Ethnic Macedonians in Greece a human tragedy within the boundaries of the European Union
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Should a person claim that there are people in Europe who do not enjoy the most basic human rights, for example do not have the right to visit the graves of their parents, this would sound bizarre, and yet it would be true. This happens to be the case in Greece. The claims put forward by Greece to the effect that it is “the civilization that enlightened humanity” and “the cradle of democracy” are challenged by the facts. Greece has not been enlightening but darkening its minorities for years and the absence of basic tenets of democracy in Greece is conspicuous especially when the ethnic minorities are in question.
It is a matter of fact that the situation of the minorities in Greece is the worst within the European Union. The minorities living in Greece could be regarded as modern “Pariahs” despite their centuries-old history and culture and it is all the more shocking that this happens in a member country of the European Union.
Surely, Greece asserts its compliance with her international commitments. However, the reality is different. In open breach of all international documents protecting the rights and liberties of the Minorities, the ethnic Macedonians, Turks, Vlahs, Roma and the Albanians living in Greece are subject to discriminative policies of the Greek Government. The focus of this article is the predicament of the ethnic Macedonians.
Plight of the Macedonian Minority in Greece
Ethnic Macedonians in Greece are an integral part of the Macedonian nation. Following the partition of Macedonia in 1913, the Aegean Macedonia was annexed by Greece and since then its indigenous people, the ethnic Macedonians, became the target and often the victim of the oppressive policies of Greek state.
Today, after nearly ninety years of assimilation efforts by the Greek governments it seems that measures have proved to be unsuccessful in Hellenizing the region. Currently, the ethnic Macedonians, estimated around 1,000,000 by some sources, still constitute the majority of population in that part of the Greece, the Aegean Macedonia.
Despite the objective, historical facts that the Macedonians are of another ethnic stock and have racial, cultural and linguistic differences with the Greeks, the Greek government argues that Greeks and Macedonians are of the same origin. Official Greek view deliberately ignores that in ancient history the Greek city states waged bloody wars against the Macedonian Kingdom and that the Greek orator Demonsten declared the Macedonians “the greatest menace against Greek existence and culture”.
In the late 19th century, as a response to Greek efforts to Hellenize the Macedonians, the Ottoman Empire permitted the Macedonians living in her territories to establish their own Orthodox Church in 1870. The existence of an autonomous Macedonian Church is another proof that underlines religious and cultural dissimilarities between Greeks and Macedonians.
The Ottoman Turkish Administration was tolerant toward its minorities and ethnic Macedonians were no exception. In stark contrast with the benevolent Ottoman attitude always shown towards them starting with the transfer of the Aegean Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire to the hegemony of Greece, the ethnic Macedonians lost all their freedoms in social and cultural life. Since then, they have been subjected to a ruthless campaign of harassment and forced assimilation, even in our age of respect for human rights and understanding.
The first phase of the Greek persecution of its Macedonian minority took place between the World Wars I and II during which Greece pursued a policy of intimidation. In this period, names were forcefully changed from Macedonian to Greek, religious services were ordered to be performed in Greek and religious icons were altered. In 1927, the Greek government published a decree in the Official Gazette in July 15, ordering the erasure of all Slavic inscriptions from the churches. Church services in Slavic language were prohibited, and Macedonians were forbidden to use the Macedonian language. The Greek government also stimulated a mass influx of ethnic Greeks to Aegean Macedonia with a view to settling there the inhabitants with “healthy national consciousness”.
The names of the regions where they were settled and the numbers of the Ethnic Greeks who were brought to the Aegean Macedonia between 1913-1928 are as follows :
The provinces that these newcomers were settled in the Aegean Macedonia are below:
In the same period ethnic cleansing of the Aegean Macedonia continued unabated. One of the actions undertaken by the Greek government in its endeavor to Hellenize the Aegean Macedonia was the expulsion of 86,582 Macedonians to Bulgaria by abusing the Article 56 of the Neully Peace Treaty, signed at the end of First World War between Bulgaria and Allied Powers.
During the Metaxas dictatorship, around 5,000 Macedonians from the border area with Yugoslavia were taken into concentration camps and they were forced to attend compulsory night schools to learn Greek. Many of those who continued to speak Macedonian and refrained from attending compulsory language classes were heavily punished. Macedonian villagers were compelled to swear in front of the Greek officials that they would renounce their own Slavic dialect and speak only Greek.
Official Yugoslav sources reveal that, between 1936-1941 over 5,000 Macedonians from the border regions with Yugoslavia were interned. The repression was further stepped up after the beginning of the Greco-Italian War in 1940, despite the fact that considerable numbers of Macedonians were fighting loyally in the Greek armed forces. Also, some 1600 Macedonians were interned on the islands of Thasos and Kefallinia.
Second phase of the Greek persecution of its Macedonian minority took place during the Greek Civil War between 1946-1949. Around 230,000 ethnic Macedonians 20,000 of which were children between the ages of two and fourteen were expelled and stripped of their citizenship. Up to now, those exiled have not been given back their Greek citizenship, unless they denied their own ethnic origin and declared themselves “Greek”. Today, there are 100,000 refugees in the Republic of Macedonia who are not permitted to return to Greece even for a brief visit.
The suffering of the ethnic Macedonians continued after the Greek civil war. Seeing the minority as a threat to Greece’s security, the Greek government tried to remove these “undesirable aliens” from sensitive border areas with Yugoslavia. In 1954,Papagos government removed all Macedonians in the government service in the Aegean Macedonia from their posts. In the “sensitive” border regions with Yugoslavia, peasants were forbidden to leave their villages and in 1959 in the villages around Lerin, Kostur and Kajlari the inhabitants were again forced to declare publicly that they would not speak Macedonian. There is evidence showing that those opposing were tortured. These brutal acts of Greek government made many Macedonians leave their ancestral lands and emigrate to Australia, Canada and the United States.
The situation of the minority further deteriorated in the era of the military Junta of 1967-1974, during which many were interned and imprisoned. Though the advent of democracy brought slight improvements, the condition of the minority is still miserable today. The declaration of the independence of Republic of Macedonia in 1990 led to increased Greek mistrust against the ethnic Macedonians living in Greece.
Macedonian Minority faced with discriminatory treatment
Presently, the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority as well as its language and culture are totally denied by the Greek government. It does not recognize the freedom of expression and the freedom of association of ethnic Macedonians. It prevents Macedonian refugees abroad from returning to their homes in Greece. Teaching of the Macedonian language and establishment of Macedonian cultural associations are prohibited by law. The old Macedonian Churches are demolished or left to decay . Many members of the minority complain that there is a widespread discrimination against Macedonians both in public and private sector employment.
Denial of Ethnic Identity
In principle, the official stance of Greek government towards all its ethnic Minorities is total “denial”. Therefore, the ethnic identity of Macedonians, Turks, Vlahs and Albanians is rejected. Greek authorities seem to be suffering from political amnesia since the existence of the Macedonian minority and the Turkish minority were recognized by the Greek state in the past. Today, Greek government argues that the Greek nation is homogenous and there are no Macedonians in Greece but only some “Slavophone Greeks”. Teaching of Macedonian language in schools is forbidden.
In 1913, a census held in the Aegean Macedonia under the supervision of the Kornetsi Commission revealed the following numbers :
The official numbers declared after the census held in Greece in 1926 is shown in the table below in which the existence of Macedonians and Turks is totally denied.
Since 1913, the names and surnames of the minority people living in the Aegean Macedonia as well as the names of geographical locations have been changed from Macedonian to Greek. Today, those who dare to identify themselves as Macedonian are subject to prosecution and regarded as “the agents of Skopje”. When a Macedonian baby is born, he or she cannot be given a Macedonian name, for the priests approving the birth certificates accept only Greek names.
In June 1993, two Macedonian minority activists, Christos Sideropoulos and Tasos Boulis, were sentenced to five months in prison and a fine of 100,000 drachmas for stating in an interview that they feel “Macedonian”
Restrictions on the Cultural Rights
The existence of a separate Macedonian culture is vehemently denied by the Greek government. Any cultural activity is frowned upon. For instance, when Macedonian dances and songs are to be performed electricity cuts occur or Greek security forces show up. The Greek priests refuse to marry the Macedonian couples unless assurances provided beforehand that no Macedonian dances would take place in wedding celebrations. It is inconceivable but nevertheless true to see a country that is afraid of dances or songs in the threshold of 21st century. The name of this country is Greece, a member state of the European Union.
The Macedonian Churches in Greece are closed and left to decay under the order of Greek Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church of Greece maintains its privileged position over the religious life of the Macedonian minority and claims the illegitimacy of the real Macedonian Church in Ohrid. This is a clear violation of the Sevres Treaty signed by Greece in 1920 that granted all Christians in Greece the right to establish their own autonomous churches.
Nikodimos Tsarkines, a Macedonian monk who opposed these measures of the Greek Church and declared his Macedonian identity was dismissed from his ecclesiastical post under the pretext of engaging in homosexual acts. Furthermore, he was tried and imprisoned many times and is continually harassed by the government agencies.
Tragedy of the exiled members of the Minority
Greece’s persecution of ethnic Macedonians extends beyond the Greek borders. Currently, there are about 100,000 Macedonians in the Macedonian Republic who came from Greece or whose families came from Greece. It is a real tragedy that these people cannot return to Greece, even for a short stay. They cannot attend funerals and weddings of their kinsmen in Greece and cannot visit the graves of their parents.
In July 1998, a group of exiled members of Macedonian minority attempted to enter into Greece to attend the fiftieth anniversary of their exodus. Despite the written commitment given by Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreu to International Helsinki Federation that they would be allowed for entry, most of them were denied the opportunity because their passports mentioned their birth places with their original Macedonian names. One of these rejected was a German citizen, Anastas Parpouski who experienced a clear violation of the principle of the freedom of movement of EU citizens in EU countries, a right guaranteed by EU agreements
Freedom of Press
The minority’s freedom of press is restricted as well by different methods developed by the Greek government. For instance, newspapers published by the Macedonians and distributed through mail cannot benefit from the lower tariffs enjoyed by other Greek newspapers. Recently, Greek government spokesman Dimitris Repas did not hesitate to explain the reason behind the oppression against the Minority’s press by stating that “we will not allow those to spread propaganda against Greece”.
In recent years, the human rights abuses of Greece against its Macedonian minority as expounded above were extensively documented by the Human Rights Organizations. Some reports issued by these Human Rights Organizations can be listed as follows for the interested reader.
– MINORITIES IN THE BALKANS, THE MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP, REPORT NO : 82, 1989
– THE SLAV MACEDONIANS IN GREECE, DANISH HELSINKI COMMITTEE, NOVEMBER 22, 1993
– GREECE-FREE SPEECH ON TRIAL: GOVERNMENT STIFLES DISSENT ON MACEDONIA, VOL. 5; ISSUE 9, HELSINKI WATCH THE FUND FOR FREE EXPRESSION, A DIVISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, JULY 1993
– DENYING ETHNIC IDENTITY, THE MACEDONIANS OF GREECE, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, HELSINKI, 1994
– GREECE COUNTRY REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 1994, US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 1994
– GREECE HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1995, US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, MARCH 1996
– HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AGAINST ETHNIC MACEDONIANS, REPORT 1996, MACEDONIAN HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT OF CANADA, DECEMBER 1996
– GREECE COUNTRY REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 1997, US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 1997
– HRISTOS SIDEROPOULOS AND 5 OTHERS AGAINST GREECE, EUROPEAN COMMISSION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, ADOPTED ON APRIL 1997
– PROTECTION OF ETHNIC MINORITIES, INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, SUBMITTED TO UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, FIFTY-FOURTH SESSION, 16 MARCH-24 APRIL 1998
– REPORT ON GREECE TO THE 1998 OSCE IMPLEMENTATION MEETING, GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR, 27 OCTOBER 1998
– GREECE AGAINST ITS MACEDONIAN MINORITY, THE RAINBOW TRIAL, GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR, 1998
The violations of the basic human rights of the Macedonian minority members in Greece still continues. There does not seem to be much room for hope that the Greek government would act in accordance with her obligations and responsibilities under the international agreements and law. Therefore, closer attention and sensitivity of the international community are called for, so that Greece recognizes her citizens of Macedonian origin as a minority and respect their basic human rights. It is noted with regret that a member country of the European Union needs to be reminded of her international obligations. In the absence of goodwill and consciousness of responsibility on the part of the government of Greece, support and assistance of the international community become all the more indispensable for helping to ensure respect for the rights of the members of Greece’s minorities, including those that belong to the Macedonian minority.
Reports of the human rights organizations on the persecution of ethnic Macedonians in Greece
– Minorities in the balkans, the minority rights group, report no : 82, 1989
– The slav Macedonians in Greece, Danish Helsinki Committee, November 22, 1993
– Greece-free speech on trial: government stifles dissent on Macedonia, vol. 5; issue 9, Helsinki Watch the fund for free expression, a division of Human Rights Watch, July 1993
– Denying ethnic identity, the Macedonians of Greece, Human Rights Watch, Helsinki, 1994
– Greece Country Report on human rights practices for 1994, US Department of State, 1994
– Greece human rights practices, 1995, US Department of State, March 1996
– Human rights violations against ethnic Macedonians, Report 1996, Macedonian human rights movement of Canada, December 1996
– Greece country report on human rights practices for 1997, US Department of State, 1997
– Hristos sideropoulos and 5 others against Greece, European Commission of human rights, adopted on April 1997
– Protection of ethnic minorities, International Helsinki Federatıon for human rights, submitted to United Nations Commission on human rights, fifty-fourth session, 16 March-24 April 1998
– Report on Greece to the 1998 OSCE implementation meeting, Greek Helsinki Monitor, 27 october 1998
– Greece against its Macedonian minority, the rainbow trial, Greek Helsinki Monitor, 1998
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