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MHRMI 2008 Annual Report
The Macedonian Minority in Greece


January 27, 2008


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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.

Freedom of Expression and the Media

On July 5, 2007, a law was passed in Greece entitled the “Concentration and Licensing of Media Enterprises and other Provisions” which severely limits minority access to the media. Several provisions in the law were specifically designed for this purpose, namely: 1
  • Chapter C, Article 8, paragraph 10a, which states that the minimum disbursed capital, (ie.the money radio station owners have to keep on deposit as a guarantee), is 100,000 euros for radio stations broadcasting news. The figure is 60,000 euros for radio stations broadcasting music.
  • paragraph 13a states that the radio station must provide 24 hour programming regardless of whether the station is carrying information or otherwise.
  • an additional sentence in paragraph 13a states that the main transmission language must be Greek.
  • paragraphs 14a and 14b force news and music radio stations to employ a certain number of full-time journalists and other administrative and technical staff in accordance with labour agreements and social security legislation. Para 14b goes on to state that radio stations carrying news and information should have at least 20 members of staff overall, while for music stations this figure is five staff members.
The International Press Institute (IPI), “...believes that this flies in the face of the Greek government's duty to uphold minority rights and breaches the country's international duties in this area, particularly Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

In a letter to the Greek President, IPI continues, “This provision is not only anti-competitive, it also prohibits low circulation media, minority or community papers, cultural or special interest products, among others, from having access to the market place…In consequence, IPI believes that the measures are against freedom of expression and the right to publish or broadcast freely and unhindered by bureaucratic measures. Since your country is a member of the European Union, and has accepted the commitments of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and UNESCO, we intend to inform these institutions by copy of this mail.”

According to Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, “OSCE commitments regarding pluralism of views require that all communities have access to the flow information and can contribute to it. Every government has a responsibility to facilitate respect and inclusiveness.”2

An example of the Greek government’s outright hostility towards minority media occurred on June 4, 2004 when police entered the premises of the private radio station Makedonikos Ichos (Macedonian Sound) in Naoussa (Negush), ceased transmission and arrested the owner, Aris Vottaris. The official explanation was that this radio station had no licence for local or regional transmission. Vottaris was released after a few hours, but charges were pressed against him because of illegal transmission and lack of documents. Vottaris often transmitted traditional songs and dances in the Macedonian language, as well as using the Macedonian language on air.

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) expressed its concern:

“In SEEMO’s opinion, it is very surprising that only this radio station was shut down, although, according to our sources, there are many other radio stations operating in the prefectures of Imathia and Pella (N.Greece) under the same conditions. SEEMO asks Greek officials to speed up the process of regulation-making for radio licences, especially for alternative radio stations such as Makedonikos Ichos, which are working on regional or local level. We would like to remind, that it is crucial for journalists that they can do their job freely and that independent media are very important for democratic development in any country”.3

On October 3, 2006, Rainbow/Vinozhito, the political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece, and the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL), re-published the Macedonian language primer Abecedar. It was originally published by the Greek government in 1925 as a result of Greece’s recognition of the Macedonian minority following World War I. 4 It was intended to help schoolchildren in Aegean Macedonia (northern Greece) learn to read and write in their mother tongue. Greece immediately reversed its recognition of the Macedonian minority and banned the Abecedar’s distribution. According to Nase Parisis, president of the Greek Committee of EBLUL, “The re-publication of Abecedar is living proof of Greece's failure to deny the existence of Macedonians.”

The US State Department issues its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” every year which consistently question the legitimacy of the Macedonian minority in Greece. Instead of focusing on actual human rights abuses, this report perpetuates stereotypes against Macedonians. In an obvious attempt to appease Greek sensitivities to the Macedonian issue, the US State Department places the term Macedonian in quotation marks, refers to Macedonians as “Slavophones” and refers to the Macedonian language as “Slavo-Macedonian”, and a “Slavic dialect”.

Despite repeated requests by various human rights organizations, including MHRMI, Greek Helsinki Monitor, and Rainbow/Vinozhito, the US State Department reports are still grossly inadequate and mirror the official Greek position that the Macedonian minority is illegitimate. Greek Helsinki Monitor noted this long-standing problem in 2002:

“[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."

Name Dispute between Greece and Republic of Macedonia

Greece’s objection to the name of the Republic of Macedonia is an ongoing issue that has especially harsh consequences for the Macedonian minority in Greece. On November 8, 2007, MHRMI and the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) met with UN Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz and outlined the reasons why only Macedonia’s constitutional name is acceptable.5

MHRMI and UMD reiterated that it was not until 1988 when Greece realized that the Republic of Macedonia’s independence was in sight that it renamed “Northern Greece” to the “Province of Macedonia.” Greece objects to the name of the Republic of Macedonia in order to continue its non-recognition and persecution of its large Macedonian minority. Any proposed name other than “Republic of Macedonia” would legitimize Greece’s official policy. Furthermore, MHRMI and UMD pointed out that, in accordance with the relevant international norms, the Republic of Macedonia, as any other country, has the right to self-determination. One of the basic demonstrations of this right is the right to one’s identity and name. No nation has the right to name another. The United Nations should follow the example of over 120 countries worldwide which have recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name.

In a letter to Ambassador Nimetz, Rainbow/Vinozhito, the political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece, stated:

"The essence of the internal problem of this question for Greece is the denial of the recognition and the respect of a separate and distinct Macedonian ethnic/national identity different from the Greek one, because to do so would result in the collapse of the Greek myth of national homogeneity that the state has imposed for decades now."6

On September 20, 2007, Canada recognized the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name. MHRMI thanked the Conservative Party of Canada for once again proving Canada’s leadership in the field of human rights. 7 What followed is indicative of the Greek government and Greek diaspora’s irrational position on the Macedonian name issue. Canadian media, namely the Globe and Mail, chose to interview Jim Karygiannis, the Greek-born Liberal Party of Canada MP, and in a September 21, 2007 article he referred to Macedonians as “Skopjans”. This is a term used by Greece to negate the ethnic identity of Macedonians and evokes Greece’s horrific campaigns, past and present, at ethnically cleansing or forcibly assimilating its large Macedonian minority. Needless to say, Macedonians find this term highly derogatory and complained to the Liberal Party of Canada but to no avail. Instead of focusing on the issue, the Liberals sent a form letter in which they defend the previous Liberal government’s decision not to recognize Macedonia. Furthermore, in an even more transparent attempt at garnering the Greek vote, the Liberal Party then issued a press release denouncing Canada’s recognition of Macedonia. In the statement, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Ujjal Dosanjh said:

"Mr. Harper's decision to unilaterally bypass the process of negotiation endorsed by the United Nations to deal with this contentious issue has unnecessarily divided Canadians and shows his complete disregard for the nuances of international affairs. Canada has no place unilaterally inserting itself in an ongoing debate between other nations.”

MHRMI president Bill Nicholov responded:

"Canada has joined the 120 nations worldwide who have recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name, so by no means was it 'unilateral' in its decision. This nonsensical debate is akin to the United States suddenly having a problem with Canada's name and asking the United Nations to broker a solution. No country has the right to name another. Greece objects to the name of the Republic of Macedonia in order to continue its non-recognition and persecution of its large Macedonian minority."8

Freedom of Association

Greece Refuses to Register Home of Macedonian Culture Despite European Court Ruling

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 (HMC) has encountered numerous obstacles in trying to register the association. A 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:
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/home_of_macedonian_civilization.html

The HMC filed an application with the Single-Member Court of First Instance in Florina in June 2003. After a lengthy delay, the court issued its decision on December 19, 2003, rejecting the application by the Home of Macedonian Culture and making the following outrageous claims:

‘the formulation of the associations’ articles is unclear and can cause confusion regarding its real goal…The use of the term ‘Macedonian culture’ intensifies this confusion by connecting this with a non-existent language, described as ‘Macedonian’ ...The recognition of such an organization contains a direct danger to public order and provides an opportunity for exploitation by foreign agents, who have tried from time to time, unsuccessfully, to fabricate a historically non-existent ‘Macedonian nation’... For all the reasons mentioned above, we reject the application.’

On January 20, 2005, the European Free Alliance protested to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg about ongoing human rights abuses in Greece. Bernat Joan, the Catalan Euro-MP and Vice President of the European Free Alliance is concerned about ongoing state backed intolerance and discrimination particularly against the country's Macedonian and Turkish minorities. This follows the recent Greek Supreme Court ruling dissolving the Turkish Union of Xanthi and previous refusals to register Turkish and Macedonian associations or to force their dissolution in spite of earlier rulings against the Greek authorities by the Strasbourg based European Court of Human Rights. Bernat Joan MEP commented:

"I was very concerned to hear this news of ongoing intolerance by Greek authorities. It seems to me a flagrant abuse of basic human rights, not to mention treaty commitments. Greece has fallen foul of the European Court of Human Rights in the past yet this seems to have had little impact on the attitude of the Greek authorities. They must recognise the right to peaceful and free association without interference or oppression. It is ironic that at a time when the EU is asking countries who want to join to implement the so-called 'Copenhagen criteria' which includes the protection of minorities, some existing EU members behave in such a way. That's why I'm writing to the European Court of Human Rights to draw their attention to these ongoing human rights abuses by Greek authorities."

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece explain that:

“There are currently no associations in Greece operating legally with their names including the words “Macedonian” or “Turkish” to reflect the ethnic or national identity of their members. This situation reflects the refusal of Greece to acknowledge the presence of a Macedonian and a Turkish minority in its territory.”9

On May 17, 2005, the Greek Member State Committee of EBLUL (European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages) called on Greece to respect ECHR's decision on the Home of Macedonian Culture. They noted the irony in the Prime Minister of Greece, Kosta Karamanlis’s address to the Council of Europe Summit in Warsaw in which he stated, "...the disrespect and the refusal of certain countries to immediately and unconditionally implement the Court's rulings ... jeopardize not only its reliability but also human rights in Europe." Mr. Karamanlis was referring to Turkey’s refusal to adhere to the 2003 Lozidiou judgement but ignored the fact that Greece hasn’t complied with the 1998 Home of Macedonian Culture ruling.

At the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting on October 10, 2006, the Home of Macedonian Culture stated, “This raises some serious questions to which the Greek delegation should respond. Following the Strasbourg judgment, why has the Greek government not taken any measures to implement the decision and ensure the registration of the Home of Macedonian Culture? The Greek government may claim that this is a matter for the courts, however when national courts refuse to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the state has the obligation to take measures to ensure the execution of the judgment. Why has the Greek government not done so? Does Greece consider the execution of judgments to be optional?

Also what about Greece’s OSCE commitments and the case of the non-registration of the Home of Macedonian Culture? The right to association is guaranteed in paragraph 10.3 of the Copenhagen Document. Furthermore, the right of a minority, which of course includes the right of the members of the Macedonian minority of Greece, to form cultural associations is also guaranteed in paragraph 32.6 of the same document. Does Greece also consider the implementation of OSCE standards to be optional?”
10

Greek Government Harassment of Macedonian minority

On October 17, 2007, two Australian citizens of Macedonian descent were detained in Lerin/Florina because, according to the arresting office, they appeared “suspicious” for publicly speaking Macedonian. According to Rainbow/Vinozhito:

“Being caught speaking Macedonian may be a cause for the Greek State to blacklist individuals, especially family members of Greek Civil War Macedonian refugees now living in Canada and Australia. Being blacklisted means one is accused of committing crimes against the national interests of the state and is forever barred from entering Greece again. In other words speaking Macedonian in Greece is a national crime.”11

Greek government officials constantly spread the Greek myth of ethnic homogeneity and vehemently deny the existence of the Macedonian minority. In an interview for the Macedonian daily newspaper Dnevnik in October 2006, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis stated:

“I am proud of the capacity of Greek democracy. All citizens of Greece have equal rights. I am sure that you already know that in Greece there is only one minority in Western Thrace and those are the Muslims. There is no such thing as ‘a Macedonian minority.’”

On May 17, 2006, Greek President Karolos Papulias said,
"There is no Slavic minority in Greece, there is only a Muslim minority which enjoys all its rights."

Macedonian president Branko Crvenkovski responded,
"The existence of an ethnic minority in a democratic state does not depend on the statements, views, announcements, or decrees of the president or the prime minister of that state. The existence of an ethnic minority in a democratic state primarily depends on the individual sentiment of every citizen of that state. It is a fact that, in the Republic of Greece, there is a significant number, that is, a large percentage of citizens who personally feel as members of the Macedonian nation. This is a fact that everyone, including the Greek authorities, must accept."

Rainbow/Vinozhito 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 subsequently initiated a European Court of Human Rights case against them. A decision was rendered on October 20, 2005 which found Greece to be in violation of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair hearing) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association).12
  • Article 6 § 1
    The Court noted that the proceedings in question had lasted more than seven years and one month, solely for the investigation of the case. In the light of the circumstances, it found that that period was excessive and did not comply with the “reasonable-time” requirement. It therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1.

  • Article 11
    The Court noted that Ouranio Toxo was a lawfully constituted party one of whose aims was the defence of the Macedonian minority living in Greece. Affixing a sign to the front of its headquarters with the party’s name written in Macedonian could not be considered reprehensible or to constitute in itself a present and imminent threat to public order. The Court was prepared to accept that the use of the term “vino-zito” had aroused hostile sentiment among the local population, as its ambiguous connotations were liable to offend the political or patriotic views of the majority of the population of Florina. However, the risk of causing tension within the community by using political terms in public did not suffice, by itself, to justify interference with freedom of association.
    As regards the authorities’ conduct, the Court noted that two days before the incidents, the town council had clearly incited the town population to gather in protest against the applicants and some of its members had taken part in the protests. It had thus helped through its conduct to arouse the hostile sentiment of a section of the population against the applicants. The role of State authorities was to defend and promote the values inherent in a democratic system, such as pluralism, tolerance and social cohesion. In the case before the Court, it would have been more in keeping with the aforementioned values for the local authorities to advocate a conciliatory stance, rather than to stir up confrontational attitudes.
    With regard to the conduct of the police, the Court found that they could reasonably have foreseen the danger that the tension would boil over into violence and clear violations of freedom of association. The State should therefore have taken adequate measures to avoid or, at least, contain the violence. However, they had not done so. Despite being contacted repeatedly, the police, who were stationed in the vicinity, did not intervene on the night of the attack, allegedly because of a lack of manpower. The Greek Government had not provided any explanation for the lack of police officers when the incidents were foreseeable. Nor had it escaped the Court’s attention that the public prosecutor had not considered it necessary to start an investigation in the wake of the incidents to determine responsibility. It was only once the applicants had lodged a complaint that the investigation had begun. In cases of interference with freedom of association by individuals, the competent authorities had a duty to take effective investigative measures. In those circumstances, the Court found that by both their acts and omissions the Greek authorities had violated Article 11.
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.

On February 2, 2006, Vinozhito filed a lawsuit against several Greek diplomats for defamation. 10 It was in response to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, in particular, Greek diplomat Georgios Ayfantis’ statements at the November 2005 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Legal Affairs & Human Rights Committee). Mr. Ayfantis tried to justify why Greece remains one of the few counties of the CoE yet to ratify the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities by saying:

“These few (Slavophones) who are represented by EFA-Rainbow are individuals who want to get secession from Greece and join FYROM, supported by people in FYROM.”

On November 10, 2005, the Greek Ministry of Education organized a meeting on linguistic diversity issues in Greece, but Rainbow/Vinozhito representatives were officially excluded from participating. This despite the fact that the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), of which Vinozhito is a member, sent a delegation to attend the meeting. When FUEN confronted the Special Secretary on Intercultural Education at the Ministry, Mrs Ismini Kriari-Catranis, about this issue, she responded that the Ministry had agreed to meet with FUEN, but only under the precondition of Rainbow's absence. Furthermore, she stated that “...we consider Rainbow to be neither a relevant participant or a valid interlocutor to a discussion regarding linguistic diversity in Greece..."13

At the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Greek representatives consistently deny the existence of any human rights violations in their country, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. MHRMI and other Macedonian organizations present detailed reports outlining these abuses but the responses from the Greek delegation range from denial to outright racism. On September 26, 2007, a representative of the Greek delegation made the following statement:

“Concerning the so-called “Macedonian minority” of Greece, we would like to stress that the existence of a small number of persons who live in Northern Greece and use, without restrictions, in addition to the Greek language, Slavic oral idioms, confined to family or colloquial use, does not indicate the existence of a minority.”

On October 9, 2006, the Greek representative said:

“As to the statement of another speaker, on behalf of the organization "Rainbow coalition", who claimed that he represented what he called "Macedonian minority", I want to stress that such a minority does not exist in Greece. What exists is almost 2,5 million Greek Macedonians, proud of their heritage and traditions which date back thousands of years.”

Greece’s blatant racism prompted US diplomat Clifford Bond to publicly call on Greece to respect its minorities. At the OSCE conference on October 11, 2006, he stated:

"The attitude in Greece towards people who belong to national minorities of Turks, Albanians and Macedonians continues to raise tensions" and “The strict abiding of the Lausanne Agreement prevents Albanians and Macedonians in Greece to be recognized as minorities.”

The most glaring example of Greece’s state-sponsored racism occurred on September 29, 2005 during an exchange between Vinozhito representative, Pavle Voskopoulos, and the Greek Ambassador to the OSCE, Mr. Lyssandros Miliaresis-Fokas. Following are excerpts of their discussion.14

Ambassador: How much money are you getting paid Mister for saying all of this here?

Voskopoulos: I am surprised Mr. Ambassador. As I know you are officially paid well enough for being here, representing our country. We are financially supported by ourselves at such a meeting. May I ask you, Mr. Ambassador, if the representative of the Greek minority in Turkey who spoke yesterday defending the rights of the Greek minority in Turkey is also paid by somebody? Furthermore, what about the Greek minority in Albania? Have they also been paid by somebody in their struggle for human rights in Albania?

Ambassador: What I know is that Greece is the most democratic country...

Voskopoulos: Of course it is a democratic country, but regarding minority rights there is a deficit of democracy. Shall we work all together to overcome these problems?

Ambassador: There are no minorities in Greece Sir, there is just a Muslim minority living in Greece under very good conditions.

Voskopoulos: But Mr. Ambassador, how is it possible that Greece is the only state with no national minorities when all the other Balkan states are full of them? As there are Greeks in Turkey or Albania there are also minorities inside the Greek state.

Ambassador: In Greece we have a large minority which is the minority of the economical immigrants traveling and staying in our country which is a real heaven for them...

Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador all these immigrants are suffering in their countries and in some of them, Sudan for instance, there is an armed conflict so it's logical that they are coming to Greece for a better future as well as to other European countries. It's not because Greece is heaven that they are coming in our country... By the way, when we are talking about immigrants, don't you think that it's time for our country to make a step forward and give Macedonian political refugees who participated the [Greek] Civil War the right to be repatriated. It's more a humanitarian gesture to at least allow these people to die in their birthplaces.

Ambassador: What are you talking about Mister? You mean to let them enter our country as the "Trojan horse"?

Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador I am surprised with your answer...Those people are mostly old men and women around seventy years old... Don't you really feel bad that you are representing our country in the OSCE with such extreme views... May I ask you why you did not give the same answers during the conference when the issue was presented by myself?

Ambassador: Listen to me Mister. Greece has shed rivers of blood for its glory, for being where it is today!

Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador I am once again surprised. In the present situation when we are all trying to build a United Europe, when we are fighting for peace in the early beginning of the 21st century you are talking about rivers of blood? You should know that we the Macedonians in Greece care very, very much about peace and democracy in our country and obviously you cannot even imagine this...

Ambassador: Well, if you don't like it you can leave Greece!

Voskopoulos: Mr. Ambassador I am now really shocked by what you said. Mr. Ambassador we belong to different worlds...

Ambassador: Thank God we belong to different worlds...

Voskopoulos: I hope the younger generation of Greek diplomats will not agree with your way of country thinking ...for the benefit of all of us... Your opinion is a shame to our country.

Greek Neo-Nazis Threaten Macedonian Minority Party

The rise of Neo-Nazism in Greece is occurring at an alarming rate. In addition to the constant threats against the Macedonian minority party, Rainbow/Vinozhito, Greek neo-Nazis have attacked other human rights activists. The Greek government allows neo-Nazis to spread hatred and chooses instead to prosecute the human rights activists who condemn them.

As reported by the Greek Helsinki Monitor on December 27, 2007, there have been “...extensive attacks against and prosecution of GHM and Jewish activists who had filed criminal actions against Greece’s neo-Nazis for the latter’s Hitler-admiring, Holocaust-denial, anti-Semitic writings.” This culminated in the attack of GHM’s spokesperson, Panayote Dimitras, during a trial on December 4, 2007, in which he was verbally and physically attacked by Theodoros Varikos, journalist at the state television channel NET. The catalyst of this attack was Mr. Dimitras’ mention of the Macedonian minority in Greece. The police did not intervene and the presiding judge did not reprimand the assailant. Instead, Panayote Dimitras was advised to file a complaint at the police station, where he was told that he would be arrested because the assailant would file a counter-complaint.

Only one of the defendants, lawyer and author of the book “Jews: The Whole Truth”, which denies the Holocaust, Kostas Plevris, was convicted and given a suspended prison sentence of 14 months for “incitation to racial violence and hatred and for racial insults.” The other three defendants, publisher, editor, and journalist of neo-Nazi weekly “Eleftheros Kosmo” were acquitted of the same charges. Kostas Plevris has launched several lawsuits against the people who testified against him and despite the racist and anti-Semitic statements in them, they have been registered by the Greek courts and trial dates have been set.

A member of the extreme right wing party LAOS, represented in both Greek and European Parliaments, uploaded a video of the trial on YouTube. Below the video death threats were posted “well you had Dimitras in front of you and did not lynch him?” and “death to the Jewish bastards; no Jew should remain in our country and the whole world; let us turn them into soap NOW;”

Professor Maria Tzani of the Capodistrian University of Athens testified December 13, 2007 before the Three-Member Appeals Court as a defence witness in the trial of Kostas Plevris. Tzani described Plevris’ book as providing a “valuable service” and “Those responsible for distorting the history of Greece and thereby putting intellectual blinders on the Greek people ought to be hanged. And if the state cannot do it, Greeks will be found to execute the traitors.”

GHM noted that “no media, human rights NGO, political party or other institution reported these incidents, let alone condemn them. On the contrary, there were several cases of appeals for the acquittal of the neo-Nazis on the basis of freedom of expression.”

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network:

- Calls up the Greek justice to vigilance considering that freedom of expression must not be a shelter for ideas inciting to violence and hatred.
- Alerts the European Union regarding the degradation of the working conditions of human rights activists in Greece and the tense environment in which they operate.


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders “...expresses its deep concern about these attacks, threats and judicial prosecution against Mr. Panayote Dimitras, Ms. Andrea Gilbert and Messrs. Moses Konstantinis, Benjamin Albala, Abraham Reitan and Leon Gavriilidis, which merely aim at sanctioning their human rights activities, in particular their activities against discrimination and anti-Semitism in Greece.”

Rainbow/Vinozhito will be holding a congress in the spring of 2008. The last party congress held in 2004 had to be postponed twice because of neo-Nazi threats and despite repeated appeals by Vinozhito and the European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, the Greek government and police refused to intervene. No Greek media or politicians denounced the threats by the Neo-Nazi organizations. Moreover, several media outlets actually praised them. Please see http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2004/may30b_e.asp for the letters ignored by the Greek government, photographs of the neo-Nazi demonstrations and newspaper articles about the congress. Following are examples of Greece’s racist advertising against its Macedonian minority:

“Anti-Greek Provocation in Edessa: On November 30, 2003, there will be a congress of filoskopjans in Edessa. One by one events are published which create a web that threatens to destroy everything national in our country." (Golden Dawn – November 13, 2003)

“We will oppose it, all of those who are Greek must demonstrate Sunday, 7th December at 11:00am. They must be in Edessa to put an end to the propaganda of ‘Rainbow’. All together with one voice yell loudly ‘Macedonia is one and it is Greek’” (Golden Dawn, Dec.4, 2003)

Vinozhito describes the events surrounding the postponement of its Congress:15

“This is the situation in Greece, at the dawn of year 2004. Most probably, Greece is only European country where Neonazism is a lawful political parole, where racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and discrimination against minority groups are frequent, making part of everyday reality, both at the level of society and at the level of political parole and implementation.”

Bartlomiej Swiderek of the European Free Alliance made the following conclusion after a visit to Greece on December 11, 2003:

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 organisations like the mentioned "Golden Dawn" is legal in Greece and can disrupt political activities of a minority party. I suggest that EFA monitors developments in Greece and gives all necessary assistance to the Rainbow-Vinozhito party in their activities.”

The Rainbow Party was finally able to hold their Congress on May 30, 2004. Following are excerpts from their press release:16
  • A jarring note, however, in the behavior of the authorities was the Nea Demokratia party deputy and current Prefect of Thessaloniki, Panayiotis Psomiades, who prior to the Congress publicly stated inter alia that: “[It] is a flagrant violation of every principle of national dignity, national consciousness and minimum sense of national pride that our city agreed to host a Congress organized by Rainbow, an agency known for its anti-national views, views that directly trigger our national reflexes and offend Hellenic sensibilities everywhere on earth, particularly those of Macedonians. For these reasons we deem these known circles and their delegates undesirable in Thessaloniki.” We believe that the Prefect’s statements gave neo-nazi elements the green light to stage violent demonstrations. These remarks were an affront to the city’s democratically minded citizens, the Prefect’s own faction, as well as our country’s Prime Minister. EFA-Rainbow regrets that a member state of the European Union was forced to take extreme security measures to protect the proceedings of a Congress of a legally recognized European political party such as ours. We also regret that, with very few exceptions (e.g. the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor and the leftist party AEKA-Thessaloniki), no other political parties or organizations took a public stand against Mr. Psomiades’ statements and the violent protests by neo-nazi elements. This is proof of the democratic deficit in Greece. We are also distressed by the fact that Greece is the only country in the EU where neo-nazism, under the guise of patriotism, is a legitimate form of political expression.
Greek Neo-Nazis have coordinated with other European based extremist groups, which culminated in a meeting from September 16-18, 2005 in Peloponnese, Greece. Jewish groups in Greece and abroad appealed to the Greek authorities to prevent this meeting from taking place but to no avail. In a letter to the Greek government the Wiesenthal Centre stated:17

"...for the last three years, our Centre has appealed to your authorities to condemn and penalize the burgeoning level of antisemitic media invective and desecration of Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials across Greece. The deafening silence of the response resulted in our Travel Advisory recommending that Jewish travelers to your country take extreme precautions."

Macedonian Political Refugees Denied Entry into Greece

The 60th Reunion of Macedonian Child Refugees (Detsa Begaltsi) will take place in July 2008. During the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949, the International Red Cross evacuated 28,000 Macedonian children aged 2-14 and settled them in Eastern European countries. They were subsequently stripped of their Greek citizenship and have been consistently 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”.

Prior to the Third World Reunion of Macedonian Child Refugees in the summer of 2003, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Andreas Loverdos, made an historic announcement pledging the free return of Macedonian political refugees but, 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 instead to impede the reunion. It is estimated that approximately two hundred Macedonians were denied entry into Greece during the summer of 2003.

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.”

The policy of denying entry into Greece to ethnic Macedonians has continued. The latest reported incident occurred on October 3, 2007, when Done Rakovski, a dual citizen of Canada and the Czech Republic, was denied entry because he "is a person for whom an alert has been issued for the purposes of refusing entry" and is "in the national register" (See the Greek border document at http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2007/october30b_e.asp).

Gjorgi Plukovski, a Canadian citizen who has been denied entry into Greece on several occasions, said "Macedonians are repeatedly denied entry into Greece and have never been able to visit their birthplaces, even to attend funerals for family members.”

George Saragil, another Canadian citizen, has also been denied entry into Greece several times. After being refused entry in July 2000, he was told by border officials that he was on Greece’s blacklist and to consult the Greek Consulate in Toronto for more information. Following Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Andreas Loverdos, second announcement on January 7, 2004, that the blacklist would be abolished and that no conditions would be placed on ethnic Macedonians who wanted to enter Greece., Mr. Saragil sent a letter (http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2004/march06_e.asp) to the Greek consulate in Toronto asking for confirmation of the announcement and whether he would be allowed to enter Greece. No response was received. In October 2006, Mr. Saragil tried to enter Solun/Salonika by way of Budapest, Hungary but was again denied entry because he "is a person for whom an alert has been issued for the purposes of refusing entry" and is "in the national register".

On October 20, 2007, an Australian citizen of Macedonian descent tried to enter Greece from the Republic of Macedonia at the Negochani/ Niki border crossing. The Greek border guard asked his destination to which the man replied “Lerin”. (The Macedonian name for the city of Florina). The border guards immediately escorted him into the office where he was questioned and body-searched. After the Australian consul’s intervention the man was finally released. According to Vinozhito:

“These kind of incidents are a common occurrence especially with citizens from the Republic of Macedonia who wish to visit Greece and who unknowingly or otherwise mention place names by their Macedonian names which they wish to visit... Certainly Greek citizens when visiting Bitola on occasion call the city Monastiri (a Greek name from Ottoman times) but no one objects or creates problems for them. In fact Greece’s friendly neighbours have even put a sign at the entrance of the Greek Consular office in Bitola on which the word “Monastiri” is written. The same can be said about the Turks who certainly do not object to Greeks calling Istanbul “Constantinoupolis” when visiting there, neither do they give them body searches or expose them to psychological torment.

In progressive democratic countries where a similar reality exists, authorities not only do not prohibit the use of native toponyms; do not put foreign visitors who use local toponyms in whatever language they wish to speak through "drills", but they encourage and sometimes legislate the use of double or triple names for toponyms as proof of respect for the culture and the people that identify with them.”
18

Macedonians have applied to the Greek government for various documents such as birth certificates and passports, but because of their ethnicity, are consistently refused.19 Anthoula Zourka and the family of Dimitrios Kaziou (who is deceased) recently applied for their birth certificate but both requests were denied. According to Vinozhito, it is unnecessary for the State Security Administration to handle such simple issues.

The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) summarizes the issue of Macedonian political refugees:20
    “The distinction between non-citizens of Greek origin and other non-citizens

    60. ECRI notes that in a number of spheres Greek law draws a distinction between non-citizens of Greek origin (sometimes called “homogeneis”) and non-citizens of another origin (sometimes called “allogeneis”). This difference in treatment generally takes the form of a privileged status for persons of Greek origin.

    61. For example, in 1982 a regulation permitted the return to Greece of people having fled the country during the 1946-1949 civil war, together with their families. However, this regulation applied solely to persons “of Greek origin”, thus excluding persons of non-Greek, and particularly Macedonian, origin who had nonetheless left Greece under the same conditions.

    62. The formalities for naturalising non-citizens provided by law no. 2910/2001 on foreigners’ entry to and residence on Greek territory, acquisition of citizenship and other provisions are very different depending on whether or not the person is of Greek origin. For instance, the condition of having resided for 10 years in Greece before becoming eligible for naturalisation does not apply to persons of Greek origin. Nor are they required to pay the 1,500 euros fee for processing the application.

    Recommendations:

    65. Considering that the creation of an intermediate “non-citizen of Greek origin” status between that of Greek citizen and non-citizen not of Greek origin might cause discrimination based on ethnic origin, ECRI strongly recommends to the Greek authorities to reconsider the foundations and the implications of their policy in this respect. It must be ensured that non-citizens who are not of Greek origin can receive the same advantages as non-citizens of Greek origin.”
Freedom of Religion

Father Nikodim Tsarknias has been harassed, beaten, fined, jailed and expelled from the Greek Orthodox Church for advocating human rights for the Macedonian minority in Greece. He has also been the subject of several court cases, in which he has been found guilty in absentia, for promoting Macedonian human rights. He has started building a Macedonian Orthodox Church in the city of Sobotsko (Aridea in Greek) and is holding religious service in the Macedonian language there every Sunday. Because of this, he was sentenced to three months in prison on May 11, 2004 by the Aridea Criminal Court of First Instance on charges of establishing and operating a church without authorization.21 Father Tsarknias has appealed his sentence to the European Court of Human Rights.

According to the US State Department, “Several religious denominations reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Privileges and legal prerogatives granted to the Greek Orthodox Church are not extended routinely to other recognized religions.”22

The Greek Orthodox Church is instrumental in promoting Greek nationalism and irredentism. On November 5, 2007, Metropolitan Bishop Anthimos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Thessaloniki said "Macedonia is Greek... and parts of it that are missing should be returned."23

According to the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD), “The Metropolitan’s comment are troubling not only to the Republic of Macedonia but, also, to Greece’s fellow EU and NATO member, Bulgaria -- as the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, and Bulgaria each hold only a portion of geographic Macedonia. The Metropolitan’s comment is contrary to the spirit of each of these organizations and to the principles that Greece and Bulgaria each swore to uphold when they joined them.”24

A few days later, the Metropolitan of Galabryta Ambrosios said “Since the attack is the best defense, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki did very well. Skopje citizens reap the benefits of Monastery (Bitola) region, which is part of the Greek territory."

On May 20, 2006, the Bishop of Kozani, Northern Greece, Pavlos, stated “Only Greeks live in the geographical region of Macedonia in Greece, we do not have any minorities here, neither do we admit the presence of such and this is not because we must say so but because there aren’t any.”

No Greek official condemned any of these statements yet constantly accuse the Republic of Macedonia of “irredentist propaganda”. UMD continued, “...no religious leader from the Republic of Macedonia’s diverse religious communities (nor any member of the Government for that matter) has ever called for the “return” of those portions of geographic Macedonia that are not held by the Republic of Macedonia...”25

Conclusion

Macedonian Human Rights Movement International calls on the international community to apply pressure on Greece to immediately recognize its large Macedonian minority and grant it the human rights that it is guaranteed by all international human rights conventions. MHRMI 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.

On April 17, 2007, the following motion was raised in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly entitled “Plight of the ethnic Macedonian national minority of northern Greece”26
  1. The undersigned are deeply concerned about the high number of sustained human rights violations against the Macedonian ethnic and linguistic minority of northern Greece.
  2. The Greek state refuses to recognise the existence of a Macedonian ethnic or linguistic minority within its borders. Government authorities have and continue to systematically exclude ethnic Macedonians from the political process, refusing even to acknowledge correspondence from the political representatives of the minority.
  3. Despite the existence of a Macedonian speaking population in northern Greece the Macedonian language is not recognised by the Greek state and thus members the Macedonian speaking minority do not enjoy the right to learn the Macedonian language within the framework of the Greek education system.
  4. In 1990, a group of citizens decided to form a non-profit-making association called the “Home of Macedonian Culture” in the town of Florina/Lerin. However Greek courts rejected the application. After exhausting all domestic remedies, the case was appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1998, the court ruled on the matter and unanimously found that there was a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (see Sidiropoulos and Others vs. Greece, ECtHR, 57/1997/841/8107). Deplorably however, almost ten years following this decision the “Home of Macedonian Culture” remains unregistered. Subsequent applications to register the association have been also been rejected by Greek courts.
  5. During the Civil War in Greece (1946-1949) thousands of Greek citizens fled the country. Following the end of the war, all those who left Greece during this period were stripped of their Greek citizenship and property. In 1982 and 1985, the Greek government passed laws which restores citizenship and property rights to such individuals provided that they are “Greeks by genus”. Thus ethnic Macedonians and others were deliberately excluded. These laws are still in force today.
  6. We suggest that the Legal Committee is required to make a Report of the cases of human rights violations against the Macedonian ethnic and linguistic minority of northern Greece during which the opportunity is provided for a number of representatives of this minority to bear witness in a hearing.
  7. Greece has refused to ratify the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Minority Languages. However the undersigned note the obligations of Greece are not only those in the various conventions of the Council of Europe to which it is a party, but also include various Conventions and Covenants of the United Nations and a number of legally binding texts of the OSCE.
FUEN (Federal Union of European Nationalities) issued the following comprehensive resolution calling for human rights for the Macedonian minority in Greece.27
  1. The recognition of the Macedonian minority.
  2. The recognition of the Macedonian language as a minority language and to introduce it into the elementary and to secondary educational system in the regions where it is widely used. The establishment of a chair at university level, dedicated to the Macedonian language. Additionally, the recognition of cultural organisations like the “Home of Macedonian Culture“ (registration pending for more than 15 years, despite ruling of the European Court for Human Rights).
  3. The introduction of the Macedonian language into the state Mass Media.
  4. The unconditional and free entrance into Greece for all political refugees of Macedonian origin. Additionally, the ability to claim back/buy property as well as to get back their citizenship, which was taken from thousands of Macedonians during the civil war in Greece (1945–49).
  5. The ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe as well as the implementation of all the international conventions and standards from the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe concerning the rights of national minorities.
  6. The return of citizenship to the Macedonian emigrants who mostly live in Australia and Canada. This was revoked due to the public expression of their Macedonian identity.
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

___________________________________
  1. International Press Institute, “IPI-SEEMO deeply concerned at a proposed draft media law containing provisions damaging to press freedom in Greece,” July 4, 2007, http://www.freemedia.at/cms/ipi/statements_detail.html?ctxid=CH0055&docid=CMS1183545654907&year=2007
  2. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, “New radio licensing law in Greece restricts minority media, says OSCE media freedom watchdog”, July 27, 2007, http://osce.org/item/25793.html
  3. South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), June 9, 2004, http://www.seemo.org/
  4. In 1920 the League of Nations initiated the signing of treaties relating to the protection of the minorities in a number of European countries, which specified the obligations of the states with regard to providing such minorities with civil and political equality. On August 10, 1920 such a treaty for the protection of the non-Greek ethnic minorities in Greece was signed between the Great Powers and Greece; it was named the Treaty of Sevres. The Treaty of Sevres guaranteed that minorities in Greece free use of their mother tongue in their personal and official relations. http://www.makfax.com.mk/
  5. United Macedonian Diaspora and Macedonian Human Rights Movement International, “UMD and MHRMI Met With Ambassador Nimetz Over Recent Name Issue Developments”, November 9, 2007, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2007/november09_e.asp
  6. Rainbow/Vinozhito letter to Matthew Nimetz, November 5, 2007, http://www.florina.org/html/2007/2007_letter_to_Nimetz_us.html
  7. Macedonian Human Rights Movement International, “MHRMI Applauds Canada's Recognition of Macedonia's Constitutional Name”, September 20, 2007, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2007/constitutional_name03_e.asp
  8. Macedonian Human Rights Movement International, “Liberal Party of Canada Panders to Greek Vote, Angers Macedonians”, October 30, 2007, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2007/october30c_e.asp
  9. Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and Minority Rights Group-Greece’s (MRG-G) report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee (HRC) as a contribution to the consideration of the Initial Report of Greece (CCPR/C/GRC/2004/1) during the HRC’s 83rd Session (14 March – 1 April 2005)
  10. Home of Macedonian Culture, October 10, 2006, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2006/october_osce05_e.asp
  11. Rainbow/Vinozhito, “Nationalistic Madness in Florina "bazaar", October 17, 2007, http://www.florina.org/html/2007/2007_policeman_control_us.html
  12. ECHR press release, October 20, 2005, http://www.echr.coe.int/Eng/Press/2005/Oct/ChamberjudgmentOuranioToxovGreece201005.htm
  13. Eurolang, November 9, 2005, Greek Ministry Refuses to Meet Macedonian Minority at Linguistic Diversity Meeting
  14. Greek Helsinki Monitor, http://cm.greekhelsinki.gr/index.php?sec=194&cid=1261#
  15. Rainbow/Vinozhito, “Rainbow Congress Postponed Due to Neo-Nazi Extremists and the Lack of Public Safety”, December 8, 2003, http://www.florina.org/html/2003/2003_congress_pr.html
  16. Rainbow/Vinozhito, June 2, 2004, http://www.florina.org/html/2004/2004_congress_press_release.html
  17. Wiesenthal Centre letter to Greek Prime Minister: "Failure to Stop Nazi Olympics Validates Our Onging Travel Advisory", September 2, 2005
  18. Rainbow/Vinozhito, “Bitola or Monastiri?...Florina or Lerin?...Istanbul or Constantinople?”, October 23, 2007, http://www.florina.org/html/2007/2007_florinaorlerin_us.html
  19. Rainbow/Vinozhito, “The State Security Decides for the Ethnic Macedonians”, October 10, 2007, http://www.florina.org/html/2007/2007_Zourka_Kaziou_case_us.html
  20. ECRI Third Report on Greece, June 8, 2004, http://www.coe.int/t/E/human_rights/ecri/1-ECRI/2-Country-by-country_approach/Greece/Greece_CBC_3.asp
  21. May 25, 2004, http://www.mhrmi.org/news/2004/may25_e.asp
  22. US State Department, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35458.htm
  23. Associated Press, “Macedonia Will Not Change Name to End Dispute With Greece”, November 5, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/11/05/europe/EU-GEN-Macedonia-Greece-Name-Talks.php
  24. United Macedonian Diaspora, “UMD Taken Aback by Metropolitan Anthimos’ Threatening Statement”, November 7, 2007, http://umdiaspora.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=277&Itemid=9
  25. Ibid.
  26. Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, “Plight of the ethnic Macedonian national minority of northern Greece”, April 17, 2007, http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc07/EDOC11249.htm
  27. FUEN Resolution, May 9, 2005, http://www.fuen.org/pages/english/e_5c_2002.html
 
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