Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
International Helsinki Federation 2002 Annual Report - Greece

Human Rights in the OSCE Region: The Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North America - Report 2002 (events 2001)

Greece did not make much progress in furthering the protection of human rights during 2001. The extensive violation of minority rights continued despite sharp criticism from the relevant international bodies. In addition, Greece has been classified as one of the States with a democratic government that makes the least effort to combat trafficking in women, while also demonstrating one of the lowest levels of tolerance of freedom of expression.

Furthermore, there continued to be cases of flagrant police misconduct throughout the year, including irresponsible shootings both at immigrants trying to cross the border and at members of unpopular minorities. These often resulted in deaths. The dissemination of racist and xenophobic statements also added to the human rights problems in Greece during the year.

Freedom of Expression and Media

Freedom House ranked Greece as the country displaying the least respect for freedom of speech out of all those countries with long-standing democratic traditions.

• On 12 January the publisher of the daily Adesmeftos Typos, Dimitris Rizos, was sentenced to six months imprisonment (subsequently released on appeal) for slandering Kostas Mitsis, the publisher of another newspaper also called Adesmeftos Typos.

• On 2 February, Sotiris Bletsas from the Society for Aromanian Culture, received a suspended sentence of 15 months imprisonment and a DRS 500,000 (about 1,667 Euro) fine for allegedly disseminating false information at an Aromanian festival where he had distributed a publication from the European Union's semi-official Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. The publication mentioned the existing minority languages in Greece, namely, Aromanian, Arvanite, Macedonian, Pomak, and Turkish. Mr Bletsas was subsequently acquitted on appeal on 18 December.

Journalists often faced abuses and interference with their work by politicians, businessmen and policemen.

National Minorities:
Macedonian Minority

Greek authorities continued to deny the existence of the Macedonian minority and repress Macedonian activists, amidst almost complete silence and even outright hostility towards that minority in Greek political life, media and society. Sometimes Greece's elaborate efforts to avoid international references to a Macedonian minority in Greece either failed (as in the case of the 2000 ECRI report), or succeed only partially (as in the case of the 2001 UN CERD concluding observations and recommendations).

Even the use of Macedonian first names was discouraged. In the rare cases when, despite the prevailing hostility, parents tried to give their children Macedonian names, the civil servants who are Orthodox priests refused to do so and equivalent Greek names were arbitrarily imposed on such children. At the same time the recovery of Macedonian and Bulgarian last names forcefully converted into their Greek equivalents in the 1920s and 1930s, was made impossible by the Greek authorities who deliberately harassed those individuals making such demands. The Greek Ombudsman asserted that during the first attempt to recover a Bulgarian name, the request was rejected and the individual was harassed. This was the case of Nicholas Stoidis, who applied to change his name and reinstate his grandfather's family name Stojanov, which had been forcefully [Hellenized] in 1913.

In 1990-1994 the Greek courts repeatedly denied registration to an organization called the [Home of Macedonian Civilization] (Stegi Makedonikou Politismou). Its appeal before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was successful, and on 10 July 1998, Greece was found in violation of Article 11 of the European Convention protecting the freedom of association. Ever since then the Stegi has tried to register its claim, but the Florina Bar Association kept finding excuses for not appointing a lawyer to deal with the registration, despite eager entreaties by the Ombudsman. The Bar Association's refusal to appoint a lawyer was used as a pretext by the local courts for acting in the same manner.