Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
OSCE Conference 12 November - 28 November 1997, Warsaw

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is dedicated to achieving, "a wide range of security-related issues including arms control, preventive diplomacy, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, election monitoring and economic and environmental security."

The Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada sent several Macedonian delegates to the conference, including: Father Nikodimos Tsarknias from Aegean Macedonia; Jordan Konstantinov from Pirin Macedonia; Nikola Ligor and Eftim Mitrevski from Mala Prespa; Dragi Stojkovski from the Republic of Macedonia; and Stefania Pialis from Chicago, USA.

The Macedonian delegates attended several meetings with international NGO's and human rights organizations and made their own official presentations. The following is a speech given by Stefania Pialis.

"I am the representative of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada, but at this point I am speaking on behalf of all Macedonian representatives from Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and the Republic of Macedonia and I will be addressing the issues of culture and education and cultural heritage.

I ask you Mr. Chairman and all that are present to indulge me for just one moment. I want each of you to picture yourselves, how you identify yourself and who you are. Now I want you to imagine yourself in a situation where you are not able to express or communicate that vision. Imagine living ina world where your language is taken from you, where you are not able to listen to your music or sing your songs. A world where the songs your children are forced to sing are those that celebrate your demise. A world where others forbid the expression of your dances, art and literature which tell your stories and those of your ancesotors. Image a world where your monuments, churches and the graves of your people have been removed, desecrated, destroyed and replaced as though your people had never existed. Imagine all that you are, all with which you have identified and all that has connected you with your people being systematically obliterated, and meanwhile you are forced to follow quietly in exchange for your life and the safety of your children. This is a world absent cutlure and this is the world that Macedonians living in Greece, Bulgaria and in part of Albania live in today. Any expression or symbol for Macedonian culture and heritage is being taken from them.

My intentions are not to be dramatic but to assist you in understanding the Macedonian desperation. Nations can cooperate to protect animals on an endangered species list, while they cannot cooperate to save cultures on the verge of extinction.

We are all familiar with the Copenhagen Document, and the guarantees it provides for minorities to establish their own education, cultural and religious institutions, organizations or associaitons. We are all aware that it further outlines that all the particiapting States will endeavor to ensure that persons belonging to national minorities, will have adequate opportunities for instruction of their mother tongue or in their mother tongue and in the context of the teaching of history andculture in educational establishments, they will also take account of the history and culture of the national minorities.

Yes we are all aware of this, yet, we all are also aware of the fact that many states seated around this table are not fulfilling these obligations. For example there has been absolutely no attempt made in Greece or Bulgaria to implement the ideas embodied in these documents. Although in Albania there has been an attempt made to give Macedonians some limited rights in regards to education, those attempts fall well short of what this document has mandated.

Very simply there are no opportunities fro Macedonians to be educated in the Macedonian language in Greece or Bulgaria. There is no instruction of or in their mother tongue nor is there teaching of Macedonian history and culture in educational establishments. Rather there is a very strong effort on the part of the Greek government to be rid of the language all together.

There were practices of punishing individuals in Greece using various methods if they were discovered speaking Macedonian. The methods have varied from being detained by authorities and being forced to drink castor oil in order to supposedly clean the "filthy" language from our lips to Macedonians being gathered in mass in village squares, in front of local authorities and bishops forced to give an oath promising they will not use this "barbaric" language. Children are continually punished at schools for accidently using Macedonian words and the Greek state has also begun to practise much more subversive methods of stripping young Macedonian children to their culture and language recognizing that Macedonian children and in fact most children acquire a great deal of education in language, culture and heritage from their grandparents at a very young age. Greece has instituted programs of targeting children between the ages of three and six, prior to starting school and enrolling them in mandatory kindergarten programs taught entirely in Greek. This kindergarten program is run only in areas with large Macedonian, Turkish, Albanian and Roma populations. This is done in the guise of providing education opportunities but, these programs are not instituted throughout Greece.

As stated in Bulgaria there are also no opportunities for education in the Macedonian language. The Albanian government however, actually provides schooling for Macedonian children, but only up until grade 4 and only in the area known as Mala Prespa. Beyond grade 5 there are minimal to no opportunities available for education in Macedonian.

The architecture in Macedonia is very distinct in comparison to other Balkan cultures. One will find identical style homes, churches and structures in the city of Ohrid in the Republic of Macedonia as the city of Pogradec across the lake in Albania as well as the cities of Kastoria (Kostur), Salonika (Solun) and Florina (Lerin) in northern Greece and the city of Melnik in the Pirin region of Bulgaria. Unfortunately the Greek and Bulgarian governments ahve been destroying these structures or tailing to restore them and replacing them with characteristic reek or Bulgarian structures respectively.

There are numerous instances of Macedonian Orthodox Churches in Bulgaria and Greece mysteriously burning down, icons disappearing or being vandalized. The Macedonian churches throughout the Macedonian area in Greece, Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia are characterized by the distinctive Basilica design and date back over one thousand years. Many have been left to deteriorate or are intentionally destroyed and replaced by Greek Orthodox churches while local authorities refuse to allow local residents to attempt to restore the churches themselves. The Macedonian Orthodox icons and frescoes which are attributed to the Macedonian school of art, a school which is notably different from the Cretian style of painting found throughout southern Greece have been desecrated. Those few that are in tact which were originally painted in Cyrillic script have been painted over in Greek script. Macedonian grave stones also carved with Cyrillic script have been destroyed as the Greek state wants no historical recofd of this culture.

It is illegal for Macedonians to congregate in order to celebrate their cultural heritage, participate in Macedonian theatre, dance or commemorate any Macedonian events in Greece ad Bulgaria. Nor are Macedonians permitted to sing traditional Macedonian songs or dances. Often times the lyrics and melodies of Macedonian songs are changed to reflect the Greek or Bulgarian language. In Albania there is very limited time allotted to cultural programming in the Macedonian language, however this is nonexistent in Greece and Bulgaria.

I cannot in all fairness conclude without first acknowldeging and applauding the delegates from Albania Mr. Dervish Dumi. Mr. Dumi willingly met with all of our representatives, listened to our concerns, acknowledged the unjustness of the situation and has committed himself to ensuring that these issues are addressed and lines of communication are opened between the Albanian state and the Macedonian minority. If this organization is to be at all effective, every delegate present most particularly the delegates from Greece and Bulgaria present must follow Mr. Dumi's example and the openness and honesty with which he has approached this situation.

Culture and heritage are the roots that nourish the human spirit. Once you sever the tree from the roots, the tree cannot survive. Once you sever a people from their culture, their collective spirit will die also."