From Gramos Mountain towards Lower Schleszia: Refugees from the Greek Civil War in Eastern Europe and Central Asia


The civil war that took place during the period 946 to 1949, which was fought between the pro-western royalists and the communist republicans in Greece, the former supported by Great Britain and the US, the latter supported by Tito’s Yugoslavia, and, indirectly, by Stalin’s Soviet Union, marks simultaneously the end of the “Oriental issue” and “the beginning of the Cold War” (Dan Diner). This modern partisan low intensity warfare, which was primarily waged in the northwestern part of the country, also called Aegean Macedonia, resulted in about 100,000 human casualties, while about one million people were forced to leave their homes, most of them forever. The war ended in the same way it began – with an impulse from abroad: Yugoslavia, which was placed in isolation due to the breakup between Tito and Stalin in 1948, ceased its active support to the Communist Party in the Civil War, and in June 1949 closed its border towards Greece – the “Democratic Army of Greece” (DAG) of the partisans found itself in an unfavorable war position, and had to save itself by fleeing to Albania in August 1949.

This civil war, based largely on differences in ideology between the conservatives and partisans, also had a strong ethno-political dimension: half of the post-communist partisans and a large part of their supporters and helpers in the northwestern part of the country were not Greeks in the ethnic sense of the word, but southern Slavs who mainly presented themselves as Bulgarians until 1944, and then as Macedonians. While the communists were in favor of multiethnic and secular Greece, and, in the beginning of 1949, were striving for secession of Northern Greece and its annexation to a united Macedonia, the royalists defined the Kingdom as a homogenous and Christian-Orthodox national state of the Greeks in which “the Slavo-phonic Hellenics” were hardly even tolerated.

Migration waves, induced by the Civil War, were unusually numerous and various, and were clearly distinguished from the mass expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe which took place at the same time:

1.      At the very beginning of the war, in March 1946, the residents of the northwestern administrative area of Greece fled from the war zone. Most of them populated the large port towns in the country; among them were many people from Anadoly and who had just moved in the region as part of the Greek-Turkish exchange of population. Simultaneously, in this first phase of the war, many young men as well as women moved from the valleys in the north-western part in the mountainous region that was under DAG’s control. This also includes the beginning of the migration wave from Northern Greece to Yugoslavia, where the small town of Bukles, in the north of Serbia, was picked as a central shelter back in 1945.

2.      In the autumn of 1947 the army, loyal to the king, began a wide-ranging action towards clearing the northwestern part of the country where there were about 700,000 forcefully displaced persons.

3.      In 1948, the two conflicting sides evacuated children and young persons from the territories they had conquered in the northwestern part of the country. The royalists transferred up to 30,000 children to the south of the country, and the communists sent about 25,000 children across the border to Yugoslavia where they were primarily accommodated in shelters in several Yugoslav republics. In the period afterwards, they were most frequently sent to the so-called countries with popular democracies – Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Germany. Each of the conflicting parties accused the other that it deported these children against both their will and that of their parents, i.e. relatives. The two sides were also accusing each other that the other side was doing this in order to perform an ethno-national transformation – i.e. “to turn the Macedonians into Greeks” and vice versa.

4.      Since the middle of 1948, when the Yugoslav support for DAG started to wane and the royalists had intensively been conquering territories, part of the civilian population in the remaining regions controlled by the communists crossed the border into Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, and partly into Albania. Most of these refugees were accommodated in camps in the Yugoslav republics. The above-mentioned camp Bukles in Vojvodina was then transformed into a true “town of refugees”. It is thought it housed 50,000 refugees.

5.      In the summer of 1949, most of the DAG members fled to Albania, with some heading to Bulgaria. The officers’ corps was urgently transferred, with ships, to the Soviet ports on the Black Sea, thence to the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. The army and the non-commissioned officers had to remain on the Albanian coast until 1950.

6.      In 1950, the refugees from the Civil War, who lived in the Yugoslav camps, were sent to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as to the DR Germany and the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan – frequently enduring forceful separation of their families. In the same year, the DAG partisans from Albania were transferred to the countries with popular democracy. From1950 on, there were about 100,000 civilian refugees from the Civil War in the whole territory under Soviet domination. A large number of the refugees, about 30,000, were placed in the Soviet Union, mainly in Tashkent. About 2,000 lived in the DR Germany, mainly in Radeboil and Dresden, while almost 70,000, half of them Macedonians, lived in the countries with popular democracy, for the most part Czechoslovakia and Poland. Most of the refugees were concentrated in the historical Schlesia, that is, the region on both sides of the new Polish-Czechoslovak border, the Polish territorial belt west of the Odra River, near Pulitz, Moravia with Brno, Budapest and its surrounding area and the refugee town of Belonjanis in Pusta, renowned for the killed Greek partisan hero Nikos Belojanis.

7.      In 1950, the first, weak wave of re-emigration took place: about 800 children from Yugoslavia and about 150 from Czechoslovakia were sent back to their Greek motherland. This tendency, however, did not continue in the following years.

8.      From the beginning of the 1950s, the merging of families started taking place, an activity organised partly by the state and partly by the refugees themselves. In this way, for instance, several thousand Greeks and Macedonians moved to Poland and Uzbekistan.

9.      In the 1950s, a small number of the refugees from the Civil War left Eastern Europe and Central Asia for Australia and North America.

10.  In the 1960s, some of the Macedonian refugees in Uzbekistan and the countries with popular democracy accepted the offer from the Yugoslav Government and moved to SR Macedonia. Flats and jobs were given to them here, mostly in Tetovo and Gostivar, towns with a predominantly Albanian population.

11.  During the 1970s, during Brant’s policy towards the East, a part of the 2,000 refugees in the DR Germany were allowed to move to the FR Germany; for the most part it was the orphans who remained.

12.  After the end of the dictatorship in Greece in 1974, a small number of the Greek refugees had the opportunity to re-immigrate to Greece.

13.  The socialist government of PASOK, elected in 1981, gave amnesty to many persons in Athens, mostly those convicted “in absentiam”, and the expelled refugees from the Civil War, which caused a large wave of re-immigration. By 1983, about 40,000 persons had returned to Greece from Central Asia and from the countries with popular democracy, almost all of them Greeks; however, no Macedonians returned. Their property, confiscated by the state after 1949, was given back to them in a small number of cases, but in most of the cases this was not so.

14.  This re-immigration continued in the 1980s: it is thought that by 1987, about 20,000 refugees from the Civil War had returned, people who had lived in the Soviet Union and in the countries with popular democracy, and its intensity of transit increased in the 1990s. For example, in Uzbekistan, where in 1979 Greeks numbered 14,025, by 1989 their number had decreased to 10,454, and by 1999 this number was only 1,625. In 1991, just 3,400 Greeks, i.e. Macedonians who described themselves as Greeks, lived in Czechoslovakia, while their number in 1983 had been around 10,000, and in 1975 as high as 13,500. At the present moment, the number of Greeks and Macedonians in Poland is thought to be about 5,000 (1975 and 1983: 9,000), and the number of these people in Hungary is estimated to be about 1,000 (1975: 4,800; 1983: 2,780). There are no data regarding the present figures about the number of refugees in Bulgaria (1975: 6,800; 1983: 4,000) and Romania (1975: 5,600; 1983: 3,500). There are no data in Yugoslavia either about these people, who, due to their origin from Aegean Macedonia, call themselves “Aegeans”, because they are registered along with the “domestic” Macedonians. The same goes for the Republic of Macedonia, which has been independent since 1991.

It is certain that at the present moment, there are about 15,000 persons outside Greece, i.e. outside the wider region of Macedonia, who belong to the first generation of expelled people from the Civil War, as well as their children and grandchildren, and that they will most probably remain there in future. The main reason for this is the high degree of social integration, accompanied by adequate status that the refugees from the Civil War enjoy, primarily in the societies in Central and Eastern Europe. Most of them arrived in the new industrial centres of the countries with popular democracy as illiterate farmers and shepherds and, making constant and ambitious use of the broad offers for education in the host countries, are included these days in jobs requiring technical knowledge, above all. As regards the Macedonian side of the refugees, the closeness of their language with the Slav languages in Southeastern Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and the USSR was especially useful. Despite this, in 1949, this very group was unfoundedly accused for “titoism’ and discriminated for years. Thus, the Macedonians used their initial advantage, expressed through the image of “good stalinists”, which was enjoyed initially by the Greeks and Macedonians in the eyes of the party leadership in the countries with popular democracy. Due to these circumstances, the Macedonians temporarily regressed, and eventually progressed in the period of de-stalinization. They never managed, however, to get rid of the political custody imposed on them by the Greek refugees. Namely, the parties and institutions in the host countries considered the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in Exile as their main interlocutor representing all the civilian refugees, although only Greeks, and not Macedonians, were part of the leadership of this party. In this context, we should mention the situation where the pro-Macedonian branch of the KKE, represented by its Secretary General, Nikos Zaharijadis, during his mandate from 1931 to 1956 was rejected as a “Stalinist relic” during the intra-party de-stalinization.

The above-mentioned 15,000 Greeks and Macedonians in Central and Eastern Europe, viewed from an external perspective, are an integrated social group, which, nevertheless, viewed from an internal perspective, are a self-contained cosmos. Proof of this is the trans-national model for getting married within the group, which can be encountered in the second generation, according to which “a Hungarian” Macedonian cannot marry a Hungarian, but a “Polish” or a “Moravian” Macedonian, who is usually chosen for him via family networks which surpass the state borders. Another, and a more concealed indicator for this is the “secondary” causing of trauma of the second and the third generation of refugees – trauma caused by the parents and grandparents, which is frequently confirmed by the negative experience of the family members when they return to Greece. In the case of the Macedonians, we should add here the perpetual trauma, reflected in the conviction that the Greeks are not only the “people who banished them”, but later on, for decades, also “the people who enslaved them” – this refers to the officials of KKE in the countries with popular democracy and in the USSR.

Due to this negative picture, it is little surprise that the image of the host country is very positive: in the period prior to and after 1989, according to the refugees, the societies of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are qualified as “European”, “civilized”, “educated”, “rich” and “modern”. Living standards, good career opportunities, social insurance, possibilities for participation in all areas of public life and the degree of emancipation are highly assessed. In the period before 1989, there was another positive aspect as well, linked to the limitations for travelling abroad, which referred to the majority population, but not for the refugees from the Civil War, who were mainly persons without citizenship, and who could be engaged in additional work such as trans-border small trade within the whole territory of the Council for Mutual Economic Help.

In order to shed more light on this harmonious and almost symbiotic coexistence between the refugees from the Civil War and the majority population in Southeastern, Western and Northwestern Poland, the Moravia part of Czechoslovakia, and in the vicinity of the Hungarian capital Budapest, we should mention that the two groups of peoples arrived almost simultaneously in the above-mentioned, formerly totally ethnically pure regions, i.e. the two populations had an almost identical “zero hour”. The reason for this is certainly not a coincidence, but planned by the state: there was sufficient space for the refugees and a need for human resources only where the Jewish population was killed and the Germans were expelled. In the case of Poland, there was an additional argument: until the Polish authorities became certain where the new border with the west would be placed, they had been redirecting the wave of refugees from the Civil War, who arrived in the country mainly by ship through the Gdingen port, towards the Polish territories, at that time ruled by the Soviet Union: Pulitz, west from the Odra River, and Zgorzeletz, east from the Nisa River. This, according to the Polish side, had two parallel advantages: on the one hand, the Soviet military administration in Germany had to take care of the accommodation and food for the refugees, and, on the other hand, in the case of giving these territories to the DR Germany, the refugee problem would have been resolved. These concentrations of refugees were disbanded when the Odra-Nisa border gained international-legal recognition, and Pulitz and Zgorzelec remained within Poland. This explains why, above all, Schlesia became a populating centre. The case of the Bieszczady mountain, in the southeast of the new Poland, demonstrates a certain parallel with this situation, although incomparable in degree. Namely, several hundred Greek miners were given new homes in the village of Kroscienko and the surrounding areas, which had previously, during the action in Visla in 1947, been cleared of Ukrainians.

The Diaspora of refugees from the Greek Civil War in Central and Eastern Europe these days is a special period in the history of the Cold War, which so far has not been largely covered from a political aspect. The first beginnings of this are the congresses, held every 10 years by the Association of the Children-Refugees from the Aegean Part of Macedonia, established in the Macedonian city of Bitola, a body which has a very small impact in Central and Eastern Europe, and none in Greece. A precondition for this to happen may be the forthcoming admission of the Central and Eastern European countries, which accepted refugees in the European Union, whose member state is Greece.


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