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OSCE Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues
26 October – 6 November 1998, Warsaw

Report by the Greek Helsinki Monitor

November 6, 1998


Introduction

Greece formally recognizes only one "religious" minority, the "Muslims" of Thrace whose fundamental rights are formally guaranteed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. (Ethno)national minorities of Turks and Macedonians are denied recognition. Minorities that are not officially recognized have often suffered restrictions to their freedom of expression and association. The Greek constitution gives the Eastern Orthodox church the status of an official religion, relegating other religions to a disadvantaged status.

Constitutional amendments introduced with a first parliamentary vote in 1998 did not affect this privileged status of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In recent years, the Greek government has signed a number of international documents providing guarantees to minorities. The ICCPR was ratified in early 1997 while in late 1997 the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was signed: it has yet to be sent to Parliament for ratification though. Moreover, Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) has repeatedly noticed that government decisions to implement either improvements of minority rights or at least the respect of international human rights norms are met with resistance by middle level state agencies which function as a "shadow state" and often undermine government policy. Unfortunately, the government has yet to show the necessary political will to neutralize such resistance.

Macedonian Minority

In Florina (northern Greece), where most ethnic Macedonians live, four ethnic Macedonians were put on trial in September 1998 for "inciting citizens to commit acts of violence." In September 1995, a mob led by the mayor had attacked and ransacked the offices of the ethnic Macedonian "Rainbow" party after the four men hung a sign in Greek and in Macedonian stating "Rainbow - Florina Committee." Those who attacked the offices have yet to be indicted though charges were filed by Rainbow in 1995. However, the party was prosecuted for using the Macedonian language on the sign in a clear violation of the right to free expression but was finally acquitted: in that trial, the political and social leadership of Florina were witnesses for the prosecution which had based its case inter alia on articles of the ultra-nationalist weekly "Stohos." Another "Rainbow" leader is awaiting trial on 19 November 1998, with similar charges for having brought from Macedonia calendars bearing toponyms of Greek towns in Macedonian and praising the inter-war pro-Macedonian policy of the Communist party, but not advocating violence.

Many ethnic Macedonians who fled Greece as a result of the 1946-49 civil war were not allowed to enter Greece, even for brief visits or to attend the fiftieth anniversary reunion of their exodus in July 1998. This, despite written commitment to the contrary by Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou in a letter to the International Helsinki Federation. Some were denied entrance because their passports mentioned their birth places in Greece with their old Macedonian name only; others simply because they were in a "red list" of undesirables. One of the former cases concerned a German citizen, Anastas Parpouski, and is a clear violation of the freedom of movement of EU citizens in EU countries guaranteed by EU treaties.

In July 1998, Greece was convicted by the European Court of Human Rights for the violation of the freedom of association (Article 11 of the European Convention), because the Greek courts did not allow in 1990 the establishment of the "Home of Macedonian Civilization" (as translated in English by the European Court). The most important argument of that verdict was its position towards the Greek courts’ and state’s view that the Home of Macedonian Civilization was not allowed to be established as its founding members did not aim simply at a cultural activity but at supporting the view that there is a Macedonian minority. The "non-existence" of that minority was argued by the Greek courts using evidence full of "scholarly" quotes even from texts dating from the Nazi occupation period: "a guide to Salonica written by German historians and archaeologists during the last world war states that…" The European Court, in countering Greece’s arguments, mentioned the binding character for Greece of the OSCE documents which the country has signed but have usually been considered merely declaratory and without legal value. The Court considered the aims of the Home "clear and legitimate" and added:

"Even supposing that the founders of an association like the one in the instant case assert a minority consciousness, the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (Section IV) of 29 June 1990 and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 21 November 1990 – which Greece has signed – allow them to form associations to protect their cultural and spiritual heritage."

     
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