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[ALBSA-Info] AIM on Minorities in Greece

aalibali at aalibali at
Tue Jun 12 16:02:34 EDT 2001

       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, 

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

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
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

"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, "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"

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

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

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."

# Panayote Dimitras

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