In the Political Leanings section on page 74, I briefly mentioned that much discussion has taken place and is still taking place on whether Chereshnitcheni are Greek or pro-Greek (Grecophiles/Gercomani), Bulgarians or pro-Bulgarian (Bulgarophiles/ Bougari), or simply Slav Macedonians.

The fact is that by citizenship we are Greeks and by ethnicity we are Macedonians. We are Chereshnicheni, with Macedonian being our mother tongue. The society we lived in and generations hundreds of years before us, were interested in basic survival skills.  Our ancestors, in order to make a better living, moved from region to region. Although we talk a lot about politics, we did not have time for much political or nationalistic pursuits.

Some chose to call themselves Greeks, while others chose to call themselves Bulgarians. Still others chose neither Greek nor Bulgarian, but instead called themselves Macedonians. Whatever the case, if one chose to call himself a Greek or a Bulgarian, it is only because one chose to be called that. And that is okay. But whatever he chose to be called, he cannot escape or hide his ethnic roots or background. No one can change his ethnic background, not even himself. The first words one said after his birth were, “# ”,(Mama and Tateh), (“Mommy and Daddy”), and the first words his mother said to him were, (‘  ), Ah milo dehteh na mayka, (Ah mama’s loving boy).

In the period when we were growing up, we went to Greek school but at home we spoke Chereshnitski Macedonian. We had our own vernacular language and dialect, terminologies, and customs.One might say that is Bulgarian. Not exactly! Not only is our vocabulary not Bulgarian, but also our grammar is not Bulgarian. Bulgarians may say that they understand what we are saying, but at the same time they will tell us that we are speaking Serbian. Because at that time there was no such thing as a country of Macedonia, we did not have official schools to teach us proper Macedonian. Before Macedonia came under Greek rule, if we wanted to go to school, we had to go to a Bulgarian school. To this extent you might say that we speak Bulgarian or that the Macedonian language we speak is a dialect of Bulgarian.

The same is true of those that chose to be called Greeks. “Before World War I, Macedonians were the largest ethnic group in Aegean Macedonia, (even though today Greece denies the existence of a Slav Macedonian minority in Greece)… between 1913 and 1923 major population shifts significantly changed the demographic make-up of the region…during the post-Balkan wars period, thousands of Macedonians…voluntarily left Greek Macedonia for Bulgaria….and after the Greek-Bulgarian convention of November 1919, between 52,000 and 72,000 additional Slavs left for Bulgaria…simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of Greeks from Turkey, Bulgaria, and Vardar Macedonia were resettled in northern Greece.”8 The majority of the Greeks in Aegean Macedonia are those that came from Asia Minor and were settled in Macedonia because of a vacuum created by the expelled Turks such as the village of Fotinishcha. The balance of the Greeks in Macedonia are those that were assigned duties in Macedonia by the Greek government as governors of provinces who brought with them their own police force, their own civil servants, teachers, military personnel, priests, bankers, judges, and others. Prior to and at that time, the Greek government was in the process of assimilating the Macedonian population into the Greek nation and language and did not trust Macedonians to enforce Greek laws. It was difficult for a Macedonian to progress to a higher level of education or living. Very few received more than a third grade education.

During the Bosnia and Kosovo crises the news media kept on reminding us of a new phrase, “ethnic cleansing”. To the Slav Macedonians the phrase, ethnic cleansing, has been a part of their vocabulary ever since Macedonia was divided among Greece, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Each of these countries was using every means possible to clean their area from Slav Macedonians.

A Chereshnitchenats of my age, or even twenty or thirty years younger, speaks the Greek language with a slight accent. As a case in point: Kaliopi (Liopa) Dzodzova, now married and lives in Soloun (Thessaloniki), learned that a childhood friend from America was visiting Greece. Arrangements were made for them to meet at a coffee house in Soloun. After they were served drinks, the waitress asked Liopa where was she from. “I am from Thessaloniki,” replied Liopa “I was born in Greece and I have been here all of my life,” Then Liopa added, “Why do you ask?” “I noticed an accent in your speech,” replied the waitress. Liopa is married to a Greek and has not spoken Macedonian for over fifty years.

Here is another example of two cousins, my brother John, and my cousin Nick Bellio. They are about the same age and both were born in Chereshnitsa. They both speak Macedonian, but Nick also speaks Greek while my brother does not. John and Nick were too young to go to school before the war and during the war there was no school. After the war John left for America, and Nick stayed at the village in Greece where he then went to a Greek school. My brother speaks Macedonian (Chereshnitchki) but not Greek, because at home we only spoke Macedonian.





The Popoff Girls

The Popoff girls. (L to R): Teta Fana (Gosheva), my mother Dota (Boshkova), my father Elia, Teta Dita (Belliova), and Teta Tana (Shkembova).