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Report on Greece to the 1999 OSCE Implementation Meeting

September 22, 1999


Minority rights
Introduction

Greece is the only Southeast European country that does not recognize the presence of any national minorities on its territory. Turks are recognized as a mere “religious, Muslim” minority (which nevertheless is educated in Turkish), while Macedonians are not considered even a linguistic minority. The words “Turkish” and “Macedonian” have repeatedly led to the prosecution of their users, with courts handing down prison sentences or banning minority associations. On 23 April 1999, the Appeals Court of Thrace confirmed a 1986 First Instance Court verdict to dissolve the Turkish Union of Xanthi (founded in 1946) because “it created confusion on (…) the citizenship of its members whether they are Muslims with Greek citizenship or Turks in nationality and citizenship (…) and that a Greek association serves the aims of a foreign state that is the prevalence of Turkish ideals.”

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. The latter offer imposes its choices on the state, as witnessed twice in September 1999. The Church’s vocal and at times obscurantist opposition led to the cancellation of a visit the Pope had considered paying to Greece in 2000: the government’s statement that he was welcome was low key while it never condemned the Church’s intolerant statements. Neither did it condemn, let alone reverse, the decision of the Bishop of Komotini to suspend a priest (who is paid by the state) for allowing a collect for Turkey’s quake victims in his church.

On the Recognition of National Minorities

On 23 July 1999, a public appeal was sent to the Speaker of Parliament and to the party leaders for the recognition of the Macedonian and the Turkish minorities, the unconditional ratification of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the respect of minority rights. The appeal was supported by the three Turkish MPs in the Greek Parliament, by three Macedonian and seven Turkish minority organizations, as well as by three human rights NGOs, including Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece.

Coincidentally, in a 26 July interview with the monthly magazine Klik, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said: “No one doubts that there are many Muslims of Turkish origin… If no one contests the present borders, I couldn’t care less if one calls himself a Muslim or a Turk, a Bulgarian or a Pomak.” In two subsequent interviews, he defended his statements arguing that Greece is committed to the respect of the right to self-identification by member of both minorities.

At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior leaked to the media plans to radically change the citizenship policy. It called for allowing immigrants, after some years or residence, to qualify for citizenship, without excluding those from neighboring countries or of the Muslim faith. Even the problem of allowing the return of ethnic Macedonian political refugees, who fled as a result of the civil war in the late 1940s, was to be finally settled.

Greek media, intellectuals and politicians reacted in a near unanimously hostile manner to the initiatives of the ministry. With the exception of the leftist daily Avghi, all other 21 Greek national dailies and most electronic, state and private, media engaged in unscrupulous misinformation campaigns of personal slander and hate speech against the signatories of the appeal. It was also reported that the parties summoned all three deputies for explanations in low level disciplinary actions. The intellectuals’ silence was eloquent. The prevailing opinion was that “Anyone who feels a Turk should move to Turkey” (Ethnos 24/7) and that “the Greek people is one and indivisible” (To Vima, 30/7). Foreign Minister Papandreou came under intense fire from political foes and even members of the ruling PASOK party who asked for his resignation. The government made no effort to help persuade public opinion on the correctness of the Foreign Minister’s (and the minority and human rights NGOs’) position, thus leaving the impression that these were isolated opinions, and vicious attacks against them were tolerated.
     
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