AIM: start



SUN, 03 JUN 2001 19:45:28 GMT

Greece's Anti-Minority Attitude

AIM Athens, May 31, 2001

Greece "distinguished" itself as the only one of the sixteen countries participating or facilitating the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe (SP) that snubbed the meeting in Strasbourg, on 22 May 2001, where SP minority-related projects of the Council of Europe (including an anti-discrimination review) were furthered or launched. Greece along with Turkey are the only SP countries that have not ratified the Framework Convention on National Minorities (FCNM): so Greece was not present either in the Council of Europe's meeting to discuss minority rights the day before (21 May), while even Turkey was there… When the Council of Europe was asked about Greece's glaring absence, the secretariat informed participants that Greece did not even reply to the invitation calls. They also heard that, fifteen months ago, Foreign Minister Papandreou had told the Council's Political Director that Greece would participate in the SP projects on minorities, and even assigned his representative. Since then, Greece managed to put at the head of the SP's Working Table I, on Human Rights and Minorities, an individual never known to be favorable to the Table's topic, as well as to veto a NGO minority project selected by the SP's Task Force on minorities, that would have included minorities in Greece…

In the meantime, in the past twelve months, Greece has been widely criticized internationally, by NGOs but also and most importantly by expert bodies of inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) -UN and Council of Europe-, for its intolerant attitude towards minorities. In every instance, the official state reply was a confirmation of what Panteion University Associate Professor Alexis Heraclidis has called "Greece's anti-minority attitude" (in his newly published book "Greece and the 'Danger from the East,'" Athens: Polis Publishers, 2000). Greek authorities persisted in claiming that there were no ethno-national minorities in the country, while those who supported such ideas are dubbed "separatists" and/or "foreign agents," even if they happen to be … minority MPs of the governmental party!

"The only official recognized minority in Greece is the Muslim minority of Western Thrace. The minority is composed of three distinct ethnic groups: those of Turkish origin, Pomaks, and Roma…. All Greek governments have resisted the collective self-identification of the Muslim minority as Turkish. The reason for this is, first of all, the composition of the minority itself and the conviction that the political aims behind this assertion do not contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the various groups." These were the exact words (transcribed by Greek Helsinki Monitor) of Maria Telalian, head of the Greek delegation that presented Greece's report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 16 March 2001.

How then does Greece see those who, in its words, have the political aim to recognize the Muslim minority as Turkish? Greek Ambassador to Ankara Mr. Korantis, in his report to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), published in its entirety by the weekly "Pontiki" on 5 April 2001, calls that minority's leadership "planted and Kemalist," and the only minority MP present in both previous and current parliament (in the ranks of the … government party PASOK), Galip Galip, "zealous in promoting the positions of the Turkish agencies." As, upon the publication of that report there was a controversy over the reaction of the MFA George Papandreou to its content, the MFA's spokesperson stated that his minister considers "the responsibility and ability of Ambassador Korantis given and undeniable" (quoted in Papandreou's own website, http://www.papandreou.gr/2001/April/ana_ypex_beglitis_05042001.html).

How did the Turkish minority leadership react to such characterization? No one reacted even when probed, as if they were happy to be portrayed as Turkish agents… How did Greek majority media and politicians react to the fact that the government admits having Turkish agents in its ranks? No reaction here either. Probably because for more than a decade all Greek media have portrayed the minority leadership in identical terms, while politicians of the major parties know that they must compose with that "planted, Kemalist" leadership, if they want to gain any minority votes, necessary for their party to secure parliamentary seats in the two districts inhabited by the minority.

What about the Macedonian minority then? "I would like to remind the Committee that there is no such a minority officially recognized in Greece," said Ms. Telalian, answering a question of a CERD member on 19 March 2001. Her transcribed by GHM statement continued as follows: "And I would like to mention that it is really embarrassing that certain circles outside Greece, or within Greece, certain activists try to convince the international community that we have such a national minority on the Greek territory. I would like to mention that the only element that these circles have about the existence of such a minority is that, in the northern Greece areas, people speak a second dialect, the Slavic dialect. However, Mr. Chairman, nobody has asked these people if they are willing to self-identify themselves as belonging to a different ethnic nation. They never have expressed themselves in favor of not being Greeks. They never expressed themselves as having a distinct ethnic identity. And I believe this does not do justice to this population, that, because of the geographical area where they live, simply speaks a different dialect. So if we agree that a very important determinant factor for the realization, for the recognition of the existence of a national minority is the will of the people to self-identify themselves, I think that we have to respect at least the wish of these particular people, who live in these areas and who have never expressed themselves in favor of them belonging to such a national, a different from the Greek nation, minority. This is the reason why Greece consistently denies the existence of such a group."

Anyone who has followed the issue knows of course that the Greek delegation leader was lying to her teeth. Before the CERD sessions, many experts of that UN body were briefed, inter alia, on concerns related to the Macedonian minority by representatives of two Macedonian organizations, "Rainbow" and "Home of Macedonian Civilization." Both groups' members and/or followers identify themselves indeed as "belonging to such a national, a different from the Greek nation, minority" to use the terminology of the Greek delegation. Since the first group, Rainbow, contested a few elections with a similar platform, and received up to 7,500 votes (which correspond to some 10,000 citizens), there are many more Macedonians in Greece than Greeks in Turkey (whose existence no one has denied).

These activists are really a thorn in the throat of the Greek authorities, which have now resorted to defaming them. "Most, but not -I stress: not - all of these activists pursue a policy of secession of a sizeable part of Greek territory," declared unabashedly the Greek MFA's representative in the OSCE Implementation Review Meeting, on 25 October 2000 (http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/english/pressrelease/GD-25-10-2000-osce2000.htm l). Unlike the Turkish activists, Macedonian activist cherish their non-nationalist, pro-European profile and reacted on the spot to the Greek delegation's statement, with a joint statement with Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece (http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/english/pressrelease/GHM&MRG-G-macedonian-25-10 -2000-osce2000.html):

"It is well known to anyone living in the area inhabited by the Macedonian minority in Greece, and to Greek authorities, that no activist from any organization has ever promoted secessionism. On the contrary, the diplomat who spoke for the Greek delegation today was a guest, on behalf of his Ministry, in the special meeting our NGOs had organized for the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) in October 1999 in Athens. During that meeting, representatives from the Macedonian and Turkish minorities, responding to an OSCE HCNM question, categorically condemned not only secession but also autonomy as possible solutions to the many problems the two minorities face. These statements were subsequently published widely and have since been available in the Internet sites of our NGOs, and many other ones."

Greece's attitude towards all critical NGO and IGO reports is "to downplay them, an attitude that the National Commission on Human Rights (EEDA) cannot understand," as this newly establish institution stated in its first ever "Report 2000," released in May 2001 (p. 30, http://www.ananeotiki.gr/dikaiwmata/ekthesi2000.htm). "It is necessary that they should be seen by the Administration as a challenge for continuing confirmation and improvement of the protection of human rights, and not as an undermining of the country" added EEDA, recommending immediate and comprehensive answers to these texts rather than "banalities or exaggerated promises" (p. 29).

The UN CERD issued in March 2001 recommendations criticizing, inter alia, Greece's lack of respect for the international principles of self-identification and its consequent practice of recognizing some and refusing of recognizing other minorities in contravention of CERD's own General Comments: "While noting that the report of the State party refers to the 'Muslim minority of Western Thrace,' and within this to Turkish, Pomak and Roma groups, and not to other ethnic groups in the country, the Committee draws the attention of the State party to its General Recommendations VIII (38) on the right of each person to self-identification and XXIV (55) concerning article 1 of the Convention in this regard. The Committee encourages the State party to build upon its education programs at all levels in order to counter negative stereotypes and promote the objectives of the Convention. The Committee recommends that the State party take into account the Committee's General Recommendation XXVII (57) concerning Roma in further legal and policy initiatives. The Committee encourages the State party to pursue further its dialogues with representatives of the Roma, Pomak, Albanian and other minority populations, with a view to expanding as necessary the available range of multi-lingual educational programs and policies" (http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/MasterFrameView/d3fcc3818953c1c0c1256a1800 5a1218?Opendocument).

In May 2001, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), in its concerns and recommendations highlighted the racial dimension of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by Greek law enforcement authorities: "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; ... such measures as are necessary, including training, [should] 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" (http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/CAT.C.XXVI.Concl.2.Rev.1.En?OpenD ocument).

These recommendations emulated the more comprehensive critique by the Council of Europe's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, whose report was published in June 2000 (http://ecri.coe.int/en/02/02/12/e0202120036.htm).

In the midst of this imaginative world encouraged by Greek political culture, it is not surprising that even the MFA G. Papandreou himself is allowed or perhaps obliged to declare: "In our country, we do not have minority problems, for the simple reason that our country is profoundly democratic, where the full presence, participation, integration of every citizen, irrespective of his/her origin or religious belief, has been consolidated not only in law but also in practice." (http://www.papandreou.gr/2001/April/ana_ypex_beglitis_05042001.html).

Panayote Dimitras