OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
Warsaw, October 6-17, 2003
Topic: National Minorities – October 15, 2003
The Macedonian Minority in Albania
Report by the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada (MHRMC)
The following interview with Edmond Temelko, president of the Macedonian organization “Prespa” in Albania, outlines the precarious position of the Macedonian minority in Albania. It appeared in the Macedonian weekly, “Makedonsko Sonce”, on June 15, 2001.
"The plight of the Macedonians in Albania is already known. Macedonians in Albania are discriminated against and the government continues to unrealistically present their numbers. Albania recognizes that on its territory live only 5,000 Macedonians. But we alone, as Macedonian organizations in Albania number 120,000 Macedonians who are members of our organizations, or if we investigate there are perhaps more then 350,000 Macedonians in Albania."
"According to the Albanian Constitution, the minorities are allowed 60% education in their mother language. But this is not happening. There are Macedonians who live in other parts of Albania who do not have the right to get an education in their own mother language, the Macedonian language. They do not have schools. But even where we have schools, there is very little. For example in the village of Pustets there is elementary education from first to fourth grade in Macedonian and one course in Albanian. What happens between fifth and eight grade? Only three courses are in Macedonian, and the history in taught only in seventh grade and only for one hour. But the worst of all is that although the kids study in Macedonian, the literature is not original. The Macedonian grammar is translated from Albanian grammar. This is one of our complaints. We demand that the children by educated with original Macedonian textbooks."
"The Albanian press has branded us a potential hotspot. After a peaceful protest, they began to treat us as terrorists, although nobody rose a gun to fight in Albania. All we did is sent a call that we are fighting for our rights through the institutions of the system. For example, we publicly proclaim that we do not like the Constitution of Albania. Why? In article 20 it is written that in Albania exist minorities whose cultural identity should be guaranteed and preserved. But which minorities are these? Let it say: Greek, Macedonian, Vlach, or Roma minority. The Albanian government is afraid of this because if this is written, i.e. if a real analysis is conducted, Albania is a multiethnic state. If you enter inner Albania, there live 40-45% of the minorities. There are Greeks, Vlachs, Macedonians, Roma. This is what the Albanian government is afraid of and this is why it conducted such census. This census was regularly conducted in only one village. It is discrimination and because of it Macedonia will have to develop a clear strategy for the plight of the Macedonians in the neighbouring countries."
The four Macedonian organizations in Albania, Mir (Peace), Bratstvo (Brotherhood), MED (Macedonian Aegean Society) and Prespa, boycotted the 2001 census in Albania because there was no option for “Macedonian” in the census list. The Albanian government continues to minimize the actual number of Macedonians, and other minorities, in the country and in 2003, the Association of Macedonians in Albania (consisting of the four organizations) will conduct their own census of the number of Macedonians in Albania. It is estimated that this number is between 120,000 and 350,000 while the Albanian state only officially recognizes 5,000.
Macedonian Church in Pustets
The Macedonians in Pustets, Mala Prespa are building a Macedonian Orthodox Church and have requested that a Macedonian Orthodox priest bless the church. In September 2003, an Albanian priest tried to perform this ceremony but the local Macedonians refused. A few weeks later, the Albanian priest returned with approximately 40 police officers and forcibly entered the church. The Macedonian minority’s wishes must be respected and the Albanian state should cease its discrimination against the Macedonian minority.
The Macedonian Minority in Bulgaria
Report by the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada (MHRMC)
The Bulgarian government has and continues to place unlawful restrictions on a number of fundamental rights of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Whether it be through outright discrimination, the uneven application of laws which on their surface do not seem to discriminate against the Macedonian minority, or through unlawful conduct of officials, the effect is the same: Macedonians in Bulgaria who choose to openly identify as Macedonians repeatedly suffer abuses of their human rights.
One positive development occurred in 2001 with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Boris Stankov and the United Macedonian Organization (OMO Ilinden) vs. Bulgaria on Oct.2, 2001. ECHR ruled that there had been a violation of Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. OMO Ilinden was founded in 1990 to unite Macedonians in Bulgaria on a regional and cultural basis and to achieve recognition of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. In 1991 the association was refused registration as the courts ruled that its aims were directed against the unity of the nation, that it advocated ethnic hatred and was dangerous for the territorial integrity of Bulgaria. (ECHR Press Release – Oct.2, 2001)
It was hoped that the ruling in favour of OMO Ilinden would pave the way for immediate registration of the organization and a positive effect on human rights developments in Bulgaria in the future. However, OMO Ilinden has still not been registered. The two Macedonian political parties, OMO Pirin and OMO Ilinden PIRIN (the latter was de-registered in 2000 and has initiated a European Court case against Bulgaria), and Sonce, the organization of Islamic Macedonians, have also not been registered. Despite the European Court’s ruling, it is apparent that the Bulgarian government has no intention of registering any Macedonian organization.
The Bulgarian government still refuses to grant its sizeable Macedonian minority the human rights that are protected by international treaties to which Bulgaria is a signatory. In what seemed to be a positive step, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saksoburgotski stated on April 8, 2003:
“Bulgaria acknowledges the minorities in the country. In 2001 a few thousand citizens declared themselves as Bulgarians with Macedonian origin, and three thousand citizens stated that the Macedonian language is their mother language. These numbers show the fact that we have a very good understanding of that issue"
However, several instances of tampering by Bulgarian authorities occurred during the last census. These will be outlined later in this report. The claims of only a few thousand Macedonians is well below the estimates by Macedonian human rights activists which place the number from several hundred thousand to over one million. Furthermore, Macedonians did not declare themselves as “Bulgarians with Macedonian origin”, but simply as ethnic Macedonians.
Despite Mr. Saksoburgotski’s claim that the Bulgarian government has a “good understanding” of the Macedonian minority issue, human rights violations against Macedonians were prevalent.
As regards freedom of expression and the media, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly, the Macedonian minority has recently suffered the following human rights violations at the hands of Bulgarian authorities.
Freedom of Expression and the Media:
Blagoevgrad – September 12, 2002
On Thursday, September 12 at approximately 3:00pm, OMO Ilinden intended to commemorate Vartolomey Night (massacre of Macedonians in Bulgaria in 1924). About 45 members and sympathizers gathered in front of the US University in Blagoevgrad and marched to the Gotse Delchev monument in Macedonia Square. They intended to place flowers, a wreath, and a banner that contained the text “OMO Ilinden – Stop the Assimilation: We want Macedonian language and culture, human rights, and the right to work!”
Upon reaching the monument, about 25 civilians (all members of the Bulgarian nationalistic political party VMRO) attacked the OMO Ilinden members and beat several of them with sticks. They demanded that OMO Ilinden give up the banner, wreath and two Macedonian flags. The VMRO members took the banner and one flag before the local police, which were already present, separated the two groups.
OMO Ilinden were successful in placing the wreath and flowers at the back of the monument (VMRO members were blocking the front) and Jordan Konstantinov, past-president of OMO Ilinden, gave a speech. At the end of the ceremony, VMRO members again assaulted the Macedonians and the police eventually stopped them.
The next day, the Bulgarian newspaper, Trud, slandered the Macedonian activists claiming that they attacked the VMRO members. They also claimed that the OMO Ilinden members were “drunk” and that they “cursed Bulgaria, VMRO and the journalists that were present during the ceremony.”
As reported by the BBC, a roundtable was held after September 12 because, according to Bulgarian authorities, “The illegal organization OMO Ilinden held an anti-Bulgarian event in Blagoevgrad”. Bulgarian parliamentarians from Blagoevgrad, as well as representatives of political parties, the state and local institutions demanded the passing of a law for the fight against anti-Bulgarian activity in that region, and in the territory of the country as a whole.
According to the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), the ceremony of September 12 brought about social protests and tension and was condemned by all political parties. The following quotations were made by Bulgarian members of parliament:
Census – March 2001
Other than the Turkish and Roma minority groups, the 2001 census in Bulgaria did not provide other minorities the opportunity to declare their ethnic identity. The state refuses to recognize its sizeable Macedonian minority and uses the census to promote its official stance that this group is ethnically Bulgarian. Various radio and TV stations promoted the notion that Bulgaria is largely a homogenous country and that people should identify themselves as Bulgarian. OMO Ilinden PIRIN was unable to counter this view because their access to the media was denied on several occasions. Instead, they printed roughly 80,000 flyers that were distributed throughout the region of Pirin Macedonia stating that the people have every right to declare themselves as ethnic Macedonians and should not fear persecution. Several Bulgarian lawyers were consulted and even though they said that the flyers were legal, the police and Bulgarian media started a campaign to frighten the population by claiming that the leaders of OMO Ilinden PIRIN would be charged and jailed. The following people were called in to the local police station and questioned, intimidated and had charges laid against them: Ivan Singartiski, Ivan Gargavelov, Kostadin Frangov, Krsto Mangusev, Petar Ivanov, Slave Milkov, Angel Radonov, Vladimir Kocarov and others. The Bulgarian police claimed that they were being charged because it was against Bulgarian law to distribute flyers “anonymously”. However, the flyers clearly displayed that they were written and distributed by OMO Ilinden PIRIN.
Rozhen Monastery – April 2001
On April 22, 2001, members and supporters of OMO Ilinden gathered at the Rozhen Monastery in the city of Sandanski to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the Macedonian hero Yane Sandanski. The next day several newspapers (“Trud”, “24 Chasa” and others) published slanderous articles misinforming the public about the events of the gathering. They claimed that members of the group were shouting “Death to Bulgarians” and “We want to see all Bulgarians dead”. (Trud, April 23) They urged authorities to take action against members of the organization. They also claim that members of OMO Ilinden are “scoundrels with limited intellect”. (Trud, April 23)
Several instances of freedom of association violations occurred during this gathering (more information in the section titled Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly)
Macedonian Newspaper - Narodna Volya
The only Macedonian newspaper in Bulgaria, Narodna Volya, is published in Blagoevgrad, in both the Bulgarian and Macedonian languages. No newspapers were confiscated in 2001 by the Bulgarian authorities (as had occurred in previous years), however, no subscribers in the Republic of Macedonia had received their copies since August 2001. The Editor-in-Chief, Georgi Hristov, suspected that the problem lay with the Bulgarian postal system so he brought some newspapers across the border into the city of Delchevo, the Republic of Macedonia in January 2002 and mailed them from there. All subscribers received their newspapers within days. Mr. Hristov subsequently filed complaints with the post office and police in Blagoevgrad but has yet to receive a response.
Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly:
Sandanski – April 2003
On April 21, 2003, members of several Macedonian organizations in Bulgaria mutually commemorated the anniversary of the murder of Macedonian revolutionary Jane Sandanski. In a welcome change, the police did not interfere but there were reports that the event was videotaped by the police in an attempt to intimidate the participants as they had done in the past.
Petrich – July 2002
On Saturday, July 27, 2002 OMO Ilinden members and supporters gathered at King Samuel’s fortress near the town of Petrich in order to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Ilinden uprising (Macedonian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1903).
Approximately 1,500 people attended the ceremony, which included speeches and Macedonian music and dances. While the ceremony was taking place, plainclothes police officers videotaped the OMO Ilinden members and supporters in an effort to intimidate them.
The following day, journalists with pictures of the event visited the individual participants and asked them why they would attend “such an anti-Bulgarian event.”
Macedonians in Bulgaria continuously face discrimination and intimidation when asserting their ethnic Macedonian identity. As a country that is hoping to enter the European Union, Bulgaria must respect its minorities’ human rights and put an end to such violations.
Macedonian Theatre Group’s Visit to Bulgaria – April 2002
The following is a quote by Tihomir Stojanovski, Art Director of the Macedonian theatre group “Skrb I Uteha” at the Third Macedonian World Human Rights Conference on September 20, 2003.
“Our second visit to Bulgaria happened in April 2002, and at that time we felt that the resistance towards the Macedonian culture was still present. The Macedonians in the village of Koprivgan were intimidated and we played in front of an empty hall. In the village of Elesnica, the head of the village locked the hall and ran away. In the village of Razlog people waited for us in order to beat us?! We played in villages where the Macedonians were not afraid to take us: the villages of Kremen, Mosomishte, Leski and Sandanski. On our way back to Macedonia, we were held up at the border crossing of Novo Selo/Strumica for seven hours, we were treated like criminals; two journalists and our manager were questioned in the classic Bulgarian police fashion. Our manager was told: “you could have come back with holes in yours heads” and “we let you in once, what are you looking for in Bulgaria for the second time?”
Blagoevgrad – February 2, 2001
Members and supporters of OMO Ilinden PIRIN were prevented from reaching Gotse Delchev’s monument in the city of Blagoevgrad, in order to place flowers in honour of the Macedonian revolutionary’s birthday. The monument was surrounded by armed and civilian police officers who threatened and intimidated the crowd. The police claimed that they had a decree from the Public Prosecutor of Blagoevgrad that was aimed at stopping members of OMO Ilinden PIRIN from approaching the monument. The leadership of the party, in accordance with the Law on Public Information, requested a written statement from the Public Prosecutor explaining the events of Feb.2. A response is yet to be received.
Sandanski – April 22, 2001
Every year, OMO Ilinden members and supporters commemorate the anniversary of Yane Sandanski’s death at his grave near the Rozhen Monastery. On April 4, they submitted a notice to the mayor of Sandanski requesting permission to hold this gathering on April 22 at 10:30am, as required by the Law on Meetings and Manifestations. The notice also indicated several events scheduled to take place, namely: mourning rites and placing flowers on the grave; reading two essays about Yane Sandanski; and Macedonian music and dances.
The party did not receive an answer which, according to the law, means that the celebration was not prohibited. On April 22, several violations of the citizen’s rights of peaceful assembly occurred:
Blagoevgrad - May 4, 2001
On this date every year, OMO Ilinden commemorates the anniversary of the killing of the Macedonian hero Gotse Delchev in front of his monument in Blagoevgrad. On April 27, OMO Ilinden member Atanas Urdev sent a notice to the mayor of the municipality (as required by the Law on Meetings and Manifestations) notifying him of the planned event. No reply was received which indicates, by law, that the event was not prohibited.
On May 4, at 5:00pm, a group of OMO Ilinden members brought a wreath and flowers to the monument of Gotse Delchev on Macedonia Square in Blagoevgrad. The wreath had a band with an inscription “98 years since the killing of Gotse Delchev – OMO Ilinden” Eight police officers stopped the group about ten metres from the monument and ordered them to remove the band. The police claimed that the District Prosecutor, Snezhana Katsarska, had given them orders to do this but failed to produce a warrant when asked. Furthermore, the activists said that they would not continue with the commemoration if it indeed was prohibited but they wanted to see the warrant (which was never produced). At this point 7-8 people who claimed to be ordinary civilians approached (all of whom were known to local members of OMO Ilinden as law enforcement officers). Among them was the Chief of the Regional Security Service in Blagoevgrad, Mr. Aliosha Kaptchin. OMO Ilinden decided to leave and they went in the direction of the church “St. Bogoroditsa” which is about 1km from Macedonia Square. The “civilians” followed them and tried to provoke an incident by insulting them. Two of them jumped on Mr. Kiril Tilev and tried to take his camera under the pretense that he took pictures of the police officers.
The OMO Ilinden members decided to hold their commemoration in the churchyard of “St. Bogoroditsa”, where there is a monument of several members of Gotse Delchev’s family. They read a short essay and laid the wreath and flowers there. The plainclothes police officers were waiting for them outside the church door and followed them after they left, again provoking and threatening them with the use of physical force. One of the members was told that he would be beaten up again as many of the OMO Ilinden members were at the Rozhen Monastery in 1992. The OMO Ilinden members asked two people to monitor whether the flowers and wreath would remain at the church. The next day they were told that three people took the flowers and wreath and confiscated them.
Macedonian/Bulgarian border – May 4, 2001
About 70 members and sympathizers of OMO Ilinden PIRIN from the Gotse Delchev and Razlog areas went to Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia to place flowers at the grave of Gotse Delchev in the church grounds of “St. Spas”. At the Zlatarevo border crossing on the way back, the Bulgarian authorities detained their buses for four hours. During that time, the members were intimidated and harassed by the police sent from Blagoevgrad under the leadership of the Chief of Police, Mr. Kaptchin. Only after the leaders of the group threatened that they would return to the Republic of Macedonia and publicize the incident were they allowed entry into Bulgaria.
The same day at 5:00pm, OMO Ilinden PIRIN had announced a flower laying ceremony to be held at Gotse Delchev’s monument in the city of Gotse Delchev. The police were guarding the monument the whole day so that the Macedonians could not honour the revolutionary. The Chief of Police, Mr. Kalinkov, claimed that he had a decree from the Public Prosecutor banning them from the monument. The leadership of the party, following the Law on Public Information, requested a copy of the decree from the Public Prosecutor. Nothing was ever received.
Petrich - July 29, 2001
OMO Ilinden applied for permission from the city of Petrich to celebrate the Ilinden uprising of August 2, 1903 and to commemorate the blinding of King Samuel’s 14,000 Macedonian soldiers by the Byzantine King Vasilious II in 914AD. The mayor of Petrich did not respond which means, under Bulgarian law, that the event was not prohibited.
While the activists were travelling towards Samuel’s fortress, uniformed police officers stopped them at the village of Strumeshnitsa and forced the people to retreat. The activists and other Macedonians went back to Petrich and tried to place flowers at the monument of Anton Panov, who along with Nikola Vaptsarov was executed by the Bulgarian police in 1942. Uniformed police officers again tried to prevent them from reaching the monument but a few people succeeded in placing flowers at the foot of the monument. Afterwards, the activists and supporters went to OMO Ilinden’s office and continued the ceremony with speeches and music.
While the activists were approaching the fortress, gathering at the monument in Petrich, and conducting the ceremony at the office, plainclothes police officers used video cameras to identify and intimidate the activists and their supporters.
Blagoevgrad - September 12, 2001
This date signifies Vartolomey Night (massacre of Macedonians in Bulgaria) when Vancho Mihailov’s pro-Bulgarian VMRO killed over 380 Macedonian patriots in 1924. OMO Ilinden activists and supporters placed flowers at Gotse Delchev’s monument in Blagoevgrad to commemorate the dead Macedonian patriots. Although the police did not interfere in the event, plainclothes police officers again used video cameras to identify and intimidate the activists and their supporters.
Macedonians in Bulgaria continuously face discrimination and intimidation when asserting their ethnic Macedonian identity. As a country that is preparing to enter the European Union, Bulgaria must respect its minorities’ human rights and put an end to its state-endorsed acts of oppression.
The Macedonian Minority in Greece
Report by the Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada (MHRMC)
Greece vigorously denies the existence of any ethnic minorities on its territory and attempts to suppress any voices that advocate human rights. Simply raising the issue of the Macedonian minority in Greece causes Greek citizens and politicians alike to react in outrage. The majority of Greek society supports its government's non-recognition and discrimination of its large Macedonian minority. Following are several examples of Greece’s constant abuse of the Macedonian minority’s rights.
Macedonian Political Refugees
On June 8, 2003, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Andreas Loverdos, made an historic announcement pledging the free return of Macedonian political refugees, evacuated from Greece as children during the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949. The child refugees (Detsa Begaltsi) have consistently been denied entry into Greece simply because they assert their Macedonian ethnic identity. They were excluded from the 1982 law that allowed the free return of political refugees that were “Greek by genus”. Answering a question on the free visit of "non-ethnic Greek" political refugees, Mr. Loverdos, stated that "since we have overcome all these problems of the past and of the civil war... we want to overcome this vestige too sooner rather than later...during this summer."
The events that followed Loverdos’ “historic” announcement were indicative of a country that views itself as a Western democracy but consistently proves itself to be the very antithesis of one. Following a nationalistic uproar by a large segment of Greek society, who were worried that the political refugees would “incite” the local Macedonian population into a heightened sense of nationalism, the Greek government reversed its decision and chose to impede the reunion in any way possible. It then proceeded to announce, on July 3, 2003 that the political refugees will be allowed to enter the country from August 10 to October 30, and would only be allowed to stay for 20 days. The date of the Detsa Begaltsi's Third World Reunion was well-publicized and was originally going to take place from July 15-20, 2003. The Greek government's announcement forced the organizers to reschedule the event to August 10-15, which caused a large number of political refugees, particularly from Canada, the United States, and Australia, to miss the event as they originally planned to enter Greece before July 10.
It is remarkable that Greece, a European Union country, would reverse a humanitarian decision in favour of state-sponsored racism that has been widely endorsed in Greece.
Out of the people who tried to enter Greece for the reunion, it is estimated that approximately two hundred Macedonians were denied entry into Greece during the summer of 2003.
On July 20, 2003, Australian citizen Janko Kalinchev, born in the village of Ovcharani (Meliti in Greek), and Canadian citizen Georgi Kizovski, born in Gabresh (Gavros), attempted to enter Greece from the Republic of Macedonia in order to visit their birthplaces. However, Greek border officials denied them entry and refused to give them an explanation, instead saying that they were denied entry for "other reasons".
According to Mr. Kizovski, "The Greek government keeps a blacklist of people who are active in Macedonian organizations abroad and who openly declare themselves as Macedonian. We were obviously returned at the border because of our membership in the Association of Refugee Children from the Aegean Part of Macedonia (Detsa Begaltsi) in Australia and Canada." Greek officials have publicly stated that 80 Macedonian activists living abroad are on a “blacklist”. In its press release of August 10, 2003, the Greek Helsinki Monitor stated,
“Preventing their entrance on grounds of their activism directly contravenes the special UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and EU provisions for the state's responsibility to respect and even defend NGOs and human rights activists.”
In July, 2002, a border document proving the existence of this blacklist, which had been denied by the Greek government, was given to Steve Pliakes, a well-known Canadian-Macedonian activist. Furthermore, the Governor of the Prefecture of Florina, Mr. G. Stratakis, publicly acknowledged the existence of this blacklist on July 23, 2003. The ultra-nationalistic Greek newspaper, Stohos, even published the names of approximately half of the Macedonians on this list in a recent issue. In its press release of August 10, 2003 the Rainbow Party describes the reunion:
Unfortunately, this “humanitarian measure” turned into a farce. Once again, the large majority of Macedonian political refugees were denied entry into Greece even for a simple visit. On 10 August 2003 a delegation from Rainbow was present at the Niki – Negochani border station in Florina – Lerin. No political refugee was permitted to enter Greece (of more than 20 individuals appearing between 11.00 and 13.00) whose travel document recorded the bearer’s place of birth with its former (Macedonian) name. Entry into Greece was forbidden to those Macedonian political refugees with Republic of Macedonia passports, as well as to those with passports from other countries, such as Australia, Czech Republic, and Hungary. The border officials did not note on the forms the actual reason why entry was denied (this, they explained to us orally), but instead cited other reasons.
The absurdity of the matter of Macedonian political refugees holding travel documents (passports) from the Republic of Macedonia is that Greece does not recognize these passports because they record the name of country as the “Republic of Macedonia.” Yet it asks the Macedonian refugees holding these passports to change the name of their birthplace in a passport that Greece doesn’t recognize. For this reason, following the interim agreement between the two countries in 1995, the travel document that Greece recognizes is not the passport, but rather a sheet of white A4 paper bearing the visa. Perhaps our country ought to change its stand and finally accept Republic of Macedonia as the name of our neighboring country?
As for the Macedonian refugees from other European countries that have signed accession agreements with the EU (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia), how will Greece explain such a refusal of entry to these governments? How will it behave in April 2004 when these countries become full EU member-states? How will it then explain the refusal of entry to equal and law-abiding European citizens, who have the right to enter Greece simply by presenting their personal identity cards? Will Greece then blacklist these citizens as persona non grata?
Perhaps the Greek government and the Greek Foreign Ministry can explain – if the reason for barring entry into our country is, indeed, the use of place names, which are aspects of the linguistic and cultural heritage of both Greece and Europe – why the use of these names should to be a reason to bar entry? Can it provide us with an example of another European country that has barred entry to its former citizens for the same reason?
Vana Niczowski and her husband Chris, both Canadian citizens of Macedonian ethnicity, who had fled to Poland following the Greek Civil War, attempted to enter Greece on July 21, 2003. Mrs. Niczowski was born in Statitsa (Melas in Greek), Kostur (Kastoria) region and her birthplace was spelled “Kosturia” on her passport. The Greek border official insisted that this was “not the Greek name of the city and sounded too Slavic” and therefore, denied her entry.
Greece has consistently refused entry to people who use the original Macedonian village/city name on their passports, instead of the new Greek toponyms applied after 1926. In its press release of August 1, 2003, the Rainbow Party, political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece, stated:
“Greece should establish a record of toponyms (both old and new), a practice and a policy carried out in many democratic countries, especially since there is such a provision in international texts related to the protection of the heritage of linguistic, religious or ethnic minorities.”
The Greek government has used this as an excuse to deny entry to dozens of Macedonian political refugees. The Rainbow Party goes on to say:
"Let every democratic citizen of Greece consider how he or she would judge similar behavior from another country acting against its Greek minority. Let us assume, for example, that the Albanian government forbids entry to one of its former citizens, a member of the Greek minority, who abandoned Albania in the course of the Greek-Italian war in 1940, was stripped of his Albanian citizenship and had his property confiscated by the state. Assume that person today resides in Canada or Australia and in his Canadian or Australian passport, his place of birth is not mentioned as 'Drach' (the Albanian name of a city in Southern Albania), but "Dirahio" (the name of the same city in Greek).
How would we judge such an action of the Albanian government? How would we judge the placement of other such citizens in a list of "personae non grata" by the Albanian Foreign Office, because in Melbourne or Toronto they participate in Greek and not Albanian cultural associations? What would we say if the Albanian government stripped them of their citizenship and forbade them as long as they lived to visit their families and their places of origin in Southern Albania? Would we not correctly characterize such behavior as racist and inhuman?
Despite repeated requests by the MHRMC over the past 15 years, the Canadian government has refused to confront Greece over its systematic persecution of Canadian citizens. However, Canada has made similar requests of other countries, including the United States, when border incidents involving Canadian citizens occur. (See www.mhrmc.ca/press/02/letter.html for the MHRMC's letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, imploring Canada to investigate the several cases of Canadian-Macedonians being denied entry into Greece in 2002. See www.mhrmc.ca/press/03/graham.pdf for Mr. Graham’s outright dismissal of the MHRMC request). The Canadian government applies a double standard when choosing when to defend its citizens rights and which countries it confronts.
The following are comments made by Greek parliamentarian Evgenios Haitidis regarding the Macedonian political refugees. They are indicative of Greek society’s attitude towards the Macedonian minority:
“They are contemptible separatists, who appear to act undisturbed not only outside Greece but inside Greece as well, under the tolerance or even the assistance of government members”,
“Their primary goal is the recognition of a “Macedonian Ethnic Minority in Greece”, while their ultimate goal is self-rule namely, the detachment of Greek territory”.
Mr. Haitidis claims that the Macedonian political refugees “have been found guilty in regular courts of law of being enemy collaborators and criminals and are being characterized by strong anti-Greek activity abroad”.
Home of Macedonian Culture and the Rousalii Association
The European Court of Human Rights convicted Greece for a violation of freedom of association in the case of Sideropoulos and others vs. Greece in 1998 for failing to register the Home of Macedonian Culture. Despite repeated attempts since then, the Home of Macedonian Culture has constantly tried to register the association only to be repeatedly rejected by the Florina court. A complete summary of the events surrounding Greece’s refusal to register the Home can be found at the Greek Helsinki Monitor’s special webpage on the subject: www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/home_of_macedonian_civilization.html
The most recent example occurred in July 2003 when the Home was denied registration once again. They applied yet again in September 2003 and were told that a decision would be made by the end of October 2003. It is obvious that Greece has no intention of registering the Home of Macedonian Culture in spite of its obligations as a member of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights decision.
Another Macedonian organization, Rousallii, was denied registration by the Greek courts in 2000.
Greece’s Official Stance Regarding the Macedonian Minority / US State Department Report on Greece
The following is the MHRMC’s press release of April 7, 2003:
The Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada is appalled by the US State Department’s continued misrepresentation of the Macedonian minority in Greece in its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002: Greece”. Despite numerous appeals by the MHRMC and other international NGOs, (see the Greek Helsinki Monitor’s press release of March 18, 2002: www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/organizations/ghm/ghm_18_03_02.rtf) the US State Department continues to make erroneous statements regarding this minority in what can only be seen as an attempt to appease Greek sensitivities to the Macedonian issue. For example, when referring to the Macedonian minority, the US State Department places the term Macedonian in quotation marks. This gives the impression that the US State Department agrees with the official Greek position that this minority is illegitimate. The Macedonian minority and language are internationally recognized as such but the US State Department questions its legitimacy throughout this report by referring to it as “Slavo-Macedonian”, “Slavic dialect” and by making statements such as:
“Northwestern Greece is home to an indeterminate number of citizens who speak a Slavic dialect at home, particularly in Florina province. Estimates ranged widely, from under 10,000 to 50,000. A small number identified themselves as belonging to a distinct ethnic group and asserted their right to “Macedonian” minority status.
Most estimates place the Macedonian minority at well over the numbers stated above. Macedonians live throughout the region of Aegean Macedonia, not just in the Lerin/Florina district. Furthermore, a large number identify as ethnic Macedonians, not an insignificant segment of the population as this report indicates.
The following statement gives the impression that the US State Department is an apologist for the Greek government’s continued repression of the Macedonian minority:
“The Government was concerned that members of the “Macedonian” minority may have separatist aspirations. The Government’s dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over that name heightened this sensitivity.”
As the Greek Helsinki Monitor stated in its press release of 2002:
“[The US State Department report] does not mention though the repeated denials of such allegations by all activists. In fact, as there has never been even one such statement, the mere mention in the report of the Greek government’s defamatory allegation cannot but do service to the government. Such impression is strengthened by the absence of any reference to the case of the non-registration of the Home of Macedonian Civilization (and of the Rousali association), in both the 2000 and 2001 reports.”
The US State Department also chose to ignore the repeated cases of ethnic Macedonians being denied entry into Greece, the continued persecution of Macedonian priest, Father Nikodim Tsarknias, who was verbally attacked, slandered and even arrested on live Greek television, the refusal to register two Macedonian cultural organizations, and the general refusal by Greek society to engage in any debate on the Macedonian issue, much less its recognition.
Several local and international NGOs, including local Macedonian activists in Greece, have repeatedly contacted the US State Department in order to provide information about the human rights abuses suffered by the Macedonian minority. The US State Department selectively chooses which information to use which gives credit to the argument that its main agenda is to pursue its own interests, not the achievement of human rights for oppressed minorities. The Greek Helsinki Monitor ended its 2002 press release by stating:
“[The US State Department’s] attitude towards Macedonians in Greece, as reflected in the annual reports, cannot therefore be considered an oversight, or a result of lack of information; on the contrary it is a sustained and deliberate policy of complacency towards Greek authorities on the most sensitive human rights issue in Greece. Such complacency is not shown towards Bulgarian authorities that have a similar sensitivity for Macedonians, whose problems are mentioned in the relevant chapter.”
The MHRMC calls on the US State Department to correct its past errors and issue an immediate press release to rectify its erroneous statements about the Macedonian minority in Greece.
Macedonian language and the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL)
In its report titled “The Sounds of Silence – The Macedonian Minority in Greece in 2001”, the Greek Helsinki Monitor states:
“…the Greek government has persistently refused to allow the teaching of the Macedonian language in schools, even in villages where the majority of inhabitants speak Macedonian. The Greek government, via its Spokesperson Minister for the Press and the Mass Media Dimitris Reppas, refused an appeal by the European Parliament’s “Green and European Free Alliance” group to Prime Minister Costas Simitis, in May 2000, for the recognition of the Macedonian language and its introduction in the education system.”
Despite Greece’s opposition, the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages opened an office in Salonica in 2002, with Nase Parisis, an ethnic Macedonian human rights activist, as its first president. It is ironic that EBLUL, which promotes minority languages, has opened an office in a country that claims that it has no minorities.
Macedonian Theatre Group Denied Entry into Greece
The following is a quote by Tihomir Stojanovski, Art Director of the Macedonian theatre group “Skrb I Uteha” at the Third Macedonian World Human Rights Conference on September 20, 2003.
“We were supposed to visit, Lerin, Republic of Greece i.e. Aegean Macedonia in September 2001. The Hellenic Liaison Office in Skopje told the Agency that was supposed to take us to Greece and to get visas for us that: “this is politics and plays in the Macedonians language are not allowed in that part of Greece?!” We sent them many letters including the invitation of the Home of Macedonian Culture in Lerin. We talked over the phone. They met us and they told us that they would inform us about the visas in a written form. A long time passed, and we have not received any information. I talked twice over the phone with the Greek Consul Mr. Mihalopulos and he told me that Athens is not issuing visas to us because of security reasons. They are not issuing any written document that they are not giving us the visas. Unofficially, plays in Macedonian are not allowed in this part of Greece?! I wrote open letters to Mr. J. Papandreou, Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of Culture of the Hellenic Republic. The Greek Helsinki Committee published the letters in its annual report on human rights for 2001: 30 December 2001, “Sounds of Silence”- The Macedonian Minority in Greece in 2001 (http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/cerd.html).
Greek Neo-Fascist Group Attacks 50-Year Old Man
The following are excerpts from a September 1, 2003 article in the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia, titled “The Minister Yelled and the Police Woke Up”. English translation courtesy of www.maknews.com.
It was necessary for the Minister of Justice, Philippos Petsalnikos, to intervene in order for the police to act and arrest two members of Golden Dawn who were accused of beating a citizen.
The incident took place on the evening of Saturday, [August 30, 2003] during a march by members of Golden Dawn in the city of Kastoria. According to accusations from fifty year-old Christos Mihos, he was beaten by members of Golden Dawn. A similar fate was suffered by a passerby who tried to help. Both victims were taken to the hospital in Kastoria where they received medical attention.
The victims wanted to sue the perpetrators and asked police to arrest the attacker they had identified. However, the police "encouraged" the victims to take the suit forward without naming their assailants! The issue became known to Philippos Petsalnikos, who is the Minister of Justice and the elected member of parliament from Kastoria.
The Minister stated to Eleftherotypia, "I reminded the police chief that the incident took place on Greek territory and thus, the constitution and the laws that foresee the taking of legal action against specific persons must be implemented and especially their arrest given that they had been identified and named by the victims."
After this nighttime intervention by the Minister, the police were mobilized in the early morning hours whereupon they arrested the two persons responsible for the attacks and charges were laid. Today they will be taken before the courts in Kastoria. The Ministry of Public Order was also informed of the negligence by the police.
All day yesterday 35 members of Golden Dawn remained outside the police headquarters in Kastoria and for five hours blocked one of the busiest streets in the city demanding the release of their two arrested members. At noon, in a show of force, they travelled by bus to the town of Florina and marched along the major streets shouting inflammatory slogans such as "the Slavs should get out of Greece."
The Rainbow Party/Vinozhito
Rainbow is the political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece and has been the subject of attacks, both verbal and physical, by the Greek public, media and even government officials. The Rainbow Party hung a bilingual sign in Macedonian and Greek outside their office in Lerin/Florina in 1995, which caused a huge uproar in the city. Greek nationalists, led by the mayor of Florina, attacked and destroyed the office. Four members of Rainbow were subsequently put on trial for "causing and inciting mutual hatred among the citizens" under Article 192 of the Greek Penal Code. Rainbow was essentially put on trial for publicly using their mother tongue. Following worldwide condemnation of the trial, the Rainbow members were finally acquitted in 1998. However, the perpetrators of the crime were never charged and Rainbow has initiated a European Court of Human Rights case against them.
Greek media and government officials constantly refer to Rainbow members as “agents of Skopje”, “separatists” and “enemies of Greece.” Rainbow does not receive coverage in the media when participating in elections and instead get slandered at every opportunity.
The following are questions posed by Greek M.E.P. Mr. Stavros Xarhakos to the European Parliament on March 19, 2003. The submission by Mr. Xarhakos was titled, “EBLUL and the Systematic Defamation of a Member of the E.U.”
“It is well known that in Greece democratic freedoms and cultural difference are fully protected in law. This is the context in which the Muslim minority lives in Greek Thrace … its mosques built and restored with money from the Greek state’.
‘What are the activities of EBLUL in countries where the cultural identity of minorities is suppressed, as is the case, for example, with the Greeks … in Turkey?’
‘Similar freedom is enjoyed by the other minority groups, however few they may be, such as the small Slav-speaking community in the region of Florina, which has set up a political party that enjoys complete freedom of action (it has offices, newspapers, is free to disseminate its ideas and does not fail to abuse Greece and the Greeks)’.
‘Does the Commission (which appears to provide financial support for the activities of the EBLUL office) share the historically groundless views of M. Brezigar concerning the alleged existence of a ‘Macedonian’ language?’
The Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada calls on the international community to apply pressure on Greece to end its racial profiling of individuals of Macedonian ethnic background, to immediately solve the issue of the Macedonian political refugees, to repeal the racist 1982 law that only permits ethnic Greek political refugees to return to Greece, and to immediately recognize its large Macedonian minority and grant it the human rights that it is guaranteed by all international human rights conventions. The MHRMC specifically asks that the European Union end its hypocrisy in demanding that new member states respect human rights standards while ignoring human rights violations within the EU.
Vice-President, Macedonian Human Rights Movement of Canada
Address: P.O. Box 44532, 2376 Eglinton Ave. East, Toronto, Canada M1K 5K3
Tel: 416-493-9555 Fax: 416-412-3385
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.mhrmc.ca