Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
The Case of Non-Registration of the Home of Macedonian Civilization

The following is a description of the Greek authorities' refusal to register the Home of Macedonian Civilization, even though the Home won their European Court case against the Greek state in 1998 for this very reason. For more information about the European Court case victory, please visit:
http://www.mhrmi.org/news/98/eurocourt2.html

For more information about Greece's continued refusal to register this organization (including offical complaints) please visit the Greek Helsinki Monitor's webpage on this subject:
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/home_of_macedonian_civilization.html


Freedom of Association: the case of the Home of Macedonian Civilization 30 December 2001

Report by the Greek Helsinki Monitor

The "Home of Macedonian Civilization” (Stegi Makedonikou Politismou) was originally denied registration as an organization by the Greek courts, between 1990-1994. Its appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was successful as, on 10 July 1998, Greece was cited for the violation of article 11 on freedom of association. However, the "Home of Macedonian Civilization” has not been able to register for over three years. All lawyers of Florina (where the "Stegi” has its seat) have repeatedly refused to take up the case. While courts have twice refused the association's request to appoint a lawyer, despite Greece's report to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe indicating that courts had been instructed to execute the judgment, and the Ombudsman's written opinion that there is "enough evidence that 'no lawyer is found'”.

The chronicle of the related events is enlightening (all 2001 activities were carried out on the initiative of and in cooperation with GHM and MRG-G):

Between March 1998 and April 2000, the "Stegi” contacted various lawyers of the Florina Bar Association so as to find someone willing to process the registration of the association in the Florina First Instance Court. The lawyers contacted included Mihalis Tsostkos, the lawyer who had processed the initial registration in the early 1990s. No lawyer accepted to take up the case.

On 19 April 2000, the "Stegi,” through its Bursar, wrote to the Florina Bar Association (DSF) stating the problem and requesting that the Association appointed a member to process the registration.

On 24 April 2000, the DSF rejected the request on the grounds that it was not signed by at least the President and the Secretary General of the "Stegi,” that the ECHR decision was not appended (!) and that no evidence of the refusal of its members was provided.

On 10 June 2000, the "Stegi,” through its President and the Secretary General, reiterated the request, supplying the ECHR decision and stating that the refusals were in oral form and hence no evidence could be provided for them.

On 26 September 2000, the DSF replied that, following an investigation, it could assert that the refusal was not general among its members, and that, anyway, according to Article 47 paragraph 3 (sic) of the Code of Lawyers, the responsibility to appoint a lawyer -when no one can be found- lied with the President of the First Instance Court of Florina.

On 19 February 2001, the "Stegi” made the necessary application to the President of the First Instance Court of Florina, attaching the related correspondence with the DSF.

On 28 February 2001, the President of the First Instance Court of Florina rejected the request, on the basis of the 26/9/2000 DSF letter that mentioned that there was no general refusal among lawyers to take up the case.

On 23 March 2001, the "Stegi” mailed to each of the 39 DSF members a letter asking whether that s/he would be willing to take up the case.

On 24 April 2001, following the absence of any reply to the letter, the "Stegi” filed a related complaint to the Greek Ombudsman.

On 24 May 2001, the Ombudsman sent a letter to the DSF, with copies to the Minister of Justice Professor Mihalis Stathopoulos and to the President of the First Instance Court of Florina. Therein, the Ombudsman recalled all pertinent facts, implicitly accepting the "Stegi”'s allegation that no lawyer was found and asked DSF to: "please examine the possibility that, in reality, none of your members is willing to take on the case. In the event that you persist on your claim that there exists no general refusal of your members, please inform me, as soon as possible, about the names of the members of your Association who are willing or who at least do not refuse to take on the case. Please also include information necessary for contacting them.”


On 1 June 2001, the DSF replied to the Ombudsman. They first claimed that: "we trust that that letter (which in all honesty startled us with the direct or indirect severity of some of your statements) is the product of your having been misinformed by the complainants.”

They went on unabashedly claiming that the "Stegi”'s problem:

"as far as we can now conclude, was created by them and for no good reason”

and that:

"the survey we conducted with most of the members of the Association clearly shows that they never received the letter dated 23 March 2001 "standing for an invitation for the expression of interest” and our Association of course never received such a letter.”

They then concluded as follows:

"Therefore, we ask that you draw your conclusions in view of all the above, and we also ask that, as you address the complainants mentioned above (who obviously are not bound by the principle of good faith), you suggest to them that they notify us BY NAME the members of our Association whom they approached and received negative answers, so that we can finally know precisely how things really are and can take the appropriate measures and so that some would stop creating issues where none exist.

Finally, we consider completely unfortunate your expression which superficially refers to "matters of legality of the actions of our Association” and we express our great sadness that you resorted to such expressions and conclusions in relation to the constitution of our country which we devoutly (because of our capacity and because of our individual sensitivities) uphold.”

On 19 June 2001, the "Stegi” sent again the letter first mailed on 23 March 2001 to the 39 DSF members and the DSF office, in a registered form this time. In the following days, 12 letters were returned unopened as unacceptable, while two more were returned as unclaimed by the addresses. While there was not one answer, negative or positive, sent to the "Stegi.”

On 20 June 2001, the Ombudsman wrote again to the DSF, mentioning that the Ombudsman's office recommended to the "Stegi” the posting of registered letters (see above). In this letter, again copied to the Minister of Justice Professor Mihalis Stathopoulos and to the President of the First Instance Court of Florina, the Ombudsman's office also made its opinion clear on the substance, criticizing both the DSF and the President of the First Instance Court of Florina's inaction: "I must point out that, according to the Ombudsman's opinion, the repeated steps taken by the members of HMC towards your Association and its individual members to date have not been effective. This fact, in principle, is sufficient enough to lead to the conclusion that, in this case "no lawyer is found”, as is meant in Article 47 par. 1 of the Lawyers' Code. Thus, though unnecessary, once again, there is a search for the ascertainment of the reluctance of your members to take on this case. Moreover, the implementation of the aforementioned provision does not presuppose that the interested citizen (who is guaranteed effective judicial protection by the Constitution) must provide proof that there exists a situation of more or less "general refusal”, as implied in both your reply to the complainants (ref. # 60/26-9-2000) and the decision of the President of the relevant Court of the First Instance, in her decision rejecting their application for appointment of a lawyer.

Contrarily, in accordance with the Constitutional meaning of the provision, the appointment of a lawyer is compelled when the interested party is unable to find proper legal support on his own. The law does not require that he provide indisputable verification, through written materials or accurate dating, that he has approached each individual lawyer of your Association. Nevertheless, the Greek Ombudsman, in the end, accepted your suggestion to recommend that they reformulate their request through registered mail.

In view of the above, and particularly of the crucial significance of this case in terms of the sincerity of the declarations made by Greece to devotedly observe the European Convention on Human Rights, I think you could contribute positively towards a resolution of the whole matter. This could be achieved by informing, in writing, all your members of the request made by the complainants and by simultaneously requesting that they respond to you in writing, within a specified date, declaring their intentions in assuming the relevant order.”

On 30 June 2001, the "Stegi” informed the Ombudsman that the 23 March 2001 letters were indeed duly distributed by the Florina Post Office, as the latter's director assured them, though, since they were not registered, his office could not provide a written confirmation of this. The "Stegi” also mentioned Mihalis Tsostkos as the first of the lawyers they had contacted between 1998 and 2000, while informing the Ombudsman that, if necessary, they could provide his office with the name of the two other lawyers they had contacted. The "Stegi” added that in each case the lawyers did not outright refuse the case but were keeping the file for months without providing any answer. Finally, the Ombudsman was formally informed of the mailing of the registered letters on 19 June 2001, and of the return as unacceptable of 12 unopened letters, which made perfectly clear that there was a general refusal by Florina lawyers and that the DSF was not sincere in its arguments to the Ombudsman.

On 18 September 2001, the "Stegi” appealed once again to the President of the First Instance Court of Florina (protocol number 258), submitting all the relevant material. The President, who had taken only 9 days to reject the first request in Ferbuary 2001, had not sent any reply or taken any action by the end of 2001.

On 3 December 2001, the Ombudsman, whose office had not heard from the DSF since June 2001, was formally informed on behalf of the "Stegi” of all (non-)developments since its last letter.

From all the above, it is evident that the Florina Bar Association and the President of the First Instance Court of Florina defy the law and Greece's international obligations by effectively denying the Macedonians their right to freedom of association. While the Greek state, in the person of the Minister of Justice, although informed even by its own Ombudsman, does not take any action to rectify the situation, hence becoming an accomplice to this human rights violation. While one would have expected the Greek state to behave differently, honoring its obligations and its written assurances that it will implement the ECHR decision, the attitude of the DSF is certainly not surprising. Its extremely hostile statement, issued in September 1995 after the Macedonian political party "Vinozhito” (Rainbow) had put up a sign in its Florina office with inscription also in the Macedonian language, showed that the Florina lawyers have, collectively, a negative attitude to minority rights, and hence to democracy and to the constitutional and international human rights obligations of Greece:

"The members of the Bar Association of Florina,

On the occasion of the action carried out by very few persons, hirelings of foreign aims and interests, to hang up a sign written in a foreign language at a central point of our town, convened at a general meeting and unanimously decide the following:

A: They castigate and condemn the action carried out by the members of the Local Committee of the RAINBOW party to hang up at the offices of their party a sign written in the language of FYROM which is non-existent for us and giving our town a Slavic name and not Florina, as it is known since the dawn of its history, as a successor of Heraclea Lynghistic.

B: They declare towards all directions, that the inhabitants of this land where, through a process of tens of centuries, a style of life and an ethos of persons have been formed which are only Greek, are not going to tolerate similar actions on the part of anybody.

C: Finally, they call upon those imprudent persons who renounce their own country, to pull themselves together and stop provoking; otherwise they will find themselves up against the entirety of the Florina People.

The members of the Bar Association of Florina”