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Minorities and Media in Greece


(Prepared for the Article XIX/Minority Rights Group International

project on Media Law and Minorities within the Council of  Europe area)

May 2000

Table of Contents

1. Recognition/Definition/Citizenship

2. Language/Culture

3. Access to the Mainstream Media

4. Minorities’ Own Media

5. Recruitment/Discrimination/Accreditation

6. Legal Restrictions on the Content of Publications

7. Tolerance/Portrayal

8. Independence/Manipulation of the Media

9. Informal Censorship



Section 1:       Recognition/Definition/Citizenship


Greece is a unitary state. “The official ideology of the Greek State has been built almost exclusively around the concept of a single nation, with a common creed and language. This incontrovertible fact is reflected in, amongst other things, all the constitutions by which the country has been governed in its 160-year history, including the one currently in force” (Stavros, 1996:117). Thus, the Greek state has been acknowledging the existence of only one, religious in character, minority, that of the Muslims of Thrace whose rights have been guaranteed by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. No other minority is acknowledged. The Greek state argues that it fully respects the rights of the Muslim minority, implicitly accepting though past discrimination: “The basic guiding principles of the policy followed by Greek Governments in recent years, vis-a-vis the handling of minority issues have been those of moderation and consensus. This is especially true since 1991, when the Government solemnly reaffirmed the principles of “isonomia” i.e. equality before the Law and “isopoliteia”, equality of civil rights, in the relation between Christians and Moslems. These views are also shared by Non-Governmental Organizations which closely follow developments in the minorities field. The whole issue is being handled as belonging to domestic affairs” (http://www.mfa.gr/foreign/musminen.htm). It need be noted, however, that there is no genuine NGO that shares that view of the government.


Reality is different though. “Minorities existing today in Greece (…) [fall into] two main categories: first, those bearing one major distinctive feature (religion, language, cultural ties) and second, those which are more complex in character, namely presenting more than one major difference with regard to the rest of the population (the majority). In the first category we may clearly include Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses (all religious minorities) and the Arvanites [and the Vlachs] (linguistic minorit[ies]). In the second category we may include all those who are traditionally linked with ethnic origins other than the predominant Hellenic origin: Muslim Turcophones, Pomaks, Gypsies, Slavophones and Jews.” The quote comes from a study by Professor Christos Rozakis, currently vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights and at the time of its publication Deputy Foreign Minister (Rozakis, 1996:101 –we have added the Vlachs whom the author omitted in that paragraph but clearly identified elsewhere in the study, in p. 99). “The category of minorities existing in Greece today are easily discernible, mainly though their collective activities, their distinctive presence in some parts of the country, or even the presentation of their claims before public and other competent for a. What is not easily discernible is the exact number of members belonging to each one of them. This phenomenon is due to the fact that, unlike the 1951 census, more recent censuses have not addressed issue of national/ethnic origin, language and religion. (…) It may be assumed that this attitude of not including questions in recent censuses about even the linguistic and religious preferences of the population is consistent with a more general policy to discourage discussion on issues concerning ethnic, linguistic, or religious differences in Greek society” (Rozakis, 1996:98).


The issue of minorities has remained very sensitive in Greece, as –if not more than- elsewhere in the Balkans. Acknowledging the presence of Turks, let alone Macedonians, in the country is widely perceived as a near-treason, and may lead to castigation, persecution or even prosecution of those who make such arguments. It is characteristic that even most of the -mere handful of- scholars like who mention the presence of such minorities feel compelled to use the terms “Turcophones” or “Slavophones” rather than Turks or Macedonians (Rozakis, op.cit. and Kourtovik, 1997 –the latter is a human rights activist and has even been the lawyer of many minority activists). Or, they call Greece’s neighbor “state of Skopje” (London School of Economics Professor Nikos Mouzelis in “The pluses and minuses of Greek democracy” –”To Vima” 15/8/1999). Just as almost all media, politicians and intellectuals have constantly been referring to the “Albanophones” of Kosovo, even if the Belgrade regime, including Milosevic himself, calls them “Albanians.” In fact, when foreigners use any one of those three “inappropriate terms” they are frequently “corrected” or “edited” –with the use of quotation marks- in the television translation, the newspaper story, or even the scholarly publication. This happens almost always with the term Macedonia and Macedonians, near always with the Turkish minority and frequently with the Kosovo or Macedonia’s Albanians.


This sensitivity became evident in late July 1999, when, suddenly and for the first time in its modern history, there was a debate on the possible modernization of the country’s minority and citizenship policies. Under the impetus of Foreign Minister George Papandreou, a renowned supporter of multiculturalism, public opinion was informed that Greece was finally moving towards the application of the internationally-accepted norms for national minorities. In repeated interviews (Papandreou, 1999a,b&c), Papandreou said that the country had nothing to fear from the right to self-identification of its minority citizens: “If a Greek citizen feels that he belongs to some ethnic group, international treaties allow this. And Greece is a country that respects international agreements. (…) No one challenges the fact that there are [in Greece] many Muslims of Turkish origin. Of course, the [Lausanne] treaties refer to Muslims. If the borders are not challenged, it concerns me little if someone calls himself a Turk, a Bulgarian or a Pomak. (…) Whoever feels he has such a [Macedonian] origin, Greece has nothing to fear from it and I want to stress this is not just my thought. It is a well-established practice that allows the integration of minorities throughout Europe, as well as in other countries like Canada, Australia, and the USA. Such an attitude defuses whatever problems might have existed, allows the real blossoming of democratic institutions, as well as gives these people the feeling that they too are citizens of this country.” At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior leaked to the media a plan to radically change the citizenship policy, so as to allow immigrants, after some years or residence, to qualify for it, without excluding, as was the case until now, those from neighboring countries or of a Muslim faith. Even the thorny issue of allowing the return of ethnic Macedonian political refugees, who fled as a result of the civil war in the late 1940s and have been banned from Greece since then, was to be finally settled. Coincidentally, a few days before the Papandreou statements, a public appeal for the recognition of a Macedonian and a Turkish minority, the unconditional ratification by Parliament of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the respect of these minorities’ rights was made by the three Turkish minority deputies in the Greek Parliament, three Macedonian, seven Turkish and three human rights NGOs (including GHM and MRG-G which initiated the appeal).


The reaction to these three cases showed how, in Greece but probably everywhere else in the Balkans, public opinion but also opinion leaders consider such policies inapplicable or undesirable. First, there was a near unanimous verbally violent reaction to the appeal, enriched with xenophobic and other hate speech and even some defamatory personal attacks against the signatories. Papandreou aptly called these reactions “harsh, an indication of fear and panic.” His statements, as well as the coverage of the attempts to change the citizenship policy, were also met with similar harsh reactions. The reputed as authoritative morning dailies, in their editorials, called the Minister’s statements “a lapse” (pro-opposition “Kathimerini” 30/7) and an attitude of “submissiveness” (pro-government “To Vima” 30/7). The latter elaborated further: “There could not be even one Greek citizen, however conciliatory, ready to even discuss the presence or racial [sic] minorities. The Greek people is one and indivisible. With various religious beliefs that do not however affect the unity of the total population. The government should immediately rectify a lapse, even involuntary, that gestates obvious and less obvious dangers.” While a column by Stavros Lygeros on “The sorcerer’s apprentices” in “Kathimerini” added that “George Papandreou is expressing a whole attitude that seems to prevail in the Simitis government circles. The view that minorities should be recognized, as well as the view that citizenship should be granted to the economic migrants, stems from the same attitude. Basically it is a naive, but nationally dangerous attempt to apply half-baked ideology. With parochial fanaticism they are trying to apply the model of the multicultural society in a national state. Yet Greece is not a country that was created by immigrants, like the United States and Australia, nor is it a former empire, like Britain, which incorporated some of its former subjects. After all, these countries don’t recognize minorities. Greece is the country of an historic nation, which lives in a region full of ethnic prejudice and disputes and which has to face direct threats. That’s why it can’t afford to have sorcerer’s apprentices at the helm.” Many leading politicians called for Papandreou’s resignation while there were even voices which called him a “minister of Ecevit [Turkish PM] and Clinton” [President of the US which is supposed to mastermind the stirring up of minority problems in the Balkans so as to subsequently then exploit them as it did in Kosovo]. Closing the debate, Papandreou gave an accurate albeit optimistic description of the situation: “Greece has gained a new self-confidence and has nothing to fear. The intensity of the opinions expressed is unrelated to the country’s official policy; it rather reflects the perception of society and political parties on minority issues. I am thus glad that a fertile debate on this issue has started.” As NGOs have abundantly documented, this old-fashioned and intolerant perception dominates the daily practice which then runs counter to the, new, official policy. In fact, almost a year later, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has yet to be ratified, while in the meantime Papandreou himself, in an answer to a parliamentary question, partly retreated, by stating that his views on self-identification of minorities were merely his “personal” views (Papandreou, 1999d).



Section 2:       Language/Culture


“With one dubious exception, Greek laws appear to encourage the assimilation of persons of non-Greek ethnic background. (…) Although direct religious discrimination is not easily tolerated by the majority of the Greek courts, most notably the Council of State, there exists a number of laws which fail to take into account religious diversity. (…) The only exception to the policy of linguistic uniformity has again been dictated by foreign policy considerations. (…) It emerges clearly (…) that the enjoyment of several constitutional rights can vary depending on ethnic origin, religion and language “ (Stavros, 1996: 120-3). “The preceding analysis has indicated the rudimentary character of the protection of minorities in Greece, with the exception, of course of the Muslim Turcophones. (…) The degree of homogeneity of its society, the composition of the latter and its rather limited exposure to alien elements (…) have contributed tot he creation of a low degree of tolerance and of a high degree of fear of external threats” (Rozakis, 1996:109).


Consequently, there is no policy to promote diversity and minority cultures; nor any substantial subsidies granted to minority associations. On the contrary, national Greek cultural associations in areas inhabited by non-ethnic Greeks tend to be lavishly subsidized. And when, for the first time in 30 years, an amateur theater company of exclusively Turkish minority actors, wanted to perform a Turkish language play, the theater of the state minority school in Komotini was refused to them, and they had to perform in a private association’s premises.


Moreover, until the 1980s, the public use of Macedonian was discouraged if not persecuted. Until the mid-1990s, the singing of Macedonian songs was suppressed by police, and even in the late 1990s, pressure is occasionally exerted against it. Even today, “at school pupils are still censored by teachers as their accent betrays them. This they cannot hide. This is the reason why at school pressure is exerted so that the language not be spoken at home” (National Center for Social Research, 1998:364). The public use of the Macedonian language has been prosecuted in at least one occasion in recent years, that od the Macedonian minority party “Rainbow.” It opened an office on 6/9/1995 in Florina, with a sign mentioning “Rainbow - Florina Committee” in both Greek and Macedonian. On the evening and night of 13 (and early hours of 14)/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. Greek courts never indicted the perpetrators: the charges brought against them were dropped by the courts which justified the perpetrators’ hostile actions. However, “Rainbow” leaders did face trial for “causing and inciting mutual hatred among the citizens” through that public use of their mother tongue. 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. Following international outcry, the defendants were eventually acquitted in September 1998.


The case of the Macedonian cultural association “Home of Macedonian Civilization” is also characteristic. It first filed for registration in April 1990. The request was rejected by the Multi-Member First Instance Court of Florina (73/296/26/1990); the Court of Appeals of Salonica (1558/1990); and the Supreme Court (795/1994). The European Court of Human Rights (case of Sideropoulos et al.), on 10/7/1998, convicted Greece for the violation of freedom of association (Article 11 of the relevant European Convention). The most important argument of the Court decision was its position towards the Greek courts’ and state’s 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’s alleged “non-existence” was “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 Salonica written by German historians and archaeologists during the last world war states that….” Such minority was considered by the courts “ethnologically non-existent and historically repulsive.” In countering such arguments, the European Court mentioned 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 stated that the aims of the Home were “clear and legitimate” and added: “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 – which Greece has signed – allow them to form associations to protect their cultural and spiritual heritage.” The “Home of Macedonian Civilization”’s registration was subsequently pending before the courts by mid-1999.


The Macedonian names of nearly all Macedonian families were forcibly changed in the 1920’s into Greek ones. Nowadays, it is in theory possible to revert to the old names, but as the example of Stoidis showed, it is practically not only difficult but also risky, hence hardly anyone is using it. On 16/8/1996, the prefect of Pella rejected the request of Nicholas Stoidis to change his last name back into Stojanov -his ‘indigenous Bulgaromacedonian’ -as N. Stoidis calls him- grandfather’s name that was forcefully “Hellenized” in 1913. The rejection was based on three citizens’ objections which though were never given to N. Stoidis. In the meantime, Stoidis’ request, though classified ‘top secret’ by the administration- was leaked to the media with the obvious purpose that Stoidis be harassed by those objecting to his request, which did in fact happen in both local and national media.


Turkish is formally admitted in court, as it is guaranteed by the Treaty of Lausanne. However, it is hardly ever used and when GHM & MRG-G asked the Ministry of Justice for list of accredited interpreters in Thrace in 1997, they received a decision of appointment only for the following year 1998, which indicated that there was none before. No other use of minority languages in official communications or administrative proceedings is available.


As for the Turks’ names, Greek authorities in practice impose their own transliteration into Greek and then a transliteration back into any Latin scripture (in passports) that makes them very different from the way the Turkish language is written a the Latin alphabet. In theory, Turks have the option to ask for changes but they are not aware of that possibility and, when informed, are persuaded, not unjustifiably, that this will put them in trouble with the authorities.


No inscriptions in minority languages are found in either Thrace or Western Macedonia (where though inscriptions in Russian to attract potential tourists can be found). Although again in theory there is no law against them, the example of the violent reaction against such an inscription of the “Rainbow” party and the ensuing prosecution of its leaders indicates that the authorities are still discouraging the use of minority language signs or inscriptions.


Consequently there is no use of traditional local names and/or names in minority languages. On the contrary its occasional use draws the strong criticism by most media and politicians.


The E.U. does not provide the member-states with an explicit obligation to establish (ethnic) minority media: The European Council Directive for “the co-ordination of several legislative, regulative and administrative provisions of the member-states regarding their exercise of television activities” [“Official Gazette of the European Communities”, n. L 298/23, Directive 89/552/ European Community, October 3, 1989], in one of its articles (Article 19) simply recognizes the need for the securing of pluralism in the media. The same stands for the common directive of the European Parliament and Council with which, the former directive was amended. [Directive 97/36, Luxembourg, June 30, 1998]. However, within the frame of these directives, there are provisions for transnational, multicultural, multilingual programs and for the necessary co-ordination of the member-states for common productions. These provisions are, by far, “ethno-nationally centered”. For example, article 31 of the second directive, recognizes the need for protection of the least spoken languages within the Union and the encouragement of independent producers to create programs in these languages. Paradoxically enough, although article 3, paragraph 19, of Law 2328/95, states that “public broadcasting as well as privately owned radio and television stations shall emit a series of programs (at least 15, of minimum 30 minutes each and for every six months) aiming at the promotion of the correct use of the Greek language or for its instruction to foreigners or illiterate people,” there are no similar provisions for other languages besides Greek. The only relevant special provisions concern deaf people.       



Section 3:       Access to the Mainstream Media


The 1995 Greek Law (Law n. 2328), on private television and local radio stations, similarly to the previous ones, has absolutely no provision for minority media or access of minorities to the media. Apart from a vague reference to the principles of both common interest and pluralism, there is no legal framework institutionalizing minority media into the Greek media spectrum: “The [TV] stations, which will be given licenses, will also have the obligation to take care of the quality of the program, the objective information, the securing of pluralism as well as the promotion of culture through the emission of programs which will be dedicated to art”. (...) “Licensing [for local radio stations] is granted on the basis of the principle of common public interest and constitutes public function. The stations, which will be given licenses, will have to take care of the quality of the program, the objective information, the securing of pluralism as well as the promotion of culture through the emission of programs which will be dedicated to art” [Law n. 2328, on the Legal Status of Private Television and Local Radio, the Regulation of the Radiotelevision Market and Other Provisions, in “The Official Gazette of the Hellenic Republic”, first issue, number 156, August 3, 1995: 1, 16].


As a result, minorities have almost no access to the mainstream media, which are on the contrary hostile to them (see section 7 below). In such a framework, the rare exceptions should be noted. The Greek state radio launched, in February 2000, half-hours programs in 12 non-Greek languages (mostly immigrants’ languages and not including Macedonian or Romanes), usually produced by persons belonging to the respective linguistic groups. Moreover, it has been running Turkish language programs for three years in its regional outlet in Thrace, using again a minority journalist. While, in Komotini, the daily “Paratiritis” introduced in late 1999 Turkish and Russian language weekly supplements (Russian is commonly spoken by refugees of Greek origin –“Pontics”- from former Soviet countries), later turned into daily supplements. The local radio with the same name also introduced news bulletins in the same languages. Needless to say that the foreign language news content in these programs and pages does not reflect the real debate within the respective community, as it includes only what can be said to be non-controversial viz the prevailing policies towards the respective communities. 



Section 4:       Minorities’ Own Media


The superficial impression one gets after reading the law (see section 3) is that the licensing is open to anyone who fulfills the necessary standards: technological infrastructure, financial viability, experience and special knowledge of the media flow managers, quality of the program, respect of the journalistic code of ethics [Ibid., 7 - 9, 19 - 20]. However, taking under consideration the required standards, one can realize how difficult might be for a minority, with limited resources (including human resources) to fulfill them. The fact that Greek media law has no provision for partial state subsidization of independent minority media and use of the public broadcasting infrastructure for the production of independent minority programs, makes it even more, practically difficult for minority groups to have their own share into the Greek media spectrum.               


Formally, the Greek state would argue that: : Paragraph 1: Paragraph 1: Paragraph 1persons belonging to national minorities have free access to the media; and that the right to impart and receive information is based on generally binding laws. It would then mention a score of publications in Turkish, published in Thrace. It may even add that the regional Thrace outlet of the national state radio has Turkish-language news bulletins and a couple of radio programs in Turkish.


Reality is as usual very different. Turkish-language media do exist but in smaller numbers. Only two or three newspapers are published at most once a week and, even those, with occasional longer breaks. State radio programs in Turkish are of cultural content and the newscasts are exact translations of the Greek newscasts. So minority community news cannot be broadcasted neither from the private Turkish language radio stations, that are not allowed to have newscasts.


Besides the Turkish language papers, there is a Catholic fortnightly, a publication (in Greek and Macedonian) of the Macedonian minority published occasionally, and hafl a dozen newspapers catering some immigrant communities in their own languages.


Moreover, there are 6 Turkish language stations in Thrace and two Evangelical radio stations in Larisa and in Athens. Like all private radio stations, they are operating without license as the license system installed in 1989 has never been implemented. Nevertheless, the –hence formally illegal- minority radio stations are occasionally selected by police and the courts for legal actions against them, quite unlike the unhindered functioning of the other, majority –and equally illegal-, radio stations.


Recurrent convictions for articles in minority newspapers make their publishers very cautious as to their content. References to possible human rights violations and discrimination against a minority can lead to prosecution.


In 1974, Selahedin Galip was convicted for dissemination of false information (Article 191) and subsequently stripped of his citizenship (on the basis or Article 19 and then Article 20 of the Code of Citizenship).


Salih Halil, publisher of the minority newspaper “Ileri” has been repeatedly prosecuted between 1975-9. First, for having used the Turkish name of Komotini (Gumulcine) –acquitted. Then, for having published in Turkish a 1914 editorial of well-known writer Spyros Melas critical of Greek gendarmerie –convicted to seven months by both first and appeals courts. Or for having alleged injustices again minority citizens –convicted to seven months (of which he served 72 days) by first, appeals and supreme courts. Likewise, for having criticized land expropriations to create a university –convicted to three months at first instance and served 35 days until acquitted by the appeals court. Finally, for having issued a tract opposing the participation of minority shopkeepers to a strike –convicted along with communal leader Ibram Onsunoglu to seven months at first instance and acquitted by the appeals court.


Abdulhalim Dede, one-time correspondent of Istanbul-based “Hurryet,” occasional publisher of the minority newspaper “Trakyanin Sesi” and owner of “Radio Isik,” has also been repeatedly prosecuted between 1985-1998. First, for dissemination of false information in Hurryet –convicted to 13 months at first instance, crime prescribed before reaching the appeals court. For satirical sketches –convicted to ten months at first instance, acquitted by the appeals court. For dissemination of false information and defamation of an ultra-nationalist activist from Thrace, through an article denouncing the “shadow state” in Thrace –acquitted for the first charge and convicted to a six-month suspended sentence for the second. For trying to install a radio antenna for “Radio Isik” in his back yard –convicted to eight months in prison. While two cases are pending for illegally operating radio stations. Over three thousand radio stations operate in Greece without licenses, several of which have also installed antennae without permission and without been prosecuted.


The late former minority parliamentarian Sadik Ahmet had been prosecuted not only for calling the minority Turkish but also for expressing his opinion on the minority’s human rights problems in his newspaper or his political publications.


Macedonians’ freedom of expression in their own language and/or about possible human rights issues has been prosecuted too. Two Macedonian activists, Christos Sideropoulos and Tasos Boulis, were convicted in Athens, on 1/4/1993, of “disseminating false information and atempting to incite citizens to commit acts of violence upon each other” (Article 191 of the Penal Code) for having declared in an interview to the weekly magazine “Ena” (issue of March 1992) that they feel Macedonian and that there is a Macedonian minority in Greece. They were sentenced to five months in prison and 100,000 drs. (then about $440) fine and were set free on appeal. The appeal court in Athens, on 28/1/1994, dropped the charges because an amnesty clause in law 2172/16-12-1993 prescribed all crimes by the press still pending at the penal or civil courts.


Christos Sideropoulos participated in the CSCE meeting in Copenhagen in 1990 and reported there about human rights violations against ethnic Macedonians in Greece, referring to himself as “Macedonian”. In 1994, he was charged with violating article 191.1 of the Greek Criminal Code for “disseminating false information, which can cause disruption of the international relations of Greece. Greek Helsinki Monitor observed the trial of Christos Sideropoulos and concluded that there were significant contradictions with the indictment and the newspaper article on which it was said to be based. Greek Helsinki Monitor also noted that the prosecution was actually based on a document classified as secret by the Greek Foreign Ministry and which was not made available to the defendant. This fact, according to Greek Helsinki Monitor, watered down the attempts of the Greek government to distance itself from the prosecution by claiming that it was an act of the independent judiciary, the opinions of which were not necessarily identical with those of the government. Moreover, the prosecution against Sideropoulos should have been legally inadmissible because Article 6 of the Greek Penal Code states that a Greek citizen can be prosecuted for a criminal act committed in a foreign country only if this act is punishable under the laws of that country, or there is “an application from the government of the country wherein the misdemeanor was committed”. In addition, Sideropoulos’ right to legal defense was curtailed due to the denial of lawyers in Florina to take up his defense. Eventually, in 1995, the charges were dropped as inadmissible on the basis of Article 6.


On 19/11/1998, Traianos Pasois was tried in Florina for “dissemination of false information” (article 191 of the Penal Code) in the Greek-Macedonian border in Niki, Florina on 17/2/1996. At that time he was a leading member of “Rainbow.” According to the indictment, he was carrying “two wall calendars which he intended to circulate” and which “featured photographs of pure Greek towns and areas, under or next to which were captions written in a foreign idiom.” Indeed, the names of the localities were written in Macedonian. The indictment further stated that the captions “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”. The party implied here was the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which was illegal during the civil war but is legal today. There was no evidence in the indictment to suggest that the calendars contained any advocacy of violence. Pasois was eventually acquitted.


In mid-1990s, there were credible reports that the postal distribution of Macedonian minority publications “Zora” and “Moglena” was obstructed by postal authorities.



Section 5:       Recruitment/Discrimination/Accreditation


With the exception of those producing the state radio and local Thrace newspaper and radio programs, there are no ethnonational minority members employed in majority media. On the contrary, one may found members of religious minorities employed, but not to deal with minority issues. There are no laws or regulations either facilitating or hindering the recruitment of minority members in the media.   



Section 6:       Legal Restrictions on the Content of Publications


Greece has a law 927/1979 that prohibits racial, national or religious discrimination or violence. However, it has hardly ever been used in courts, mainly because it presupposes that only the victim can bring charges using that law, while the prosecution has no ex officio jurisdiction to act in obvious cases of racial violence or hate speech. As in at least one case, the Jewish community that used it against a neo-fascist newspaper was not able to gain cause, the law is considered a dead letter.



Section 7:       Tolerance/Portrayal


Mainstream media, with rare exceptions, at best ignore minorities, if they do not cover the related issues in a way extremely hostile to them. After all, a written statement, the “Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers” (ESIEA) delivered in June 1999 in an international conference organized by the International Federation of Journalists in Ohrid (Macedonia), included no less than the following passage: “In Greece no different ethnic Media exist since the Greek nation is single. Moreover it is unique in Europe reaching 100% homogeneity according, to findings by international organisations and other official forums dealing with such issues”.


Even when formal rules and regulations are broken, the competent authorities refrain from applying the law, as two recent example will show. On 11 June 1999, the private “Mega Channel” censored its mandatory pre-electoral program devoted to presentations by small parties, by removing the presentation of  “Rainbow,” the Macedonian minority party, while keeping all other presentations including the one made by the extreme-right “National Front”. The National Radio and Television Council did not impose the prescribed by law sanction, while no one condemned this act of censorship.

On 21 October 1999, two journalists from Halkidiki’s “Super Channel” were beaten by a mob led by Mayor Costas Papayannis, in Kasandra, Halkidiki (Northern Greece). Costas Glykos and Michalis Katsamiras were covering the mob’s attempt to prevent the local Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) from starting the construction of their house of worship, construction that had been authorized by the authorities. During the violent incident, JWs as well as two representatives of the Ombudsman’s office were harassed by the mob. The two journalists and the JWs pressed charges against the mayor and some alleged accomplices. On 22 October, the prosecutor formally indicted the mayor and his accomplices for crimes that included inciting to religious hatred. Nevertheless, neither during the incident, nor in the ensuing forty-eight hours, did the police arrest the alleged perpetrators of the crimes as called for by the code of criminal procedure.


Another example of biased journalism were recent stories on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), on the 50th anniversary of the respective Convention. Useful description of the Court was certainly given, as well as statistics about the caseload, but the illustrative examples tended to come mostly from Turkey. The reader of the four-page dossier on the ECHR in the glossy magazine Tachydromos, an insert in the highest circulation daily Ta Nea (6 May), for example, would not find there any information on even one case in which the European Court convicted Greece. A regular reader of Greek newspaper was of course hardly surprised. A month earlier, after all, on 6 April, the Court published its latest conviction on Greece, in the case of the Jehovah’s Witness Iakovos Thlimmenos. The latter was a certified accountant who was denied civil service employment because of his prior conviction for conscientious objection: naturally, the Court found discrimination based on religious affiliation. With the usual few exceptions, Greek newspapers ignored the news. However, all newspapers exhaustively covered Turkey’s convictions by the same Court in about the same time.


On 20 April, Greek neo-Nazis “celebrated” in their own way Jewish Passover: they painted anti-Semitic slogans on the Holocaust memorial and the Synagogue in Salonica, some in German: Juden Raus! (Jews Out!). A shocked Jewish community issued an emotionally strong statement. With the exception of Avghi, the Greek press kept silent. So did almost all others, with the exception of a couple of very belated statements by the Greek foreign ministry and the small leftist Coalition party, themselves sent only to Avghi on 25 April and not even made available in the respective websites.


On 26 April, the state-appointed mufti of Komotini was issuing a statement denouncing a state agency’s refusal to issue a necessary certificate to some vakif property the Muslims in Thrace had been owning since the 15th century. Here, there was not one newspaper to report the problem. Just as, years ago, there was not even one newspaper to report that a Cretan court had denied that the Catholic Church, with a half-millenary presence, had a legal personality allowing it to own a church in that island. A few years later Greece was to be convicted by the ECHR on that issue: only then a few newspapers devoted a couple of articles…


So, when it comes to minority issues, the Greek press is reminiscent of that of authoritarian regimes where “nationally sensitive issues” are reported only in a “nationally correct” way, if at all. One can list an endless series of additional  examples of what is often outright “hate speech” against the minorities (see Lenkova 1998 and Balkan Neighbours 1996-1998). Especially when it concerns the “non-existent” Macedonians. The few times they are mentioned, they are usually referred to as “autonomists” which in Balkan jargon means separatists, or as Skopjans or Skopjanophiles, which is understood as manipulated by Skopje [the way the Greek press calls the [Republic of Macedonia]. While raising the issue of the existence of that minority, let alone of related human rights violations is considered “provocative” (“provocative allegations on the existence of a ‘Macedonian minority’” [state-owned] Macedonian Press Agency, 21 April).



Section 8:       Independence/Manipulation of the Media


When Greek media deal with minorities, especially the nationally “sensitive” ethnonational Macedonian and Turkish ones, they usually do it to portray them negatively if not challenge the legitimacy of whatever claims they may have and question the motivation of their –naturally “unfounded”- demands. Many times such stories seem to be almost identical in content in all newspapers and they result either from a story published by a state news agency or, less frequently today, by “information” given to the journalists by some state agencies. It is characteristic that, during the heated debate on minorities in July 1999 (see section 1), the state radio and television were among the most hostile to the petition of the minority deputies, and the minority and human rights NGOs. While the state radio’s director, in his weekly column in a newspaper, strongly attacked the initiative and challenged the credibility of those NGOs. While the government spokesman occasionally denies any allegations of minority rights problems in ways that often aim at undermining the credibility of those who made them.



Section 9:       Informal Censorship


The prevailing situation described above makes it impossible for the handful of journalists who would like to report minority issues in a professional way to do so. Articles that are not conforming to the “nationally correct” norm are simply not published and their authors may be warned against doing such things again. Editorial control is tight and there are cases where a journalist work in a print or electronic medium is edited in such a way as to distort the content. Again during the debate on minorities in July 1999, for example, besides the open hostility of almost all media to the NGO and minority advocates who initiated it, there were cases where the latters’ interviews where truncated in such ways as to be distorted with the purpose, in the case of the country’s most popular television channel, “Antenna” to demonstrate that there was  a conspiracy behind the initiative…