Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Report About Minorities and Media in Greece

By: Georgios N. Papadakis- "Express” Daily Financial Newspaper-Athens

Unfortunately, the general situation in Greece as far as all kinds of minorities are concerned cannot be yet characterized as satisfactory, although significant progress was made over the past 10-15 years. Being a member of the European Union, Greece was (and still is) often forced to change its attitude on minority issues and the official greek state shows today a more tolerable face towards them. The main problem, though, still remains that Greece is continuously refusing to recognize the existence of any kind of minorities in its territory. The only minority that is officially characterized as such, are the Turks in Western Thrace. However, the Greek state gives this minority a purely religious character and refers to them not as "Turks” or as” Greek citizens of Turkish origin” but as "Muslims".

The mentality of the vast majority of the Greek people is also similar. Having taught at school that they live in a homogenous society, the modern Greeks do not tolerate any kind of different approach. Most media also helped in that matter by excluding almost any other voice that claimed something that the majority would not like. Journalists or scientists that expressed a different opinion, were characterized as "liars”, "dangerous”, "trash”. "agents” and their act as "national treason” , to name only a few terms. Some of them were also threatened with professional or personal extermination. Even today, where things have improved, very few Greek media give free space or time to people who want to express their different views or identity. Never the less, Greek media do not generally cover political or cultural activities of the minorities and refuse to report on the numerous trials that members of these minorities were involved to (mainly as the accused part). Of course, the same thing happened to almost all the times that Greece was found guilty from the European Court for violating treaties concerning minority rights.

There are many examples of this policy, but three of them are the most recent and characteristic ones. The first is about Sotiris Bletsas, a member of the Vlach (Aromanian) linguistic minority, who distributed back in 1995 a leaflet of EBLUL (semi-official organization of the EU on less used languages). In this leaflet, the 6 linguistic minorities that exist in Greece were stated (Turkish, Pomak, Macedonian, Vlach, Arvanite and Rom). Mr. Bletsas was sued by the New Democracy (conservative party) MP Evgenios Haitidis, found at first degree guilty of "spreading false news against the Greek state” and sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment and a quite large fine. He appealed to the upper degrees of justice and the European Court and finally got the clearing decision last December, 6 ? years after he was first convicted and having suffered quite a lot in that period. Unfortunately, his whole story received almost no coverage from the Greek media.

The second example comes from the Turkish minority in Thrace. The journalist and publisher of the independent weekly newspaper "Trakyanin Sesi” Abdulhalim Dede was brought against justice 4 times in the last 6 years, accused for several articles that he wrote in his newspaper. At first, he was found guilty in all 4 and was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment in total. He appealed, claimed innocent in the first 2 cases from the Supreme Court and waits now for the other 2 decisions of the same court. The last case (second hearing is scheduled for the 22th of May) caused the reaction of international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Federal Union Of European Nationalities (FEUN). FEUN sent a letter to the Greek Prime Minister Simitis expressing the deepest concern of its members, as far as the rights of the minorities in a EU state like Greece. Again, the Greek media remained totally silent.

Last but surely not least comes the issue of the Macedonian minority in Greece. As mentioned earlier, the Greek state denies the existence of such an ethnic or linguistic minority in its territory. Not only that, but the still existing dispute over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia made it almost impossible for the ethnic Macedonians who nowadays live in the Greek part of Macedonia to express themselves in any way. Any such attempt was seized violently. This happened for example in 1995 when citizens destroyed the offices of the ethnic Macedonian political party in Greece "Vizozhito-Rainbow”. Most of the Greek press spoke then about an act of "anger” and "justice” against very few people who were paid by FYROM to create non-existing problems and harm Greece. The people who destroyed the offices are well known to the authorities but no one is yet brought to justice. On the other hand, members of the "Vinozhito-Rainbow” party were constantly prosecuted with the accusation of "spreading false information that could cause public disorder” and after 3 years of justicial efforts they were able to prove their innocence. Once again, the Greek media who did not spare words to contemd them, made absolutely no reports as all these proved wrong and unfair. Members of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece have every now and then problems with nationalists who try to bring them to court for actually no reason. Just because they are trying to express themselves in their own language. Greek media were present in such trials only when they want to support the accusations. Otherwise, they do not usually dedicate even a line to describe the stories. They did just the same with the the attempt by some ethnic Macedonians to found the Home of the Macedonian Culture (HMC) in Florina (Lerin). For 12 years, Greek courts and lawyers had done everything in their power to deny these people the right to form such a purely cultural organization. Luckily, the Ombudsman and the pressure of the EU organs put an end to it and HMC is almost a reality now. These institutions also made it easier for the ethnic Macedonians to be able today to dance and sing in their mother tongue. Recently, EBLUL finally managed to establish an office in Greece also and this is also considered as a big step for the recognition and the salvation of the Macedonian and the other less used languages within the Greek borders. Unfortunately, only two daily newspapers in Athens (Eleftherotypia and Express) covered this interesting story, proving that there is a lot more to be done in order for the Greek people to be informed properly in such matters. This, of course, came as no surprise since in the recent elections all greek TV stations (with the exception of TV Seven) refused the "Vinozhito-Rainbow” party its constitutional right to express its principles and program. The Greek Law for smaller political parties has made it clear and obligatory for all TV channels with a nation-wide license to give at least 5 minutes of their time free to such parties, a month or closer to elections. Unfortunately, the law was violated and there were no reactions or penalties to that.

This anti-minority attitude of the press combined with the need of the minorities to express themselves, lead to the birth of newspapers, magazines and radio stations. As easily understood, the Turkish minority of Thrace had the privilege of being recognized by the state, so it was easier for them to establish their own media. The first weekly newspaper in Turkish was founded in 1975 (ILERI) and it was followed by 4 more newspapers, 5 magazines and 5 radio stations in the prefectures of Rodopi, Xanthi, and Evros. The main issue with all this media was (and still is) that very few can claim today that they are really independent. Apart from today' s much better relations, the constant tension of the past decades between Greece and Turkey often made the minority media vulnerable to political and ethnical influence of both sites. Some of them are considered to support the official policy of Turkey towards the minority, as it is expressed from the Turkish consulate in Komotini. Other media focus on the religious aspects of the minority and are believed to be attached to the greek state' s side. Unfortunately, the isolation, in which the Greek state had put the Pomaks of Thrace and the absence of any kind of written tradition has led them to believe that they are also Turks in origin. The only thing, though, that they have in common with the Turkish minority is the religion, since their oral language sounds much more Slavic than Turkish. Therefore, due to all of these reasons the Pomaks have not developed any kind of media, apart from an amateurish Greek-Pomak dictionary.A completely different picture than the one described about the Turkish minority is to be found by the ethnic Macedonians who still live to the greek part of Macedonia. Since they are considered as "non-existent” from the Greek state, they do not have the right to learn their mother tongue. The younger Macedonians learned it orally from their parents and some of them tried to express their views in Greek or in Macedonian written with the Greek alphabet. Although practically illegal, the first attempt was made in the late 80's in Aridea (Sabotsko) with the weekly newspaper "Moglena”. After the "Vinozhito-Rainbow” party was founded, "Moglena” was restructured, published articles also in the Cyrillic alphabet and was renamed to "Zora”, being the official voice of the party. Due mainly to financial reasons, the presence of the magazine was not constant. It stopped several times, then was once more renamed to "Nova Zora” and after four copies was put again to a halt. Today, it has the form of a monthly news bulletin with the name "Info Zora”. Another very touching effort to keep the Macedonian culture alive is the magazine "Loza” which first came to life in 2000 and had so far only four issues (in Greek and Macedonian in Greek fonts) again due to financial reasons. The newly established and recognized HMC plans also to create a magazine and a radio station later in the future.

No such media can be found in the other 3 linguistic minorities in the country. The establishment of the EBLUL office, though, may lead to the first attempts, especially from the Vlachs, with the Bletsas case helping also a lot in that direction. They also have a famous and well preserved cultural tradition, which they feel, though, that is not presented properly by the Greek media.

The Rom face today a quite discriminating attitude from the Greek society and the Greek media and they complain that they are on TV and the papers only for bad news. The same happened recently when the police killed a Roma in Zefyri-Athens and a few days with riots and shootings followed that incident. It happens also when they are forced to leave their settlements and move somewhere else by the local authorities all over Greece due to complains from other citizens, concerning noise, personal hygiene, criminality and child abuse. Despite of these facts, no organized attempt to establish a form of Roma media has been made, mainly because most of them are poor and illiterate.

The Arvanites also don' t own any media but they also don' t seem very keen to have those. Although quite numerous and well-spread all over continental Greece, this linguistic minority is far from united and seems more interested in hiding its origins than having its own media.

Appendix: List of Minority Media in Greece

Turkish Minority

A. Newspapers

ILERI- Weeekly (History, Literature). Founded 1975 in Komotini, sells approx. 1500 copies. Owner: Salih Halil
Trakyanin Sesi- Weekly (Politics). Founded 1981 in Komotini, sells approx. 1600 copies. Owner: Abdulhalim Dede
Gundem- Weekly (Mostly News). Founded 1997 in Komotini, sells approx. 1000 copies. Owner: Hulya Emin
Rodop Ruzgari- Weekly (News). Founded 1999 in Komotini, sells approx. 400 copies. Owner: Ibrahim Baltali
Olay-Every 15 days (News, Gossip). Founded 2000 in Komotini, sells approx. 300 copies. Owner: Ahmet Davut
Diyalog-Monthly (Politics). Founded 1991 in Komotini, sells approx. 600 copies. Owner: Aydin Omeroglu.

B. Magazines

Arkadas Cocuk- Monthly (Children). Founded 1984 in Komotini, sells approx. 1000 copies. Qwner: Ilyas Halil
Hur Hakka Davet- Monthly (Religion). Founded 1985 in Komotini, sells approx. 800 copies. Owner: Hasan Pacaman
Safak- Monthly (Literature). Founded 1990 in Komotini, sells approx. 1000 copies. Owner: Mutcahit Mumin
Ogretmenin Sesi- Monthly (Research, Literature). Founded 1999 in Komotini, sells approx. 1800 copies. Owner: Ilknur Halil
Gonulden Gonule-Monthly (Literature, Religion, Opinion). Founded 2000 in Evros, sells approx. 1100 copies. Owner: Hasan Haci

C. Radio Stations

Radyo City- Music. Founded 1990 in Komotini. Owner: Halit Mehmet
Isik FM- News. Founded 1994 in Komotini. Owner: Abdulhalim Dede
Joy FM- Music. Founded 1994 in Komotini. Owner: Cengiz Bodur
Tele Radyo- Music. Founded 1997 in Xanthi. Owner: Ramadan Hasan
King FM- Music. Founded 1999 in Xanthi. Owner: Huseyin Karadayi.

Macedonian Minority

A. Newspapers

Moglena-Zora-Nova Zora-Info Zora. Monthly (Mostly Politics). Founded 1990 in Aridea (Sabotsko), then transferred to Florina (Lerin), sells approx 400 copies. Today' s owner: Vinozhito-Rainbow Party .

B. Magazines

Loza- Irregularly published (Various). Founded 2000 in Thessaloniki, no selling capacity estimated. Owner: Editing committee led by Nikos Sakellarios.