Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
UN Conference Report: Unrecognized Minorities in Albania, Bulgaria and Greece

The following is an excerpt from the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece's Statement at the UN WGM Conference

(Partly or Fully Unrecognized) National Minorities

(Statement to the UN Working Group on Minorities, 7th session, Geneva, 14-18 May 2001)

The existence of a minority is "a matter of fact, not a matter of law" said the International Court of Justice in the interwar period. "General Comment by the Human Rights Committee on Article 27 of the ICCPR (UN 1994)," states inter alia that: "The existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State party does not depend upon a decision by that State party but requires to be established by objective criteria." UN CERD has issued two recommendations on the right of minorities to self-identification (Recommendation VIII of 1990) and on the uniform criteria to be applied by all states for the recognition of the presence of minorities in their territory (Recommendation XXIV of 1999)."I know a minority when I see one" has said the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM).

It is therefore unfortunate that some states continue to claim that minorities exist only when defined by domestic laws, and refuse to recognize national minorities when "they see them." Respect for the identity of any minority is the prerequisite for a country to be considered that it respects minority rights. Minorities that are not recognized are inevitably discriminated against and many of their rights are curtailed. It is recommendable that the Working Group of the U.N. Commission of Human Rights, along with regional institutions like the OSCE HCNM, engages in a study of the issue and help the countries that do not recognize (some of) their minorities -like the European countries mentioned below- to adjust their constitution, legislation and/or practice so as to formally recognize the existence of minorities that the international community anyhow acknowledges, irrespective of these countries' positions. The latter are in many cases criticized by intergovernmental bodies like the HRC, UN CERD and ECRI.

As ECRI stated, France's "republican model" rejects the concept of minority groups among French citizens. But "ECRI considers that, de facto, such groups exist and that … the rights of individuals connected with the identity of these groups of the population of France are limited" (p. 12). France replied that "the legal concept of 'minority' does not exist in French law" (p. 26) as it is incompatible with "the principles of the indivisibility of the nation" (p. 25). France's other related arguments therein were inspired by strong assimilationism. Scholars and minority rights activists have shown that constitutional amendments are necessary but also possible for the development of a multicultural concept of the Republic: after all, the French constitution is being amended frequently, including as recently as in 2000, on other matters.

A similar "republican model" based on the "indivisibility of the nation" exists in Turkey, except that that country is obliged by the Treaty of Lausanne to recognize its non-Muslim minorities. So, Turkey rejects the concept of ethno-national minorities like the Kurds, and moreover considers the non-Muslim communities as religious minorities, even though they aspire to be ethnonational: for example, Turkey's Greeks cannot call themselves Greeks ("Ynanli") but only Greek-Orthodox ("Rum").

Its neighbor Greece, with an ideological construct of a "100% homogeneity" to quote the Athens Journalists' Union president among many others, is the other OSCE country besides Turkey that refuses to recognize the presence of ethno-national minorities, like Macedonians and Turks, while recognizing only one religious minority, the Muslims, as imposed by the Treaty of Lausanne. The latter are denied the right to call themselves and their associations Turks and Turkish (but allowed to call themselves and their groups Pomak or Roma). Restrictions of the freedom of association and expression of Macedonians and Turks have been criticized by ECRI, while CERD has appealed to Greece to respect self-identification and apply its General Recommendations VIII and XXIV (see above).

Somewhat similar is Slovenia's position. In its 2000 recommendations for that country CERD "notes that different minority groups are provided by law differentiated protection measures in different areas of daily life, such as political representation, access to media, education and culture. The Committee notes that minority groups, such as Croats, Serbs, Bosnian and Roma, do not enjoy the same level of protection from the State party as the Italian and Hungarian minorities. In this connection, the Committee recommends that the State party, in accordance with article 2 of the ICERD, ensure that persons or groups of persons belonging to other minority groups are not discriminated against." The reason is that besides Italians and Hungarians, the other and more numerous groups are not recognized as minorities. It is ironic, but also indicative of its direction, that the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe has decided to fund an institute on minorities as a joint Greek-Slovenian venture.

Macedonia also has a legalistic approach: it formally recognizes some minorities -including in an interpretative declaration to the FCNM- and provides them, at least on paper, with a large array of rights. But other minorities, like -mostly recently established- Bosniaks or -historical ethno-national "rivals"- Bulgarians, though probably more numerous than the recognized Aromanians, are denied recognition. Bulgarian parties and associations are denied registration.

Across the border, Bulgaria "reciprocates" by recognizing a large array of "minority groups" -that it does not like to call minorities though- but refusing to include Macedonians among them, and restricting their freedoms of association and of assembly. ECRI acknowledges the presence of an "ethnic Macedonian identity," notes that complaints for violations of the right to assembly won admissibility at the ECHR, and "hopes that Bulgarian authorities will take steps to ensure that all groups in Bulgaria effectively enjoy the right to peaceful assembly."

Finally, Albania recognizes a Greek and a Macedonian minority, but only in the Southern regions. Those who identify as Macedonians and Greeks outside these minority regions are denied the minority rights granted in the south, including minority classes at state schools. The 2000 Himara municipal election tensions were related to an effort of the Greek minority to have its existence recognized, which was successful insofar as even the OSCE ODIHR reported that "in Himara, … there is a Greek-speaking minority." In a statement to the 2000 OSCE Implementation Review meeting, in response to a related GHM/MRG-G statement, Albania declared that "the boundaries of minority zones result solely from the course of Albania's history." In the forthcoming census, Albania did not include questions on national identity and religion (unlike in previous ones) to avoid seeing its official policy on minorities refuted by census data, even though ECRI recommended the inclusion of such questions.