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Australian Prime Minister Backs Away From Statement Made in Support of Greece

May 18, 2005


AUSTRALIAN MACEDONIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE
MEDIA RELEASE

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During a recent visit to Greece, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, made a statement in which he “reaffirmed the Australian government support for Greece” in relation to the Republic of Macedonia. Immediately following this, the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) sent a letter to Mr Howard asking for a clarification. The Prime Minister’s Department responded to that correspondence on 9 May 2005.

The AMHRC would like to take this opportunity to make some brief comments in relation to the response of the Prime Minister’s department:

Firstly, we welcome the fact that the Australian government’s position on the nomenclature for the Republic of Macedonia has not changed as was suggested by the Prime Minister and that Australia is committed to the United Nations talks in which the Republic of Macedonia and Greece are currently engaged. Although it would be preferred that the Australian government simply recognised the Republic of Macedonia’s right to self-identification. and recognise their inalienable right to chose their own name for their own country. In this case being the constitutional name – the Republic of Macedonia.

Moreover, as the Prime Minister would be aware, international practice is now clearly moving towards acknowledging the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutionally enshrined name. At least 109 countries have officially engaged in diplomatic recognition of the Republic of Macedonia under this name, including no less than three of the permanent Security Council members of the United Nations, being Russia, China and Australia’s important ally the United States of America. Others like Great Britain and Germany have made obvious moves in this direction as the parliaments of both these countries have recently recommended that their government’s recognise the Republic of Macedonia under its rightful name.

There is no reason why the Australian government should not follow this international attitude. The term the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” was one initiated within the United Nations given the contentious opposition of Greece to the membership of the Republic of Macedonia to that organisation. It is a term that was introduced for usage within this institution as an interim measure whilst the two countries held bilateral discussions for the purpose of finding an acceptable solution to both parties over the name. This does not affect the rights of other states to enter into diplomatic recognition with the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name. Indeed this would be consistent with the widely accepted principles of the right to self-ascription embedded within various international norms as well as the entitlement each state has of entering into bilateral diplomatic relations. Hence, Australia should stop treating the Republic of Macedonia differently and unfairly compared to other states when it comes to diplomatic recognition.

Secondly, in the letter from the Prime Minister’s Department, it stated that “The Prime Minister reaffirmed this position in talks with Prime Minister Karamanlis in Athens recently and urged the Greek Government to continue to work with the FYROM Government to resolve the nomenclature issue”; the Prime Minister’s public statement on the matter contradicted this. On 27 April 2005 at the joint press conference with Karamanlis, the Prime Minster stated:

“I have reaffirmed the Australian Government’s support for Greece’s position in relation to the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia”.

This statement cannot be deemed to be somehow ‘out of context’. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to clarify why he publicly contradicted what he supposedly told Prime Minister Karamanlis in private. The Prime Minister has an obligation to be transparent on this matter.

Thirdly and incidentally, it has become common practice in this country, to exaggerate the number of Australian citizens of Greek origin – for example in the media and even on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) which claims that “the Greek community in Australia is estimated at up to 600,000”. This exceeds the official ABS statistics from the 2001 Census by over 200,000 (the actual figure is 375,703), yet the Prime Minister managed to surmount it by over 300,000 at the above mentioned press conference (see transcript of joint press conference 27/4/05). Considering the importance of such figures (for they are often used as part of the basis for determining policy) this continual overestimation by the Australian government is dangerous for the maintenance of equitable and sound public policy decisions. The government and indeed the Prime Minister should use the official ABS statistics in future. There can be no excuse for such misrepresentations, given that in Australia (unlike in Greece) we have official surveys to determine the nature and numbers of the different demographics in our society.

As the Prime Minister is no doubt aware, multicultural issues can be very sensitive and therefore it is vitally important that statements on such matters be precise.

Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee
PO Box 364, Doncaster VIC 3108, Australia
Tel/Fax: + 61 3 9460 2910
mail@macedonianhr.org.au
http://www.macedonianhr.org.au/

     
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