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An innovative plan to teach members of Greece's unrecognised Macedonian minority their mother tongue online has fallen foul of internet hackers.
Photo by: D.Begley
The pioneer project, called “Learn Macedonian online”, which was scheduled to launch virtual classes for students in Greece in October, has been postponed as a result of hackers disrupting the site.
The organizers now hope the launch will take place in November.
“This month alone there have been over 100 attempts to hack into our servers,” the founder and manager of “Learn Macedonian online”, Mitko Jovanov, told Balkan Insight.
He said they have had to postpone the start of classes “out of precaution” but insists the attacks “will not deter us from launching”.
The issue of Macedonian classes in Greece, even if only conducted online, remains a sensitive one for the two countries, which are also locked in a long-standing dispute over use of the name "Macedonia".
Greece refuses to recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority in the country.
Pavle Voskopulos, head of the European Free Alliance-Rainbow, a small party representing the unrecognised Macedonian community in Greece, says language classes are vital for the survival of a minority that has been subjected to assimilation for decades.
“Macedonians under 20 have real problems speaking and especially writing in Macedonian because all they learn are rudimentary words they hear from their parents and grandparents,” he says.
“It would be ideal if we could incorporate Macedonian language classes into the Greek school curriculum but this is far from happening,” Voskopulos says.
Jovanov’s online school is not designed exclusively for Macedonians in Greece. It already offers language classes for diaspora communities elsewhere in Europe and in the US, Canada and Australia. Courses include live online lectures.
He says that some 80 students from Greece signed up so far, which he calls “a good start”.
The problem of the Macedonian minority in Greece dates to the Balkans wars of 1912-13, when Ottoman Macedonia was partitioned between Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. The modern republic is formed out of the old Serbian portion.
In the territories absorbed into Greece and Bulgaria, pressure to assimilate and become totally Greek or Bulgarian was extremely strong.
The problem in Greece worsened after the 1946-1949 civil war, when many Macedonians fought for the losing Communist side and had to leave the country.
Some historians believe as many as 100,000 ethnic Macedonians fled northern Greece during or after the war between the monarchist government and the left-wing Democratic Army of Greece.
The numbers of those who stayed behind is also unknown.
Athens does not recognize those who fled as Macedonians and has refused to reissue them with citizenship, or grant it to their descendants. Athens also does not grant any collective rights whatever to ethnic Macedonians who stayed in Greece.
In July 2008, Macedonia's Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, wrote to his then Greek counterpart, Kostas Karamanlis, demanding recognition of the Macedonian minority in Greece.
He also asked for Macedonians who fled the country to regain their property and sought for Macedonians in Greece to have the right to education in their own language as well as the right to foster their culture and traditions.
The answer was blunt. “There is no 'Macedonian' minority in Greece. There never has been. In this respect, any allegations regarding the existence of such a minority are totally unfounded, politically motivated and disrespectful of the historic realities of the region,” Karamanlis replied.
This issue was not mentioned in public in the series of meetings that Gruevski had in 2010 with the current Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou.
Ever since Macedonia gained independence in 1991, its name has been the subject of a bitter dispute with southern neighbor, Greece.
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