The founding of the Slavo-Macedonian Popular Liberation Front (SNOF) in Kastoria in October 1943 and in Florina the following November was a result of two factors: the general negotiations between Tito's envoy in Yugoslav and Greek Macedonia, Svetozar Vukmanovic-Tempo, the military leaders of the Greek Popular Liberation Army (ELAS), and the political leaders of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in July and August 1943 to co-ordinate the resistance movements; and the more specific discussions between Leonidas Stringos and the political delegate of the GHQ of Yugoslav Macedonia, Cvetko Uzunovski in late August or early September 1943 near Yannitsa. The Yugoslavs’ immediate purpose in founding SNOF was to inculcate a Slavo-Macedonian national consciousness in the Slavophones of Greek Macedonia and to enlist the Slavophones of Greek Macedonia into the resistance movement in Yugoslav Macedonia; while their indirect aim was to promote Yugoslavia's views on the Macedonian Question. The KKE had recognised the Slavophones as a "SlavoMacedonian nation" since 1934, in accordance with the relevant decision by the Comintern, and since 1935 had been demanding full equality for the minorities within the Greek state; and it now acquiesced to the founding of SNOF in the belief that this would draw into the resistance those Slavophones who had been led astray by Bulgarian Fascist propaganda. However, the Central Committee of the Greek National Liberation Front (EAM) had not approved the founding of SNOF, believing that the new organisation would conduce more to the fragmentation than to the unity of the resistance forces. This made the KKE all the more cautious with regard to the new organisation's activities.
SNOF's progress must be examined in relation to the political developments in Yugoslav Macedonia. Although Tempo managed early in 1943 to establish a Communist party in Yugoslav Macedonia and a GHQ, with Mihailo Apostolski in command and Uzunovski as political delegate, the organisation of the resistance began as soon as the Italians had surrendered and the defeat of Germany was imminent. The resistance movement in Yugoslav Macedonia had two political programmes. The one represented by Tempo and the newly-established Communist Party gave priority to battling against any form of manifest or latent pro-Bulgarian sentiment in Yugoslav Macedonia and to bringing the region into the Yugoslav federation. During the War, the question of uniting the three parts of Macedonia and incorporating them into federal Yugoslavia was considered to be of secondary importance. Attention was chiefly given to spreading propaganda about the right to self-determination of the "Slavo-Macedonian people" in Greece and Bulgaria. Tito shared this view. During the War, veterans of the interwar Bulgarian IMRO and political cadres of IMRO (United) who had accepted Slavo-Macedonism as an ethnic preference now regarded the main objective as being the unification of the three parts of Macedonia into a single state, whose postwar future was to involve not necessarily inclusion in a Yugoslav federation (in which they foresaw a new form of Serbian dominance over Macedonia), but rather membership of a Balkan federation or else independence under the protection of the Great Powers. This policy was chiefly supported by Metodija Andonov-Cento, Mane Cuckov, and Kiril Petrusevski. In 1943, Kiro Gligorov (now President of the FYROM) also favoured this solution. All the same, regardless of their priorities, both sides acknowledged the right of the "Slavo-Macedonian people" to unification.
The founding of SNOF coincided with the second meeting of the Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) in late November 1943 at Jaice. The Council decided to federalise Yugoslavia and incorporate Macedonia. However, the borders of Tito's "Macedonia" did not appear to include the Yugoslav section alone. The Council elected Dimitar Vlahov as the representative for Greek Macedonia and Vladimir Poptomov as the representative for the Bulgarian section. Directly after the Jaice meeting, military liaison officers from Yugoslav Macedonia (Kiro "Dejan" Georgievski, Petre "Pero" Novacesvski, Kole "Kolja" Todorovski-Kaninski, and Dobrivoje "Orce" Radosavljevic) infiltrated Greek Macedonia to spread propaganda to the effect that the "Macedonian people" in Greece should fight not for equality, as the KKE urged, but for self-determination, unification, and a People's Republic of "Macedonia" on the Yugoslav model, and that they should strive for a separate GHQ and separate armed units. Although the Yugoslav propaganda met with little response from the district committee of the Florina SNOF (whose members included Petros Pilals and Stavros Kotsopoulos), it was eagerly embraced by the district committee of the Kastoria SNOF (whose members included Paskhalis Mitropoulos (Paskal Mitrevski), Naoum Peyios (Naum Pejov), Lazaros Papa1azarou (Lazo Poplazarov), and Lazaros Ossenskis (Lazo DamovskiOsenski)). The immediate aims of the Kastoria SNOF were to disarm the slavophone villagers who had been armed by the Bulgarians, to persuade them to join SNOF, and to inculcate a Slavo-Macedonian national consciousness. To this end they were publishing a newspaper titled Slavjanomakedonski Glas. Given the Communist position on the existence of a "Slavo-Macedonian nation", members of SNOF demanded that the KKE recognise the Slavophones' right to self-determination. In a letter to the party organisation in Kastoria dated 24 lanuary 1944, Lazaros Ossenskis wrote:
The KKE promises the Slavo-Macedonians full equality in the framework of a People's Republic. However, the prime objective of its struggle is the liberation of the Dodecanese and Cyprus, whose people will be free to take their place in people-governed Greece. The Slavo-Macedonians justifiably ask, Why do they not leave us free to build our own culture and our national ideals, for we too are something separate, we are not Greeks, we are a Slavo-Macedonian race with different ideals, but they want us to remain within the Greek framework, giving us only equality. How does this square with the declared principles of the self-determination of peoples?
Paskhalis Mitropoulos, a graduate of the Law School of Thessaloniki University, was particularly active. Thanks to him, in March 1944 the slavophone sections of the 9th ELAS Division were omcially named the ('SIavo-Macedonian Popular Liberation Army" (SNOV) and wore their own badge on their forage-caps. In April 1944, the Yugoslav agents prevented the Slavophones from taking part in the elections for members of the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA). The blatant nationalist and autonomist propaganda of some of SNOF's leading cadres and the organisation's close dependence on the GHQ of Yugoslav Macedonia provoked such alarm in the KKE's Macedonia Bureau and in the Macedonian Divisions Group that in May 1944 it was decided to disband the organisation and amalgamate it with EAM. On 16 May 1944, at Mitropoulos' instigation, some sixty Slavophones, led by Naoum Peyios and Yorgos Touroundzas defected at Karaorman, seat of the GHQ of Yugoslav Macedonia, vilifying ELAS and EAM for their erroneous policy towards the Slavo-Macedonians.
In an attempt to resolve the crisis that had broken out between the 9th ELAS Division and the GHQ of Yugoslav Macedonia, a committee from the 28th Regiment led by Adjutant Haralambos "Athanatos" Haralambidis went to Karaorman and met Kiro "Dejan" Georgijevski on 23 May. Haralambidis protested against the smear campaign being waged against EAM and the KKE by the military liaison officers from Yugoslav Macedonia, demanded that Tito look into the matter, and presented the following demands:
However, the emergence of the "People's Republic of Macedonia" at the first meeting of the Antifascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) on 2 August 1944 produced a new parameter in the Macedonian Question. The presiding committee of ASNOM was dominated by elements that were not known for their pro-Yugoslav sentiments. They wanted Tito to secure as much independence as possible for Yugoslav Macedonia and gave priority to the unification of the three segments of Macedonia. To Tempo's great displeasure, Metodija Andonov-tento was elected president and Panko Brasnarov (a member of IMRO (United) between the Wars) vice-president.
On 2 August 1944, the anniversary of the llinden Uprising, the Florina and Kastoria Slavo-Macedonian battalion (known as the "Goce Battalion") was established in the village of Halara (Pozdivista) in the presence of representatives of the KKE, the Communist Party of Yugoslav Macedonia, and the political delegate of the 9th ELAS Division, Renos Mihaleas. The commander was Ilias "Goce" Dimakis and the political delegate Hristos Kokkinos.
Goce began systematically recruiting Slavophones in order to swell the battalion's numbers from the original 400. At the same time, liaison officers from Yugoslav Macedonia, notably Petre "Kocko" Bogdanov, were once again spreading propaganda about the right of the "Macedonian people" to self-determination and unification and demanding a GHQ. Having a somewhat hazy Leninist notion of the right to selfdetermination, Mihaleas tolerated these activities and had frequent clashes with the KKE's Macedonia Bureau, which later stripped him of his title. In a letter to Leonidas Stringos in August 1944, he wrote:
GHQ's instructions were received with some scepticism by a few of the battalion's leaders, who were well aware that the KKE would not meet their demands and therefore thought a clash with ELAS more than likely. On 3 October 1944, Naoum Soupourkas (Naum Sopurkov), the staff officer in charge of the battalion's political affairs, advised Hristos Kokkinos (Hristo Kolencev), the battalion's political delegate, to inform the Central Committee as a precautionary measure. lt remains uncertain whether or not Kokkinos did inform the KKE of Goce's plans, but the contacts between GHQ in Yugoslav Macedonia and the Goce Battalion were already common knowledge in party circles in Kastoria. In a letter to the Macedonia Bureau (dated I October 1944), the secretary of the Kastoria branch of the KKE, A. Andonopoulos, pointed out the danger posed by the activities of the "Serbo-Macedonians" and informed the Macedonia Bureau of a decision to purge the battalion of former autonomist Ohrana cadres and foreign elements.
Sensing the danger of renewed disruption, the 28th Regiment ordered the Goce Battalion to move towards Siatista and take part in operations against the Germans. Goce refused, because it would mean moving away from the cover provided by the frontier. On 5 October 1944, a meeting took place in the village of Melas between representatives of the 9th ELAS Division and representatives of the battalion, but to no avail. Another order from the 28th Regiment to cover the areas the battalion had abandoned was ignored by Goce, who, with the slogan "Free Macedonia", continued his campaign of conscription, obtaining his arms and supplies from Yugoslav Macedonia. His battalion swelled to 1,500 men. In view of this disagreeable turn of events, and despite the opposition of Stringos, who evidently wanted Tito to be told about the Goce problem, Kalambalikis, commander of the 9th Division, obtained permission from ELAS GHQ to attack te battalion. On 10 October 1944 the staff of the 28th Regiment issued Goce with an ultimatum to the effect that he was to disarm his battalion; those who had been conscripted could be dismissed and the rest incorporated into a new regiment. To avoid a direct confrontation with ELAS, on 12 October at Kocko's urging Goce ordered his battalion to retire to Yugoslav Macedonia, and the move took place with no more than some of the minor skirmishes that had been going on since 5 October. The slavophone 575-strong Aridaia-Edessa Battalion, which enjoyed considerable independence, adopted the same course. On the night of 12 October, led by staff officer Pavle Rakovski, the battalion secretly defected to Yugoslav Macedonia. In order not to arouse the suspicions of Battalion Commander Foundoulakis, the battalion's political delegate Georgi-D2odRo Urdov remained in Greece that night and deserted the next day.
As soon as the news of the Goce Battalion's desertion broke, the delegation from the 9th Division comprising Renos Mihaleas, Mihalis Keramidzis (Mihailo Keramidtiev)a Slavophone and the PEEA'^ representative in Kastoriaand Lambros Tsolakis went to GHQ in Yugoslav Macedonia to report the split and to discuss the new issues arising from it. The meeting with Tempo, Radosavljevic, and Kolisevski was fruitless, however, for they condemned the KKE for its erroneous policy over the Macedonian Question and approved Goce's conduct. On 29 October Tempo sent a telegram to Tito's HQ requesting clear official Yugoslav support for the Macedonian national liberation movement in Greece, because the Greeks "are taking full advantage of OUI silence and openly saying that Tito disapproves of the Macedonian national movement in Greece and does not want to be involved in Greece's domestic affairs". After the split, men of the Goce Battalion infiltrated Greek Macedonia to distribute propaganda sheets vaunting a "free and independent Macedonia" and demanding renewed cons cription. The question of the security of the Greek-Yugoslav border thus came up for discussion. Troops from the 27th Regiment were already guarding the Prespa frontier zone and members of the Vitsi Detachment the area between Akrita and Ayia Paraskevi; and in October 1944 the KKE's Macedonia Bureau decided to close the border. On 3 November, following the liberation of Thessaloniki, the commander of the Macedonia Divisions Group, Evripidis Bakirdzis, ordered the 10th and 9th Divisions to forrn frontier sections to guard the border and control the main passes. The order ended by stressing the need for "the composition of the squads in the sections" to be such as to "prevent any propaganda activities by the Macedonian autonomists". For obvious reasons, Slavophones who did not enjoy the confidence of EAM were excluded from the frontier sections. In order to counteract the Yugoslavo-Macedonian propaganda, the KKE decided to implement the declarations regarding the equality of minorities. So, in anticipation of liberation, Slavo-Macedonian schools began to be built and the institution of local government was inaugurated with the appointment of Slavophones officials.
Out of the Goce Battalion and the Aridaia-Edessa Battalion, "the First Aegean Macedonian Brigade" was forrned in Monastir on 18 November, its purpose being to "liberate Aegean Macedonia". The commander was Ilias Dimakis, vice-commander Naoum Peyios, political delegate Mihalis Keramidzis, and vice-delegate Vangelis Ayannis (Vangel Ajanovski-Oce). Bulgaro-Macedonians also poured into the Stip and Skopje camps; they had emigrated to Bulgaria from Greek Macedonia between the Wars and now presented themselves as Macedonian nationalists anxious to fight for the "liberation of Thessaloniki". These irredentist plans were supported both by the GHQ of Yugoslav Macedonia (Apostolski and Uzunovski) and by President Metodija Andonovtento. However, Tito was wary and summoned Paskhalis Mitropoulos to Belgrade in November and announced that it was as yet too early to bring up the question of the liberation of Thesssaloniki. Despite Tito's instructions, on 3 December Mitropoulos went ahead and set up "the Political Committee of Aegean Macedonia". The December Uprising had broken out in Athens, and in Monastir discussions were afoot as to whether or not "the Aegean Macedonian Brigade", which had expressed the desire to fight as a "Macedonian arrny" with ELAS against Zervas in Epirus, should be sent into Greece. Suspecting that if "the Aegean Macedonian Brigade" did go to Greece as a "Macedonian anny" it would occupy Macedonian towns and essentially turn against ELAS, on 14 December Andreas Dzimas went to Monastir and announced the brigade should either hand over its weapons to ELAS or disband, go to Greece, and fight Zervas simply as a section of ELAS.
The movements of "the Aegean Macedonian Brigade" alarmed Maclean, leader of the British military mission in Yugoslavia, and in mid-December he voiced protests to Tito. Tito hastened to reassure him that no military unit would cross the Greek-Yugoslav border. With a political leadership in Skopje that was interested not in bringing Yugoslav Macedonia into the Yugoslav Federation so much as in seceding and establishing a united and independent Macedonia, and given that Yugoslavia was not yet fully liberated and priority had to be given to the problem of Trieste, Tito was walking a delicate tightrope and had no desire to clash with the British. He wrote to GHQ in Yugoslav Macedonia forbidding "the Aegean Macedonian Brigade" to enter Greece. To its members' chagrin, the brigade was ordered soon afterwards to fight against Balli Kombetar's Albanian nationalist bands in Gostivar. Those who had come from Bulgaria and presented themselves as Macedonian nationalists were ordered to fight the Gennans on the Srem front. Any who refused were executed on Tempo's orders at the Kalje camp in Skopje on 6 lanuary 1945. The "Aegean Macedonian Brigade" was disbanded on 6 May 1945 and its members incorporated into the Yugoslav army, while Tito gradually assumed control over Yugoslav Macedonia.
Goce's secessionist movement has been the subject of much discussion. The official historical version presented by Skopje is that the Slavo-Macedonians' disruptive actions resulted from the KKE's erroneous policy over the Macedonian Question and EAM's concessions to Greek reaction and British policy (Lebanon and Kazerta), which made the Slavo-Macedonians afraid that the old bourgeois chauvinist regime would be restored and increased their need to differentiate their position from that of EAM/ELAS. This is a mistaken a postenori interpretation of events. It is part of the general opinion expressed by Yugoslav historians that the basic reason for of EAM's defeat was the failure to establish a Balkan HQ and the attachment of ELAS to the Middle East HQ, which meant that the EAM/ELAS resistance movement was directly dependent on British policy. When Peyios' split took place, the Lebanon Charter had not yet been signed. The forming of an interim government of national unity was a common phenomenon in countries with resistance movements. Tito himself had concluded an agreement on 16 lune 1944 with Subasic's government in exile. Furthermore Tito's partisans also received British assistance. The KKE could not implement the Yugoslav Communist Party's policy on the Macedonian Question, because conditions in Greek Macedonia were very different from those in Yugoslav Macedonia. The autonomist movements of the Slavophones in Greek Macedonia were above all a result of the expansionist policy of the political and military agencies in Yugoslav Macedonia and were fomented by the military liaison officers operating in Greek Macedonia. They followed the same policy with regard to Bulgarian Macedonia even before the political swing of 9 September. The response was muted, however. Goce conscripted some 1,500 individuals and Urdov 575, and 5,000 Slavophones fought in the ranks of ELAS. Many of those who followed Goce soon realised the rash nature of the movement and expressed their desire to return. Naoum Soupourkas, who was in charge of the Goce Battalion's political affairs, was a typical case.
Leading cadres of the KKE also cite the autonomist propaganda being spread by the Yugoslav agents in Greek Macedonia, though they also express the opinion that the British fostered Goce's disruptive action. In his postwar report to the Central Committee of the KKE, Stringos wrote:
Goce's split from the sections of the 9th Division was directed by all the existing elements, but most immediately by the Mitrovski clique. The split took place precisely the day before the liberation of Greece and its purpose was to further the plans of the [British], i.e. to weaken us at the most decisive moment. The [British] on the one hand parachuted in extra supplies for the Goce section in order to reinforce it and on the other used their agents or influential men (Kalabalikis, Bakirdzis, etc.) to try to persuade us to concentrate our forces against the Goce section. Kalabalikis requested that the forces be directed towards Goce, and this was countermanded by the intervention of the organisers. Just before our forces were concentrated on Thessaloniki, Bakirdzis also requested that our forces be directed towards Goce. This too was countermanded thanks to the intervention of the party organisers.
Extreme views were expressed by Markos Vafiadis, who, with Bakirdzis, was joint commander of the Macedonia Group Division.
There can be no doubt that, during the occupation and in order to keep EAM together, the KKE handled the Macedonian Question sensitively. However, the recognition of the existence of a "Macedonian nation" (which was the KKE's fundamental mistake and the source of its inconsistent policy vis-a-vis the Macedonian Question), the confusion of the national and the ideological sphere, and above all the influence of external factors, all had the effect of making the Slavophones in Greek Macedonia opt for different political choices than the official party line. But the situation was not out of control, and the majority of the Slavophones preferred to fight in the ranks of ELAS, rather than SNOF and the Goce Battalion. The unstable political situtation in Greece following the Varkiza agreement, coupled with the Civil War, presented the KKE leadership with some difficult decisions and made the Macedonian Question its Achilles’ heel.