Macedonian Human Rights Movement International
Dimitras interview to Macedonian daily "Dnevnik” on human rights in Greece

Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) disseminates the interview of its Spokesperson Panayote Dimitras to the Macedonian daily newspaper "Dnevnik” published on 17 April 2007. He gave answers to several questions of journalist Zana P. Bozinovska. The full text follows in English. The journalist was given the usual editorial freedom to edit the interview as long as the spirit was respected. As the comparison of the two texts below indicates, the Macedonian newspaper handled the interview in a very professional way, fully reflecting its content. As GHM does not have the resources to disseminate an exact translation of the published interview, the two similar texts follow.

Panayote Dimitras interview to "Dnevnik” Daily (Zana P. Bozinovska)

Granted on 15 April 2007

1. What is your estimation of the current situation regarding the respect of human rights in Greece? What is the biggest problem in this field? What is the situation with Roma and Albanians, refugees, migrants?

Greece is internationally acknowledged as one of the EU member countries with major human rights problems. They are reflected in long lists of concerns or other reports of UN and Council of Europe human rights expert bodies. The biggest problem is that Greek authorities practice "denial”: they are the only one in the EU if not in the OSCE that do not admit that this country, like all others, do face human rights problems. Instead, Greek authorities try to cover up problems as much as possible so as to deny their existence and since 2004 they are even attacking UN and Council of Europe human rights institutions which based on non-governmental sources, and primarily GHM, issue their reports on Greece. Roma and Albanian and other migrants are a very good example. No country exists where Roma are not facing extreme racism and/or the integration of migrants is totally smooth: Greece wants all to believe that indeed it is the exception, even though it has been the first European country to be convicted by the Council of Europe for the violation of the housing rights of the Roma, while the Eurobarometer shows year after year that Greece has the highest percentage of people with xenophobic views.

2. The Greek government insists that there is just one minority in the country, Muslims. Do you share this opinion and why? Why authorities in Athens fear recognizing Macedonians as a minority? What is your comment on official politics? What is the connection between the name issue and non-recognizing of Macedonian minority?

The whole world including UN and Council of Europe human rights institutions and all international non-governmental organizations insist too that Greece must officially acknowledge all groups that seek national minority status, namely Macedonians and Turks, including recognizing their associations. This is the only way the international principle of self-identification, which Greece supports for Greek minorities in the Balkans, can be respected. Greece turns a deaf ear to these calls and considers, even in court decisions, Macedonian and Turkish minority associations to be agents of their kin countries. Internationally, Greek foreign policy officials recently argue that there is no minority as there are too few people speaking the "Slavic idiom:” they pretend to ignore that there is no threshold for a minority to exist and to forget that in fact the Greek minority in Turkey's size is less than 2,000 persons while Vinozito gets anywhere from 3,500 - 7,000 votes in elections. Greece appears afraid to recognize national minorities fearing -wrongly so- that this may weaken if not endanger Greek identity. Former Prime Minister Constantinos Mitsotakis said in the early 1990s that the main reason for not recognizing the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name was that this would soon after force Greece to recognize a Macedonian minority this side of the border. Most Greeks however believe that the name of Macedonia belongs exclusively to Greece. This has also created an extremely difficult situation in resolving the "name issue” as any name with a Macedonian component let alone the country's name internationally recognized more and more as Republic of Macedonia can lead to a strong backlash of Greek public opinion, that was promised by all parties ten years ago that no "Macedonian” name will ever be recognized.

3. What is your comment about the Greek citizens who declare themselves as Macedonians, as well as about their political party?

They have the right to do so. Vinozito, as well as the Home of Macedonian Culture, have the right to advocate it. They all pay a considerable price for insisting on these rights. On the other hand, the Macedonian community has not empowered their organizations with enough support to have a more consistent and efficient advocacy.

4. Do you think that Greek authorities respect their rights, taking in account the reports of international organizations and State Department? What is your opinion about these reports, are they realistic?

The State Department reports, especially when they are devoid of political considerations of the US government's bilateral relations, are comprehensive and useful. But it is the reports of human rights expert bodies of the UN and the Council of Europe that have to be respected, as this is a constitutional obligation of Greece as well as of all countries that have ratified the corresponding treaties. These reports are very accurate but Greek authorities make every effort to hide them from Greek public opinion or to present them in distorted ways so as to give the impression that they are favorable to Greece. That means that they are not implementing them and hence warning "yellow cards” have been included in the recent reports by exasperated expert bodies.

5. Does Greek Helsinki Monitor as a NGO have any influence on official politics in the country?

Regrettably, most of the influence from GHM's advocacy comes through the international organizations' adoption of GHM-held positions and Greece's obligation to satisfy at least some of the demands of the UN and the Council of Europe. Alternatively it is the result of denunciatory advocacy domestically. In an old democracy like Greece, things should have been different with the state seeking regularly NGO advice and frequently acceding to their reasonable demands. However, most NGOs are not advocacy oriented since they depend on state funding and are afraid of losing it if they are very critical. This is why two months ago the Greek government once again publicly slandered GHM and also called it -regrettably correctly- the only NGO that holds the critical views espoused by UN bodies (in this instance CEDAW).

6. What is your opinion about the official politics of Macedonian authorities regarding this matter? Should they do more for Macedonians in Northern Greece or help them in some way?

Macedonian authorities should respect the strategy of the Macedonian minority in Greece to advocate within Greece and at the EU and Council of Europe level for their rights, without any Macedonian state role in that, unlike say the -yet legitimate- role that Greece plays in advocating Greek minority rights in Albania and Turkey and Turkey in advocating Turkish minority rights in Greece. Also Aegean Macedonian organizations outside Greece should not make statements that do not serve the advocacy of Macedonian minority rights, and it is true that most do not.

7. Do you have cooperation with Macedonian Helsinki Committee and about what?

Our cooperation with the Macedonian Helsinki Committee depends on the regional projects of both. In the past there were many and we had a close cooperation. Now we are both concentrated in the very demanding domestic human rights scenes and have little time for trans-border initiatives. The same is true with GHM's cooperation with several other NGOs in Macedonia, which, in the framework of recent regional projects of Minority Rights Group International, was intensive.