INTERVIEW WITH DIMITRI MINAS - PRESIDENT OF PAN-MACEDONIAN FEDERATION
Mr Minas, how do you comment on the arrival of members of the “Rainbow” party to Australia?
Dimitrios Minas: I can’t deny that this issue has troubled us. Everyone can come and go as they please. However, what disappoints us, is that Greek citizens such as Pavlos Voskopoulos and Athanasios Parisis appear here and spread anti-Greek sentiments. Even though they point out in their interview that they are not nationalistic and that we must avoid terminology and thought patterns that belong to the past, a general anti-Greek climate is implied, the manifestation of which, during their stay and activities here, has the potential to fracture peaceful relations between ethnic communities in Australia.
Mr Voskopoulos and Mr Parisis state that they are here so as to promote good relations with the “ethnic Macedonian” community and to inform them about the issue of the revocation of Greek citizenship of some of its members by the Greek government. Are you aware of this issue?
D.M: This is certainly an issue of concern to us. For some reason, and especially during the years of the Junta and possibly even before that, the Greek citizenship of some of our Slav-speaking compatriots was unfairly revoked. In those days, political and ideological fanaticism caused some extreme situations. The Panmacedonian Federation actively advocates the reinstatement of Greek citizenship to those persons who identify themselves as Greeks and have had their citizenship unjustifiably revoked. In a few cases, thanks to our assistance, citizenship has actually been restored and we are proud that we can assist our compatriots in this important way.
Mr Voskopoulos and Mr Parisis visited the Greek Consulate in regards to this issue. What are your thoughts on their consultation with the Greek Consul-General, Mr Kouvaritakis?
D.M: I found it interesting that the Consul-General would meet these people, as they themselves say, with warmth. Even though they may be Greek citizens and have the right to consult with their country’s representatives, I would like to believe that he met with them solely to chastise them over their anti-Greek behaviour, which behaviour is totally out of character with the multicultural nature of Australia. I expect that the Consul-General did not know that these gentlemen have been spreading rumours among Australian senior public servants, that members of their community have been refused entry to Greece, even on an Australian passport. I would be interested to find out what the Greek Consulate-General has done to address these rumours.
I am also particularly disappointed that the Consul-General would be willing to discuss the issue of revocation of citizenship with members of the “Rainbow” party, when it has not shown particular interest in the representations we have made to them on this issue, in the past.
Mr Minas, you have been the president of the Panmacedonian Federation for several years now and your activities with regard to the Macedonian issue are well known in our community. What does the word Macedonia mean to you?
D.M: How can I express the awe I feel for this word? Macedonia is my homeland. Through it, I have a connection to 4,000 years of Greek history. Macedonia means civilisation, Orthodoxy and acritic Hellenism. It is not without coincidence that Macedonia was one of the most important provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Macedonia is where hesychasm was invented, monasticism further developed, the apple of all other races’ that settled there in later years eye. From this point of view, Macedonia also signifies the personification of dialogue and the sharing of Greek culture with neighbouring peoples.
For me, the term Macedonia is inextricably connected with Hellenism, though I accept that as a geographical term, it refers to a region, which is no longer solely Greek in character. However, as opposed to Messrs Voskopoulos and Parisis, I do not restrict my definition to the narrow mould of racism. The term Macedonia includes and embraces the historic and cultural traditions of all its inhabitants, whether they recognise this or not.
One of the core values of “Rainbow” is “freedom of self-identification” on the basis of which they believe that they have the right to call themselves “ethnic Macedonians.” How do you view this theory of identity?
D.M: I am not used to such post-modernist views, according to which words can have the meaning that their uses give them. I like to call things as they are. There is no such thing as an “ethnic Macedonian” minority, or a Macedonian race. How can one call themselves something that they are not? Conversely, Mr Voskopoulos’ and Parisis’ continuous statements to the effect that we do not respect diversity or their right to freedom of self-identification are incorrect.
We do respect these values but with one qualification: that this freedom is exercised within the confines of logic and not fantasy. While we accept that a government can emphasise certain aspects of a national identity, this must be distinguished from the total manufacturing of an identity that has had no prior existence, as is the case with those people who seek to identify themselves as “ethnic Macedonians.” I stated earlier that through Macedonia, I am connected to 4,000 years of Greek history. What are the so-called “ethnic Macedonians” connected to? The illegal manufacturing of their identity by Tito in 1946? We can see that this theory is problematical and that by necessity, despite the efforts of Mr Voskopoulos and Mr Parisis to view this in a purely ideological/philosophical light, certain historical truths intervene.
What is it that concerns you about the insistence of so-called “ethnic Macedonians” to identify themselves as “Macedonian?” Why shouldn’t we able to say: “OK, we don’t agree with you, but we leave you in your mistaken views.”
D.M: I would refer you here to Mr Voskopoulos’ and Mr Parisis’ continuous statements, repeated like a liturgical rubric that has lost its meaning, to the effect that Greeks are nationalistic, anti-democratic, not respecting of diversity and freedom of self-identification. I would say this: Since these gentlemen state that only they and those who agree with them have the right to call themselves Macedonians, then are they not racist and nationalistic? Since they do not respect the right of the Greeks of the region to call themselves Macedonians, is that not antidemocratic? Do they only have this right of self-identification? You can therefore see how illogical the application of the term Macedonia really is, to describe a nation. By so doing, we deny others, who don’t fit into the mould, the right to identify themselves by this name. So this for me at least is proves that despite what Mr Voskopoulos and Mr Parisis say, what they believe is clearly nationalistic and racist.
In their interview, Messrs Voskopoulos and Parisis referred to Slavonic-speaking inhabitants of Macedonia and they said that: “we would need to ask ourselves how it is that a group of people speaks Macedonian, without being ethnic Macedonians.” What do you say about this?
D.M: Their point of view is interesting in that it is indicative of the following: Since the gentlemen advise us to unhook ourselves from the past, to which we Greeks are supposed to be still attached, why do they try to stir it up when ever it suits them? The gentlemen’s view misses the mark. I could in turn ask why it is that while we speak English here, that we do not have an English consciousness. Now, how the Greeks of Macedonia came to speak Slavonic is a long story. That story includes the creation of Bulgarian schools in Greek villages by violent komitaji. My great grandfather for example, who was a teacher, was killed by the komitaji for teaching in Greek. With so many children forced to attend such schools, how would they not learn to speak Slavonic? As well, we should not discount daily contact with the Slavs of the region, in the past. Finally, I ask the gentlemen: How is it that you speak Greek when you do not have a Greek consciousness?
One of the stated aims of “Rainbow” is the preservation of the “Macedonian language.” Is there such a tongue and should it be preserved?
D.M: The Panmacedonian Federation respects the right of everyone to speak in whatever idiom they so wish. All languages form a part of our cultural heritage. However, we need to distinguish the linguistic issue from the political one. Let’s take the example of Moldavia for instance, as this was referred to by the gentlemen in their interview. So that the Romanian identity of Moldavians could be eroded, the Russians re-named their language as “Moldavian.” This language however does not exist. It is exactly the same language as Romanian. In our situation, there is no “Macedonian language.” Neither do the gentlemen explain, or perhaps they do not know, why it is that many members of the community that calls itself “ethnic Macedonian” have trouble in reading or speaking in the dialect spoken at Skopje. However, they can read Neos Kosmos with ease. We cannot refer to this idiom as a language. The Slavonic idiom that was spoken in Serres, for example, differs from that spoken in Florina. If the gentlemen truly respect diversity, they would refer to a Slavonic idiom of Serres and Florina and not to a manufactured language, which does not reflect the linguistic diversity of the region.
As well, while Bulgarian inscription can be found in Macedonian from the medieval and modern times, there is no such inscription on the so-called “Macedonian alphabet”, which is a recent construct. Finally, their illogical avoidance of the word “Slav,” by using the excuse that this word is reminiscent of pan-Slavism, an unrelated concept, shows their conscious attachment to an artificial and manufactured identity which does not reflect the history of the region. We would recommend that the gentlemen study and respect their roots. A tree that cuts its own roots is doomed to fall.
In their party’s manifesto, the members of “Rainbow” state that they are inspired by “the struggle for national emancipation from 1870 and the Ilinden movement, the creation of IMRO, the Vlahov campaigns, the NOF and SNOF movements, that is, all the latter day struggles for the recognition of ethnic Macedonians.” How do you view this?
D.M: This has me in tears. They tell us to unhook ourselves from the past when they are still in 1870? They are inconsistent. This proves how non-existent this “Macedonian” identity is. Delchev for example, is considered by the Bulgarians to be a hero because he fought for an autonomous, Bulgarian Macedonia. The partisans fought for the inclusion of Macedonia within the Titoist state and not for national emancipation. We are particularly disturbed by the hero-worship afforded to the komitaji and partisans because they were violent and as a result of their actions, entire Greek villages were wiped out. We are not satisfied by the gentlemen’s assertion that they respect the ideology of these people and not violence. A major element of their ideology was the annihilation of the Greek element in Macedonia. We cannot separate one from the other and we are saddened by this provocative reference to bloody and psychologically traumatic pages of our history. These gentlemen are supposed to be only interested in the peaceful co-existence of peoples. However, the implications indicate otherwise.
They also refer to injustices of the borders….
D.M: this Trojan Horse mentality worries me. They express a view and then spend hours trying to explain away its implications. Explain yourselves. Are you for or against the change in borders? We note also that they themselves admit that many of their supporters here in Australia believe in a policy of “Macedonian expansionism.” These are the people that the gentlemen consulted with.
At any rate, the reference in their website to the Greek president of Southern Cyprus seems to prove that they do not respect certain realities when it comes to the borders and our national issues.
How do you view “Rainbow’s activities” in Greece and their relationship with Greek politics?
D.M: We find “Rainbow’s” activities within the European Free Alliance disturbing as through it, erroneous and false impressions of Greece are propagated, something which we consider harmful. When the gentlemen lament the absence of democracy in Greece, perhaps they should consider that nowhere else in the world would such freedom be granted to a party that continuously expresses such hostility towards its country. For these reasons, we are disappointed in the co-operation between this party and PASOK in the border area of Florina. However, political expediency is one thing and national interest is another.
The gentlemen also refer to the good relations they have with the Prefect of Florina.
Many question marks arise as to the conduct of the Prefect of Florina. It is for this reason that our relations with him have become strained recently. We would have expected that emphasis would have been given to the Greek character of the region and not, as was the case in the village Melite, for the Prefect to ban the local dance group from participating in the school fate. Instead, dance groups from the neighbouring country were invited. From what I understand, when the principal complained, the Prefect threatened to have him transferred to Thrace. As a result, a farcical situation was created, where you had the Prefect’s school fete in Slavonic and a separate one for the students’ parents, in Greek.
Another policy of “Rainbow” is the institution of compulsory “Macedonian” language classes in schools where the idiom is spoken. How does this idea strike you?
D.M: But that is neither correct or efficable. By this they show how democratic they actually are, forcing children to learn a foreign idiom, simply so that they can create an issue. This cannot occur in Macedonia where an almost absolute majority of Macedonians would protest vehemently at this antidemocratic act. And again I ask: Which idiom shall be taught gentlemen? And who will teach it? Are we trying to alter demographics here?
Messrs Voskopoulos and Parisis state that the “ethnic Macedonian” minority in Greece do not enjoy all their basic human rights and that their party receives threats and violent acts against them by Greeks. Are you were of any such activity?
D.M: There is no such minority in Greece. Thus, no human rights are abrogated. Unfortunately, this issue arose from mistaken Greek government policies in the past. Their policy as to national identity was totalitarian. As a result, a large section of the Slavonic speaking Greek community was alienated, as they were punished whenever they spoke this idiom. These people, as a justifiable reaction, fell easy victims to an artificial ethnic ideology that promised them the respect that they did not get from their Greek compatriots. Despite this, it is incorrect to refer to an “ethnic Macedonian” minority and the Greek government does well not to recognise any such thing. I do not know of any acts of violence perpetrated against “Rainbow.’ However I deplore the attempts of Messrs Voskopoulos and Parisis to blame our Pontian brothers for creating a so-called hostile climate. Again this belies that which they consistently strive to convince us of, namely that they respect diversity and the peaceful co-existence of all peoples. In reality, it appears that they are the ones trying to provoke nationalistic strife.
Messrs Voskopoulos and Parisis state that you have nothing in common to permit you to converse with each other. Would you agree to have a dialogue with them? What would you tell them?
D.M: Ah, that is a good one. They talk of peaceful co-existence, dialogue and respect for diversity and then they avoid us. The Panmacedonian Federation has formulated a specific stance on the Macedonian Issue because it believes that this issue is integral to Hellenism and it is not afraid to proclaim it to the entire world. Now if the gentlemen or anyone else for that matter feel uncomfortable with the idea of freedom of speech and dialogue, then that is their problem. But this proves the narrowness of their horizons.
Nor do we accept their comments about the so-called retardedness of our community here, which is a leader among ethnic communities. We are also surprised that the gentlemen would characterise “their” community here as retarded, even though they are their hosts. It must be noted that we respect their community as an important part of wider Australian society and we do not share these strange opinions of their guests.
Finally, we learn that the Australian government will not follow the US in recognising FYROM as “Macedonia.” How do you comment on this?
D.M: Our stance on the recognition of that country by the US is well known. We applaud the Australian government for their decision and we look forward to a peaceful resolution of this issue, through a solution, which will satisfy, everyone and which will respect the historic and cultural heritage.
First published in NKEE on 29 November 2004.