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MHRMI 2006 Annual Report
The Macedonian Minority in Greece


April 3, 2006


Introduction

Greece vigorously denies the existence of any ethnic minorities on its territory and attempts to suppress any voices that advocate human rights. Simply raising the issue of the Macedonian minority in Greece causes Greek citizens and politicians alike to react in outrage. The majority of Greek society supports its government's non-recognition and discrimination of its large Macedonian minority. Following are several examples of Greece’s constant abuse of the Macedonian minority’s rights.

Freedom of Expression and the Media

On August 14, 2005, the Greek daily newspaper “Makedonia” censored an article on the Macedonian language in Greece entitled “A Short Note on a Banned Language”. Writer Thanasis Triaridis discussed Greece’s refusal to recognize its national minorities and called for the lifting of the ban on the Macedonian language. Greek Helsinki Monitor condemned the censorship and considered it a ”…violation of freedom of expression, symptomatic of the prevailing intolerance towards national minorities in Greece, and especially the Macedonian minority. Such an attitude is incompatible with the "state of law" that is supposed to prevail in Greece, and was denounced in 2004 and 2005 by a number of international organisations, which urged Greece to recognize its minorities and respect their freedom of expression and association.” 1

On June 2, 2005, Greek authorities refused to issue accreditation to three Macedonian journalists working for television station A1 (based in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia) who wanted to travel to northern Greece to meet with members of the region's Macedonian minority. Reporters Without Borders stated, “A refusal by the authorities of a European Union member country to grant accreditation to foreign journalists without any official explanation and without legal grounds constitutes an obstruction to the free movement of journalists and a press freedom violation. This behaviour by the Greek authorities could set a dangerous precedent and could encourage other countries to screen visa and accreditation requests from foreign journalists according to the subjects they want to cover," 2

On March 27, 2005, the 2nd channel of Greek State Television (NET) aired the previously banned documentary entitled “Taxidevontas stin Ellada” (Traveling in Greece). The initial broadcast of the video (dedicated to Florina/Lerin region) was scheduled for March 20, 2005 but was postponed because, according to the presenter, the inhabitants of a Florina/Lerin village stated on camera that the Greek state banned the use of their Macedonian mother tongue.

After EBLUL’s official protest for the ban of the broadcast and in cooperation with Greek Helsinki Monitor the issue was brought to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva. After the virulent criticism from the members of the Committee, Greece’s representative claimed that the documentary was not broadcast due to “technical reasons” only and promised it would be aired on the 27th of March, as it eventually happened. 3

On Friday, 4 June 2004, police entered the premises of the private radio station Makedonikos Ichos (Macedonian Sound) in Naoussa (Negush), ceased transmission and arrested the owner, Aris Vottaris. The official explanation was that this radio station had no licence for local or regional transmission. Vottaris was released after a few hours, but charges were pressed against him because of illegal transmission and lack of documents. Vottaris often transmitted traditional songs and dances in the Macedonian language, as well as using the Macedonian language on air.

“In SEEMO’s opinion, it is very surprising that only this radio station was shut down, although, according to our sources, there are many other radio stations operating in the prefectures of Imathia and Pella (N.Greece) under the same conditions. SEEMO asks Greek officials to speed up the process of regulation-making for radio licences, especially for alternative radio stations such as Makedonikos Ichos, which are working on regional or local level. We would like to remind, that it is crucial for journalists that they can do their job freely and that independent media are very important for democratic development in any country”. 4

US State Department Continues to Misrepresent the Macedonian Minority in Greece 5
  • Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) expresses its profound disapproval of the US State Department’s systematic policy of questioning the legitimacy of the Macedonian minority in Greece. Every year, the US State Department issues its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, which perpetuates stereotypes against Macedonians rather than focusing on actual human rights abuses committed by Greece against Macedonians.

    In an obvious attempt to appease Greek sensitivities to the Macedonian issue, the US State Department places the term Macedonian in quotation marks, refers to Macedonians as “Slavophones” and refers to the Macedonian language as “Slavo-Macedonian”, and a “Slavic dialect”.

    Despite repeated requests by various human rights organizations, including MHRMI, Greek Helsinki Monitor, and Rainbow/Vinozhito, the US State Department reports are still grossly inadequate and mirror the official Greek position that the Macedonian minority is illegitimate. Greek Helsinki Monitor noted this long-standing problem in 2002:

    “[The US State Department’s] attitude towards Macedonians in Greece, as reflected in the annual reports, cannot therefore be considered an oversight, or a result of lack of information; on the contrary it is a sustained and deliberate policy of complacency towards Greek authorities on the most sensitive human rights issue in Greece."

    MHRMI calls on the US State Department to correct its past errors and issue an immediate press release to rectify its erroneous statements about the Macedonian minority in Greece.
Name Dispute between Greece and Republic of Macedonia

Greece’s objection to the name of the Republic of Macedonia is an ongoing issue that has especially harsh consequences for the Macedonian minority in Greece. Following are excerpts from a Rainbow/Vinozhito letter to UN Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz following his April, 2005 proposal on the name dispute. It outlines the reasons why only Macedonia’s constitutional name is acceptable. 6
  • Our political position on the issue of the name of the Republic of Macedonia is based on the democratic principle that every individual and every people has the right to choose the name by which it wishes to define itself. We believe that this individual and collective democratic right is a European as well as a universal value. After all, it is on the basis of this principle that we call ourselves ethnic Macedonians in Greece.

    Concerning the name per se of the state of Republic of Macedonia, it is already a composite since “Republic of Macedonia,” which denotes statehood, differentiates from “Macedonia.” Besides which, no province of Greece carries the name “Republic of Macedonia,” to create confusion with the use of the above term.

    The Greek government’s objections to the use of the term are on the surface a technical problem, since the key to the so-called “Macedonian issue” lies elsewhere. The problem in the region as far as the Macedonian issue is concerned is, in essence, the refusal of the Balkan countries, including Greece, to recognize the existence and to respect the rights of the Macedonian nation. This of course also entails the refusal to recognize the existence and the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece. The problem is not as the Greek government presents it; it is not about cultural heritage, or that a portion of territorial Greece bears the administrative name Province of Macedonia, or that the neighboring state calls itself Republic of Macedonia. What the Greek government stubbornly refuses to admit is that it does not agree with the ethnic use of the terms “Macedonia,” or “Macedonian” because of the existence of the Macedonian minority in Greece, whom (according to Greek nationalists) could potentially rise up in the future with separatist demands. This is the real problem for the Greek government, and not its neighboring country’s name. However, if the Greek government admits this, then it must also proceed with proper measures to recognize and respect the rights of the minority. However, we believe that it is precisely through this way and practice, as implemented in the democratic countries of Europe, that peace and stability can be strengthened in the region. The latter is certainly not achieved by suppressing the rights of minorities such as the Macedonian minority, or by questioning the right of a neighboring state to use the name Macedonia.
Freedom of Association

Greece Refuses to Register Home of Macedonian Culture Despite European Court Ruling

The European Court of Human Rights convicted Greece for a violation of freedom of association in the case of Sideropoulos and others vs. Greece in 1998 for failing to register the Home of Macedonian Culture. Despite repeated attempts since then, the Home of Macedonian Culture (HMC) has encountered numerous obstacles in trying to register the association. A complete summary of the events surrounding Greece’s refusal to register the Home can be found at the Greek Helsinki Monitor’s special webpage on the subject: http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/home_of_macedonian_civilization.html

The HMC filed an application with the Single-Member Court of First Instance in Florina in June 2003. After a lengthy delay, the court issued its decision on December 19, 2003, rejecting the application by the Home of Macedonian Culture and making the following outrageous claims: ‘the formulation of the associations’ articles is unclear and can cause confusion regarding its real goal…The use of the term ‘Macedonian culture’ intensifies this confusion by connecting this with a non-existent language, described as ‘makedonski’…The recognition of such an organization contains a direct danger to public order and provides an opportunity for exploitation by foreign agents, who have tried from time to time, unsuccessfully, to fabricate a historically non-existent ‘Macedonian nation’…For all the reasons mentioned above, we reject the application.’

On January 20, 2005, the European Free Alliance protested to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg about ongoing human rights abuses in Greece. Bernat Joan, the Catalan Euro-MP and Vice President of the European Free Alliance is concerned about ongoing state backed intolerance and discrimination particularly against the country's Macedonian and Turkish minorities. This follows the recent Greek Supreme Court ruling dissolving the Turkish Union of Xanthi and previous refusals to register Turkish and Macedonian associations or to force their dissolution in spite of earlier rulings against the Greek authorities by the Strasbourg based European Court of Human Rights. Bernat Joan MEP commented:

"I was very concerned to hear this news of ongoing intolerance by Greek authorities. It seems to me a flagrant abuse of basic human rights, not to mention treaty commitments. Greece has fallen foul of the European Court of Human Rights in the past yet this seems to have had little impact on the attitude of the Greek authorities.

They must recognise the right to peaceful and free association without interference or oppression. It is ironic that at a time when the EU is asking countries who want to join to implement the so-called 'Copenhagen criteria' which includes the protection of minorities, some existing EU members behave in such a way.

That's why I'm writing to the European Court of Human Rights to draw their attention to these ongoing human rights abuses by Greek authorities."


Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece elaborate: 7
  • There are currently no associations in Greece operating legally with their names including the words “Macedonian” or “Turkish” to reflect the ethnic or national identity of their members. This situation reflects the refusal of Greece to acknowledge the presence of a Macedonian and a Turkish minority in its territory.

    There is only one (ethnic) Macedonian association that attempted to register with the courts, the “Home of Macedonian Civilization” (Stegi Makedonikou Politismou). It was originally denied registration as an organization by the Greek courts, between 1990-1994. Its appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was successful as, on 10 July 1998, Greece was cited for the violation of article 11 on freedom of association.

    However, the “Home of Macedonian Civilization” has not been able to register for over six years. All lawyers of Florina (where the “Stegi” has its seat) had initially repeatedly refused to take up the case. While courts had twice refused the association’s request to appoint a lawyer, despite Greece’s report to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe indicating that courts had been instructed to execute the judgment, and the Ombudsman’s written opinion that there is “enough evidence that ‘no lawyer is found’”. Only following the sustained pressure by the Greek Ombudsman, a lawyer was finally appointed in February 2002. The new application was again rejected in December 2003, with the following justification:

    “The word ‘Macedonian’ – defining the culture to be preserved – implies that this culture is something particular and self-contained, so that it is not clear whether the word is being used in its historical sense to refer to an integral part of Greek civilisation with its local specificities, or in its geographical sense, in which case it is left undefined which part of the broader region of Macedonia is meant, as its territory took shape after the Balkan Wars. This lack of clarity is not only not removed by the name of the association, which insists on the indiscriminate use of the term, but is in fact exacerbated by the association of this culture with a non-existent language, claimed to be ‘Macedonian’, despite the fact that in the geographical area of Macedonia it is the Greek language which is spoken, except by a small portion of the population, which also speaks – in addition to Greek – an idiom which is essentially Slavic. Thus the confusion caused by the general use of the terms Macedonia and Macedonian, without distinction as to geographical or historical reference – a confusion existing in the mind of the states with which the association will be dealing, in pursuit of its objective through demarches to and collaboration with these states, and in the mind of persons interested in participating in the work of the association in pursuit of this objective – contains a direct danger to public order and provides an opportunity for exploitation by external agents who have tried from time to time, unsuccessfully, to create a historically non-existent “Macedonian nation”. It is therefore our decision, in the light of the above, that the application be rejected.”

    The applicants’ appeal was filed in September 2004 in Florina, but lawyers in Kozani, seat of the competent Appeal Court, had refused to take up the case through the end of January 2005.
On May 17, 2005, the Greek Member State Committee of EBLUL (European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages) called on Greece to respect ECHR's decision on the Home of Macedonian Culture. They noted the irony in the Prime Minister of Greece, Kosta Karamanlis’s address to the Council of Europe Summit in Warsaw in which he stated, "…the disrespect and the refusal of certain countries to immediately and unconditionally implement the Court's rulings ... jeopardize not only its reliability but also human rights in Europe." Mr. Karamanlis was referring to Turkey’s refusal to adhere to the 2-year-old Lozidiou case but ignored the fact that Greece hasn’t complied with the 7-year-old Home of Macedonian Culture ruling.

Greek Government Harassment of Rainbow/Vinozhito

The Rainbow Party has been the subject of attacks, both verbal and physical, by the Greek public, media and even government officials. The Rainbow Party hung a bilingual sign in Macedonian and Greek outside their office in Lerin/Florina in 1995, which caused a huge uproar in the city. Greek nationalists, led by the mayor of Florina, attacked and destroyed the office. Four members of Rainbow were subsequently put on trial for "causing and inciting mutual hatred among the citizens" under Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code. Rainbow was essentially put on trial for publicly using their mother tongue. Following worldwide condemnation of the trial, the Rainbow members were finally acquitted in 1998. However, the perpetrators of the crime were never charged and Rainbow subsequently initiated a European Court of Human Rights case against them. A decision was rendered on October 20, 2005 which found Greece to be in violation of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair hearing) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association). 8
  • Article 6 § 1
    The Court noted that the proceedings in question had lasted more than seven years and one month, solely for the investigation of the case. In the light of the circumstances, it found that that period was excessive and did not comply with the “reasonable-time” requirement. It therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1.

    Article 11
    The Court noted that Ouranio Toxo was a lawfully constituted party one of whose aims was the defence of the Macedonian minority living in Greece. Affixing a sign to the front of its headquarters with the party’s name written in Macedonian could not be considered reprehensible or to constitute in itself a present and imminent threat to public order. The Court was prepared to accept that the use of the term “vino-zito” had aroused hostile sentiment among the local population, as its ambiguous connotations were liable to offend the political or patriotic views of the majority of the population of Florina. However, the risk of causing tension within the community by using political terms in public did not suffice, by itself, to justify interference with freedom of association.

    As regards the authorities’ conduct, the Court noted that two days before the incidents, the town council had clearly incited the town population to gather in protest against the applicants and some of its members had taken part in the protests. It had thus helped through its conduct to arouse the hostile sentiment of a section of the population against the applicants. The role of State authorities was to defend and promote the values inherent in a democratic system, such as pluralism, tolerance and social cohesion. In the case before the Court, it would have been more in keeping with the aforementioned values for the local authorities to advocate a conciliatory stance, rather than to stir up confrontational attitudes.

    With regard to the conduct of the police, the Court found that they could reasonably have foreseen the danger that the tension would boil over into violence and clear violations of freedom of association. The State should therefore have taken adequate measures to avoid or, at least, contain the violence. However, they had not done so. Despite being contacted repeatedly, the police, who were stationed in the vicinity, did not intervene on the night of the attack, allegedly because of a lack of manpower. The Greek Government had not provided any explanation for the lack of police officers when the incidents were foreseeable. Nor had it escaped the Court’s attention that the public prosecutor had not considered it necessary to start an investigation in the wake of the incidents to determine responsibility. It was only once the applicants had lodged a complaint that the investigation had begun. In cases of interference with freedom of association by individuals, the competent authorities had a duty to take effective investigative measures. In those circumstances, the Court found that by both their acts and omissions the Greek authorities had violated Article 11.
Greek media and government officials constantly refer to Rainbow members as “agents of Skopje”, “separatists” and “enemies of Greece.” Rainbow does not receive coverage in the media when participating in elections and instead get slandered at every opportunity.

On November 10, 2005, the Greek Ministry of Education organized a meeting on linguistic diversity issues in Greece, but Rainbow/Vinozhito representatives were officially excluded from participating. This despite the fact that the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), of which Vinozhito is a member, sent a delegation to attend the meeting. When FUEN confronted the Special Secretary on Intercultural Education at the Ministry, Mrs Ismini Kriari-Catranis, about this issue, she responded that the Ministry had agreed to meet with FUEN, but only under the precondition of Rainbow's absence. Furthermore, she stated that “...we consider Rainbow to be neither a relevant participant or a valid interlocutor to a discussion regarding linguistic diversity in Greece..." 9

Following is a press release by Rainbow/Vinozhito describing court action taken against several Greek diplomats for defamation: 10
  • The European Free Alliance- Rainbow, through 4 members of its Political Secretariat, registered today a complaint against Greek diplomat Georgios Ayfantis and its political supervisors at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, charging them of defamation.

    Last November, in front of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Legal Affairs & Human Rights Committee), G. Ayfantis tried to justify why Greece remains one of the few counties of the CoE yet to ratify the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities, although the country has initially signed it 9 years ago. Having absolutely no arguments to do so, he used a series of absurd and completely false allegations When he was directly asked why Greece does not recognize its Macedonian minority, Ayfantis who -unfortunately and under the directions of its supervisors- represented our country at an international organization of significant magnitude, exceeded all limits of impudence by claiming:

    “These few (Slavophones) who are represented by EFA-Rainbow are individuals who want to get secession from Greece and join FYROM, supported by people in FYROM..”

    So, at last Mr Ayfantis will have the unique opportunity to prove in front of Greek courts his insulting allegations that he manufactured in panic, trying to avoid admitting the true reasons behind Greece’s constant refusal to recognize the ethnic Macedonians within its territory.

    EFA- Rainbow will call as witnesses, among others, the Head of the Greek parliamentary delegation in the CoE Mrs Elsa Papadimitriou, the MP’s Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Theodoros Pangalos and Nassos Alevras, as well as the representatives of the Greek Helsinki Monitor/Greek MRG, all present when the above statement took place. Other witnesses who will be requested to testify are the Florina/Lerin MP Georgios Lianis, the Prefect of Florina/Lerin Ioannis Stratakis and representatives of international organizations for the protection of human rights and freedom of speech.
At the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw (25-30 September, 2005), the Rainbow/Vinozhito representative, Pavle Voskopoulos, had the opportunity to speak briefly with the Greek Ambassador to the OSCE, Mr. Lyssandros Miliaresis-Fokas. Following are excerpts of their discussion. 11
  • Ambassador: How much money are you getting paid Mister for saying all of this here?

    Voskopoulos: I am surprised Mr. Ambassador. As I know you are officially paid well enough for being here, representing our country. We are financially supported by ourselves at such a meeting.

    May I ask you, Mr. Ambassador, if the representative of the Greek minority in Turkey who spoke yesterday defending the rights of the Greek minority in Turkey is also paid by somebody?

    Furthermore, what about the Greek minority in Albania? Have they also been paid by somebody in their struggle for human rights in Albania?

    Ambassador: What I know is that Greece is the most democratic country...

    Voskopoulos: Of course it is a democratic country, but regarding minority rights there is a deficit of democracy. Shall we work all together to overcome these problems?

    Ambassador: There are no minorities in Greece Sir, there is just a Muslim minority living in Greece under very good conditions.

    Voskopoulos: But Mr. Ambassador, how is it possible that Greece is the only state with no national minorities when all the other Balkan states are full of them? As there are Greeks in Turkey or Albania there are also minorities inside the Greek state.

    Ambassador: In Greece we have a large minority which is the minority of the economical immigrants traveling and staying in our country which is a real heaven for them...

    Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador all these immigrants are suffering in their countries and in some of them, Sudan for instance, there is an armed conflict so it's logical that they are coming to Greece for a better future as well as to other European countries. It's not because Greece is heaven that they are coming in our country... By the way, when we are talking about immigrants, don't you think that it's time for our country to make a step forward and give Macedonian political refugees who participated the [Greek] Civil War the right to be repatriated. It's more a humanitarian gesture to at least allow these people to die in their birthplaces.

    Ambassador: What are you talking about Mister? You mean to let them enter our country as the "Trojan horse"?

    Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador I am surprised with your answer...Those people are mostly old men and women around seventy years old... Don't you really feel bad that you are representing our country in the OSCE with such extreme views... May I ask you why you did not give the same answers during the conference when the issue was presented by myself?

    Ambassador: Listen to me Mister. Greece has shed rivers of blood for its glory, for being where it is today!

    Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador I am once again surprised. In the present situation when we are all trying to build a United Europe, when we are fighting for peace in the early beginning of the 21st century you are talking about rivers of blood? You should know that we the Macedonians in Greece care very, very much about peace and democracy in our country and obviously you cannot even imagine this...

    Ambassador: Well, if you don't like it you can leave Greece!

    Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador I am now really shocked by what you said. Mr. Ambassador we belong to different worlds...

    Ambassador: Thank God we belong to different worlds...

    Voskopoulos: I hope the younger generation of Greek diplomats will not agree with your way of country thinking ...for the benefit of all of us... Your opinion is a shame to our country.
Greek Neo-Nazis Threaten Macedonian Minority Party

Rainbow/Vinozhito, the political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece, was forced to cancel its congress twice because of threats received from Greek Neo-Nazi organizations. Vinozhito is a legal political party in Greece and did not receive any guarantees of security by Greek police, nor did the Greek government intervene despite repeated appeals by Vinozhito and the European Free Alliance in the European Parliament (of which Vinozhito is a member). Please see http://www.mhrmi.org/issues/congress.asp for the letters ignored by the Greek government and other issues surrounding the congress. No Greek media or politicians denounced the threats by the Neo-Nazi organizations. Moreover, several media outlets actually praised the Neo-Nazi threats! For photographs of the demonstrations and the newspaper articles please visit the link above. Following are examples of Greece’s racist advertising against its Macedonian minority:

“Anti-Greek Provocation in Edessa: On November 30, 2003, there will be a congress of filoskopjans in Edessa. One by one events are published which create a web that threatens to destroy everything national in our country." (Golden Dawn – November 13, 2003)

“We will oppose it, all of those who are Greek must demonstrate Sunday, 7th December at 11:00am. They must be in Edessa to put an end to the propaganda of ‘Rainbow’. All together with one voice yell loudly ‘Macedonia is one and it is Greek’” (Golden Dawn, Dec.4, 2003)

In its press release of December 8, 2003, the Rainbow Party describes the events surrounding the postponement of its Congress:

“The guilty silence of competent authorities also raises reasonable questions and so is the refusal of local party representatives to condemn those phenomena of racist and Neonazist behavior in the city of Edessa. Within the context of those incidents, the Congress Organizing Committee decided to postpone the event, taking into consideration public safety, after authorities failed to guarantee the security of the event, since holding the event could potentially cause friction and spark off fights.

This is the situation in Greece, at the dawn of year 2004. Most probably, Greece is only European country where Neonazism is a lawful political parole, where racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and discrimination against minority groups are frequent, making part of everyday reality, both at the level of society and at the level of political parole and implementation. This is the situation in Greece, the country hosting the 2004 Olympic Games, promoting rather hypocritically the motto “for one single culture of all cultures”; a country member of the European Union that vigorously refuses to ratify the Council of Europe Convention-Framework on Minority Rights; a country that refers to the members of Turkish minority as “Muslims” and does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority; a country that refuses to sign the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, while only discussing the rights of Greeks in Istanbul / Konstandinoupoli and Southern Albania.”


Bartlomiej Swiderek of the European Free Alliance made the following conclusion after a visit to Greece on December 11, 2003:

“The Rainbow Party --Vinozhito, which has excellent links with minority groups and human rights organisations in Greece copes with several problems most of them linked with a lack of official recognition of the Macedonian national minority in Greece. I have an impression that any activity of the party, however peaceful, causes strong reactions from the far-right groups and a part of Greek society very much linked to the myth of a "Hellenic purity of the country" and scared of a "Slavo-Turko-European" plot directed against Greece.

It really strikes me that the congress of a democratic and legal party had to be cancelled for security reasons, while the far right groups can organise their events without any problems. It is noteworthy, that openly Nazi organisations like the mentioned "Golden Dawn" is legal in Greece and can disrupt political activities of a minority party. I suggest that EFA monitors developments in Greece and gives all necessary assistance to the Rainbow-Vinozhito party in their activities.”


The Rainbow Party was finally able to hold their Congress on May 30, 2004. Following are excerpts from their press release: 12
  • A jarring note, however, in the behavior of the authorities was the Nea Demokratia party deputy and current Prefect of Thessaloniki, Panayiotis Psomiades, who prior to the Congress publicly stated inter alia that: “[It] is a flagrant violation of every principle of national dignity, national consciousness and minimum sense of national pride that our city agreed to host a Congress organized by Rainbow, an agency known for its anti-national views, views that directly trigger our national reflexes and offend Hellenic sensibilities everywhere on earth, particularly those of Macedonians. For these reasons we deem these known circles and their delegates undesirable in Thessaloniki.” We believe that the Prefect’s statements gave neo-nazi elements the green light to stage violent demonstrations. These remarks were an affront to the city’s democratically minded citizens, the Prefect’s own faction, as well as our country’s Prime Minister. EFA-Rainbow regrets that a member state of the European Union was forced to take extreme security measures to protect the proceedings of a Congress of a legally recognized European political party such as ours. We also regret that, with very few exceptions (e.g. the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor and the leftist party AEKA-Thessaloniki), no other political parties or organizations took a public stand against Mr. Psomiades’ statements and the violent protests by neo-nazi elements. This is proof of the democratic deficit in Greece. We are also distressed by the fact that Greece is the only country in the EU where neo-nazism, under the guise of patriotism, is a legitimate form of political expression.
The rise of Neo-Nazism in Greece is occurring at an alarming rate. In addition to the constant threats against the Macedonian minority party, Rainbow/Vinozhito, Greek Neo-Nazis have coordinated with other European based extremist groups, which culminated in a meeting from September 16-18, 2005 in Peloponnese, Greece. Jewish groups in Greece and abroad appealed to the Greek authorities to prevent this meeting from taking place but to no avail. Following are excerpts from a letter by the Wiesenthal Centre. 13
  • In a letter to Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis, the Wiesenthal Centre's Director for International Affairs, Dr Shimon Samuels, noted that "on 16-18 September, Greece will receive extreme right leaders from across Europe, along with their neo-Nazi/ Skinhead retinue - a so-called 'First Pan-European youth camp' billed as a self-styled three day "hate-festival" and ideological recruitment seminar in the Peloponnese region of 'Hellas, the Land of Heroes.' "

    Samuels added that, "hosted by the Greek Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn), the co-organizers include the German NPD, the Italian Forza Nuova, and Spain's Falange", pointing to the comment in Golden Dawn's June newssheet, "Resistance and Counterattack", that calls World War Two "a civil conflict in which the European nations slaughtered one another, with greater losses for both sides than the 'millions' of ever persecuted crooked noses from Judea."

    The letter identified as scheduled speakers NPD chief Udo Voigt and Forza Nuova's Roberto Fiore, who are to set the anti-Muslim tone with the slogan "Turkey Out of Europe". The organizer's website (www.euro-fest.tk) invites racist music groups and their fans from across the continent for a "Hatewave Festival Concert" coordinated by "White power 2005".

    The letter also stressed that "for the last three years, our Centre has appealed to your authorities to condemn and penalize the burgeoning level of antisemitic media invective and desecration of Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials across Greece. The deafening silence of the response resulted in our Travel Advisory recommending that Jewish travelers to your country take extreme precautions."
Macedonian Political Refugees Denied Entry into Greece

Prior to the Third World Reunion of Macedonian Child Refugees scheduled for the summer of 2003, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Andreas Loverdos, made an historic announcement pledging the free return of Macedonian political refugees, evacuated from Greece as children during the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949. The child refugees (Detsa Begaltsi) have consistently been denied entry into Greece simply because they assert their Macedonian ethnic identity. They were excluded from the 1982 law that allowed the free return of political refugees that were “Greek by genus”. Answering a question on the free visit of "non-ethnic Greek" political refugees, Mr. Loverdos, stated that "since we have overcome all these problems of the past and of the civil war... we want to overcome this vestige too sooner rather than later...during this summer."

The events that followed Loverdos’ “historic” announcement were indicative of a country that views itself as a Western democracy but consistently proves itself to be the very antithesis of one. Following a nationalistic uproar by a large segment of Greek society, who were worried that the political refugees would “incite” the local Macedonian population into a heightened sense of nationalism, the Greek government reversed its decision and chose to impede the reunion in any way possible. It then proceeded to announce, on July 3, 2003 that the political refugees will be allowed to enter the country from August 10 to October 30, and would only be allowed to stay for 20 days. The date of the Detsa Begaltsi's Third World Reunion was well-publicized and was originally going to take place from July 15-20, 2003. The Greek government's announcement forced the organizers to reschedule the event to August 10-15, which caused a large number of political refugees, particularly from Canada, the United States, and Australia, to miss the event as they originally planned to enter Greece before July 10.

It is remarkable that Greece, a European Union country, would reverse a humanitarian decision in favour of state-sponsored racism that has been widely endorsed in Greece.

Out of the people who tried to enter Greece for the reunion, it is estimated that approximately two hundred Macedonians were denied entry into Greece during the summer of 2003.

On July 20, 2003, Australian citizen Janko Kalinchev, born in the village of Ovcharani (Meliti in Greek), and Canadian citizen Georgi Kizovski, born in Gabresh (Gavros), attempted to enter Greece from the Republic of Macedonia in order to visit their birthplaces. However, Greek border officials denied them entry and refused to give them an explanation, instead saying that they were denied entry for "other reasons".

According to Mr. Kizovski, "The Greek government keeps a blacklist of people who are active in Macedonian organizations abroad and who openly declare themselves as Macedonian. We were obviously returned at the border because of our membership in the Association of Refugee Children from the Aegean Part of Macedonia (Detsa Begaltsi) in Australia and Canada." Greek officials have publicly stated that 80 Macedonian activists living abroad are on a “blacklist”. In its press release of August 10, 2003, the Greek Helsinki Monitor stated,

“Preventing their entrance on grounds of their activism directly contravenes the special UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and EU provisions for the state's responsibility to respect and even defend NGOs and human rights activists.”

The policy of denying entry into Greece to ethnic Macedonians has continued. The following is a press release by MHRMI of September 2, 2005: 14
  • Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) condemns Greece’s continued blacklisting of ethnic Macedonian human rights activists and political refugees.

    Gjorgi Plukovski, a Canadian citizen of Macedonian descent, born in Harala, Kastoria, Greece (Pozdivishta, Kostur in Macedonian) was denied entry into Greece when attempting to enter from the Republic of Macedonia on August 4, 2005, and given a document by border officials stating that he “is considered to be a threat to public order, internal security, public health or the international relations of one or more of the Member States of the European Union”. (For a copy of this document see http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2005/september02_e.pdf)

    Mr. Plukovski was rejected at the Greek border despite the fact that he had entered Greece by way of Italy a month earlier, on July 6, 2005 and remained in Greece until July 24, 2005. If Mr. Plukovski were truly a “threat to internal security”, Greece would share its blacklist with other Schengen Treaty member states to ensure that he is unable to enter any such states. However, Greece refuses to admit that its blacklist consists merely of ethnic Macedonians who publicly call for Greece to recognize its significant ethnic Macedonian minority and respect their human rights.

    “It is preposterous that Macedonian political refugees are able to enter Greece through countries such as Italy and Austria, but cannot enter from the Republic of Macedonia. A large number live in the Republic of Macedonia and have never been able to visit their birthplaces, even to attend funerals for family members. Greece must be forced to explain its racist behavior and immediately put an end to it.” Plukovski stated.

    Macedonian Human Rights Movement International calls on the international community to demand that Greece end its racist and xenophobic policy of discriminating against individuals of Macedonian ethnicity. MHRMI also calls on Greece to address immediately the issue of the thousands of Macedonian refugees from the Greek Civil War who were specifically excluded from the general amnesty of 1982 because they were not “Greek by genus”. MHRMI specifically asks that the EU end its hypocrisy in demanding that new member states respect human rights standards while ignoring human rights violations within the EU.

    Rainbow/Vinozhito issued a press release on May 12, 2005 after an Australian citizen of Macedonian descent, George Mishalis, was denied entry into Greece on May 7th, 2005 to attend his father’s funeral in the village of Meliti, Florina (Voshtarani, Lerin). 15

    The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) summarizes: 16

    • “The distinction between non-citizens of Greek origin and other non-citizens

      60. ECRI notes that in a number of spheres Greek law draws a distinction between non-citizens of Greek origin (sometimes called “homogeneis”) and non-citizens of another origin (sometimes called “allogeneis”). This difference in treatment generally takes the form of a privileged status for persons of Greek origin.

      61. For example, in 1982 a regulation permitted the return to Greece of people having fled the country during the 1946-1949 civil war, together with their families. However, this regulation applied solely to persons “of Greek origin”, thus excluding persons of non-Greek, and particularly Macedonian, origin who had nonetheless left Greece under the same conditions.

      62. The formalities for naturalising non-citizens provided by law no. 2910/2001 on foreigners’ entry to and residence on Greek territory, acquisition of citizenship and other provisions are very different depending on whether or not the person is of Greek origin. For instance, the condition of having resided for 10 years in Greece before becoming eligible for naturalisation does not apply to persons of Greek origin. Nor are they required to pay the 1,500 euros fee for processing the application.

      Recommendations:

      65. Considering that the creation of an intermediate “non-citizen of Greek origin” status between that of Greek citizen and non-citizen not of Greek origin might cause discrimination based on ethnic origin, ECRI strongly recommends to the Greek authorities to reconsider the foundations and the implications of their policy in this respect. It must be ensured that non-citizens who are not of Greek origin can receive the same advantages as non-citizens of Greek origin.”

Freedom of Religion

Macedonian Orthodox Church and Father Nikodim Tsarknias

Father Nikodim Tsarknias has been harassed, beaten, fined, jailed and expelled from the Greek Orthodox Church for advocating human rights for the Macedonian minority in Greece. He has also been the subject of several court cases, in which he has been found guilty in absentia, for promoting Macedonian human rights. He has started building a Macedonian Orthodox Church in the city of Sobotsko (Aridea in Greek) and is holding religious service in the Macedonian language there every Sunday. Because of this, he was sentenced to three months in prison on May 11, 2004 by the Aridea Criminal Court of First Instance on charges of establishing and operating a church without authorization. 17 According to the US State Department, “Several religious denominations reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Greek Orthodox Church are not extended routinely to other recognized religions.” 18

Conclusion

Macedonian Human Rights Movement International calls on the international community to apply pressure on Greece to immediately recognize its large Macedonian minority and grant it the human rights that it is guaranteed by all international human rights conventions. MHRMI specifically asks that the European Union end its hypocrisy in demanding that new member states respect human rights standards while ignoring human rights violations within the EU.

FUEN (Federal Union of European Nationalities) issued the following comprehensive resolution calling for human rights for the Macedonian minority in Greece. 19

  1. The recognition of the Macedonian minority.
  2. The recognition of the Macedonian language as a minority language and to introduce it into the elementary and to secondary educational system in the regions where it is widely used. The establishment of a chair at university level, dedicated to the Macedonian language. Additionally, the recognition of cultural organisations like the “Home of Macedonian Culture“ (registration pending for more than 15 years, despite ruling of the European Court for Human Rights).
  3. The introduction of the Macedonian language into the state Mass Media.
  4. The unconditional and free entrance into Greece for all political refugees of Macedonian origin. Additionally, the ability to claim back/buy property as well as to get back their citizenship, which was taken from thousands of Macedonians during the civil war in Greece (1945–49).
  5. The ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe as well as the implementation of all the international conventions and standards from the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe concerning the rights of national minorities.
  6. The return of citizenship to the Macedonian emigrants who mostly live in Australia and Canada. This was revoked due to the public expression of their Macedonian identity.
Bill Nicholov, President
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Address: 157 Adelaide St. West, Suite 434, Toronto, Canada M5H 4E7
Tel: 416-850-7125 Fax: 416-850-7127
E-mail: info@mhrmi.org Website: www.mhrmi.org

Contact Information for Macedonian Human Rights Organizations in Greece:

Rainbow Party/Vinozhito
Stephanou Dragoumi 11
PO Box 51, 53100 Florina, Greece
Tel/Fax: ++ 23850 46548
Email: rainbow@florina.org
Website: www.florina.org

Home of Macedonian Culture
Stephanou Dragoumi 11
PO Box 51, 53100 Florina, Greece
Tel/Fax: ++ 23850 46548

Greek Member State Committee of EBLUL (European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages)
Parisis Athanasios
Mazaraki 7a 59200 Naousa/Negush - Greece
Telefon: ++306972844412
E-mail: parisis@nao.forthnet.gr

Father Nikodim Tsarknias
Aegeas Sophias 13
Aridea, Pellas, 58400 Greece
Tel: ++23840 23271
Fax: ++23840 21778

___________________________________
  1. GHM/IFEX Alert, “Newspaper Censors Article on Macedonian Minority and Language”, Aug. 15, 2005
  2. Reporters Without Borders, “Macedonian TV Journalists Refused Accreditation to Film in Northern Greece”, June 7, 2005, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=14027
  3. Greek Member State Committee of EBLUL, “Greek State Television Airs Previously Banned Program That Exposes Persecution Against Macedonian Minority”, March 28, 2005, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2005/march28_e.asp
  4. South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), June 9, 2004, http://www.seemo.org/
  5. MHRMI press release, March 9, 2006, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2006/march09_e.asp
  6. Rainbow/Vinozhito, May 5, 2005, http://www.florina.org/html/2005/2005_letter_to_nimetz.html
  7. Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and Minority Rights Group-Greece’s (MRG-G) report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee (HRC) as a contribution to the consideration of the Initial Report of Greece (CCPR/C/GRC/2004/1) during the HRC’s 83rd Session (14 March – 1 April 2005)
  8. ECHR press release, October 20, 2005, http://www.echr.coe.int/Eng/Press/2005/Oct/ChamberjudgmentOuranioToxovGreece201005.htm
  9. Eurolang, November 9, 2005, Greek Ministry Refuses to Meet Macedonian Minority at Linguistic Diversity Meeting
  10. Rainbow press release, EFA-Rainbow Brings Slanderers to Court, February 2, 2006
  11. Greek Helsinki Monitor, http://cm.greekhelsinki.gr/index.php?sec=194&cid=1261#
  12. Rainbow/Vinozhito, June 2, 2004, http://www.florina.org/html/2004/2004_congress_press_release.html
  13. Wiesenthal Centre letter to Greek Prime Minister: "Failure to Stop Nazi Olympics Validates Our Onging Travel Advisory", September 2, 2005
  14. Macedonian Human Rights Movement International press release, MHRMI Condemns Greece's Continued Blacklisting of Ethnic Macedonians, September 2, 2005
  15. Rainbow/Vinozhito press release, Rainbow-Vinozhito Denounces Continuing Denaturalization of the Ethnic Macedonians of Greece - Greek Authorities Refuse Entry to George Mishalis (an Ethnic Macedonian) to Attend his Father's Funeral, May 12, 2005
  16. ECRI Third Report on Greece, June 8, 2004, http://www.coe.int/t/E/human_rights/ecri/1-ECRI/2-Country-by-country_approach/Greece/Greece_CBC_3.asp
  17. May 25, 2004, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2004/may25_e.asp
  18. US State Department, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35458.htm
  19. FUEN Resolution, May 9, 2005, http://www.fuen.org/pages/english/e_5c_2002.html
     
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