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The Rainbow Party Has Been Acquitted

September 15, 1998


Rainbow - Political party of the ethnic Macedonians in Greece
http://www.florina.org/

Four members of "Rainbow", a legal political party, were charged under Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code with "inciting violence" or "disturbing the peace" for hanging a sign in the party's office displaying the words "Lerinski Komitet," (Lerin Committee) in their native Macedonian language as well as in Greek.

After three years in legal limbo, and after a nine hour trial, the members of the Macedonian minority party in Greece, the Rainbow party, were acquitted of all charges.

Below is a synopsis of the events of the trial which took place on Tuesday, September 15, 1998, three years after charges were originally laid by the Public Prosecutor.

The court commenced at 9:00 AM and by 10:00 AM all cases numbering from one to twenty had been dealt with.

At 10:00 AM the court proceeded to deal with the Rainbow trial which was numbered case twenty-one. The defendants were members of the Rainbow party. This is the party of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. Four members of Rainbow, Pavlos Voskopoulos, Kostas Tasopoulos, Petros Vasiliadis and Vasilis Romas were charged under Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code for allegedly inciting hatred among the citizenry.

Briefly, in September, 1995, the Rainbow party officially opened an office in the town of Florina, in northern Greece. To commemorate the opening a sign was hung above the office indicating this was the Florina Committee of the Rainbow party. The sign was written in both Greek and Macedonian. Because the sign was also written in Macedonian charges were brought against Rainbow by the Public Prosecutor of the Florina district, claiming that this incited hatred amongst the citizenry.

The Rainbow trial began with statements presented by prosecution witnesses a number of whom did not appear before the court.

At 12:30 PM the Public Prosecutor, Mr. Stamatis, requested a written declaration by the defendants stating that the hanging of the bilingual sign (Greek/Macedonian) above the office of the Rainbow party was not done for the purposes of inciting hatred amongst the citizens.

Rainbow obliged the Prosecutor and submitted a written declaration stating that "the placement of the sign in two languages, Greek and Macedonian, was done to inform the citizenry of Florina of the opening of the Rainbow office. As ethnic Macedonian citizens of Greece the defendants understood that they had the right to communicate in their mother tongue, both orally and in writing."

Mr. Voskopoulos, one of the defendants, was questioned by the judge, Madame Tsafitsa, and asked whether he was Greek. Mr. Voskopoulos replied that he was a Macedonian who was a citizen of Greece. Upon further questioning as to his consciousness Mr. Voskopoulos replied the same and added that he had a Macedonian consciousness and not Greek.

At about 2:30 PM the witnesses for the prosecution concluded their presentations, which mainly involved supporting the claims against Rainbow which they had previously given in writing.

It was difficult for many of the prosecution witnesses to reply under cross examination when asked "how could it be an incitement to violence among the citizenry to view the written form of a language that is spoken by 80% of the local community?" "How is it that when this language was written on a sign it allegedly incited hatred, yet when it was spoken it did not incite hatred?" The prosecution witnesses acknowledged that those who wish to speak this language today do so freely.

From 2:30 PM until 6:10 PM the witnesses for the defence were cross examined.

Witnesses for the defence included Panayote Elias Dimitras, Spokesperson for Greek Helsinki Monitor, Vasilios Sakallariou of the Forum for Equal Treatment of Citizens, Georgios Nakratzas of the Association of Greek Educators of Holland, Elias Zafiropoulos of the party OAKKE, Ibram Onsunoglu of the Turkish Association for Minority and Human Rights, Kostas Veremis of the Web for Political and Social Rights, and Georgios Pugios, President of the village association of kato Kleines (Dolno Kleshtina).

At 6:10 PM the statements of the defendants, Vasilis Romas, Kostas Tasopoulos, Petros Vasiliadis and Pavlos Voskopoulos were heard. After this the Public Prosecutor suggested to the court that the charges be dropped as their was no objective evidence presented before the court to support the allegation that the hanging of the bilingual sign above the office of the Rainbow party was cause for inciting hatred among the citizens.

At 6:25 PM final presentations were made by the counsels for the defense, Efi Telli and Ioanna Kurtovik, who spoke with eloquence and dignity in the defense of Rainbow.

After this there was a brief recess. The judge returned at 7:00 PM and announced the verdict of the court. All the defendants were acquitted of the charges brought against them. The trial was heavily attended during the entire nine hours and people began to applaud upon hearing the decision.

In the estimation of the Rainbow party both the judge and the Public Prosecutor involved in this trial performed their duties correctly and appropriately. This brings an end to this aspect of the case.

However, those individuals (including the mayor of Florina) who violently attacked the Rainbow party offices in 1995, have still not been charged despite formal requests by Rainbow. This issue remains outstanding and Greek authorities have yet to offer any explanation regarding their reluctance to press charges.

It should also be noted here, that in the last few days two parliamentarians from the European Parliament presented questions to the Greek government in relation to the upcoming Rainbow trial. These parliamentarians were Mr. Zan Van de Melenbrouke of Belgium, member of the party VU Vlaamse Unie, and Madame Hedy d'Ancona, member of the Holland Socialist Party. Madame d'Ancona was formerly Holland's Minister of Culture and currently holds the position of President of the Commission on Freedom of Expression for the European Union.

In July, 1998, Madame d'Ancona posed questions regarding the upcoming trial of the Rainbow members. Her questions were specifically directed to the Minister of Public Order, Mr. Romaios, and to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Papadopoulos. The replies of these Ministers did not satisfy Madame d'Ancona's concerns and on September 2, 1998, she posed relevant questions before the European Parliament, of which Greece is a member.

     
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