The Macedonian language has been in focus for several years, perhaps a better word would be “under crossfire”. Sometimes it is downgraded to a dialect, but too often it is simply negated. The latter mainly from Greek nationalists.
Their tenor is that the Macedonian language simply does not exist, it is Bulgarian they claim. But their ancestors, some of whom are now Greek national heroes, have left us evidence that contradicts such claims!
Unlike today’s Greeks, the Greeks 100-150 years ago were aware that this language existed. From where? Not necessarily from school books or education, but from interaction with Macedonians in the so-called “Macedonian struggle”. This is what Greece calls the period when Macedonia was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and Greece sought to claim part of Macedonia for itself.
Today we will take a look at today’s national heroes of Greece who were active during this period and left behind undoubtful evidences of the Macedonian language!
Grecomans and “Macedonian Fighters” from Greece
We recently started a reading series with the topic “Grecomans” – about ethnic Macedonians who joined the Greek cause. This article is almost part of this reading series.
Because Greece had a huge problem in this fight for Macedonia. The Greeks were in the stark minority in Macedonia; the so-called Greek Makedonomachoi (Macedonian fighters) almost all came from the south of Greece.
Through their interaction with the Macedonian Grecomans, as well as during their campaigns in southern Macedonia, or what is now northern Greece, they came into contact with the local population. With the Macedonians and their language!
And precisely those Greek Makedonomachoi left us behind testimonies and evidences that vehemently contradict modern Greek propaganda, or anti-Macedonian propaganda in general! Moreover, these “arguments” are pretty much refuted by these evidences !
They testified the existence of the Macedonian language, and in special cases, today’s Greek national heroes also referred to this language as the Macedonian language! A Greek national hero even wrote his own Greek-Macedonian dictionary…
Greek national heroes in the battle for Macedonia
The period known in Greek historiography as the “Macedonian Struggle” (1904-1908) represented an organized armed intervention by the Greek state against the structures of the Macedonian revolutionary organization.
After the start of the Ilinden Uprising (1903), there was a radical change in the policy of the Greek state towards the Macedonian population and the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (MRO and VMRO/IMRO). The massiveness and unity of Macedonians around the Macedonian revolutionary movement became clear and evident during the uprising. Even the Ottomans ultimately crushed the uprising bloodily, it was evident.
Greece realized that their several decades of intensive efforts to assimilate Macedonians through church and schools had failed. The analyzes carried out by the most competent national factors showed that through these two institutions it was not even possible to assimilate the local Macedonian population. And even less that the Greek state could hope for Macedonian territory in the near future. It was then decided to use other, more effective means to achieve the goal.
Before the official start of the Greek “Macedonian struggle,” the Greek state sent trusted people to Macedonia with the task of conducting on-site research that was later used to shape future propaganda policy in Macedonia. The results of such investigations were often completely contradictory to the ideas and expectations of the state institutions in Athens.
Tsorbatzoglou, clerk and translator at the Greek Embassy in Constantinople
For example, in the spring of 1904, Georgios Tsorbatzoglou, a clerk and translator at the Greek embassy in Constantinople, was sent to Macedonia. During his tour of Voden (Greek, Edessa) and the Voden district, he wrote in a report to the Greek government dated May 27, 1904:
“…The leaders of the city and the young people speak outside more in Greek than in Macedonian…”
Today, however, a Greek official would never use the term Macedonian for the Macedonian language. But let’s see further:
When describing the ethnological physiognomy of the Ser (Greek, Serres) district, he will note that there are two “family groups” in which Greek propaganda could and should have worked.
Namely the groups of “Macedonians” (Macedonian-speaking), the “Orthodox” (Macedonians, patriarchists=followers of the Greek Church) and “schismatics” (Macedonian exarchists=followers of the Bulgarian Church) as well as the “Hellenophones” (Greek-speaking).
In one of his later reports to the Greek government dated July 26, 1904, Tsorbatzoglou, in the section describing the Ilinden uprising, makes a clear distinction between the Supreme Macedonian Committee – VMK, which he called a “purely Bulgarian committee”, and the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization MRO, which he believed was the “Macedonian Committee”. He described the latter as follows:
“…The Macedonian leaders, and perhaps the leaders themselves, have derived their great power under one and only condition of the agreement with the country: on the condition that you have nothing else in mind (have no other goal) except the liberation of the Macedonians as Macedonians…”
Today it would be hard to imagine a Greek official making such statements…
But that was not all. It becomes more concrete in our article:
Pavlos Melas immortalized the Macedonian language in letters to his wife
Another example of a Greek national hero using the term Macedonian language are the letters of the Greek officer Pavlos Melas. During his absence from home he wrote regularly to his wife Natalia Melas. Some of the letters were published in the book “Pavlos Melas” (1926).
The Greek government’s agreement to make concrete preparations for organizing an armed intervention in Macedonia against the MRO structures also meant sending four Greek officers on a reconnaissance mission to Macedonia. They should investigate on site the conditions for their organization to provide armed assistance to Greek propaganda in Macedonia.
Pavlos Melas also belonged to this group of Greek officers who secretly crossed the Greek-Ottoman border towards southern Macedonia at the end of February 1904. They were accompanied by local Macedonian Grecomans, led by the well-known Kote Hristov from the village of Rulja, whose primary goal was the safe transfer of officials from village to village. But also to act as a translator between the local Macedonian population and the foreign Greek officers.
Good evening in Macedonian language
In a letter dated March 16, 1904, Pavlos Melas wrote during their stay in the village of Gabreš, Kostur Region (Greek, Kastoria):
“…We climb up to the barn and you constantly hear “Good evening” in Macedonian from the women (they don’t even speak a word of Greek) and “Welcome brothers” in Greek from the men…”
On the same day, at Kote’s invitation, twelve first-time visitors from the village gathered at the house where the officials were staying. The discussion went as follows, as Melas writes to his wife:
“To them, Kote spoke fluently and convincingly in Macedonian, and Pirzas translated for us.”
While staying in Kote’s home village, Pavlos Melas told his wife on March 17, 1904 that they attended the village school. There the students sang a song for the visitors, but they could not understand whether the language was Macedonian or Greek.
The need to communicate with the local Macedonian population forced Melas to learn a few Macedonian words, and so in a letter dated March 21, 1904, he wrote to his wife about his stay in the village of Oštima:
“…I learned the hard way the Macedonian words that I say to women and mothers…”
Clear statements from the Greek national hero Pavlos Melas, whose statements are in stark contrast to today’s Greek doctrine!
Namesake also mentions the Macedonian language
A namesake of Pavlos Melas, the writer and journalist Spyros Melas, also mentioned the Macedonian language. In his work “Oi Polemoi 1912-1913”. In that work Melas describes how Greek soldiers tried to buy products. Unfortunately unsuccessful as nothing is in stock.
In this context he mentions that one hears the same answer from Macedonian locals everywhere.
“Occasionally, alongside the chicken hunting, cackling and noises, a village woman would suddenly appear and start cursing in her own heavy (difficult) Macedonian language. The soldiers offered their money and sought who they should compensate for the damages and buy bread, wine, tsipuro, butter, cheese and other eatables. Instead, they received in return the same stereotypical answer that they first heard outside Nausa, where they met the first Slavic-speaking villager who answered us with his head bowed, the answer we received everywhere, from the outskirts of Thessaloniki and everyone else On the way to Florina it was the same melancholy answer to all our demands: ‘Nema‘ – there is none.”
This short passage is essential for Macedonian history. Because it is precisely this passage that refutes modern anti-Macedonian propaganda, no matter who spread it:
- Melas says that the Macedonian language can be heard from the outskirts of Saloniki to Lerin (Greek, Florina).
- Melas repeatedly and here explicitly refers to this language as the Macedonian language
- Melas records a word he heard from Macedonians: Nema!
The third point is particularly important. According to today’s modern Bulgarian and Greek propaganda, Macedonians only spoke Bulgarian. But Melas refutes this thesis of modern nationalists. In Bulgarian, Nema is spelled and spoken as Njama!
But Melas told us that you can hear “Nema” everywhere, starting from the outskirts of the Macedonian metropolis of Salonika! Checkmate!
The Macedonian dictionary by the Greek national hero Kapetan Vardas
The next historical source, written by a Greek national hero, that crucially highlights the existence of the Macedonian language and the need for translators for mutual understanding between Macedonians and Greeks is the diary of the most important Andart leader in South Macedonia (modern-day Northern Greece) during the Greek “Macedonian struggle”.
The “Macedonian fighter” from Crete was called Georgios Tsontos. Also known as Kapetan Vardas.
The Greek publisher Georgios Petsivas published the work “Georgiou Tsontou-Varda, The Macedonian Struggle” in 2003. In the foreword the editor of the work explains:
“…the Makedonomachoi who invade the Macedonian lands have no problems communicating when they come to Siatista and a little further north, where the inhabitants speak Greek. But before Kastoria and of course further north they need translators…”
(Note: Siatista is a small town and a municipality of the municipality of Voio in the west of the regional unit of Kozani in what is now the northern Greek region of Western Macedonia. One can safely say that it is in the absolute south, in the border area with Greece, if one considers Macedonia as a whole.)
As we see, Vardas also describes, like Melas, the further north a Greek went, no more Greek he heard!
The publisher Petsivas’ findings were based primarily on data from the diary of the Cretan Vardas. During the campaigns with his company through the villages of the Bitola district on October 11, 1906, he wrote:
“…Later, at my invitation, the villagers come, with whom I speak with a translator and give them various recommendations…”
Vardas himself saw the need to learn the Macedonian language. As he moved among the local Macedonian population, he realized that only with knowledge of the language spoken by the population would it be easier to promote the Great Greek idea.
…send me a book in Macedonian
With this in mind, on October 22, 1906, he wrote in his diary that he had asked the state for something:
“…send me a book in the Macedonian language, if you have one, so that I can learn it…”
Just three days later, Vardas wrote in his diary:
“…I’m trying to learn the Macedonian language, but I’m finding it very difficult…”
However, he did not give up learning the Macedonian language, on the contrary, he constantly improved his contact with the local population, which he revealed during his stay in the Bitola village of Dragoš on October 28, 1906:
“…In the evening everyone who was with me went to the emergency shelter in some house, I stay alone with the women and talk to them, diligently practicing the language…”
During his stay in Macedonia, Vardas constantly received newspapers from Greece. On August 14, 1907, he noted in his diary that he had been criticized in the Piron newspaper of July 9, 1907:
“…He still hasn’t managed to learn the local language, Macedonian…”
In response to such claims, Vardas wrote that this was not possible because “there is no book or teacher for this language,” but he also publicly pointed out that all future Greek leaders and officers, when they arrive in Macedonia, Should be able to speak Macedonian language.
However, Georgios Tsontas Vardas’s most valuable legacy in relation to the Macedonian language can be found in folder 18 of his archive.
In fact, in his efforts to learn the Macedonian language, he created his own dictionary for his own use. In this dictionary he wrote down a large number of words and dialogues in the Greek language, which he translated into Macedonian and provided with Greek transcription.
The dictionary contains numbers up to a thousand, years, months and days of the week. He then wrote down general phrases for everyday communication under the special heading “How to Say.”
Ion Dragoumis stands directly against Bulgarians
In the novel published in 1907 by one of the main ideologists of the Great Greek idea in Macedonia from the beginning of the 20th century, Ion Dragoumis, entitled “Martiron ke iron ema”, in the discussion between the two main characters of the novel, Alexis, and a Bulgarian officer, the term Macedonian language is used.
Alexis took issue with the official over the Bulgarian claims to Bitola and Bitola District, claiming:
“There are several villages there that speak the Macedonian language you call Bulgarian.”
This short quote from the mouth of a Greek is also of great importance for the history of Macedonia. Dragoumis makes it clear that the Bulgarians themselves refer to the Macedonian language as Bulgarian. Today’s nationalists in Greece stand in stark contrast. However, you don’t seem to have heard of Ion Dragoumis yet…
From the facts from modern Greek history mentioned above in the text, it can be concluded that today’s Greek national heroes were well acquainted with the actual situation in Macedonia in their time.
During their contacts with the local Macedonian population, they easily recognized the ethnic uniqueness of the Macedonians and the Macedonian language compared to their neighboring peoples.
That is why today, more than a century after these findings, it is incomprehensible to deny historical facts on the basis of a certain national ideology, based primarily on a nationalist myth characteristic of the past.
In Greece, attempts have been made to combat the Macedonian language for over a century. Shortly after the work of the national heroes of Greek history listed above, Metaxas established a fascist regime. Since then, Macedonians who spoke the Macedonian language have been persecuted.
This continues almost to this day. We remind you that Greece, as an EU member (as well as Bulgaria), continues to disregard minority and human rights to this day. A Macedonian minority in the country is not recognized.
An analysis by Petros Karatsareas: The Macedonian-Slavic heritage erased through oppression.
Brief information about the Greek national heroes
- Georgios Tsorbatzoglou was an interpreter at the embassy of Greece in Constantinople
- Pavlos Melas was a Greek officer in the Hellenic Army and andart in Macedonia. He was a leader of the Greek liberation struggle against the Turks and the armed church struggle against the Bulgarians in Macedonia
- Georgios Tsontos, also known by the pseudonym Kapetan Vardas, was a Greek guerrilla fighter, general and later politician from Crete. He lived 1871-1942.
- Ion Dragoumis (September 14, 1878 – July 31, 1920) was a Greek diplomat, writer and politician