No. 1071
The Ambassador in Greece (MacVeagh) to the Secretary of State
No. 1331

Subject: Political and Economic Conditions in Northern Greece.

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 1213 of June 23, 1945,1 and to transmit herewith a survey of politico-economic conditions in Northern Greece prepared by Third Secretary Leonard J. Cromie, together with a copy of a report on the British Army in Greece and its relationship to Greek armed forces prepared by Captain William H. McNeill, Assistant Military Attaché, who accompanied Mr. Cromie on his recent tour (June 12–24) of Macedonia and Western Thrace. These reports may perhaps be usefully read in conjunction with my despatch No. 1282 of July 4 on Developments [Page 1049] in the North of Greece: Frontier Incidents and Anglo-Russian Relations2 and my telegrams No. 695 of July 103 and No. 708 of July 14,4 referring to Marshal Tito’s speech of July 8.

Mr. Cromie’s report, based on first-hand observation and numerous, on-the-spot conversations with representative persons of all factions and classes as well as other reliable intelligence data available to the Embassy, fails to support in any substantial degree the allegations of Marshal Tito and the Moscow and Balkan Soviet press regarding anarchy and wholesale terror in Northern Greece. The overall picture of conditions in that area resembles that of the rest of the country, with the possible difference, characteristic of the “New Greece” acquired after the Balkan and first World Wars, of more pronounced republicanism in the cities and a more kaleidoscopic pattern of political sentiment in the countryside owing to the presence of some minority groups and of large numbers of Greek refugees from Asia Minor.

Figures cited by Mr. Cromie on the prison population of various small towns in Northern Greece and the high ratio of arrests to convictions do bear witness to the deficiencies of present Greek regional administrative and judicial procedure and the disregard of local officials of royalist persuasion for the civil liberties of leftists and Slavophones. Certain of the latter who have identified themselves with the “Free Macedonian” movement or who have relatives among the ELASites now in Yugoslavia have doubtless found it expedient, as Marshal Tito stated, to seek a more congenial political clime across the border. A New York Times Correspondent, Mr. Sam Brewer, told me today that he interviewed last week in Monastir a score of such persons who had recently come from Greece. They gave such reasons for their move as “because we were suspected of being Tito’s spies” or “because we love Stalin”. Brewer was told by Yugoslav authorities, who invited him to inspect frontier registers, that about 1,000 refugees of this type have already crossed the border at the Monastir Gap and 3,000 in the Lake Dojran region. Granted the existence of some injustice, the bitter legacy of Slavophone collaborationism during the war and of post-liberation civil strife, it must also be borne in mind, as pointed out in the attached reports, that a determined effort is being made by the British to restore order and safeguard civil liberties with the sincere support of many enlightened Greek officials acting in accordance with the directives of their well-intentioned if still weak central Government.

An objective understanding of the true situation in Northern Greece [Page 1050] is essential if the threat to this strategic and rich territory implied in the current war of nerves directed against Greece is to be averted. Captain McNeill’s report shows that local British and Greek forces could scarcely block a Soviet-sponsored military promenade to the Aegean disguised as a “Free Macedonian” uprising. Firm diplomacy, therefore, backed by informed public opinion in the Western Democracies, will be needed to make it clear that, while the legitimate desire of the Yugoslavs and Bulgarians for port and transit facilities may be satisfied, the perpetration of a major crime against a loyal member of the United Nations on the pretext of correcting transient and relatively insignificant abuses cannot be tolerated.

Respectfully yours,

Lincoln MacVeagh
[Enclosure 1—Extracts]

Northern Greece

A Regional Survey of Present Conditions

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The spotlight of world attention is once again swinging back to Macedonia and Western Thrace, granary of Greece and outpost of British influence in the Balkans, in which the struggle for rehabilitation is being carried on in an atmosphere dangerously troubled by ideologic and ethnic conflict and the clash of rival territorial ambitions, the Greek claim to a more strategic northern boundary and the quest of the Slavs and Bulgars for footholds on the Aegean.

UNRRA food shipments and the indestructible fertility of the soil have laid the specter of actual starvation in Northern Greece despite a fifty percent failure of this year’s grain crop. But a serious lack of transport is impeding the distribution of foodstuffs and the launching of the rehabilitation program that is needed to dissipate internal discontent which breeds disorder and on which international rivalries batten.

Internal conflicts in Northern Greece find their origin not only in economic distress but also in the different backgrounds of the various Greek and non-Hellenic population groups. Rightist leanings prevail among native Greeks in both rural and urban districts, while Greek refugees from the Turkish cities and Transcaucasia and the Slavo-Macedonian minority have mainly gravitated toward the left. The result is a kaleidoscopic pattern of political sentiment throughout the area.

[Page 1051]

Political passions and ethnic differences, exacerbated by the war and civil strife, inevitably breed a certain amount of injustice and violence. Scant respect is shown for the civil liberties of leftists, and members of the Slavophone minority, as a consequence of their alleged pro-Bulgar attitude, are deprived of cultural rights and subjected to petty persecution by their Greek neighbors and local police authorities. The British, with one division and some armored units in the area, stand as arbiters in the midst of turmoil under a group of able and impartial officers, but their task is complicated by the disorganized state of Greek judicial and administrative machinery and the complacency of royalist officials.

It should not be assumed, however, that a state of anarchy exists in Northern Greece, where the average citizen, thanks to the presence of the British and the moderate policy of the Athens Government, probably enjoys a greater measure of personal security and freedom than in any other country of the Balkans. Tito’s flight of “thousands and thousands of refugees from the terror of Greek reactionaries”5 is largely a flight of fancy.

Difficulties which do exist would solve themselves in the absence of outside pressure. In particular, it is most likely that the few Slavic remnants left in Northern Greece would become painlessly Hellenized within one or two generations were it not for the possibility of the Soviet Balkan bloc’s using the “Free Macedonia” movement as a key to conquest. In this connection, the exact import of the present war of nerves and of the armies now poised at the strategic gateways to Greece, to which no effective, immediate resistance could be offered, warrants most careful consideration by the Western Powers. For loss of her Northern Provinces would not only be a mortal blow to Greece and a shocking violation of the principles of the United Nations, but an event of major geopolitical importance in the Mediterranean.


Northern Greece is the breadbasket and the powder keg of the Hellenic Nation. Before the war, the Provinces of Macedonia and Western Thrace, with about one quarter of the population of Greece, accounted for forty to fifty percent of Greek agricultural production. In Greece’s present straitened circumstances, the economic resources of the area should be invaluable. They would also be useful to covetous neighbors. The traditional political importance of the region, deriving from its wealth, its strategic location and the mottled ethnic composition of its population, is enhanced today by its position on a key frontier between the zones of Russian and British influence in Europe, a frontier which the Greeks would like to push [Page 1052] northward and which the Soviet Balkan bloc, according to many indications, would like to push into the sea.

The picture of Northern Greece today is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, the litter of war: twisted rails and hundreds upon hundreds of wrecked cars and locomotives in the railroad yards of Salonika; the Port of Salonika a shambles of sunken ships and broken cranes; the burned village of Lekhovon, one among many, stark but still picturesque on the mountainside; destroyed bridges and railroad spans, testimonials to the ruthless efficiency of German sappers. On the other hand, scenes of normality and peace: the Germans spread destruction no farther east than the Strymon River. Beyond, the Bulgars were careful to leave undamaged “their” Provinces of Eastern Macedonia and Western Thrace to which they hope to return. Bridges are intact, highways have actually been improved, reforestation projects dot the southern slopes of the Rhodope Mountains, and the housing problem is relieved in some areas by hundreds of neat, concrete village bungalows erected for Bulgarian settlers. The railroads from Serres to Alexandroupolis and from the latter Port to Adrianople are running, although on a reduced schedule owing to lack of rolling stock. In the whole of Northern Greece, the peasants are busy at their usual seasonal pursuits, but their attitude is by no means uniform. Whereas broad smiles and the brave thumbs-up gesture universally greet the jeep traveller in the Greek villages and districts, the Slavophone peasants, particularly in the northwest frontier regions, are morose and sullen. In Salonika and the large towns, life appears quite normal on the surface with no suggestion of a “reign of terror”, but the building next to the Prefecture in Fiorina has been converted into a detention barracks and the barred windows are crowded with political prisoners.

Such are the highlights of the general picture of Northern Greece in June 1945. Because the spotlight of world attention may shortly be focused on this area, it may be of interest to fill in some of the details.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

iii—the political imbroglio

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rival Territorial Ambitions

The economic and political problems of the 1,700,000 inhabitants of Northern Greece would be of scant interest to the outside world were it not for international factors which not only complicate the solution of local problems but threaten to compromise the political future of the region as an integral part of Greece and consequently the present balance of power in the Mediterranean and around the [Page 1053] Dardanelles. These factors have already been mentioned and are well known: on the one hand, agitation in Greece for territorial expansion northward; on the other hand, the old Russian drive for a window on the Aegean, currently masquerading as a “Free Macedonia Movement”.

With regard to Greek expansionism, it need only be said that the naturally receptive state of mind of the public is being exploited and stimulated to the utmost by public leaders and editors as a tactic of internal politics. In this, the situation resembles the pattern of the whole country. The particular claim to Turkish Thrace recently featured by the Communists arouses little interest. The usual response to questions on this matter was: “It would be very nice, of course, to have Eastern Thrace, but we do not want to complicate our relations with Turkey.”* In view of the present unequal balance of forces in southeastern Europe, Greek expansionism is of immediate interest only insofar as it might conceivably provide a pretext for “precautionary” troop concentrations on the opposite side of the frontier or even for positive “preventive action” by Greece’s neighbors backed by the Soviet Union.

Minorities—Turks, Kutzo-Vlachs and Armenians

It is much more likely, however, that minority grievances would be invoked as justification for Soviet intervention in Northern Greece, and it will therefore be of interest to follow closely the post-war development of Greek policy towards the minorities, the attitudes and problems of the different minorities, and their susceptibility to foreign propaganda and influence.

Of the four principal minorities in Northern Greece, Turks, Kutzo-Vlachs, Armenians and Slavo-Macedonians, now as before the war, the most contented and best treated are certainly the Turks. The Greeks generally credit the Turks in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace with having observed a correctly non-cooperative attitude towards the Bulgarian forces of occupation and have accordingly permitted them to reopen their schools, practise their religion, and enjoy a large measure of cultural freedom. Their lot is not quite perfect, according to the Turkish Consul at Komotiní. Like minorities everywhere, they suffer some persecution from neighbors of the dominant ethnic group, and local officials are not over-zealous in protecting their rights and interests. It is this situation, the Consul said, which led to the emigration of considerable numbers of Turks from Western to [Page 1054] Eastern Thrace earlier this year (despatch No. 965 of May 1, 1945,6 page 17). Some difficulty, too, was caused by recent action of the Greek authorities in ordering the summary expulsion of some 2,000 Pommacks (Bulgarian subjects of Turkish descent) from Western Thrace. Upon the refusal of the Bulgars and Turks to permit these people to cross the border, the British intervened to have the order suspended and there the matter now rests. Apart from these observations, the Consul formulated no general grievances against Greek Government policy.

The Kutzo-Vlachs are a lesser minority, partially Hellenized, mostly scattered in small villages in Western Macedonia. Moreover, the Rumanian motherland is conveniently remote. Though occasionally troublesome, this minority does not appear to arouse serious Greek animosity or apprehensions. The Inspector General of Rumanian Schools at Salonika (an official of the former Rumanian Government whose present status is dubious) stated that some of the Rumanian elementary schools have already been reopened. The secondary schools have not.

As for the Armenians, their trading instinct apparently got the better of their neo-Hellenism during the Bulgarian occupation, with the result that they find themselves in a very difficult situation today. Andreas Kondoianopoulos, Prefect of the Nome of Rhodope, spoke very bitterly of their collaborationist activities during the war, and a family of five Armenians was brutally murdered at Xánthi in early June for their alleged pro-Bulgar attitude.

The Slavo-Macedonians

Most troublesome and largest minority in Northern Greece are, of course, the Slavo-Macedonians. It was they, for example, who undoubtedly inspired the Yugoslav Minister of State’s7 ominous reference in Politika (Belgrade) of June 21 to “current outrages in Aegean Macedonia”, which “is Yugoslav just like all the other Yugoslav federal units”. (According to this same statement, the minority numbers 260,000 persons, which would be about fifteen percent of the total population of Northern Greece. Greek sources usually give a total of 80,000 Macedonians, 70,000 in Western Macedonia and 10,000 in Western Thrace. They also tend to play down the distinct ethnic character of the minority, pointing out that virtually all the Slavophones know how to speak Greek and asserting that fifty percent are Greek in sentiment anyhow.

[Page 1055]

The present situation of the Slavophones is the outgrowth of Greek policy towards them in the past and their own behavior during the recent years of Bulgarian and German occupation. It may be recalled that Venizelos attempted to woo with kindness and preferential treatment the Slav remnants left in Greece after the population exchange of 1924. Metaxas abruptly reversed this policy and even forbade the use of the Macedonian language. As a consequence, the Slavophones generally welcomed the Germans and Bulgars as liberators and collaborated with them whole-heartedly. In return, Slavic villages were usually untouched by the conquerors while many Greek villages were razed, and the Slavic peasants were allowed to enrich themselves at the expense of their unhappy Greek neighbors. Later, with the changing tide of war, Macedonian autonomist leaders such as Gotsi§ began to see the wisdom of collaborating with EAM/ELAS with a view to the realization of their objectives through the medium of Soviet federalism. Their cooperation was welcomed at first by the Greek Andartes, but the Macedonian guerilla chiefs soon demonstrated by their attitude and indiscipline that they were more interested in promoting Macedonian autonomy than in fighting against the Germans or for a socialist Greece.

The opportunism of the Slavophones and their autonomist activities have embarrassed their traditional friends, the Greek left, and aroused the active animosity of Greek nationalists. EAM leaders, whatever their Marxist convictions regarding the insignificance of national frontiers, are good enough political realists to be unwilling to offend the patriotic sentiments of the Greek electorate, including rank-and-file leftists, in order to win the support of a minority or even to please the comrades abroad. Accordingly, present EAM policy would allow the Slavophones their own schools and church services in Macedonian, but would insist that higher studies be pursued in Greek at Greek universities. On the other hand, a typical Greek nationalist such as the Bishop of Fiorina8 favors the Metaxist policy of forbidding entirely the use of the Macedonian tongue.

In this, as in connection with policy towards Greek leftists, the Greek Government authorities seem to be following a middle-of-the-road course and sinning more by omission than by commission. There is no positive reign of terror directed against the Slavophones as such, and they are secure in their lives and in the essential right of land tenure. Those who have fled to Yugoslavia have apparently done so because they feared arrest as political leftists or autonomist agitators. A promise of improved conditions may be seen in the visit to Fiorina [Page 1056] on June 27 and 28 of Governor General Merenditis of Northern Greece, whose fair attitude has already been demonstrated by his refusal to permit discrimination in the distribution of UNRRA foodstuffs as between Greek and Slavophone villages. According to an OSS source, Governor General Merenditis hopes to reenforce security by bringing a National Guard battalion to Fiorina for border patrol duties and 1,200 Gendarmes to Fiorina, Kastoria and Kozani. He has, moreover, ordered that arbitrary arrests must cease, that all cases involving charges of autonomist activities must be cleared up within two months, and that the Slavo-Macedonians are to be assured their full rights as Greek citizens including the right to speak their own language.

The future of the Slavophones of Northern Greece will be determined by the further evolution of relations between the Balkan Soviet bloc and Greece and the Soviet Union and the Western Powers. Left to themselves, they would, in all probability, become painlessly Hellenized within one or two generations—a normal solution for the problem of a minority which is too small and too scattered geographically to warrant indefinite, special protection and perpetuation as a distinct ethnic unit.

Attitude of the Balkan Soviet Bloc

It appears, unfortunately, that the Slavophone minority is too convenient a peg on which to hang Balkan-Soviet territorial ambitions to be allowed to die a natural and peaceful death, for a mounting weight of evidence indicates that this bloc intends to make such capital as it can out of the Macedonian imbroglio.

Acquisition of all or a substantial part of Northern Greece would give the Russians one outlet on the Aegean and result in the strategic investment of the coveted Dardanelles. Moreover, this oblique movement would appear to have the advantage over a frontal attack on Turkey in that it could be carried out by non-Russian forces against a relatively undefended territory under the guise of assisting a “spontaneous uprising of oppressed peoples”. British commanding officers in Northern Greece are inclined to discount, on political grounds, the likelihood of an immediate attack from the north, but they are fully alive to the strategic implications of the potentially hostile forces now massed near each of the gateways to Greece, the Monastir Gap, the Strymon Valley, and the Roupel Pass. Defense of the area in the event of attack being out of the question in view of the relative weakness of the British (one division and units of an armored brigade), these are now engaged in maneuvers and a study of troop dispositions [Page 1057] for a covering action to permit orderly withdrawal from Salonika in a few days’ time.

British diplomacy is presumably equally aware of the possible implications behind the present war of nerves directed against Greece, but it can scarcely afford to adopt a similar policy of retreat. Appeasement on the issue of Northern Greece would involve the surrender of an important bastion of security in the Mediterranean, the betrayal of a loyal ally and the overwhelmingly Greek population of the affected area, and abandonment of the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations,9 tantamount to hoisting the white flag over that newly-erected citadel of peace.

[Enclosure 2]
No. R 121–45

Revised British Plans:

1. Contingent upon what the Government’s policy will be following the elections in Great Britain, it has been recently decided to keep the two British divisions which now garrison Greece in the Country through the coming winter. At the same time, top priority for supply to the Greek Forces has been assigned to the Gendarmerie, in the hope that the gendarmes will be sufficiently well organized and able (1) to enforce law and order in Greece during the coming year; and (2) to supervise the elections and/or the plebiscite which the British hope to see held in November. (The elections are for members to the Chamber of Deputies; the plebiscite will decide upon the return of the King, or the formation of a Republic.) To achieve this, the National Guard battalions have been seriously weakened by the withdrawal of volunteers for the Gendarmerie; and the effort to rebuild the Greek Army has come to a standstill after the formation of a single division.


2. The British troops which were originally despatched to Greece included a small force designed to harass the retreating Germans, and a larger number of service troops who were expected to administer the civilian relief program. After ELAS attempted to carry through a revolution in December 1944, three additional British divisions were sent to Greece. This force succeeded in driving ELAS from Athens, and later superintended the disarmament and disbandment of ELAS, and then occupied all the principal centers of Greece. [Page 1058] One division was withdrawn in April, leaving the present garrison behind.

3. During March and April 1945, the British planned to create a Greek National Army of three divisions by November; and, as soon as these divisions were ready, to withdraw the British force. Meanwhile, as a stop gap, National Guard battalions were organized to perform police work in the areas taken over from the control of ELAS. In fact, however, supplies have not been delivered in sufficient quantity to equip three Greek divisions; and the National Guard has made a rather bad name for itself by sporadic illegality and violence directed against persons known or suspected of being Leftists. It is in view of these conditions that British authorities in London have tentatively decided to retain British troops in Greece over the winter, and to endeavor to establsh a Gendarmerie that may perform its police duties more impartially and with less violence than does the National Guard.

Role of British Troops in Greece:

4. It is a general policy of the British army to leave as much of the policing of Greece to Greeks as is possible. In Southern Greece, where there are relatively few supporters of EAM/ELAS, British troops are concentrated in battalion or larger units, and very seldom intervene either to support or to restrain the Greek authorities. In Central and Northern Greece, however, where a large percentage of popular sentiment is antagonistic to the present government of Greece and opposes the Gendarmerie and National Guard, British troops are dispersed in company and platoon detachments; and normally, whenever something unusual is in the wind, mixed Greek and British patrols are organized to investigate. In general, British efforts are directed more toward restraining the illegal and violent methods favored by some members of the National Guard, than toward supporting the National Guard against bandits or other opponents.

5. When winter comes, with its attendant difficulties of transportation (the roads of Western Macedonia are snowbound for about three months), British troops will perforce be concentrated in the principal communications centers of Northern Greece, and policing of the smaller towns and villages will be left exclusively in the hands of Greek forces. General Boucher plans to station his troops in battalion camps for the winter, located in the following towns: Komotiní, Kavalla, Drama; Serres, Salonika, Kilkís; Verroia, Edessa, Kozáni. It is not even sure whether the road to Kozáni can be kept open through the winter, since snow plow equipment will be necessary, and is not yet on hand.

[Page 1059]

Future of the National Guard:

6. As soon as the Gendarmerie is up to strength, and no longer needs National Guard assistance to police the country, the British expect to convert the National Guard battalions into a Frontier Force, totalling 9–12 battalions. Surplus personnel will be transferred to the regular army, or else demobilized. According to present hopes and plans, the transfer of all police responsibility from the National Guard will be completed before November.

7. For the present, the National Guard is being starved of equipment and milked of men for the benefit of the Gendarmerie. Plans for raising new National Guard battalions have been dropped, with the result that some districts of Greece are policed by locally recruited National Guardsmen, while others are under the “Athens battalions” which were originally raised during December to fight against ELAS in Athens and Piraeus. The nominal strength of a National Guard battalion is 530, all ranks; but actually many battalions in Northern Greece can muster no more than 200 men at the present time, owing largely to transfers to the Gendarmerie.

The Gendarmerie:

8. The Gendarmerie is expected to control Greece with half the number of men used by the National Guard (30,000 as against 60,000). It is a volunteer, career service; and at the present time, its ranks are being recruited largely from among former Gendarmes and present day National Guardsmen. British officers believe that the Gendarmerie will establish a better reputation for itself than has the National Guard; that it will meet with less hostility among the population; and that, consequently, it will be able to establish smaller detachments, and man smaller, more numerous posts. The British apparently rely on an election to clear the political air in Greece, hoping that it will stabilize the government, and thus facilitate the task of the Gendarmerie.

9. Up to the present, only a more or less skeleton Gendarme organization has been established throughout Greece. Actual day to day policing has been taken over by the Gendarmes in all the principal provincial towns, and in a few of the villages small detachments have been set up. As more men come from Athens, more and more of these village detachments will be sent to their stations, until there will be one Gendarme post for every three or four villages in Greece.

The National Army:

10. Since it has been decided to keep British troops in Greece for an additional six months or more, the urgency of the need for a Greek National Army has lessened; and, due to an acute shortage of almost [Page 1060] every sort of military equipment, plans for the establishment of two more divisions (in Salonika and Thessaly) have been indefinitely postponed.


11. This revision of British plans is made inevitable by their failure to deliver supplies sufficient to equip the proposed Greek army. It is made advisable by the fact that it is quite improbable that any Greek force would be able to maintain peace and order inside the country were it not supported (and restrained) by foreign troops; and a turbulent Greece might easily inflame world relations by entangling Russian with British interests.

12. At the same time, it appears doubtful whether the Gendarmerie will prove much less partisan than the National Guard in its administration of the law. Its members are all recruited from the Right; and many of them have served as Gendarmes under both Metaxas and the Germans. Furthermore, given the volatile Greek temperament, it is a question whether an early election will not rather exacerbate than calm political passions in this country.

William H. McNeill
Captain, C. A. C., Asst. Military Attaché.

Approved and forwarded:

Sterling L. Larrabee
Lt. Colonel, G. S. C., Military Attaché.
  1. Document No. 454, printed in vol. i.
  2. Document No. 458, printed in vol. i.
  3. Document No. 461, printed in vol. i.
  4. Document No. 463, printed in vol. i
  5. See vol. i, document No. 461, footnote 2.
  6. When asked whether the Turks were alarmed by this claim, Mr. Muzaffer Gorduysus, Turkish Consul at Komotiní with jurisdiction over the border area, smiled and shrugged his shoulders: “Not at all,” he said, “I have pointed out to my Greek friends that their Army would not get beyond our customs posts much less our frontier defenses.” [Footnote in the original.]
  7. Not printed.
  8. Despatch No. 1152 of June 6, 1945: [“]The Kutzo-Vlachs as a Disturbing Factor in Balkan Affairs”. [Footnote in the original; despatch not printed.]
  9. Mane Cuckov.
  10. Shantz’s press telegram No. 6 of June 21, 1945. [Footnote in the original; telegram not printed.]
  11. The history of the Gosti movements is discussed in detail in … [a report from Athens dated] May 7, 1945. [Footnote in the orginal; report not printed.]
  12. Vassilios.
  13. A policy favored by Major General Boucher on the grounds of the collaborationist activities of the Slavophones and their lesser need. [Footnote in the original.]
  14. [A footnote which appears in the original at this point is not printed.]
  15. Treaty Series No. 993; 59 Stat. (2) 1031.