Workers Vanguard No. 1142
19 October 2018
For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans!
Greece: Chauvinist Frenzy over Macedonia
Part One (Part Two)
The following is the first part of an article translated from O Bolsevikos (April 2018), newspaper of our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece. Subsequent to the publication of the article, the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia signed an agreement in June that Athens would no longer veto Macedonia joining the European Union (EU) and NATO if the country changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia (Severna Makedonija). It is the imperialists, centrally the U.S., who are driving this deal. As the New York Times (9 October) reports, shortly after the agreement was announced, U.S. officials said that “the State Department, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s European Command” were “already on the case” to counter opposition from Russia.
On September 30, a referendum was held in Macedonia that posed the question: “Are you in favor of membership in NATO and the European Union by accepting the deal between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?” As opponents of imperialism and defenders of Macedonian national rights, we revolutionary Marxists would have categorically called for a “No” vote. In fact, the referendum failed because only one-third of the electorate voted, far below the required 50 percent threshold. Those who did turn out voted in favor by a large majority.
The large number of people who stayed away indicates strong popular opposition to changing the name of Macedonia and to the strong-arming of its people by the U.S. and EU imperialists. Nonetheless, Washington made clear that the agreement would be implemented no matter what. Hailing the “yes” vote, the U.S. State Department declared: “The United States strongly supports the Agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU.” The Macedonian government has dutifully pledged to hold a parliamentary vote to change the country’s name.
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On January 21 in Thessaloniki and February 4 in Athens, hundreds of thousands took part in chauvinist demonstrations demanding no use of the term “Macedonia” by the Republic of Macedonia in its name. Participants in those reactionary demonstrations included [bourgeois parties] New Democracy, PASOK, ANEL and hordes of the faithful organized by the [Greek Orthodox] church, as well as retired officers and paramilitary organizations. Spearheading the mob were the fascists of Golden Dawn. In Thessaloniki, the fascists screeched, “The city belongs to the nationalists” before attacking the social center “Sxoleio,” frequented by anarchists, setting fire to the “Libertatia” squat and vandalizing the Holocaust memorial.
Metropolitan [Bishop] Anthimos, speaking inside his church in Thessaloniki, called for support to the demonstrations and intoned: “Wherever Macedonia is, Greece is too and wherever Greece is, Macedonia is too.” This is the same bishop who in 2014 threatened to mobilize youth in Thessaloniki to destroy street signs that commemorate famous Turks in the city. The Orthodox church is a central pillar of the Greek state, a bastion of Greek chauvinism and all-sided reaction. A key demand for the workers movement in Greece is for full separation of church and state.
Greek-chauvinist hysteria over the use of the term “Macedonia” previously erupted after the Republic of Macedonia declared independence in 1991 amid the imperialist-instigated breakup of the deformed workers state in Yugoslavia—a capitalist counterrevolution that was both driven by and gave rise to a nationalist bloodbath. The following year in Greece, enormous demonstrations of up to a million people broke out, with banners declaring: “Macedonia Is Greek.” The Greek ruling class and its Orthodox church insist that the very name Macedonia is exclusively Greek property dating back to antiquity and that “Macedonian” is no more than a “geographical” designation of the citizens in Greece’s northern province of the same name. With Athens intransigent, for almost three decades the Macedonian Republic has been referred to in international bodies as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greek chauvinists contemptuously refer to the neighboring country only as “Skopje” [its capital].
The installation in May 2017 of a new government in Macedonia, with a coalition led by Zoran Zaev’s Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia replacing the right-wing nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, has been seized on by the U.S. and European imperialists, and by Syriza, as an opportunity to pressure Macedonia into a compromise over the naming issue. The imperialists, with the support of Syriza, seek to clear a path for the country’s membership in NATO and the EU, which Greece has hitherto vetoed. One of the U.S. imperialists’ chief aims is to undermine Russia’s influence in Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans. As Marxist revolutionaries we oppose on principle both the blood-soaked NATO military alliance and the imperialist EU. NATO out of the Balkans! Close down Souda Base and all the other U.S. bases in Greece! Down with the EU and the euro! Greece out now!
The government of Macedonia has already made concessions by changing the name of its international airport and its main highway to remove references to Alexander the Great. But that is not enough to placate the arrogant Greek chauvinists, who demand that the Republic of Macedonia change its constitution to remove articles that describe the nationality and language of the Slavic population of Macedonia as “Macedonian,” as well as the article that says that “the Republic takes an interest in the situation and the rights of those in neighboring countries who belong to the Macedonian people as well as expatriate Macedonians” (“The Constitution of FYROM Abounds with Irredentist References,” Kathimerini, 24 January).
For Self-Determination of Greece’s Macedonian Minority!
Greek chauvinists insist that any use by the Republic of the term “Macedonia” or references to Macedonians in Greece imply irredentist claims on Greek territory. Macedonia is a tiny country, with a population of only two million, one quarter of whom are ethnic Albanians. But Greece is also a Balkan country, with national questions of its own. The Greek capitalist state is the only one in the Balkans which does not recognize the existence of any national minorities within its borders. Ethnic Macedonians are officially referred to as “Slavophone Greeks” while the Turks of Western Thrace (as well as Pomaks and Roma, who speak other languages) are called “Greek Muslims.” In reality, despite decades of ethnic cleansing and forced Hellenization, a Macedonian population continues to exist concentrated near the border with the Republic of Macedonia.
The Macedonian population has been subjected to systematic discrimination and horrific oppression at the hands of the Greek state. They have been forced to change their names and the names of their villages; their language and culture is prohibited; Macedonian rights activists are persecuted. The hostility of the Greek bourgeoisie toward Macedonians is fueled by the central role that they played in the Communist-led forces during the [1946-49] Civil War. In 1982, the first PASOK government allowed the return from exile of Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) fighters of Greek origin, while Macedonians who fought with the Communists remained stripped of Greek citizenship and continue even today to be denied visas to visit families in Greece. Even to suggest the existence of a Macedonian minority in Greece is enough to unleash a furious chauvinist backlash. Not surprisingly, a climate of fear reigns in the Macedonian areas.
As an integral part of our struggle to forge the nucleus of an internationalist, Leninist workers party in Greece, the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE) fights to break the working class from Greek chauvinism in order to fight for proletarian revolution. We fight for the right of the Macedonian minority to self-determination, which means the right of ethnic Macedonians to separate and form their own state or to unite with the existing state of Macedonia. We oppose all discrimination against the various national minorities that live within the borders of Greece—Turks, Arvanites, Vlachs, Pomaks and others—as well as ethnic groups like Roma and fight for their full democratic rights.
In 1992, the chauvinist backlash over Macedonia was whipped up by Greece’s ruling circles against a backdrop of intense working-class struggles against austerity and union-busting. Today also, after a decade of desperate struggles by the working masses against the attacks of the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie—carried out now by the “left” government of the capitalist Syriza party—Greek nationalism is wielded by those hostile to the interests of the working class, to weaken and divide it and to derail its struggles.
Nationalism is poison for the proletariat and directly counterposed to what is so urgently needed today—internationalist solidarity and common class struggle by workers against their bosses throughout the EU. It is not only in poorer countries like Greece and Ireland that workers have suffered from EU austerity. In the most powerful European country, Germany, workers’ living standards have also been ground down to boost the bosses’ profits. It is in the direct interest of Greek workers to oppose the attempts of the capitalists and their hangers-on to whip up chauvinism against their Macedonian, Turkish or German class brothers and sisters.
The working class in Greece will not be able to fight for its own interests and for a victorious proletarian revolution unless it breaks with nationalism—a bourgeois ideology which acts to chain the working people to their exploiters in the so-called “national” interest. Workers have no interests in common with the bosses. It is the task of Leninists to combat Greek chauvinism among the workers and to educate them in the spirit of genuine internationalism, just as our German comrades combat the EU’s crushing of Greek working people at the behest of the German and other imperialist monopolies. A party capable of leading the working class to power at the head of all the oppressed, to expropriate the capitalists and rebuild society in the interests of the working people, must act as “the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects” (V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? ). In the Balkans, national antagonisms have repeatedly produced rivers of blood but, led by a party modeled on Lenin’s Bolsheviks, the struggle against national oppression can also act as a motor force for proletarian revolution.
It was the chauvinist agitation around Macedonia in 1992—in which Syriza’s predecessors in Synaspismos played a full role—that enabled the fascists of Golden Dawn to emerge from their rat holes. Today, in the absence of a working-class leadership that offers a revolutionary way out of the impasse in the country, the despair engendered by the capitalist economic crisis is providing fertile ground for the fascists to grow. That Golden Dawn was able to march unhindered at the head of more than 100,000 reactionaries in Athens is due to the treachery of the reformist leadership of the working class, especially of the KKE [Communist Party of Greece], which has the numbers and influence in the working class to lead a counteroffensive but instead issues liberal calls to “isolate” the fascists and preaches reliance on the capitalist state. It is urgently necessary to build united-front mobilizations, centered on the social power of the organized working class, to stop Golden Dawn and their ilk before it is too late.
KKE: Once Again in the Service of the Bourgeoisie
The reaction of the Stalinist KKE to the renewed bourgeois campaign over Macedonia has been its customary capitulation to Greek nationalism. In a February 5 statement “regarding the developments with FYROM [!],” the KKE distances itself from the right-wing “Macedonia is Greece” crowd, calling “upon the people to isolate those nationalist, fascist powers that exploit their legitimate concern in order to sow the poison of nationalism and homeland mongering” and claims that in 1992 the party “stood against the dominant nationalist trend that all the other political parties were cultivating” (kke.gr). But this is just window-dressing for the KKE’s own brand of nationalist populism.
In an article in its theoretical journal Kommounistiki Epitheorisi (No. 2, 2018), the KKE tries to outdo even the chauvinism of [Greek prime minister] Tsipras: “A real solution means guarantees of the elimination of irredentism, nationalism, [territorial] claims, ensuring the inviolability of the borders, which means changes now, not in the near future, to the Constitution of the FYROM.” The KKE insists that any name adopted by the Republic “must have a strictly geographical definition.”
In the same article, parroting the worst Greek chauvinists, the KKE declares baldly that: “A historically formed ‘Macedonian’ nation, ‘Macedonian’ ethnicity, ‘Macedonian’ language, which form the basis of irredentism and raise questions of the existence of a minority, claims and defense of its rights etc., do not exist.” The Macedonian people, however, have fought long and hard to exist as a nation with their own language and culture, regardless of the opinions of chauvinist Greek Stalinists. The KKE would never question the pedigree of the Greek nation. One could observe that for centuries under the Byzantines and the Ottomans, Greeks mainly referred to themselves as “Romans” and the development of a national consciousness in Greece, as elsewhere in the Balkans, began only in the late 18th century amid the decay of the Ottoman empire.
The borders of capitalist Greece, which the KKE regards as sacrosanct and inviolable, largely reflect the amount of land that the Greek bourgeoisie was able to grab in the Second Balkan War in 1913 as Greece and Serbia fought Bulgaria to divide up the strategic province of Macedonia. At that time, the peasant population of the territories seized by Greece was mainly Macedonian-speaking, while in Thessaloniki, the largest ethnic group was the Ladino-speaking Jewish population. The founding cadre of what was to become Greek Communism emerged from this rich, cosmopolitan environment.
Today’s KKE upholds imperialist treaties such as that of Bucharest in 1913, which ended the Second Balkan War and put the seal on Greece’s annexations in Epirus and Macedonia (including Thessaloniki). But especially in the Balkans, with its patchwork of nationalities, state boundaries do not at all correspond to the geographical extent of the various nations. The annexations by the bourgeois powers are inevitably followed by mass expulsions (“ethnic cleansing”) and/or forcible assimilation of national minorities. The KKE’s defense of the status quo in the Balkans is a flat denial of the right of self-determination.
Our program on the national question is that of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. In tsarist Russia—that “prison house of peoples”—the Bolsheviks were champions of the national rights of all the peoples oppressed by the dominant Great Russian chauvinism. Lenin’s party fought for the equality of all nations and for the right of all nations to self-determination, i.e., their right to separate. By demonstrating in practice, not just in words, that they would wage a fight to the death against Great Russian chauvinism, the Bolsheviks were able to mobilize the yearning of the oppressed peoples for national freedom as a mighty force for the October Revolution, winning the proletarian and peasant masses to the fight, alongside their Great Russian class brothers, for the overthrow of all the bourgeois and landlord exploiters.
While the KKE’s groveling to its “own” bourgeoisie is amply demonstrated in its grotesque appeals to 100-year-old imperialist treaties in order to defend the territorial integrity of capitalist Greece, Lenin was quite explicit what the position of genuine communists should be:
“In the internationalist education of the workers of the oppressor countries, emphasis must necessarily be laid on their advocating freedom for the oppressed countries to secede and their fighting for it. Without this there can be no internationalism. It is our right and duty to treat every Social-Democrat [i.e., communist] of an oppressor nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as a scoundrel and an imperialist. This is an absolute demand, even where the chance of secession being possible and ‘practicable’ before the introduction of socialism is only one in a thousand.
“It is our duty to teach the workers to be ‘indifferent’ to national distinctions [not “discriminations” as the KKE translates it]. There is no doubt about that. But it must not be the indifference of the annexationists. A member of an oppressor nation must be ‘indifferent’ to whether small nations belong to his state or to a neighbouring state or to themselves, according to where their sympathies lie: without such ‘indifference’ he is not a Social-Democrat. To be an internationalist Social-Democrat one must not think only of one’s own nation, but place above it the interests of all nations, their common liberty and equality. Everyone accepts this in ‘theory’ but displays an annexationist indifference in practice. There is the root of the evil.”
— “The Discussion on Self- Determination Summed Up” (July 1916)
[TO BE CONTINUED] – Part Two