s people and the centuries of traditions that defined them. Eventually though, another group of people encroached on her tribe’s land and cut-off their access to the area’s food supply, slowly starving them to death. Her father died. Then her mother. Then her sister. Soon enough, Nancy was the only one left from her tribe. Then she died.
Shanawdithit was her real name before British colonizers Anglicized it in the early 1800s. Her tribe was the Beothuk. But, their lives were not the only tragic loss due to European colonialism. The Beothuk’s language, culture, ethnicity and history would also be lost forever. Today, they do not have the ability to explain their legacy, nor anticipate their future. Archaeological discoveries, scant oral accounts from Beothuk individuals and European interpretations during that period are all that remain. Unfortunately, this is the fate that not only befell indigenous peoples of North America, but other groups throughout the world since time immemorial. Nothing can ever compare to such a calamity. In the 21st Century though, one no longer needs to ethnically cleanse a group of people through war, slavery, forced assimilation, control of resources or by the spread of disease. In this era, this is accomplished by a snail’s pace international bureaucracy that pressurizes particular countries to implode by their own doing. At least, this is the case of the Macedonians and the Republic of Macedonia.
Macedonia gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. After almost half a century of socialist governance as one of six republics that made up the Yugoslav federation, Macedonians democratically elected its first Prime Minister, Kiro Gligorov in 1991. However, Greece objected to Macedonia’s constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia and facing severe international pressure, accepted a temporary name, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Finally, Macedonia was accepted into the United Nations, albeit, two years after its independence. In 1995, an Interim Accord was signed between the two countries. Part of the agreement obliged Greece not to prevent Macedonia from joining international organizations, such as NATO and the European Union under its provisional name. Fast forward to 2008, Macedonia was a step away from joining NATO until Greece, a member, decided to veto its accession, breaking the Interim Accord. The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the UN agreed and on December 5th 2011 ruled that Greece obstructed its obligations under the Interim Accord. However, nothing happened. Greece went on to veto Macedonia’s 2008 EU accession, as well as its 2012 NATO and EU accession bid.
Why has Greece done this? It is simply to have full control and ownership of the word Macedonia and all the past glories associated with it, such as Alexander the Great. Greece also wants to hide the atrocities that were committed towards the Macedonians in the past. In their attempt to achieve this, they renamed the administrative region of the northern part of the country from Northern Greece to three separate administrative regions: Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Central Macedonia and Western Macedonia. This took place in 1988. The Greek government, sensing the dissolution of Yugoslavia wanted to disassociate the ethnic Macedonians living in this region (a region that was given to Greece in 1913) with their kin in the Republic of Macedonia, which was still part of Yugoslavia. Greece does not recognize the Macedonians as an ethnic group and has denied them basic human rights to self-determination. Up until this point, the Greek government did not want any association with the word Macedonian as relating to Greece, and would not recognize the large minority of ethnic Macedonians that remained in this region after 1913. They even banned public use of the Macedonian language with severe punishments for those that did not adhere. Then, the Greek government had a sinister, but brilliant idea. By baptizing the northern region of Greece as Macedonia, anyone who lives there is Macedonian, thus continuing the non-recognition of ethnic Macedonians who’d been living there for centuries.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that ethnic Macedonians living in Greece have every right to self-identify as such and enjoy the freedom of association as guaranteed by the EU Charter. However, Greece has neither complied with this ruling nor has been punished. Lastly, Greece has claimed that Macedonia’s constitutional name implies territorial aspirations. But, as some observers have stated, this is completely irrational when one considers Greece’s military arsenal and NATO support. These are the reasons why Greece has been objecting Macedonia’s constitutional name. They fear that the territory that was unlawfully given to them will join the Republic of Macedonia one day. Bulgaria and Albania also have this fear.
When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First Balkan War of 1912, Macedonia was finally free after five centuries of Turkish rule. Instead of giving the country and territory back to the Macedonians who were brutally defeated by the Turks in a failed uprising in 1903, the Great Powers – Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain – the architects of the London Treaty (1912) outlined the partitioning of Macedonia. The Treaty of Bucharest (1913) confirmed this decision that gave Greece 51%, Serbia 39% (which today comprises the Republic of Macedonia) and Bulgaria 10% of the Macedonian territory. This is why today, not surprisingly, there are large minorities of Macedonians living in northern Greece and western Bulgaria. There is also a significant minority of Macedonians living in eastern Albania through a land transfer that occurred between Greece and Albania in 1919. Therefore, the Macedonia that was once predominately made up of ethnic Macedonians was set for a drastic change.
It is interesting to note that when Greece was given their portion of Macedonia, the Greek government officially baptized the region as the ‘New Territories,’ not Macedonia. In order to populate the ‘New Territories’ with so -called Greeks, a significant population exchange occurred between Turkey and Greece beginning in the early 1920s as a result of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Approximately 2-2.5 million Christian refugees were imported from Turkey where the majority were strategically re-settled in the ‘New Territories’ to eliminate the Macedonian element that already existed. The Hellenization process was underway. Then, somehow miraculously these refugees who never lived a day of their lives in this region, nor who identified as Macedonians, not even by Greeks or other Europeans, somehow, they became Macedonian overnight in 1988, with direct links to the ancients. Yet, the ethnic Macedonians who’d been living there for centuries upon centuries and already identified as Macedonian and were already regarded as Macedonian by Greeks and other peoples, they somehow don’t have a connection to the ancients. Thus, the Greek propaganda that has spanned generations since 1913 within academia has convinced the descendants of these Turkish Christians that they are true Macedonians. Do you follow? I know. It’s like George Orwell’s ‘1984’. In an era of fallacies, Greece long precedes the fake news syndrome of present during the last 100 years. Facts don’t matter to the Greeks.
Here we are 28 years later with a new government in power willing to capitulate to all of Greece’s demands, also known as the Prespa Agreement in order, so we’re told, to join NATO and the EU. What is the Prespa Agreement? It is often reported that it is a compromise on Macedonia’s name. Unfortunately for Macedonians, it’s much more sinister than that.
Zaev’s agreement will change the name of the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of Northern/North Macedonia, automatically changing the Macedonian identity. But, he has also agreed to change Macedonians identity in other ways. Passports are one of them. Instead of simply stating Macedonian under nationality, it will state, Macedonian citizen of the Republic of Northern Macedonia. There is no mention of Macedonians as an ethnic group or people in the agreement. It only mentions that ‘Macedonian’ means different things in Macedonia and in Greece. It states that the Macedonian element in northern Greece has Hellenic historical and cultural roots from antiquity to the present. How is this possible if we already know that the majority of these people were Christian refugees originally from Turkey? Thus, Zaev has agreed to stop recognizing ethnic Macedonians living outside the territory of the Republic of Macedonia, even though there are millions of ethnic Macedonians living in Greece and other parts of the world. One cannot automatically create a new ethnicity called Northern Macedonian. Are we to pretend that minorities don’t exist anywhere? Is there not a French minority in Germany? Is there not a German minority in France? Are there not minorities in Canada and the U.S.? Complete absurdity.
He has also agreed to change the Macedonian Constitution, erasing parts of the Preamble that are important in Macedonia’s history. The agreement will erase the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, which was an attempt to unify all of Macedonia from Ottoman rule. It will also erase ASNOM (Antifascist People’s Liberation Assembly of Macedonia), within which individuals helped defeat Fascism and Nazism during World War 2 and helped establish Macedonians centuries long struggle for a Macedonian state for the Macedonians. Lastly, it will erase Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Macedonia’s history will start afresh, beginning in 2019 without any history, nor a people. It doesn’t stop there though.
Zaev has also agreed to revise Macedonian school textbooks to reflect a Greek historical perspective.
Under the terms of this agreement, Greece will have the right to dictate how Macedonians use the word Macedonia in every walk of life, culturally, economically, politically and historically.
In what democratic and sovereign country would such foreign interference be tolerated? In what other country would a leader agree and capitulate to such demands? Can one imagine Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel or Donald Trump signing such an agreement? It would never happen. Yet, this agreement has been applauded by western observers as a great success. Unfortunately, most have not read the fine details of the agreement, and those that have, don’t care.
The Zaev government has broken just about every law in the country to erase the Macedonian identity. He has imprisoned individuals publicly opposing his regime. These include journalists, artists, politicians and ordinary citizens. He has shut down media outlets that were objective. The Macedonian Constitution has become toilet paper. It ceases to exist. The final parliamentary vote to implement the Prespa Agreement, as well as the Constitutional amendments took place on January 9th, 2019. In order for Zaev to have obtained the necessary 2/3 majority, albeit illegally, and entrench the Prespa Agreement and the Constitutional amendments, he was willing to do anything. As such, at the behest of the Albanian political parties BESA and Alliance of Albanians, who represent a small minority of Albanians, he agreed to change the Preamble from:
“The citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, the Macedonian people and the citizens who live in its borders and are part of the Albanian people, the Turkish people, the Vlach people, the Serbian people, the Roma people, the Bosniak people and the others, assuming the responsibility…”
The citizens of Macedonia, the Macedonian people, the Albanian people, the Turkish people, the Vlach people etc.
BESA and Alliance of Albanians want to further erase the term “citizens” in front of the minorities in Macedonia, which Zaev will likely do. Furthermore, the words “who live” will also be deleted. These guarantees ensured their votes in Parliament.
Moreover, Zaev agreed to alter Article 49 which regulates that the state will take care of the rights of its diaspora. It currently mentions the “diaspora of the Macedonian people” but will now mention the diaspora of the minorities in Macedonia as well. Kosovo will also be mentioned in the Constitution as one of the five neighbouring countries of Macedonia. Let’s not forget that Zaev is planning to federalize the country by recently making Albanian, again illegally, an official language, which will divide the country and give power to Albanians and other minorities to cede from Macedonia.
Therefore, the minorities’ ethnic position with regards to identity is only strengthened with these changes, while the Macedonian one is erased. For example, there will be no problem for a Turkish or Roma group/organization to open up a theatre company named the Turkish or Roma Theatre Company. But, the Macedonians won’t be allowed to call themselves the Macedonian Theatre Company. Imagine this, where Macedonians make-up approximately 73% of the population. At the same time, the Zaev government is not demanding self-determination and language rights for the Macedonian minorities living in Albania, Bulgaria or Greece. Where else in the world does this exist?
Finally, Zaev has agreed for Albanians to state on their passports that they are ethnic Albanians from the Republic of North Macedonia or simply just Citizen from Republic of North Macedonia instead of Macedonian/Citizen of Republic of North Macedonia, as per the Prespa Agreement. Why not Albanian Citizen of the Republic of Germany instead of German or ethnic Macedonian from the Republic of Albania? How about Algerian Citizen of Republic of France instead of French. Perhaps ethnic Japanese from Canada instead of Canadian. Finally, ethnic Cuban from the United States of America instead of American. What a farce. Such unnecessary polices only breaks the unity of the country, a common language being the principle unifier, and instead polarizes the population further, thus fueling division and the likelihood of a civil war. The region does not need any more wars.
There is no guarantee that Macedonia will be accepted into NATO or the EU once the agreement goes through. Greece has already shown to disregard UN and EU judgements. Earlier this year, Emmanuel Macron stated that he’s not in favour of EU enlargement. He’s not alone in these sentiments. Moreover, Serbia and Montenegro who are already in accession talks with the European Commission are expected to join the EU in 2025, although experts on the matter are quite skeptical of this timeline. Macedonia hasn’t even started accession talks meaning that it wouldn’t even be admitted until the year 2030 or later. During this period, anything can happen. Macedonia could cease to exist. The face of the European Union could drastically be altered. Furthermore, Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras will likely lose the elections later this year with Kyriakos Mitsotakis from the party, New Democracy likely to replace him, which will only lead to far worse anti-Macedonian sentiments. Any future Greek PM can easily ask for further concessions, such as removing Macedonian completely from our Constitution.
According to international law, “by virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.” Yet, the Macedonian people are the exception. Macedonia’s right to self-determination is denied by the very same organization that is supposed to epitomize such guarantees. The Zaev government has allowed Greece to dictate Macedonian society.
In democracies, politicians are elected to govern a country the best way it sees fit. At times, people may disagree with some of its policies and it’s their right to make their voices heard and vote for change in future elections. However, politicians are not elected to change a people’s identity. No politician has any right to change the identity of a people, which has existed for generations. By signing the Prespa agreement, Zoran Zaev and his government have legitimized the great injustice that befell Macedonia in 1993 when it was denied the right to self -determination. Almost 140 countries already recognize Macedonia by its constitution name, but Zaev has been ordered by Greece to immediately notify every country that has and to ask them to recognize the Republic of Macedonia under a new name.
But, where has the so-called real defenders of the Macedonians, VMRO-DPMNE been through all of this? The former leader of the party and ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski escaped the country and is cozily relaxing with his millions of Euros in some Hungarian retreat instead of serving his sentence and standing up for Macedonia. Then there are the 8 traitors that voted in support of the Prespa Agreement in return for amnesty and money. What’s more, there’s the party’s current leader, Hristijan Mickoski, who allowed these 8 traitors to vote in Parliament. Wait. All VMRO-DPMNE MPs were present for the vote. Why were they even there for this illegal vote in the first place? Why isn’t VMRO-DPMNE MPs rallying citizens every single day in mass protests? Instead, they quietly sit idle.
Finally, there’s Gjorge Ivanov, Macedonia’s President. Although he has defended Macedonia at select times, like voicing his thoughts at the UN before the referendum on September 30th, and not signing the Law on Languages, which would make Albanian an official language, he has not done nearly enough. More importantly, let’s look at what he’s actually done in the last 18 months. He signed the agreement last August between Macedonia and Bulgaria that doesn’t recognize the Macedonian minority living in Bulgaria. He signed a law that gave amnesty to the 8 VMRO-DPMNE traitors, which freed them for the final vote in Parliament.
These are not the actions of leaders and defenders of Macedonia and Macedonians during the most critical time of its history. These are actions of opportunistic and scared individuals who have their own interests at hand. Real patriots are willing to put themselves in front of a bullet, willing to sacrifice everything, like the Macedonian revolutionaries who revolted against the Ottomans and the Macedonians that fought Fascism and Nazism during the Second World War.
Why has Macedonia been shamed by Western institutions and leaders for its ethnic identity? Why have the other Balkan countries, Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Romania’s culture, history, language and identity been celebrated and preserved, rightfully so, and Macedonia’s denied? After a big victory on January 13, 2019, the Macedonian National Handball Team proudly sang the song ‘Biser Balkanski’ during their celebrations. The song, loosely translated as ‘Pearl of the Balkans’ was popularized by the late singer Goce Nikolovski and was sung by the entire country after Macedonia’s independence. Astonishingly, some members of academia and the media affiliated with SDSM, including members of its coalition have denounced the players for singing the song and have demanded that they be suspended. Thus, Macedonians singing Macedonian songs is slowly becoming intolerable.
When Shanawdithit became Nancy April, her identity was stolen and lost forever. Her tribe’s culture, language history and identity were lost forever. In a surprising twist, Scotland has now decided to finally return the remains of two Beothuk individuals, Nonosabasut and Demasduit, husband and wife, from the National Museum of Scotland to Canada. As fate would have it, Demasduit was Shanawdithit’s aunt.
It is not our attempt to make comparisons to the Beothuk or any other indigenous group around the world that have endured far worse like going extinct. It is also not our attempt to trivialize the words genocide or cleanse, especially in regards to the horrific massacres that have been perpetrated towards certain ethnic groups in the distant and most recent past, such as the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Rather it is a moment to detail the surreal, but very real strategy that persists in the 21st Century that is designed to erase an entire ethnic group’s culture, language, history and identity. This is the way it is accomplished today. When it is too obvious for the World Powers to openly erase a group’s ethnicity, they institute policies that apply pressure to a country until they finally implode on themselves.
This process began 28 years ago, slowly waiting for the right moment, the perfect storm if you’d like. Zaev is that perfect storm. He was the perfect candidate willing to adhere to U.S. and EU interests, personally profiting along with his SDSM puppets and VMRO -DPMNE colleagues, all at the expense of the Macedonians. Greece and Bulgaria will now write our history. We will become Bulgarian dating back from the 6th Century to 1944. From 1944-1991, we were a Communist creation. Its creator, Marshall Tito. From 1991 to the present, we were confused Bulgarians. The Macedonians in Northern Greece? They don’t exist. Turkish Christians and other peoples living in this region are Macedonian, not the ethnic Macedonians that have lived there for centuries. Our history will begin in 2019, with no history and no roots.
And this is how future encyclopedias will be read, future classrooms will be taught, future books will be written, for decades to come while we slowly fade away into academic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and historical obscurity. George Orwell’s ‘1984’ becomes reality.
Macedonians, will you save your country?
There is only one solution in which this catastrophe can be averted. The Macedonians living in the Republic must protest en masse by the hundreds of thousands every day, willing to sacrifice anything and everything until the government steps down from power.
We are simply Macedonian and Our Name Is Macedonia.
Mile Lazarevski, Media Relations Officer & Policy Analyst
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International