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

Report by MHRMC

November 6, 1998


The Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada in cooperation with the Rainbow Party, Father Nikodim Tsarknias and OMO Ilinden recently attended the OSCE Conference in Warsaw, Poland. Following are statements made by the MHRMC regarding human rights abuses against ethnic Macedonians by Greece and Bulgaria.

Comments of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada On Behalf of the OMO-Ilinden Organization of Bulgaria and the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Greece

Introduction

Distinguished Moderator and Representatives:

We wish to provide you with a very brief update on the current state of compliance of Bulgaria and Greece with their obligations respecting freedom of expression, free media and information, freedom of association, and the right of peaceful assembly as they relate to their sizable Macedonian minority populations.

The Current State of Bulgarian State Compliance with Its Obligations Respecting Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information, Freedom of Association, and the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Freedom of Expression and Free Media

With respect to those citizens who identify themselves as Macedonians the Bulgarian government has and continues to place unlawful restrictions on a number of fundamental rights of these people. Whether it be through uneven application of laws which on their face do not seem to discriminate against the Macedonian minority, or through unlawful conduct of officials, the effect is the same: Macedonians in Bulgaria who choose to openly call themselves Macedonians suffer abuses of their human rights repeatedly. As regards freedom of expression and free media and information, for instance, the Macedonian human and minority rights organization, OMO-Ilinden has recently suffered the following outrageous act at the hands of the Bulgarian authorities.

On April 14 of this year, OMO-Ilinden began the publication of a newspaper which was intended to serve as a voice for its members and their concerns and interests. Just two days later, on 16, April, 1998 seven policemen broke up a meeting of this organization without a search warrant and after 8:00 p.m. (the latest time in which searches can be conducted legally). Notwithstanding the statement of police sergeant Krsomir Karonfil, that he was “sent by the authorities to come and search your organization’s headquarters and seize what is necessary,” when asked for evidence of his legal right to conduct such a search, he was unable to provide such evidence. Fearing violence, OMO-Ilinden members allowed the search to continue without any other protest, hoping that they could achieve some measure of relief after the fact through the court system. All equipment and supplies necessary to publish a newspaper (including what is for those in Bulgaria a particularly expensive item, a photocopier) were seized and, as of today (some six months later) have not been returned. Nor, subsequent OMO-Ilinden’s official complaint to the regional authority who oversees these kinds of searches, and to the highest military authority in Sofia, has there been a response to the complaints lodged.

In addition to forcibly restricting the right of OMO-Ilinden to publish its own newspaper, the government of Bulgaria uses, or permits others in the private sphere to use, the media to discredit the legitimacy of OMO-Ilinden and, by extension, the central tenet of the organization: the existence and significance of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. OMO-Ilinden is either portrayed as a fringe organization of mentally unstable people (the implication being, to believe you are Macedonian in Bulgaria must mean you are insane) or as a terrorist organization responsible for a whole range of criminal activity (implying that only criminals call themselves Macedonians). Examples are very numerous. In all cases, despite the government’s direct or indirect involvement of the promulgation of untruths about OMO- Ilinden, the organization is, perhaps not surprisingly, forbidden access to the same media for purposes of rebuttal. Furthermore, when OMO-Ilinden has attempted to seek redress through the courts, they are denied standing at the first stage and a court-derived remedy is denied them.

Following are specific examples of comments made in the following newspapers: 24 Chassa, Trut, 168 Chassa, Duma, Makedonje, Struma and Pirin News:
  • OMO Ilinden threatens regional journalist with death - Struma April 24, 1994
  • OMO Ilinden prepares to kill journalist - Struma June 6, 1994
  • OMO Ilinden stole TV equipment of German news crew - Pirinski Delo August 2, 1994
  • Bomb threats attributed to OMO Ilinden - Struma June 24, 1994
  • Psychopaths from the Macedonian disease - Mariana Cvetoslavova in 168 Chassa October 4, 1998
  • OMO Ilinden members are lunatics and psychopaths - Anatoly Velichkov, Member of Bulgarian Parliament in 168 Chassa October 4, 1993
  • OMO Ilinden needs psychotherapy - Crsomir Kanakachana, President, VMRO and Member of Bulgarian Parliament in 24 Chass September 4, 1998
  • Head Bulgarian Prosecutor : OMO Ilinden are lunatics and traitors - Trut March 23, 1998
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this pattern of using the media to discredit a legitimate organization, is the fact that these comments are not made by a single newspaper or journalist, but rather they are made by radio, television and newspaper staff, government officials and even members of the Bulgarian Parliament.

Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly

OMO-Ilinden attempted in March of this year to re-register with the local court as a not-for-profit organization (having been denied once before) but was, once again, refused by the courts. OMO-Ilinden has appealed and awaits the decision by October 29, i.e. this week but is not hopeful.

Articles 108 and 109 of the Bulgarian criminal statute are used to prevent and/or punish Macedonian organizations and assemblies from taking place. Fines equivalent to an entire month’s average wages are routinely levied under the authority of these provisions against OMO-Ilinden members. Internal exile is also used as an actual or threatened sentence to prevent organizations and assemblies. Similarly, threats of job loss or discrimination, discrimination in educational advancement and physical violence are used to intimidate organizers.

Bulgarian law requires the obtaining of a permit before an assembly can be convened. Consequently, another technique that is used again and again to prevent OMO-Ilinden from obtaining permits and thus holding meetings (at least legally) is the making of an unsubstantiated claim that another organization purportedly representing Macedonians has reserved the desired time and space where no such organization exists or is an organization tied to the authorities.

In one instance this year (on April 18, 1998), OMO-Ilinden applied for and was refused a permit to hold a commemorative ceremony and decided to proceed on the appointed day notwithstanding that they lacked a permit. Police forces anticipated the OMO-Ilinden supporters and prevented them from holding their peaceful assembly, charging and fining many of them. In the physical fracas that ensued, one young man, Vasil Gjujanof, had three teeth knocked out by police while in detention; when he requested his teeth at the time of his release he was beat again.

Authorities prevented at least two other peaceful assemblies this year, one on 4, May, 1998 in Blageograd and again on August 2, 1998.

The Current State of Greek State Compliance with Its Obligations Respecting Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information, Freedom of Association, and the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Freedom of Expression and Free Media

Despite the general approval the vigorous press in Greece receives by international observers such as the US State Department, restrictions on freedom of expression and free media exist with respect to the Macedonian minority in Greece (or other minorities, including the Turkish). For instance, the organ of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Greece, Ta Moglena was published monthly since 1987 and was distributed at the cheaper bulk rate accorded other newspapers but with the rise of tensions between ethnic Macedonians and the Greek government beginning in 1989, prohibitively high postal rates were levied exclusively against Ta Moglena. In October of 1997 Reverend Nikodim Tsarknias of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Greece sent a letter to Prime Minister Simidis regarding this discrimination but received no definitive answer to his complaint and was put off to another agency with no certainty of resolution.

Another way in which the government of Greece restricts the free media of its Macedonian minority is through exercising pressure on the printer which printed Ta Moglena. Secret police and private organizations like Hrsi –Avi or Stohos supporters have threatened the printer because of his involvement with Ta Moglena.

Just as in Bulgaria, a number of news outlets (including the newspapers Vimo, Eleftorotipia, Makedonija, Thessaloniki and radio and television) routinely portray Macedonian activists as being extremists, traitors and terrorists. The rebuttals of these activists are never published.

Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly

With respect to the Macedonian minority in Greece, the restrictions on free association and the right of peaceful assembly are many and varied. The Human Rights Movement of Greece has applied repeatedly for registration as a not-for-profit corporation as required by law but has been refused each time despite that it meets technical requirements and consequently it operates without legal status. A different approach which is likely best described as “bureaucratic run-around” has stymied the legitimate attempt of the Reverend Nikodim Tsarknias to establish a Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece to serve the pastoral needs of the Macedonians in Greece.

In April 1997, he made an application to Prime Minister Simidis and to the Minister of Religion to form a Macedonian Orthodox Church, in a manner consistent with established practice for the founding of religious institutions in Greece. The Prime Minister’s response a month later was simply that the matter had been referred to the proper authorities and would be resolved according to the procedures of Greek law—despite that Greek law does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority. As of today, no further response from the Greek government has been received by Reverend Tsarknias.

The same technique was used to rebuff the attempt of the Macedonians of Greece to host a fiftieth anniversary reunion of those Macedonians who had left Greece as child refugees during the Greek Civil War in 1948. In March of this year a request was made to host such a reunion in Edessa in late July. The response from government officials came a carefully timed three days before the scheduled reunion (far too late to be of use) and said nothing more than that the matter was referred to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for further consideration.

Conclusion

We call on both Bulgaria and Greece to recognize officially the existence of its Macedonian minorities and adhere to their international obligations with respect to all of the rights they have agreed to uphold. We sincerely believe that this can only improve the state of democracy in these countries, for, as the great Canadian thinker George Woodcock wrote:

the truest democracy is not that in which the majority imposes its will on all minorities. It is surely that in which minorities are allowed to flourish, even at some expense to the patience of the majority (George Woodcock, Gabriel Dumont (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1976) at p.18.

For further information, please contact any or all of the following:

Archimandrite Nikodim TSARKNIAS
Agias Sofias 13
ARIDEA, Pellis
GREECE 58400

OMO-Ilinden
Ul. Georgi Skrizovski 31
Sandanski, BULGARIA
Attn: Jordan IVANOV
Tel. & Fax: 746-81-46

Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
P.O. Box 44532, 2376 Eglinton Avenue East
Toronto, Canada
M1K 5K3
Tel: 416-202-8866
Fax: 416-412-3385
E-mail: mail@mhrmc.on.ca
Website: http://www.mhrmc.on.ca/

--- --- ---

Comments of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada On Behalf of the OMO-Ilinden Organization of Bulgaria and the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Greece

Introduction

Distinguished Moderator and Representatives:

Thank you for the opportunity to present a number of difficulties experienced by the Macedonian minorities of Greece and Bulgaria due to a lack of tolerance and the prevalent atmosphere of discrimination that exists there.

Current Greek State Compliance with Its Obligations Respecting Fostering Tolerance and Curtailing Discrimination

We wish we could inform this meeting that the Greek government is at least inactive in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination of its Macedonian minority. Instead, we must report that the Greek government actually encourages what must surely be an extreme form of intolerance, the total denial of the ethnic identity of its Macedonian minority. In more candid moments, the Greek government admits that there is a small number of individuals who speak another language along Greece’s northern border with what is now the Republic of Macedonia, but it vilifies these people as “Skopjanie” or “agents of foreigners” rather than call them by the name by which they wish to be called.

The Macedonians of Greece do nothing more than ask that they can speak their mother tongue without fear of recrimination, that they can celebrate their cultural heritage without censure and that they can call themselves what they sincerely believe themselves to be, that is Macedonians, without being reviled by the state of which they are citizens. Because of the work of organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the US State Department and others, well-documented examples of the Greek state’s treatment of its Macedonian minority exist so we will not tax your patience here with a recitation of the particulars. Suffice it to say that we do not believe that the Greek government has lived up to its commitment to promote tolerance and curb discrimination, at least with respect to its Macedonian minority as discrimination exists against Macedonians in education, in employment, in dealings with local and central authorities, in the treatment of Macedonians by the judicial system, by the police and, most tragically, by the Greek Orthodox Church through its priests and bishops.

Current Bulgarian State Compliance with Its Obligations Respecting Fostering Tolerance and Curtailing Discrimination

Just as with Greece, Bulgaria officially denies the existence of a Macedonian minority within its borders. The logic of this assertion required, ludicrously, the Bulgarian government to recognize the newly independent Republic of Macedonia in 1991 but with the explicit reservation that it did not recognize the Macedonian ethnic identity of the people who reside there. The message was that all these people, like those in Bulgaria who call themselves Macedonians, are Bulgarian. Just as in Greece, the official policy of denial of ethnic identity of the Macedonians leads to a pervasive atmosphere of intolerance and discrimination against those who choose to assert their identity. The effects of this discrimination are evident in education, the civil service, treatment of Macedonians in the media and treatment by government officials and the courts and, as in Greece, in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The spirit of chauvinism that the Bulgarian government is obliged to curb is instead tolerated: recent demonstrations by skin-heads in Blagoegrad in which anti-Roma, anti-Turk and anti-Macedonian slogans were shouted went unchecked by the Bulgarian government. In contrast, as the European Commission on Human Rights decided on June 22 of this year, members of the OMO-Ilinden Macedonian organization of Bulgaria have made out at least a prima facie case that their Article 11 rights of assembly were infringed by the Bulgarian government’s refusal to allow them to engage in peaceful assembly on the occasion of a Macedonian holiday.

Conclusion

We call upon both Greece and Bulgaria to adhere to and respect the international agreements to which they are signatories with respect to fostering tolerance and curtailing discrimination of their sizable Macedonian minorities.

For further information, please contact any or all of the following:

Archimandrite Nikodim TSARKNIAS
Agias Sofias 13
ARIDEA, Pellis
GREECE 58400

OMO-Ilinden
Ul. Georgi Skrizovski 31
Sandanski, BULGARIA
Attn: Jordan IVANOV
Tel. & Fax: 746-81-46

Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
P.O. Box 44532, 2376 Eglinton Avenue East
Toronto, Canada
M1K 5K3
Tel: 416-202-8866
Fax: 416-412-3385
E-mail: mail@mhrmc.on.ca
Website: http://www.mhrmc.on.ca/

     
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