Essays English 2010 - Memory and its Role in Conflict Collective Memory on the Greek Civil War

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Collective Memory on the Greek Civil War

Collective Memory on the Greek Civil War

Course: Memory and its role in conflict and conflict transformation
Lecturer: Orli Fridman

Collective Memory of the Greek Civil War: The Case of the Refugee Children

Course participant: Irena Avirovic, Skopje, Macedonia

As a result of the Greek Civil War of 1946-49, which saw both Macedonian and Greek Communists fighting alongside against the radical right wing in Greece, thousands of ethnic Macedonians were prosecuted or forced to leave the country. Among the refugees, whose number has been contested over the years, there were approximately 28.000 children (i) commonly known as the Refugee Children (Decata Begalci in Macedonian language). During 1948, the partisans helped the systematic evacuation of thousands of children from their native villages in Northern Greece; they were separated from their parents and transported to People’s Republic of Macedonia or Eastern Bloc countries, accompanied by young women, the so-called mothers. (ii)  It is the collective memory of the Refugee Children which I will try to examine in this essay in reference with the course attended and the case studies elaborated: the mnemonic memory in Israel, memory and denial in Srebrenica and memory and amnesia of the Spanish Civil War.
In the attempt of mapping the time (iii) of what happened to the ethnic Macedonian Refugee Children after the Greek Civil War, according to their collective memory, we would outline the following milestones:

1948 – “Exodus of the Refugee Children”. (iv)  In 1948-49 an estimated number of 70.000 ethnic Macedonians were exiled from Greece. (v) Among them 28.000 were children. As the Nakba (‘catastrophe’) is the key event in the Palestinian calendar (vi) , the evacuation in 1948 is meaningful for the Macedonian refugees from Greece. It symbolizes their struggle; difficult war conditions, family dispersion, and impossibility to return back home.

 

1982 - Greek enabled the Amnesty Law (Law No. 106841) which permitted political exiles from the civil war to return in Greece. (vii) The Law applied exclusively to “Greeks by genus”, that is, Greeks by birth, excluding ethnic Macedonians and other non-Greeks which remained without their citizenship. (viii)

1985 – Greek government passed Law No. 1540, which allowed political exiles from the civil war to claim their confiscated properties. Again, the Law applied solely to ethnic Greeks, excluding any other nationality. (ix)

1988 – First meeting of the Refugee Children in Skopje, at the Treska Lake. The reunion gathered child refugees from the Greek Civil War from all over the world and was repeated in 1998, 2003 and 2008. In the past three decades, the Refugee Children in the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian Diaspora have been increasingly active. In Macedonia alone, they founded more than 20 associations, among which the most notable are: the Association of the Children Refugees from the Aegean Part of Macedonia, Makedon, St. German etc.

1991 – The Republic of Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. As most of the states worldwide, Independence Day for Macedonians is of crucial importance. (x) Besides symbolizing, in general, the brake-up with the socialist past, for the refugees of the civil war it represents a new era in terms of their struggle for human and national rights. (xi)  In fact, the case of the Macedonian refugees from the civil war, was somehow suffocated during Tito’s Yugoslavia, as well as many other cases of genocides committed within the country during World War II, in the name of brotherhood and unity, and in order to develop multiethnic stability and coexistence. The latter historic amnesia resembles the case of the Spanish Civil War, where nationalist and republicans agreed to forget the crimes of the civil war in order to establish a “healthy democratic society” after the fall of Franco’s regime in 1975.  However, the case re-emerged in the following years and eventually in 2007 a Law on Historical Memory was passed in Spain.  The Law No 52 acknowledges the injustice committed to the Spaniards in political exile, gives them the possibility to obtain the Spanish citizenship and favors those who suffered and were persecuted during the civil war and the dictatorship. (xii) In effect, making memories public affirms identity, tames trauma and asserts […] political and moral claims to justice (xiii) and this has not been the case of the Refugee Children, whose collective memory has not been affirmed and their right to citizenship and/or property has been denied in the previous decades by the Greek government.  Only after the independence in 1991, their activity became louder in the public space of Macedonia and it spread in Greece to a lesser extent.

1993 – Macedonia was admitted as a member of the United Nation under the provisory reference FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). After signing the Interim Agreement in 1995, a semantic and political dispute with Greece over Macedonia’s constitutional name started under UN auspices, and remains unresolved to the present. Namely, Greece opposes the use of the name Macedonia by its northern neighbor claiming the term is part of the Greek national heritage and that Skopje has territorial pretensions towards South. (xiv) Furthermore, the name dispute blocked Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts since Greece blocked its integration in NATO in April 2008 and against setting date for the negotiations with the EU in December 2009.

Today, the role of memory of the Refugee Children is considered to be crucial in the struggle for human and national rights of all Macedonians concerned by the name dispute with Greece and especially the right less and not recognized Macedonian minority in Greece. (xv) After many decades of amnesia in Yugoslavia, denial of the right to citizenship, property and moral compensation and lack of public affirmation by the Greek state, the voices of the Refugee Children has started to be listened. In fact, the current Macedonian government is particularly involved in the case of the refugees from Aegean or Greek Macedonia, through projects, commemoration activities and publications. However, everything is based on their narratives, personal or collective memory. In most cases, birth certificates, property papers and other documents are absent.

Can memory be the basis for claims to justice? (xxvi)

Endnotes:

i Todor Hristov Simovski, The Inhabited Places of the Aegean Macedonia, Skopje: Zdruzhenie na decata begalci od Egejskiot del na Makedonija: Pechatnica: “Goce Delcev”, 1998, pp. XXV-XXVII.
ii The mothers were usually younger women from the villages, who accompanied and took care of the Refugee Children during their evacuation from Greece and in their journey to the poorhouses in a country of Eastern Europe or Macedonia.
iii For a detailed research on time, history and collective memory see Eviatar Zerubavel, Time Maps, Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past, Chicago and London: The University Chicago Press, 2003.
iv The Historian Risto Kirjazovski (a Refugee Children himself) insists that the term exodus or evacuation is not suitable for the events in 1948. He claims it was a well planned and accomplished action, whose ultimate goal was ethnic cleansing of the population in Greek Macedonia. For more information consult his book Pette sudbonosni godini vo Egejska Makedonija (1945-1949), (Five Crucial Years in Aegean Macedonia, 1945-49), Skopje: Zdruzhenie na decata begalci od Egejskiot del na Makedonija, 2009.
v Irena Avirovic, Patterns of Migration – Patterns of Segregation? A Macedonian Case Study, Saarbrucken, vi During the Palestinian expulsion or the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, 80 percent of the Palestinians became refugees. For further details on Nakba, memory and history, consult Laila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa’di, “Introduction: the Claim of Memory,” in Laila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa’di (eds.) Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, Columbia University Press, 2007.
vii After the civil war, the Greek legislation forbade all political exiles who took part in the National Liberation Front (NLF) and had fought  the Greek government  to return to Greece. In addition, their citizenship and properties were confiscated. For more information see Svetomir Shkaric, Dimitar Apasiev, Vladimir Patchev (eds), “Oficijalnite stavovi kon Makedoncite vo Grcija i vo Bugarija”, in Sporot za Imeto, Grcija I Makedonija, Student’s project, Skopje: JP Sluzben vesnik na RM, 2008.
viii Council of Europe: Discriminatory Laws against Macedonian Political Refugees from Greece. Available on:
http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc08/EDOC11754.htm
x For more details on national calendars and social shape of the past consult Eviatar Zerubavel, op.cit.
xi The demands of the Refugee Children of the Greek Civil War are available on the official web site of the United Macedonian Diaspora on
http://umdiaspora.org/content/view/55/9/
xii The Law on Historic Memory in Spain is available on http://leymemoria.mjusticia.es/paginas/en/ley_memoria.html
xiii Augé as quoted in Laila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa’di, op.cit., p.3.
xiv In the late 1980s, Skopje was swamp with slogans ‘Thessaloniki is ours’ and some history books
were showing ethno-geographic maps of Greater Macedonia including Aegean Macedonia (the Macedonian equivalent for Central, Western and Eastern Macedonia in Northern Greece and part of the Pirin region in Bulgaria). However, in 1995, the administration from Skopje changed the Constitution in order to give Greece the guarantee that the Greek borders can not be endangered by its Northern neighbour. Furthermore, the Republic of Macedonia changed its national flag, which featured the Vergina Sun, claimed by Athens as a Greek symbol.
xv Greece does not recognize the existence of national minorities, except a Muslim one.
xvi Laila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa’di (eds.), op.cit., p.22.