Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
UN Conference - Working Group on Minorities

Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
Fiftieth session
Working Group on Minorities - Fourth session
25-29 May, 1998

Date: 26 May, 1998

Re: Oral Intervention of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada

From: The Macedonian Human Rights Movement in Greece and the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada

Thank you Mr. Chairman. As you have noted, item 3a on the agenda addresses the promotion and practical realization of the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. I will be proposing mechanisms to be incorporated by this working group which our organization believes will help to achieve this objective. I will discuss these proposals in the context of the Macedonian minority as it exists in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. I have chosen the position of the Macedonian minority because it is obviously the minority group in which our organization is most interested. In addition, there are numerous parallels to be drawn between the position of Macedonians and the position of national minorities in general.

Article 1 of the Declaration states quite clearly that, States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity. This statement presupposes that a state recognizes that a minority group exists within its territory. In regards to the Macedonian situation, Greece and Bulgaria entirely deny the existence of a Macedonian minority population. Although Albania recognizes the minority's existence, it does not recognize the actual size and geographic extent of the Macedonian minority. Nor does Albania recognize the existence of a Macedonian Muslim population. Before we are even able to discuss the issues relating to whether or not states are abiding by this Declaration, we must first be cognizant of the fact that many state governments refuse to even recognize the mere existence of minority communities within their territory. Such is the case in Greece and Bulgaria.

The government of Greece claims simply that Macedonians do not exist and the government of Bulgaria claims that Macedonians are not a distinct ethnic minority, rather that Macedonians are ethnically Bulgarian. Greece has changed the toponymy, personal and family names of all Macedonians in order to destroy any evidence of a Macedonian presence. Common practice in both states has been to destroy Macedonian Orthodox churches, tombstones, artefacts and historical monuments in an effort eradicate any physical demonstration of a distinct Macedonian identity. Note that this has not always been the case. The government of Greece recognized the existence of the Macedonian minority in a limited way until 1925 (and indeed published the now famous Abcedar, a Macedonian language primer for Macedonian children). The government of Bulgaria did likewise until 1956. At the end of both these periods a change in political sentiment towards the Macedonian minorities within the Greek and Bulgarian states brought policies of assimilation that subsist to the present time.

Presently, the governments of Greece and Bulgaria refuse to sanction or register any Macedonian organizations, therefore denying them their right to establish and maintain their own associations as outlined in Article 2(4). Macedonian organizations are not viewed as legitimate organizations, therefore they are afforded no collective means for cultural, ethnic, educational or religious expression. In accordance with the requisite Greek laws, an association of over twenty ethnic Macedonians (residents of the city of Florina (Lerin)), attempted to form an association that would build a Macedonian cultural centre. The Greek government prevented the registration of the centre as it considered the purpose for this centre to be anti-Greek.

The United Macedonian Organization "OMO-Illinden" in Bulgaria completed the registration process outlined by the government but was denied official registration. This organization submitted an appeal first to the regional court then to the Supreme Court of Bulgaria, both of which also denied its request for registration on the grounds that the platform of this organization was anti-nationalistic. Both governments refuse to permit the formation of either formal or informal associations that promote the expression of the Macedonian culture in any form. In fact Macedonians in Bulgaria and Greece are always met with various forms of violence and intimidation on the part of the police whenever they attempt to gather to celebrate their culture in any fashion.

In outlining this Declaration, the United Nations recognizes in Article 2(5) the importance of minorities having the ability to establish free and peaceful contacts with other members of their group and with persons belonging to other minorities, as well as contacts across frontiers with citizens of other States to whom they are related by national or ethnic, religious or linguistic ties. We propose that this working group adopt the task of documenting the existence of minority groups and associations it would register in a catalogue (to be updated annually). This catalogue will outline as specifically as possible the geographical areas various minority populations inhabit, a rough estimate of the size of the communities; thus documenting their existence and encouraging states to address the issue of their existence.

A recurring practice amongst nations is that they do not offer the opportunity for minorities to identify themselves on national censuses or, as could be the case among the Macedonians of Bulgaria and Greece, if they are given the opportunity, they may fear reprisals for declaring their Macedonian identity. We propose that this working group draft a model set of census questions relating to ethnic identity and national consciousness. Such a model would be recommended by the by the United Nations for inclusion in nations censuses worldwide in order to facilitate the recognition of minority populations. While such a model would not aid those who fear to declare their identity on the census rolls it would go a long way to ensuring that an official census does not obscure the existence of a minority by virtue of biased methodology.

The most threatening problem faced by national minorities is that of forced assimilation. This is achieved through the violation of individual rights and freedoms of members of minority groups, and the use of fear tactics and intimidation. Article 2 of the Declaration protects the rights of persons belonging to minorities and Article 3 states that, no disadvantage shall result for any person belonging to a minority as the consequence of the exercise or non-exercise of the rights set forth in the present Declaration. There are adverse consequences that befall persons belonging to the Macedonian minority in Greece and Bulgaria when those individuals exercise their rights as set forth in the Declaration. Firstly, members of the Macedonian minority are effectively stripped of all personal rights when those rights are exercised in order to promote the minority interest. There is no freedom of education in Greece or Bulgaria if the language of instruction is Macedonian, nor is there any freedom of education if education involves the instruction of Macedonian history, culture or religion. As noted by Tzemil Kapza?the speaker for the Western Thrace Minority Graduates Association?Greece practices very early methods of assimilation of children. The Greek government also practices such assimilation policies among the Macedonian minority there. there is no freedom of expression if that form of expression is in the Macedonian language or if that form of expression addresses any issues pertaining to the Macedonian identity. There is no freedom of participation in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life, if that participation involves the promotion of the Macedonian language, culture or religion.

There are countless examples of deliberate action taken by both the governments of Greece and Bulgaria in order to rid their respective states of the Macedonian language. Macedonian literature is forbidden and confiscated if discovered. Children are punished and humiliated in schools if discovered speaking Macedonian. Printing houses that publish Macedonian newspapers in Greece are continually harassed. Greek police have forced and continue to force printing houses of Macedonian newspapers to stop production by threatening the safety of the proprietor's family. The Greek Ministry of the Press and Mass Media refuses to extend the application of bulk postage rates which are applied to all newspapers and journals distributed through the mail to Macedonian newspapers. The offices of a political party in Greece that campaigns for minority rights were looted and destroyed by a mob which included the Mayor of the city of Florina (Lerin), local officials and members of the city council when that party posted a sign identifying the name of its organization in both the Greek and Macedonian languages. Furthermore, the members of the party were later charged under the Greek penal code for stirring up violence and hatred among citizens.

Macedonian activists in Greece and Bulgaria are continually punished for asserting their rights. It is common for these individuals to experience being arrested, charged criminally, and prosecuted continually. Activists are constantly victims of police brutality and intimidation. They often lose their jobs and any form of livelihood in attempts by the government to force them into positions of submission. This has been the case with Father Tsarknias, seated with me here today. He was removed from his position as a priest in the Greek Orthodox church after asserting the existence of a Macedonian minority. He has been arrested on numerous occasions for impersonating a priest, when he is ordained as a priest in the Macedonian Orthodox church. He has been physically abused at the hands of authorities and is continually harassed by the authorities.

We therefore propose that this working group expand its mandate to include a fact finding and documenting process. One of the members of the working group spoke yesterday about the necessity to document the historical elements that are common to situations involving the oppression of national minorities. In order to achieve this, it is necessary that this working group investigate claims made by minority organizations and individuals, the government responses and methods employed by governments to silence the voices of minority representatives. I am certain that in doing so, this organization will discover that there are many common and recurring themes. This type of examination could provide the basis for an analytical approach to these situations.

We believe that it is essential that this Working Group expand its mandate and involve itself in the investigation and verification of facts upon which the legal rights of a minority group are dependent. The working group should initiate this investigation at the request of either a state or a minority group. This mechanism would provide an impartial authoritative body to verify facts in dispute that affect the rights of national minorities. The verification and documentation of certain facts would provide a great deal of credibility to claims put forward by national minority groups. Conclusions of the Working Group's fact-finding missions need then be communicated to all the organs of the United Nations.

Although, this Working Group can obviously not compel state governments to take action, we believe it is necessary for the Working Group to expand its mandate and develop a mechanism whereby members of national minority groups can request meetings with government representatives to be chaired by members of this Working Group in order to establish dialogue and mutual understanding. One of the continual problems faced by activists in the Macedonian community and members of our organization is that officials deny the opportunity for dialogue. At many conferences of this nature, delegates from Greece and Bulgaria have refused to ever meet with us to discuss our concerns and problems. We suggest that this Working Group coordinate meetings between members of national minority groups and state officials in order to initiate dialogue, address issues of concern, discuss methods of resolving dispute.

We can go on at length about all the problems encountered by the Macedonian minority, as can every other NGO representing a national minority present today. We were however most impressed with the comments made by the Working Group member Mr. Kartashkin who stressed the need for dialogue, stressed the need for investigation on the part of the Working Group and stressed the necessity for practical measures to resolve disputes of this nature.

Mr. Chairman, we thank you for the opportunity to make this intervention.


Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
Fiftieth session
Working Group on Minorities - Fourth session
25-29 May, 1998

Date: 27 May, 1998

Re: Oral Intervention of the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada

From: The Macedonian Human Rights Movement in Greece and the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

We wish to comment on Item 3(b) of the Agenda, "examining possible solutions to problems involving minorities, including the promotion of mutual understanding between and among minorities and Government but we wish to examine this Agenda item in light of your Working Paper entitled Commentary to the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities" (E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.5/1998/WP.1).

To begin, we understand that your interpretation of the Declaration as envisioning a civic state whose relations with its citizens (both majority and minority) are conducted in accordance with the Rule of Law. We see this vision as posited against the alternative vision of the State as the socio-legal manifestation of the majority?a majority which sometimes happens to tolerate the minority populations within its State territory or sometimes is intolerant of this minority, depending on the vagaries of political sentiment and, as is so often the case, expedience.

Needless to say, we think the vision of the State most consistent with equitable treatment of minorities (or treatment in accord with norms established by treaty, convention and increasingly by custom) is that of the State governed by the Rule of Law.

We also agree with your statement (at page 4, commentary 2.1) that the Declaration "goes beyond mere passive non-interference" in relation to other, predecessor instruments. We see that there are two distinct sets of obligations on State actors: those negative injunctions contained in instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and those "positive" injunctions contained in the Declaration.

Regrettably, the State actors with which our group is most immediately concerned, Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, have yet to comply with their negative obligations with respect to their Macedonian and other minorities. All must, obviously, admit the presence, nature and size of the various minorities within their borders. Subsequently they must live up to their pre-Declaration obligations under the various instruments to which they have become signatories and ratified. These include stopping the following forms of behaviour directed against the Macedonian and other minorities in Greece, Bulgaria and Albania:

Police harassment and intimidation of activists;
Harassment and intimidation, particularly of activists, by border officials on exiting and leaving the state;
Negative portrayal by chauvinist media, including calls for the death of some activists for the perceived threat they pose to the state;
Lack of access to the mainstream media;
Disruption of minority media even to the extent of destruction of offices and publishing equipment;
Arbitrary detention of activists;
Frivolous but expensive and time-consuming suits against activists in the civil and criminal courts on trumped-up charges;
Revocation of citizenship in absentia of those perceived to threaten state interests;
Job loss or threat of job loss in economies where upwards of 40% of all jobs are in the public service, i.e. directly employed by the state;
Discrimination on entry into and promotion within the workforce;
Arbitrary revocation of licenses necessary for the carrying on of businesses;
Refusals to permit peaceful public assembly;
In the case of the Macedonian minority, interdiction of the use of the Macedonian language in public and the interdiction of the performance of Macedonian folk songs and dances and, indeed, the promotion of the folklore of the Macedonian minority as the folklore of the majority population;
Education of children in the majority language at ages substantially younger than for children of the majority population in order to diminish the likelihood of education in the minority language at home;
Again. in the case of the Macedonians, interdiction of the performance of the liturgy of the Orthodox Church in the Macedonian language or Old Church Slavonic; the destruction of icons, altarpieces, tombstones and other religious and cultural artefacts containing the Cyrillic script of the Macedonian language; and refusal to permit the establishment of a church under the episcopal guidance of the Macedonian Orthodox Church;
In Greece, forced settlement of Greek-speaking settlers (frequently on property confiscated from minority members) in predominately minority-settled areas in order to change the ethnic composition of the area; and Near total exclusion from political office and processes.
The governments of Greece, Bulgaria and Albania must address these issues relating to all the numerous minorities livikng within their State borders. Therefore we recommend a possible solution that we feel will incorporate the interests of all minorities in these States. We recognize that it is impractical to expect these States to go from an official policy of non-recognition of these minorities to, say, the establishment of a federal state structure with constituent autonomous regions administered by the minorities. We do believe, however, a practical and realizable first step towards complying with the positive State obligations of the Declaration is the formation of a minority council comprised of all representatives of all national minorities living within the State territory.
Such a council would serve a variety of functions:
(i) it would advise local, regional and State governments on the concerns of their respective minority groups;
(ii) work with governments towards crafting possible solutions to the concerns they raise; and
(iii) monitor and report the State's good faith compliance with its obligations under the Declaration and other instruments to relevant treaty bodies.

In the State of Greece, such a minority council apparently exists at present but refuses -consistent with the Greek government's policy on the Macedonians - to acknowledge the presence of the Macedonians. This council fails, consequently, to fulfil the function of truly representing minority interests to the Government of Greece. Obviously, if the Greek government recognizes the presence of the Macedonian minority and includes a representative on the minority council the cause of minority rights in Greece would be substantially ameliorated. No such councils presently exist to our knowledge in Bulgaria or Albania at all.

We believe that the creation and operation of such a councils would aid the cause of minorities in these three Balkan states as well as aiding these States in complying with their obligations under the Declaration and other obligations of international law. Our sincerest hope is that this will ultimately lead to increased stability in the volatile Balkans.