Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
GHM Statement to the Helsinki Commission Hearing on "Human Rights in Greece: A Snapshot of the Cradle of Democracy"

- Address: P.O. Box 60820, 15304 Glyka Nera
- Telephone: (+3) 010.347.22.59. Fax: (+3) 010.601.87.60.

--- WASHINGTON, D.C. 20 JUNE 2002

--- In order to help explain why, in its 2002 reports, Freedom House ranks Greece last among free countries in civil liberties and in media freedom, while the U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report ranks, again in 2002, Greece as a Tier 3 country -alongside countries considered as not free- indicating that there have not been significant efforts to meet minimum anti-trafficking standards, it is important to outline some basic features of Greek political culture.

--- Political science academic researchers like Adamantia Pollis and Thanos Lipovatz have written extensively on the incompatibility of the individualistic human rights culture with the traditional communalist Christian culture. In societies with an Eastern Orthodox tradition, the conflict between modernist and Enlightenment values on the one hand and traditional church-based values on the other has not led to the domination of the former at the expense of the latter, as it happened in societies with a Western (Catholic and Protestant) Christian tradition. So, while in the latter a rights-oriented civil society was able to develop in the last 100-150 years, in the former such a characteristic is for all practical purposes absent.

--- Moreover, the Greek Ombudsman wrote in its Annual Report 1999: "Human rights violations by the administration (...) can be codified with the words arbitrariness-indifference-bias-impunity; they take their most acute form when applied on vulnerable social groups. Often the administration arbitrarily uses public interest as an excuse to restrict individual rights or shows illegal idleness when there is a constitutional obligation to protect human rights [p.15]. These phenomena will not be eliminated as long as existing disciplinary procedures remain idle. (...) The administration, reproducing the most backward reflexes of our society, often shows its worst face when dealing with members of minority groups. The pathology of human rights in our country is mainly a problem of implementing existing constitutional and legal provisions rather than lack thereof. It is common wisdom that in the administration prevails a feeling of impunity, that in some cases favors occasional illegal actions, or in other cases it perpetuates a status of generalized anomy and corruption [pp. 55-56]." Another academic, criminologist and oftentimes government advisor Yannis Panousis, recently wrote that "in our country, anomy (no rules of the game) and zero guilt (no one is responsible to be held accountable) dominate"

--- During his visit to Greece, two weeks ago, Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, felt necessary to publicly remind Greek authorities that "Every country has its own share of human rights problems… The most important though is the attitude of state authorities -their reluctance to cooperate to help record the situation" "The priority is for the state to find the ability to recognize its human rights problems and start working towards their solution"

--- However, former Minister of Justice Mihalis Stathopoulos -a non-politician and an academic with a NGO background, who introduced the abolition of religion from the identity cards in 2000, only to lose his cabinet post a year later- said (on 29 June 2000, in a seminar in the Amphitheater of the Foreign Ministry) that "all those who boast for the absence of racism in Greece are people who are not used to criticism and self-criticism." He was in effect commenting on Greek government's rejection of the criticism by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)'s report on Greece released in June 2000.

--- Indeed, the relevant advisory body to the Prime Minister, the National Commission for Human Rights, in its first ever 2000 report, noted the tendency of Greek authorities to view NGO and IGO reports as "undermining the nation" and to treat them with either "secrecy or scorn." It also recommended instead that state reports or answers to criticism "should not be confined to banalities or exaggerated promises."

--- Perhaps the most revealing reaction to an IGO report is Greece's rejection of the multicultural character of Greek society, which the ECRI report (and other IGO reports since then) insisted upon. Indeed, in Greece, it is widely thought that "the concept of a multicultural society, which may suit young countries such as the USA, Canada or Australia, is less suited to Europe with its long tradition of nation-states," as stated a few days ago in a front page commentary of Greece's authoritative daily Kathimerini, whose English edition is inserted in the International Herald Tribune. The commentary's main line was an appeal for, inter alia, "the repatriation of migrants to their homeland."

--- The main consequence of this rejection of multiculturalism is Greece's persistent denial to acknowledge the presence of ethno-national minorities on its territory, namely the Turks and the Macedonians.

--- Instead, Greece insists that there is only one religious minority, the Muslims of Thrace. However, the most comprehensive description of the situation in Thrace is offered by an inter-governmental institution (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe): "We hold the following assessment of the NGO Human Rights Watch to be correct: 'While it is indeed true that the minority is mixed on an ethnolinguistic basis, being made up of ethnic Turks, Pomaks … and Roma, the group overwhelmingly identifies itself as Turkish. Indeed many Pomaks and Roma will, especially to outsiders, even deny their ethnolinguistic origin in the belief that being called 'Pomaks' or 'Roma' is merely a state artifice to suppress them. One commentator [Professor Christos Rozakis, vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights, and former Deputy Foreign Minister in 1996] noted that, 'Due to the uniform way in which Greek authorities and local communities have treated Gypsies and Pomaks, the latter tend to identify with the stronger elements of the minority in Thrace, who are, of course, the Muslim Turcophones.'" An EU Euromosaic survey carried out in 1995 among minority members found that 80% of its members have a Turkish identity (vs. 10% who have a Greek identity). ECRI reported that "the majority within the Muslim minority identify themselves as Turks, although this general category includes Pomaks and Muslim Roma as well." The UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance stated that "the Muslim minority of Thrace … is composed largely of people of Turkish origin but also of Pomaks and Tziganes."

--- "As regards Greek citizens wishing to express and promote their ethnic Macedonian identity, ECRI notes that, in July 1998, the European Court of Human Rights found Greece in violation of the right to freedom of association, based on her refusal to register an association aimed essentially at promoting Macedonian culture . ECRI also notes reports of cases where the right to freedom of expression of this group has not been respected. ECRI encourages the authorities to ensure that all groups in Greece effectively enjoy the right to freedom of association and to freedom of expression, in accordance with international legal standards."

--- Four years after that court decision, the Macedonian association concerned, the "Home of Macedonian Civilization," has not yet registered as, until recently, all lawyers refused to take up its case, while the courts refused to appoint a lawyer. Only after the intervention of the Greek Ombudsman who pointed to the illegality of the situation, a lawyer was appointed a few months ago. In the meantime, a second Macedonian association, "Rousalii" was not allowed to register in 2000. These cases may have been reported by NGOs but have been systematically and deliberately ignored in the annual Department of State reports, which, on this issue that is a "taboo" for Greece, follow more or less the official and very intolerant Greek state line, including mentioning the references to defamatory statements by Greece on Macedonian activists and not their denials. On the contrary, the 2002 report refers to the refusal to register the "Political Association of Turkish Women of Rodopi" and the dissolution of the "Turkish Union of Xanthi." When Greece refuses the existence of Macedonian and Turkish minorities, it is consequent that its courts will do everything possible to disallow associations bearing these ethnic names to operate legally.

--- In 1999, the leaders of two minority Christian Churches confirmed the general negative climate against minority religions in Greece. "Legally, religious freedom is secure here," Antonis Koulouris, Secretary-General of the Greek Evangelical (Reformed) Church, said "but the attitude persists that citizens have a duty to be Orthodox, and that belonging to other denominations is unpatriotic and heretical." Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Athens, Nikolaos Foscolos, spoke of "practical discrimination," inter alia in the armed forces, where being Orthodox was the "first requirement" for officers: "Orthodoxy is the Church of the state, so non-Orthodox are considered incomplete Greek… Although the constitution guarantees citizens the same juridical status regardless of creed, religious discrimination exists." Later, on the occasion of public opposition by nationalist and Orthodox Christian Church circles to a possible visit of the Pope to Greece to celebrate the Millenium, Archbishop Foscolos declared: "Since 1989, an anti-Catholic and anti-Pope spirit has been growing in Greece. Do not forget statements a few years ago by a Minister and Orthodox Bishops that the Pope is a war criminal. Official statements never opposed by any official government or Church authorities. (...) There is certainly a situation of oppression of Catholics in Greece. Here the principle that dominated in the medieval West, … whoever owns the country also owns the religion, applies. For many people, Greek means Orthodox and it looks strange if someone is Greek without being Orthodox. Such mentality is nourished by both the state and the Orthodox Church."

--- The Greek Orthodox Church is also a major source of inherent anti-Semitism. While the Greek Orthodox Church formally condemns anti-Semitism, many of its clergy are openly anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist. Father Nectarios Moulatsiotis, who manages a highly popular "rock group" of singing monks called "Free", and runs a summer camp for 200 children at his monastery, has published several vehemently anti-Semitic treatises. The Archbishop of Greece Christodoulos, himself, declared that the Jews were behind the removal of the religion designation on official Greek identity cards, and were a threat to the Greek nation. Many Jewish graves and monuments were defiled following his mass protest rallies in 2000. The depth of anti-Semitism in Greek consciousness is evidenced by the ease with which it manifests itself in mainstream expression, unimpeded and seemingly unnoticed, during times of crisis. The Greek press has played a major role in this area. Since September 11th (2001) and, more so, with the increasing violence in the Middle East, blatant anti-Semitism regularly seen in fringe newspapers and magazines and on certain television stations has been consistently expressed in print (especially), on television/radio and in public by a spectrum of prominent government, union and cultural figures. So widely discussed was the rumor that 4,000 Jews working in the Word Trade Center were forewarned and thus escaped death, that a poll taken for state TV NET showed 43% of Greeks as believing the rumor, as opposed to 30% who did not. Moreover, three mainstream dailies readily printed (one as its front-page headline) as unquestionable reality a heinous libel -supplied to the Athenian News Agency by a Palestinian organization in Greece- that Israelis were trafficking the organs of dead Palestinian fighters and performing medical experiments on Arab prisoners. During Spring 2002, there was an avalanche of anti-Semitic cartoons, comments, and even letters to the editor in many mainstream newspapers, inter alia with the -often certainly condemnable and probably criminal- activity of the Israeli army in Palestinian cities equated with the Holocaust, and Sharon with Hitler. The Speaker of the Greek Parliament, Apostolos Kaklamanis, used the term "genocide" when speaking about the events in the Middle East. To add insult to injury, as justification for this, Government Spokesperson Christos Protopapas subsequently claimed that the former was "expressing the sentiments of the Parliament and the Greek public." Sadly, this appears to be so.

--- The role of the media in the perpetuation of intolerance is indeed crucial. In a special study on Racism and Cultural Diversity in the Mass Media, the EU's European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia wrote about Greece: "Overall, Greek media, the rightwing press and private TV channels in particular, show little sensitivity towards cultural difference and tend to stigmatize and discriminate against minorities, claiming that they threaten the presumed cultural and ethnic 'purity' as well as the welfare of the Greek nation. Albanian immigrants and members of the Macedonian and Turkish minorities are the main targets of verbal harassment and racial discourse in the Greek media, followed closely by the Roma population and. Occasionally, religious minorities."

--- As for Greece's only anti-racist law, Law 927/1979 as amended with 1419/1984 and 2910/2001, it specifically states that "Whoever intentionally and publicly instigates, either orally or in the press or through written texts and illustrations or through any other means, acts or activities capable of provoking discrimination, hatred or violence against persons or a group of persons, solely because of their racial, religious or national origin, may be punished with imprisonment of up to two years or a fine or both." With the 2001 amendment, the prosecutor could ex officio file such charges. The law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of such criteria too. Yet, there is not one case that ever led to a conviction under that law. Hate speech is thus uninhibited. In 2002, GHM is testing the system with cases involving the country's major newspapers.

--- GHM, as well as all international press freedom organizations, have repeatedly asked for changes in the legislation so that libel be decriminalized and articles that criminalize the (even in extreme forms) expression of opinion (blasphemy, disturbance of international relations, etc.) or investigative reporting (publication of classified documents, etc.) be abolished, as they are internationally unacceptable restrictions of freedom of expression. In the International Press Institute report World Press Freedom Review 2001: Greece, the following is mentioned, inter alia: "Greece continues to be one of the few countries within the European Union (EU) that has consistently brought criminal defamation suits against journalists. IPI and other press freedom organisations have long campaigned for the repeal of such repressive laws, pointing out that handing down prison sentences in defamation cases impedes the free flow of information and ideas and the threat of imprisonment deters free and critical reporting. In addition, criminal defamation is in contradiction to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, to which all EU members, including Greece are bound by law. However, representatives of the Greek government deny that criminal defamation, as applied in Greece, constitutes a threat to freedom of expression. At a meeting on Freedom of Expression in Europe, organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on 12-13 March and attended by IPI, a Greek government representative said that Greek journalists prefer the current system since it is cheaper for them. The Greek delegate said that it in common practice, if an individual is found guilty of defamation, prison sentences are bought off for a small amount of money. As such, it is cheaper for the convicted than if a verdict were reached in civil court. After being presented with an IPI paper at the conference listing a number of press freedom violations in Greece, the Greek representative said that press freedom organisations have a biased picture of the situation for Greek journalists and that many of the reported incidents are not press freedom violations at all. IPI pointed out that, in practice, criminal defamation criminalizes free speech which goes against a number of international declarations and that the use of it in Greece reveals a deep-seated suspicion on part of the Greek authorities against a free and unfettered media. The attitude of the Greek representative was also evident in a protracted court case which dragged on last year."- Greece's most urgent human rights concerns however, as pointed out also by Alvaro Gil-Robles, are "the unacceptable detention conditions of deportees and the non-living conditions (since they have not even water) of the Roma." All that amidst a generalized anomy in the treatment of documented migrants and Roma, despite the existing legislation which generally offers satisfactory protection of their rights, if it is implemented in its entirety.

--- On 15 June 2002, 45 human rights NGOs from 21 Euro-Mediterranean countries -including Amnesty International, Article 19, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Federation Internationale des Ligues de Droits de l' Homme (FIDH), Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), and Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)- published an appeal expressing "their great concern about the frequent and grave violations of the rights of thousands of foreigners who arrive or live in Greece as (potential) asylum seekers or (un)documented migrants and are detained pending judicial or administrative deportation. Greek NGOs have documented an almost systematic absence of competent translators during examination by law enforcement officials or in court. Moreover, the Greek authorities frequently fail to inform foreigners of their rights, refuse them asylum application forms or even provide misleading information. Undocumented migrants or asylum seekers have often been tried without benefit of legal counsel, and sentenced to imprisonment or deportation after trials lasting only a few minutes. Detention conditions are in many cases degrading and inhumane, and access to lawyers and NGOs has been severely and arbitrarily limited. When authorized representatives of detainees have requested the full documentation for their cases, this has been denied by the authorities, on the grounds that this might hinder efforts to deport them." The NGOs "welcome last week's statement by the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, that 'Greece should not forget that deportees are human beings, too;'" and they "appeal to the Greek authorities to radically revise their treatment of foreigners under arrest, detention, trial or deportation; and also call upon all inter-governmental organizations (UN, OSCE, CoE, EU) to use all of their mechanisms (expert committees, special rapporteurs, commissioners, etc.) to review this situation regularly and to urge Greece to honor its human rights commitments, in this as well as in many other areas. They should review Greece's record and judge it according to universal international standards which protect the rights of detainees, the right to fair trial and the rights of refugees."

--- Significantly, in 2001, the European Court of Human Rights -that had in previous years convicted Greece for the violation of the rights of all religious minorities (Jehovah Witnesses, catholics, Protestants, Muslims) and ethno-national minorities (Macedonians and Turks)- convicted Greece for violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment) in detention facilities (Dougoz v. Greece 6 March 2001) and prisons (Peers v. Greece 19 April 2001). Also, on 8 May 2001, the UN's Committee Against Torture voiced the following concerns and issued the following recommendations for Greece: "The Committee expresses the following concern that, although the domestic legislation provides a satisfactory framework for protecting human rights in general and of certain Convention rights in particular, difficulties in effective implementation remain, which may amount to a breach of the Convention:(a) there is evidence that the police sometimes use excessive or unjustifiable force in carrying out their duties particularly when dealing with ethnic and national minorities and foreigners;(b) the harsh conditions of detention in general and, in particular, the long-term detention of undocumented migrants and/or asylum-seekers awaiting deportation in police stations without adequate facilities; (c) the severe overcrowding in prisons which aggravates the already sub-standard material conditions and which may contribute to inter-prisoner-violence; (e) the lack of comprehensive training of medical personnel and law enforcement officers at all levels, on the provisions of the Convention. The Committee recommends that:(a) urgent measures be taken to improve conditions of detention in police stations and prisons and that undocumented migrants and/or asylum seekers who have not been convicted of a criminal offence not be held for long periods in such institutions; (b) such measures as are necessary to prevent overcrowding of prisons should be taken as well as continuing steps to find alternative penalties to imprisonment and to ensure their effective implementation;(c) such measures as are necessary, including training, be taken to ensure that in the treatment of vulnerable groups, in particular foreigners, ethnic and national minorities, law enforcement officers do not resort to discriminatory practices; (d) steps be taken to prevent and punish trafficking of women and other forms of violence against women; (e) that steps be taken to create detention facilities for undocumented migrants and/or asylum seekers separate from prison or police institutions and urges the State party to complete its proposed new building construction for aliens as a matter of urgency." Very little has been done along those lines since. In particular, despite many draft bills to combat trafficking in persons have been announced, none has been debated in Parliament to this day, as if the state is reluctant to take any serious measures and only announces bills to mellow its critics.

--- Likewise, the government regularly launches impressive multi-million euro programs to help Roma integrate Greek society, but they seem to aim at appeasing critics more than anything else as very little has been done to alleviate the burden of the Roma in Greece. Their plight has been very well summarized in a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission: "The Roma are the most underprivileged and marginalized social group in Greece, a victim of everyday and recurring racial discrimination. The tent-dwellers also have an acute survival problem. The living conditions in the settlements, are, by any standards, miserable. The Gypsies live in shanties, amidst garbage, without water, toilets, electricity, in the mercy of weather phenomena and epidemics. The efforts of the Gypsies to integrate are subverted dramatically by the racial reactions of a society, which is nevertheless convinced that it is not racist! The municipal authorities regard the Roma who live within their borders as a burden and instead of solving the problem, they simply try to get rid of them in any way -even illegally. With the opportunity of the Olympic Games they have organized the eviction of the Gypsies from many areas. The local societies invoke (usually falsely) the need for the construction of sport facilities in order to evict the Roma, just like it happened in Mexico in 1968. Roma are not even accepted in the public hospitals nor treated like the rest of the patients. When the hospitals demand some medical expenses, they try to ensure them by withholding the identity cards of the Gypsies. The result is that even those Gypsies that do hold an identity card, necessary for their transactions, are left without one in the end! In reality, the access to education, that is the possibility for a future social and economic integration, is literally denied to the Gypsies. The racist practices against those Roma who attempt to get educated are of two kinds: a) open attempts to exclude the Gypsy children by mobilizing the society, the parents, the students and the teachers; b) their passive exclusion within the classroom by marginalization. Roma children are treated by students and teachers as bothersome outcasts who delay the materialization of the program and undermine the image of the school. Under these awful conditions, it is only natural that the Roma children feel undesired, get disappointed and drop out of school. No administrative measure has been taken to avoid the incidents of educational exclusion, because the strategy of the program in the first phase of materialization had been the avoidance of conflicts. Their exclusion from the labor market has chained effects on their life in general, given that it does not only condemn them to poverty but gradually pushes them to delinquency and namely drug trafficking. The result is the dramatic worsening of their health and their relationship with the rest of the Greek citizens and authorities. 50% of the Roma population had not been registered in the municipal rolls. An unregistered citizen simply does not exist for the state. The municipal authorities on the other hand take advantage of the problem of illiteracy and lack of familiarity of the Gypsies with the bureaucracy and do not try to facilitate their legalization procedure. This way, since they are not even registered in their municipalities, they get rid of them more easily. There is therefore a vicious circle that strengthens the conviction of the Gypsies that the Greek state is hostile towards them. The Gypsies are condemned to living in conditions of apartheid. Moreover, the phenomenon of the Gypsies and their children becoming the target of vicious evictions and illegal actions that jeopardize their physical integrity is not at all rare in the framework of the efforts by the local societies to get rid of them. The usual policy that offers an easy social alibi is to blame the Gypsies in general for offences that only a small minority of them has committed. Media speech has attributed to them en bloc characteristics of marginalized and criminal persons. Most municipalities follow the same strategy. They do not facilitate the legal transactions of the Gypsies with the offices and keep the Gypsies under sordid conditions so as to make them move outside of the municipal borders. In almost no case was a viable alternative solution provided to those evicted, following their eviction. Whenever an alternative solution is suggested by the municipal authorities, it is either completely unsatisfactory or concerns only a few Gypsies -mainly the few residents registered in the municipality. In the same context, the municipal authorities also take advantage of any differences between the local and non-local Gypsies in order to divide them and neutralize them more effectively. Police officers uncritically resort to use of disproportionate violence, without being afraid of being exposed to the eyes of the public opinion. A public opinion which in any case considers the Gypsies en masse to be thieves and drug dealers, thus justifying any illegal action of the police. Furthermore, the police forces often do not conclude the investigations in relation to violent incidents against the Roma nor do they punish police officers who have abused their power. In cases when those who have been wronged try to initiate legal procedures for their defense, their status as powerless, second-class citizens renders them susceptible to extortion to drop them. As Dimitrina Petrova, director of the European Center for the rights of the Gypsies [sic], stated in 1998, 'the Roma in Greece are not considered to be humans.'"

--- Indeed, most of the human rights problems in Greece were presented here using texts from Greek state or intergovernmental institutions. In the last three years, they have all described the exact same dire situation that GHM has being consistently reporting since its creation ten years ago.