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[ALBSA-Info] Intolerance for Minorities

Asti Pilika pilika at
Mon Jan 3 12:04:10 EST 2000

Panayote Elias Dimitras

Greek Helsinki Monitor

(AIM Athens, 1/1/2000)


The "Millenium" festivities the Greek government in
cooperation with the
Municipality of Athens organized (and were partly
internationally) reflected the still prevailing
Hellenocentric attitude in Greece, shared by the vast
majority of opinion
makers and people, and enhanced by the public silence
of those who in
private oppose it. A lavish budget was used to
celebrate the coming year
2000 through honoring Greece's musical traditions; or
rather the
long-established in the country ethnic Greeks' musical
traditions. But
one sixth of the country's present total population of
some eleven
millions could not recognize their own, usually rich,
cultural traditions
in the official program. 

Excluded was even the music of the ethnic Greeks who
have migrated or
found refuge to the country in the 1990s (Greeks from
Albania and the
former Soviet Union) or in the last quarter century
(Greek Cypriots): no
wonder they often -but never too loudly- complain of
being "discriminated
against in their own country." Only the musical
traditions of the long
ago uprooted Greeks from Turkey were honored. On the
other hand, the
dozens of immigrant communities that have settled in
Greece most in the
1990s (Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles,
Filipinos, etc.) and are
in the process of legalization were not invited to the
either, although they have been participating in or
organizing a growing
number of music and dance festivals every year in
Athens and elsewhere.  

At the same time, neither were invited the country's
traditional cultural
minorities: Arvanites and Vlachs (with a Greek
national conscience but
distinct traditions), Turks and Macedonians (with
distinct both national
conscience and cultural tradition), and, above all,
the largest distinct
cultural community of Roma, whose musical traditions
are not only well
known but have substantially influenced Greek popular

This ethnocentric event was only the last one in 1999
to show how uneasy
many people in Greece, including many purported to
advocate human rights
and diversity, feel with the country's minorities and
especially when they deal with foreigners, giving the
impression that
they have something to hide or to be ashamed of.
Regrettably such
discriminatory behavior is sometimes legitimized by
the acquiescence of
foreigners with distinguished records on human rights

A usual field where such uneasiness is expressed is
the exploratory
informative visits of representatives from
institutions. Characteristic was the organization of
the "National Round
Table on Racism and Xenophobia" in Salonica in
November, in the framework
of the newly established EU financed and Vienna-based
European Monitoring
Center on Racism and Xenophobia, whose Director Beate
Winkler was
present. The round table itself was delayed for many
months and, when
organized, no minority or migrant organization was
invited (nor Greece's
representative to the EU-supported European Network
Against Racism). When
some NGOs protested, the organizers invited only
migrants but no
religious or national minorities. Who were the
organizers? Greece's
official delegations to the European Commission on
Racism and Intolerance
(ECRI) and the Vienna Center itself, assisted by the
Secretary General
for European Affairs of the Greek Foreign Ministry.
The latter along with
some officially chosen speakers defended during the
meeting what even the
Deputy Ombudsman present qualified as a myth, that of
"traditional Greek

Two months before, a Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe
delegation came to inquire into the problems of the
Turkish minority. The
ethnic Turkish deputies complained that they were
informed literally in
the last moment of the delegation's presence and were
invited to discuss
the issue with them only during an official dinner
with the presence of
Greek authorities. They had to impose a separate
meeting with the

A few weeks later, the OSCE's High Commissioner on
National Minorities
Max van der Stoel came to Greece in an effort to
support the previously
announced new government line to respect the
self-identification of
national minorities and ratify the Framework
Convention on National
Minorities. The visit reportedly created uneasiness
among many senior
diplomats who tried to "contain" it: so, in the public
lecture the High
Commissioner gave, the organizers of the -closely
linked to those
diplomats- Greek Foundation for International and
European Affairs
(ELIAMEP) had not invited any representatives of the
concerned. A separate closed meeting had to be
organized by Greek NGOs
for the minorities to be able to meet with the High
Commissioner. In the
meeting were also invited the Ombudsman and the OSCE
desk officer of the
foreign ministry. The latter's confidential memo on
that meeting was
leaked to a hostile to minority rights rightwing and
usually racist
newspaper, most likely by some other uneasy diplomat,
so as to fuel the
opposition to the new minority policy of the minister.

In late November as well, two NGOs (including the
Hellenic League for
Human Rights) organized conferences on human and
minority rights.
Minorities, with one exception, were not invited to
share their views or
even attend the meetings (but many intolerant and
nationalist politicians
were speakers in one of them). But, in this case, the
benefited from the presence of distinguished foreign
human rights
advocates, including Danielle Mitterrand and a
representative of the
Human Rights Association of Turkey, who knowingly
opted to attend. They
refused to see that, for many Greeks, their popularity
is due not to the
fact that they advocate human rights in general but
that they severely
criticize Turkish human rights violations and support
the struggle of the

Another case where Greek uneasiness with minorities
and the consequential
exclusion of those who address their concerns received
caution is the Royaumont process of the EU. The
program is headed by a
Greek with a Greek-staffed secretariat based in
Athens. The program's
efforts to create a Balkan NGO network were given to a
foundation linked
with Greece's major media empire (which opposed even
the Greek foreign
minister's new minority policy last summer). The
Helsinki Committees that
were invited in the first couple of meetings in
Salonica (June 1998) and
Budapest (September 1998) were not invited again in
the ensuing 1999
meeting. Probably because of their insistence in the
first meeting on the
inclusion of human and minority rights in the
network's agenda and
because in the second meeting they co-initiated and
distributed a NGO statement critical of government
restrictions to human
rights and minority NGOs. The latter initiative, that
was welcomed and
widely distributed by many international NGOs, was in
fact even
criticized by the Council of Europe's own NGO section,
which had
co-organized the meeting.

The prevailing attitude among Greeks, despite the new
government policy,
still is that there are no minorities in the country.
Among those few who
think otherwise, most also believe that whatever
minorities may exist
face no major problems, at least of a magnitude that
could explain bona
fide international interest in them. So, for example,
covering in a
two-page dossier a Balkan conference on minorities and
the role of the
media (held in December in Sofia), the country's most
newspaper on human and minority rights, "Avghi"
(30/12/1999), gave a
positive title: "The recognition of minority rights is
a civilized step."
But its journalist felt the need to report his and the
other Greek
participants' bewilderment and suspicion because the
representatives of
the meeting's funder, during coffee breaks, were
asking the Greek
delegation for "information about minorities in our
country, including
about some that have long ago ceased to exist." How
strange indeed in a
conference on minorities to ask researchers from the
Center for the Study
of Minority Groups (KEMO) about minorities in their
country, especially
when the person asking them partly sponsors their
research on stereotypes
of neighboring peoples and minorities in the their
country's media…

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