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IHF 1999 Human Rights Report - Greece

July 23, 1999



The following are excerpts from the International Helsinki Federation's 1999 Report on Greece. For the full text please click here


IHF FOCUS: Freedom of expression and media; protection of ethnic minorities; citizenship; religious tolerance; protection of asylum seekers and immigrants.
Government efforts to improve Greece's traditionally poor human rights record were undermined by the prevailing ethnocentric and intolerant climate and mentality in the public, the media and the administration. This climate was regularly enhanced by statements and actions of key officials. In July, speaking in Thrace, home of the Turkish minority, Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos called "shameful slanderers, who do not dare state openly that they serve illicit financial interests, those who pretend to be human rights defenders."
The Greek press was relatively free to report on various issues, but numerous editor-in-chiefs and journalists faced libel charges for criticizing politicians and public officials.
The policy of denying the existence of ethnic minorities in the Greek territory continued. In August, Speaker of the Parliament Apostolos Kaklamanis denied the existence of a Turkish national minority and called for the "homogenization" of the "Greek Orthodox and Muslim population of Thrace." Pangalos again declared in December that there was no Macedonian minority in Greece and that persons claiming there was, were "pervert intellectuals and pervert journalists." In December, President Kostis Stefanopoulos decorated, and the Academy of Greece awarded, notorious nationalist scholars who had for years contributed to the anti-minority propaganda.
In some cases, foreign journalists were hindered from carrying out their duties.
In September a Macedonian Television (MTV) crew was refused entry visas by the Greek Liaison Office in Skopje. The crew intended to cover the trial of the Macedonian minority party Rainbow for the use of the Macedonian mother tongue.
Protection of Ethnic Minorities - Macedonian Minority
In Florina (northern Greece), where most ethnic Macedonians live, four ethnic Macedonians were put on trial in September 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 had not been indicted although Rainbow filed charges in 1995. The party was prosecuted for using the Macedonian language on the sign, but was finally acquitted: in that trial, the political and social leadership of Florina were witnesses for the prosecution that had based its case, inter alia, on articles of the ultra-nationalist weekly Stohos.
Another "Rainbow" leader was acquitted in November, 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, held in July. This happened despite written commitment to the contrary by Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou in a letter to the IHF. Some were denied entrance because their passports mentioned their birthplaces in Greece with their old Macedonian name only; others simply because they were on a "red list" of undesirables.
In July Greece was convicted by the European Court of Human Rights for the violation of the freedom of association (article 11 of the ECHR) because the Greek courts did not allow in 1990 the establishment of the "Home of Macedonian Civilization." The European Court mentioned, among other things, the binding character for Greece of the OSCE documents that the country had signed, but had usually been considered merely declaratory and without legal value. The Court considered the aims of the organization "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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