Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Greece Succumbs to Public Pressure: Aegean Macedonians Finally Visit Their Birthplaces

By Meri Jordanovska

A group of 43 former residents of Florina (Lerin in Macedonian) region yesterday crossed the Macedonian-Greek border for the first time with a group visa without any problems. Thrilled and overwhelmed with happiness to finally see their birthplaces, Macedonians from the northern part of Greece went to the celebration of the Orthodox Christian holiday of Great Mother of God in the Village of Skopos (Setina in Macedonian).

"You can hear Macedonian music everywhere. Many Macedonians present here visit their birthplaces for the first time[, after they have been banished during the Greek civil war, 1946-1949]. We are thrilled! We had no problem at the border, the crossing took half an hour only. Even the Greek border guards told us they'd come to the celebration of Mother of God. This is a great day for us," said Todor Jovanov, the leader of the group of Macedonians from the Aegean region.

Those passing on the Medzhitlija border crossing had to undergo the same procedures, but the whole process went much faster [than before - some refugees living in Macedonia were allowed to visit Greece last year, too]. They had to fill in questionnaires in which they had to state the Greek names of their parents and their village. [Ethnic Macedonians living in Greece were forcefully renamed after 1912, and the Macedonian names of places where "Hellenized" between the two world wars.]

"We have been asking for a group visa for a long time, but the Greek authorities constantly refused to provide it. Now Greece probably realized it cannot do this in spite of the whole world," said Gjorgji Donevski, Secretary General of the Alliance of Associations of Macedonians from the Aegean part of Macedonia.

He hopes allowing freedom of movement will become regular practice and that Macedonians from the Aegean part will be able to visit their birthplaces more often.

"Every village here has its own religious holiday [slava - a day devoted to celebration of a certain Orthodox Christian saint]. It is beautiful to take part in it, the whole village is there," exclaimed Donevski.

During their three-day visit to Greece, the group plans to visit Edessa (Voden in Macedonian) and Kajmakchalan.

Macedonian refugees from Aegean Macedonia last week blamed the Athens government for not allowing them to enter Greece, and visit their birthplaces, and also for secretly selling out their realestate properties. After Vreme wrote about this case, a number of Macedonian political parties and international organizations expressed interest about it. The ODIHR Warsaw office stated that the citizens who have problems with their properties in Greece should complain to the local OSCE office in Skopje.