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European Free Alliance Reports on Greek Discrimination
Against Macedonian Minority


December 11, 2003


Report From a Visit to Greece
Bartlomiej Swiderek for the EFA


The Rainbow-Vinozhito party, a member of the European Free Alliance, which represents the Macedonian national minority in Greece, had to cancel its first congress twice owing to threats and pressure from Greek far right and neo-nazi organisations. I spent a couple of days in the northern Greek regions of Western and Central Macedonia as well as in Athens in order to monitor the recent developments concerning this issue. Even though the Rainbow-Vinozhito party is a legal organisation it faces serious problems with its activities as Greek authorities officially deny the existence of a Macedonian minority on its territory.

Vinozhito Congress

The congress of the party was to be focused on forthcoming national elections in Greece, European elections as well as re-shaping party policies. To this end party officials asked for a room in the town of Edessa (Central Macedonia) where they were going to organise the event. Even though they were promised a room in the "Hotel Xenia" eventually the owner of the room refused to rent it to Vinozhito. It is noteworthy that invitations produced by the party and distributed by post only among those who were invited appeared in newspapers issued by Greek far-right parties demanding that the venture should be cancelled and the "Slavophones" as they call the Macedonian minority should be restrained from organising any event on Greek soil.

I was informed that the owner of the room was receiving phone calls with threats against his life, unknown perpetrators damaged his car and smashed part of the conference room.

Therefore party officials asked the mayor of Edessa, Mr. Giannis Siontras, to help them organise the congress. The mayor suggested a hall managed by the cultural association "Alexander the Great", however he asked that the date of the congress be changed so it was rescheduled for 7th December.

On 30 November several anti-Macedonian events and demonstrations organised by far right groups took place in Edessa, which was the reason for a refusal to rent Vinozhito the "Alexander the Great" hall. Noteworthy, the president of the association not only refused to rent the room but he also refused to meet Vinozhito officials. Our two letters sent to Greek PM Mr. Kostas Simitis asking for assistance in preparation of the congress remained without any response.

On 7 December Greek far right groups organised two ventures in the town of Edessa/Voden as a reaction to planned Vinozhito congress.

One of these took place in a conference room in the Hotel "Xenia". This one focused on speeches by xenophobic and racist politicians and activists claiming the "permanent Greek character of Macedonia, now endangered by the presence of some agents", as Macedonians are called by them. I was in the room together with two Vinozhito officials who provided me with a summary of what had been said there. After leaving the hotel we were stopped by plain clothed policemen and our personal data was recorded by them. However, we were assured these were just security reasons without any hint of persecution. Anyway, a question asked by one of the Macedonians about whether other people entering and leaving the hotel are also recorded by the police remained without an answer.

After this we went to the central square of Edessa/Voden where skinheads of the "Golden dawn" organisation held an anti-Macedonian demonstration shouting: "Macedonia is a Greek soil; Bulgarians, Gypsies and Skopjans out of Greece". People who demonstrated waved Greek national flags, played drums and presented banners with other anti-Macedonian slogans. While taking pictures I was accosted by two members of the "Golden dawn" who claimed to be responsible for the security of the demonstration and therefore asked me about a purpose of my visit to Edessa/Voden.

On the next day I met the mayor of Edessa/Voden Mr. Giannis Siontras who claimed not to be the proper person to be asked questions about the cancellation of Vinozhito congress and security measures to be taken in order that the congress could be organised. I was informed by the mayor that security in the town is not within the competencies of local authorities but of police, which, as I was assured, will probably do their best to protect Vinozhito congress in the future!

My personal impression after speaking with the mayor is that nobody wanted to take responsibility for what was happening in the town during those days and nobody could envisage how the situation will develop.

After meeting the mayor of Edessa I went to Athens where together with two Vinozhito officials I attended several meetings with journalists, minority activists and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) to discuss the situation in Greece in the context of Vinozhito problems. In the meantime Minority Rights Group International produced a statement in which they expressed their concern over the situation of the Rainbow party.

During these days a press-conference organised by the GHM took place during which foreign correspondents were informed about human rights violation in Greece, based on reports by UNHCR in Athens, Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, International Press Institute, etc. What is noteworthy, the case of Vinozhito was also raised during the conference.

Conclusions

The Rainbow party --Vinozhito, which has excellent links with minority groups and human rights organisations in Greece copes with several problems most of them linked with a lack of official recognition of the Macedonian national minority in Greece. I have an impression that any activity of the party, however peaceful, causes strong reactions from the far-right groups and a part of Greek society very much linked to the myth of a "Hellenic purity of the country" and scared of a "Slavo-Turko-European" plot directed against Greece.

It really strikes me that the congress of a democratic and legal party had to be cancelled for security reasons, while the far right groups can organise their events without any problems. It is noteworthy, that openly Nazi organisation like the mentioned "Golden dawn" is legal in Greece and can disrupt political activities of a minority party.

Another issue, which seems worthy of mention is the attitude of Greek authorities towards the Macedonian population. In an official statement by the Greek government one can read that:

"The only existing and officially recognised minority in Greece is the Muslim minority in Thrace. (...) There are no other groups in Greece, which can be defined, according to international law standards, as minorities.

In this context, Greece wishes also to stress that references to the so-called minority are inaccurate and misleading. There is no minority in Greece. The existence of such a minority is claimed by some individuals only, on the basis of the fact that in Northern Greece there is a small number of persons who speak a Slavic idiom, confined to family or colloquial use.

However, these persons have never expressed themselves as having a distinct ethnic or national identity and reject any attempt to define them as members of a national or linguistic minority."

This leads to the conclusion that in Greece it is the state that decides whether Macedonians can regard themselves as a distinct nation or not. As Greece strongly opposes recognition of the existence of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM, or Skopje in Greece) claiming Macedonia to be part of a Hellenic heritage it seems unlikely that in current circumstances the Macedonian minority in Greece will find recognition.

I suggest that EFA monitors developments in Greece and gives all necessary assistance to the Rainbow-Vinozhito party in their activities.

Bartlomiej Swiderek

     
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