Feature 21 Dec 12

Macedonia’s Aged Partisans Ready for Last Battle

World War II veterans, mostly in their eighties, are mustering for their last offensive – this time against a rival organization that has requisitioned their offices.

Darko Duridanski

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

A small group of Macedonian school children was passing the same street on Wednesday as World War Two veterans marched in Skopje to protest over a court ruling that took away their offices and give them to the rival Union of War Invalids.

The teacher stopped for a moment and explained to her pupils who the old fellows walking and singing were.

The children turned and gave them a brief round of applause. It was a sign that despite everything, their fight may not be in vain.

With tears in their eyes, the veterans, most of whom are over 80, singing the Macedonian anthem and other old revolutionary songs, marched towards parliament and the government building.

With a banner saying “No Pasaran”, a Republican rallying cry from the Spanish Civil War, meaning “They shall not pass”, they were going out in battle, not this time against fascists but their own government.

Holding each other, they walked through the streets of Skopje and stopped in front of the government building next to the Monument dedicated to the Liberators of Skopje.

A few hundred of the ex-Partisans, men who fought the Nazi occupation in 1941-1945, and their supporters, gathered in front of the building in the city centre housing their offices.

But a private security company, hired by the Union of War Invalids, did not allow them in. A court recently ruled that the Union is the new owner of the offices, although a higher-instance court later annulled the decision and has ordered a review of the process.

While the court process is ongoing, the Union of War Invalids has hired staff to expel the veterans from the office they have used for 50 years.

“We veterans are people who fought for the people, and we are fighting for the people today,” the president of the Association of the War World Two veterans, retired general Todor Atanasovski, said.

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

“We are fighting for justice for the veterans, even though that is the state’s own duty, to respect the gains of our fight,” he added.

Macedonian resistance against the Nazis started in the summer of 1941, shortly after the German invasion of Yugoslavia.

Organized by the Communist Party under Josip Broz Tito, the resistance movement officially started in October 1941.

Although the Communists were the real force behind the Partisan-led People’s Liberation War, as it was called, it drew in many other people, regardless of religion, ideology and ethnicity.

By the end of the war, in 1945, the Macedonian People’s Liberation Anti-fascist Army mustered about 100,000 fighters. According to some historians about 24,000 people died in the struggle.

The Partisan fight created the conditions for the formation of a Macedonian republic, established on August 2, 1944 as part of the new Yugoslav federation.

“To throw out those who fought for the country is like throwing your parents on the street,” one young marcher said.

“These guys were participants in the one victory in Macedonian history, and look what is happening to them today,” a middle-aged marcher exclaimed.

The veterans, who complain of other humiliations in recent years and say the gains of victory in WW2 are no longer respected, describe the requisition of their offices as another blow.

“We don’t pay due respect to the fallen heroes who created the conditions for the first state in the history of Macedonia. What right do about 100 people have to throw us out?” Gjorgji Georgievski, a veteran, asked.

They are especially disappointed with the government of Nikola Gruevski, saying their offices have been taken away with support from the present political leadership.

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

“They [Union of War Invalids] bought two Mercedes and ran up other irrational expenses in recent months. They want to take our offices just so they can spend money,” Georgievski said.

“We will not allow that as long as we, 6,000 veterans and our 14.000 supporters, are alive,” he added.

Trajce Grueski, a member of the Partisans’ Stiv Naumov batallion, said that even in the hellish conditions of war, they held on to their faith that their contribution to the freedom they won would be respected.

“That is why today we ask for wisdom to awaken and justice to prevail,” Grueski said.

But the smaller rival organization insists that justice is on their side.

“The Association of WW2 Veterans is not the victim here,” Aleksandar Nikov, the lawyer for the opposing organization, said.

“We have a legal executive decision [by the court] that should be carried out,” he said.

The Union of War Invalids dates back to the years after Macedonia declared independence in the early 1990s, when a small group broke away from the Association of Veterans and formed a parallel force. Ever since, they have been in legal dispute over the premises in Skopje.

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

Over the past few years Gruevski’s ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party has made it clear it prefers contacts with the smaller, younger organization.

VMRO DPMNE itself was formed out of political forces that were opposed to the old Socialist and Communist regime.

But Nikov denied that the Union has political backup from the government and in turn accused the other side of conspiring with the opposition Social Democrats, the party that succeeded the old Communist Party of Macedonia.

While the older association argues that the property should be legally split in half, the Union insists they are sole owners of the offices.

The larger association complains it has been pushed aside by usurpers.

General Atanasovski, at 88, still has his military bearing and his pride.

Photo by: Darko Duridanski

“We view the expulsion of the veterans as a disgrace and as a shameful humiliation of those who fought in the Liberation War,” he said..

If the veterans are held guilty for anything, and thus deserve to be thrown out, they should at least be tried by a “transparent court and not some hidden, bribed court”.

“Here you are,” he added. “A new generation needs new heroes.

“Long live Macedonia. Death to the fascism, freedom for the people!” Atanasovski ended, in true Partisan style.  

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