Athens responded to a BBC report on Sunday which alleged that there is a “Macedonian minority” in the country which “has been oppressed for decades,” saying that this is an inaccurate and distorted view.
A high-ranking diplomatic source told the Athens News Agency (AMNA) that the government is planning to send the network a letter in order to refute the allegations.
Earlier, Greek main opposition party New Democracy called on the government to “clarify, categorically and towards all directions, that there is no issue of a ‘Macedonian ethnic minority’ in Greece.”
New Democracy accused the government, saying that the Prespa Agreement has opened a Pandora’s box of unhistorical demands and claims on Greece.
The controversial BBC report says that by ratifying an agreement with the newly-renamed Republic of North Macedonia, Greece has implicitly recognized the existence of a Macedonian language and ethnicity. And yet it has denied the existence of its own Macedonian minority for decades.
“Ethnic Macedonians in Greece have been objects of suspicion and, at times, persecution, even as their presence has been denied by almost everyone,” the report says. The BBC interviewed a retired lawyer, who relates to reporter Maria Margaronis “the painful history of Greece’s unrecognized Slavic-speaking minority.”
The report says that most Ethnic Macedonians in Greece “are reluctant to speak to outsiders about their identity.”
“To themselves and others, they’re known simply as “locals” (dopyi), who speak a language called “local” (dopya). They are entirely absent from school history textbooks, have not featured in censuses since 1951 (when they were only patchily recorded, and referred to simply as “Slavic-speakers”), and are barely mentioned in public. Most Greeks don’t even know that they exist,” the report alleges.
That erasure was one reason for Greece’s long-running dispute with the former Yugoslav republic now officially called the Republic of North Macedonia, according to the report.
When the Greek Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras referred during the parliamentary debate to the existence of “Slavomacedonians” in Greece – at the time of World War II – he was breaking a long-standing taboo, Margaronis notes.
The BBC report says that it’s impossible accurately to calculate the number of Slavic-speakers or descendants of ethnic Macedonians in Greece.
The report quotes historian Leonidas Embiricos who estimates that more than 100,000 still live in the Greek region of Macedonia. However, he said only 10,000 to 20,000 would identify openly as members of a minority – and many others are proud Greek nationalists.