Sunday, 20 January 2019

Chronology of the Macedonian Issue

1805 – Serbian revolution against the Ottoman Empire

1821 – Greek revolution against the Ottoman Empire

1830 – founding of the Greek state

1844 – Greece’s first prime minister, Ioannis Kolettis, first articulates the ideology of the Great Idea in Greek parliament.

28 Feb / 12 Mar 1870 – Under Russian pressure, Sultan Abdul Aziz grants Bulgaria suzerainty (exarchy) over a broad swathe of the Balkans stretching from Balkan Mts. to Danube, essentially what is today northern Bulgaria. This is an idea the Bulgarians had been working towards since 1856, and their efforts intensified after Nikolai Ignatieff was installed as Russian ambassador to the Porte in 1864. Majority Greek areas are excluded but article 10 allows them to join the exarchy if 2/3 of the population wish it. The patriarchate held a Holy and Great Synod in 1872 to condemn tribal nationalism (εθνοφυλετισμός) and the period marks the beginning of Greek-Bulgarian rivalry in the Balkans.

1875 – revolution in Bosnia-Herzegovina

1876 – Serbo-Ottoman war

April 1876 – Bulgarian revolution

1878 – 1908 
April 1877-early 1878 – Russo-Ottoman war. It becomes clear to the Greeks that there will soon be a change of regime in the Balkans and they are concerned that the Slavs may act against the Greeks in the area. Pressure rises on the government to wage war on the Ottoman Empire. Greeks in Macedonia begin to form guerrilla organisations, notably the Brotherhood (Αδελφότητα) and National Defence (Εθνική Άμυνα). The Greek consul in Thessaloniki, Konstantine Vatikiotis, informs the govt in Athens that the Greeks are suffering heavy casualties because the Ottomans are better armed.

Early 1878 – Macedonian Committee formed in Athens to organize and support guerrilla action. President Ioannis Pantazidis. Stefanos Dragoumis is a member.

February 1878 – Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and Ottoman Empire gives Bulgarians eastern Macedonia and a large chunk of central Macedonia including their Aegean coastline, stretching from Vistonida lake in Thrace to the Strymonian Gulf east of Halkidike, and also including a chunk of coastline between the deltas of the Aliakmonas and Axios river west of Thessaloniki. San Stefanska Bulgarska is the apogee of Bulgarian territorial acquisitions. This triggers the Olympus uprising by Greek guerrillas, backed by the Macedonian Committee.

At the same time, a Provisional Government of Macedonia is created in Litohoro by Angelos Korovangos and 500 men, who signal to the embassies of the Great powers in Thessaloniki their goal of joining Macedonia to Greece. Ottoman troops ultimately defeat them after two months of action. In March 1878 Ottomans burn and raze Litohoro. Other smaller Greek uprisings break out in other parts of Macedonia, and are also put down.

13 June – 13 July 1878 – Congress of Berlin countermands Treaty of San Stefano

23 October 1893 -  Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO) formed in Thessaloniki by Hristo Batangieff, Hristo Tatarcheff, Dame Gruef, Petar Poparsov and Ivan Hadjinikoloff. The VMRO’s stated aim is to win Macedonian autonomy from the Ottomans and then annex it to Bulgaria.

1895 – Bulgarian govt founds the Supreme Macedonian Committee with the same goals as the VMRO.

1896 -    National Society (Εθνική Εταιρεία) which had been formed in 1894, organises 500 men in 8 groups under Athanasios Broufas. The initiative is eventually shot to pieces by Ottoman forces.

1897 – Greek-Ottoman War ends in defeat for the Greeks. National Society again raises men and arms. It is the first action seen by Pavlos Melas, who married Natalia Dragoumi, daughter of Stefanos.

20 Jul / 2 Aug 1903 – Ilinden uprising in the areas now in Fyrom and Western Macedonia (Greece). Mostly Bulgarian in sympathies but supported by Greek villages as well. Greek consulates and the patriarchate try to restrain the Greeks for fear of losing them politically to the Bulgarian nationalist cause. Ottoman forces suppress the uprising violently. Est. fatalities 10,000, of which maybe half are civilian. Creates a wave of 40,000 refugees.

1904-1908 - Full scale guerrilla war in Macedonia between Greeks and Bulgarians. Many Greek officers resign from the army to lead units. Greeks manage to push back Bulgarian guerrilla forces esp. in central Macedonia. For the first time, Bulgarian leadership in the Macedonian revolutionary struggle is put into doubt. The 1905 uprising in Crete at Therisos had led Young Turks to put pressure on Greeks in Macedonia, closing Greek schools, torturing confessions out of villagers about where stockpiles of materiels lay hidden, and forcing Greeks to march in Thessaloniki against the uprising in Crete.

1908 – 1920

Summer 1909 – Officers who fought in Macedonia take part in the army movement Κίνημα Στρατιωτικού Συνδέσμου at Goudi barracks. The movement, under Theodoros Pangalos and Yeorgios Karaiskakis, grandson of the revolutionary general, and including Nikolaos Plastiras, sought to remove Konstantine and princes from the army, and to reform the army after the defeat of 1897. Eleftherios Venizelos knew of it and seems to have supported it. The movement came to a head on 15 August 1909, and caused the resignation of two prime ministers, Theotokis followed by Rallis, both of whom were royalist and conciliatory towards the Young Turks.

28 Jul / 10 Aug 1913 – Treaty of Bucharest (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania) ends Second Balkan War and enshrines Greek gains in Macedonia, defining Greek-Bulgarian border from Mt. Belles in the north to Nestos River delta / Vistonida lake in the east. No reference is made to geographic Macedonia. Greece gets 51% of geographic Macedonia, Serbia 38% and Bulgaria 9%. A tiny sliver west of Prespa goes to Albania. In the years following the treaty, only Greece uses the term Macedonia for its territory. Serbia calls its part South Serbia, and Bulgaria calls its part Pirin.

3 December 1924 – Third congress of SEKEK (Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece (Communist)), a combination of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece and the Communist Party of Greece, both founded in 1918, votes for the creation of an independent Macedonia and an independent Thrace. The proclamation espouses positions articulated in the 6th and 7th Balkan Communist Congresses. SEKEK calls on the peoples of Macedonia and Thrace to launch their own struggle for independence.

1934-5 – Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Communist International, and a Stalin appointee, proposes the creation of a “unified and independent Macedonian nation” at the 7th Comintern in Moscow. The state would be carved out of three components, Serb Macedonia (Skopje), Pirin Macedonia (Bulgaria) and Macedonia of the Aegean. 

26 December 1944 – US Secy of State Stettinius declares US is against creation of a Macedonian state as it would harbour ambitions on Greek soil. The full text of the telegram is as follows (emphasis mine): 

U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius to U.S. Missions 
 (Washington, Dec.26, 1944)

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic and Consular Officers
The following is for your information and general guidance, but not for any positive action at this time. 
The Department has noted with considerable apprehension increasing propaganda rumors and semi-official statements in favor of an “autonomous Macedonia”,emanating principally from Bulgaria, but also from Yugoslav Partisan and other sources, with the implication that Greek territory would be included in the projected state. 
This Government considers talk of “Macedonian nation”, “Macedonia Fatherland”, or “Macedonian national consciousness” to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic or political reality, and sees in its present revival a possible cloak for aggressive intentions against Greece. 
The approved policy of this Government is to oppose any revival of the Macedonian issue as related to Greece. The Greek section of Macedonia is largely inhabited by Greeks, and the Greek people are almost unanimously opposed to the creation of a “Macedonian state.” Allegations of serious Greek participation in any such agitation can be assumed to be false. This Government would regard as responsible any Government or Group of Governments tolerating or encouraging menacing or aggressive acts of “Macedonian forces” against Greece. The Department would appreciate any information pertinent to this subject which may come to your attention.
1 Source: U.S. State Department, Foreign Relations vol.vii, Washington, D.C. Circular Airgram
(868.014/26 Dec.1944).

The bold paragraph expresses almost exactly the position of the Greek government from 1944 to today. The US position changed after the fall of communism and the Yugoslav civil war. Its priority became the preservation of peace and the integrity of existing borders. With the communist threat gone, so was American concern about potentially spurious national claims.


November 1990 – “Socialist Republic of Macedonia” holds its first post-Yugoslav election. VMRO-DPMNE is top party with 22pc of vote and 38 seats. Its platform includes uniting all Macedonians in Macedonian lands under occupation in neighbouring Bulgaria, Greece and Albania into a Macedonian confederation, which will seek EU membership.

25 January 1991 – The parliament of the “Socialist Republic of Macedonia” declares “sovereignty of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia” and the “right of the Macedonian people to self-determination”.

8 September 1991 – 72 percent of citizens vote yes in a referendum on the question: “Do you support a sovereign and independent state of Macedonia, with the right to enter into a future union with the other sovereign states of Yugoslavia?”

17 September 1991 – Based on the referendum result, the parliament in Skopje declares independence. Article 2 of its declaration states that the country will “fight for uninterrupted respect for the generally accepted principles of international relations contained in the UN treaties.” The country also pledges to “base its legal foundation on respect for the international rules which govern relations between states and total respect for the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, strengthening mutual respect and trust and developing co-operation with all peoples with mutual interests.” Article 3 pledges “good neighbourliness” and Article 4 pledges “strict respect for the inviolability of borders as a guarantee for peace and security in the region”. However, Article 5 calls for respect for “the rights of the portions of the Macedonian people, which live as an ethnic minority in neighbouring countries.” This becomes a major problem for Bulgaria and Greece.

17 November 1991 – The “Republic of Macedonia” adopts its constitution. Greece objects to three points in the constitution:

·             The preamble invokes “the Macedonian people and their struggle over centuries for national and social freedom”. It speaks of the “legality of the Krushevo Republic” of 1903, a revolution whose ambition it was to to unite the Ottoman Empire’s administrative province of Macedonia – which would include present-day Greek and Bulgarian territory – in a breakaway independence movement. Ottoman forces crushed the uprising after ten days. The preamble also references the “historic decisions of the Anti-Fascist Assembly of the People's Liberation of Macedonia” (1944), a communist partisan committee which lasted for a few months at the end of the Second World War. It called on “ethnic Macedonians” in Bulgaria and Greece to rise up against their oppressors. The latter inaugurated Marshal Tito’s aspirational policy of a Macedonian state at the expense of Greek territory as a way of uniting the southern tip of the Republic of South Slavs (Yugoslavia). Greek foreign minister Antonis Samaras quoted from the committee in a letter to his European colleagues on 17 January 1992, to demonstrate the irredentist implications of the constitution: “Let the struggle of the Macedonian piedmont inspire you… this alone leads to liberation and the unification of all Macedonians… Allow the artificial borders that separate brother from brother…to crumble.”

·             Article 3 leaves open the possibility that “the borders of the Republic of Macedonia may be changed.”

·             Article 49: States that “the Republic cares for the status and rights of those persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighbouring countries.” Greece is concerned that this creates a pretext for meddling in its internal affairs, as well as forming a basis for irredentist territorial claims. 

16 December 1991 – The European Community’s Declaration on Yugoslavia comes as close as Europe will ever come to aligning itself with the Greek position. It pledges that the EC will recognise all Yugoslav member states on 15 January on certain conditions. Among other things, they must respect the human rights of individuals and ethnic groups; they must support the UN’s efforts in Yugoslavia; in a clear reference to Skopje, they should provide “constitutional and political guarantees” that they harbour no territorial claims on EC states and “will conduct no hostile propaganda activities versus a neighbouring Community state including the use of a denomination which implies territorial claims.” (my italics).

6 January 1992 – In response, the parliament in Skopje makes two amendments to the constitution. The first stipulates that, “The Republic of Macedonia has no territorial pretensions towards any neighbouring state,” but continues to allow for the revision of borders “on the principle of free will”. The second asserts that, “the Republic will not interfere in the sovereign rights of other states or in their internal affairs,” but article 49 remains. The issue of the name goes unaddressed. In short, Greek concerns are not addressed.

11 January 1992 – The Badinter Commission (appointed to provide legal advice on Yugoslavia to the European Council) opines that the former Yugoslav Macedonia has provided enough assurances to warrant recognition as a sovereign state, but as Greece still has objections, Europeans refrain from doing so.

14 February 1992 – A march against compromising with former Yugoslav Macedonia is organised in Thessaloniki, with an estimated million people in attendance. The issue has escaped the halls of diplomacy and becomes a bone of contention between the two peoples, not just their governments.

27 February 1992 – Helmut Kohl and George H W Bush agree at Camp David to postpone resolution of the Macedonia issue until after the November election.

February & March 1992 – The Portugese rotating presidency of the European Council suggested two further texts bolstering mutual respect for borders and non-aggression, but its initiative foundered on the suggestion of “Nova Macedonia” or “New Macedonia” as a name for the new state, which neither Athens nor Skopje accepted.

13 April 1992 – The Greek Council of Party Leaders meeting under the president announces that it will not recognise the “state of Skopje” if its name contains the term Macedonia. Foreign minister Antonis Samaras had sought even more – to threaten Skopje with a closure of borders. Samaras’ support for the hard-line position – to forbid use of the M-word in any form – brought him at odds with premier Konstantine Mitsotakis, who dismissed him that month.

May 1992 – Prefix ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of’ added to all six states in diplomatic and political discussions in EU.

23 June 1992 – Premier Mitsotakis writes to his European counterparts saying that Greece is willing to accept the so-called “double name” – whereby Skopje is recognised under a name that doesn’t contain the M-word but calls itself what it wants. Greek foreign policy will later reject this as insidious, but at this time it is the first Greek concession.

27 June 1992 – The European Council’s summit meeting in Lisbon again calls on the government in Skopje to find a name that doesn’t contain the M-word, hewing to the Greek line.

3 July 1992 – the parliament in Skopje rejects the summit communiqué, saying that without recognition of the Macedonian state and ethnicity there can be no smooth development of democracy in that country.

30 July 1992 – The president of former Yugoslav Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov, changes tack and applies for recognition at the UN. This caught Greece unprepared and created a two-track process Greece did not immediately address. Meanwhile the deepening and broadening of the war in Yugoslavia added to European concerns that hostilities could extend to the south of the country if central government authority in Skopje were not quickly reinforced. [Spirou – George H W Bush asks Boutros Boutros Gali to shelve the issue until after Nov. election].

Aug 1992 – [Spirou – Greek-American community asks Dem. candidate Bill Clinton not to recognise Republic of Skopje with the word Macedonia.]

December 1992 – Gali brings to the Security Council the question of inducting the new Yugoslav state as a UN member.

10 December 1992 – The rotating British presidency of the European Council reports that Skopje is willing to accept a qualified use of the term Macedonia, calling itself Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) in all its international relations. This marks the first modification of Skopje’s hard line.

January 1993 – France suggests that Athens and Skopje submit to international arbitration.

14 May 1993 – A mediation by Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen suggests the name “Nova Makedonija” for all international uses, and addresses all the constitutional issues that bother Greece. Skopje rejects this. Greece accepts a composite name for the first time, preferring the term “Slavomakedonija”, but ultimately withdraws the suggestion of a composite name under pressure from hardliners in the ruling conservative party. 

September 1993 – Two MPs withdraw from the conservative bloc, depriving it of its ruling majority in parliament and bringing down the government.

October 1993 – The socialist party returns to power in Greece.

February 1994 – The socialist government of Andreas Papandreou places an embargo on Skopje, excluding food and medicines. Subsequent studies show that this is largely ineffective, as Greek exporters send shipments through Bulgaria rather than lose business. It also backfires, leading to outrage with Greece and international sympathy for Skopje, which now reaped a flurry of recognitions either as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, its official name in the UN, or as Republic of Macedonia.

September 1995 – Athens admits defeat and with Skopje signs the Interim Accord, whereby Athens and Skopje recognise each other’s sovereignty, disavow any mutual territorial threat, resume trade and pledge to find a solution to the name issue. This is the bilateral document that still governs relations between the two nations.

§  Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia in Skopje.
§  The Skopje Issue, Yannis Valinakis, Sotiris Dalis eds., ELIAMEP, Sideris Publications, 2nd ed. 1996
§  European Community Declaration on Yugoslavia and on the Guidelines on the Recognition of New States.
§  Greece’s Macedonian Adventure: The controversy over Fyrom’s independence and recognition, Evangelos Kofos, offprint from the book Greece and the New Balkans.
§  Primer of the Macedonian Question, Historic, Political and Legal Dimensions, Iakovos Mihailidis, Nikos Zaikos, 2018. 
Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

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