The Honorable Peter Breen brings to the attention of the New South Wales Parliament the plight of Macedonians who have been denied the right to ethnic self-identification by the States of Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, as well as by Australian governments, under pressure from a lobby of the Greek State
The Hon. PETER BREEN [6.26 p.m.]: I bring to the Parliament’s attention the plight of Macedonians who have been denied the right to ethnic self-identification by the States of Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, as well as by Australian governments, under pressure from a lobby of the Greek State. Following the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 Macedonia, which was until then part of the Ottoman Empire, was divided between Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania. In a bid to create an ethnically homogenous nation, each of those States adopted the policy of denying indigenous Macedonians the right to maintain their own ethnic identity.
After World War II, following struggles by the Macedonian Liberation Movement, the Serb-occupied part of Macedonia was established as a Macedonian republic within the Yugoslav Federation. In 1991 the Republic of Macedonia became a sovereign and democratic State, recognised by the international community. But Greece, Bulgaria and, to a lesser extent Albania, continue to deny the existence of a Macedonian ethnic identity. Greece has extended this policy to denying the Republic of Macedonia the right to call itself Macedonia. To appease the Greek Government and its international lobby, some members of the international community, including Australia, have refused to recognise Macedonia under its proper name, and refer to it by the absurd name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“.
When Macedonian Australians declare their country of origin as Macedonia, Australian government departments record their country of origin as “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“. This is despite the fact that over 120 countries, including the United States of America, Russia and China, have now recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its proper name. In 1994 the Australian Government further appeased the Greek Government’s lobby by adopting a policy that all Australian government departments and agencies should refer to Australian Macedonians as “Slav Macedonians“, with the official excuse that it was necessary to distinguish Macedonians from the Republic of Macedonia from Greek Macedonians.
Australian Macedonians are an ethnic community originating not only from the Republic of Macedonia, but also from parts of Macedonia under Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. They find it discriminatory and oppressive that the Australian Government should impose on them any identity other than the identity they have determined for themselves. I am not aware of any other ethnic community towards which Australia has adopted such a policy. In a report entitled “Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece“, Human Rights Watch-Helsinki found:
The Greek Government denies that a Macedonian minority exists in Greece. It refers to ethnic Macedonians as “Slavophones” or “Slav-Speakers“. The official Greek position is that the Greek state is ethnically homogenous, the only exception being the Muslim minority in western Thrace—which is in reality a Turkish minority—whose existence was confirmed in 1923 by the Lausanne Treaty …
The Greek Government’s denial of the existence of the Macedonian minority violates international human rights agreements to which the Greek Government is a party. [Under international law], minority identity is a matter to be determined by the individual, and not by the state.
In May 2004, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights urged Greece to reconsider its position with regard to the recognition of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, and invited it to ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 1995.
In June 2004 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that “persons wishing to express their Macedonian, Turkish or other identity incur the hostility of the population“. The commission encouraged the Greek authorities to take further steps toward the recognition of the freedom of association and expression of members of the Macedonian and Turkish communities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Religious and Linguistic Minorities requires that:
… States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity. (Article 1 (1))
Greece’s denial of the existence of the Macedonian minority clearly contravenes its obligations under international law and agreements. A multicultural country like Australia should be strongly discouraging such an oppressive policy, rather than reinforcing it with its own denial of the Macedonian ethnic identity. If Australia had a bill of rights to give domestic force to international human rights law, the Government’s refusal to respect the right of Macedonians to self-identification would likely be declared by a court as a breach of human rights. Australian Macedonians reject being identified as Slav-Macedonians or Former Yugoslav Macedonians. Australia should respect the right of Australian Macedonians to self-identification and should urge other countries to do likewise.