"Macedonia was born Greek" it says on a huge sign on the Greek
side of the border with Macedonia. A group of old men look at it and shake
their heads. They are refugees from Greece, Slav Macedonians born in Greece
who fled during and after the Greek Civil War. Nervously clutching their
passports they are about to enter Greece for the first time in 55 years.
They dont seem to quite believe it only after the passport
control do they allow themselves to smile. Later there are more smiles
and a lot of laughs as they arrive in Setina (or Skopos as it is known
in Greek today) their birth village.
79-year-old Stojan Trpchevski is like a child again, as he points out
the school, the place where he stole fruits and the river he used to swim
in. He fled as a 16 years old, but his memories are still vivid and detailed.
"I am both sad and happy to be back", he says "after so
many years my home is ruined, it is now a place for goats and sheep, and
my relatives are no longer alive". But he keeps smiling, and despite
being away for so many years still meets people who remember him. Stojan
fled in 1944 to the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, today Macedonia.
Later he joined the Democratic Army in the Greek Civil War. He has lived
in Skopje, Macedonias capital for the last 55 years, he never returned
to Greece. Together with his son and other refugees he has rented a bus
and come for the first time to visit his village.
In Northern Greece there is a large Slav minority, who identify themselves
as Macedonians. During the Greek Civil War (1946 49) both Greeks
and Slav Macedonians fled. The Greek refugees have since been allowed
to return, but not the Slav Macedonians- not even for a visit. It was
feared that they would stir up desires for autonomy. Stojans visit has
been made possible by a change in policy. In July 2003 the Greek government
announced that all refugees would be allowed a 20-day visit between the
10th of August and the end of October this year. Today the refugees who
are still alive are old people, who fled as children, they laugh at the
suggestion that they are a security threat to Greece. Most of them dont
want to return to live in Greece, they now have children and grandchildren
were they settled, but they want to visit their birth villages.
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