Date: Sun, 30 Nov 97 12:57:54 CST
Persecuted ethnonational minorities in the ‘cradle of democracy’
By Panayote Dimitrasor, Alternative Information Media, 12 November 1997
"In responding to [international NGO] charges, the [Greek] Government says that it recognizes, under the Copenhagen CSCE document, the right of individuals to identify themselves as members of ethnic minorities. It states that such self-identification nevertheless does not require government recognition of such a minority or entitle its members to nay privileges under CSCE or other instruments. As noted, however, the Government continues to deny the rights of free speech and association to some who have tried peacefully to assert what they consider to be their minority rights."
The above excerpt from the section on Greece in the US Department of State's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995" (p. 885) is a very succinct description of the situation of minorities in Greece and the latter's government's double talk. When criticized internationally, Greece swears by its tolerance and strict respect of (usually the wording rather than the spirit of) the international human and minority rights documents. Daily practice internally though frequently reflects the discrepancy between the supposed international commitments and the actual will or at least practice of the Greek authorities.
The American diplomats who wrote this passage were referring to the problems of the Macedonian minority in Greece. There are indeed, not many, Greek citizens who exercise their right to identify themselves as Macedonians, individually and as groups. As noted though their related rights of free speech and association are in practice denied. First of all, by the prevailing climate in the area of Greek Western Macedonia where these people live and are mainly active, but also in the national media as well. They are regularly treated as autonomists, agents of Skopje, traitors etc. More important though, the courts too seem to have the same attitude: since 1990, the legal registration of a cultural association they had created was refused on the basis of alleged statements made by two of the founders ... in the OSCE Copenhagen meeting; the case won admissibility to the European Court and will be heard on 24 march 1998, on the basis of an advice of its Commission for Greece s condemnation for violation of freedom of association. In the last seven years too many activists found themselves prosecuted in penal courts for having defended their rights.
The most recent such trial, scheduled for 14 October 1997 but eventually postponed for 15 September 1998, sheds ample light to the extent of the persecution of that ethnonational minority. The minority's political party "Rainbow" has been indicted for having used in its office sign ... its mother tongue. Indeed, "Rainbow" opened an office on 6/9/1995 in Florina (Western Macedonia), with a sign mentioning "Rainbow - Florina Committee" in both Greek and Macedonian. On 13/9/1995, the office was attacked and eventually sacked by a mob , led by the mayor of Florina. Before the sacking, police acting on the prosecutor's order removed the sign, while the prosecutor announced the indictment of the "Rainbow" leaders for ... having incited discord among citizens through the use of the Macedonian language in their sign. No political party, nor any media condemned the sacking of the party offices. On the contrary it was praised by extreme right nationalistic papers like "Stohos" and "Chrysi Avghi," whose members reportedly took part in the sacking. And the use of the bilingual sign was condemned by all mainstream political parties and other social groups: the local PASOK -socialist governing party- organization even initiated a court procedure, later withdrawn as it appeared that many signatures on it had been put without the knowledge of those concerned.
It is noteworthy that the witnesses of the prosecution included the local leaders of all five main Greek parties at the time (PASOK, ND, Political Spring, KKE, and Coalition); as well as leaders of professional associations (lawyers, merchants, priests, taxi drivers). Most of them, in their pre-trial depositions characterized the defendants as "paid agents of Skopjan propaganda", "anti-Greeks", etc. At the same time, the charges brought by "Rainbow" against a dozen people who allegedly played an active role in the sacking of their offices have for two years remained idle.
The indictment of "Rainbow" stipulated that the Macedonian words "Lerinski Comitet, written in Cyrillic on the sign, "in combination with the fact that they were written in a foreign language, in the specific Slavic linguistic idiom, provoked and incited discord among the area's citizens. The latter justifiably, besides other things, identify these words with an old terrorist organization of Slavic-speaking alien nationals which was active in the area and which, with genocide crimes, pillages and depredations against the indigenous Greek population, attempted the annihilation of the Greek element and the annexation of the greater area of the age-long Greek Macedonia to a neighboring country, which at the time was Greece s enemy." For that reason, the defendants were prosecuted according to Article 192 of the penal code: "One who publicly and by any means causes or incites citizens to commit acts of violence upon each other or to disturb the peace through disharmony among them shall be punished by imprisonment for not ore than two years unless a greater punishment is imposed by another provision."
The Greek state, therefore, not only violated the freedom of speech of these Macedonians, but in essence banned their language for, we will argue, being collectively guilty of alleged or real terrorist acts perpetrated in the beginning of the century by people who were speaking that language. Why not ban the use of German, too, in the process, as divisive: wasn t it used by the occupying forces in World War II which committed worse and more recent atrocities against Greeks?
In anticipation of the trial, an unprecedented mobilization of 11 Greek and 7 international NGOs occurred condemning the trial. This fact went though largely unreported by the Greek media, which, nevertheless devote large articles when the same NGOs criticize human rights abuses in neighboring Balkan countries, especially Turkey. On the contrary, the coverage of the trial by the major newspapers in Greece, just as their attitude in the events of September 1995 which led to the sacking of the "Rainbow" offices, was rich in inflammatory negative stereotypes and hate speech. One called the defendants "Skopjanophiles" and added that "they tried to exploit the trial to further their propaganda, were provocative in the court building ... frequently engaged in broils and scuffles with other citizens" (Eleftherotypia, 15/10), allegations totally inconsistent with the observations of the international monitors.
Another praised the harassment in the courthouse of a journalist of Macedonian TV by a lawyer without the intervention of the police or security guards, and called the journalist, whose comportment was impeccable, "impudent." It also called the defendants "autonomists - Skopjanophiles" -although "Rainbow" has never demanded autonomy- and added equally falsely that they were charged with "insult; instigating principals in a threat; instigating principals in damaging property, threat; damaging property, for having put up in their offices signs in Bulgarian, on 14-9-95" (Eleftheros Typos, 15/10).
A third newspaper (Adesmeftos Typos), in two consecutive columns, called "Rainbow" a "Trojan association of afflicted relatives and friends" which "two years ago brutally provoked public feeling ... by putting up the Slavic sign 'Lerinski Komitet.' ... The attempt to incite and as a result the indictment of citizens was obvious. Hence the charges against them and the trial tomorrow of these provocators" (13/10). As for the Greek and international observers and/or witnesses in the trial, they were called among other things "a dazzling hodgepodge of ... international or naive advocates, observers who create and maintain such issues, refined diplomats and rabid agents" (14/10).
This extraordinary by democratic standards trial also led to an unprecedented show of solidarity of minority Turks for minority Macedonians in Greece. One deputy and one NGO from among them publicly condemned the "Rainbow" prosecution, which they felt, rightly so, reflected the same mentality that has been leading to the repression of the Turkish minority in Greece. As the Turkish Minority Movement for Human and Minority Rights stated, certainly with very strong words, "the Florina trial achieves also a positive function: it reveals the true situation prevailing in the field of minority rights in Greece, but also in the field of freedom of expression when it does not proceed in parallel with the dominant national-totalitarianism. Also, it exposes the hypocritical stance taken by the modernist government which, abroad and in relation to the neighboring countries, devotes itself to championing human and minority rights, whereas inside the country, to anachronistic authoritarianism. Moreover, it exposes the guilty silence and eloquent complicity on the part of the political parties."
This double talk of the supposedly modernizing Greek government hasbeen characteristically evidenced in an issue dear to Greece s Turks. Throughout the year, the -three- modernist Foreign Minister and Deputy Ministers have repeatedly assured everyone, especially abroad, that the notorious, unconstitutional, and contrary to every human rights document Article 19 of the Citizenship Code will be abolished, as it is "a violation of human rights." But the competent and first in rank Minister of the Interior has only recently assured the concerned local nationalist forces in Thrace (where the Turks live) that there are indeed no such plans; and in the meantime, 1997 comes to a close, with his ministry diligently applying that Article and revoking the Greek citizenship of "non-ethnic Greeks" -from the Turkish minority- "who have settled abroad with no intention to return."
Until evidence to the contrary is provided therefore, those who pride themselves for being "the descendants of the cradle of democracy," are in fact dishonoring the democratic principles they would like others, especially abroad, to believe that they cherish. The carefully worded quote from the State Department report above is just a reflection of that reality. Maybe it is high time for those "dumb-Franks" (koutofrangoi), whom Greeks are also proud of having been deceiving with their double talk, to react seriously and consistently so as to finally make their Greek partners honor their international commitments in the area of human rights. Otherwise, they give the impression of, in fact, tacit accessories to their systematic violation.
Panayote Elias Dimitras