The Greek Revolution of 1821 has been a determining landmark in the history of Macedonia, mainly because it connected the latter with the fortunes of the Modern Greek nation and its struggle for liberation. This connection was achieved first with the revolt of the Greeks of Macedonia in 1822 and its bloody suppression, which brought the first waves of refugees to liberated southern Greece.  The connection was also achieved by the ever-increasing penetration of Modern Greek national ideology through schools, cultural associations and patriotic organizations in Macedonia. Until serious contestants for the succession to Ottoman rule in Macedonia appeared –the Bulgarians, for the last quarter of the 19th century onwards- the Greeks had succeeded in gaining the best part of the Christian Orthodox population of the region to their national objectives.

The bloody contest between the Greeks and Bulgarians for winning over the Slav-speaking Christians of the central-north bilingual zone of Macedonia, developed into a ruthless armed struggle, from the beginning of the 20th century to the Young-Turk revolution, in 1908. This was the Macedonian struggle (1904-1908), the period of Greek and Bulgarian guerrilla band activity in pursuit of the respective national objectives in the area. The Struggle involved volunteers from Greece and Bulgaria, but mainly Slav-speaking Christians who sided with one or another depending on their national inclinations and other circumstances.




Following the termination of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the Greco-Bulgarian antagonism over Macedonia was halted and the three Turkish administrative areas (vilayets), which the diplomacy of the Great Power had named Macedonia, were distributed among Greece, Serbia, Albania and Bulgaria. The WWI consolidated the territorial status quo of the Balkan Wars in Macedonia and the terms of the Peace Treaties radically changed the ethnological composition of the area. Eventually, the Greco-Bulgarian Convention of Neuilly for mutual emigration (1919), which was repeatedly extended, made it possible for tens of thousands of Slavs of Greece to immigrate to Bulgaria as it did for as many Greeks in Bulgaria. Furthermore, under the terms of the Lausanne Convention for the compulsory exchange or populations (1923), all Muslims left Greek Macedonia and Greek refugees from Asia Minor, Pontus, Easter Thrace and the Caucasus settled in Greece, particularly in Macedonia.



In about the end of 1943, the Yugoslavian dimension was added to the traditional inquiry of the Macedonian Question. The development had its origin in the internal Macedonian question in Yugoslavia. With the Bulgarian occupation of Yugoslavian territories (1940)[1], the pre-War pro-Bulgarian elements of the Yugoslavian Macedonia came out into the open. However, apart from the pro-Bulgarian demonstrations in certain areas, the important event was the defection of the local committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia to the sister Communist party of Bulgaria. This act confirmed the widely diffused impression that all local political and social forces, even the officials of the local communist organizations, favoured the annexation of territories of Yugoslavian Macedonia to Bulgaria.  The leader of the Communist party, Broz-Tito reacted rapidly, demanding (August 1941) successfully from Stalin the authority that the Macedonian Question to be handled by the Yugoslavians. According to it, the solution of the Macedonian question forcibly imposed on them by the Nazi Germans was declared invalid. The new policy provided for the recognition of a common “Macedonian” identity of the Slavic-speaking inhabitants of the three parts of Macedonia and the establishment of a Macedonian state within the borders of the post-war Yugoslavian realm. It became apparent that the decision of the Soviet Union shifted the solution of the Macedonian Question from the hands of the Bulgarians towards the Communist party of Yugoslavia. The war needs of the Soviet Union during the first months of the Nazi invasion had absolute priority, Hitler’s ally, Bulgaria, and her weak Communist Part could not expect the tolerance of the Soviet leadership.

However, by 1942, Tito’s partisans had taken control of the situation. The solution adopted at a conference in 1943, anticipated a federal structure for post War Yugoslavia with “Macedonia” figuring prominently as one of the six federated republics. At the same time by official decree a “Macedonian nation” was sanctioned by Tito, emerging as one more Slavic nationality in the area.





In the meantime, some of the approximately 100,000 Slavophones who remained in Greek Western Macedonia after the two exchanges of population (see above), during the Axis occupation, were recruited by the Bulgarian occupation authorities to form their own military units under the command of the Bulgarian officers. When the Bulgarian occupation forces pulled out of Greece in 1944, these persons either left Greece or joined the rebel armed bands of the Slavophone partisan organization entitled “Slav-Macedonian National Liberation Front” (SNOF). The ultimate goal of SNOF was to organize a separate united Macedoslav state incorporating the Bulgarian-conscious Slavic-speaking inhabitants of the three parts of Macedonia, and thus they propagandized the idea of a “Macedonian Nation”.  At that time the leadership of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) had adopted the policy of recognizing minority rights for the Macedoslavs but initially refused to allow them to form their own separate armed bands. The members of  SNOF openly propagandizing the cause of a united and autonomous Macedonia, aroused the suspicion of the Greek partisan army, the Hellenic Popular Liberation Army [ELAS], because the former upon their establishment they immediately forged very close links with the so-called “Macedonian Brigade” in Yugoslav Macedonia. Meanwhile, the leaders of the KKE rejected the Yugoslavian proposal for a renewal of the talks about the Macedonian Question. The only concession they made was to agree that, after the end of the war, the problems between the Balkan countries could be solved in a spirit of cooperation, according to the principles of self-determination of the peoples. However, the separatist propaganda of SNOF did not remained unnoticed by the officials of ELAS. In May 1944, ELAS officers ordered the disbandment of the SNOF and the arrest of its most fanatical followers.  A large number of members of SNOF fled to Yugoslavia and began forming bands of “Aegean Macedonian” aiming to turn against Greek Macedonia.

However, as the War was closing to an end, the Greek Communist Party in an effort to revive its good relations with the Yugoslav Communist Party sent own of its leaders, Andreas Tzimas to liaise with Tito for the return of the SNOF defectors to Greece to join the Greek guerrilla fighters. One of the terms of the agreement was that the Macedoslavs could form separate units within the big units of the ELAS of Macedonia. During July and August of 1944 two Macedoslav battalions were formed under the leadership of Elias Demakis (Gotze) and Urdoff.  Shortly, however, it became apparent that the two Macedoslav battalions were engaged in separatist activities attracting volunteers even from the Bulgarian and Yugoslavian regions of Macedonia. ELAS immediately clashed with Gotze’s battalion and drove it out of Greece. The armed Macedoslavs who took refuge in Yugoslavia joined Yugoslav-Macedonian partisans and formed irredentist organizations to struggle for a united and independent Macedonia. On 30th October 1944 Thessaloniki was liberated and the entire-German-occupied part of Greek Macedonian was placed under the control of the ELAS and its General, Euripides Bakirtzis.

[1] Bulgaria sided as an ally with the Nazi Germany during WWII and thus occupied Yugoslavia as well as Greek Macedonia in an attempt to annex both regions.