Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Rainbow Party Trial Press Release

Topic: Responses to the appeal for urgent action on the forthcoming outrageous trial of a Macedonian minority party in Greece for public use of their mother tongue

Following the appeal launched by our organizations on 1/10/1997, a considerable number of human rights and other organizations publicly condemned the trial of the Rainbow Macedonian activists to be held on 14/10/1997. They did so with published statements or during the press conference our organizations held on 10/10/1997 in the Foreign Press Club in Athens.

The following non-governmental organizations participated in the press conference:

Citizens' Movement Against Racism;
Forum of Social and Youth Organizations for Human Rights;
Greek Committee for International Democratic Solidarity (EEDDA);
Greek Helsinki Monitor;
Greek League for Human and Civil Rights;
Minority Rights Group - Greece;
Movement for Human Rights and Against Racism (Kalamata);
Network of Movements for Political and Social Rights;
SOS Racism;
Turkish Minority Movement for Human and Minority Rights;
Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE).

Also the political parties:

Organization for the Reconstruction of the Communist Party of Greece (OAKKE);
Progressive Left Coalition (Synaspismos);

Following the initial appeal of our organizations and the statements received.

From Greece:

Birol Akifoglou - New Democracy Member Of Parliament For Xanthi
Progressive Left Coalition (Synaspismos)
Turkish Minority Movement For Human And Minority Rights

From international NGOs:

Albanian Helsinki Committee
Amnesty International
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Moscow Helsinki Group

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485 Fifth Ave.
NY, NY. 10017
Telephone: 212-972-8400
Facsimile: 212-972-0905

October 9, 1997

Mr. Costas Simitis
Prime Minister of Greece

Honorable Prime Minister Simitis:

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, the largest American-based human rights organization, is deeply concerned about the upcoming trial of four Greek citizens from the Macedonian minority to be held in Florina on October 14. We believe that the charges against them do not comport with Greek or international law and comprise an unlawful restriction on the right to free expression.

The four individuals, Vasilis Romas, Costas Tasopoulos, Petros Vasiliadis, and Pavlos Voskopoulos, activists of the ethnic Macedonian Rainbow Party, are accused of "having caused and incited mutual hatred among citizens" because they hung a sign on September 6, 1995, saying "Rainbow - Florina Committee" in both the Greek and Macedonian languages outside of their party office in Florina. In the evening of September 13, the police removed the sign on order of the state prosecutor. Shortly thereafter, a mob of people led by the Florina mayor physically attacked the office.

The prosecutor charged the Rainbow Party leaders with inciting citizens to commit acts of violence, according to Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code. No criminal charges have been filed against the individuals or political leaders who took part in the attack on the office, even though the Rainbow Party leaders have filed such complaints. Quite the contrary, neither the government nor any of the major political parties condemned the attack. PASOK, the ruling party in Greece, publicly condemned the use of bilingual signs.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki understands that the Macedonian minority in Greece is a sensitive political and emotional issue and that the Macedonian words "Lerinski Komitet" ("Florina Committee") outside of the Rainbow Party office reminded some Greek citizens of a terrorist organization that was historically active in the region. However, this in no way justifies a mob attack on the party's office or a criminal action by the state against those who use their mother language. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki considers such legal action to be a direct violation of the right to free expression, as guaranteed in both Greek and international law. Likewise, by not prosecuting those who attacked the Rainbow Party office, the state is tolerating and, therefore, implicitly condoning mob justice rather than the rule of law. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the Greek government to drop its charges against the four defendants and to prosecute those who organized and were involved in the September 14, 1995, attack.

Sincerely yours,
Holly Cartner (Executive Director)

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Komotini 10-8-97

On the occasion of the "Trial of the Florina Four", the Turkish Minority Movement for Human and Minority Rights denounces the national-totalitarian mentality governing the overall prosecution of the four activists of the minority Macedonian party "Rainbow", Romas Bassilis, Tassopoulos Costas, Vassiliades Petros and Voskopoulos Pavlos, who will be brought to trial on the 14.10.97, in Florina, for hanging up a sign with an inscription in their mother Macedonian minority language, on the charge that this has provoked division among the citizens.

So, we denounce the national - totalitarian mentaility in the planning of the prosecution as the truly guilty party for provoking a division among the citizens which does not tolerate any expression of minority and ethnic-cultural differences, as a curse upon the Balkans and as a father of Balkan fascism and racism which is resuscitated magnificently with the oncoming "Trial of the Florina Four" and with all that has preceded the trial. And thus it proves that it has lost nothing from its vigor and leveling out momentum on account of the country's European perspective, the incorporation into the procedures of a multicultural society and the international commitments to respect and protect minority groups. National-totalitarianism is flourishing.

Consequently, it is not an unprecedented matter that an inscription in a minority mother language is dealt with as high treason and is prosecuted, that the right to ethnic self - ascription of minority groups is considered as treason and is banned, and that terrorism against minorities by means of the familiar method of indignant citizens is consecrated and rewarded.

Among all its negative aspects, the Florina trial achieves also a positive function: it reveals the true situation prevailing in the field of minority rights in Greece, but also in the field of freedom of expression when it does not proceed in parallel with the dominant national-totalitarianism. Also, it exposes the hypocritical stance taken by the modernist government which, abroad and in relation to the neighboring countries, devotes itself to championing human and minority rights, whereas inside the country, to anachronistic authoritarianism. Moreover, it exposes the guilty silence and eloquent complicity on the part of the political parties.

The Turkish Minority Movement for Human and Minority Rights coming from a similar area, the Turkish Minority in Thrace, confronted with similar problems, deprivations, restrictions and persecutions, offers its whole-hearted support to the Florina Four in their ordeal.

(The translation in English is the responsibility of the Greek Helsinki Monitor)