Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
OSCE 2001: Southern Balkans - A 'Macedoine' of Minority Problems, Report by GHM and MRG-G

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece Report

GHM and MRG-G have been actively involved in minority rights research and advocacy in the Balkans through their joint Center of Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe - Southeast Europe (CEDIME-SE). CEDIME-SE is a founding member of the Consortium of Minority Resources (COMIR), which has a European scope.

One of the most positive developments of the past twelve months was the creation of a Federal Ministry of National and Ethnic Communities in the Yugoslav government and the appointment of a Minister from the Sandjak minority community. We would like to commend the Ministry's work, including the draft Law on the Protection of National Minorities, and its contribution to overcoming the conflict with the Albanians in Southern Serbia.

We therefore welcome also the creation of a similar Ministry for Minorities by the new Albanian government and the appointment of a Minister from the Greek minority community. We hope that that Ministry will be given similar freedom of movement, as its Yugoslav counterpart, so as to help modernize Albania's minority policies, starting with the respect of (Greek or Macedonian) minority identity throughout the country, rather than only in so-called "traditional minority areas."

However positive the participation of minorities in government is, it is not sufficient to defuse minority-related crises when minority ministers are frustrated in their efforts to best represent their constituents' interests. The recent crisis in Macedonia is a telling example. We welcome the provisions of the Framework Agreement under approval by Parliament, but profoundly regret that there had to be a violent conflict before such necessary changes be instituted. We also understand and share the concerns voiced by the other minority communities (Roma, Serbs, and Turks) that they were left out from the new agreement, notwithstanding the implicit arrangements that Macedonians and Albanians may claim that they affect other minorities too.

We are also concerned that, at the beginning of the crisis, we saw in Macedonia, once again, the banning of a Bulgarian association, "Radko," by the Constitutional Court in March 2001. The argument of threat to the country's security used was similar to the one used by the equivalent Bulgarian institution to dissolve over the years many Macedonian associations and political organizations, OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN being the latest in 2000. That organization has also reported that, in the course of 2001, as in most previous years, police has prevented them and/or monitored with video cameras their efforts to commemorate events important to them (4 May, 29 July and 12 September 2001) violating freedom of assembly and/or intimidating them. Banning associations is the most common way states in the region indicate they do not recognize the respective minorities.

In Greece, too, in March 2000, courts refused to register the Macedonian cultural association "Rousali" in Koufalia (near Salonica), whose purpose is the "highlighting and the promotion of traditional values of the local culture." Worse, three years after Greece's condemnation, in July 1998, by the ECHR for the refusal to register the "Home of Macedonian Civilization," that association cannot register. All local lawyers refuse -some with documented dismay…- to take up the case. The court too has refused to appoint a lawyer, despite the Ombudsman's written opinion that there is "enough evidence that 'no lawyer is found.'" Since Greece reported to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe that courts have been instructed to execute the judgment, and the latter expressed its satisfaction that Greece fulfilled its obligations, it is advisable that the Committee of Ministers review its procedures and involve the plaintiffs before expressing such satisfaction in future cases.

In June 2001, a Greek court also rejected the registration of a "Union of Turkish Women of Rodopi," considering its name unjustifiable. However, what is really unjustifiable when dealing with the minorities protected by the Treaty of Lausanne, is the often reciprocal violation of their rights. For example, neither Greece nor Turkey recognize the ethno-national identity the minorities chose for themselves (Turks in Greece and Greeks/Ynanli in Turkey) since both countries pretend they do not have national minorities. They impose on them instead a religious character (Muslims and Greek-Orthodox/Rum), even if many of their members are hardly, if at all, religious… Both countries also do not allow minority foundations (vakifs) to elect their boards, and either keep the last elected boards of 1991 in place (in Turkey) or appoint boards (Greece).

For years, both countries were not approving new textbooks for the minority schools sent by the kin state, while they did not allow the some 16 teachers sent each year from the one country to the minority schools of the other country to start teaching before the middle of the school year. As a result, minority education was poor. We welcome Greece's approval of the Turkish textbooks last year, and urge Turkey to finally approve the Greek textbooks in the new spirit of cooperation between the two countries. We also welcome that, following our appeal to the two Foreign Ministers at the beginning of 2001, the teachers have been allowed, for the first time in recent years, to take up their teaching positions from the start of the school year 2001-2002. We urge Turkish authorities to immediately send their teachers to Thrace just as Greek teachers have arrived in the schools in Istanbul.