Greek Helsinki on the Macedonian Minority in Greece
Greece IHF Focus: Freedom of expression and the media; protection of ethnic minorities; statelessness; conscientious objection; freedom of religion; protection of immigrants.
Greek authorities continued their discriminatory policy against ethnic and religious minorities. The Macedonian minority remained unrecognized and its activists faced criminal proceedings. The same problems continued to confront the Turkish minority of Western Thrace, officially recognized only as a religious Muslim minority, although significant developments took place concerning article 19 of the Greek Citizenship Code and the stateless. The Roma continued to fall victim to the most flagrant discrimination in all spheres of life and often whole communities were forcefully relocated.
Members of several religious minorities faced severe pressure and authorities attempted to hinder their activities through judicial proceedings and other forms of harassment, despite clear signals against such actions coming from the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
The media resorted to hate speech, regarding both ethnic and religious minorities, which was often supported by the authorities themselves.
On the positive side, the Greek government adopted a long overdue law on alternative civilian service and, in the last days of 1997, introduced decrees to legalize tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, most of them Albanians. However, the provisions included in each case have slowed down the process of implementing them.
Freedom of Expression and the Media
Freedom of the press continued to be restricted on occasion through politically motivated trials against newspapers and journalists. Some were charged with "espionage" - charges used for the first time in decades - others with defamation for criticizing authorities.
On 26 June, District Attorney Mantagiozidis recommended that "espionage" charges be filed against George Harvalias and Noni Karagianni, both journalists with the daily Eleftheros Typos, for publishing confidential information on Greek-Macedonian relations, leaked from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On 21 July, two journalists of the newspaper Niki were sentenced to 33 months in prison each for "aggravated defamation" of Minister of Justice Evangelos Yanopoulos. The journalists had criticized his activities as a minister and had raised doubts about the participation of Yanopoulos in the Greek Resistance movement during World War II. According to the Greek constitution, defamation charges could not be raised unless it could be proved by the person affected, with clear evidence, that the article was written with actual knowledge of its untruthfulness by the reporter. This was not the case in the Niki proceedings.
Protection of Minorities
The Macedonian Minority
The Macedonian minority remained unrecognized by the Greek government and consequently faced various forms of harassment and discrimination. Ethnic Macedonian associations and particularly the "Rainbow" political party, continued to face difficulties. Established in September 1995, "Rainbow" was attacked by local Greek extremists, including the mayor of Florina, and hindered from operating freely.
On 14 October, Vasilis Romas, Costas Tasopoulos, Petros Vasiliadis and Pavlos Voskopoulos faced trial in Florina in their capacity as leaders of the "Rainbow" party, accused of "causing and inciting mutual hatred among the citizens" (article 192 of the penal code) because they had hung up a sign with Slavic text outside their office in Florina. The court decided to postpone the trial until September 1998. The case dated back to 1995 when, on 13-14 September, the "Rainbow" office in Florina was attacked by a mob of people, led by the mayor of Florina.
Judicial proceedings against "Rainbow" party leader Traianos Pasois were pending in 1997on charges of "disseminating false information" (article 191 of the penal code) for having in his possession two wall calendars which "praised clearly controversial and provocative actions and decisions by political parties, groups and organizations which took part in the civil war. [These] actions and decisions disputed the Greek character of [the province of ] Macedonia, aiming at its dismemberment, secession and annexation by a neighboring state, then enemy of Greece." However, there was no evidence in the indictment that the language in the calendars amounted to an incitement to, or advocation of, violence. Also, according to the charges, the calendars "featured photographs of pure Greek towns and areas, under or next to which were captions written in a foreign idiom." Pasois had been found in possession of the calendars when crossing the Macedonian/Greek border at the checkpoint at Niki, Florina, on 17 February 1996.
In April, the European Commission of Human Rights in its report to the European Court of Human Rights stated that the refusal to register an association called the "Home of Macedonian Culture" had not been examined in a fair manner by Greek courts; that the subsequent refusal amounted to an unjustified interference with the applicants’ rights to freedom of conscience, expression and association; and that the applicants had been discriminated against in the enjoyment of the above-mentioned rights because of their ethnic origin, their association with a national minority and their beliefs and national conscience. The Commission concluded, unanimously, that there had been a violation of article 11 of the European Convention. The European Court hearing and verdict are expected in 1998.
On the positive side, cooperation between various NGOs both in Greece and Macedonia emerged during 1997 and two meetings were held to discuss the problems of the Macedonian minority in Greece. The organizations, among other things, urged the abolition of the discriminatory provision in the 1982 law which excluded some individuals on ethnic grounds from returning to Greece; called for measures to solve property related issues; and denounced the discriminatory application of the Citizenship Code in order to deprive non-ethnic Greek citizens and their children of citizenship.
Participants at these meetings also met with harassment by Greek authorities.
In May, a round-table discussion took place near Florina, organized by the "Rainbow" party and attended by over 100 Greeks and Macedonians from Greek Macedonia. The meeting was the first of its kind to take place in this minority area. However, the participants were not allowed to hire publicly-owned meeting rooms in Florina; local hotels refused to give rooms to the guests; and Alexander Popovski, an invited representative of an association of Aegean Macedonians living in Bitola (Macedonia) was refused entry to the country. During the meeting itself, financial police controlled the taverna where it was held and fined the establishment for not having issued receipts for the drinks - a technically valid charge, but the first such control to have been carried out at that establishment.
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