The Macedonian Abecedar in Greece
By signing the Treaty of Sevres on August 10th, 1920, the Greek government undertook certain obligations regarding “the protection of the non-Greek national minorities in Greece”. Articles 7, 8 and 9 of this treaty stipulated precisely the free use of the minorities’ language, education, religious practice, etc. Bulgaria and the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes interested themselves in the implementation of this treaty, and when Greece realized it was in its interest to sign the “Lesser Protocols” League of Nations, Geneva, 29th September 1924) on the protection of the Greek minority in Bulgaria and the reciprocal protection of the Bulgarian minority in Greece, Sofia launched a campaign in support of the activities initiated by the Joint Greek- Bulgarian Commission for the “voluntary” exchange of minorities. Large numbers of Macedonians were forcibly moved to Bulgaria, and Orthodox Christians from Turkey, Bulgaria and other places were brought to the Aegean part of Macedonia where, as Greeks, they took over the Macedonians’ property.
However, since this met with resolute opposition not only in Sofia but in Belgrade as well, the Greek parliament did not ratify certain relevant clauses of the “Lesser Protocols”. In March 1925 the Council of the League of Nations concerned itself with the situation so created and addressed three questions to the Greek government, insisting particularly on a reply on the measures taken with regards to the needs, the education and the freedom of religious practice of the “Slav speaking minority” in Greece League of Nations, official Journal, Geneva, 6th year, Number 4, April 1925, 478-82, Council 1925, Minutes 32-36). These documents treated the Macedonians neither as a Serbian nor as a Bulgarian minority, but as a “Slav-speaking minority”.
In its reply the Greek government categorically denied the Bulgarian government the right to be interested in the “SIav-speaking minority”, claiming that only the League of Nations could have and had the right to intervene with regard to the rights of this minority. Greece stated that no steps were taken for the protection of the “Slav-speaking minority in Greece” as it had been thought that the convention on reciprocal resettlement would result in “the moving of all Macedonians” beyond the borders of Greece. The Greek government also notified the League of Nations that “measures were being taken towards the opening of schools with instruction in the Slav language in the following school year of 1925/26” and towards granting freedom to practice religion in the Slav language League of Nations, Official Journal, Council, Geneva, 6th year, Number 7, July 1925, 950, Anne 772, C. 296/I/.1925,I). The primer intended for the Macedonian children in this part of Macedonia, entitled ABECEDAR, was offered as an argument in support of this statement. This primer, prepared by a special government commission and published by the Greek government in Athens in 1925, was written in the Lerin- Bitola vernacular (even though Bitola was not within the Greek borders!) but printed in a specially adapted Latin alphabet (instead of the traditional Cyrillic, which was the official alphabet of Bulgaria and Serbia). Many primers written mainly in Macedonian and intended for schools in Macedonia were published in the 19th century, but this was the first primer for Macedonians written and published by a legitimate government for its citizens and under the aegis of the League of Nations.
This significant act on the part of the Greek government was condemned outright by both Belgrade and Sofia. The former proved that those for whom the primer was intended were in fact “Serbs”, whereas the latter claimed that they were “Bulgarians”. Bulgaria commissioned its outstanding philologists and Slavists to help its diplomats and Belgrade inspired petitions from two ailari villages (written in Serbian!) which were sent to the League of Nations. These petitions stated that the signatories were “Serbs by nationality” and that they demanded their rights “as a national minority” and also a “Serbian school” in order to “protect their language from enforced Graecization” (United Nations Library and Archives, Geneva, Doc. nr. 41/46069 x /46069/ 4.I.1926. Petition, 20.VIII 1925). At the same time, propaganda activities were undertaken among the population of these villages, promising free land and Serbian priests and teachers to those who declared themselves as Serbs. ” (United Nations Library and Archives, Geneva, Doc. nr. 41/46069 x 46069/ 4.I.1926). The Greek government’s immediate response was another petition from the same village (Birinci), signed October 16th, 1925, in which the signatories claimed that “in this region there are no Serbs, nor are there any Serbian institutions, and consequently the Serbian language is not used” ” (United Nations Library and Archives, Geneva, Doc. nr. 41/47096/11974/, Telegramme 16.X.1925).
The League of Nations used this statement to ask, in writing, the following question: the Greek government claims that this population does not speak Serbian, but does not say “what the language they speak in is”. At the last moment before the deadline the Greek government replied by cable saying that “the population of these villages knows neither the Serbian nor the Bulgarian language and speaks nothing but a Slav- Macedonian idiom” (” (United Nations Library and Archives, Geneva, Doc. nr. 41/46069 x /46069/ 4.I.1926/ v.: Aide – Memoire – Petitions des habitants du village de Nalban Coja). Thus the Greek government officially recognized for the first time the separate national entity of the Macedonians within Greece’s borders, which is also clearly confirmed by the pure language of the primer, ABECEDAR, published in Greece.
Following the stormy and violent reaction in the press of the three monarchies the Greek government decided, with relief, not to introduce the primer, which was already published, into Macedonian schools.
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