Greek-Macedonian Name Dispute

Greek-Macedonian Name Dispute – Simplified

By Risto Stefov

Ever since the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 under the name "Republic of Macedonia" Greece has been waging a propaganda campaign against it promoting the idea that Macedonia is exclusively Greek and that no one except Greece had the right to claim its ancient heritage, including its symbols, flags and name. This is echoed, loud and clear both inside and outside of Greece. Greece´s basis for the so called dispute with the Republic of Macedonia is, according to Greece, "the Republic of Macedonia harbors territorial ambitions toward Greece´s northern province also called Macedonia".

Even though the Republic of Macedonia made amendments to its constitution to disclaim any "territorial ambitions", removed all disputed symbols and changed its flag, the Greek State still stubbornly persists on its mission to prevent Macedonia from entering international institutions and from gaining world recognition.

The purpose of this essay is to provide the reader with relevant information that;

1. Proves that Greece has no basis for its arguments with Macedonia.

2. Proves that Greece´s arguments are a ruse to sidestep more important issues.

3. Highlight some very important issues that Macedonians living in Greece are faced with, which Greece has so far ignored.


A. Greece claims that Macedonia is exclusively Greek because the ancient Macedonian heritage belongs to Greece but it provides no valid arguments to qualify its claims.

The creation of the modern Balkan States during the 19th century was a result of (a), the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and (b) the introduction of nationalism in the region.

Throughout the later part of the 500 year old Ottoman occupation of the Balkans and up to the 19th century, national awareness did not exist among the Balkan people. The concept of "nationality" was unknown to the Ottoman citizen who at the time identified only by his or her religion be it Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc.

It is also a well known fact that the Balkan region was without borders for more than twenty centuries and was conquered, invaded and settled by a variety of people.

When Greece became a state for the first time in 1829 it consisted only of the region today known as the Peloponnesus which was then populated by a majority of Albanian, Turk, Vlach and Macedonian speakers (there were no other ethnic indicators to distinguish the various language speakers from one another since ethnicity at the time was unknown to those people). Historically an organized and united Greek state never existed. The ancient world was never unified and existed not as one but as many states and worlds with varying governments, languages and cultures.

Over the years the modern Greek people, by war and imperial ambitions, incorporated more lands into their state including Epirus, Thessaly, Crete and Macedonia, which historically were never unified as a single state and never belonged to Greece. Further, the people on those lands were also not Greeks and linguistically belonged to the Albanian, Vlach, Turk and Macedonian speaking families.

So it would not be wrong to state that the entire southern Balkan Peninsula on which modern Greece is located today was populated by a vast majority of non-Greek people who spoke Macedonian, Albanian, Turk, Vlach and other non-Greek languages and who at the time had no national awareness and had only their religions in common.

It is also accurate to state that according to census reports compiled by the Republic of Macedonia after 1991, there are predominantly Macedonian, Albanian, Turk and Vlach speakers living in the Republic of Macedonia today, the same linguistic groups that existed in Macedonia before the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

In other words, when the Greek State was formed in 1829 it consisted of exactly the same ethnic identities that the Republic of Macedonia had in 1991.

The reason there is a difference between the 19th century ethnic identities in Greece and those of today is that Greece has "Hellenized" them (mostly by force) and turned them into Greeks. In 1928 Greece declared that the population in Greece is homogeneous consisting of 98% pure Greeks and 2% Muslim Greeks.

Although Greece today claims that its people are the descendents of the ancient Greeks the truth is Greece has no basis for this claim. Its people are modern Balkanites similar to those who live in its neighbouring countries and nothing more.

In other words, a modern Greek making claims that he or she is a descendent of the ancient Greeks who lived on the same lands 2,500 years ago is equivalent to a modern Canadian making claims that he or she is a descendant of the ancient Canadians who lived on the same lands before the Europeans discovered them.

B. Greece claims that the name Macedonia belongs exclusively to Greece because Greece has a province with the same name. Greece however provides no valid arguments as to how it acquired that Macedonian province and why only "it" can be called Macedonia when that very same province belongs to a greater geographical and historical region called Macedonia.

Nationalism was imported into the Balkans in the early 19th century and took hold in Greece, Serbia and later Bulgaria. Macedonia being the most oppressed region in the Balkans stood at the center of the then Ottoman State and was less accessible to the outside world so naturally nationalism took longer to infiltrate Macedonia. This however did not stop the Macedonian people from acquiring a Macedonian national consciousness, or from making a bid to free themselves from the Ottomans or from attempting to create a Macedonian state that would have encompassed all of geographic Macedonia including the Republic of Macedonia and all the geographical Macedonian regions held by Greece, Bulgaria and Albania today.

The Macedonians are the only people in the southern Balkans who organized a massive national liberation movement and in 1903 rose up against the Ottoman Empire to free themselves without outside help.

Unfortunately the Macedonian uprising did not produce the desired results and opened up Macedonia to foreign intrigue and territorial ambitions especially on the part of its neighbours who in 1912 invaded, occupied and in 1913 divided Macedonia among themselves.

In other words, 51% of the Macedonian geographical territory which Greece today exclusively calls "Macedonia" or "Greek Macedonia" or the "Greek Province of Macedonia" did not belong to Greece prior to 1912 and was never Greek.

Prior to 1912 Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire and belonged to the people who lived in Macedonia, the true owners of Macedonian lands. Greece gained this territory through war and by evicting all those who opposed it including the legitimate owners of those lands. Greece invaded Macedonia in 1912 under the pretence of liberating the Macedonian people, occupied and partitioned it with its Serbian and Bulgarian partners against the will of the Macedonian people.

In fact Greece gained its part of Macedonia through deception and a force of arms without the consent of the Macedonian people.

Unable to free themselves from the Ottoman yoke the Macedonian people welcomed the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian armies in 1912 as their liberators. But instead of being liberated they quickly found themselves occupied and their state partitioned.

As for the name "Macedonia" I would like to remind the reader that before 1912 there was one Macedonia, the entire region of geographical and historic Macedonia, the very same region the Macedonian people rose in 1903 to liberate and create a Macedonian State.

Therefore, the Republic of Macedonia has both geographical and historical rights to call itself "Macedonia" since that state belongs to geographical Macedonia and to the people who rose up in 1903 and during the Second World War to liberate it.

As for Greece claiming rights to the name "Macedonia", here are some facts:

In 1913 after Macedonia was partitioned, Greece named its part of Macedonia "New Territories". Later it renamed it "Northern Greece". Then in the late 1980´s when it was inevitable that a new Macedonian state was about to declare its independence from Yugoslavia, Greece renamed it "Macedonia".

Therefore Greece has neither historical nor geographical rights to the name "Macedonia". Greece only uses this argument to sidestep other more important Macedonian issues and as a ruse to deflect attention from them.

C. Greece claims that there are no Macedonians living in Greece or in geographic Macedonia, only Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians and that the Macedonian nation was created by Tito in 1945.

The ethnic mix of people in Macedonia prior to the 1912 Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian invasion consisted of a large ethnic Macedonian majority indigenous to the region, Turks, Arnauts (Albanians), Vlachs, Roma and other smaller minorities. In other words, the same mix of ethnic identities that exist today in the Republic of Macedonia (with the exception of the Turks who left Macedonia soon after the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian invasion) was present in the entire region of geographic Macedonia prior to 1912. There were no ethnic Greeks or ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia at that time, only ethnic Macedonians who served "Greek" and "Bulgarian" interests.

Most census statistics released before 1912 were compiled by Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian statisticians and were based on "religious affiliation". As mentioned earlier, at the time there was no clear identifier to determine ethnically who was who except for language and religion. However, the vast majority of people living in Macedonia were Macedonian speakers. So the only option census takers had was to use "religion" as an identifier of ´nationality". Since most Macedonians were Christians the only difference between them was "whose" Church they were affiliated with. However the only churches allowed to operate in Ottoman Macedonia at the time were the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches. So the census statisticians used "religious affiliation" as the identifier to which "nationality" the people living in Macedonia belonged. In other words a person was considered to be a "Greek national" if he or she attended liturgy in the Greek Church, a "Serbian national" if he or she attended liturgy in the Serbian Church and a "Bulgarian national" if he or she attended liturgy in the Bulgarian Church. So naturally there being no Macedonian Church, census statistics showed no Macedonians living in Macedonia, only Greeks, Serbians and Bulgarians.

Therefore it is not that Macedonians did not exist, as Greece likes us to believe, but it was the method that census takers and statisticians employed to represent the ethnic composition of the region that was incorrect. In fact the method was simply wrong and only served the territorial ambitions of the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian states.

In 1991 the part of Macedonia that was originally occupied by Serbia, by referendum, declared its independence from the Yugoslav federation and became a free and sovereign state called the Republic of Macedonia. Upon its successful and peaceful separation from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Macedonia conducted its own census study and concluded that over 60% of its population was ethnic Macedonian.

As for Greece, it has yet to conduct a proper census and still relies on outdated methods such as "religious affiliation" to determine its ethnic composition. This way it can hide its minorities and pretend that 98% of its people are pure Greeks and 2% are Muslim Greeks.

D. Macedonians living in Greece are faced with a number of issues since the forceful invasion, occupation and illegal partition of Macedonia.

The Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian invasion of Macedonia brought catastrophic results to the Macedonian people. After driving the Ottomans out with the Macedonian people´s help, the three invaders Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria began to fight among themselves inside Macedonia for a larger portion of the Macedonian territory. In the process they burned down hundreds of Macedonian villages and murdered, tortured and exiled thousands of civilians including women and children as documented by the 1913 Carnegie Endowment Inquiry.

Finally when they stopped fighting they partitioned Macedonia between themselves under the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest where Greece received 51% of Macedonia´s territory, Serbia received 39% and Bulgaria received 10%.

In 1991 the part of Macedonia that was originally occupied by Serbia, by referendum, declared its independence from the Yugoslav federation and became a free and sovereign state called the Republic of Macedonia. The parts occupied by Greece, Bulgaria and Albania remain occupied to this day.


There are many issues the Macedonian people deem "important", which Greece "needs to deal with" but so far has refused to address. Some are listed as follows;

1. Greece refuses to recognize that it illegally occupied Macedonian territories in 1912 without the Macedonian people´s consent. Macedonians were lead to believe that Greece was entering the conflict in 1912 to liberate the Macedonian people from the Ottoman yoke but through deception and intrigue Greece along with its partners, Serbia and Bulgaria, forcibly occupied and subjugated Macedonia.

2. Greece refuses to recognize that Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria under the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest partitioned Macedonia into three pieces without the Macedonian people´s consent. Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1913 occupied and partitioned Macedonian lands creating artificial borders that have divided families to this day.

What Greece calls liberation, the Macedonian people call occupation. Having one exiled from his or her ancestral home, having his or her lands confiscated, having his or her name changed, being forced to speak a foreign language, being publicly humiliated by being forced to denounce one´s own identity and being forced to publicly pledge allegiance to a tyrannical occupier is no "liberation". It is subjugation.

3. Greece refuses to accept the fact that its army committed atrocities and genocide against the Macedonian people during the two Balkan Wars of 1912, 1913 as documented by the 1913 Carnegie Endowment Inquiry.

4. Greece refuses to repatriate the thousands of Macedonians who it evicted from their homes and forcibly exiled after 1913 simply because they were affiliated with the Bulgarian and Serbian Churches. Greece exiled tens of thousands of Macedonians and had their homes and properties confiscated simply because they, during the last years of the Ottoman occupation, attended liturgy in the Bulgarian and Serbian churches; not in the Greek Church.

5. Greece refuses to allow the return of the tens of thousands of Macedonians who it expelled to Turkey during the 1920´s and had their homes and properties confiscated simply because they were of the Muslim faith.

6. Greece refuses to provide compensation to those Macedonians who´s lands and homes it confiscated in the 1920´s to accommodate the imported Christian colonists from Asia Minor and other places. During the 1920´s Greece imported 1.1 million colonists from Turkey and settled most of them in Macedonia.

7. Greece refuses to reverse the imposed name changes the Greek State forced on the Macedonian people. During the 1920´s Greece introduced assimilation policies in Macedonia to "Hellenize" every person by changing their first and last names so that they would sound Greek. Greece did this without the consent of those whose names were changed.

8. Greece refuses to reverse the imposed toponym changes the Greek State forced on the Macedonian people during and subsequent to the 1920´s to "Hellenize" the region. Greece changed all Macedonian toponyms including cities, towns, villages, lakes, rivers, mountains, roads, etc. from Macedonian to Greek without the Macedonian people´s consent.

9. Greece refuses to reverse the illegal abolition of the Macedonian language. During the 1930´s the Greek state introduced anti-Macedonian laws banning the Macedonian language and ordering the destruction of every Macedonian inscription found on buildings, monuments, gravestones and religious icons that contained Macedonian writing. People, even those who spoke no other language, were heavily fined and forced to drink castor oil when caught speaking Macedonian. The Macedonian language is illegal in Greece to this day.

10. Greece refuses to abolish anti-Macedonian laws and discriminatory practices against the Macedonian people. Greece over the years has punished Macedonians for having Macedonian sentiments by public humiliation, beatings, imprisonment and murder.

11. Greece refuses to repatriate and return the properties and citizenships to those Macedonians expelled from Greece without a trial for being suspected of aiding the losing side in the Greek Civil War. Greece murdered and expelled tens of thousands of Macedonians and confiscated their properties and citizenship simply because they were suspected of aiding the losing side in the Greek Civil War.

12. Greece refuses to repatriate the 28,000 refugee children ages 2 to 14 it expelled in 1948 whose citizenship and ancestral properties it confiscated.

13. Greece refuses to scrap the 1982 anti-Macedonian discriminatory law. Greece passed law 106841 in 1982 allowing Greeks by birth to return to Greece but excluded Macedonians, even though these Macedonians were born in Greece and in fact were all Greek citizens.

14. Greece refuses to end systemic discrimination against the Macedonian people which is ingrained in the Greek government, church, media, schools and other institutions.

15. Greece refuses to recognize the Macedonian minority living inside Greece today even though it is required to do so in accordance with international agreements to which Greece is signatory.

In view of the above, which the Greek State refuses to deal with, past Greek governments have concocted less damaging issues such as the name dispute to:

a. Lead the Macedonian people away from important issues and bog them down with nonsensical ones.

b. Give the world the impression that the Greek-Macedonian dispute is really about unimportant "nonsensical issues" such as ancient history. By doing this Greece hopes to cover-up its misdeeds against the Macedonian people.


Greece has been very successful in its endeavour and has succeeded in painting the "wrong picture" about its "dispute" with Macedonia.

The Macedonian people do indeed have a dispute with Greece but it is not about historic names, symbols and flags, it is about equality, human rights and human dignity.

Given Greece´s track record on its treatment of the Macedonian people, today´s Macedonians are left with the following options;

I. Do nothing and accept Greece´s status quo. In other words, end the pursuit of human rights for the Macedonian people, which may be acceptable to Greece but totally unacceptable to the Macedonians.

II. Lobby international bodies to pressure Greece into accepting its responsibilities in coming to terms with the Macedonian issue. Pressure Greece to making amends to the Macedonian people. Force Greece to recognize the Macedonian minority living on its soil in accordance with international human right norms to which Greece is signatory and is obliged to uphold.

III. Start lobbying for the separation of the part of Macedonia under Greek control and call for its reunification with the Republic of Macedonia or for the creation of a new Macedonian state similar to Kosovo.

Greece had almost a century to correct the wrongs it committed against the Macedonian people. How much longer must the Macedonian people wait to receive justice from Greece before taking matters into their own hands?

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