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Greece Condemned for Discriminating against Macedonian Minority
Greek Helsinki Monitor & Minority Rights Group - Greece

Press Release 13/7/1998 New Conviction of Greece by The European Court On Minority Issues

Inadmissible Attitude of the (Greek State-Owned) Macedonian News Agency

The cooperating organizations Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece point out that the unanimous conviction of Greece by the European Court of Human Rights, on 10/7/1998, is the tenth conviction of the country for violation of the rights of minorities which live in it. Greece was convicted for the violation of the freedom of association (Article 11 of the relevant European Convention), because the Greek courts did not allow in 1990 the establishment of the "Home of Macedonian Civilization" (as translated in English by the European Court). Between 1993 and mid-1997, Greece was convicted seven times for violations of the rights of Jehovahís Witnesses: the cases concerned either convictions by Greek courts for proselytism (1 case), for refusal of their clergy to do military service (3), for the opening of a house of worship (1); -or expulsions of pupils from school for refusal to participate in parades (1). In another case, Greece settled and allowed a house of worship to operate to avoid another conviction.

In the course of the last seven months, Greece was convicted for the violation of the rights of three other minorities. In December 1997, for the refusal to recognize the legal personality of the Catholic Church of Chanea (Crete); in February 1998, for the conviction of Protestant military personnel for proselytism of civilians; and now, in July 1998, for the establishment of an association by ethnic Macedonians. There has been no conviction yet only for the Turkish minority, as a case of the former deputy Sadik was rejected, despite the positive recommendation of the Commission, for strictly procedural reasons (non-exhaustion of legal remedies in Greece).

The most important argument of the recent Court decision is its position towards the Greek courtsí and stateís view that the Home of Macedonian Civilization was not allowed to be established as its founding members did not aim simply at a cultural activity but at supporting the view that there is a Macedonian minority. The latter is known to be considered "non-existent" in Greece, an argument documented by the Greek courts and state with evidence full of "scholarly" quotes even from texts dating from the Nazi occupation period: "a guide to Salonika written by German historians and archaeologists during the last world war states thatÖ" In countering this argument, the European Court mentions the binding character for Greece of the OSCE documents which the country has signed and which have usually been considered merely declaratory and without any legal value. The Court states that the aims of the Home are "clear and legitimate" and adds:

"Even supposing that the founders of an association like the one in the instant case assert a minority consciousness, the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (Section IV) of 29 June 1990 and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 21 November 1990 ñ which Greece has signed ñ allow them to form associations to protect their cultural and spiritual heritage.".

We consider as an important development that, the day after the publication of the Court decision, six newspapers (Avghi, Ethnos, Eleftherotypia, Exousia, Kathimerini, and Rizospastis) covered the news in a correct journalistic way, something that happens for the first time with respect to decisions of such "sensitivity," that usually go deliberately unnoticed. They were certainly helped in that by the news items of the two state agencies, the Athens News Agency and the Macedonian News Agency (MPA), which reported immediately and accurately the related news item of the French News Agency of 10/7. It was therefore surprising to see that the MPA gave the impression to have "regretted" the first objective coverage: on 11/7 it released two lengthy and in essence rebutting items. In them, Greeceís conviction was completely downplayed (in the first) or totally omitted (in the second), as the purpose of these items was to show, as the title of the third and last item showed, that:

"European Court Of Justice: The Defense Of The Greek Character Of Macedonia Is Greece's Legal Right." In the text of that news item, that title is explained by way of distortions of, and by turning upside down the text of the court decision (even with the use of quotation marks to make the forgery more convincing). The item also distorts the meaning of the reference to the OSCE decision while it presents mainly the views of the Greek courts (which are naturally stated in the text of the European Court), but in ways that could give the impression that they are adopted by the latter. Finally, we need to point out that MPA chose to include in its 11/7 English language bulletin only the distorted news item on "Greeceís vindication" confirming the impression that the first, objective coverage of the matter was "outside editorial policy."

We therefore call upon the Director of MPA and the supervising Minister for the Press Mr. Reppas, who have both shown in the past correct "sensitivity" on such matters, to make their views public on this issue, which does not happen for the first time, in a way that will exclude its repetition in the future. Thus, they will avoid the international negative exposure of Greece as a country where the state media can use principles of "journalism" which can be found only in authoritarian regimes. The complete text of the Courtís decision can be found at its Internet address:

The French News Agency News Item

Greece condemned for discriminating against Macedonian minority

Fri 10 Jul 98 - 15:55 GMT

STRASBOURG, July 10 (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights on Friday condemned Greece for having banned an association called "The House of Macedonian Civilization."

Four people brought the case on behalf of a group of about 50 people who said they were of ethnic Macedonian origin and had a "Macedonian national consciousness."

The Court ruled that Greece had violated the applicants' right to liberty of association.

The plaintiffs come from Florina, northern Greece, near the border with Macedonia. It awarded the applicants a total of 40,000 drachmas (13,300 dollars) in costs. They had been claiming nearly 100 million drachmas in damages and costs.

The Greek administration and court had refused to register the association, ruling that its objective was to create a Macedonian Slav state with access to the Aegean Sea.

The appeal court in Thessalonica based its decision on the belief that the group wanted to challenge the Greek identity of the northern Greek region of Macedonia, challenging the country's territorial integrity. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Greece was wrong to ban the association, since it was not without means to pursue its leaders if the activities did indeed prove to be dangerous.

Since Macedonia's independence from Belgrade in 1991, Athens has disputed its right to use that name, saying it implies that the Skopje government has territorial designs on the northern Greek province of Macedonia. It took until March this year for a Greek government spokesman to refer to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as "Macedonia of Skopje".



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