Macedonia: Reaching Out to Win Latin American Hearts and Minds

To Our Readers:

In order to assure fairness and address concerns regarding the
neutrality of COHA, Senior Research Fellow, Zlatko Kovach due to his
Macedonian descent, COHA would welcome responses of other points of
view in its “Forum”. It is our hopes that this would bring about
verbose discussion of the topic at hand, insuring objectiveness, and
prevent the possibility that a conflict of interest may arise.

On the eve of the explosive consequences of Kosovo’s independence, an artificial “dispute,” created by Greece seventeen years ago over the name and identity of the Republic of Macedonia, threatens to further destabilize the Balkans, with possibly uncontrolled consequences for regional peace. Incredibly, far off Latin America may help diffuse this situation and offer a solution.

Greece falsely accuses Macedonia that the latter is engaged in irredentism and hostile propaganda — not to mention Greece’s preposterous claim that Macedonia does not have the right to its own name and to its historical, ethnic, and religious identity. Demonstrably, Greece’s moves are suspect: Macedonia historically and culturally did transcend the country’s current borders. In 1912-13, through two brutal regional wars, Macedonia was forcefully partitioned among Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The Macedonians were subject to qualified genocide and many were driven from their land.

It is this reality that Greece tirelessly tries to cover up. Human Rights Watch, among other credible organizations, has documented the existence of on-going discrimination against the remaining Macedonians in Greece. In fact, until recently, Greece had legal provisions preventing exiled Macedonians from entering Greece in order to claim title of their family property. This context should help explain the “name dispute,” the endless Greek misinformation campaigns, the hostile posturing, and attempts to censor and trivialize Macedonian claims, but now via more refined methods involving international mechanisms, in the hope of gaining legitimacy via international sanctions of Macedonia.

Latin America and the Recognition of Macedonia
Greece’s campaign to wipe Macedonia from the map has been in effect for well over a century. In recent months, Greece has intensified its anti-Macedonian campaign in the United States and in the European Union, as well as in Latin America, at a time when Macedonia’s prospective stability is critically important as the country inches closer to European Union and NATO membership. Instead of its maliciously preventing Macedonia from establishing ties with Latin America, Greece should refrain from transferring its baseless European dispute to Latin America. Rather, it should take a leaf of history from recent Latin American successes at improving neighborly relations and area cooperation, such as the spate of local agreements now coming to life: Mercosur, CAN and Alba, to name a few.

Last year, for example, the name of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez was brazenly invoked by the Greek propaganda machine against Macedonia. During a visit to the United States, one of Macedonia’s political leaders was surprised to be questioned by U.S. officials over whether he had earlier entered into secret meetings with Chávez. This was one of a number of rumors that was being maliciously spread by the powerful Greek lobby in the United States which, we are lead to believe, coordinates its activities with those of the Greek ambassador to the U.S., Alexandros Mallias. The Greek interest was clearly to injure Macedonia’s ties with the United States by exploiting current U.S.-Venezuela difficulties. Chávez, for his part, had been surprised to learn that there exists a descendant of Alexander the Great, referring to Srdjan Kerim, the former Macedonian foreign minister who recently assumed the Presidency of the UN General Assembly.

The Latin American Angle
A competition has thus been steadily developing for winning Latin America’s hearts and minds regarding the issue of the recognition of Macedonia. Faced with a concerted Greek effort to block Macedonia internationally, bilateral recognition has become the ticket for Macedonia’s survival. This is understandable: at a time when war was raging in the Balkans in the 1990s, Greece’s campaign against Macedonia included a three-year illegal embargo and an economic blockage of Macedonia, which was also directed against international institutions dealing with the country. As a result, factories in Macedonia were shut down; crops rotted in the fields; emigration of Macedonians in search of slightly better living standards accelerated. What is most troubling is that the bulk of the émigrés included the young and the educated along with complete households and families. Some of these destinations included, Canada, Australia, and some Latin American countries such as Argentina or the Dominican Republic. At the time, a former Macedonian minister, Jane Miljoski, summed up Greece’s actions against Macedonia: “murder without bullets.”

Yet, the murdering of Macedonia’s identity continues in every respect and has finally reached a new level of paranoia: recently, Greece labeled any use of Alexander the Great’s name by Macedonia as hostile propaganda. It has attempted to officially prohibit the singing of a song at sporting events that mentions Alexander the Great. Putting the bizarre proposition of censoring another country’s musical preferences aside, many Greeks seem unaware of, or oblivious to, the historical fact that it was the Macedonian forces of Alexander the Great, led by his father King Philip II of Macedon, that beat the entire Greek army at Chaeronea in 338 B.C. and conquered the modern Greeks’ ancestors. The battle of Chaeronea had established Macedonian hegemony over Greece in ancient times; Greeks did not regain their independence until 1827, that is, until 181 years ago.

Some Recent Balkan and Latin American History
Despite Greece’s obstruction of Macedonia’s diplomatic recognition, some countries like Peru, Paraguay, and Suriname have had the courage to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name. Others, like Brazil or Argentina, have been more circumspect, but have nonetheless extended recognition and established diplomatic ties with the “Macedonian government.” Still others, such as Chile, have completely ignored the argument, perhaps driven by more profitable considerations. Chile has so completely fallen under Greek sway that it does not even want to even hear about recognizing Macedonia under its centuries-old name. All seems “fair” in this pathetic game of pandering for influence, and Chile’s example may be influenced by the existence of such flourishing institutions as the “Fotios Malleros” Centre of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Santiago, the only one of its kind in Latin America. Perhaps Macedonia too will have to build a Center for Ancient and Contemporary Macedonian History near La Moneda in downtown Santiago. Meanwhile, most of the world’s leading regional historians such as Dr. Eugene Borza of Pennsylvania State University or Dr. Ernst Badian of Harvard, agree that the ancient Macedonians of Alexander the Great — the ancestor’s of today’s Macedonians — were a distinct, non-Greek people, conscious and proud of their Macedonian ethnicity, customs, and their name.

Greek Presence in Latin America
The Macedonian presence in Latin America has been rather limited, given the relatively small number of diplomatic missions, exchanges of official visits, and limited trade and economic activity involving it. However, the Greek émigré communities in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Panama, like Greek enclaves elsewhere, are fired up and fanatically supporting the local manifestations of Greece’s discriminatory stand against Macedonia. Despite the great geographical distance that separates the Balkans from Latin America, Greece’s influence in the region has made headway by being assisted by the early start that Athens has had in developing relations there at a time when they were not being burdened by any fractious issue. Furthermore, the cooperation of pro-Greece Cyprus with much of Latin America, within the framework of the Movement of the Non-Aligned Countries, has also helped Greece promote its ascendancy. Ever since Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou visited Mexico in 1986 for the first time in an official capacity, Greece’s influence has steadily grown, which includes opening embassies in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, and in recent years in Cuba, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru.

Latin America, however, is slowly learning that when it comes to irredentism, it is Greece that threatens Macedonia, and not the reverse. Greece is several times larger and economically far more powerful than Macedonia, in addition to it being a NATO and a European Union member. When Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it explicitly foreswore territorial claims against anyone. As a response to the anti-Macedonian sentiment that then developed in Greece, Macedonia even changed its constitution and its flag to show its peaceful intentions and express its desire for good neighborly relations, reflecting a long-standing policy. Macedonia could not pursue irredentism against Greece even if it wanted to; it is dependent for its very economic survival on the port of Salonica, which Greece acquired in the wars of 1912-13. By contrast, Greece toyed with Serbia’s Milosevic about partitioning Macedonia. Just three months ago, two leaders of the state-sponsored Greek Orthodox Church independently called for Greece to annex by force the southern territories of Macedonia.

Concession after Concession
With such a prejudicial atmosphere in fighting for its very survival after declaring its independence, Macedonia agreed to an unprecedented step: to be admitted into the UN under a temporary provisional reference “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” It was agreed that this provisional reference will be used only within the UN and for a period of two months. No other country has thus far been made to adhere to such additional, extralegal requirements to join the UN, and the demands on Macedonia appear to be well beyond the scope of the UN Charter. The full UN provisional reference is not to be confused with a meaningless and nonexistent word “FYROM” which Greece has tried to insert rather than Macedonia’s formal name.

Mentioned earlier was the fact that in order to show good neighborly relations and peaceful intentions, while under the weight of an economic blockade by Greece, Macedonia took other unprecedented steps: it changed its national flag and the provision in the Macedonian constitution which stated that Macedonia will care for its nationals abroad. These actions were taken despite the fact that there is a similar article in the Greek constitution, and that no demands have been placed on Greece whatsoever.

Macedonia was also pressured by Greece and the “international community” to sign with Athens an Interim Accord in 1995 in an effort to come to a mutually agreeable solution to the stand-off. U.S. Ambassador Matthew Niemetz has been named a UN Special Envoy to work with the two nations to achieve a solution regarding Macedonia’s formal status. While it would be wise for the countries to talk over their differences, the process inevitably has turned into an initiative to rename Macedonia and to transform its identity.

The Interim Accord further demeans Macedonia because in placating Greece, it does not refer to countries but to parties: as “first party” and as “second party,” presumably referring to Greece and Macedonia, though one would be hard pressed to initially find out. In essence, the agreement places demands on Macedonia, while it does not place comparable responsibilities on Greece, save for the clause that Greece should not block Macedonia in entering international institutions if it does so under the UN provisional reference. Yet, Greece’s leaders have most recently even threatened to veto Macedonia’s entry into NATO. In fact, Greece continues to use its existing diplomatic connections and to lobby the world against Macedonia’s entry in any international organizations (or against bilateral recognition), particularly in the European Union. Despite the incessant talk of protecting fundamental human rights, the European Union has displayed a penchant for hypocrisy by accepting Greece’s stand toward Macedonia.

Making Mockery of Fundamental Rights and International Law
Greece has dug itself into a hole and given the set timetable afforded by Macedonia’s prospective NATO membership, the United States now finds itself pressuring Macedonia to accept one of Niemetz’s “exotic” triple formulae or another alleged solution. This process contains one name for internal use in Macedonia, another for Greece to refer to Macedonia as it chooses, and yet another name for international use. A more recent Niemetz proposal has been the “Democratic Republic of Macedonia.” This putatively is more potable for the Macedonians to swallow, but the proposal has hidden clauses that prohibit the Macedonians to refer to themselves as such. Instead of being Macedonians, Niemetz’s proposal would have them become “Democratic Republican Macedonians” or unnamed “people of the DRM.” Similarly, Niemetz would have the 120 countries which recognized Macedonia as such under the new name — a new twist to this mockery of international law and order.

The bottom line is that the basis for the new proposed names is all but meaningless as the essence of Athens’ plan for Macedonia is to show that it is “permitted” by Greece to use its given name. Any change of Macedonia’s name would give credence to Greece’s self-satisfying mythology that the Macedonians have no roots in ancient Macedonia but are an artificial nation created by Yugoslavia’s Tito — or a similar outrage against historical reality that only envenomed politicians can conceivably concoct.

Chile’s mendacity aside, it appears that many in Latin America understand that the UN provisional reference is demeaning to Macedonians as well as seriously harmful for Balkan regional relations. The situation is equivalent to forcing Chile, for example, to adopt a provisional appellation “The Former Spanish Colony of Chile” and then deny the Chileans the use of the name “Chile” if they want to be part of the world family of nations. Despite the fact that over 120 countries recognized Macedonia under its actual name — including the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey, etc. — Macedonia remains as if it was little better than a servitor, under extreme pressure to continue to use the UN temporary reference internationally. It is worth repeating that no one in Macedonia has a mandate to change the Macedonian people’s identity and any suggestion to do so to placate Greece’s arrogant policies are as insulting as they are jejune. Any Macedonian official that will alter the country’s name at somebody else’s bidding will be guilty of treason; indeed, he/she would be helping to destabilize Macedonia and the Balkans for years to come.

The Need for a Genuine Solution
It is at this juncture that Latin America could play a most constructive role. The region has often needed a safety valve that would let off the pressure from an already over-charged Balkans from a safe distance. Latin America could show a sense of solidarity with a small and beleaguered country by extending diplomatic recognition to Macedonia under its constitutional name. Those Latin American countries that already have recognized Macedonia have learned that the part of Macedonia that Greece acquired in 1913 is not even named Macedonia today. Greece is administratively divided into thirteen regions, three of which include the word Macedonia: “Region of Western Macedonia”, “Region of Central Macedonia” and “Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace”, but take notice that none of the regions are named simply “Macedonia.” So that there can be no confusion as to specific terrains, Macedonia has foresworn any territorial ambitions in any direction.

A Matter of Fundamentals
By contrast, in succumbing to Greece’s patent unfairness — such as its recent intent to veto Macedonia’s NATO membership, when invited — regional instability is likely to be followed by a worrisome gap. The vacuum could be filled by neighboring countries, which would undoubtedly disturb the balance of power, with potential spillover effects in Kosovo/Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, and even Greece itself — leaving a sizzling fuse for yet another Balkan conflict. After all, who but the Latin American countries can better understand that a nation’s very existence and choice of a name are embedded sovereign rights, with each of them having a special prerogative to promote, preserve, and protect their ethnic identity and culture?

Patently, Macedonia’s name is not a weapon against anyone or any nation, and the Macedonians are united in the justice of their cause of self-determination. Greece needs to come to terms with this proposition. In fact, Greece has been referring to Macedonia by that name in official documents and in textbooks for nearly 50 years, at a time when the latter country was part of the Yugoslav federation. The reality that Macedonia has existed and will continue to exist was recently (unintentionally) acknowledged even by the then Greek ambassador to Macedonia, Dora Grosomanidou, and she was promptly sacked for her candid admission. Leaders of Latin American countries that ignored Macedonia’s immutable rights should formally heed Ambassador Grosomanidou’s advice — and give peace a chance.

22 thoughts on “Macedonia: Reaching Out to Win Latin American Hearts and Minds

  • February 25, 2008 at 2:24 pm
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    This is a very fictional article, written by a FYROM citizen. Everyone who has read or studied ancient Greece and Alexander the Great know that the Ancient Macedonians are of Greek origin. Modern Greece today is trying to compromise with the FYROM on the name Macedonia by suggesting, for example, Northern Macedonia, Nova Macedonia , New Macedonia etc, etc, and FYROM has rejected every name. This battle for the Macedonia name has been going on since the 1950s. Yugoslav Macedonia was an failed invention by Tito and Stalin created to destroy Greece in order to claim the Aegean Sea for themselves.

    Reply
    • March 21, 2010 at 9:00 pm
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      well,you should start with reading or studying ancient history…

      Reply
    • December 22, 2010 at 6:35 pm
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      listen Sir you aren't macedonian to give opinions who we are !!!!! we know who we are first off all.

      Reply
  • February 25, 2008 at 3:03 pm
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    Excellent writing. Factual, analytical, knowledgeable and to the point.

    Kiro
    Macedonia

    Reply
  • February 25, 2008 at 6:34 pm
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    This article failed to mention why Greece objects to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) calling itself the Republic of Macedonia. First of all, the ancient Macedonians claimed to be Greek, had Greek names, worshiped Greek Gods and spoke Greek. The FYROM used to be called Southern Serbia, then was changed to Vardar Banovina, and then in 1949 was changed again to the People’s Republic of Macedonia. The FYROM speak Bulgarian and have a slavic history from immigration into Europe in the 6th century AD. Ancient Macedonians have Greek origins, from a period that lasted for 4000 years. Today, Greece have every right to object to FYROMs demands. The person who wrote this article need a history lesson.

    Reply
  • February 26, 2008 at 7:01 am
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    I would just like to say that this article was fantastic, very accurate, and that it should be published on more web sites so that the truth is known to more people around the world.

    Reply
  • February 26, 2008 at 9:33 am
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    It is an excellent article. Thoroughly researched, accurate and on the mark. Finally, someone has made an effort to present the truth about the continuous genocide by the Greeks on the Macedonians. It is a genocide that started a century ago, killing more than 500 000 Macedonians from the Aegean and forcing more than a one million to flee their homes. It is a genocide that continues even today by negating a history, a nation, an identity of a people that wants only to be left alone to struggle in this ever changing and demanding world.

    No one can be forced to change the name he has chosen for his own, especially not a country, a nation that has given so much in the past.

    Macedonia to the Macedonians!
    Smrt ili Sloboda!
    Na mnogaja leta!

    Reply
  • February 26, 2008 at 10:40 am
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    Very odd that your writer on Macedonia-Greece denied that any form of irredentism exists, and then in the very next paragraph, he went through great pains to make an irredentist case for how the Greeks took away the part of Macedonia that borders the sea.

    Seriously, was this contradiction lost on all the editors at your council?

    DA

    Reply
  • February 26, 2008 at 12:17 pm
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    Bravo!

    I have never seen such an in-depth, accurate analysis of the Macedonian-Greek problem.

    As an ethnic Macedonian whose parents were born in Greece, I know firsthand the brutal assimilation tactics used by the Greek government to deny the existence of ethnic Macedonians in Greece. The issue of the name “Republic of Macedonia” is nothing more than an extension of Greek policy that began over 100 years before the Republic of Macedonia was formed as part of Yugoslavia in 1944.

    Ethnic Macedonians have struggled for centuries to establish their own independant country; we will not be stopped by “name calling” from Greece.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 8:50 pm
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    Firstly this article lacks of evidence and truth, seem it was written by a FYROM propagandist.
    FYROM are Bulgarian-Slavs and speak Bulgarian,
    Macedonians are Greeks and speak Greek.
    Slavs arrived into Europe 1000 years after Alexander the Great so how could FYROM claim to be the descent of the Ancient Macedonians sive FYROM are Slavs?
    The territories that FYROM covers today was know as Paionia.
    FYROM only covers 10% of Macedonia Proper and have no rights to claim all of Macedonia and its culture that has been Greek for over 4000 years.
    To all FYROMonkeys and the idiot that wrote this article, stop your lies and propaganda. Macedonians are Greeks…… ..

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 8:52 pm
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    I did not believe the 'Greeks' when they said that Macedonia was full of lunatics who are a throw back politically to Tito. After having read this article, I feel ashamed that I doubted the Greeks. I feel very sorry for Greece living so close to such dangerous and lying neighbours. I hope the rumours are true that the dormant Albanian population in Macedonia rises up and divides this misguided and deluded nation which calls itself macedonia.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:04 pm
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    News flash!!!! Is this "Council" serious? We call these people academics yet as "academics" they have totally failed to give a serious account of the situation on both ends. Fantastic buzz words like Genocide are all too often tossed around with absolutely no factual evidence to support such claims.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:05 pm
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    …continued:

    I find this article so comical it is best served to be published in the funny papers of local universities world wide for intelligent and objective readers to have a laugh over. "A matter of fundamentals"? Please! If it is a matter of fundamentals why does article fail to even make mention of Greece's right to protect its own culture. It is a shock, once again, how the author and editors of this article missed the point that more than 300 academics world wide are officially supporting Greece's stance; and NO they are not all Greek.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:05 pm
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    …continued:

    These academics play off irredentism as though it is some sort of pseudo-claim. Come on! One begs the question: "If it is a pseudo-claim and holds no ground then why does FYROM officially teach its children that there is such as thing as Aegean Macedonia and that this region is rightfully there's?"

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm
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    …continued:

    Revisionist history is a wonderful thing apparently because Dr. Eugene Borza of Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Ernst Badian of Harvard seem to believe that FYROMians are direct ancestors of Alexander the Great. WOW! Are these individuals ignorant or is it just me? This I will not even bother to comment on as I can see they have an outlandish view of historical fact, but then again that is after all revisionist.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm
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    …continued:

    On the point of 1912-13 I question what historical and factual evidence exists to even bother to claim genocide. This article is so devoid of serious historical reference that it is at best an opinion column for the New York Times. Lets take a quick look at this period: lets not forget that the first Balkan war was against the then dominant Ottoman Empire which controlled much of today’s FYROMian territory and was at the front steps of Bulgaria, Serbia (or Yugoslavia) and Greece, once the Ottomans were ousted Greece rightfully took back the territory it had lost. The second Balkan war was against the Bulgarians to stop their aspirations for territorial expansion into Greece. Funny how this article sums everything up with a couple of lines

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:07 pm
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    …continued:

    "In 1912-13, through two brutal regional wars, Macedonia was forcefully partitioned among Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The Macedonians were subject to qualified genocide and many were driven from their land"

    Where on any geographic map did FYROM exist during this time or for that fact on what historical map did FYROM exist? The modern statehood of FYROM did not come into being until 1991. The Kingdom/city-state of Macedonia has little if anything to do with the modern state of FYROM perhaps a comparison of apples to oranges is being done here, not to sure.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2009 at 9:08 pm
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    …continued:

    It is also odd how this article does not make any reference to modern day FYROMian culture. Albeit young, one might ask why is modern day FYROMian culture forcefully being swept aside by Prime Minister Gruveski? This nationalist government is doing more to undermine the development of FYROM than he is doing to help develop it, a little food for thought perhaps.

    Regardless of the weak and lacking factual arguments made in this article one point should be made, that no matter what attempts FYROM makes to try and prove its case they will have to eventually come to the negotiating table and solve this issue.

    **********************
    To Andy Plukov: I would like to respectfully ask if you were born in Greece as well. Because from what you have written I can only interpret that you are not which then begs the question how do you know first hand the assimilation tactics used by the Greek government to deny the existence of (pseudo) ethnic Macedonians in Greece?

    Reply
    • August 22, 2010 at 11:45 am
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      Dear Mr. Stavropoulos:

      Sorry I did not receive this question earlier. I was not born in Greece. Both of my parents, and their brothers and sisters and cousins were born in the "Province of Northern Greece" before Greece renamed it. Just in case you are interested, all of my ancestors come from the Kostur (Kastoria) region. I have visited Greece and spent time with my relatives. I have seen and felt the pressure tactics used by the Greeks government and people.

      If Greece is a true democracy, why not allow individuals to identify themselves as they want. Is Greece afraid that there are many who will call themselves "Ethnic" and not "Geographic" Macedonians. This is a right guaranteed in Intenational Law. The Republic of Macedonia could not possibly have enough money to pay all the Macedonians who live in Greece to be their puppets and/or spies.

      Greece should recognize its ethnic, linguistic, religious minorities. It should not claim that it is a nation of only Greeks who are Greek Orthodox. There are many Macedonians, Turks, Vlachs, and others who do not fit the "Greek" model.

      Reply
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