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OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
6 October – 17 October 2005, Warsaw

Topic: National Minorities – October 15, 2003


The Macedonian Minority in Greece
Report by the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada (MHRMC)


Table of Contents

Introduction
Macedonian Political Refugees
Home of Macedonian Culture and the Rousalii Association
Greece’s Official Stance Regarding the Macedonian Minority / US State Department Report on Greece
Macedonian language and the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL)
Macedonian Theatre Group Denied Entry into Greece
Greek Neo-Fascist Group Attacks 50-Year Old Man
The Rainbow Party/Vinozhito
Conclusion
Contact Information for Macedonian Activists in Greece

Introduction

Greece vigorously denies the existence of any ethnic minorities on its territory and attempts to suppress any voices that advocate human rights. Simply raising the issue of the Macedonian minority in Greece causes Greek citizens and politicians alike to react in outrage. The majority of Greek society supports its government's non-recognition and discrimination of its large Macedonian minority. Following are several examples of Greece’s constant abuse of the Macedonian minority’s rights.

Macedonian Political Refugees

On June 8, 2003, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Andreas Loverdos, made an historic announcement pledging the free return of Macedonian political refugees, evacuated from Greece as children during the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949. The child refugees (Detsa Begaltsi) have consistently been denied entry into Greece simply because they assert their Macedonian ethnic identity. They were excluded from the 1982 law that allowed the free return of political refugees that were “Greek by genus”. Answering a question on the free visit of "non-ethnic Greek" political refugees, Mr. Loverdos, stated that "since we have overcome all these problems of the past and of the civil war... we want to overcome this vestige too sooner rather than later...during this summer."

The events that followed Loverdos’ “historic” announcement were indicative of a country that views itself as a Western democracy but consistently proves itself to be the very antithesis of one. Following a nationalistic uproar by a large segment of Greek society, who were worried that the political refugees would “incite” the local Macedonian population into a heightened sense of nationalism, the Greek government reversed its decision and chose to impede the reunion in any way possible. It then proceeded to announce, on July 3, 2003 that the political refugees will be allowed to enter the country from August 10 to October 30, and would only be allowed to stay for 20 days. The date of the Detsa Begaltsi's Third World Reunion was well-publicized and was originally going to take place from July 15-20, 2003. The Greek government's announcement forced the organizers to reschedule the event to August 10-15, which caused a large number of political refugees, particularly from Canada, the United States, and Australia, to miss the event as they originally planned to enter Greece before July 10.

It is remarkable that Greece, a European Union country, would reverse a humanitarian decision in favour of state-sponsored racism that has been widely endorsed in Greece.

Out of the people who tried to enter Greece for the reunion, it is estimated that approximately two hundred Macedonians were denied entry into Greece during the summer of 2003.

On July 20, 2003, Australian citizen Janko Kalinchev, born in the village of Ovcharani (Meliti in Greek), and Canadian citizen Georgi Kizovski, born in Gabresh (Gavros), attempted to enter Greece from the Republic of Macedonia in order to visit their birthplaces. However, Greek border officials denied them entry and refused to give them an explanation, instead saying that they were denied entry for "other reasons".

According to Mr. Kizovski, "The Greek government keeps a blacklist of people who are active in Macedonian organizations abroad and who openly declare themselves as Macedonian. We were obviously returned at the border because of our membership in the Association of Refugee Children from the Aegean Part of Macedonia (Detsa Begaltsi) in Australia and Canada." Greek officials have publicly stated that 80 Macedonian activists living abroad are on a “blacklist”. In its press release of August 10, 2003, the Greek Helsinki Monitor stated,

“Preventing their entrance on grounds of their activism directly contravenes the special UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and EU provisions for the state's responsibility to respect and even defend NGOs and human rights activists.”

In July, 2002, a border document proving the existence of this blacklist, which had been denied by the Greek government, was given to Steve Pliakes, a well-known Canadian-Macedonian activist. Furthermore, the Governor of the Prefecture of Florina, Mr. G. Stratakis, publicly acknowledged the existence of this blacklist on July 23, 2003. The ultra-nationalistic Greek newspaper, Stohos, even published the names of approximately half of the Macedonians on this list in a recent issue. In its press release of August 10, 2003 the Rainbow Party describes the reunion:

Unfortunately, this “humanitarian measure” turned into a farce. Once again, the large majority of Macedonian political refugees were denied entry into Greece even for a simple visit. On 10 August 2003 a delegation from Rainbow was present at the Niki – Negochani border station in Florina – Lerin. No political refugee was permitted to enter Greece (of more than 20 individuals appearing between 11.00 and 13.00) whose travel document recorded the bearer’s place of birth with its former (Macedonian) name. Entry into Greece was forbidden to those Macedonian political refugees with Republic of Macedonia passports, as well as to those with passports from other countries, such as Australia, Czech Republic, and Hungary. The border officials did not note on the forms the actual reason why entry was denied (this, they explained to us orally), but instead cited other reasons.

The absurdity of the matter of Macedonian political refugees holding travel documents (passports) from the Republic of Macedonia is that Greece does not recognize these passports because they record the name of country as the “Republic of Macedonia.” Yet it asks the Macedonian refugees holding these passports to change the name of their birthplace in a passport that Greece doesn’t recognize. For this reason, following the interim agreement between the two countries in 1995, the travel document that Greece recognizes is not the passport, but rather a sheet of white A4 paper bearing the visa. Perhaps our country ought to change its stand and finally accept Republic of Macedonia as the name of our neighboring country?

As for the Macedonian refugees from other European countries that have signed accession agreements with the EU (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia), how will Greece explain such a refusal of entry to these governments? How will it behave in April 2004 when these countries become full EU member-states? How will it then explain the refusal of entry to equal and law-abiding European citizens, who have the right to enter Greece simply by presenting their personal identity cards? Will Greece then blacklist these citizens as persona non grata?

Perhaps the Greek government and the Greek Foreign Ministry can explain – if the reason for barring entry into our country is, indeed, the use of place names, which are aspects of the linguistic and cultural heritage of both Greece and Europe – why the use of these names should to be a reason to bar entry? Can it provide us with an example of another European country that has barred entry to its former citizens for the same reason?

Vana Niczowski and her husband Chris, both Canadian citizens of Macedonian ethnicity, who had fled to Poland following the Greek Civil War, attempted to enter Greece on July 21, 2003. Mrs. Niczowski was born in Statitsa (Melas in Greek), Kostur (Kastoria) region and her birthplace was spelled “Kosturia” on her passport. The Greek border official insisted that this was “not the Greek name of the city and sounded too Slavic” and therefore, denied her entry.

Greece has consistently refused entry to people who use the original Macedonian village/city name on their passports, instead of the new Greek toponyms applied after 1926. In its press release of August 1, 2003, the Rainbow Party, political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece, stated:

“Greece should establish a record of toponyms (both old and new), a practice and a policy carried out in many democratic countries, especially since there is such a provision in international texts related to the protection of the heritage of linguistic, religious or ethnic minorities.”

The Greek government has used this as an excuse to deny entry to dozens of Macedonian political refugees. The Rainbow Party goes on to say:

"Let every democratic citizen of Greece consider how he or she would judge similar behavior from another country acting against its Greek minority. Let us assume, for example, that the Albanian government forbids entry to one of its former citizens, a member of the Greek minority, who abandoned Albania in the course of the Greek-Italian war in 1940, was stripped of his Albanian citizenship and had his property confiscated by the state. Assume that person today resides in Canada or Australia and in his Canadian or Australian passport, his place of birth is not mentioned as 'Drach' (the Albanian name of a city in Southern Albania), but "Dirahio" (the name of the same city in Greek).

How would we judge such an action of the Albanian government? How would we judge the placement of other such citizens in a list of "personae non grata" by the Albanian Foreign Office, because in Melbourne or Toronto they participate in Greek and not Albanian cultural associations? What would we say if the Albanian government stripped them of their citizenship and forbade them as long as they lived to visit their families and their places of origin in Southern Albania? Would we not correctly characterize such behavior as racist and inhuman?”


Despite repeated requests by the MHRMC over the past 15 years, the Canadian government has refused to confront Greece over its systematic persecution of Canadian citizens. However, Canada has made similar requests of other countries, including the United States, when border incidents involving Canadian citizens occur. (See www.mhrmi.org/news/2002/november13_e.asp for the MHRMC's letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, imploring Canada to investigate the several cases of Canadian-Macedonians being denied entry into Greece in 2002. See www.mhrmi.org/news/2003/february10_e.pdf for Mr. Graham’s outright dismissal of the MHRMC request). The Canadian government applies a double standard when choosing when to defend its citizens rights and which countries it confronts.

The following are comments made by Greek parliamentarian Evgenios Haitidis regarding the Macedonian political refugees. They are indicative of Greek society’s attitude towards the Macedonian minority:

“They are contemptible separatists, who appear to act undisturbed not only outside Greece but inside Greece as well, under the tolerance or even the assistance of government members”,

“Their primary goal is the recognition of a “Macedonian Ethnic Minority in Greece”, while their ultimate goal is self-rule namely, the detachment of Greek territory”.


Mr. Haitidis claims that the Macedonian political refugees “have been found guilty in regular courts of law of being enemy collaborators and criminals and are being characterized by strong anti-Greek activity abroad”.

Home of Macedonian Culture and the Rousalii Association

The European Court of Human Rights convicted Greece for a violation of freedom of association in the case of Sideropoulos and others vs. Greece in 1998 for failing to register the Home of Macedonian Culture. Despite repeated attempts since then, the Home of Macedonian Culture has constantly tried to register the association only to be repeatedly rejected by the Florina court. A complete summary of the events surrounding Greece’s refusal to register the Home can be found at the Greek Helsinki Monitor’s special webpage on the subject: www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/home_of_macedonian_civilization.html

The most recent example occurred in July 2003 when the Home was denied registration once again. They applied yet again in September 2003 and were told that a decision would be made by the end of October 2003. It is obvious that Greece has no intention of registering the Home of Macedonian Culture in spite of its obligations as a member of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights decision.

Another Macedonian organization, Rousallii, was denied registration by the Greek courts in 2000.

Greece’s Official Stance Regarding the Macedonian Minority / US State Department Report on Greece

The following is the MHRMC’s press release of April 7, 2003:

The Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada is appalled by the US State Department’s continued misrepresentation of the Macedonian minority in Greece in its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002: Greece”. Despite numerous appeals by the MHRMC and other international NGOs (www.mhrmi.org/news/2002/march18_e.asp), the US State Department continues to make erroneous statements regarding this minority in what can only be seen as an attempt to appease Greek sensitivities to the Macedonian issue. For example, when referring to the Macedonian minority, the US State Department places the term Macedonian in quotation marks. This gives the impression that the US State Department agrees with the official Greek position that this minority is illegitimate. The Macedonian minority and language are internationally recognized as such but the US State Department questions its legitimacy throughout this report by referring to it as “Slavo-Macedonian”, “Slavic dialect” and by making statements such as:

“Northwestern Greece is home to an indeterminate number of citizens who speak a Slavic dialect at home, particularly in Florina province. Estimates ranged widely, from under 10,000 to 50,000. A small number identified themselves as belonging to a distinct ethnic group and asserted their right to “Macedonian” minority status”.

Most estimates place the Macedonian minority at well over the numbers stated above. Macedonians live throughout the region of Aegean Macedonia, not just in the Lerin/Florina district. Furthermore, a large number identify as ethnic Macedonians, not an insignificant segment of the population as this report indicates.

The following statement gives the impression that the US State Department is an apologist for the Greek government’s continued repression of the Macedonian minority:

“The Government was concerned that members of the “Macedonian” minority may have separatist aspirations. The Government’s dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over that name heightened this sensitivity.”

As the Greek Helsinki Monitor stated in its press release of 2002:

“[The US State Department report] does not mention though the repeated denials of such allegations by all activists. In fact, as there has never been even one such statement, the mere mention in the report of the Greek government’s defamatory allegation cannot but do service to the government. Such impression is strengthened by the absence of any reference to the case of the non-registration of the Home of Macedonian Civilization (and of the Rousali association), in both the 2000 and 2001 reports.”

The US State Department also chose to ignore the repeated cases of ethnic Macedonians being denied entry into Greece, the continued persecution of Macedonian priest, Father Nikodim Tsarknias, who was verbally attacked, slandered and even arrested on live Greek television, the refusal to register two Macedonian cultural organizations, and the general refusal by Greek society to engage in any debate on the Macedonian issue, much less its recognition.

Several local and international NGOs, including local Macedonian activists in Greece, have repeatedly contacted the US State Department in order to provide information about the human rights abuses suffered by the Macedonian minority. The US State Department selectively chooses which information to use which gives credit to the argument that its main agenda is to pursue its own interests, not the achievement of human rights for oppressed minorities. The Greek Helsinki Monitor ended its 2002 press release by stating:

“[The US State Department’s] attitude towards Macedonians in Greece, as reflected in the annual reports, cannot therefore be considered an oversight, or a result of lack of information; on the contrary it is a sustained and deliberate policy of complacency towards Greek authorities on the most sensitive human rights issue in Greece. Such complacency is not shown towards Bulgarian authorities that have a similar sensitivity for Macedonians, whose problems are mentioned in the relevant chapter.”

The MHRMC calls on the US State Department to correct its past errors and issue an immediate press release to rectify its erroneous statements about the Macedonian minority in Greece.

Macedonian language and the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL)

In its report titled “The Sounds of Silence – The Macedonian Minority in Greece in 2001”, the Greek Helsinki Monitor states:

“...the Greek government has persistently refused to allow the teaching of the Macedonian language in schools, even in villages where the majority of inhabitants speak Macedonian. The Greek government, via its Spokesperson Minister for the Press and the Mass Media Dimitris Reppas, refused an appeal by the European Parliament’s “Green and European Free Alliance” group to Prime Minister Costas Simitis, in May 2000, for the recognition of the Macedonian language and its introduction in the education system.”

Despite Greece’s opposition, the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages opened an office in Salonica in 2002, with Nase Parisis, an ethnic Macedonian human rights activist, as its first president. It is ironic that EBLUL, which promotes minority languages, has opened an office in a country that claims that it has no minorities.

Macedonian Theatre Group Denied Entry into Greece

The following is a quote by Tihomir Stojanovski, Art Director of the Macedonian theatre group “Skrb I Uteha” at the Third Macedonian World Human Rights Conference on September 20, 2003.

“We were supposed to visit, Lerin, Republic of Greece i.e. Aegean Macedonia in September 2001. The Hellenic Liaison Office in Skopje told the Agency that was supposed to take us to Greece and to get visas for us that: “this is politics and plays in the Macedonians language are not allowed in that part of Greece?!” We sent them many letters including the invitation of the Home of Macedonian Culture in Lerin. We talked over the phone. They met us and they told us that they would inform us about the visas in a written form. A long time passed, and we have not received any information. I talked twice over the phone with the Greek Consul Mr. Mihalopulos and he told me that Athens is not issuing visas to us because of security reasons. They are not issuing any written document that they are not giving us the visas. Unofficially, plays in Macedonian are not allowed in this part of Greece?! I wrote open letters to Mr. J. Papandreou, Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of Culture of the Hellenic Republic. The Greek Helsinki Committee published the letters in its annual report on human rights for 2001: 30 December 2001, “Sounds of Silence” - The Macedonian Minority in Greece in 2001”.

Greek Neo-Fascist Group Attacks 50-Year Old Man

The following are excerpts from a September 1, 2003 article in the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia, titled “The Minister Yelled and the Police Woke Up”. English translation courtesy of www.maknews.com.

It was necessary for the Minister of Justice, Philippos Petsalnikos, to intervene in order for the police to act and arrest two members of Golden Dawn who were accused of beating a citizen.

The incident took place on the evening of Saturday, [August 30, 2003] during a march by members of Golden Dawn in the city of Kastoria. According to accusations from fifty year-old Christos Mihos, he was beaten by members of Golden Dawn. A similar fate was suffered by a passerby who tried to help. Both victims were taken to the hospital in Kastoria where they received medical attention.

The victims wanted to sue the perpetrators and asked police to arrest the attacker they had identified. However, the police "encouraged" the victims to take the suit forward without naming their assailants! The issue became known to Philippos Petsalnikos, who is the Minister of Justice and the elected member of parliament from Kastoria.

The Minister stated to Eleftherotypia, "I reminded the police chief that the incident took place on Greek territory and thus, the constitution and the laws that foresee the taking of legal action against specific persons must be implemented and especially their arrest given that they had been identified and named by the victims."

After this nighttime intervention by the Minister, the police were mobilized in the early morning hours whereupon they arrested the two persons responsible for the attacks and charges were laid. Today they will be taken before the courts in Kastoria. The Ministry of Public Order was also informed of the negligence by the police.

All day yesterday 35 members of Golden Dawn remained outside the police headquarters in Kastoria and for five hours blocked one of the busiest streets in the city demanding the release of their two arrested members. At noon, in a show of force, they travelled by bus to the town of Florina and marched along the major streets shouting inflammatory slogans such as "the Slavs should get out of Greece."

The Rainbow Party/Vinozhito

Rainbow is the political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece and has been the subject of attacks, both verbal and physical, by the Greek public, media and even government officials. The Rainbow Party hung a bilingual sign in Macedonian and Greek outside their office in Lerin/Florina in 1995, which caused a huge uproar in the city. Greek nationalists, led by the mayor of Florina, attacked and destroyed the office. Four members of Rainbow were subsequently put on trial for "causing and inciting mutual hatred among the citizens" under Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code. Rainbow was essentially put on trial for publicly using their mother tongue. Following worldwide condemnation of the trial, the Rainbow members were finally acquitted in 1998. However, the perpetrators of the crime were never charged and Rainbow has initiated a European Court of Human Rights case against them.

Greek media and government officials constantly refer to Rainbow members as “agents of Skopje”, “separatists” and “enemies of Greece.” Rainbow does not receive coverage in the media when participating in elections and instead get slandered at every opportunity.

The following are questions posed by Greek M.E.P. Mr. Stavros Xarhakos to the European Parliament on March 19, 2003. The submission by Mr. Xarhakos was titled, “EBLUL and the Systematic Defamation of a Member of the E.U.”

“It is well known that in Greece democratic freedoms and cultural difference are fully protected in law. This is the context in which the Muslim minority lives in Greek Thrace … its mosques built and restored with money from the Greek state’.

‘What are the activities of EBLUL in countries where the cultural identity of minorities is suppressed, as is the case, for example, with the Greeks ... in Turkey?’

‘Similar freedom is enjoyed by the other minority groups, however few they may be, such as the small Slav-speaking community in the region of Florina, which has set up a political party that enjoys complete freedom of action (it has offices, newspapers, is free to disseminate its ideas and does not fail to abuse Greece and the Greeks)’.

‘Does the Commission (which appears to provide financial support for the activities of the EBLUL office) share the historically groundless views of M. Brezigar concerning the alleged existence of a ‘Macedonian’ language?’


Conclusion

The Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada calls on the international community to apply pressure on Greece to end its racial profiling of individuals of Macedonian ethnic background, to immediately solve the issue of the Macedonian political refugees, to repeal the racist 1982 law that only permits ethnic Greek political refugees to return to Greece, and to immediately recognize its large Macedonian minority and grant it the human rights that it is guaranteed by all international human rights conventions. The MHRMC specifically asks that the European Union end its hypocrisy in demanding that new member states respect human rights standards while ignoring human rights violations within the EU.

Written by:
Bill Nicholov, President
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International

Address: 157 Adelaide St. West, Suite 434, Toronto, Canada M5H 4E7
Tel: 416-850-7125 Fax: 416-850-7127
E-mail: info@mhrmi.org Website: www.mhrmi.org

Presented by:
Ireneusz Slupkowski
Member, Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
Vice-President, Association of Macedonians in Poland

Address: ul. Odziezowa 15/15 71-502 Szczecin, Poland
Tel: +48-609-321-560
Email: prosper@fiber.net.pl


Contact Information for Macedonian Activists in Greece

For more information, please contact Macedonian Human Rights Movement International or the following organizations of Macedonians in Greece:

Rainbow Party/Vinozhito
Stephanou Dragoumi 11
PO Box 51, 53100 Florina, Greece
Tel/Fax: ++ 23850 46548
Email: rainbow@florina.org
Website: www.florina.org

Home of Macedonian Culture
Stephanou Dragoumi 11
PO Box 51, 53100 Florina, Greece
Tel/Fax: ++ 23850 46548

European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages - Greece
President - Nase Parisis
PO Box 100, TK 59100, Naousa, Greece
Tel: ++ 23850 22570
Email: greblul@otenet.gr
Website: www.eblul.org

Father Nikodim Tsarknias
Aegeas Sophias 13
Aridea, Pellas, 58400 Greece
Tel: ++23840 23271
Fax: ++23840 21778

     
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